Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christan Public Ethics by Markus Bockmuehl (Baker Academic) is an outstanding study of a neglected topic. Bockmuehl encourages his readers to consider from new perspectives major ethical issues and familiar New Testament passages. This lively book will spark keen discussion among a wide readership.
Two subjects have especially captured Bockmuehl’s attention in the course of recent research. The first is the prominent role of Jewish law and legal tradition in the ethics of Jesus and the early church, while the second concerns the principles and criteria by which Christians moved from this highly particular Jewish moral discourse to the problem of formulating an ethic for Gentiles. The guiding question shaping the present book is that of the early Christian reception and articulation of normative criteria for ethics. There has long been a popular antinomian point of view in mainstream Protestant thought, which denies that New Testament faith could involve binding moral norms of any kind. On this view, aside from the general exhortation to `love', any `imposition' of substantive and non-negotiable moral warrants must be a legalistic distortion of the gospel of grace.
Much as this sort of interpretation may be rooted in historically understandable Reformational debates, as an interpretation of the New Testament it now seems seriously misguided. Paul's influential theological rhetoric about the law in Romans and especially in Galatians arose in a highly charged, sensitive historical context. A close reading shows that alongside this rhetoric the early Christians, and Paul prominently among them, continued in practice to operate with a clear and common canon of basic moral principles affecting a wide range of human behaviour. Similarly, the New Testament's effective history confirms that the Jewish tradition of moral teaching for Gentiles, rooted ultimately in the Torah, consistently determined much of the substance of ethics in the mainstream of emerging Christian orthodoxy.' It is the shared concern of these studies to examine something of the moral logic of early Christian ethics. If there were binding norms, what made them so, and on what basis were they articulated?
This book divides into three interrelated parts, roughly concerned in turn with Jewish law, ideas of universal or `natural' law, and public ethics. Part One, comprising the first four chapters, addresses the moral rationale of Jesus and its reception in Palestinian Jewish
Christianity. The three chapters of Part Two deal with the application of this Jewish moral heritage to the context of the Gentile mission – the resources that Jews and Christians employed in articulating universally binding moral norms that might apply even to Gentiles. And finally, Part Three turns more specifically to aspects of the emerging Christian interest in a `public' formulation of ethics – first in a detailed study of two second-century writers and then in a more broadly based comparison with the problem of `public ethics' in analogous Jewish texts.
There are of course a number of highly contested problems of definition and terminology to be tackled along the way. How legitimate is it to speak of `halakhah' in relation to pre-rabbinic Judaism, let alone Christianity? A number of both Jewish and Christian writers have begun to engage constructively with this issue, which clearly remains a `live' one for the purposes of this book. Similarly, the use of terms like `Noachide law' or `natural law' remains highly contested in this connection, and we will need to bear this in mind as the argument progresses.
The first four chapters, then, address some of the substantive principles and criteria of ethics in the Jesus tradition and its Palestinian setting. Since the earliest days (Matt 5.17, Marcion, Origen) it has often been assumed that a basic tenet of Jesus' teaching was the effective abolition of all or at least part of the Jewish law in favour of distinctively Christian concerns of faith, hope and love. Jesus' view of Sabbath, food and purity laws would indeed have seemed objectionably lax and liberal to some of his more conservative contemporaries. Nevertheless, closer examination at least of the synoptic tradition produces little evidence that Jesus deliberately contravened the Torah in any substantive point. Instead, virtually every one of his ethical teachings can be shown to be conversant with contemporary Jewish legal debate and readily accommodated on the spectrum of `mainstream' first-century Jewish opinion. It is immediately worth asking, therefore, to what extent the Torah and a Jewish, halakhic mode of moral reasoning continue to shape the teaching of the Jesus movement. Four contributions to this inquiry are here presented:
1. Ethics and Halakhah in the Jesus Tradition
First, a general introduction and overview attempts to examine the balance between halakhic and more broadly moral concerns in Jesus' teaching. A good many of the concrete ethical questions in the gospel tradition can be usefully understood against the background of contemporary Jewish halakhic debate, even if that is interpreted in light of overriding emphases such as the love command and the eschatological urgency of the kingdom of God.
Out of the host of texts and issues arising out of this first chapter, two are then singled out for further attention: Jesus' logia on divorce, especially as received in Matthew, and Jesus' enigmatic advice to an inquirer to `let the dead bury their dead'. Both have often been supposed in different ways to be highly revealing of early Christian attitudes to Jesus' teaching on the law.
