If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll have noticed that I don’t always review Catholic books. This will be one of those other reviews. As Catholics, we are committed to ecumenism. If other Christians are reflecting on beliefs that we share, we should at least be willing to listen, even if we don’t completely agree. That idea was what drew me to Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices, by Chris Brauns. I believe in solidarity, too, and especially in the effects of original sin, so I was intrigued to find a Christian pastor explicating those very principles from a heavily Scriptural background. Before I read Bound Together, I could have told you that I believe in solidarity and original sin, but I couldn’t explain why quite as well as I can now.
Solidarity forms the backbone of Catholic Social Teaching and covenant theology. Our existence as humans began with one couple’s covenant with God, and from that first family came the Chosen People of Israel, continuing through the centuries and struggles until Jesus Christ made union with God available to everyone on Earth. We trace our union as one human family all the way back to the beginning. We started as one, so we should do everything we can to reunite now. That’s solidarity. I give a dollar to a woman panhandling because she and I are both trying to love and serve God and our neighbor, she by asking for help and me by giving it. We ban harmful chemicals from the water supply because we’re not getting any more water, so we have to share. Hundreds of men and women are at the Texas Capitol Building right this minute offering prayers, presence, and peaceful testimony to defend the unborn because they can’t speak for themselves. That’s solidarity: we’re all in this together.
If you’re not a Catholic or just not into Catholic Social Teaching, though, solidarity might just seem like conjecture. Brauns takes it down to the basics of Scripture. He accepts the doctrine of original sin: that Adam represented all of humanity, so when he sinned, we became a race of sinners. Individually, we make choices that affect others, but no matter what we want or deserve, others’ choices affect us. The rope is Brauns’s image for this effect. Imagine that God created Adam and tied a rope connecting them. Adam chose to untie the rope, but he lacked the power to ever retie it to God and heaven. Every couple, family, nation, and kingdom throughout the Old Testament has similar ropes. Fortunately, that meant Noah’s whole family was saved by being roped to Noah. Unfortunately, that also meant every other being on Earth—from the most wicked men and women to the most innocent babies to non-sentient cattle—perished in the Great Flood. The rope has positive and negative consequences. Ultimately, Jesus came along: the God-man who could tie the rope not only between God and himself, but between himself and every single one of us. He’s got all the rope he’ll ever need, and we hope he will use it to pull us up to heaven some day.
The Word of God was given for our benefit, though, and what greater application than our actual lives? As in the beginning, the first ropes between men are that of marriage and family. Brauns uses his principle to explain why marriage is such a unique union. We choose to rope ourselves to a spouse, so we are committed to maintain that rope until God breaks it by death. Spouses’ choices can cause great pain or great joy; the rope goes both ways. Parents and children have ropes almost as strong because we don’t usually choose them. It’s not just Old Testament children that suffer because their parents make poor choices, and it’s not just David mourning over a dead son. Even the fear of death and rampant individualism are nothing compared to the positive power of the rope.
I agreed with most of what I read, but not all. I knew I wouldn’t; I’m a Catholic, and Brauns is not. As an evangelical church pastor, Brauns appeals to Scripture as the highest authority. (I’m not sure where his own authority falls into that as would the Magisterium for Catholics.) He does, however, also appeal to a variety of Christian theologians (including G.K. Chesterton, who was, of course, a Catholic) and denominational theologies (such as the Westminster Confession and Catechism) without explaining why we should follow those particular non-Scriptural texts. Elsewhere, Brauns insists that our union with Christ is stronger than our union with Adam, but he stops just short of explaining exactly why that is true. He says that our marriage to Christ as the Church, his bride, is stronger than an earthly marriage because “it is based on a relationship not with another sinner but with our sinless Savior.” I understand that, but I want him to make that same argument about our ropes to Adam and to Christ. Further regarding marriage, he refers to divorce as being as significant as amputating a limb, but he makes no comment about remarriage. Is it more like a prosthesis (good, but not ideal or always necessary) or like regrowing the original limb (impossible without perverting nature) or something else entirely? With a book about theology, I was bound to find incompatibilities between his beliefs and my own. Your mileage may vary.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Bound Together. I found it very practical without watering down theology (even if I didn’t agree with all of it), and I was really glad to see other Christians talking about principles so important in my own Church. If you’re interested in widening and strengthening your Christian worldview, this just might be the place to start.
Up next: The Lamb’s Supper, by Scott Hahn, a study of the book of Revelation and the Mass