I've truly tried to appreciate this book. I really have. I've actually plowed my way through it on two different occasions. But with all due respect to its author, the book is just soooo boring, soooo tedious, and soooo simplistic that it's difficult to work up any enthusiasm for it. This is a shame, because Christian ethics is both an intrinsically exciting field and an excruciatingly important one for those of us who struggle to respond to the world as loyal members of a community of faith.
Perhaps one of the reasons this book is so dissatisfying is that it struggles so hard to play it safe. Author Holmgren provides a very traditional account of moral knowledge derived from reason and from revelation, nods to the very obvious fact that agreement on moral principles doesn't entail agreement about practice, and points out the equally obvious fact that principles are general and moral dilemmas are concrete and situational and that casuistry is the discipline of trying to apply the one to the other. All this is as predictable (and as stimulating) as the Baltimore Catechism. Holmgren only begins to enter into interesting waters when he reflects on the tension between the human desire for the good and human fallenness, but he quickly pulls back by offering the reader a deadly account of the seven deadly vices. Reading his book, one would never suspect that Christian ethics is an incredibly rich, incredibly complex, incredibly diverse, and incredibly rewarding area of investigation that draws on anthropology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy as well as scripture and tradition. There's a certain quaintness to the book that makes it seem as if it written in the mid-nineteenth century before moral theologians such as Rowan Williams, John Macquarrie, Gene Outka or Stanley Hauerwas were born!
I appreciate that the volumes in the New Church's Teaching Series, of which Holmgren's book is one, are intended as popular introductions to lay Anglicans. But the new series, with the notable exception of Margaret Guenther's beautiful book on prayer, tends, like Holmgren's book, to be simplistic, boring, and patronising. My guess is that they are bought and read by Anglicans more out of a sense of duty than joyful eagerness. That's a genuine pity, because the Anglican spiritual, theological, and moral tradition is a beautiful and insightful one. How in the world can the Episcopal Church hope to excite its members about their faith when it feeds them such pablum?!