On Generating Categories In Theological Ethics: Barth, Genesis And The Ständelehre -- By: Brian Brock

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 61:1 (NA 2010)
Article: On Generating Categories In Theological Ethics: Barth, Genesis And The Ständelehre
Author: Brian Brock

On Generating Categories In Theological Ethics:
Barth, Genesis And The Ständelehre1

Brian Brock


Though the doctrine of creation is often invoked in Christian ethics, its relation to the book of Genesis remains obscure. The dominance of an ethics of principles among Christian ethicists and exegetes provides one reason for this obscurity in methodologically oversimplifying Scripture in order to make it more accessible for a specific type of modernist ethical methodology. The main emphasis of the article is to investigate the linkages Karl Barth drew between the book of Genesis and the doctrines of Christology and creation in his Church Dogmatics vol. III. While Barth makes important methodological advances on a Christian ethic of principles, his treatment of the doctrine of creation is found to underplay the distinctive thought structures of Genesis 1-4. A brief final section suggests that Luther’s doctrine of the three estates comprehends Barth’s best methodological insights, and in addition, was explicitly formulated as a reading of the biblical text of Genesis. Drawing on the work of Hans Ulrich, I conclude that an updated version of the Ständelehre addresses the systematic problems noted in a Christian ethic of principles and Barth’s doctrine of creation, so yielding a more biblically faithful framework within which a Christian ethic of creation can be developed.

1. Introduction

The aim of this essay is a narrow one, to grapple with a complex of methodological questions that underlie Christian ethics. Christians may agree in the affirmation of the Trinitarian God as creator, but often sharply disagree about the ethical claims such a confession might implicate. I will suggest that this question is one that is best resolved by investigating how basic moral categories are generated in Christian ethics, with a special interest in how these categories draw on and articulate the witness of Scripture.

My argument will proceed in four movements. First, I will indicate the prominence of ethical principles in modern secular ethical thought and indicate some of the conceptual weaknesses of such an approach. Second, I will show how a Christian ethic that construes itself as an ethic of principles is bound by the same problems because resting on the same basic conceptual frameworks as modern secular ethics. The body of the paper, third, is concerned with an extended engagement with Karl Barth’s ethic of creation. He grasps the weaknesses of modern principal ethics, and the importance of close attention to the interrelation of the doctrines of creation and redemption. B...

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