Friday, December 30, 2011

LHP Review: Ethics, Morality, and Law and Gospel


Maguire, Daniel C. Ethics: A Complete Method for Moral Choice. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010. 340 Pages. Paper. $35.00. (LHP)

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 6). Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2009. 593 Pages. Paper. (Cloth also available.) $29.00. (LHP)

Baker, Robert C., General Editor. Roland Cap Ehlke, Editor. Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal. St. Louis, 2011. 302 Pages. Paper. $24.99. (LHP)

We live in a time where people often pick their ethics to fit the situation.

The Baptized are given to be different.

Christian worship must focus on Christ.

Is it too much to ask for a Christian ethics to do the same?

Apparently it is.

Maguire's Ethics fails as "a complete method for moral choice" for it violates all of the Ten Commandments and mentions Jesus twice. 

Only twice? In a Christian book? In a supposedly Christian book on morality and ethics? Good Grief! Jesus' death is mentioned once (240), but only in a section on "The Limits of Collective Guilt." 

Luther is mentioned twice and neither reference is positive. How embarrassing!

Ethics is not worth your time, your money, or your shelf space. It is a book unworthy of a publisher like Fortress.

Don't just take my word for it.

Watch for yourself:

Moral problems are ubiquitous in human life. In this new introductory text for ethics courses, Daniel C. Maguire constructs a complete method to show students how to address the broad range of ethical issues. The method's basic framework is presented graphically as 'the moral wheel', which identifies the central, core questions and the pluriform ways to evaluate responding to them. This survey text includes many features, such as critical thinking boxes, discussion questions, and a glossary, to help students engage more fully with today's moral challenges. (Publisher's website)

Before we get to the other books in this review, may I offer a Christian alternative (in brief)?

"What Is God'sWill for My Life?"

Vocation andDecisions as a Christian


As a young adult, I was troubled by Jeremiah29:11. I knew God knew what was in store for me. I prayed He'd let me in on the secret. 

I was tempted to cry out, "Showme a sign!" How well did signs work in Judges6:33-40? Isaiah7? We all face times when we are armed only with God's Word (cf. Matthew4). Begging God for signs was no solution.


So, I began to reflect on God'sWord in the Catechism the Vocations God Gives.

Your Vocations

1.Baptized Child of God (Receive the Lord's Gifts)

Exodus20:1-11. Commandments 1-3, especially the First Commandment

Matthew22:37-40.You can't break this commandment to "keep" another.


2.Member of a family: son or daughter, single, husband, or wife, father or mother(care for the family, keep marriage vows, raise children as Christians)

TheFourth Commandment, Sixth Commandment

Vocation #1 always comes first.


3.Work (Provide for the Lord's work and priorities as well as the family)

1Chronicles 29:11; 1 John 3:16-18

TheFifth Commandment, 1 Timothy 5:8 
Vocations #1 and #2 have priority.


4.Everything Else: Leisure, hobbies, community involvement, sports, spectatorsports, and even serving at church (Keep Priorities 1-3 first)

There is often burnoutamong servants of the church when #4 takes over #1.Consider Mary & Martha'spriorities in Luke 10:38-42. Not all church activities are equal. We are given to receive (#1) before we give and serve (#4). Family (#2) is even more important than football (#4).

I would boldly claim that there is more Biblical theology in my little four-part vocation list than in all of Maguire's text.

Readers with a Biblical Christian worldview will be far more edified by Bonhoeffer than Maguire.


The crown jewel of Bonhoeffer's body of work, Ethicsis the culmination of his theological and personalodyssey. Based on careful reconstruction of the manuscripts,freshly and expertly translated and annotated, this newcritical edition features an insightful Introduction by CliffordGreen and an Afterword from the German edition's editors.

Though caught up in the vortex of momentous forces inthe Nazi period, Bonhoeffer systematically envisioned aradically Christocentric, incarnational ethic for a post-warworld, purposefully recasting Christians' relation to history,politics, and public life.

