Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Politics and Prose

Byron Borger


November 11, 2011
by Byron Borger

This is a continuation of a series of articles by Byron Borger, introducing new books significant to the principled practice of public justice.

Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help by Robert Lupton (HarperOne; 2011) $22.95 

Lupton has long been a thoughtful and passionate urban activist advocating for structural changes in our inner cities.  As Phil Yancey has written, “When Bob Lupton speaks the rest of us ought to sit up and take notice.  His work is deeply disturbing---in the best sense of the word.”  In this new study he troubles the waters even more, explaining how charitable enterprises, non-profits and faith-based initiatives can have negative consequences among those whose needs they are trying to serve.  It is no surprise that this book is about how charity and justice relate, how community development must be empowering, and how the voices of those on the margins must be heard; it has been one of his areas of expertise for decades.  This is a brilliant set of hard-hitting insights learned in the trenches from an urban leader who we can trust.  Interestingly, there is much here about leadership and change that is applicable to those of us working in other arenas as well.  Highly recommended.

War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Press; 2011) $19.99 

When the Center for Public Justice was a small movement of mostly young evangelicals influenced by Dutch neo-Calvinism, it was rare to find thoughtful Christians that were engaged much in politics at all, let alone developing any kind of alternative vision beyond the obvious.  Hauerwas is one controversial theologian who has worked tirelessly and provocatively in a way that is in some ways akin to our concerns and in some significant ways is quite different.   He offers a prophetic critique of individualism and philosophical liberalism, stands with the historic nonviolence of the Anabaptists, and demands that our congregational practices shape our civic ways.  While many in the Kuyperian tradition might argue with Hauerwas’s bold claims, we would be wise to consider and engage his work.  His new book is a collection of essays, articles and academic pieces considering our nature of the American identity.  Yes, he goes after some sacred cows—there is even a very interesting piece on violence in C.S. Lewis. Military theorist Andrew Bacevich calls this volume “luminous” and notes that Hauerwas offers an “authentic realism that displaces the illusions commonly passing for realism.”

Left, Right & Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics by Lisa Sharon Harper & D.C. Innes (Russell Media; 2011) $22.99  

The Center for Public Justice has long been critical of the bipolar continuum (right vs left) within American politics.  In the European scene (illustrated by the Christian political party of Prime Minister Kuyper) there has been a diversity of political organizations representing a wild array of ideologies and worldviews.  Many of us in the States are adamant: we are neither left nor right and the insistence that we must be one or the other is itself bankrupt.  Having said that, allow me to nonetheless heartily recommend this back and forth book co-authored by a principled Democrat and a solid Republican, an experienced urban justice advocate and an Orthodox Presbyterian conservative.   Many thoughtful friends of CPJ have endorsed this engaging new work, all agreeing that it is a refreshing example of cordial discourse, civic debate and—happily—some surprising arguments which are well developed.  Some of the conversation is foundational (the view of the state, for instance, and the legitimacy of a high regard for business and markets) while other chapters spell out each author’s respective views on policy questions such as welfare, immigration, taxes, energy policy, abortion, and the like.  Ms Harper is formerly of NY Faith & Justice and now works at Sojourners in DC and Dr. Innes is a much-appreciated professor of political science at the Kings College in New York.  This is a handsome hardback, designed with as much panache as the authors and the views they share.   If we are ever going to get beyond this impasse, it may be that we need to know better each other’s views, and learn to be discerning about the strengths and weaknesses of these two popular schools of thought.  This is not the end of the conversation, but it is a very colorful and helpful contribution.   

Byron Borger runs one of our favorite bookstores, Hearts & Minds Books. We hope you will consider using his store for your Christmas book-shopping.


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”