I have written before about the remarkable, diverse, interesting and important professional association for Christian lawyers, law students, legal scholars, judges, and human rights activists called Christian Legal Society (CLS.) They are kind to us and make it possible for us to be their bookseller at most of their annual conferences, and we are exhausted from the last days of being full of bookish conversation. Thank goodness for our hefty van, which hauled our books to and from Florida.
Thanks also to Mr. Michael Schutt, author of Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession (IVP; $24.00) who sets the standard for
doing a readable, insightful, interesting, important, meaty book relating the philosophical and theological foundations of the legal profession to the daily practices of the vocation of being a lawyer. We often say that every career should have a “definitive” volume for serious thinkers in their profession as good as this is for those interested in law.
Mike encourages Beth and I so much, and he does the same with just about everyone. He and his pals in CLS leadership do a great job offering speakers and workshops on things that are pretty arcane for their own professional certification process, as well as more general workshops on business ethics, free speech debates, pro-life issues, religious liberty, starting legal aid clinics for the poor and other such topics. And, I get to do a talk on thoughtful books for the serious Christian reader–send me an email if you want my list of top twelve categories for a year of good reading. At CLS we sold numerous other books about the theological basis for law
(natural law, say) and the history of the development of the Western legal tradition (such as the heavy work by Harold Berman or John Witte) and stuff about current church/state issues, religious liberty and such. If you
are interested, do let us know and we can chat more.
The best-selling books at this impressive gathering are the sorts of things anyone who cares about public life and faithful citizenship should find helpful. I’ve been wanting to highlight a few of these anyway, so here, in no particular order, are some that we had fun promoting at CLS, Orlando, 2010.
Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Revised and Expanded) Richard Mouw (IVP) $16.00 I have loved—loved!—this book in the past and am giddy that it is now available in an updated, expanded edition. A graceful new cover reminds us of the not-so-common grace that is called for as people debate public issues. From sexuality to religion in public, from Biblical disagreements (about sexuality, or hell, say) to political discourse, this book reminds us of the need for public etiquette, for the need for persuasion and respect. Mouw is very wise, he’s a clear writer, and his instincts about complex things like “toleration” are so very helpful (and needed perhaps now more than in recent memory!) I’ve said in print before that I know of no other writer who is as clear about his own deep convictions and yet is so willing to listen well to others, to name the places of commonality, the stuff he appreciates in other traditions (even those with whom he shares very important disagreements.) He is candid about those with whom be respectfully disagrees and such humble candor is noteworthy. One gets the sense that not only is Rich a broad-minded thinker, it is clear that he thinks from deep within his own tradition, the Dutch neo-Calvinist worldview of Abraham Kuyper that has made him who he is. Yet, the call to gentleness and willingness to learn is clear, even in a favorite chapter “Abraham Kuyper, Meet Mother Theresa.” And, then, the chapter “When There Is No Other Hand.” Lawyers, I suppose, could be a contentious bunch, and I was glad that a number took our recommendation and picked up this new edition of this tremendous little volume. Spread the word—this would make a great book club selection, an adult ed class, or a gift for anyone involved in public life.
City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era Michael Gerson & Peter Wehner (Moody Publishers) $19.99 Mr. Gerson, you may know, was a speech-writer for President Bush (no small thing) and famously left part-way through the President’s term. He wrote a book published by HarperOne entitled Heroic Conservatism, which, among other things, called for an increasing concern among social conservatives for the poor and oppressed, and expressed frustration at the disinterest amongst many so-called conservatives on this huge ethical matter. He is a Wheaton College alumni, a syndicated op-ed writer, and now works for the One Campaign. (Yep, you read that right!)
