Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TrinJ 2:2 (Fall 1981) p. 230
Ethics, by Karl Barth. Edited by Dietrich Braun. Translated by Geoffrey Bromiley. New York: Seabury, 1981. x + 534 pp. $34.95.
In a poignant comment on our age, Peter Marin recently observed: “One can search in vain these days … for the word conscience. Our philosophers long ago reduced ethical questions to problems in epistemology, and even our religions have ceased to offer much in this realm, concerned as they are with the problems of salvation rather than the complexities of concrete moral life in the modern world” (Harper’s, Dec. 1980). Those in our century who have spoken ably and intelligently about moral and ethical concerns, then, are all the more to be valued. Although this work is not so much concerned with specific ethical problems, but rather with the dogmatic foundations needed to face those dilemmas, Karl Barth’s Ethics is an important contribution to the field.
Barth scholars particularly will be interested in this volume for it represents an important step in the development of his thinking. These 1928–29 lectures served as the first draft for the ethical sections of Church Dogmatics and rely heavily on the orders of creation, a notion Barth later rejected. Nevertheless, the work is important and valuable in its own right.
At the outset, Barth defines ethics as “a theological discipline… in which an answer is sought in the Word of God to the question of the goodness of human conduct” (p. 3). Ethics, moreover, is an elucidation of the doctrine of sanctification and “is a reflection on how far the Word of God proclaimed and accepted in Christian preaching effects a definite claiming of man” (p. 3). Barth cites the rule of Benedict of Nursia, the Imitation of Christ by Thomas h Kempis, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas as early examples of ethical writings. Following the Reformation, a distinction gradually was made between dogmatic and moral theology, with the latter gaining ascendancy with Pietism in the eighteenth century. Addressing the question of whether or not ethics should be viewed as a part of dogmatics, Barth asks: “If the knowledge of God is not in itself the service of God, if eternal truth does not include goals, if illumined consciousness is not in itself will and faith act-then what are they? Does not all this bring dogmatics under the suspicion of being an idle intellectual game?” (p. 9). Indeed, since dogmatics is concerned with the communication of God’s Word to man, it cannot be divorced from the nature of man’s response to that Word. Ethics, Barth argues, is not merely an adjunct to the doctrine of sanctification, but is the proper concern of dogmatics itself.
The Christian, Barth says, should resist the temptation ...
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