What is the public square and who cares?


When I went off to do my legal studies, I came across a prevailing narrative or worldview and I felt that my Christian story ran in parallel or was perhaps diverging away from the world’s story. What was clear was that they weren’t going to overlap. The choice seemed to be abandoning my faith or compartmentalizing my life with the danger of becoming schizophrenic.

public square

With the help of others, I began to see things differently. The prevailing narrative raises more questions than it answers – are we just a random collection of cells, are we just individuals not in relationship, what is our purpose? It is also not clear where it is heading – a series of ‘isms’.

  • Humanism – we as humans can solve our own problems
  • Capitalism – life is about what we can acquire and consume
  • Agnosticism and apathy – we don’t know and/or don’t care
  • Nihilism – life has no meaning or purpose

Countering this, cutting across the prevailing narrative is God’s story. It starts with the Creator and ends with God dwelling with humanity. It speaks to:

  • public square2Identity – we are divine image bearers with dignity
  • Relationship – with God, others and the earth
  • Purpose – we are designed to be creative stewards of this earth

This radically different story leads to a radically different place – the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21. The biblical story of redemption – a unified coherent narrative of God’s ongoing work within his kingdom. The story of God’s action in history for the salvation of the whole world. Leslie Newbiggin says,

‘The way we understand human life depends on what conception we have of the human story. What is the real story of which my life is part.’

Too often we have allowed faith to be privitised and have handed over the public history of the world to other principles of explanation. We have vacated the public square.

public square 3

This is a problem, because what is striking about the image below is that it forms a cross. And at the centre, the person we find right at the heart of the public square is Jesus.

I am passionate about the public square because we find Jesus there. Tom Wright reminds us,  ‘The whole point of Christianity is that is offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth.’

The public square is about our everyday lives, our God story as kingdom carriers cutting across the prevailing narrative.

Where is the public square?

It is everywhere – work, the supermarket checkout, the playing field, Twitter, facebook, all sorts of media and the conversations we have everyday with people inhabiting the prevailing narrative.

One example of engaging in the public square is human trafficking – an area I am passionate about. We have a story that we are made in the image of God, that everyone is a divine image bearer and that every act of abuse against another human being is an act of high treason against God. So we take trafficking incredibly seriously.

But if you are inhabiting the other story, it raises a series of questions.

  • Why should we care if people are just a random collection of cells?
  • Why should we care if we have evolved from, and are no different to, animals?
  • If your story is all about capitalism and consuming, where you can buy people’s labour, and you can buy sex; why can’t you traffick people for sex?
  • Why should we care if life has no purpose?

You might not agree with the Christian framework or story, but it is coherent and consistent. The other story, the prevailing narrative, raises more questions and provides less answers.

Jacques Ellul comments that,

‘Christians take the place where two powerful currents meet: the will of God and the will of the world. And it is there that Christians will have to be both discerning and faithful in seeking to do God’s good in our world.’

Screen shot 2014-01-04 at 14.59.24We bring life by inhabiting a different story that cuts across the prevailing narrative. We live in the public square – all of us are there everyday. How are you telling a different story in your public square?

ps I am working on some videos on this material which will be available soon.

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