On Secular Governance: Lutheran Perspectives on Contemporary Legal Issues

Edited by Ronald W. Duty and Marie A. Failinger

Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2016. 382 pages. $45.00.

Reviewed by Rev. Richard T. Nuffer on 02/06/2018

This book is an anthology of fifteen essays written by fifteen different authors, all of which strive to address contemporary legal issues as the book title would suggest. However, with few exceptions they primarily address sociological issues in the United States today, while only briefly mentioning legal issues. Some of the issues addressed are: how African Americans understand (and should understand) secular law, property law in light of environmental challenges, the need for new water rights law in the American Southwest, a feminist critique of human sexual trafficking laws, the need for a different immigration policy and laws, establishing a Constitutional right to “The Means to Live,” etc.

The authors attempt to bring Lutheran theology and Luther himself into their argumentation. Unfortunately these are often biased claims. Such claims are deceptive, as they misuse another’s words, and often extrapolate irresponsibly. However, there are two articles in the book worth reading. First, Robert Benne’s “How Should Modern Lutherans Try to Shape Secular Law” is thoughtful, faithful to the Scriptures and Confessions, and urges those who write and think about legal issues to think deeply before positing an overarching theology concerning speaking in public on any particular civil matter. The other essay worth reading is James M. Child’s essay “Military Chaplains and the Law.” He writes at length about the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Non-Establishment clauses, as those can often be in conflict with each other and cause tension for chaplains in their work.

Be aware that if you choose to spend your time reading this book, you will need to wade carefully through the underlying political, social, and legal bias.