This edition allows scholars, theologians, ethicists, andserious Christians to appreciate the cogency and relevanceof Bonhoeffer's vision.

General Editor's Foreword to Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works
Editor's Introduction to the English Edition, Clifford J. Green



Christ, Reality, and Good. Christ, Church, and World
Ethics as Formation
Heritage and Decay
Guilt, Justification, Renewal
Ultimate and Penultimate Things

Natural Life

Natural Life
Suum Cuique
The Right to Bodily Life
Reproduction and Developing Life
The Freedom of Bodily Life
The Natural Rights of the Life of the Spirit
History and Good (1)

History and Good (2)
The Structure of Responsible Life
The Place of Responsibility
Love and Responsibility

God's Love and the Disintegration of the World

Church and World I

On the Possibility of the Church's Message to the World

The "Ethical" and the "Christian" as a Topic

The Concrete Commandment and the Divine Mandates

The Commandment of God in the Church

Editor's Afterword to the German Edition
Ilse Tödt, Heinz Eduard Tödt?,Ernst Feil, and Clifford Green

1. Chronology of Ethics
2. Preparing the German Edition of Ethics, Ilse Tödt
3. Arrangements of Ethics
4. Facsimile Pages, "Heritage and Decay"

1. Literature Used by Bonhoeffer
2. Literature Consulted by the Editors
3. Other Literature Related to Ethics

Index of Scriptural References
Index of Names
Index of Subjects

Editors and Translators
(Publisher's website)

This is an extensive reconstruction of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's manuscript progress toward a volume on Ethics for Christians. He only left us these manuscripts which modern editors have reconstructed into a logical sequence for today's readers. Bonhoeffer's writing makes up less than 400 pages of this edition.

I like what I read here. These are the reflections of a man in the midst of a moral dilemma regarding what his vocation was in connection to dealing with Hitler. Bonhoeffer has a rich Biblical knowledge and theology. True, he had both Lutheran and Reformed influences and everyone seems to claim him as their own these days, yet he consistently points to Christ.

Instead of merely complaining about the culture, Bonhoeffer lays much responsibility at the feet of the Church (138ff, particularly 139). This is timely reading for Christians in the midst of culture wars about Christmas, et al. 

Speaking about conscience (277ff, et al), Bohnhoeffer connects Luther's "Here I stand" ideas to God's Word, especially the account of Adam, Eve, and the serpent, exposing the recent concept of "bound conscience" as silly compared to a repentant faithful conscience that submits itself to God's will and Word. 

Bonhoeffer advocates personal responsibility (289ff, as opposed to modern "victimhood") in the context of vocation. 

He also serves to remind the Church in every time and place of its true character, priorities, message and work in Christ (356), an antidote to the "progressive" Christian as well as the Church Growther.

I highly recommend Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

We are thankful that Fortress is publishing Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. This is a noble and historic project of generational significance. We have two more DBW volumes in our pipeline and hope to be able to complete reviews of all of the volumes in this series.

While I recommend Bonhoeffer's Ethics, I realize that limited book budgets make for difficult choices for most readers. I recommend Concordia's Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal even higher.

Lutherans are known for "Law and Gospel." We are understandably uncomfortable when we are asked to focus only on the Law. It is divine, yet it is not a way of salvation. Contributors to this volume agree. They also have much to say about that law that is positive and worth considering.

This product is also available in eDelivery platforms, click the "Other Formats" tab above.

Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal presents engaging essays from contemporary Lutheran scholars, teachers, and pastors, each offering a fresh reappraisal of natural law within the context of historic Lutheran teaching and practice. Thought-provoking questions following each essay will help readers apply key Bible texts associated with natural law to their daily lives.