2. Matthew's Divorce Texts in the Light of Pre-Rabbinic Jewish Law
Chapter 2 constitutes both the shortest and the earliest of the studies included in this volume, originally published over ten years ago. The original article was meant as a modest contribution to the problem of Matthew's insertion of `exception clauses' into Jesus' prohibition of divorce (5.32; 19.9). The argument was that Matthew's redaction is guided by well-established biblical and post-biblical halakhah that saw the marriage bond as (i) intrinsically dependent on sexual fidelity, and (ii) irreversibly annulled by sexual union with a third party.
Needless to say, the intervening years have seen a good many relevant publications on the same subject. Nevertheless, I include this study here virtually without revisions. This is not of course to deny that more could be said on the topic. It is simply that my straight-forward but pointed observation about the halakhic setting and significance of Matthew's exception clauses still seems sufficiently self-contained to stand on its own. What is more, the original short article has had the good fortune of being noted and endorsed in the secondary literature, so that it seems best simply to reproduce it here as a point of reference.
3. `Let the Dead Bury their Dead': Jesus and the Law Revisited
The next chapter offers a more extended discussion of a passage that has frequently been regarded as the piece de resistance of the old Christian argument that Jesus either `abolished' the Mosaic Law or at any rate claimed for himself the ('messianic' or `charismatic') authority to bypass or supersede it at will. That argument itself, which is also touched upon in Chapter 1, would certainly merit a full-scale re-assessment on its own. In this chapter, however, my primary aim is to show that Jesus' instruction to a (potential) disciple to forgo burying his father (Matt 8.22; Luke 9.62) cannot be used to illustrate a supposedly liberal or casual attitude to the Law. A further, more tentative suggestion is that the passage might make sense if understood to define discipleship in analogy to widespread Nazirite practices in first-century Palestine. Whether or not that suggestion is correct, even this supposedly most `law-free' of Jesus' sayings turns out to have its original setting in a legally and halakhically alert environment.
4. James, Israel and Antioch
The last chapter of Part One illustrates the application of Palestinian Christian halakhah to a new Christian community that turned out to be a boundary situation in more ways than one. St Paul's famous dispute with St Peter in Antioch has exercised scholars for many centuries; and Protestant biblical scholarship has usually interpreted it from the Pauline perspective of Galatians 2. Interlopers sent by James, the Lord's brother, set out to disrupt the fledgling mission to the Gentiles in Antioch, the place where it had begun. All the Jewish members of the church there, including even Peter and Barnabas, withdrew from eating with Gentiles, but only Paul resisted.
The interpretation of this episode is of course one of the most sensitive questions of New Testament scholarship; and it is clear that on issues such as the Gentile mission the earliest church's identity and self-understanding came to be tested to the breaking point. In this chapter, I propose to investigate the question from the perspective of James rather than that of Paul. What might have caused the leader of the Palestinian Jesus movement to intervene in this fashion in Jewish-Gentile relations at Antioch, a city on the boundary of the biblical Holy Land — but never to our knowledge in the other major cities of the Gentile mission? To answer this question, the chapter begins byconsidering the place of Antioch from a Palestinian Jewish perspective. As a result of this survey, it becomes clear that James's motivation is best understood in primarily ideological rather than pragmatic terms: political pressures on the church in Jerusalem can account for only part of the rationale behind the appeal to the Jewish Christians at Antioch. The early Jesus movement evidently continued to focus upon the restoration of Israel's twelve tribes in a new messianic kingdom, whose promised biblical boundaries extended to all the `lost sheep of the house of Israel'. Within this, the role of Gentiles was ambivalent — and as the apostolic conference of Acts 15 and Galatians 2 shows, even among those who accepted that Gentile believers need not convert to Judaism there was no easy agreement as to whether this meant a fully integrated church of Jews and Gentiles or two socially distinct and parallel movements. Considerable light can be shed on James's action if it is understood to reflect this concern for the renewal of the twelve tribes within the boundaries of the Promised Land.
