The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics. Edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells. Oxford and Maiden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004. xiii + 510 pp. $124.95 (cloth).
"Appropriate" is the word that may best describe the thirty-six essays in this collection. On the one hand, they make for an appropriate companion to Christian ethics. The essays are fitting as they offer theological accounts of Christian practices. On the other hand, the essays as a whole also seek to appropriate Christian ethics, which is to say, they seek to take possession of Christian ethics and make it their own.
As Hauerwas and Wells say in one of the four introductory essays on "Studying Ethics through Worship," "theological ethics is a discipline that reflects on the practices of the Church, seeking to understand how those practices shape the character of Christians" (p. 37). More specifically, the task is "to help Christians remember that their lives are shaped by story-determined practices that make all that they do and do not do intelligible" (p. 46). As Michael Cartwright's concluding essay on witness notes, the underlying concern is that "particular Christian communities produce and sustain the kind of witness to God in which their practices of discipleship can serve as credible signs of God's reconciling work in the world" (p. 483).
The essays themselves are loosely organized around five foci that reflect eucharistie worship: (1) the worship community as gathered, as the ecdesia; (2) reencountering the story of Scripture and the creeds; (3) being embodied as given in prayer, baptism, and eucharist; (4) reenacting the story as matters of offering, worship, remembering, communion, silence, thanksgiving, and washing of feet; and (5) being commissioned as blessing, in having children, and as witness.
Most of the essays move from scriptural, historical, and contemporary accounts to contemporary reflections. Outstanding in this regard are John Berkman on penitence and punishment (chap. 8); Jim Fodor on the public reading of Scripture (chap. 12); Daniel M. Bell on justice (chap. 14); Kelly S. Johnson on corporate prayer (chap. 17); R. R. Reno on work (chap. 24); Gerald W. Schlaback on the use of lethal force and Christian pacifism (chap. 27); Joel James Shuman on homosexuality (chap. 30); Stephen Fowl on blessing (chap. 34); and Joseph L. Mangina on conception, children, and family (chap. 35). Other essays, often personally written, offer refreshing probes, for example, Amy Laura Hall on the need for reconstructing male identity "for the complicated tasks of incarnate grace" that have been women's work (chap. 7); David Matzko McCarthy on the end of marriage as the forming of the "everyday life of household management, common work, companionship, and training in neighborly love" (chap. 21); Hans S. Reinders on parenting the mentally disabled (chap. 32); Mark Thiessen Nation on the washing of feet (chap. …