Monday, 3 May 2010

Readings in theological ethics?

Next semester I'll be teaching an undergraduate class in theological ethics. So I'd welcome your thoughts about good texts in this area.

At the moment, I'm thinking of using Richard Hays's The Moral Vision of the New Testament (1996) as the tutorial text. (My preferred approach is to assign a single book for the tutorial discussions; then the students also have a range of additional short readings on each weekly topic.) One of the advantages of Hays's book is that it models the whole process whereby ethical thinking springs from an immersion in the moral world of the New Testament – otherwise, class discussions could easily degenerate into free-floating expressions of opinion and sentiment.

I'm also very impressed with the new Blackwell introduction by Samuel Wells and Ben Quash, Introducing Christian Ethics (2010). Their typology of ethics (universal, subversive, ecclesial) is a remarkably elegant heuristic device, and the book's structure is perfectly geared towards this kind of undergraduate class. But at the moment, I'm just thinking of introducing some of this material in the lectures, rather than assigning the book for tutorials – I'm always worried that these ready-made textbooks are too smooth and too "objective" for class discussions. I'd prefer to get students discussing a first-rate work of theology: something that's completely partisan, committed, theologically engaged. (For this reason, I also love the Hauerwas/Wells Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics – an absurdly partisan introduction!)

So anyway, I've started developing a list of various books and essays to use for shorter readings – I'd love to hear your own suggestions. And if anyone out there has used Richard Hays in an ethics class, I'd love to know if it worked well, or if you have alternative suggestions for class discussions.

31 Comments:

Joel said...

I don't know if this fits, but I *love* the Hauerwas/DeVries combo of Naming the Silences and The Blood of the Lamb.

A. D. Hunt said...

John Milbank's "The Midwinter Sacrifice" is an excellent essay on ethics. I'm not sure where it originated but I have it in the Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology.

A. D. Hunt said...

Re: My last comment: Which is of course a sequel to a previous essay of his,"Can Morality be Christian?". I suppose they ought to be read as a pair.

OKC Herbivore said...

William James McClendon's first volume of his Systematic Theology is called Ethics, and he has a pretty fascinating approach building from various ethical theories briefly touched on, into a specifically Christian framework to begin theological inquiry with ethics in hand. You might already be on it, but he is an often overlooked bright light in recent(ish) US theology. And his widow (Nancey Murphy) is my hero.

Erin said...

Richard A. Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics.

kim fabricius said...

Hays' book has got to be one of the best books of theology, period, in the last fifteen years; and I too found the new volume by Wells and Quash (two very fine theologians and a harmonious duet) informative, compendious, and quite refreshing.

You might add to the reading list The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics (2001) edited by Robin Gill. Rowan Williams' "Making Moral Decisions" alone makes it worth the price of entry.

nate kerr said...

Hauerwas' The Peaceable Kingdom still holds up as the kind of text you're looking for -- from different chapters in that text, one can come at engage Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas, Barth, Niebuhr, MacIntyre, and Yoder, among others as primary weekly readings. There is also Paul Lehmann's Ethics in a Christian Context, whose work I think will be re-emerging as highly significant within the contemporary theological landscape.

But I've used Hays' book for an Introduction to the New Testament class. I agree that it would work well for the kind of thing you're doing.

Michael said...

Hi Ben,

you may wish to consider Barth on this, though I realize he's somewhat contraversial. His lectures on ethics delivered at Muenster (1928-29) and Bonn (1930-31) are particularly interesting. The first two paragraphs outline his peculiar understanding of strictly *theological* ethics as opposed to philosophical or some other kind. There are obviously sections of the Dogmatics which give a more developed account, but these lectures are a good starting place. (as a post script to this, an artcile on the reception history of Barth's ethics, particularly in the last twenty years, is about to appear in Ecclesiology 6.2 which I think comes out this month).

Keeping the Barthian theme, how about Michael Banner, *Christian Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems* as a working model of theological ethics. The chapter on dogmatic ethics, I think it's called *turning the world upside down*, is especially useful. Also, Banner and Torrance, *Theological Ethics and the Doctrine of God* has some first rate contributions.

I agree about Hays. Sounds like it will be a fun class, whatever you decide to do!

best wishes,
Michael

wsvanderlugt said...

David Cunningham's Christian Ethics: The End of the Law is an accessible book and has many similarities to the work of Hauerwas, Wells and others exploring ecclesial ethics.

Andy Goodliff said...

I think John Colwell's Living the Christian Story is underrated ... see also Michael Banner's recent Introduction to Christian Ethics and his earlier work christian ethics and contemporary moral problems ... david cunningham's study the end of the law

theologyandthearts said...

Ben,

I actually took Ethics from Sam Wells and we read his then unpublished Christian Ethics reader (which included about 30+ sections from everyone from Luther to Niebuhr to MacIntyre), the Blackwell Companion, sections of the Moral Vision, as well as other selections by Yoder and Wells - both Improvisation and God's Companions. The book in question - Introduction to Christian Ethics - we got as the structure of the lectures as it was then unpublished. It was a challenging and reading intensive course – but well worth the effort.

Good luck!
Joelle

Mike W said...

I think we had to read O'Donovan's 'Resurrection and Moral Order'. Actually, no we didn't, I was meant to read something else but read this instead. Quite a different tack to Hays, but I love them both.

Karl Hand said...

Hay's book has this chapter on homosexuality which is really ugly. He uses the voice of his gay friend who repented on his death-bed, while dying of AIDS related illnesses. I can't think of a worse example of using emotional manipulation to promote a toxic ideology :( Sad... because the rest of his book is pretty great - methodologically sharp! loved his stuff on Christian Pacifism!

philq said...

