Brief Reviews, Volume 9

Thomas Bushlack – Politics for a Pilgrim Church [Review]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0802870902″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]Cultivating the Common Good
in a Pluralist Society

A Brief Review of 

Politics for a Pilgrim Church:
A Thomistic Theory
of Civic Virtue

Thomas Bushlack

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2015
Buy now: [ [easyazon_link identifier=”0802870902″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ]  [ [easyazon_link identifier=”B016QKH0P0″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Kindle[/easyazon_link] ]
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
I have been wanting to write about this book for awhile, and since today is the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, it seems like an ideal occasion to write a brief review. Politics for a Pilgrim Church is a helpful and substantial reflection on how Aquinas’s work can guide us as we seek to live faithfully to the way of Jesus in the pluralistic public square of the 21st century. Bushlack starts with an appreciative, but largely critical examination of neo-Anabaptist approaches to political engagement. Specifically, as one working from the Catholic theological tradition, he engages William Cavanaugh and Michael Baxter here. As one who largely agrees with Cavanaugh and Baxter’s work, I read his critiques with interest, and found myself particularly sympathetic to his assertion that  they “provide very little normative content in regard to how one might faithfully engage in the civic and cultural milieu of democratic states” (40).

Building on the rich body of Aquinas’s work, Bushlack offers what he finds lack in the work of Cavanaugh and Baxter.  He begins by overviewing Aquinas’s account of justice and what it might mean for cultivating civic virtue today.  He focuses on the central role of a “passion for justice,” which sits at the intersection of two key themes in Aquinas’s work: the passions and justice.  The second part of the book brings this account of civic virtue into conversation with the Catholic theological tradition of natural law, with contemporary political philosophy and with public rhetoric. This final chapter on rhetoric might be the most timely and important one in this volume. Here Bushlack draws upon the work of James Davison Hunter, and emphasizes that the incendiary rhetorical of both Right and Left is unhelpful for cultivating civic virtue.  This prevailing sort of rhetoric “further contributes to the breakdown in meaning in the larger culture” (204). He proceeds to sketch an account of the sort of rhetoric that might lead us away from culture wars and into a healthier sort of pursuit of the common good.

Politics for a Pilgrim Church is not a book that can be read casually. It will require some basic familiarity with both Aquinas’s work and the larger tradition of Catholic theology. However, that said, it is an important and helpful book that offers a rich trove of resources for reimagining how we as Christians work toward the common good amidst the pluralism of the 21st century.  It is the sort of work that rewards the reader abundantly for taking up the challenge of reading it, and it is highly recommended for Christians with vocations in the public sector and for those who have a passion for cultivating the common good.


C. Christopher Smith is editor of The Englewood Review of Books, co-author (with John Pattison) of Slow Church and author of the forthcoming book, Reading for the Common Good.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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