Author: Laytham, Brent
Date published: May 3, 2011
Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, by D. Stephen Long (Oxford University Press, 144 pp., $11.95 paperback). Beginning with the challenge pressed by atheist Christopher Hitchens and engaging Christianity's historic failures, Long brings elegant clarity to the project of Christian ethics. The book is especially strong in mediating the Jewish origins of Christian ethics, in focusing on ethics' theological center and in unveiling the conundrum-like logic of modern and postmodern critiques. For Long, Christian ethics is about the journey of a people and all creation toward God's holy city.
Good Work: Christian Ethics in the Workplace, by Esther D. Reed (Baylor University Press, 132 pp., $24.95 paperback). Thinking about work is a kind of work- needed and difficult, yet refreshing when it is done as well as Reed has done it here. She theologizes about work in relation to Sabbath rest and Christ's resurrection, demonstrating along the way that worship properly shapes work, that work properly fosters justice and that heaven's rest frees us for the work of mending the world. Her thoughtful discussion of vocation refuses individualism, classism and clericalism by affirming the priority of the church's calling to serve the gospel.
Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom, by Peter J. Leithart (IVP Academic, 373 pp., $27.00 paperback). This magisterial salvo has the form of a theological biography of Constantine. Its content is that and much more. Leithart defends Constantine by launching a polemical attack on John Howard Voder's historical accounts of Constantinianism. Because Yoder's history is wrong, Leithart argues, his social ethics are too. Leithart proposes "a purified Constantinianism" in which the church is Jesus' true city, his death is the one true sacrifice and his people are "baptized for battle." Friend or foe, every reader will find this argument provocative in crucial ways.
Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community, by Charles Marsh and John Perkins (IVP Books, 140 pp., $15.00 paperback). In this book, alternately authored chapters narrate the authors' respective journeys toward beloved community, which also turned out to be a journey toward one another. Along the way, they offer a theologically critical reading of what God did in the civil rights movement and of what God is still up to in the face of ongoing injustice. Marsh affirms the deep need for church, contemplation and humility, and Perkins reaffirms the centrality of place. Together they challenge us to recognize that welcoming justice will require that we be converted.
Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Don't Have to Do1 by Phillip Cary (Brazos, 224 pp., $14.99 paperback). Cary takes aim at what he calls the "new evangelical theology" because in his view it undermines psychological health, moral character and spiritual life. Each chapter dispels a distorted understanding of Christian discipleship, such as "hearing God's voice in your heart," "letting God take control" and "finding God's will for your ufe" and "applying it." Gary liberates persons enthralled by a god of spiritual techniques and practical sermons. CENTURY readers may not generally need Gary's antidote, but they know and love plenty of people who do; this is medicine for ministry.
Shopping, by Michelle A. Gonzalez (Fortress, 128 pp., $15.00 paperback). Shoppers are sinners (like everyone), but not ail shopping is sinful. Such is the balanced approach Gonzalez offers. Deftly weaving personal narrative, statistics and a description of the commercialization of the quinceañera (the special celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday among many Hispanics), she reveals the theological dimensions of materialism and globalization. Turning to scripture and Catholic social teaching, she connects social justice and everyday living (including shopping). Finally, with Augustine and Irenaeus as guides through the world of fashion, Gonzalez invites us to celebrate bodies and beauty one purchase at a time.
God and Gadgets: Following Jesus in a Technological Age, by Brad J. Kallenberg (Cascade, 188 pp., $22.00 paperback). Kallenberg reveals to us the moral yet invisible character of technology, beginning with the bewitching power of light bulbs, and subsequently New York City bridges, the St. Francis Dam, virtual reality and Twitter. Technology invites reductionistic views of the world, standardizations that diminish our humanity and instrumentai notions that it is always morally neutral or that it can save us. Reading this book might save us from presuming that communicating and living the gospel is compatible with any and every technology. That would be true only if technology were not among the principalities and powers that do not yet fully serve God.
Belonging: A Culture of Place, by bell hooks (Routledge, 240 pp., $23.95 paperback). The ability of bell hooks to weave analysis of race, gender, class, economy, culture and environment into seamless narratives of discovery should hold us rapt. The problem, however, is that these days- in a culture that valorizes autonomy and an economy that prizes mobility-nothing much can hold us at all. In 20 essays that circle around the necessity of place, family, memory and wholeness, hooks tells and retells her return to Kentucky as an invitation to the restoration of hope. Her two chapters of "healing talk" with Wendell Berry invite us to hear "beneath our words the possibility of making beloved community."
Is God Stilt at the Bedside? The Medical, Ethical, and fastoral Issues of Death and Dying, by Abigail Rian Evans (Eerdmans, 508 pp., $29.99 paperback). This massive resource offers a tour through the theological, medical, experiential and pastoral dimensions of dying. The entire work grapples with the moral meaning of death and dying. Evans situates her project on theological bedrock: life is a gift from God. This provides a perspective from which to explore contemporary conundrums such as end-of-life choices, organ donation and euthanasia. The book is rich with material from various ecclesial bodies, as well as ten appendices with resources for clergy and congregants.
More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City, by William Julius Wilson (Norton, 190 pp., $15.95 paperback). In the nature versus nurture debate, Wilson argues both sides, and in a sociologically sophisticated way. Framing the question as the causal impact of social structure and cultural forces on inequality and poverty, he repeatedly shows that culture matters but that structure matters even more. Moreover, damaging cultural forms- like the culture of distrust among inner city residentsare structurally generated. Yet because "the hand of racial prejudice is not readily visible" in many of the structures that presently create and sustain black poverty in the inner city, political debates have polarized over rather than coalesced around the linkage of race and economic inequality. Wilson's book goes a long way toward reforging that link.
Selected by Brent Laytham, who teaches theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.