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Bonhoeffer and King: Their Legacies and Import for Christian Social Thought.

BONHOEFFER AND KING: THEIR LEGACIES AND IMPORT FOR CHRISTIAN SOCIAL THOUGHT. Edited by Willis Jenkins and Jennifer M. McBride. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010. Pp. xiv + 302. $25.

These comprehensive portraits of the contexts, theologies, and legacies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. are born out of the editors' participation in the University of Virginia's Project on Lived Theology, and further developed at meetings of American Academy of Religion. Jenkins and McBride coherently arrange erudite essays of leading thinkers into four sections: "Critical Distance" (focusing on the interpretive task and methodological questions); "Shared Humanity" (addressing theological dimensions, chiefly anthropology and Christology, and distinct ethical issues); "Spaces for Redemption" (probing the communal and vocational spaces of their prophetic witness); and "Practices of Peace" (retrieving the import of the Sermon on the Mount in the sociopolitical realm). M.'s introduction insightfully frames the book's structure and reiterates the perduring significance of King and Bonhoeffer, and J.'s conclusion articulates well the challenges of reclaiming together the memories of these activist theologians. Larry Rasmussen succinctly captures the book's purpose: "Christian ethics is not the same after the ripples their work and witness set in motion" (58).

A significant strength is the book's sustained effort to interrogate honestly the legacies of King and Bonhoeffer. Several contributors note the perils of facile appropriations. For example, Stephen Haynes cautions that, in domesticating King and Bonhoeffer, sanctifying them, and ascribing unambiguous positions to them vis-a-vis contested social issues, "we risk drawing false parallels that distort both sides of the equation" (25). J. rightly questions the enterprise of (mis)using King and Bonhoeffer to address social problems: rather, their legacies impel us to conceptualize Christian ethics as a way to "use theology to make social problems" (246, emphasis original). Several contributors offer constructive reflections and work to disabuse distorted interpretations of King and Bonhoeffer. Rachel Muers, for instance, critiques their sexism but also encourages feminists to learn from their prophetic witnesses (33-42).

Timothy Jackson's essay avoids such distortions by describing the tensions and growth that characterize the thought of Bonhoeffer (who moved away from a sectarian triumphalism) and of King (who "grew into a more realistic appreciation of the enduring tension between Christ-like norms and all temporal political economies" [103]). Other contributors examine the richness of their biographies, including consideration of the often ignored but transformative experiences of Bonhoeffer at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem (see the essays by Josiah Young III, Charles Marsh, and Glen Stassen). The discussions of shared theological concepts, including imago Dei, love, justice, sin, incarnation, cross, community, solidarity, discipleship, and resistance, are thoroughly developed and supported through textual analysis. The "inductive approach" (219) undertaken by Gary Simpson to explore Jesus and the ethics of love in both theologians is particularly fruitful. Jean Bethke Elshtain distinguishes the two in terms of their theological, cultural, and sociological contexts and assumptions. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock notes subtle differences in their perspectives on cross and oppositional ecclesial communities. Though all the chapters engage both thinkers, some pieces concentrate on King or Bonhoeffer depending on the topic (e.g., the focus on King, redemption, and social sin by Stephen Ray Jr. and the analysis of Bonhoeffer and the turn to the real by Charles Marsh).

There are several minor shortcomings. The first is common to edited volumes on a seminal thinker (much less on two seminal thinkers): limitation of space precludes extensive development of more complex ideas. For example, many contributors brilliantly assess King and Bonhoeffer in their own contexts, but they can only gesture at the implications for contemporary debates (which, as laid out in the preface, purports to be one of the volume's objectives). We are left to ponder, as Richard Wills St. does: "Needless to say, Bonhoeffer and King spoke to the needs of their generation. In what ways are we speaking and effecting change in ours?" (148). Additionally, though the volume engages relevant secondary literature as well as interesting interlocutors such as John Dewey (Andre Willis), Rend Girard (Craig Slane), and Desmond Tutu (Michael Battle), and intellectual movements such as postmodernity (Emilie Townes), Catholic social thought (M. Shawn Copeland), and just peacemaking (Glen Stassen), there are several lacunae: for example, Niebuhr's influence on King is noted, but Tillich's is largely ignored; the characterizations of Bonhoeffer as a "postliberal theologian" and King as a "liberal theologian" (71) are problematic; and there is no discussion of J. Deotis Robert's King and Bonhoeffer: Speaking Truth to Power (2005).

The volume functions as a wonderful pedagogical tool for introducing King and Bonhoeffer as well as for inviting more advanced students--whether undergraduates, graduates, specialists, pastors, or lay persons--to revisit these profound exemplars of Christian witness in light of a morally complex world.

JONATHAN ROTHCHILD

Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles
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Author:Rothchild, Jonathan
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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