Perspectives on Social Ethics Part III: Christ’s Teachings on Social Ethics -- By: Charles C. Ryrie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 134:535 (Jul 1977)
Article: Perspectives on Social Ethics Part III: Christ’s Teachings on Social Ethics
Author: Charles C. Ryrie


Perspectives on Social Ethics
Part III:
Christ’s Teachings on Social Ethics

Charles C. Ryrie

[Charles C. Ryrie, Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of four articles, first delivered by the author as the Louis S. Bauman Memorial Lectures at Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, February 10–13, 1976.]

The image of Jesus Christ as an ethical Reformer has evoked a variety of responses. Some think this was His primary mission on earth; others suggest that He did not concern Himself at all with social questions. And of course, a whole spectrum of views exists between these two extremes. That He was a great Teacher of social ethics is supported by a distinguished Jewish scholar, J. Klausner, who states, “The main strength of Jesus lay in his ethical teaching. If we omitted the miracles and a few mystical sayings which tend to deify the Son of Man, and preserved only the moral precepts and parables, the Gospels would count as one of the most wonderful collections of ethical teachings in the world.”1

Other scholars give little place to His ethical teaching. The index to Emil Brunner’s classic The Divine Imperative lists forty-six references to Luther, thirty-five to Calvin, twenty to Paul, and none to Jesus (though by diligent search one is able to find an occasional allusion by Brunner to Jesus’ views on ethics). In the popularly held image of dispensationalism, the teachings of Jesus are thought to have no relevance to the church; furthermore, since His emphasis was on personal redemption He is not to be considered a social Reformer at all. T. A. Hegre, for example, in a book entitled The Cross and Sanctification,2 heads one of the chapters “Have You Lost

Your Bible?” He devotes two pages to the disastrous effects of liberalism on the Bible, but five pages to what he calls the “damaging” results of dispensationalism. C. Norman Kraus, an evangelical, misrepresents dispensationalism by insisting that in it “Jesus’ life and teachings are lost to the Church.”3 A typical contemporary statement concerning the importance of the teachings of Jesus as they relate to ethics is expressed by the late Georgia Harkness, of the Pacific School of Religion:

…we cannot find our primary authority for the demands of Christian decision in the general field of moral philosophy, or in the moral standards of Christendom, past or present, or in the ethical pronouncements of the churches, ...

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