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

Politics and Prose

Byron Borger


October 14, 2011
by Byron Borger

The Center for Public Justice will be present at the 30th annual national conference of the Christian Legal Society(CLS)  this month and Senior Fellow Gideon Strauss will be leading their symposium on jurisprudence.  In gratitude for the faithful work of CLS ministering to Christians in the legal profession, this month’s column lists a few helpful titles about law.

The Lawyers Calling: Christian Faith and Legal Practice by Joseph Allegretti  (Paulist Press; 1996) 

This is an excellent introductory reflection on the meaning of being called by God to the field of law.  Allegretti uses the famous categories of Richard Niebhur to compare and contrast deficient views, pushing for the “Christ transforming culture” model to inform and shape the practice of law done for the sake of justice.  This Roman Catholic thinker strikes a nice balance between astute observations, solid theological foundations, and beginning steps for integrating Christian thinking into the practice of law.  One good insight, for instance, invites us to reconsider working metaphors (“a hired gun” for instance) replacing them with more Biblically-faithful images.  Very nicely done.

Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession  by Michael Schutt (IVP; 2007 )

Every professional field should be so fortunate as to have a book as thoughtful, well-researched, and well-written as Schutt’s definitive classic on the subject of being a Christian lawyer.  Schutt is an experienced educator and works tirelessly with young law students to help them deepen a rigorous Christian mind, evaluating the theories and ideas which inform their views of jurisprudence even as he  guides them into a high regard for God’s call, well-schooled in the language of vocation and an appropriately high view of work.  The author has done considerable homework (Center for Public Justice fans will be glad to know that he cites Dutch legal philosopher Hermann Dooyeweerd) and the footnotes themselves are an education in the history of Christian thinking about law.  Remarkably, Schutt accomplishes all of this with a light touch, with Godly piety, and a delightful tone that is as inspiring as it is informative.  Very highly recommended.

Crime and Its Victims by Daniel Van Ness (IVP;1986) 

This may be the most comprehensive (and certainly the most fascinating) book about crime in the Bible.  It is careful, thorough, and offers a refreshingly alternative views to the  presumptions typically offered by liberals or conservatives.  He shows that the holy God of the Bible does, indeed, want law and order; the God of the Bible is also a God of mercy and restoration. And crimes are always quite human affairs—that is, they are not primarily a crime against the state, but a violation of a neighbor, another person.  He uses the rubric of restorative justice—some say that Van Ness coined the phrase while researching distinctively Christian approaches to prison reform for Charles Colson which has now become a common approach in the study of criminology.  This book deserves to be known in part because it is an example of how Biblically-based scholarship can help shape the public conversation about an area of social breakdown and point to hopeful new directions.

Changing Lenses: A New Focus on Crime and Justice by Howard Zehr (Herald Press; 1990)

The Anabaptist tradition of the Mennonite church has done remarkable work on facilitating reconciliation between victims and offenders; they have consistently called for humane treatment of prisoners and promoted ideas similar to Van Ness’s “restorative justice.”  Zehr’s popularly-written book may be the best example of accessible, practical work done on prison reform showing  ways in which Christ-like attitudes might influence those who work in criminology.

God’s Joust, God’s Justice: Law and Religion in the Western Tradition by John Witte, Jr. (Eerdmans; 2006)

Professor Witte has long been an academic pioneer in the exact sort of profoundly Christian theorizing that the Center for Public Justice has advocated, and his work in jurisprudence, the philosophy of law, the history of Christian ideas about justice and the relationship of various theological traditions to the development of notions of legal theories is heroic and mature, both deep and broad. (Much of his scholarly output has been seen in this prestigious series called the Emory University Studies in Law and Religion.)  This is just one fine example of the sort of foundational work that Witte has done to help us think faithfully about law and justice.  His scholarly work is a major contribution and this is one of his best. 

Byron Borger runs one of our favorite bookstores, Hearts & Minds Books, and will be selling his books at the Christian Legal Society conference later this month.


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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.”