The four chapters of Part Two turn from here to the next logical question: once a `non-proselytizing' (i.e. non-Judaizing) mission to Gentiles was affirmed, how could the Jewish Christian moral and legal presuppositions of the Jesus movement be brought to bear on the complex issues arising from such a mission? The problem raised both in Acts 15 and in the Pauline letters is that of validating a distinctly Gentile Christian modus vivendi. Given the theory that Gentiles could be adherents of a Jewish Messiah, what for them would be the moral practice of their new faith and discipleship? The answer, as Part Two suggests, lies in the Christian appropriation of an ancient Jewish tradition that regarded Gentiles to be under obligation only to those laws which the Torah itself in fact applies to them. These laws were already part of a long interpretative tradition of universal ethics.
5. Natural Law in Second Temple Judaism
Two studies on `natural law' lead the way. That terminology is not of course native to Scripture or to Palestinian Judaism. And yet the issue itself has in recent years increasingly come to be recognized as foundational not only to Hellenistic Jewish discourse with outsiders, but also to important strands of Scripture and tradition (see e.g. Barr has advanced a controversial but compelling argument that the very notion of a covenant inherently presupposes both natural law and freedom of choice, and therefore that a natural law theory must be the necessary basis for a conceptual understanding even of halakhah. The subordination and yet compatibility of `natural' to `revealed' law is certainly part of the conceptual dynamic which this chapter uncovers. Despite their sometimes deep mistrust of `natural' morality, Jewish writers especially in the diaspora went out of their way to affirm, not so much that the Torah is according to nature, but rather that nature works according to the Torah.
6. Natural Law in the New Testament?
The obvious complement to the previous chapter is a study of the same topic as it is developd in the New Testament. What we find makes for relatively slim pickings; indeed one might argue that in significant respects the New Testament writers share some of the reservations of Qumran and rabbinic literature. In particular, the few arguments from nature tend not to be deductive but analogical; and they are complemented by a keen sense of creation's fallenness and need for revelation and redemption. Still, a number of important texts do surface and the profile of the New Testament evidence shows that Christian writers, too, remained aware of the `universal' relevance and compatibility of divinely revealed morality to the created order.
7. The Noachide Commandments and New Testament Ethics
On what basis, then, did Jews address the problem of a `public' or universal ethics for dealings with Gentiles? This concluding chapter of Part Two now approaches that question from the perspective not of `natural' but of positive law. Beginning with an examination of the Torah's application of certain laws to Gentiles, this and related themes are traced, via the prophets and post-biblical interpretation in Jubilees and other texts, to the second-century rabbinic doctrines of the three cardinal sins and of the `Noachide Commandments'. The formal doctrine of the Noachide Commandments is a second-century rabbinic development. Nevertheless, its antecedents were very clearly in place in the first century and can be shown to influence the way in which the New Testament authors, especially Luke and Paul, articulate the specific substance of Christian moral teaching. Jewish law for Gentiles has become one of the pillars of ethics for Christians, fully integrated with its christological foundation.
The last two chapters take one further logical step in this progression from Jewish halakhah to universal ethics. If Jewish principles of `natural' and `international' law aided in the formulation of an ethic for Gentile Christians, how did these Christians in turn develop their own public moral discourse in the Graeco-Roman context?
8. The Beginning of Christian Public Ethics
The first of these two chapters traces the origin of a `public' Christian moral discourse from Luke to the later second century. The increasingly obvious emergence of a distinct Christian public identity engendered the need for a new apologetic to explain this self-styled `third race' apart from Jews and Gentiles – not least in its moral profile. Among New Testament writers, it is Luke above all who stands out as anticipating many of these questions. Having surveyed his interest in a publicly defensible account of Christian faith and practice, the remainder of the chapter examines the historical development of these ideas to the third quarter of the second century, i.e. prior to the first serious reflection about the challenges posed by pagan critics like Fronto and Celsus. In particular, Aristides and the Epistle to Diognetus serve as two test cases of such `pre-critical' public moral discourse; strengths and contributions as well as notable weaknesses of their approach are explored.
9. Public Ethics in Judaism and Christianity
After the more detailed historical study of Chapter 8, the final chapter offers a concluding synthesis of the main topics and approaches that Jews and Christians employed in the articulation of ethics in a public forum. In its original form, this study was prepared for a conference concerned with the limits of tolerance and intolerance in early Christianity and ancient Judaism. Within that context, it also attempts to reflect on the strengths as well as the obvious limits of a `public' discourse about ethics that is perforce conducted against the horizon of martyrdom.
