Book Review -- By: John Warwick Montgomery
Editor, Global Journal of Classical Theology
Christian Justice and Public Policy, by Duncan B. Forrester. Cambridge University Press, 1997. (“Cambridge Studies in Ideology and Religion,” ed. Duncan Forrester and Alistair Kee.) xiv + 274pp. Hardback $40, paperback $14.95. ISBN 0–521-55611–2
This volume, which raises vitally important questions concerning the relationship of Christianity to contemporary political theory, law, and social policy, is the tenth in an academic series which has included such titles as A Theology of Reconstruction: Nation-Building and Human Rights (Charles Villa-Vicencio), Protestantism in Contemporary China (Alan Hunter), Religion and the Making of Society: Essays in Social Theology (Charles Davis), Pastoral Care and Liberation Theology (Stephen Pattison), Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism (Grace Jantzen), and God’s Just Vengeance: Crime, Violence and the Rhetoric of Salvation (Timothy Gorringe). The book has a distinguished pedigree: its author is Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at New College, University of Edinburgh, and did much of the writing at the Center of Theological Inquiry at Princeton. Some of the included material was previously given in the F.D. Maurice Lectures in King’s College, London (1995) and as a Bishop Butler Lecture in the University of Bristol (1996).
In line with the general purpose of the series to go beyond “studies by social-scientists who often adopt a functionalist and reductionist view of the faith and beliefs which motivate those directly involved” in Christian social action, the author contends that even though “religion no longer occupies the place it did in western societies as an institution,. .. that does not mean it must be restricted to the private, domestic or leisure spheres of life” (pp. xi-xii). Forrester wants the Christian believer to impact today’s secular, global, and pluralistic society in an intelligent, principled, and effective way. His object is to answer the question: “What kind of Christian voice is appropriate in the public realm in relation to debates about public policy, and how might it be most appropriately articulated today?” (p. 9). He focuses on “the central issue of justice” (p. 36), going from the theoretical to the practical by way of such moral issues as poverty and punishment/imprisonment. A significant part of the book (pp. 111-92) is devoted to a theological examination and critique of influential contemporary secular theories of justice (Rawls, Hayek, Habermas). Finally, the author offers his personal suggestions and insights under the general rubic “Theological Fragments” (pp. 193 ff.).
In evaluating the degree of success to be attributed to Forrester’s laudable endea...
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