What’s So Great About the Common Good?

We are excited to hear from author and former Christianity Today editor-in-chief Andy Crouch at cg2017. A national conference with simulcast locations in 20 cities, cg2017 will empower the local church as a primary agent of cultural renewal for the common good. Before cg2017 begins next week, let’s hear what Andy Crouch has to say on why this matters in his article, “What’s So Great About the Common Good?”

Andy Crouch writes that the environment in Europe in the late 19th century was eerily similar to the “circumstances of the North American Protestants over the past century—once dominant in cultural institutions but increasingly sidelined from direct control.” In these circumstance, Pope Leo XIII and his advisors did not retreat from culture. Rather, they “rose to the challenge, returning to the reasoned philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.” This created a revival of the ideas of the common good:

Successive popes and other Christian thinkers picked upon Leo’s themes, defining the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”

Two ideas are particularly significant in this definition. The common good is measured by fulfillment or flourishing—by human beings becoming all they are meant to be. And the common good is about persons, both groups and individuals—not just about “humanity” but about humans, and not just about individuals but about persons in relationship with one another in small groups.

What does this definition look like lived out? Crouch goes on to explain how and where we apply these ideas:

Essential to the common good, all the way back through Aquinas to Aristotle, has been the insight that the best forms of human flourishing happen in collectives that are smaller than, and whose origins are earlier than, the nation-state. Family above all, but also congregations, guilds, and clubs—these “private associations,” with all their particular loyalties, paradoxically turn out to be essential to public flourishing.

If we commit ourselves to the common good, we must become more public in our thinking and choices, and at the same time not too public. The common good is sustained most deeply where people know each other’s names and faces—especially when it comes to the care of the vulnerable, who need more than policies to flourish. (italics added)

Finally, Crouch reminds us that common good is not just a nice-sounding slogan. It is a call to action for our daily lives:

The common good is a matter of choices, not just ideas. And those choices are often local, not grand social schemes. My decisions about where to live and what to eat and buy, as well as what to grow and create, whom to befriend and where to volunteer, whom to employ and how much to pay, aren’t just about my private fulfillment. They will also either contribute to others’ flourishing or undermine it.

Our choices are not benign. Our decisions have ethical import and implications today and for generations. Are you making “common-good decisions” to seek the common good of your cities and your neighborhoods?

Join us at cg2017 October 13 to learn more about how your church can seek the flourishing of all people in your community. Find your city’s simulcast location, or join us in Kansas City, Missouri, for the live event.

Related Resources

Andy Crouch is the author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, winner of Christianity Today’s 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture, and is the former executive editor of Christianity Today.