Editor's Introduction July/August 2017: Book Review Edition

Supposedly St. Thomas Aquinas wrote somewhere that he thought it critically important to save money for books, and "if I have a little left over, I use it to buy food and drink."  Those of us in the 21st century who cherish books above physical nourishment live with an availability of books Thomas would envy.  So many books, so little time! 

While not true for every scholar across the globe, most of us in the U.S. have access to more volumes than anyone could possibly devour —think what's available at the click of a mouse online. Enter JLE's commitment to providing accessible, judiciously selected, diverse, representative book reviews every month that enable pastors, students, and reflective individuals to keep up on the literature even if they do not have the time—nor probably the money.

Since 2013 Dr. James Childs (Jim), formerly dean and the Joseph A. Sittler Professor of Theology and Ethics at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, has served as buffet manager for all of us who depend on JLE as the solution to "so many books, so little time." As of this past June, Jim stepped down from this work he has done so to serve up what we readers need. 

This late summer's book review issue is dedicated to him with our deepest gratitude.  It is my privilege as managing publisher on behalf of the Theological Discernment Team in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA to share a few reflections on this occasion.  As a heads up I also, at the end of this essay, am happy to announce who JLE's new book review editor will be. 

JLE has annually dedicated the July/August issue solely to a selective collection of book reviews and this issue is "all Jim."  That is, each review here was selected from reviews he has written for JLE and they provide a retrospect on the breadth of the scholarly take from which JLE readers have benefited.   If you did not catch these reviews the first time around—after all none of us can even read every review!—here is your chance during the late days of summer to catch up.  Head for your favorite chair or hammock and imbibe. Each review remains immediately relevant to conversations today, demonstrates remarkable breadth, and illustrates why we have been privileged to have Jim in this role.

The breadth of issues addressed is immediately evident but what many readers may not know about this select collection is the depth and knowledge that Jim himself brought to each review.  He was immensely qualified to review each of these topics because he had written significant contributions to the literature on that issue himself!  I hasten to add that these five exhaust our space but not the examples of this from which we could have drawn.

Jim reviewed Thinking About Sex by Adrian Thatcher as one who has himself taught about, contributed to, and edited reflections on sexual ethics.  I will name only one of Jim's contributions, one that was quite familiar in the ELCA: Faithful Conversations: Christian Perspective on Homosexuality (2003). That book, which he edited and to which he contributed, came off the presses as part of his service as Director of ELCA Studies on Human Sexuality (2001-2005).   Likewise, his review of Christian Economic Ethics by Daniel K. Finn provides keen insights, possible only for a person who has immersed himself in the literature to write, among others, Greed: Economics and Ethics in Conflict (2000) and Ethics in Business: Faith at Work (1995).  He reviews for us, again as it were, Killing from the Inside Out: Moral Injury and Just War (2014), a book related to the subject he was researching at the time of "soul injury," which led to publication of Moral Warriors, Moral Wounds: The Ministry of the Christian Ethic (2016) with Wollom Jensen.

Readers also will find his review of Martin Marty's October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day that Changed the World, not much of a stretch for Jim since he was the scholar chosen to update the field's standard historical reader (originally done by George Forell in 1966) Christian Social Teachings: A Reader in Christian Social Ethics from the Bible to the Present (2012).  Lastly, we have placed in this issue his review of Ted Peter's Sin Boldly: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls and yet again Jim is playing from strength.  Some two decades ago Jim contributed his own theoretical, yet practical, take on ethics in what has become a standard text in seminaries, Ethics in the Community of Promise: Faith Formation, and Decision (Updated and reprinted in 2006). If we had provided all 13 of his reviews for this issue, it would simply be piling on to what is already established: we have been privileged because Jim brought astounding breadth and depth across the vast terrain of ethics.

I have emphasized so far Jim's scholarship but I hope readers have also picked up a critical subtheme, which also is a hallmark of JLE's intention.  This is a journal dedicated to linking the life of the church with critical thinking from a faith perspective.  This journal is dedicated to being a link focused on ethics and the church, one that makes available knowledge from multiple sources for discernment in the church.  Key to this work is the link between the academy and the church.  This link is always in tension because those two "publics" each tend to pull in their own direction.  This tension has been present from the Enlightenment on, at least, but is especially strong in a pragmatic and frenetic society where the life of the mind and even the intent of a sustained argument is valued so minimally.

It is not a novel observation that far too often there is little respect, significant tension and minimum interest in probing the knowledge and perspective each has to offer the other.   But Jim has demonstrated through his long career that the linkage is possible and salutary, is healthy and desirable.  Jim has embodied the union of scholarship, church leadership, teaching, pastoring, and administrating in ways that have made clear why each role, especially the academic and the dimension it represents needs the others in conversation within the church. 

JLE has been deeply fortunate because he has helped JLE become better at what the role it seeks to play, a journal linking each of those dimensions.  JLE exists as a prime means to enable the ELCA's exercise as a community of moral deliberation—yes, the ELCA states explicitly that its identity in Christ is to be a "community of  moral deliberation" ("The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective"( 1991)).  JLE exists, then, to be an online place in which these dimension come together in conversation for anyone who wishes to claim Paul's exhortation that life in Christ is to be one of "discerning the mind of Christ." (Romans 12:2). 

We are in your debt, Jim, because you have contributed such amazing gifts as well as your gracious being to the work of this journal.  You have enabled JLE to serve better the ELCA and all its readers who, like Thomas, would spend their time and dollars on books above all else, if necessary.  Thank you and thank you!

JLE's new book editor extends the journal's run of gifted individuals dedicated to linking critical reflection and the church with the needs of the world for ministry. Dr. Nancy Arnison, I am delighted to announce, will be Jim's successor.  

 Dr. Arnison is a human rights lawyer with a PhD in theology from the University of Chicago.  She served the ELCA from 2005 to 2010 as the Director of ELCA World Hunger and was, until recently, the CEO and Director for the non-profit "Theological Book Network." http://www.theologicalbooknetwork.org/  Given her work in the latter organization, she is deeply familiar with the world of and the players in theological book publishing and brings an astounding familiarity with educational institutions from across the globe, not theoretically but personally.  We are privileged to turn next to her as the book review editor who will pair the critical reflection called ethics with the church's ministry and know she is well positioned to broaden the international character of books written and reviewed here.   Welcome Nancy as the new manager of the buffet.  


Roger Willer is the Director for Theological Ethics in the ELCA Churchwide Office and serves as managing publisher for the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. 

 © July/August 2017

Journal of Lutheran Ethics

Volume 17, Issue 4