As Martin Marty has observed, one of the real problems in modern life is that the people who are good at being civil often lack strong convictions and people who have strong convictions often lack civility. I like that way of stating the issue. We need to find a way of combining a civil outlook with a “passionate intensity” about our convictions. The real challenge is to come up with a convicted civility.
Civility is public politeness. It means that we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners toward people who are different than us. It isn’t enough, though, to make an outward show of politeness. Being civil has an “inner” side as well. . . .
But how can we hold onto strongly felt convictions while still nurturing a spirit that is authentically kind and gentle? Is it possible to keep these things together? The answer is that it is not impossible – but it isn’t easy. Convicted civility is something we have to work at. We have to work at it because both sides of the equation are very important. Civility is important. And so is conviction.
The Bible itself recognizes the difficulty of maintaining convicted civility. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews lays the struggle out very clearly: we must “pursue peace with every one,” he tells us, while we work at the same time to cultivate that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) — Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Revised and Expanded, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 13-17.
Note: If you desire to pick-up a copy of Uncommon Decency for summer and/or fall reading, be sure to use the 30% ESN Member Discount on InterVarsity Press (IVP) publications. If you have a book discussion group with interest in reviewing Uncommon Decency for ESN, please let me know.
About the author:
Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the Northeast Regional Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). For a number of years, the Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine was the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!