Eschatology And Ecclesiology And Christian Ethics

In comprehensive interpretations of the idea of Christian ethics several aspects of Christian doctrine are related to each other as well as to the ethical system which coheres with them. This has been stated and implied above. Attention is here called to some features which have not been isolated for development.

The import of eschatological views has only been noted. Whether the kingdom of God is primarily a future reality that assures the ultimate triumph of good over evil, as e.g., in Reinhold Niebuhr, or is more a present reality that is to be realized in the ordering of life, as e.g. in American social gospel teaching, makes a difference in the ethics which cohere with each view. Whether the final fulfilment of all things is primarily developed in terms of history, or whether it is the consummation of nature as well makes a difference in what sources of moral norms are appropriate, e.g., the realization of social justice in historical liberation, or nature as a source of moral ends and principles (see Schuurman 1991). The kingdom can be the basis for a radical prophetic critique of all existing structures of life, and an assurance of the possibility of radical historic change without providing much particular guidance to human activity, or it can provide a vision of peace, justice and the integrity of creation (as in current vogue) which becomes the basis both for care and for ends and principles in the conduct of life relative to the natural as well as the social world. Clearly, how writers delineate views of eschatology affects their interpretations of history and society, as well as their interpretations of the final ends of individual humans. These, in turn, affect but do not determine the loci of concentration of moral issues, the sources of moral norms, and the ways in which Christian ethics is ultimately justified theologically.

Ecclesiological issues have also only been noted. Ideas about the Church in more systematic treatments of Christian ethics are correlated with other doctrines. This can be shown by suggesting, more than he himself does, the ecclesiological corollaries of H.Richard Niebuhr's familiar typology of Christ and culture (1951). The idea of 'Christ against culture' tends to issue in a strong stress on the Church as a community clearly differentiated from the world, on the requirements of explicit faith and belief for membership in it, on internal discipline of its members, on either a model of an exemplary community with an alternate culture and/or one of a prophetic community which both judges the world and acts against its moral and social evils. The idea of the 'Christ of culture' tends to issue in a somewhat complacent view of the Church, often the bourgeois Church in Western societies, in which the culture is viewed as strongly Christianized, and thus the tensions between it and Christ are lessened. 'Christ above culture', as Niebuhr delineates the type, is seen in classic Roman Catholicism which could defend existing social institutions but be basically concerned with the supernatural ends of individuals. 'Christ and culture in paradox' suggests a Church which is primarily concerned with the preaching of the Gospel for salvation together with assurance that the political and social orders are realms of God's law or ordering activity. 'Christ transforming culture' tends to be seen in ecclesiologies which, while distinguishing between Christ and culture, see the Church as engaged in the transformation of institutions and culture through the activity of its members.

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