Ethics and Dogmatics

Ok, so I knew this would happen: rag Barth for saying that the church’s highest calling is dogmatics, bemoan how this enables evangelicals’ lack of engagement in substantive issues of praxis and… lo! the next section talks about the inseparability of dogmatics and ethics.

Here, Barth is (perhaps too singularly) focused on the problem of dividing out ethics from theology, folks who strive to construct ethics as a separate enterprise from theology altogether. The idea that makes Barth so uncomfortable is that we might know enough in and of ourselves to construct ideas of ethics on “universal norms” or even natural law rather than the revealed word of God.

So Barth contends that all Dogmatics is received and spoken and enacted, that all church dogmatics is inherently ethical; it is not only a matter of thinking and speaking, but of doing.

Why is Dogmatics inherently ethical?

A reality which is conceived and presented in such a way that it does not affect or claim men or awaken them to responsibility or redeem them, i.e., a theoretical reality, cannot possibly be the reality of the Word of God, no matter how great may be the richness of its content or the profundity of its conception. Dogmatics has no option: it has to be ethics as well.

The refusal to allow us to merely speak is laudable. But I’m not entirely sure I buy the notion that dogmatics is sufficiently broad, that “Word of God” is even sufficiently broad, to encompass practice as well.

6 thoughts on “Ethics and Dogmatics”

  1. I’m pretty convinced that the concept “Word of God” understood as God’s self-disclosure is sufficiently comprehensive to encompass practice. The concept inherently includes within it a concept of divine activity – divine self-disclosure. The “Word of God” is something God does and this activity has effects – both eternally and in relation to a created cosmos.

    1. I’m not as worried about God’s practice as I am about our own. This is a huge, lingering problem for post-Reformation theology. Why should we act, what should we do, if this “all God’s grace” thing is how we get in?

  2. There seems to be two general problems in the “huge, lingering problem” then:

    1) an adequately broad and nuanced understanding of divine grace
    2) an adequately sophisticate metaphysical proposal of the relation(s) between divine activity and creaturely activity

  3. I don’t think Word of God is meant to be Barth’s final word on ethics, anyway. He will have ethics sections in his discussions of the doctrine of God, Creation and Reconciliation as well.

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