Reinstating Natural Morality

The Ground of Christian Ethics, by N. H. G. Robinson (Eerdmans, 1972, 336 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Norman L. Geisler, chairman of the Department of Philosophy of Religion, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.

As the author acknowledges, this essay “is not primarily concerned with particular ethical problems.” Rather, it concentrates on the relation of Christian ethics to both theology and ethics in general.

Robinson finds fault with all four of the basic ways Protestants have viewed these relations. First, Calvin, whose method in ethics was “to collect from various places of Scripture a rule for the reformation of life,” is faulted because “not only is this view of the Christian life itself superficial and even mechanical, but it is tied to a whole fundamentalistic theology which is no more profound.”

Secondly, the naturalistic ethic of Kant, Sidgwick, and Rashdall is rejected because it offers “the discussion of morality on the basis not of revelation at all but of reason and conscience … in complete divorce from the beliefs and dogmas of religious faith.” Robinson admits that even though theology cannot be reduced to morality, nevertheless the Bible has “an all-pervasive moral quality.” For “in the Bible the moral and transmoral are inextricably intertwined.” However, the theologian cannot accept the thesis that “morality is wholly self-contained and … totally independent.”

The third view Robinson rejects is that of Bishop Butler, that “Christian morality is morality at its completely natural and at its best” as manifest in the example of Jesus. This view, notes Robinson, “may readily expose itself to theological criticism,” the charge that “it does not take a sufficiently ...

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