Journal of Lutheran Ethics Book Review Issue August/September 2019

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Editor's Introduction

Carmelo Santos


Nancy Arnison  Book Review Editor

Summer reading is often wide-ranging.  We dip into genres outside our typical work to explore worlds beyond our everyday existence.  This book review issue honors that summertime trend as it explores ethical dimensions in literature, science, Buddhism, and Womanist Sass.   Read more

Welcome New JLE Editor, Jennifer Hockenberry Dragseth

In June, I was officially hired to begin as the new editor of Journal of Lutheran Ethics.  While this August issue is designed and edited by our book editor, Nancy Arnison, I was asked to use this opportunity to introduce myself to the regular readers of JLE.  I am privileged and delighted by this opportunity to contribute to the ministry of JLE, for the journal brings together readers and writers on matters that are central to my academic and personal interests. I am a philosophy professor at a small women’s college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I am responsible for teaching broadly from Sappho to Judith Butler, with Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hildegard of Bingen, Descartes, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Beauvoir, and Noddings being a few of the focus points in my teaching.  (A perk of the small college is the necessity of constantly learning new areas.) That said, my particular foci of research are women in philosophy, Augustine’s philosophy, and Luther’s impact on philosophy. Read more.

Book Reviews

The Humble Sublime: Secularity and the Politics of Belief  by Ronald F. Thiemann 

Review by D.M. Yeager

The Humble Sublime has not yet received the notice that it deserves—perhaps because it is available only in hard cover and at an unfortunate price ($112 and up, depending on the vendor).  Theologians, ethicists, and lay people with a particular interest in the Lutheran tradition, especially those not already familiar with Thiemann’s earlier essays on “Sacramental Realism,”  will find both the history and the theology thoughtful and resourceful.  Ethicists will find this rendering of responsibility ethics, though uneven, provocative—particularly as this book offers the final contribution of a figure whose earlier works have established his credentials in the conversation about the weight, function, and boundaries of religious convictions of “public theology” in Western democracies.  Readers who intuitively find religious resonance in even some very “secular” literary works will find in Thiemann’s book an intriguing account of the reasons for that.  Thiemann has also provided a powerful argument for the value of turning to literature to enrich and deepen our religious lives in a time when the language and tropes of a fading cultural configuration of faith seem too often flat, worn, predictable, and uninspiring.


From Jeremiad to Jihad

Womanist Sass and Talk Back: Social (In)justice, Intersectionality, and Biblical Interpretation by Mitzi J. Smith   

Review by Surekha Nelavala

Scriptures and their interpretations are highly influential in forming the norms of a culture. The act of scriptural interpretation has long fallen into the hands of those who hold positions of privilege and power, yielding readings that either affirm the status quo or further benefit the privileged sectors of society. Those who are less privileged have often been taught to embrace scripture in silence and to adopt a lens that accepts injustice and denies their own personal experiences and perspectives. In Womanist Sass and Talk Back: Social (In)Justice, Intersectionality, and Biblical Interpretation, Mitzi J. Smith challenges such biblical interpretations, arguing that they ignore both the suffering of the people and the injustices that cause the suffering.  She warns of the danger in readings that disregard the voices of people living on the margins. A womanist biblical scholar, Smith addresses texts and contexts where women find empowerment in claiming their voices. She uses the terms “womanist sass” and “talk back” to accentuate the correlation between voice and empowerment. 

Laura Hartman



Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer by Leonard M. Hummel and Gayle E. Woloschak

Review by Roger Willer​

The very forces that bring living species into existence --including us!-- also bring cancer into being. Specifically, the forces of chance (random occurrences) and necessity (law-like regularities) are required for human life, and they are also what make cancer possible. This unnerving finding from the biological sciences is the brutal fact explained and addressed head on by Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer.  If, in fact, the conditions for cancer are inherent in our existence, then questions abound.  Authors Hummel (practical theologian) and Woloschak (scientist/medical practitioner) address two of the most obvious with honesty, clarity, hope and too much, in my judgment, redundancy.  They specify their questions as: 1) What exactly is cancer and, 2) Where is God and what is love amidst this evolutionary disease? They are dealing with big questions and just as the three words of the title are a rare combination, it is unlikely that you have read anything quite like this book before.  

Why Buddhism Is True: the Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright

Review by Will Bergkamp

Religious traditions build on an assessment of the human condition.  Each tradition takes a deep sense of ‘how we are’ as humans and outlines a path to something better, something that takes us beyond – that transcends – the condition that we find ourselves in. What is easy to overlook is the extent to which the world’s religious traditions are unified in finding a profound problem at the core of our humanity.  However differently they might identify the causes of that problem and however varied their prescribed courses of treatment, the world’s religions speak with one voice about a deep restlessness at our core and an ever-present sense that something within us and among us isn’t right. The world’s major religious traditions undertook this reflective work centuries before the many gifts of science and technology could join the conversation and it raises a powerful question: In light of what science and technology tell us about ourselves, can it be said in any meaningful way that one of these religious traditions has a better understanding of our predicament than others? Is there a religious tradition that has a more effective answer to our problem?  On that admittedly pragmatic definition of ‘true,’ Robert Wright, bestselling author and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York claims that the answer is yes.

Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

© August/September 2019
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 19, Issue 4


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