Given the preliminary nature of this collection of studies, there are inevitable weaknesses and lacunae that remain to be addressed in future work. Since Part One in particular offers specialized historical case studies rather than synthetic statements, there is obviously a good deal to be done before one could begin to paint `the big picture' in a way that would be desirable. Open questions include the extent to which the Christian appropriation of Jewish halakhah for Gentiles can be said to be truly representative of mainstream Christian opinion in the period under investigation, and in important respects theologically integral to Christian faith. Some might be inclined to argue along the lines of F. C. Baur, that the original Pauline `freedom' in this regard came in time to be sedated or suppressed by the progress of `early catholic' and anti-Marcionite concerns. The evidence adduced in this book leads me to doubt that such an argument could carry the day, but it is obviously a debate worth having.
By taking the problem of a halakhah for Gentiles to its logical extension in the realm of public ethics, this volume also raises the question of the genesis of Christian political thought. This correlation is deliberate: it points to an area that remains not only wide open for fruitful research, but has considerable bearing for the church's contemporary situation. In particular, `modernist' and `post-modern' challenges have left the church's political context in both East and West more reminiscent of its first three centuries than of the last three. Even where it still enjoys the right to speak, it must now earn the right to be heard; and even then it can only hope to persuade by the Spirit's witness in argument and example. Among the richest resources for this task may well turn out to be the Christian writings of the pre-Constantinian period.
The cumulative result of the studies in this book, then, seems to be the remarkable extent to which early Christianity adopted the Jewish tradition of a `public' or `international' morality, which alone renders ethical dialogue possible. As Parts Two and Three show,examples of this tradition include the Pentateuchal laws for resident aliens and the rabbinical idea of universal laws for the descendants of Noah. Without requiring any formal sanction, such principles could be translated and expressed in terms of publicly recognizable principles of `best practice', all the while carefully guarding the distinctive substance of the biblical revelation. The balance, one might say, lies in the symmetry of law and wisdom. Ironically, it seems to have been precisely the application of Jewish law to the Gentile mission that allowed Christianity to blossom into a faith for the world, with a clear and distinctive yet truly universal ethic.
Christian approaches to public ethics have always ranged from mystical withdrawal to active engagement of the pagan world on its own terms. The `take it or leave it' perspective of Christian pietists and mystics bears powerful witness to the fact that God's truth is of another world, which cannot be fathomed by pragmatic political wisdom. Apologists and philosophers, on the other hand, are convinced that the gospel is both profoundly reasonable and profoundly good for humanity. On this account, all truth is God's truth, and every act of virtue mirrors something of the mercy and justice of Christ.
Paradoxically, both withdrawal and engagement signify something of the essence of the gospel. Both, too, can exact a steep personal and political cost. And, throughout Christian history, both have variously contributed to the articulation of a Christian public moral and political witness. The more interesting, and nowadays largely forgotten, illustrations of this fact include obscure Syrian stylites on their pillars' as well as medieval manuals for the Christian conduct of political office.' There is much room here for fruitful historical research and theological reflection.
The book as a whole seems to lack comprehensiveness and an overall cohesiveness because it is a piecemeal collection of interrelated studies. Many of the chapters are from articles or lectures that Bockmuehl has done for various occassions, and the he readily admits that there were probably many more things he could have read or said. Nevertheless, each chapter and major section is pregnant with possibilities ready to explode into volumes of their own, and the incompleteness served only to further my interest. The bibliography looks impressive and up to date, especially with respect to interactions with new perspective writers. His exegesis, while obviously not free from an interpretive grid, seems reasonable and restrained from dogmatic agendas. Even when he seems critical of protestant/reformed exegetical consensus, his criticisms remain compatible with reformed confession, in my opinion. At some points (e.g. synoptic relationship), he draws from some higher critical assumptions, but in a fashion that is not incompatible with faith and the inerrant authority of Scripture. The reading level is somewhat challenging with its appeals to original languages and modern theological vocabulary, but he usually provides enough context for those who have not been through seminary. Overall, I believe that Bockmuehl provides a convincing case for the underlying Jewishness of Christianity with respect to ethics and public discourse. Those interested in a diachronic and synchronic treatment of biblical natural theology, ethics, and church apologetics should be careful not overlook this book.