This brand new brief book is a much-anticipated first volume in a series (“Cultural Renewal”) edited by New York Redeemer Presbyterian’s pastor, Timothy Keller. (His forward is very thoughtful and a vital little essay itself!) Here–with an obvious allusion to Augustine–Gerson and Wehner (who also spent time in the Bush White House) reflect on the deepest meanings of public life, how religion does or doesn’t play a role in modern civic institutions, and how the famed “Christian right” perhaps did not get this all very right. Of course the authors are themselves affiliated with the thoughtful end of the conservative movement (Wehner now works for the Center for Ethics and Public Policy) but they have little interest in whipping up the right-wing culture warriors. While they see serious weaknesses in a shallow lefty approach, as well, they struggle to forge a way into the political fray that somehow transcends the partisan ideologies of our era. In this very sense, it may be conservative in the very best sense of the word. I’m very excited about this—Gerson gave a significant lecture for the Center for Public Justice last summer giving us a peak into the themes of this book, and we are glad it is now out. Kudos to Keller, to Moody, and to CLS for caring about such a fine and thoughtful overview of things that are deeply moral, thoughtful, and civil as it explores ways around this perplexing topic. Highly recommended.
Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture Wayne Grudem (Zondervan) $39.95 Dr. Grudem was a hit among most of those who took his classes at the CLS conference, and while many will disagree with his insistence on a conservativistic view of the task of the state and the subsequent view of various political issues, there is no doubt that the energetic Bible teacher has done us a great service by documenting so very much of what the Biblical text actually does and doesn’t say. I have not waded into this vast volume yet (it is quite new) and I suspect I will take exception to a few things, but I am sure reading it will be an education. So far, I see that the footnotes lack much citation of people I trust most, or those who have pioneered a Christian view of statecraft and public justice.
It seems to me that Grudem has entered a field that demands a coherent philosophy to under-gird and relate the various Bible verses he marshals, but has done so without due attention to those who have helped develop just such a foundation. (Paul Marshall–a guy Grudem should have cited–exposed this same weakness in Jim Wallis in an older review suggesting that Wallis was doing inadequate proof-texting to bolster his progressive agenda, reading the Bible in a moralistic manner, without a developed view of politics, as such. As much as I often agree with Wallis, Marshall was very helpful in his critique of Wallis’ inadequate view of statecraft, per se. Find the review at Dr. Marshall’s Hudson Institute pages.)
The impeccable Ronald J. Sider has explored this himself with much nuance and care in his Scandal of Evangelical Politics where he shows that to come up with a Biblically-guided view of policy one must go through various steps and stages, beyond just lining up verses willy nilly. That is, Sider properly argues, we need a political philosophy (guided by the Biblical narrative itself) and a way to responsible exegete the relevant Scriptural texts. And, of course, one needs data, too: for instance, do the most responsible economists show that minimum wage laws do or do not help the people such laws are intended to help? Does increased environmental regulation of polluting factories actually cut down on toxic air problems or are there unexpected consequences? Does increased spending on new missiles make us more safe or not? These pragmatic questions of facts and data must themselves be discerned through the lens of a Biblical worldview, so nothing is simple, and we must be diligent to think hard about it all. <
Despite Dr. Grudem’s 600 plus pages (looking at over 50 different issues) my hunch is he fails to do adequate justice to those, like Dr. Sider, and so many more, who have thought long and hard about this complicated field and have offered us a way of thinking that is necessary and helpful, even as we study the texts afresh. The National Association of Evangelicals, for instance, published a ground-breaking book edited to include a variety of major scholars (Toward An Evangelical Public Policy: Political Strategies for the Health of the Nation) and it is more than unfortunate that Grudem doesn’t cite it. I don’t suppose he intended to be disrespectful, and I cannot say if it crossed his mind that he would appear prideful to dare to enter this field without duly noting at least of few of those whose shoulder’s he should have been standing on. (To his credit, he does list a handful in an early paragraph, but doesn’t seem to illustrate how their work shaped his own.) Perhaps there is more discussion of the state of the art of the conversation about “Christian politics” in the book, but the footnotes are very disappointing, to see who he cites and who he fails to draw upon. (For an example of what I mean by the “state of the art of the conversation” see Church, State, and Public Justice: Five Views edited by P.C. Kemeny, published last year by IVP, which is an excellent dialogue about the task and limits of the state, the obligations of citizenship and the meaning of justice. Read about it here.)
