Professor Robert Benne was probably the best seminary
professor I had. One of the great joys I had, as a seminarian
student was a course taught by Benne called "Introduction to
Church and Society." This course coupled with Benne's passion,
its methodology, and readings confirmed what I experienced as a
church worker in the late 1960s. In order to do meaningful
ministry, especially in urban context, one had to become familiar
with the structures of authority in that place. Benne
provided a useful framework for articulating social ethics from a
 And that is what makes Ordinary Saints an
exceptionally useful text for some contemporary Lutherans. In
a tightly written text, filled with personal stories, Benne
introduces the reader, principally college students, to the basics
of the Christian life nuanced by Lutheran theological
understanding. The book is organized into three parts: the
call of God, the calling of the Christian, and the callings (or
places where the Christian exercises his/her callings) of the
Christian. Each chapter begins with an epigram from the Bible
(two from the Hebrew Bible and eight from the New Testament).
Each chapter ends with a set of questions and recommendations for
 While other contemporary ethicists spend time crafting
Christian ethical theory of some kind or another and then applying
that theory to specific issues in society, Benne chooses a
different strategy. The first six chapters unveil the
framework of what Benne is proposing. The last four chapters
are related to specific "places" in which the Christian lives out
his/her calling. In an intentional way, then, Benne
accomplishes his purpose: to sketch the Christian life (xii).
 What is the fundamental problem that motivates Benne to
revise this previously published text on the basic ingredients of
the Christian life? The first is the confusion and moral
fragmentation of society especially as it is embodied in college
students. Many students are unclear about why they are on
this earth and lack knowledge of the Christian heritage.
 The second observation we've heard before. It is the
combination of fragmented life styles and moving away from the
classical understanding of the Christian faith. One of the
consequences, in Benne's view, is that people become lonely and
disconnected. Secondly, they then join "communities" based on
race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (12). A
consequence of this behavior is that these new "tribes" challenge
and disassociate themselves from the grand metanarratives developed
and associated with what Robert Bellah and others call the biblical
and republican narratives.
 This is an interesting description of the fundamental
problem in America. As one of those "elite
multiculturalists," (I guess I would be so identified because of my
education and the "place" where I "work"), I would want to probe a
little more Benne's assessment. One of the consequences of
the Enlightenment project was its emphasis on the individual.
Individualism (i.e., a life style, belief system, and moral
principles that emphasizes self-interest) is the dominant spirit of
this country and the church. Individualism does lead toward
disconnecting from the biblical and republican narratives.
That much I agree with. Our market economy sees to
that. For example, some African American theologians and
ethicists would make the same argument. Even the sainted
cultural critic and philosopher Cornel West would argue that point
(see his popular book Race Matters).
 On the other hand, I think this is an incomplete reading of
the social situation in America. It seems to me that people
who had nothing to do with how they were created by God are
interested in what I would call individual striving. Persons
excluded from the history and story of the church and society are
interested in pursuing the full development of the gifts God has
blessed them with. Individual striving, then, is a
consequence of those communities defined by race, sex, ethnicity,
and sexual orientation who experienced the gospel, sacraments, a
spirituality, and oppressive practices that denied their humanity
and fulfillment as God's people. Individual striving is a
goal of the community (the church) which proclaims an alternate
shared identity and means of responsibility and accountability.
 Here I should make a confession. I, too, experienced
much of what Benne experienced as a young person in a Lutheran
congregation (see pages 32-36 for Benne's description of his
formation in the church). That congregation was an
"integrated" congregation that grew and was proud to be
self-supporting. It had all of the same programs as Benne's
congregation. And, I had several Sunday school teachers and
pastors who thought I would make a good pastor and encouraged me to
pursue that vocation. It was a model "integrated"
middle-class congregation because African Americans and whites were
able to build a church together.
 However, in many urban congregations, as people of African
descent began to assert themselves (i.e., they began to push for
individual striving) in the church and society, the white members
began to leave. By the early 1970s these congregations were
identified as African American congregations not by their own
definition but by the definition of others. It seems to me
that this is not a case of African American people "joining a
'community' because of race and being lonely." This is a case
of white members failing to believe in the justifying grace of God
and being stretched to express their faith in active love toward
their brothers and sisters in Christ. They were not held
accountable by the community for their confession that Jesus Christ
 And this brings me to what Benne identifies as the central
chapter of the book, Chapter 6. Employing the biblical story
of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), we learn that three qualities
make up the Christian life: faith, hope, and love. Christians
in their places of responsibilities (family, work, public life, and
the church), through the gift of the Holy Spirit, will manifest
 There appears to be some inconsistency in what Benne says
he is going to do in the last four chapters. Earlier in the
book, Benne tells us he is not going to deal with "issues."
However, in the chapter on "Marriage and Family Life," the reader
is treated to "Related Issues" including homosexuality
(147-158). However, when one reads the chapter on work, Benne
fails to identify any issues related to work like race or the fact
that corporations are choosing to leave urban communities and
relocating outside the North American continent.
 Ordinary Saints concludes with a chapter on the
church. In a lucid and wonderful manner Benne describes the
church as another place of responsibility. Traditional
Lutheran emphases are maintained. As a seminary professor who
at present encounters students in the "Introduction to Church and
Society" course, I found this to be especially heart-warming.
Some seminarians are unaware of the Lutheran tradition of social
ethics. Thus, Benne's presentation of how the church's
service is manifested in society is helpful. The distinction
between social care and social action is useful (212-215).
 Finally, several other observations are needful. One
wishes the publisher had chosen larger print for the book.
Those advancing in age may find reading the book somewhat
difficult. It will take several sittings to read the
book. And, those who consider themselves to be
"postmodernist" or "multiculturalist" in their orientation may be
disappointed in the book. While some women authors are listed
in the "Further Reading" sections, there are no identifiable people
of color listed. One could imagine, for example, how the
presentation of the Christian life would look had Benne engaged
ethicists like Samuel K. Roberts (African American Christian
Ethics, Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press: 2001) or Rosetta Ross
(Witnessing and Testifying: Black Women, Religion and the Civil
Rights Movement, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
Maybe that is the book to come.
 I would highly recommend Ordinary Saints for
college students and adult study groups. I would also
recommend those audiences to read texts like those I mentioned
above to gain a more fuller picture of what the Christian life is