The Fabric of Faithfulness is a very good book, and we recommend it to you. Some might question, I suppose, whether it is prudent for me to review Dr. Garber’s book in such glowing terms, pointing out there is something of a conflict of interest involved. Steve has been a dear and close friend over many years. Just this past summer Margie and I spent three glorious days with Steve and Meg in a home loaned to them on Chesapeake Bay. We spent the time praying, taking long walks, reading, thinking, and talking, always talking—all the while sensing once again the wonder of being together with kindred spirits. Steve is also on Ransom’s Board of Directors. That means he helps direct our ministry, holds us accountable, and votes on (among other things) the annual budget. My respect for and friendship with Steve may have encouraged me to read his book as soon as it arrived in my mailbox, but it does not blind me to the quality of his work. Having known him for so many years simply means that I expect quality from him—and The Fabric of Faithfulness proves I was correct in my expectations.
But if you doubt me, here are three other voices to consider:
First, Jerram Barrs, professor and director of the Francis Schaeffer Institute: “Steve has written a marvelous book. I gladly recommend it and will make it required reading for our students here at Covenant Seminary. He is very creative in setting forth the need for conviction, character, and community… I especially like his combination of careful analysis, true stories, masterfully chosen quotes, and Calvin & Hobbes cartoons as he presents and answers this challenge.”
Second, James Sire, author, university lecturer, and editor: “Here is the best book on moral education I have ever encountered. No dry treatise this! Garber’s guide to character development is both well illustrated and profoundly reflective. It is filled with stories of real people whose lives are seen in the light of the insights of good movies, literature, and academic pundits.”
And finally, Stanley Gaede, Provost, Westmont College: “The Fabric of Faithfulness is a profoundly important work. Profound because it is rich in biblical wisdom and nearly palpable truths. Important because there has never been a time when the academic community has so resigned itself to the inevitability of fragmentation and intellectual incoherence. It is a tragedy which most avoid and some lament. But who is offering wise counsel? Dr. Garber does without apology or hubris; just tons of common sense.”
There still remains, however, a bit of a problem. Many of my readers may assume the book isn’t for them. After all, these quotes stress the world of academia, and Garber’s subtitle refers to “the university years.” Those who aren’t in that world may assume The Fabric of Faithfulness has nothing to offer them—and that would be a mistake. It is true Dr. Garber teaches college students as his vocation, and it is also true that the main focus of this book is to explore how the character, integrity, and world view of students are molded during the crucial university years. Still, the insights provided in this book are of great importance for many who are not specifically called to the world of higher education. Parents, pastors, elders, teachers, and disciplers—anyone concerned in any way about helping others develop lives of Christian integrity—would all benefit from Garber’s book.
There is another problem, too, which I might as well mention here—though it is the publisher’s fault, not the author’s: there is no index, and that is a great shame. Dr. Garber has written a very rich book, drawing on movies, cartoons, music, and a wide variety of books and thinkers as he develops his argument. To have no index to help make use of that richness is simply irritating.
Steven Garber is gifted in making people think, in asking probing questions that require you to reflect deeply on your convictions and life. The Fabric of Faithfulness is peppered with these questions, and they alone are worth the price of the book. As you read, mark the questions, and begin to ask them of yourself and those you love, for when taken seriously, they get at the really important issues of life and truth:
How do you decide which cares and commitments will give shape and substance to life, for life?
Why do you get up in the morning? What do you do after you get up in the morning?
Is your life about something that matters?
What do you really care about? What do you love?
What do you believe and why do you believe it?
What do you believe about human nature, and what difference does it make?
How does a worldview become a way of life?
How is it possible to see into the meaning of one’s moment in history and to act responsibly, rather than be overwhelmed by either cynicism or sorrow because the brokenness seems so deep, the pain so profound?
Do you have a telos sufficient, personally and publicly, to orient your praxis over the course of life?
What is real? What is true? What is right? On what basis do you decide?
Does the study of ethics improve one’s moral character? What are the best methods for developing moral awareness?
What are the pressures that have made it hard to keep connecting what you believe about life and the world with how you live in the world?
How has your answer to the question ‘What is most important to you?’ changed over the course of your life?
Who are your friends? What kind of friend are you? What is your relationship to the church? Do you see it as a sustaining institution, a fellowship of friends, which is critical in helping you keep your commitments and convictions?
Garber summarizes his argument in The Fabric of Faithfulness like this:
The years between adolescence and adulthood are a crucible in which moral meaning is being formed, and central to that formation is a vision of integrity which coherently connects belief to behavior, personally as well as publicly. The conditions of modern consciousness, especially as they are manifest in the modern university, make it increasingly difficult for young people to come through those years with the habits of heart required to develop and sustain that kind of integrity. The perspectives of three disciplines—the history of ideas, the ethic of character and the sociology of knowledge—provide windows for understanding the challenge students face in forming a coherent life. And, without exception, those who do continue to live with integrity into adulthood, weaving together belief and behavior, are those who had formed a worldview sufficient for the challenge of coherence and truth in a pluralist world, who had forged a relationship with a teacher or mentor who incarnated that worldview, and who had chosen to live their lives in community with people whose common life is an embodiment of that worldview.
The Fabric of Faithfulness is worth reading for the thesis it develops. It is also worth reading as a model for how to use literature, philosophy, story, Scripture, popular culture, history, and theology to teach. And, if you are like me, it is worth reading because it will help you weave together belief and behavior, develop a passion for integrity, and deepen your desire to be faithful as you live moment by moment before the face of God.