Duty & Delight
The Freedom of a Christian
Grace, Vocation, and the Meaning of Our Humanity
Brazos Press, $22.99, 192 pp.
The Way That Leads There
Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life
Wm. B. Eerdmans, $16, 172 pp.
What Catholics call “moral theology” Protestants tend to call “Christian ethics.” Whatever you call it, this is the discipline of discernment which Gilbert Meilaender succinctly describes: “As we seek daily to creep ever more fully into our baptism, we struggle to distinguish between those actions that follow Christ and those that do not.” Academic discipline can be helpful in this effort, but ultimately our goal is following Jesus; and, for that, a relational and affective element is essential. But how do we learn to love? How do we learn to make our hearts supple for God? Here a pastor is often more helpful than an academic. Gilbert Meilaender, who holds a chair in Christian ethics at Valparaiso University in Indiana, combines the best qualities of both. For all their rigor and perspicuity, his books are always animated by a careful love. They take part in the “struggle to distinguish,” but ultimately all their distinctions are for the sake of leading us to Jesus.
Which doesn’t mean that Meilaender wants to make things easy for us. The Way that Leads There sounds like a soothing invitation, but the book’s major theme is the painful gap between human desire and Christian duty. “The way that leads to God (and, hence, to fulfillment) is a way that often hurts and wounds us,” Meilaender writes. Again, The Freedom of a Christian may sound comforting, but the book holds some difficult and discomfiting questions....