The World Calling: The Church's Witness in Politics and Society by Thomas W. Ogletree (Westminster John Knox Press) Thomas Ogletree has devoted much of his career to exploring the significance of Ernst Troeltsch's seminal work, "The Social Teaching of the Christian Church." The articles in "The World Calling" use a Troeltschian lens to explore fundamental issues underlying any Christian social witness in the context of American democratic institutions.
The shift in the focus of my academic interests from systematic and philosophical theology to theological ethics, especially Christian social ethics, is one of the enduring outcomes of my earlier involvements in the civil rights movement. I continue to be deeply invested in biblical studies, and in critical reflections on fundamental theological and philosophical matters. Yet I engage these resources chiefly out of a longing to further interfaith and ecumenical Christian engagements with complex social questions, with the hope of fostering a common good that finally accords with God's encompassing purposes for the inhabited earth.
This book is composed of materials that were initially published as independent essays. Because the essays were published separately, their larger systematic connections could not have been clearly manifest. Furthermore, two of the essays—"Christian Social Ethics as a Theological Discipline" and "Renewing Ecumenical Protestant Social Teaching"—appeared in collections that may not have been readily accessible to interested readers. It is my hope that the combination of these materials in a single volume will disclose the unifying vision that underlies them all.
This volume is devoted to a systematic elaboration of the forms of critical inquiry that are necessary for rendering Christian social teaching effective amid the social and institutional complexities of the contemporary world. Ernst Troeltsch's seminal work, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, l serves as the primary guide for this undertaking. Especially insightful is Troeltsch's insistence on the importance of combining "historical thinking" and "social analysis" in assessing the import of Christian social teaching for evolving societal systems. The title I have chosen for this book reflects a key theme in Troeltsch's account of Protestant contributions to Christian social teaching. In opposition to monastic asceticism, Troeltsch observed, Martin Luther stressed the import of the divine calling for our everyday lives in this transient and fallen world. Our "world calling" is by no means limited to sacral rites and spiritual practices; still less does it entail withdrawal from the world with its established institutions. It encompasses our family relationships, our daily work, our involvements in guilds and professional associations, our duties as citizens, the respect we show for those in authority, and our readiness to perform military service should that become necessary. In short, the divine calling suffuses the whole of our lives, bestowing new levels of meaning upon even the most mundane matters.
Given the complexities of modern social worlds, it should be quite clear that credible bodies of Christian social teaching cannot easily be articulated and implemented within public arenas. This volume does not by any means address all of the relevant concerns. It represents a constructive attempt to shed more light on crucial aspects of a much larger undertaking, setting the stage for continuing research and inquiry. Furthermore, it primarily reflects the practices of ecumenical Protestant denominations; yet I believe that the issues it addresses also have pertinence for Roman Catholic social teachings and for the public witness of conservative evangelical Protestant churches. The central conviction informing the work as a whole is that concerns for justice and human well-being are integral components of Christian fidelity. While we are undoubtedly limited in what we can realistically achieve in a sinful and fallen world, we remain obligated to do what is in our power. Our calling in Christ energizes us to undertake this task.
Chapter 2, "The Public Witness of the Christian Churches," provides an overview of Ernst Troeltsch's constructive approach to Christian social teaching, with emphasis on the continuing pertinence of his work for the contemporary American setting. Chapter 3, "Christian Social Ethics as a Theological Discipline," addresses the placement of social-ethical inquiries within a more comprehensive account of theological study. It elaborates some of the methodological procedures identified in chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 4, "Corporate Capitalism and the Common Good," applies the method outlined in the first three chapters of the book to an assessment of the role that the federal government must play in both constituting and overseeing a free-market economy. While imprudent policies can jeopardize a free-market economy, the government still plays an indispensable role in assuring that such an economy functions effectively, and that it serves the common good. This chapter also stresses the impact on domestic economies of an expanding global economy, though it does not elaborate the broader ramifications of such an economy for human well-being throughout the world.
The next two chapters highlight the mission of the churches in fostering and sustaining Christian social teaching. Chapter 5, "Renewing Ecumenical Protestant Social Teaching," calls attention to the difficulties that clerical leaders in ecumenical Protestant churches encounter when they find them-selves summoned to offer a social witness that exceeds a broadly established lay consensus regarding the churches's proper mission. Two cases are considered: 1) the decision by key church officials in predominately "white" denominations both to endorse and to participate actively in the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and 2) similar public involvements by prominent church officials in the anti–Vietnam War movement. In both instances clerical leaders acted without lay authorization or consent, thereby provoking a "gathering storm" in the churches. These cases under-score the importance of fostering authentically Christian social teaching at all levels of church life. They also remind us that a faithful prophetic witness can have substantial costs, both personal and organizational.
