Mary Elsbernd and Reimund Bierenger make a significant contribution to the teaching of social ethics in this easily readable and carefully structured work. According to the introduction of the work, this work takes place within a "five-fold context." First is the relevance of one's image of God. Whether God is distant, transcendent and totally "other" or close, immanent and knowable will significantly Affect one's approach to concrete practices of justice. Second, one's understanding of the human person-as utterly fallen, sinful or as fallen but able to struggle with good and evil tendencies-will also effect how one understands justice. The third element of the context within which the authors engage their inquiry is the "presupposition" that the world is sacramental. By this they mean that God is accessible in and through one's encounter with the world. Fourth, the eschatological dimension of justice work is essential. What one hopes for, and how one envisions a just community is essential to contemporary realities that require imagination to transform reality. Finally, theories of justice have concrete applications today, now. They should inform, guide actions within one's worldview everyday.
The five dimensions that contextualize this inquiry-"theology, anthropology, sacramentality, vision and eschatological implications for ethics-run throughout the chapters and serve as a way of reading the issue at hand. Chapter one is comprised of a series of case studies that people experience in the everyday of life. These situations are set in the individual, familial, and community life of everyday people, and for the most part they accurately depict real challenges to living justly. These real-life situations are presented, though not answered, at this point in the text. Chapter two delves into the theological, and the role of theology in shaping conceptions of and approaches to justice. Through surveys and analysis of sociological data, a correlation between understandings of God and the actual work toward justice from a practitioner's viewpoint is given. This was an interesting chapter because the voices of those actively engaged in justice ministry are seldom, if ever heard. The authors then turn to the sources for understandings of justice. Chapter three moves through Scripture, chapter four presents Catholic Social Thought of the last one hundred years, and chapter five presents "classic contemporary theories of justice. Finally, this work returns to the case studies presented in chapter one and outlines "practices of justice"-that is, bringing various theoretical approaches to justice to respond to the actual situations already outlined.
I recommend this text for teachers, undergraduate or graduate, as an effective learning tool. Clearly and precisely it lays out situations, theories, and practical responses to problems that few texts have done. An M.A. level Christian social ethics class in pastoral ministry would be the ideal venue for this book. My reservations on this text include the difficulty of understanding sociological ratios (clearly a deficiency in this reviewer's own education), the lack of depth that some sections (by necessity) were kept from exploring, and the heavy reliance on the Gospel of John for New Testament sources for justice. Other than those minor misgivings, I highly recommend this text as an accessible, clear and timely introduction to a study of justice and its concrete implications.