Hey,

What do you guys think of Kingdom Ethics by Stassen and Gushee? That's the only book on Christian ethics I'm familiar with and I have no basis of comparison.

J said...

one can come at engage Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas, Barth, Niebuhr

a few somewhat important "Christian ethicists"--lay between St. Thomas and Barth--e.g., Pascal. Locke. Kant. Kierk....

Anonymous said...

What about "A short history of ethics" by Alastair McIntyre? Perhaps it´s a bit old but I found it very helpful as an introduction when I was studying theology in Sweden.

nate kerr said...

Of course, J.

Matt Elia said...

For whatever it's worth, I was going to mention Kingdom Ethics as well.

Also, would it be too obvious to mention Bonhoeffer's (tragically unfinished) Ethics?

shane clifton said...

i am quite surprised you would consider using a NT scholar as the main text for a theological ethics course. while Hays is an acceptable addendum, i think the key is to get students to reflect on the history of approaches to ethics, working toward a theological ethic. This means that they are not merely having a free floating expression of sentiment. There are plenty of texts of this type, but i still appreciate the late Stanley Grenz's Moral Quest.

Sam said...

It seems a historical approach to "theological ethics" would necessarily involve work classed under "philosophy." Someone has mentioned MacIntyre, but John Hare would also be helpful reading, and his "God and Morality" provides a concise overview of some of the most influential and profound ethical theorists in history. Here's a review: http://ndpr.nd.edu/review.cfm?id=11723

It seems to me that Hare is a theological ethicist in that he is doing ethics as a Christian in submission to revelation and the Christian tradition. But Hare's style and approach (historical and philosophical) is a bit distant from the stuff Ben and others have brought up, so I'm not sure Hare would be ideal for the class.

O'Donovan does strike me as one of the most rigorous and profound thinkers doing "theological ethics" qua theologian in the contemporary scene.

Robert Spaeman, too, is an enormously profound and insightful Christian ethicist, although he's not much read in the Anglophone world. Some of his essays or chapters Happiness and Benevolence may be in order.

Bernd Wannenwetsch has also done excellent, high level work on theological ethics.

These are just a few suggestions...

Adam Kotsko said...

It's odd that the field of Christian ethics is so exclusively dominated by white men. You'd think a woman or someone of a different skin tone had written something in this vein, but apparently not.

John Hartley said...

Dear Ben,

I'm sure you know that Groundwork of Christian Ethics by Richard G Jones (Epworth 1984) is a simple basic text which is parhaps a little out-of-date but still very handy to have for students like me who need to begin with an overview of the various ways of looking at ethical issues. I picked it up only about five years ago as I wanted something to help me prepare a series of sermons on different issues. I didn't always agree with it but I always felt it had given me a good survey of the different ways there were of looking at things, and ensure that I wasn't missing something blindingly obvious.

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY.

kim fabricius said...

Adam's observation and point triggered, for me, another thought: why restrict the book list to theology? In particular, where is the novel? Which might include, e.g., Toni Morrison, Adhaf Soueif, Arundhati Roy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

(As an autobiographical footnote, when I was an undergraduate in the late sixties, looking for a major, I did Philosophy 101-102. At the same time I was reading Jane Austen and George Eliot in an English course. I got a better intoduction to ethics in the latter than the former. So I majored in English.)

Steve Duby said...

I haven't read all the comments above, so pardon me if I'm being redundant. I've just finished reading Hays' book for an ethics course and it proved useful, though the professor felt Hays had to be complemented by material that interacted more thoroughly with philosophical angles on different topics. I'll also mention that I disagree with the comment above about Hays' chapter on homosexuality being ugly. It seemed to me that Hays related the introductory story and approached Scripture with considerable sensitivity.

Steve

Writing In the Margins said...

I agree with the Sam Wells suggestion. His book: "Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics" is readable and relevant. In addition, he did a five part series in "The Christian Century" on worship and liturgy as a formative source for ethics. Connecting worship, work and an ethic for the world is vital for a college course.

Ben Myers said...

Many thanks for all these very helpful suggestions — I really appreciate it!

Dave said...

For a somewhat different, and more topical and current view of ethics you may wish to look at Bejamin Wiker's "Moral Darwinism: how we became hedonists‎"

http://books.google.com/books?id=n27AG9eyq3gC&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Benjamin+Wiker%22&ei=IWvgS6yuF5_YMKGJse8K&cd=5#v=onepage&q&f=false

Here is a listing of his books, most of which may be read in their entirity online.

http://books.google.com/books?q=+inauthor:%22Benjamin+Wiker%22&source=gbs_authrefine_t

Wiker is a Roman Catholic philosopher. His writing is lucid and very topical but built upon an historic narrative which traces the development of our present situation.

roger flyer said...

Ben-Again, I love your humility and I believe it is genuine.

Anonymous said...

It might be good to expose the kids to a rigorous, fresh (very much focused on Jesus Christ) attempt at natural law in the Thomist tradition - e.g., Germaine Grisez? His three volume magnum opus is available online: http://www.twotlj.org/.
Luke

Phil James said...

Anyone read 'Remembering Jesus' by Allen Verhay?

pilgrimpathways said...

Miguel de la Torre, Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins; Katie Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics.

Hays is excellent except for his terrible chapter on "homosexuality." The same can be said for Stassen and Gushee's Kingdom Ethics (for which I did much of the spade work, but objected strongly to that chapter; Glen Stassen doesn't like to deal with sexual ethics, so he tends to let writing partners like Gushee carry the ball).

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