Chapter 6, "Faith, Culture, and Power," draws upon James H. Cone's impressive study, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or A Nightmare, to dramatize the contributions that distinctively African-American faith communities, both Christian and Muslim, have made and continue to make toward struggles for social justice within American society. Cone highlights important dimensions of social-ethical inquiry that emerge in the teachings of Dr. King and Malcolm X. Four themes stand out: a) an effective prophetic witness must be practice based; b) it must have firm grounding in formative faith traditions; c) it must be attentive to the ways in which social and cultural dynamics both shape and distort human perceptions of the world; and d) it must take account of ways in which organizational and institutional structures impact efforts to generate movements for social change. These structures invariably present formidable barriers to liberating initiatives; at the same time, they furnish indispensable resources for effective public action. The challenge is to find innovative ways of redirecting established social practices toward new ways of living and thinking. What fascinates me about Cone's book is the fact that these themes pervade his discussion even though they do not as such constitute the central focus of his study. Cone helps us see how the leadership offered by Martin and Malcolm provide models of enduring importance for Christian social teaching. These models have pertinence for the public contributions of all vital religious communities operating in the context of American democratic institutions.
Finally, I have included an appendix that contains my presidential address to the Society of Christian Ethics, "The Ecclesial Context of Christian Ethics" (1984). While this address focuses considerable attention on the ongoing work of the society, it stresses the importance of the worldly mission of the churches for all aspects of theological ethical inquiry. It also underscores the difficulties of forming and sustaining communities that can foster Christian ethical teachings, especially in their import for the wider social world. In both respects, therefore, it reinforces and expands materials treated in chapters 5 and 6.
Keeping God's Silence: Towards A Theological Ethics of Communication by Rachel Muers (Challenges in Contemporary Theology: Blackwell Publishers) (Paperback) This ground-breaking book provides a new perspective on Christian practices of silence.
Rachel Muers, a significant Quaker theologian, develops a theological understanding of communication to which a "responsible silence" is central. In doing so, she engages with the key issues raised for Christian theology by feminist thought, and develops an original reading of significant aspects of the theology and ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She also presents a challenge, from the perspective of Christian theology and practice, to a communicative environment dominated by wars of words. The central theological claim explored in the book is that God listens, and that God's listening is integral to who God is.
Excerpt: The first chapter concentrates on listening to feminist thinkers — including feminist theologians — as they put forward analyses and critiques of the many ways in which women have been silenced in theology and in other areas of discourse; and to an analysis and critique from within Christian theology of the many ways in which God has been silenced in the modern world. Both of these accounts of silencing, as I read them, tend to make the assumption that agency in communication rests wholly or mainly with the speaker — in other words, that silence cannot be rightly or usefully thought of as communicative activity. In feminist thought, however, this assumption is problematized, with the recognition of women's complicity in their own "silencing," and of the acts of silencing of which feminist discourse has itself been guilty. There is a recognition
that, if this kind of oppressive silencing is to end, the communicative situation must be fundamentally transformed; and some attempts to imagine that transformation involve the rethinking of what silence means.
The feminist theologian Nelle Morton is well known for her concept of "hearing into speech," which she develops theologically with the counter-intuitive claim that the "first cause is hearing," and the questions that pervade her writing: "Who hears? Who is heard?". In the second chapter, I look at Morton's thought alongside the philosophy of Gemma Corradi Fiumara, whose approach to the ethics of communication gives priority to listening, and analyze the questions "Who hears? Who is heard?" as they denote two forms of silence — the silence of the listener, and the "silence of unknowability" signifying the freedom of the one who is listened to. Questions then arise about the theological development of such readings of silence. How can God be affirmed as the source and aim of a changed ethics of communication, without re-imposing powerful divine speech in a way that negates the aims of feminist thought?
