“A simple life of work and prayer in a particular place among a beloved people is all that God’s people need aspire to,” writes Jake Meador in his new book, In Search of the Common Good: Christian Fidelity in a Fractured World. Meador, the editor of the online magazine Mere Orthodoxy and vice president of the Davenant Institute, continues, “And when we aspire to something beyond this hidden fidelity, it doesn’t take long for things to go sideways.”
A Serious Diagnosis
Meador offers a harsh rebuke of the American church, arguing that, like the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2, it has forsaken its first love. He cites an idolatrous tendency among evangelicals to cleave to political power at the expense of fulfilling God’s call to service as proof that things have indeed gone sideways.
To be sure, a foundering American church isn’t the only issue Meador takes up in the book. He traces the contours and trajectory of the modernist narrative, citing Justice Kennedy’s infamous “heart of liberty” passage from Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Kennedy’s words are the John 3:16 of the existentialist movement and, as Meador notes, represent the modernist desire well—a desire to “be freed from unjust and unchosen norms imposed on [people] against their will.”
Meador articulates the outworking of this existentialism in our culture brilliantly. He notes the consumptive nature of relationships, the difficulty in finding good, meaningful work, and the dramatic scope of the loneliness epidemic. In this way, Meador’s diagnosis is “not one of an ascendant secularism prepared to batter Christianity into oblivion . . . rather one of a comprehensive social breakdown that leaves no corner of life untouched, no person immune to its effects.”
An Alternative Treatment
As a cure, Meador prescribes a way forward in which Christians “smuggle” sabbath rest into the factory and lead lives of hidden fidelity. He champions an emphasis on doctrine over policy, and heralds the importance of work being sacramental, closer to home, and ordered toward life.
Meador reclaims the categories of solidarity with its goal of peace not power; sphere sovereignty that gives authority over different areas of life to different spheres, i.e., family, church, neighborhood, government; and subsidiarity, the belief that the smallest sphere should attempt to solve a problem first.
In light of the recent conservative “civil war,” Common Good could not be more timely. Meador’s prose is lyrical and he weaves his own family stories throughout the book to great effect. Though some might argue that his vision for Christian life in the public square is nothing more than a well-articulated brand of ineffectual pietism, such a criticism is far from convincing. Indeed, Meador does call Christians to piety, but also to community, service, and virtuous living, all of which constitute the essence of political defiance in our decadent culture. He calls Christians to the highly political act of living out their faith in their private lives by serving their hurting and lonely neighbors and blessing them with their constancy.