Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Coffin asserts that “Christianity is a worldview that undergirds progressive thought and action.” His notion of Christian activism is founded on what Carroll notes in his foreword as Coffin’s firm belief that “God exists and that God’s existence matters.” If God exists and God is love as 1 John 4:16 says, then Christ’s followers are called to exhibit an active love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing for the homeless, fighting against prejudice, and working for peace.

For Coffin, practicing love takes precedence over adhering to traditional Christian doctrines. In terms of spiritual priorities and how they relate to social action, Coffin looks to 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” He calls Paul’s declaration a “radical statement of ethics” and exhorts his readers to “Make love your aim, not biblical inerrancy, nor purity nor obedience to holiness codes.”

Coffin’s treatment of the Bible—considered by most believers to be the definitive arbiter of Christian values—is often paradoxical. He employs illustrations from Scripture to support his views and begins each chapter in Credo with quotations from the Bible as well as from literary and religious figures. Yet he claims that “any belief in biblical inerrancy is itself unbiblical,” and then defends his contention by citing the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 as an example of the Hebrew scriptures being overturned after God reveals to Peter that an uncircumcised Roman soldier is an acceptable convert to the Christian faith. Coffin sees the Bible as an important tool to aid believers in living a godly life, but he does not regard it as the final authority on spiritual matters because God’s inscrutable thoughts ultimately transcend the words on the page.

Coffin’s view that the spirit of the law trumps the letter of the law is not unprecedented in biblical history. His passionate call to cast aside stale traditions and embrace a new understanding of how God is working in the world follows in the footsteps of both Jesus and the Old Testament prophets who habitually demanded that religious and government leaders look beyond their narrow, self-righteous interpretations of Scripture. True religion is dynamic and responsive, always evolving to address vital issues that threaten or suppress the rights of minorities.