 Why the Natural Law Is Necessary No contemporary thinker is interested in a wooden repristination of the natural law that is tied necessarily to the particular metaphysical foundations in the Thomistic–Aristotelian synthesis. The history of natural law shows a wide variety of interpretations and applications. But they all have some elements in common. They all oppose cultural relativism, the notion that laws are mere moral conventions that vary among societies, with no transcendent ontological claim to being universally valid and binding. To the contrary; those who hold to the natural law believe that for a law to be just, it must conform to the structure of reality itself and not depend on the oscillating opinions and preferences of human beings. The law must be the same for all human beings and at all times, so that if murder is morally wrong in America, it is equally so in Asia and Africa. If torture is to be condemned as evil in Jerusalem, it must be equally so in London and Tehran. The United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights formulates rules with respect to freedom and equality that are binding on all nations and peoples, not because of any majority vote, but because of an inherent correspondence between reason and nature. That is what is meant by saying that the Law is "written on the hearts" (Romans 2:25) of all human beings.
- Carl Braaten -

Listen to KFUO's Roland Lettner interview book essayist Robert C. Baker
on the topic of natural law (recorded January 18, 2011).

Rev. Robert C. Baker (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Carl E. Braaten (ELCA)
Mr. Matthew E. Cochran (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III (LCMS)
Mr. Jacob Corzine (LCMS)
Dr. Adam S. Francisco (LCMS)
Rev. Gifford A. Grobien (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Korey D. Maas (LCMS)
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson (ELS)
Dr. Thomas D. Pearson (ELCA)
Rev. Prof. John T. Pless (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Carl E. Rockrohr (LCMS)
Rev. Dr. Armin Wenz (SELK)
Rev. Dr. J. Larry Yoder, STS (NALC)
Prof. Marianne Howard Yoder (NALC)
Rev. Prof. Roland Ziegler (LCMS)

(Publisher's Website)

It is a big deal when theologians and professors from five Lutheran church bodies can get together to discuss anything of Biblical substance and find any degree of consensus. Humans have natural knowledge of God (7, Romans 1:19). This is NOT saving knowledge. Nor is the Law written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Yet, God gives this law (and daily bread) to all people, even non-Christians.

It is not my job as a preacher to "intend" my law preaching as first use ("curb"), second use (theological, chief, "mirror"), or even third use ("guide," yet still a law that "cuts, accuses, and condemns"). It is the work of God the Holy Spirit to use that law in whatever "use" He deems fit. It is my vocation to "Preach...the Word and plant it home To men who like or like it not, The Word that shall endure and stand When flow'rs and men shall be forgot" (LSB 586:1, Martin Franzmann).

The challenge in discussing Natural Law, I believe, is to find the proper balance between ignoring it and giving it too high a priority in the Church (or even in interfaith dialogue or Christian contributions to the public square). Matthew Cochran sums things up well in his concluding paragraph, also the closing paragraph of the book:

Nevertheless, although natural law cannot solve all our problems, it is still worthy of our attention. In our morally confused society, natural law has potential for resolving that confusion for the simple reason that it exists. No matter how corrupt people are or become, they are still confronted with the ought. One cannot understand human nature without understanding this fact. If it is indeed a worthy goal to help those caught up in the current moral conundrum, then we cannot afford to neglect natural law. A struggle exists in the hearts of all mankind. God's law calls us to be holy, yet we are anything but. The natural law can help expose our plight. God's law, revealed in nature and recorded in the infallible Scriptures, still curbs and exposes our sin and points out our need for a Savior. To explain why we struggle and why we transgress what God has commanded, we would do well to begin with what is already known. Only then we can point to God's solution to our struggle and transgression of His law: the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ" (281).

Read and study this at Winkel, brother pastors!

As noted above, an "ethics" that gives Jesus, Luther, and God's Word a limited role is an incomplete and inadequate resources for Christians. Bonhoeffer's work on Ethics is timeless. And CPH is to be commended for returning to the Scriptures (especially Romans 2:14-15) and the Lutheran Confessions, furthering the discussion on morality and ethics in the Church in the context of Law and Gospel.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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