Faith, Hope, Love, and Justice

The Theological Virtues Today

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Editor(s): 
Anselm K. Min
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , March
     2018.
     264 pages.
     $110.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9781498577113.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This eye-catching and appetizing book, emanating from a series of papers at a conference held at Claremont Graduate University in April 2016, gives a hybrid of perspectives on the biblical concepts of faith, hope, and love in the context of justice, which have traditionally been categorized as theological virtues. Amidst three contemporary challenges to faith, hope, and love—the globalization and popularization of anti-Christian secular humanism, the globalization and popularization of religious pluralism, and the enervating cultural nihilism inherent in capitalism (197-202)—Anselm K. Min invites his readership “… to once again think through the meaning of faith, hope, and love as radically and comprehensively as possible” (vii). Drawing on philosophical, theological, political, ethical, and practical scholarly minds as represented by Catholic, Lutheran, evangelical, social and structural justice, civil right movements, systemic terror, and reconstruction discourses, Min explores and highlights various insights on the subject matter by focusing on three major lines of thought: the conceptualization of faith, hope, and love; the relatedness of the virtues to one another; and the relatedness of the virtues to the problem of suffering and injustice in the contemporary world. In eight chapters, he echoes an ethical call to revitalize faith, hope, and love amidst contemporary challenges. The running thread throughout is whichever way the contemporary culture may seek to view and treat faith, hope, and love, the ultimate goal of these virtues is to radically and comprehensively address issues which tend to undermine the agenda of justice. 

One noticeable and remarkable insight is underscored by Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, one of the contributors to the book. In order to address inequality between the rich and poor in individual nations and societies, Fiorenza suggests that “what is needed is an expanded vision of transcendence that includes a vision of God as justice and a vision of God’s creation in which human persons experience intersubjectively within a material and social world” (90). This insightful suggestion is interesting to a contemporary African reader because of many challenges Africa has been experiencing for quite a number of decades (for example, slave trade, colonization, neo-colonization, wars and refugees, political violence, poverty, genocides and ethnic cleansing, and many other vices). Most of these challenges hinge on socio-economic and political injustices inflicted against humanity by fellow human beings. Fiorenza’s suggestion may rightly apply in dealing with such injustices in that an appropriate conceptualization of God as justice can potentially lead the perpetrators of injustice to practically promote the divine vision of justice over all creation, including fellow human creatures. Thus, a right theological vision of justice, characterized by a sound faith in the triune God, enhances a concrete ethical vision of justice manifested in true love that in the end revitalizes real hope here and now. Therefore, for faith, hope, and love to make sense in an African context of multifaceted injustice, it is crucially necessary for any scholarly undertaking to place these virtues within the discourse of justice, and ultimately, within the premise of the triune God. This discourse will make faith, hope, and love appealing to a contemporary African mindset. Hence, Min’s exploration in general, and Fiorenza’s suggestion in particular, can uniquely achieve this vision by calling for a real, concrete, and relevant approach to justice, at least in an African milieu. 

Two observations, however, are worth highlighting and reflecting upon. The minor one concerns, as Min alludes (xiv), the lucidity of the third chapter by Stephen T. Davis. Inasmuch as a lay reader would appreciate the articulateness and simplicity of the chapter, it sounds too simplistic to an intellectually-critical mind. This chapter could have struck a balance between lucidity and depth to bring out what most of the sophisticated and critical readership expected. The second observation concerns the traditional dualistic categorization of faith, hope, and love as theological or supernatural virtues on the one hand, and justice as a cardinal, moral, or natural virtue on the other. One wonders whether this categorization is practically attainable. Joseph Prabhu, in his response to Fiorenza, rightly proposes a non-dualistic model or framework with regards to the virtues. This is because “humans are now seen as God’s coworkers in building and sustaining the kingdom of God, ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Natural and supernatural orders of existence reflect each other in non-dualistic manner” (102). I would add that a dualistic and hierarchical model of the virtues is practically unattainable because the four virtues can be treated either theologically or morally, or both, depending on the angle from which one is viewing them. Conceptually, faith, hope, love, and justice can be attributed to God; and practically, God works out faith, hope, love, and justice through humanity to the rest of the world. To my contemporary African mindset, which is now influenced by globalization, capitalism, and religious pluralism, the question of dualism and the hierarchy of the virtues is unappealing. A more appropriate approach in such a free and diverse context is a quest for an interactive framework in which each of the virtues can be viewed either theologically or ethically for the well-being of all people, regardless of their social, religious, ethnic, and political orientation. 

To sum up, the book is an informative and worthwhile exploration of various perspectives on faith, hope, and love for an enhancement of justice in the contemporary world. It is an essential contribution to theological, philosophical, and practical academics, and indeed to contemporary religious engagements. It will be useful for both graduate and post-graduate students, and every seminary library will do well to acquire a copy.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Lameck Banda is Professor of Systematic Theology, Ethics, and African Theology at Justo Mwale University in Lusaka, Zambia.

Date of Review: 
August 21, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Anselm K. Min is Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

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