Uncommon Ground; Living Faithfully in a World of Difference; A Book Review

I’ve had this post scheduled on the calendar to write for a while. Finding the time to write it has been challenging. But, it’s a necessary post in this divided time. 

This book was recommended by one of the nerdiest pastors I know (love you, Pastor Randy). It’s edited by one of my favorite authors, Pastor Tim Keller. I had to read it. That book is…

Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference

Bestselling author Timothy Keller and legal scholar John Inazu bring together a thrilling range of artists, thinkers, and leaders to provide a guide to faithful living in a pluralistic, fractured world.

How can Christians today interact with those around them in a way that shows respect to those whose beliefs are radically different but that also remain faithful to the gospel? Timothy Keller and John Inazu bring together illuminating stories—their own and from others—to answer this vital question. Uncommon Ground gathers an array of perspectives from people thinking deeply and working daily to live with humility, patience, and tolerance in our time.

Contributors include:


Tish Harrison Warren

Kristen Deede Johnson

Claude Richard Alexander

Shirley Hoogstra

Sara Groves

Rudy Carrasco

Trillia Newbell

Tom Lin

Warren Kinghorn

Providing varied and enlightening approaches to reaching faithfully across deep and often painful differences, Uncommon Ground shows us how to live with confidence, joy, and hope in a complex and fragmented age.”

I read the reviews, and they blasted the book for attacking white people. So, naturally, I read it anyway to see for myself, and I didn’t see the attack. What I found is pointing out some things that could be taken personally. It’s easy to be offended today. 

Commas offend me.

I digress on to the quotes.

“Americans, like citizens of most Western nations today, lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing. These differences affect not only what we think but also how we think and see the world. This is the fact of pluralism today: deep and irresolvable differences over the things that matter most.”

“Understanding pluralism means understanding our past. The fact of pluralism is one reason the United States is not, and has never been, a thoroughly “Christian nation.” To be sure, a white Protestant culture, or what in some circles is called Judeo-Christian culture, influenced this country’s founders and shaped middle-class norms and values for much of its history. That shared culture—and its assumed consensus about public morality and the nature of religious practice—brought with it important social benefits, among them the building and sustaining of institutions and infrastructure. The vast majority of today’s charitable sector—private colleges and universities, hospitals, and social service organizations—has its roots in Protestant (and later Catholic and Jewish) communities.”

“But this shared Protestant culture failed to recognize, and sometimes perpetuated, significant injustices. Protestants were often indifferent and sometimes hostile toward the religious freedom claims of religious minorities. White Protestants were largely absent from the civil rights movement, and some white Protestants engaged in personal and structural racism that exists to this day. The social and legal power of the Protestant culture often stifled differing views about race, religion, gender, and sexuality. Within this dominant Protestant culture, many Christians forgot the biblical counsel that on earth we have no lasting city (Heb. 13:14) and are not to place our trust in earthly princes (Ps. 146:3).”

“Recently the assumed consensus of the Protestant culture has weakened, in part from a growing awareness of differences in religious (and increasingly, nonreligious) beliefs. At the same time, deep and accelerating social trends toward individualism and autonomy have eroded trust in social institutions: business, media, government, church, and even the family. Yet as Protestant culture has declined, no successor has appeared. Neither evangelicalism nor Roman Catholicism nor secularism has replaced the previous assumed consensus. This is the background against which we asked our questions about finding common ground, even when we don’t agree on the common good. We also wanted to explore how Christians might embody humility, patience, and tolerance, the civic practices that John identifies in his book Confident Pluralism. We believe these embodied practices are fully consonant with a gospel witness in a deeply divided age. In fact, they not only make space for the gospel but also point, respectively, to the three Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love.”

“The first of these practices, humility, recognizes that in a world of deep differences about fundamental issues, Christians and non-Christians alike are not always able to prove why they are right and others are wrong. Christians are able to exercise humility in public life because we recognize the limits of human reason, including our own, and because we know we have been saved by faith, not by our moral actions and goodness. That confident faith anchors our relationship with God, but it does not supply unwavering certainty in all matters.”

“Patience encourages listening, understanding, and questioning. Patience with others may not always bridge ideological distance; we are unlikely to find agreement on all the difficult issues that divide us. But careful listening, sympathetic understanding, and thoughtful questioning can help us draw closer to others as we come to recognize the shared experiences that unite us and the different experiences that divide us. Christians can be patient with others because we place our hope in a story whose end is already known. Tolerance is a practical enduring of beliefs and practices that we do not share. It does not mean accepting those beliefs or approving those practices. In fact, the demand for acceptance is a philosophical impossibility. Every one of us holds views about important matters that others find clearly misguided. There is no way that anyone can embrace all the differing and mutually incompatible beliefs. But we can do the hard work of distinguishing people from ideas, of pursuing relationships with people created in God’s image, while recognizing that we will not approve of all their beliefs or actions. Christians can demonstrate tolerance for others because our love of neighbor flows from our love of God, and our love of God is grounded in the truth of the gospel.”

“The Christian calling is to be shaped and reshaped into people whose every thought and action is characterized by faith, hope, and love—and who then speak and act in the world with humility, patience, and tolerance. In fact, when we are motivated by the love of Christ, we can do far more than simply tolerate. Think about your relationships with friends who hold beliefs different from yours. You don’t just tolerate them. You laugh, cry, celebrate, and mourn with them. You risk a kind of personal vulnerability that requires more than just coexisting together in the same space. And what about those who overtly reject you or are even hostile to you? The answer is the same. Jesus doesn’t tell us to tolerate our enemies. He says to love them. And thank God that Jesus does not merely tolerate us—he embraces us across differences and welcomes us into his arms.”

All that was only 8% of the way into the book. That sets up the framework the contributors will address. 

“Part I explores the roles through which we think about our engagement with others. Kristen Deede Johnson reflects on the contribution of the theologian, and Tim Keller considers the role of the pastor. Tom Lin and Rudy Carrasco offer two different postures that Christians can assume: the adventurer and the entrepreneur.”

As an aside, Kristen Deede Johnson was very politically minded and involved in Washington, so I especially enjoyed her perspective in light of today’s political climate. 

“Part II looks at how we speak when we engage our neighbors in an increasingly pluralistic society. Tish Harrison Warren begins by reflecting on the role of the writer, which connects us to other people and shapes the world in which we live.”

“Finally, Part III turns to how we embody our engagement with others. Shirley Hoogstra and Warren Kinghorn reflect on bridge building and caregiving. Trillia Newbell and Claude Alexander Jr. conclude the book by considering our roles as reconcilers and peacemakers.”

I could go on with my favorite quotes, but there are about seventy highlights left. For the sake of space, I won’t. I will say, get the book, read it. Take in different perspectives from different Christians. 

You don’t have to agree, but we can’t move forward if we don’t talk to each other

5 stars.

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