Book Review: Christian Faith and Social Justice (Five Views)

A libertarian, a liberal, a liberationist, a feminist, and a virtue ethicist all walk into a bar. This is the basic premise behind Bloomsbury’s new offering Christian Faith and Social Justice: Five Views edited by Vic McCracken. This book is intended to serve as an introduction to and conversation between five distinctively Christian approaches to social justice. The five views represented are: Libertarianism (Jason Jewell), Political Liberalism (Daniel A. Dombrowski), Liberation Theology (Miguel A. De La Torre), Christian Feminism (Laura Stivers, and Virtue Ethics (Elizabeth Phillips). The result is a highly engaging book sure to stimulate and challenge one’s Christian approach to social justice.

The most helpful part of the book was witnessing the generous, yet vigorous, conversations between the respective authors. This interaction is what makes books of this variety (competing perspectives in dialogue) so valuable. It’s much easier to assess positions and arguments when you are able to immediately see the critiques posed to each position. I also appreciated that each author had one last chance to respond to the other writer’s critiques. I haven’t found this feature in all books that present multiple perspectives, but the longer the conversation goes the more able the reader is able to assess the arguments.

Each author did a fair job presenting their position and the main chapters thus serve as a good introduction to these different approaches to social justice. If one is unfamiliar with one of these positions, it’s possible to use the quotes and footnotes to compose a good list of primary texts for further study. A suggestion: it might be helpful to have each author provide a recommended reading list for their viewpoint. Two possible downsides to the book: first, one finds many different approaches (some more philosophical, some more exegetical, some more theological) throughout the book. I’m not sure that can be avoided with so many authors involved, but some readers might be disappointed if they are expected a discussion that is primarily philosophical, exegetical, or theological. Second, it is not always clear how the five viewpoints interact and overlap with each other. There are obviously many clear differences, but on many occasions the authors wish to point out the possibility that their view is compatible with certain versions of other viewpoints. To this end, it might have been helpful for each author to address a uniform and concrete example through the lens of their viewpoint. McCracken offers three “case studies” in her introduction and I would have been interested in each author specifically addressing these situations.

From my perspective, I found Elizabeth Phillips presentation and defense of virtue ethics to be the most persuading. To be fair, I read the book already very appreciative of the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. Likewise, I found the libertarian position to be most lacking, although it was presented much more attractively than it is often represented by its ideological leaders in the media.

I greatly enjoyed reading Christian Faith and Social Justice and would recommend it for:

– Individuals looking to learn more about the interaction between Christian faith and social justice (especially those who might benefit from seeing the actual diversity of Christian opinions on the issue)
– Supplemental reading for an introductory Christian ethics/political philosophy course
– An adult study group looking for an academically orientated look at social justice


Note: I received this book from Bloomsbury in exchange for an unbiased review.

A Prayer for Social Justice

From The Book of Common Prayer:

For Social Justice.

Almighty God, who hast created humankind in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression; and that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among humankind and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

You Might Be a Prophet If…

[a case study from the book of Micah]

(1) You deeply desire to reform God’s people.
Prophets have a tendency of pointing out the sins of the church (Micah 1:1-7) and calling her to replace false & empty worship with just & faithful living (Micah 6:1-8).

[Perhaps you sometimes wonder out loud why and how Jesus’ message got kidnapped for other agendas – “How Did Jesus Come to Love Guns and Hate Sex?”]

(2) You are hyper-sensitive to economic injustice and the plight of the poor.
Prophets also often condemn the greed of the wealthy and powerful (Micah 2:1-5), criticize political leaders and ideologies that allow the poor to suffer (Micah 3:1-4), and remind the wealthy of their responsibility to the poor and powerless (Micah 6:9-16).

[Warning: Fox News might call you an anti-Christian marxist – “Pope Francis’ Stinging Critique of Capitalism”]

(3) You find anything short of radical peace and inclusion simply unacceptable.
Prophets are sometimes foolish & unrealistic enough to long for a day when: vastly different people get along, war tactics/strategies are forgotten and left behind, and weapons of violence are transformed into tools of life (Micah 4:1-5).

[In fact, you might even have the gall to start being obedient now – “Beating AK-47’s into Shovels”]

(4) You are mocked and ignored because of your pleas for counter-cultural obedience.
Prophets are frequently considered dramatic, negative, and pointlessly contrarian.  The truth is that they truly feel the weight of all that has gone wrong with the world (Micah 1:8-9; Micah 7:1-13) and they can’t help but speak and act.  Unfortunately, this is often ignored or misinterpreted by those who only want to be affirmed and hear good news (Micah 2:6-13; Micah 3:5-8).

[Pro-Tip: You might receive a lot of patronizing questions and rolling of the eyes  – “You’re Not a Pacifist, Are You?”]

Is there anything you might add to this profile of a prophet?
Who do you know you is currently acting in a prophetic way?

non-prophet comic jpg