Reading Morton's questions as theological — as questions about God as the one "who hears" and "who is heard" — the third chapter outlines the basic framework of my response to these problems, through a discussion of Bonhoeffer's theology of the resurrection. The key categories of Bonhoeffer's thought on which my reading is based are set out: the resurrection as that which determines the asking and answering of the "Who?" question in relation to Christ; closely linked with this, the resurrection as the "place to stand," the hidden basis for action and reflection from which a response to the world is possible; and the interpretation of ethical life in terms of the "relation between reality and realization." I argue that this set of categories enables us to speak about God's silence of unknowability — the resurrection as a "hidden" reality — and God's silence as a listener's silence — the resurrection as reality being "realized," as God hears God's own Word and thereby hears the world into new possibilities.
In each of the subsequent chapters, further reflection on the naming of God as one who hears — and hence on the "reality" of the resurrection for God and for the world in relation to God — is closely bound up with the analysis of particular practices of communication, thinking through an ethics of communication alongside the development of the theology. In the fourth chapter, I begin my consideration of what it would mean for a communicative situation to be transformed in the light of the resurrection as God's hearing of God's own Word. The resurrection does not mean that the powerful Word of God reduces all other words to silence, but rather that the whole situation of speaking, silence, and listening must be reconfigured Christologically.
Feminist critiques of Christian theology's acts of "silencing" have focused on the characterization of humanity as silent or passive vis-à-vis the powerful Word of God. The fifth chapter suggests how a theology of divine hearing — of the world together with the divine Word — can respond to this critique, and can shift the focus of an ethic of communication toward an emphasis on the capacity for listening. Analyzing specific texts of Bonhoeffer's theology, I argue that his work points to a deep concern for a contemporary communicative situation in which there is "too much talk" and not enough silence, in which the capacity for listening and discernment has been lost, and in which the recognition of the resurrection as "place to stand" and as divine act of hearing provides the possible basis for a recovery of that capacity.
The sixth chapter examines practices of communication — to which silence is fundamental — in which this "reconfiguration" might be seen. I consider Bonhoeffer's lectures on "spiritual care," in which the mediation of communication in Christ — the resurrection as common "place to stand" — is a central idea. This Christological mediation of communication establishes, first, the "unknowability" of the other — the impossibility either of exercising control over her or of subjecting oneself entirely to her words. Practices of silence, described in the lectures on spiritual care, signify and enact this unknowability.
Responsible silence as Christians practice it — in relationships of "spiritual care" and elsewhere — does not, however, merely signify and enact unknowability. More importantly, people can learn to "hear with God's ears," and hence to be drawn into God's act of hearing with love. The keeping of silence can make any given practice of communication open to transformations, which are not anticipated in advance but which can reflect the innerworldly realization of divine reality. Two aspects of such transformation in and through practices of communication are the learning of ethical discernment and the emergence of friendship. Taking these seriously in the context of thinking about "hearing with God's ears," I suggest, both relies on and enriches an understanding of the resurrection as reality for God — God's self-determination as love.
Both the idea of the "unknowability" of the other and the question of what it means to "hear with God's ears" are developed further in the seventh chapter. Here, I use the idea of "knowing by hearing" as part of a response to contemporary debates on the question of privacy. The aspect of personal "unknowability" — which prevents the person from being "silenced" by reduction to a fully comprehensible object of knowledge — is a point of contact with the modern concern for privacy. However, the terms in which the concern for privacy is couched — which require
knowledge to be understood as controllable and defensible property, and which even affect some recent accounts of divine omniscience — are called into question by the Christological understanding of God's "hearing knowledge" developed in this thesis. "Hearing knowledge" is inseparable from relationships of responsibility and love, and from the formation of persons over time in relation to others. I am not rejecting the importance of privacy and reserve for the ethics of communication; in fact, the concern for privacy is linked ultimately to the concern, voiced repeatedly throughout my discussion, to say something about the reality of God in Godself.
The concluding chapter suggests further possible implications of this account of "God's responsible silence." Some of these relate to theology's own ethics of communication — for responses to acts of silencing, for biblical interpretation and for the reading of theological texts. Beyond this, however, I attempt to open up consideration of the wider consequences of an ethics of communication that takes "responsible silence" seriously.
Openings are, not accidentally, a theme of the conclusion. One of my key claims about practices of communication is that both writers and readers, speakers and hearers, should seek to hold utterances and texts open for further acts of hearing — an openness that does not preclude, but rather relies on, present commitment to specific claims and contexts, in the universal but also specific context of God's act of hearing. I have sought to do justice to, and to maintain, the openness of the texts I read. For the future openness of my own text, I am dependent on others.
Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics by Stanley J. Grenz
(Intervarsity Press) A 1998 Christianity Today Book Award winner.
BEGINNING WITH THE BASICS, STANLEY GRENZ LEADS HIS READERS into a theological engagement with moral inquiry. In a concise yet reliable fashion, The Moral Quest sets forth the basics of ethics, considers the role and methods of Christian ethics in particular, and examines the implicit and explicit ethical approaches of the Old Testament, the Gospels and Paul.
Grenz goes on to introduce the foundational theological ethics of Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther and the Reformers, then continues with an evenhanded discussion of modern and contemporary Christian ethicists, including Albrecht Ritschl, Karl Barth, Paul Ramsey, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Gustavo Gutierrez, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Stanley Hauerwas, Carl F. H. Henry and Oliver O'Donovan.
The book concludes with Grenz's own constructive proposal of "comprehensive love," rooted in the life of the Trinity and worked out in Christian community.
Clearly written and well apprised of relevant literature, The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics is a first‑rate introduction to Christian ethics. It will serve students, pastors and interested laypersons alike. Stanley Grenz declares that he began as a professor of theology, but somehow has gotten "sucked into" teaching ethics. He is at Regents College currently and teaches both theology and ethics.
The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics is solidly based on God's word and theology, and reflects on the development of morality, virtues, and ethics (after a brief introduction on why we should look at ethics), as it first arises from the Greek tradition. Various terminologies are introduced, like an "ethic of being" rather than an "ethic of doing", and deontological vs. teleological ethics.
Several Greek ethical traditions are evaluated, namely Plato, Aristotle,
Epicurus, Stoics, and Plotinus (neo-Platonism), and what are the metaphysical
backgrounds, nature of the human person, type of ethic, and conceptions of
Then the discussion moves to ethics in the Bible from Old Testament (specifically the apodidic laws, or the moral laws), Christ, and then Paul.
Then some model Christian proposals are evaluated, namely Augustine (Ethics as the Love of God), Aquinas (Ethics as the telos of human existence, or Ethics as the Fulfillment of our purpose), and Martin Luther and the Reformers (Ethics as Believing Obedience).
Some contemporary Christian proposals are raised looking at Social Order/Social Justice ("An Ethic for the Christianization of the Social Order"), Ethic of Transcendence (in Neo-Orthodoxy), Love as the Christian Norm, an Ethic of Liberation (Liberation Theology), Ethic of Character (an Ethic of Being), and Evangelicals and the Ethical Task. (What's good about these last two chapters is that Grenz fairly well presents a number of different models and is very good about evaluating the good and bad features in each one.)
Then Grenz spends some time discussing what ethics are being discussed at the present time and talks about what Christians need to do to discuss ethics successfully. He talks about related words like community, morals, duty, virtue, and dialogue ... especially with others who are thinking about ethics. Yet, Christian ethics must be distinctly different, and talks about why it must be (it must being and end with God, p. 218 -- and that the basis and goal of ethical living in God). Then Grenz apparently summarizes a good amount of his discussion of the biblical models of ethics, and then declares that Christian Ethics must be within a community-based ethic of being (in Christ)... also discussing Christian virtue-ethics, within a framework of theology. Very impressive. Then Grenz further discusses the foundation of a Christian ethic (discussing the famous Charles Sheldon novel "In His Steps" which inspires the ever-so-popular WWJD = What Would Jesus Do?). In this chapter, he covers even more Christian theology that affects our ethics.
Grenz reveals himself as an agape ethicist in the final chapters, as he shows that he believes that love (or the ethic of love) is one that comes from God, and shows exactly how one is to demonstrate it, first to God, then to our neighbor. (Not just in marriage, but he does discuss this context.) He shows some of the four loves (interacting with C.S. Lewis' work, "The Four Loves", storge, philo, agape, and eros) and how love is to manifest (in a relational sense).
Grenz ends on a tone of love, specifically of that of love for God, in celebration, aka worship (notably corporate worship in addition to individual worship). He notes that Christian ethical life results in transformation (sanctification), and "the agent of our renewal and hence the one who authors true celebrative worship is none other than the Holy Spirit," which transforms us to love God. (Again, emphasizing the agape-ethic).
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