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Journal of Lutheran Ethics Issue Index June/July 2020 Book Review Issue

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A Note from the Editor


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Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth

Last October when the JLE Advisory Council met to plan the issues for 2020 we decided to put the summer book review issue in June.  We, or at least I, envisioned professors on summer break from classes having time to peruse new books on the beach while pastors and lay leaders had a more relaxed schedule to look at new books for adult education opportunities.  The idea of a lazy summer reading issue has, of course, been thoroughly scrapped. COVID-19 and quarantine and church building closures have created new challenges for teachers, preachers, and families. Now the end of May and early June brings a new situation, founded on the centuries old American problem of systemic racism and police brutality.  Even in my usually quiet suburb of Milwaukee, I lay awake all night listening to police helicopters circling as protesters march. Read More.

Editor's Introduction

Nancy Arnison, Book Review Editor 

We begin with a book that, though 30 years old, speaks to our current situation as if it was written yesterday.  Reviewing Parker Palmer's, The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America's Public Life, Stewart Herman discovers wisdom for navigating the social isolation of our pandemic era.  More broadly, he finds fruitful insights for Lutheran civic engagement in Palmer's understanding of "public life." This review thus introduces what will be a series of book reviews addressing the role of the church in public life and government. The ELCA is in the process of developing a social message on government and civic engagement and while that process unfolds, this Journal will publish a series of reviews reflecting a variety of perspectives on these themes. Read More.

Book Reviews

The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America’s Public Life  by Parker Palmer

Review by Stewart Herman

Parker Palmer is familiar to educators as a beacon of hope and courage.  His 1998 Courage to Teach articulated the dignity and even nobility of the profession to young instructors like me.  His 2000 Let Your Life Speak fearlessly recounted his own struggles to sustain a sense of meaning in his life.  Yet his 1981 The Company of Strangers might be his most relevant book for the pandemic we are living through. For the past thirty years, public intellectuals have chastised us for retreating from the public square of civic engagement into private retreats of our own making.  As our national politics has soured into partisan gridlock, many of us—I include myself—have narrowed our horizons, striving for professional advancement, cultivating friendships, nurturing family enclaves.   We sought to gain control of the narratives of our lives by reducing them to dimensions that we indeed control, by carving out zones of psychic comfort.  All with a sense of guilt, of course, that we were letting the world take care of itself.


From Jeremiad to Jihad

I Can Do No Other: The Church’s New Here We Stand Moment by Anna Madsen   

Review by Mindy Makant

Anna Madsen’s new book, I Can Do No Other: The Church’s New Here We Stand Moment, is not explicitly about the relationship between church and state.  It is, rather about discipleship, about taking the promise of the Gospel that though “death is real, life is realer” and the message of the Reformation that justification means that injustice threatens life and we – the church – are called to be ambassadors of that Gospel.  Later, Madsen says we are called to be “gospel in motion.”  And this makes her book exactly about the relationship between church and state and those of us who inhabit both.

Laura Hartman




An Ecological Theology of Liberation: Salvation and Political Ecology by Daniel Castillo

Review by Andrew Ronnevik​

Daniel Castillo frames his volume by asking how, in our current global context, we are to relate salvation, liberation, and care for creation. His answer, this book’s thesis, comes in the work’s title: Christians are to respond to our planetary emergencies with An Ecological Theology of Liberation, that is, with “a mode of discourse that grounds the preferential options for both the earth and the poor in its confession of who God is and what God desires” and that “seeks to elucidate and energize forms of praxis that make manifest these options in the world." The substance of this mode of discourse is a broad, integrated theological vision that is both Catholic and catholic, engaging liberation and ecology, Scripture and salvation, political economy and spiritual practice.  

The Alternative Luther: Lutheran Theology from the Subaltern edited by Else Marie Wiberg Pedersen

Review by Jennifer Hockenbery Dragseth

Editor Else Marie Wiberg Pedersen introduces this excellent collection of articles by explaining that the aim of the volume “is to widen the scope of Luther’s and Lutheran theology by discussing Luther and Lutheran theology as perceived from the perspective of the subaltern, those who are never or rarely heard.  The hope is to reach both those often ignored and those by whom they are ignored.” The book does just this. The book eradicates the divide between “traditional Lutherans” and “alternative Lutherans” making the case, by looking at the original German and Latin of Luther’s texts and his historical context, that the traditional Luther is the alternative theologian: a “precarious” and “subaltern” former monk who was fighting to decolonize Christianity from the Roman Catholic Church by using inclusive language and evangelizing both to those who were too often ignored and to those who ignored them. The authors of each essay connect Luther’s thinking in his time to a call in ours that we might better listen to those who are ignored: the banned, the excluded, the marginalized. While there is, of course, an ethical imperative to listen to our neighbor for our neighbor’s sake, these essays make it clear that this listening will expand our own understanding and help us work towards common goods for more people and more of creation.  

Kaleidoscope: Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction edited by Ineda Pearl Adesanya

Review by Bonnie Morris

Kaleidoscope: Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction is a collection of essays written by and for people of color in the practice of spiritual direction.  Its wisdom, however, is helpful to all people in the art of holy listening.  Providing a comprehensive resource covering the various components of spiritual direction, the book’s four sections cover the history and foundations of spiritual direction, the art of spiritual direction, contemporary matters, and professional matters.  Attention is paid to both theory and practice.

Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

© June/July 2020
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 20, Issue 4


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