The Heart Of Christian Ethics

Theological Ethics, Volume I: Foundations, by Helmut Thielicke, edited by William H. Lazareth (Fortress, 1966, 697 pp., $12.50), is reviewed by Ellis W. Hollon, Jr., associate professor of philosophy, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

In this book, Helmut Thielicke, professor of theology at the University of Hamburg, does three valuable things:

First, he makes justification central to ethics. Thielicke will not acquiesce to Barth’s conclusion that the Law is only the form of the Gospel, whose content is grace. This shatters the key position of justification, that miracle of God which must be placed at the heart of any Christian ethics. Thielicke makes the radical distinction between Law and Gospel the criterion by which to test the legitimacy of a theology, since only such a strict distinction can maintain the historicity of revelation: “The monistic teaching in Barth’s theology … finds expression in his obliteration of the antithesis between Law and Gospel, leads to timelessness, the elimination of salvation history, and hence a philosophical world view.”

Thielicke sees as his own task the “declining” of “the doctrine of justification through all the case forms in which it appears within the grammar of our existence.” He says that his basic concern is “to formulate an evangelical ethic for which the fact of justification is decisive.” This means that evangelical ethics is completely different from all philosophical ethics: “Evangelical ethics … takes as its starting point not the goal but the presupposition of the ethical act. It proceeds from the fact of justification as accomplished and given.…”

This “gift,” justification, makes us Christians; yet we are also, in sanctification, ...

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