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

Politics and Prose

Byron Borger


September 9, 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.

Where Mortals Dwell: A Christian View of Place for Today by Craig Bartholomew (Baker Academic; 2011) 

They say it was Tip O’Neill who coined the aphorism “all politics is local,” and there is little doubt that our citizenship is not merely lived out in the national ballot box.  Christian citizens should care about their locale, and this book’s first half gives us a systematic study of how place is portrayed throughout the Biblical narrative.  In the brilliant, demanding second half Bartholomew shows how a contemporary view of place has been forged by philosophers and theologians—for better or worse.  No one has yet done such a sustained study of place, and while the topic is not specifically about politics, the implications are many, making this an important resource for citizenship development.

Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey Bass; 2011) 

Palmer has been engaged in social activism with a view to the relationship of faith and public life for most of his long teaching career.  He is a Quaker seriously influenced by the contemplative tradition, but is also a passionate soul with a desire for an inclusive sense of justice.  He is experienced in mediating groups with different views, one who believes in the possibilities of local citizens transcending their partisan hostilities in the quest for common ground.  In this book, Palmer ruminates on this hopeful vision and how it requires interior work on “matters of the heart” (with the eloquence of de Tocqueville, who long ago reminded Americans to attend to "habits of the heart").  Interestingly, Palmer speaks candidly of his own disappointments and grief, showing how a broken-open heart can allow us to create a new sort of empathetic politics.  This approach of attending to our inner pain is not the typical vocabulary used by most neo-Calvinistic political thinkers.  Still, I am persuaded that this approach could be fruitful as we strive to put real civic legs on our reformational ideas.

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind by Mark A. Noll (Eerdmans; 2011)

Readers of Capital Commentary are likely well aware of the important work of this eminent evangelical historian of the University of Notre Dame. (Noll gave the first Center for Pubic Justice Kuyper Lecture, published subsequently as Adding Cross to Crown.) His 1994 Scandal of the Evangelical Mind helped inspire many towards an increased integration of faith and theory.  Here he explores a natural “next step” for those engaged in Christian scholarship by asking how Christology shapes our thinking. If we desire a Christian worldview that leads to uniquely Christian thinking and learning, how, really, does Jesus (and our theologies about the person and work of Christ) inform that project?  There is a good chapter which serves as a twenty-year sequel to Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, reporting how evangelicals have improved in this aspect of our cultural witness.  But the book is more than a revisitation of the topic; it is truly breaking new ground. This is a major contribution to theology, to the conversation about the Christian mind, and a gift for all of us who care about thoughtfully honoring Christ in our social witness.

Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace by John Paul Lederach (Oxford University Press; 2010) 

Lederach is one of the world’s leading scholars about peacemaking, mediation and conflict resolution.  He has studied the questions around humanitarian intervention, promoted a model of “just policing” and has written about the United Nation’s declaration of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P). Earlier books of his are considered classics in the field.  Last year he wrote what might be his magnum opus, a major contribution on how to think about global peacemaking in a violent and fallen world, much of it documenting recent findings and how his own view has evolved through experience in the field.  As a Mennonite, Lederach has a particular critique of the role of the military and the ways in which use of violence often causes more injustice than it may solve.  Whether one agrees fully with his Christo-centric nonviolence, this work is a master achievement by a renowned thinker who has surveyed trouble spots all over the globe for decades.  We would be wise to know his work and take up the challenge of forging new ways of peace-building. 

Byron Borger runs one of our favorite bookstores, Hearts & Minds Books. Read some of his review essays on that site; you will be glad you did!


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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.”