War, Peace, and God: Rethinking the Just War Tradition, by Gary M. Simpson

[1] Why this book?
As professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Gary Simpson is not your typical “ivy halls” academic. With a rich background in parish and chaplaincy work – none of it transpiring in traditional Lutheran territory, (California and Oregon were his mission field) – he has brought to his work an abiding commitment to seeing Christian thought in a parish context, and always having it informed by an ecumenical vantage point. That has its distinct advantages, as anyone reading this book will readily discover. But one has to wonder, even if only for a moment, has it also brought to his work an inherent weakness? Hopefully, after reading the reviews you will want to read the book itself and draw your own conclusion.

[2] In this remarkable book, Professor Simpson explores the merits and inadequacies of the traditional Just War theory (or theories, as he would have it.) His starting point is our “deficient moral imagination about war and peace and our deficient political imagination about our nation’s posture in the international community.”[1] And his goal is to explore God’s will for a society too often more involved in war rather than peacemaking.

[3] When Fortress Press publishes one of our own Lutheran theologians on such a substantive, pertinent and interesting subject, it is important that the Journal of Lutheran Ethics provide reviews for its constituency. And in fairness to the ecumenical intent of the author, it is only fitting that the reviewers represent a cross-section of Christian opinion.

[4] Our reviewers:
Dr. David H. Baer is associate professor of theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University, with research interest in Eastern European (especially Hungarian Lutheran) Churches, and in Christian Ethics and Just War theory. His specialty has been the study of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism, has spent significant time in research there, and is currently Book Review Editor for the journal Religion in Eastern Europe. He received his doctorate from the University of Notre Dame in 1999.

[5] Kirk Nolan is completing his Ph.D. in Theological Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary. The tentative title of his dissertation is, “Toward a Reformed Virtue Ethic.” Virtue ethics has traditionally been a mainstay of Roman Catholicism, but over the last thirty years the interest in virtue ethics among Protestants has raised theological questions which this dissertation examines.

[6] Kirk has a strong interest in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and spent five years in India as a chaplain and teacher at Kodaikanal International School, a Christian multi-cultural school. He is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Kirk plans to teach at the college or seminary level following the completion of his Ph.D.

[7] Jonathan Schwartz is currently serving as ombudsman for the Theological Book Agency of Princeton Seminary, and serves the world as a “house husband” while wife Cindy is working toward her M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary. Jonathan is an inveterate lay theologian and political maven, having been reared as a cradle Lutheran, with an inheritance of independent thinking and strong tendencies toward rebellion against whatever cultural fads happen to be in fashion. He majored in philosophy and English at the University of Mississippi, and attained a law degree from the University of Memphis.

[8] Matthew Puffer is a third year graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary with a background in both science and theology. Prior to seminary Matthew taught Moral Philosophy and Physics at St. David’s, an Episcopal preparatory school in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has also served as an Area Director for Young Life, an inter-denominational youth organization, and holds a B.S. in chemical engineering. His recent work pursues the confluence of theological ethics, philosophy and the development of the scientific understanding of the world – particularly in the theology and ethics of the Lutheran pastor-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

[1] See his “Introduction”, p.12.

Michael Shahan

Michael Shahan is Book Review Editor of Journal of Lutheran Ethics. A retired ELCA clergyman, Shahan does freelance writing from his Nashville home.