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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: Mortal Goods by Ephraim Radner 
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The truth is that for the most part when I pick up a theological text I have a pretty good idea what I'm getting myself into. In the case of Ephraim Radner's "Mortal Goods: Reimagining Christian Political Duty," this wasn't the case.

I read the description of "Mortal Goods" and thought to myself "This sounds interesting." I then realized that the book was from Baker Academic & Brazos Press, one of my most preferred publishing outfits, and I decided to, pun intended, take the leap of faith.

The truth is that "Mortal Goods" won't be for everyone. Radner is a respected theologian, a priest in the Episcopal Church and professor historical theology at Wycliffe College, an Anglican seminary affiliated with the University of Toronto.

I say this because a good number of Brazos Press titles stake a claim more in the realm of Christian living than what I would consider to be hardcore academic theology. "Mortal Goods" is undeniably on the more academic end of Baker Academic & Brazos Press and those without a theological background may struggle, at least at times, with Radner's utilization of more traditional language throughout "Mortal Goods." As a seminary graduate, I was for the most part fine with this but I will also confess it wasn't what I expected and I struggled early on to give myself to it. As I began to surrender myself more fully to Radner's literary vision, I began to more fully appreciate this engaging and intellectually satisfying exploration of reimagining Christian political duty.

I have always struggled with the political world as a Christian. Having been raised a Jehovah's Witness, voting was heavily frowned upon and deep engagement with politics was out of the question. There was no devotion to any kingdom outside of God's.

Years later, I've no trouble acknowledging the JW's as a bit bonkers but I've truthfully always kind of resonated with the idea that our cultural obsession with politics as some sort of salvation is woefully out of place.

It would seem that Radner agrees, though he expresses it far better than I ever could and explains himself quite beautifully from a theological standpoint.

With "Mortal Goods," Radner examines how Christians might more faithfully and realistically reimagine our political vocation. He explains that our Christian calling is to limit our political concerns to the boundaries of our created lives - birth, immediate families, parenting, relations, health, death, and so on. Expressing neither a conservative or progressive perspective (Yes, it's possible.), Radner argues for a more constrained view of our mortal life than is common across what would be called the political spectrum. He encourages us to take seriously what is most valuable in our lives and to allow this to shape our "social posture." In essence, Radner contends that our job is to offer our limited life to God, give thanks for it, and glorify God by living our lives as a gift.

Radner examines how "catastrophe" reveals our time to be fragile and easily overturned. He exposes how "betterment" is a false motive for our human life.

In what has become a common literary tool, Radner ends his journey with us by writing a letter to his now adult children about the "good life," a phrase I use often in my daily life and a phrase that is even used frequently in my workplace. Radner challenges us to reconsider what we mean by "the good life" and takes us through a journey to understand what he means.

In times such as we live right now, "Mortal Goods" is both challenging and an expression of gratitude. It is an invitation, really a call, to another way. It is neither Trump nor Biden. It is God-centered in surprisingly simple yet profound ways.

As I noted early in this review, "Mortal Goods" is most certainly an academic text. Yet, it is an academic text that is deeply felt and grounded in realism. It is the kind of theological writing seldom offered these days and it's the kind of text that encourages me to explore Radner's other literary offerings.

I'm not quite sure I completely agree with Radner's positions, however, I'm deeply moved by them and better informed for having read them. "Mortal Goods" was definitely a step outside my usual literary comfort zone and yet, again I must say, I'm quite glad I took the leap of faith.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic