And Justice for All

Mixed Media

We all want justice, but what does justice mean?  

In his book Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton University Press), philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff probes the heart of that question and the heart of Scripture to find answers. His wide-ranging and careful investigation helps the reader understand different approaches to justice and the implications of those approaches. The book also provides a firm foundation for Christians to engage with the growing focus on human rights.

Wolterstorff compares two main conceptions of justice that are widely held in Christian circles. Justice as a “right-order” concept is measured by compliance with some standard for a rightly ordered society. Justice as “inherent rights” is rooted in the conviction that every person is created and loved by God and, therefore, worthy of respect. It is measured by the degree to which members of a society enjoy those goods to which they have a right, based on their worth as God-created and God-loved persons.  

Through biblical study, careful analysis, and historical research, Wolterstorff argues for understanding justice as inherent rights. Then he develops a theistic theory of rights, grounded in respect for the worth of every person, and compares it with other approaches in historical and contemporary thinking.  

“Rights” talk is shunned in many Christian circles. It is often equated with self-centered individualism and the Enlightenment elevation of reason over faith. Wrong, says Wolterstorff. Rights talk, properly understood, is biblical language that was part of Christian thought long before the Enlightenment. In fact, according to Wolterstorff, justice as respect for the inherent rights of every person is central to the good news of both Old and New Testaments.  

This is a meticulously argued scholarly work that explores every angle of its subject. Although it is highly academic, the ideas in it are important for everyone. Wolterstorff provides much-needed fresh thinking about justice, a core element of Christian living. His book grounds a Christian approach to human rights—an important field for Christian witness. One can only hope that these ideas permeate seminaries, colleges, and study groups to fuel a deeper understanding of and commitment to doing justice.

Exiles

by Ron Hansen
reviewed by Otto SellesIn 1875 five Franciscan nuns, exiled from Germany, boarded a steamship to serve in America. Upon reading of their deaths in a shipwreck, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote a poem in the sisters’ honor. In his fictional account of these events, Hansen combines a gripping description of the tragedy with an account of Hopkins’ own shipwrecked life. Indeed, Hopkins died in his early 40s of typhoid fever, his service as a priest unappreciated and his poetry unrecognized. Hopkins’ fans will be glad for the novel’s insights into his life, faith, and poetry. (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux)

Lars and the Real Girl

reviewed by Kristy QuistIn this oddly sweet comedy, Lars is an awkward young man in the midst of a mental breakdown. He copes by getting himself a girlfriend, Bianca, who happens to be a life-size inflatable doll. The crude humor that could have resulted from the inflatable doll is mostly avoided. Instead, in Lars and the Real Girl, everyone—including the church—embraces Bianca as a member of the community while Lars deals with the losses in his young life. (MGM)

Sundays in America:

by Suzanne Strempek Shea
reviewed by Robert N. HosackIn this unconventional pilgrimage, lapsed Catholic Suzanne Shea takes readers on a journey through “the broad spectrum of Protestant Christianity”—her interpretation ranging from Unitarian Universalists to Shakers. Visiting more than 30 states, guided by “serendipity” and low airfares, she offers tours of 52 churches during a peripatetic church-hopping year. Each church is reviewed according to Shea’s somewhat politicized litmus test. While not all will agree with her conclusions, her church visitor insights can be illuminating to congregations trying to reach beyond themselves. (Beacon Press)

The Lord Is My Shepherd

illustrated by Gennady Spirin
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen FeddemaGennady Spirin’s illustrations of lions and lambs, shepherds and angels, ships and towering buildings, and much more bring to life David’s psalm, familiar to Christians around the world. Not only a statement of faith, Spirin’s vision of Psalm 23 also becomes a prayer of praise to God that will encourage and bless both children and adults. At the end of the book, a fold-out painting combines each page’s scene to create a magnificent, unified whole. (Philomel)

SmartGirl.org

reviewed by Steph DeBoerRun by the Women in Science & Engineering Program at the University of Michigan, SmartGirl.org is an online community of thousands of girls ages 11 to 17 who anonymously share their opinions, hopes, concerns, and dreams with each other. Girls express themselves on the website by writing book and movie reviews, sharing poetry and creative writing, and completing surveys. Aside from a fortune teller and horoscope section, the material on the site is very kid-friendly.

Planet Earth

reviewed by Otto SellesAwesome and awe-inspiring. What other reasons do you need to buy, rent, or borrow this amazing documentary? Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, the 11-episode series showcases the wilderness areas remaining in the world. The aerial shots of mountains, oceans, and deserts are spectacular. Young viewers will enjoy the sight of cuddly bear cubs, but extended images of pitiless adult predators show the reality of a shark-eat-seal world. While the final disc contains a debate on sustainable development, the portrayal of creation’s grandeur provides the best arguments in favor of preserving the natural world. (BBC)

The Lowdown

A New Angle: Tell It Slant is Eugene Peterson’s newest book, focused on the way Jesus used words. (Eerdmans)

Start Your Engines: GoodSearch is a Yahoo-based search engine that will donate to the U.S. charity of your choice (including CRWRC) every time you use it. Organizers hope to make it available to other countries soon. (www.goodsearch.com)

Ethical Earnings: For your next fundraiser, consider selling fair trade chocolates from Divine Chocolates (www.divinechocolateusa.com). Or just order them for yourself at www.agreatergift.org.

Praise Hero? Fans of Christian rock may enjoy “Guitar Praise: Solid Rock,” a game not unlike “Guitar Hero,” for PC or Mac, complete with wireless guitar. (Digital Praise)

About the Author

Kathy Vandergrift teaches public ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.
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