Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Intervarsity Press, 1992.
There is a new revised and expanded published edition published by IVP in 2010-ISBN 9780830833092
My review is based on the original edition because that was the only copy readily available.
Mouw's Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World is probably more relevant today than when it was first published. Why is this true? This is a good question to ponder. Mouw argues for a convicted civility. This means a civility that is based on convictions. There are two extremes when it comes to Christian civility. Those with strong convictions who lack civility. On the other hand, there are those who are civil but lack convictions. Mouw in this arguing for a middle position: strong convictions with Christian civility. He makes the argument from the scriptures themselves. The scriptures teach that we should have strong convictions, but that we are to practice compassion and civility. For example, the Bible teaches that we should show hospitality to everyone. Paul says if possible,we are to pursue peace with everyone.
The book is divided into thirteen chapters. In chapter one, Mouw explains what is "convicted civility." Mouw writes: "Civility is public politeness. It means that we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners toward people who are different from us" (12). In chapter two Mouw states what "convicted civility" is not. For one thing, it is not relativism. The author notes, "Christian civility does not mean refusing to make judgments about what is good and true" (20-21). Christian civility does not mean all views are true or that it does not matter what one believes. Chapters three through five shows how to become civil. In these chapters Mouw argues that Christians are to be active in the public arena and it it right that they make their views known, but they must do it with civility. In chapter five he discusses the importance of civil speech. The next chapter discusses certain virtues needed for Christian civility: empathy, curiosity, teachableness, and others.
Chapter six through eight discusses important areas where people differ: pluralism, sex, and other religions. On pluralism, Mouw argues that diversity is part of God's design. We are to honor the image of God in others. Even those we do not like, we must affirm God's image in them. Homosexuality is a hot issue in our culture. We must be sure to affirm the person even if we disagree with the lifestyle. The chapter on other religions distinguishes between dialogue and evangelism. Mouw believes we should practice both.
Chapter nine shows how Christian leaders can practice civility to those they lead. Chapter eleven asks if hell must be dropped if we are going to be civil? Mouw distinguishes between a literal hell and metaphors on describing hell.Chapter twelve analyses the idea of triumphalism among Christians. This is an important topic. Christians too often demonstrate a triumphant spirit to the world. We need to show more humility in how we relate to the world. Mouw states, "Learning civility is learning to imitate God's patient dealings with his rebellious creatures" (146). The last chapter describes how God is a patient God. Mouw distinguishes between two types of Christian: those who expect God to act immediately and those who accept that God has his own time and does not always act right away. He gives the example of creation science where some see God creating the earth in six single days and those who see God creating the world over a long period of time.
Mouw's Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World is a much-needed book. I am glad he revised it and expanded it in 2010. It is more needed today than when it was first published in 1992. Christians can lead the world to becoming civil by practicing Christian civility. Both strong convictions and Christian civility is taught by Scriptures. There is a lot of wisdom in that saying, Christians do not need to be offensive; the scriptures are offensive enough.