This essay aims to explain what Aquinas does and does not mean when using the word ‘God’. It also tries to explain why Aquinas thinks it reasonable to conclude that God exists and how Aquinas can be compared and contrasted with certain thinkers both agreeing and disagreeing with this conclusion. The essay places emphasis on Aquinas’s notion of esse and on the fact that he consistently asserts that we do not know what God is.
Michael A. Sells
This chapter, which looks at the actual or alleged cases of apocalypticism within contemporary Iranian Shi'ite, Saudi Sunni, and American Christian circles, evaluates the issue of contemporary militant apocalypticism, emphasizing the competition between its American Christian and Islamic versions. The hadith collections present contradictory reports regarding the end-time struggle between the Messiah Jesus and Dajjal. Militant near-term apocalypticism summons the power of religion, imagination, and personal conviction against any serious peace endeavor; demonizes those who work toward such endeavors; and sanctifies those who, once the tribulation or endtimes conflict is underway, kill the peacemakers. The apocalyptic messianism of American dispensationalists, and of the Salafi Sunni figures Safar al-Hawali and Ali al-Timimi, feature scenarios of Middle Eastern and global carnage ending with messianic triumph and theologically grounded rejection of Middle East peacemaking.
M. Daniel Carroll R. and Darrell L. Bock
Christians have always believed that the Bible is the most important resource for thinking about the moral life of individual believers and their communities. Many different kinds of issues arise—theological, hermeneutical, exegetical, and historical—when we use the Bible to help answer ethical questions. Christopher Wright takes very seriously the shape of Israel's laws, social structures, and contextual realities, and avoids the vagueness of a disembodied set of supposed eternal principles. This article provides an overview of the most salient topics that are foundational for a proper appropriation of the Bible, both those of a more general sort and those most significant for the Old and New Testaments. First, it discusses the authority of the Bible for ethics, the study of ethics as it pertains to the Old Testament, social and textual reconstruction, virtue ethics, ethics and the canon, and New Testament ethics. It also examines different models for ethics in the New Testament, such as the imitation of Jesus, Jesus-centered character ethics, and the biblical Jesus in combination with a theological matrix.
Eryl W. Davies
This article begins with a discussion of the methodological issues faced by scholars of ethics in the Old Testament and New Testament. It then identifies the basis of Old Testament ethics in law, natural law, and the imitation of God. This is followed by a discussion of New Testament ethics covering Jesus and the law, Jesus and eschatology, the background of Paul's ethics, and Paul's Christology and eschatology.
Often referred to as the greatest Anglican apologist of modern times, C. S. Lewis is also regarded as a ‘popular’ theologian. His theology seems to be primarily encapsulated in his theological digest Mere Christianity, but that work contains only a pale reflection of most of his theological thought. Lewis's academic writings have a clarity and lucidity that makes them attractive to the general reader. His theological works have the same qualities, but are written from his own perspective as a layman. Lewis's theology might be divided into three parts, each representing a stage in his own spiritual development. The three parts of his theological vision are supernaturalism, the nature of good and evil, and the process of redemption. Each aspect of this vision emphasizes the key issue of his Christian faith: the surrender of the self to God.
Karen L. King
This chapter considers the religious justifications for and against torture. It also describes the torturous narratives at Christianity's foundations, the notion of redemptive martyrdom, and the various ways in which Christian ideology has challenged as well as supported the torturous suffering of fellows and foes. Torture functions in the absence of the facts or against the facts. Despite legal censure, torture and claims of torture are omnipresent. The violence of torture depends on sex/gender differentiation for much of its public communication. Opposition to torture on religious grounds will not be efficient without addressing the fact that enculturated ways of thinking and structures of feeling cultivated in Christian stories, images, and theological discourses are entailed in a wide variety of attitudes and behaviors, both for and against torture.
Laura R. Olson
This article observes the central currents in the literature on politics and clergy. The first section centers on charting a short historical map of scholarship on clergy and politics. It then considers the question of whether clergy are paradigmatic of other politically relevant social elites. It considers how one may categorize the politically relevant activities that the clergy engages in, and discusses the ways the existing literature helps in understanding whether and why clergy become politically active.
This article addresses the question of what God's ultimate purposes might be for creating the world, focusing particularly on what His purpose might have been in creating the world via a seemingly partly chance-driven evolutionary process. It argues that God's creation of human beings and other living organisms through an evolutionary process allows for richer and deeper sorts of interconnections between humans and non-human creation than would otherwise be possible. These interconnections are of significant value, mainly because they allow for creation to become more deeply united with ourselves, in fact so united that there exists a deep communion between us and the rest of creation. This communion is not only an intrinsic good, but it enriches us, since part of this communion is creation becoming part of our very self, and thus we consciously share in the richness of creation.
