Don Posterski died last week (see this tribute from Tyndale College in Toronto). Don was the author of a number of excellent books and the news of his death has prompted me to revisit one or two of them. ‘True to You’ is my first ‘revisit’.
This is a book about living as a faithful Christian in Canada today. Note: I say ‘today’, but the book was written in 1995 and uses many illustrations that were contemporary at the time. The pace of social change has not been slow in the intervening years; same-sex marriage is legal now, and so is assisted dying, and many more Christians have made their peace with these realities than would have been the case in 1995.
Nonetheless, the topic is still a vital one. Older Canadians can remember a time when Christianity was the assumed frame of reference for questions of truth and morality in our society, but that is no longer the case. So what does it mean to be a faithful Christian in this strange new world? Or, as Don Posterski puts it:
- ‘How can we live peaceably and productively with our increasing diversity?
- ‘How can we construct a society that allows us to live with strong convictions while giving others the prerogative to do the same?
- ‘As God’s people, active in our different denominations and religious traditions, are there ways for us to understand and even appreciate our differences so that we can celebrate our common faith commitments?’
Two classification systems reappear regularly in this book, and I found them quite helpful. The first was taken from an Angus Reid poll about religious preferences conducted in Canada in 1994. it uses four broad categories:
- Committed participants (those who attend church weekly and are likely to help make it happen)
- Conditional participants (those who attend, but less often, and are less likely to get involved in other ways)
- Cultural Christians (those who claim a Christian identity but do not participate in organized religion)
- Religious ‘nones’ (‘no religious affiliation).
Percentages will have changed since 1994, but at that time two-thirds of Canadians claimed the ‘cultural Christian’ category. Posterski points out, however, that their actual values and practices were virtually indistinguishable from the ‘nones’.
The other classification system addresses how practising Christians respond to their current marginalization in western society.
- Reclaimers want to turn the clock back to the good old days when this was a ‘Christian country’.
- Tribalisers want to be sure there its room in society for their views and choices, but their approach to those who disagree with them is very confrontational (in 2018 North America, one can see very clearly just how nasty tribalism – and tribal loyalty – can be).
- Accommodators enthusiastically embrace divergence but have very little to offer in terms of distinctive beliefs and practices.
- Cocooners disengage from any real involvement with concerns that affect public life.
- Collaborators are quite prepared to give other people the room to be true to themselves, but are also assertive in claiming that right for themselves as well.
The seven chapters of the book go on to examine the issues raised by diversity in modern Canadian society. In Chapter Two Posterski defines different forms of pluralism: ideological pluralism is an enemy of faith, but cultural pluralism (everyone is entitled to believe and practice their own convictions) is a friend of faith. In Chapter Three he attempts to outline some common values and commitments for modern Canadian society (personally, I found this the least helpful chapter of the book). In the remaining chapters he explores what he calls ‘principled pluralism’ and what it would look like, both in terms of how Christians should live and how society as a whole should make space for people of differing convictions. One of his more telling observations is that toleration for different viewpoints in modern Canada is easily extended to those who do not believe in clearly defined beliefs and morals (tolerance for the tolerant), but is not so easily extended to people of clear conviction, who are often seen as ‘intolerant’ and are therefore not tolerated!
The conclusion suggests a program for Christians who want to exercise both conviction and compassion.
- Trust God and follow Christ – keep saying ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to ‘come unto me’.
- Be true to yourself: know what you believe, who you are, and how you aspire to behave.
- Give regard to others. ‘Rooted in the security of their own convictions, God’s people extend compassion to others who are different from themselves…They realize that, rather than coercing creation, God gives people choices; they aim to treat people like God treats people’.
- Relinquish rights for the common good. God’s people know that a society cannot be built exclusively on diversity; ‘beyond the requirement to live within the boundaries of the criminal code, all citizens must be willing to sacrifice private desires for shared public goals’.
- Fly your flag in the pluralism parade. A democratic society invites its citizens to participate and to influence public policy; we can take advantage of that right, while also respecting the rights of others to do the same.
- Love and lobby. We are called both to live a life of love and to lobby for the ways of God, in answer to Jesus’ prayer ‘Your will be done on earth as in heaven’.
Despite the fact that its statistic and illustrations are now somewhat dated, I found this a very helpful book. Posterski believed that it was possible for Christians to be true to their own convictions and yet also respectful of the convictions of others. He believed that Canadian society could and should be a place where different convictions are respected and welcomed in the public square. Not all Canadians believe this, and neither do all Christians, today as in 1994. But this book gives solid suggestions for positive Christian life and witness in the context of our modern pluralistic society. I highly recommend it.