I am grateful that Southern Baptist leader Paige Paterson says it is irenic. Yet, Marvin Olasky says it “overwhelms the nostrums of the evangelical left” (which is fair enough, but a bit snarky to use the word “nostrums” and perhaps an indication of who they are marketing this to—just those on the right who are predisposed to agree with the good professor.) The always reliable J.I. Packer calls it “strong” and “hard-hitting” (and “an outstanding achievement.”) Well. Wayne is known for being a very likable guy in person, and a no-nonsense straight-shooter in his very forcefully argued books (as in his critiques of the sloppy exegesis of some evangelical feminists.) We will see about the tone of this; I hope it is irenic; I hope it is a useful contribution to the on-going dialogue.
Perhaps this is the benefit of the book: Grudem is not a political philosopher, not a political activist. He is a theologian, and a Bible scholar and a beloved seminary professor. His work has a significant place for those of us who claim to want our political theory to be guided by excellent exegesis. I’m grateful CLS participants got to hear him, and Beth and I were thrilled to spend just a bit of time in small-talk and mutual encouragement. His Systematic Theology (Zondervan; $49.99) is a masterpiece of traditional evangelical work, immense, but readable, with helpful resources in the back for allowing this big volume to be used well by God’s hungry people. There are discussion questions, Bible memory aids, listings of hymns, citations of creeds, and so much more that one wouldn’t often find in such a textbook. If Wayne is a master of conservative, orthodox, scholarship in his field of theology and Bible study, it is less clear that he has earned the right to produce such a hefty volume on this perplexing specialized topic. I will be eager to read it carefully, happy to hear what others may think, and pray that it allows us to break away from simplistic proof-texting or ideological readings of the left or (in this case) the right. It is obvious that it is a massive project on which he spent considerable research time and that he is passionate and clear in his good teaching. Despite my concerns, I am happy to suggest Politics According to the Bible for those who want to hear what this important evangelical scholar is saying about contemporary policy issues, from a Biblical worldview, drawn in what seems to be fairly typical, conservative tones.
WE HAVE A FEW AUTOGRAPHED COPIES OF POLITICS ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, SIGNED BY WAYNE GRUDEM. LET US KNOW IF YOU WANT ONE. WHILE SUPPLIES LAST.
Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies Marilyn Chandler McEntyre (Eerdmans) $18.00 Since lawyers use words as much as any of us, and they are typically known for their precision, it was a joy to suggest this to a few good customers at CLS. McEntyre is a poet (her books of poetry inspired by paintings of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh are truly lovely) and this call to take language seriously is a very rich read itself. Of course language can be “depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded, and filled with artificial stimulants” she writes, as she compares language to other life-sustaining resources over which we must exercise careful stewardship. The stewardship of our speech, considered in thoughtful analysis and beautiful writing, is of great concern for all of us. Those who read widely, or speak publicly, or write for others surely must pay attention to the case she so lyrically builds here. May truth trump truthiness in this crazy world…perhaps this book will help. Thanks to the ones who bought it.
We had other good conversations and sold various sorts of things. We featured a few books especially for women in the workworld, the always useful book on resolving conflicts in Biblical ways (The Peacemaker by Kenneth Sande) and of course a big array of books on spirituality, discipleship, leadership, apologetics, global concerns–especially the heroic work against sexual trafficking by International Justice Mission and IJM’s Gary Haugen’s stunning books such as Just Courage, The Good News About Injustice, and Terrify No More. We are always glad when we get to recommend those important books, and even better when IJM is in the house. If you don’t know of these great books, you should.