Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Five Views on the Church and Politics, edited by Amy E. Black

Recent trends in the United States seem to point to a constantly lowering importance of religion in public life.  Yet religion persists as an important factor in elections and in policy making.  Grappling with the question of the interactions of faith and politics does not compare in importance to larger, eternal mission of the church, but political life is unquestionably an element of the temporal mission of the church.

In Five Views on the Church and Politics, Amy Black brings together five scholars who describe and discuss their own traditions' views.  Each of these contributes a chapter, to which the other four offer brief responses: Thomas Heilke (Anabaptist), Robert Benne (Lutheran), Bruce Fields (the Black church), James K.A. Smith (Reformed), and J. Brian Benestad (Roman Catholic).

As you might expect from this type of book, each chapter feels just a bit brief.  Each contributor covers the high points of his tradition, while providing extensive sources for those who want to dig in.  The responses highlight the differences among the traditions.  I was left with an impression of varied traditions that have distinctive ways of saying the same things.  Of course, there are differences among these five traditions, but there are many more similarities.

Five Views is a very useful volume for readers looking for a brief synopsis of these five traditions.  Black couches each in categories drawn from Neibuhr's Christ and Culture.  She points out that "these traditions overlap in many significant ways, have borrowed from each other's teachings over time, and continue to learn from one another and change from within."  Five Views did little to dispel my notion that while theological and scriptural traditions certainly inform denominational views on politics, the reverse is also frequently true.  Sometimes those who shape a denomination's position use theology and scripture to defend a political perspective.

At the very least, Five Views will be a useful book for seminary classes on Christian ethics.  But one hopes that lay people and clergy will use Five Views as a starting point for reflecting on their own traditions and the theology behind their own political views.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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