A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence, edited by Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer. Many people assume that Christian pacifists lack good or even coherent answers to hard questions: Shouldn’t you protect the innocent? Wouldn’t you fight for your loved ones? What about war in the Old Testament? What about Hitler, or calling the police, or the centurion that Jesus praised? York and Barringer offer consistently good, often compelling, sometimes provocative or poignant responses. Readers may or may not find them convincing, but at least they unsettle the false peace of unthinking answers.

Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation, by Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba. Books like this usually threaten us with scarcity. Bahnson and Wirzba beckon us with God’s creative, “abundant kingdom homesteading,” correcting our “reconciliation deficit disorder” by helping us to see that the full scope of divine healing includes all creatures and the whole creation—soil and sea and air, and everything contained and sustained by them.

Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death, by Fred Craddock, Dale Goldsmith and Joy V. Goldsmith. Dying is hard anywhere, but it is especially difficult in an American church that “has outsourced the work of dying to a secular culture.” This book diagnoses the cultural and ecclesial trends that leave us inarticulate and inept in the face of dying and presents a robust theology that locates our dying in the baptismal story. The authors provide guidelines for speaking to the dying and preaching about dying, and they offer multiple accounts of good and not-so-good deaths.

The Limits of Hospitality, by Jessica Wrobleski. Limits on hospitality are not a concession to our finitude, fallenness or fear; rather, limits provide the boundaries that create a space into which others can be welcomed. Wrobleski expounds this strikingly original argument in relation to spirituality, identity and security, testing her analysis against the seemingly unlimited hospitality of Catholic Worker communities, which, although radical, retain limits that are more than practical or inevitable; they are good!

If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice, by Maureen O’Connell. This book taught me that aesthetics can open our eyes to ethics, that beauty can be a catalyst for justice and that the impoverished can give us the gift of rich visions of shalom. O’Connell shows 18 amazing Philadelphia murals (the color prints are glorious!), situates them in thick ethnographic description of their urban environment and analyzes all of this material theologically and morally. She also presents a rich theoretical analysis of muralism as a movement, of aesthetics in relation to ethics and of whiteness and other forms of privilege.

Option for the Poor and for the Earth: Catholic Social Teaching, by Donal Dorr. Dorr introduces readers to Catholic social teaching by thoroughly revising his classic 1992 text (Option for the Poor: A Hundred Years of Vatican Social Teaching) and integrating into it 200 new pages. Particularly noteworthy at this time are his treatments of two of Benedict XVI’s encyclicals and of the place of ecological justice throughout the tradition.

Compassionate Justice: An Inter­disciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime, and Restorative Justice, by Christopher D. Marshall. Reading Jesus’ two most memorable parables, those of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, through the lens of criminal victimization and restorative justice, Marshall sets forth a rich feast. His reading simultaneously illumines the meaning and power of Jesus’ parables and the urgent necessity of restorative justice. He then steps back to connect compassion and justice, first conceptually and then in the justice system.

Ethics in the Presence of Christ, by Christopher R. J. Holmes. Holmes argues that Christian ethics is the human response to the question, What is Jesus doing now? His answer, drawn from the Gospel of John, points to the presence and ongoing ministry of Jesus’ power, truth and love. Holmes rejects exemplarism, the notion that a distant Jesus now dead exemplified principles of right living that we too should adopt. He commends instead a christological realism—the idea that scripture bespeaks a present, acting Jesus who draws us into his own moral performance.

Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture, by Thomas S. Hibbs. Stories are a form of moral representation and tutelage, as inescapable as they are enjoyable. “Shows”—popular movies and television—are the most prevalent moral stories in our culture and may also be the most powerful. As he uncovers the narrative grammar of pop culture, Hibbs makes a compelling case that many of our most popular and successful shows, from Pulp Fiction to Mad Men, are ultimately nihilistic. In some shows good is indistinguishable from evil, but in others virtuous resistance is possible.

The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church, edited by Michael Root and James J. Buckley. Root and Buckley have gathered thought-provoking explorations of the ethical dimensions of a divided church. Writing from a shared commitment to “rebuilding the divided body,” the contributors convey beautifully that our ethical divisions are inseparable from doctrine.

D. Brent Laytham

D. Brent Laytham is a professor of theology and dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland.

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