The New Holy Wars, by Robert H. Nelson

I have only a small flickering light to guide me in the darkness of a thick forest. Up comes a theologian and blows it out." So complained 18th-century French philosopher Denis Diderot. It is true that much that passes for theology fails to illumine the path, and it does not help to claim that nontheological reasoning is often equally opaque. Thankfully, a few lights shine brightly.

In the 1990s political scientist Glenn Tinder had the audacity to write Can We Be Good Without God?—a book that was more frontally theological, more able to connect God and politics, than the offerings of many theologians. Several other nontheologians—literary theorist Harold Bloom and legal scholar John Witte Jr., for example—have a way of entering deep into the theological woods and shining light in the darkness.

University of Maryland economist Robert Nelson has earned a place in this group. In The New Holy Wars this nontheologian proves capable of out-theologizing many theologians. Nelson's earlier volumes and articles (some of which are collected in this volume, making it repetitive at times) position him as one who pays sustained attention to key questions being ignored by many others. Apart from proponents of the prosperity gospel and liberation theology, how many theorists meaningfully connect theology and economics? How many believers credibly use the term God in relation to the social, political and economic—and not merely personal—dimensions of their lives?