This survey of early Christian ethics as an emerging field of study with multiple investigators, interests, methodologies, and subjects has pointed out significant developments that are shaping the field and suggested some of the directions that future study might take. As scholars launch new explorations of this old terrain, perspectives broaden, lost features or forgotten routes of interconnection are rediscovered, familiar landmarks no longer loom as large as they once did, and boundaries begin to fade. In this process, the necessity of self-conscious reflection on the ethics of studying early Christian ethics becomes manifest. The decentring of Christian theology as the orienting point for this field demands a new kind of scholarly, personal, and communal accountability on the part of its students, whatever their relationship to Christianity. In the end, the rhetoric and practice of studying early Christian ethics must themselves be ethical.
David G. Horrell
Paul saw himself as apostle to the Gentiles, and his mission consisted in founding communities of believers in cities across the Roman Empire. This chapter first outlines recent scholarship on the nature of these communities, considering their character, socio-economic composition, and likely meeting places, and asks in what sense we should consider them ‘Pauline’ communities. Suggesting that Paul’s letters may be seen as instruments of community formation, the chapter then turns to examine the kind of ethos Paul hoped these communities would embody, and the ways in which scholars have studied what is generally labelled Paul’s ‘ethics’. In terms of the broad contours and moral principles that shape this ethic, it is suggested that a primary focus is on corporate solidarity ‘in Christ’. Despite Paul’s emphasis on the distinctiveness and purity of the Christian communities in the midst of a ‘sinful’ and hostile world, it is also important to notice how far Paul’s ethical instruction exhibits points of common ground with both Jewish and Graeco-Roman ethics, and how far Paul himself calls for a stance of ‘doing good to all’. Finally, ‘other-regard’ is proposed as the second meta-moral principle in Paul’s ethics, a stance grounded in the example of Christ, whose self-giving for others forms the paradigm to which believers should conform.
Posed by the character Philo in David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, questions about God that find their source in Epicurus crystallize the traditional philosophical understanding of the problem of evil. This problem – whether evoked by a case of natural evil; epitomized by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 or the South Asian tsunami of 2004; or of moral evil, epitomized by the Shoah – poses a grave challenge to conventional theism and is deemed ‘the guiding force of modern thought’. This article examines the thematic relation between evil and the God of love in English literature, the theme's roots in the Bible, conceived as a unified ‘literary’ document. It is in this sense that the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh furnished for Jack Miles his best-selling God: A Biography.
Jane E. Strohl
Luther taught that God calls human beings to live for their neighbours, not for themselves, within the context of the three ‘estates’ which defined medieval society: church, secular government, and the household (both family and economic life). These callings provide structure for the practice of the godly life in service to others. Gustaf Wingren’s classical study of this concept in Luther’s thoughts demonstrates how the callings discipline and guide carrying out the tasks of the sanctified believer.
This chapter offers an older notion of just war, particularly as it developed in relation to the changing place of Christianity in Europe and North America. The just war idea presents a way of thinking in which war itself is a kind of restraint. The norms of positive international law are determined with the hope that an appropriate set of institutions might transcend and thus govern the behavior of sovereign states, imposing the rule of law in cases where sovereign states (and their rulers) violate those norms intended “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The universality of norms is a project to be obtained by means of negotiation among sovereign states. The outline of just war presented reveals that the idea is a moving target, in which changes reflect the dynamic nature of social and political institutions.
Jane E. Strohl
Luther moved from viewing marriage as a defence against lust to emphasizing more the blessing of the callings of husband and wife, difficult as they may be. His strong criticism of monasticism was related to his belief that celibacy, while a blessed state, was reserved for those few who had received it as God’s gift. He permitted divorce only in cases of impotence, adultery, desertion, and ‘irreconcilable differences’. Above, all the calling of family life was designed to bring children to life and educate them in the ways of the Lord. Luther used the examples of the patriarchs and matriarchs to demonstrate the blessings and trials of family life.
David P. Daniel
The one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, according to Luther, is created and sustained by God’s Word. His ecclesiology is not institutional or structural but soteriological and kerygmatic. Christ is the head of the community of the saints, which constitutes the church. Outside his people there is no salvation. All the baptized are given spiritual authority and called to use his Word for others, but these priests call pastors, who lead the ministry of the Word in the congregation. Luther’s ecclesiology and view of the priesthood of believers and the pastoral office remained quite consistent but developed with different emphases within the context of his disputes with Roman Catholics and Anabaptists in five distinct chronological stages.
In his theses for the Heidelberg Disputation (1518) Luther developed his theology of the cross, better, the practice of the theologian of the cross, in contrast to practising a theology of glory. Acknowledging fundamental paradoxes in scriptural thought, Luther combined the power of God’s ‘weak, foolish’ Word with Christ’s cross and focused on the cross as both the objective act of God in Christ, dying for human sin, and the subjective experience of the cross in the injustice of the world in which believers live. Luther drew from this his distinctions between God Hidden and God Revealed, differentiating God hidden in majesty beyond the grasp of creatures and sinners, and God revealing himself sub contraria specie, in ways contradictory to human wisdom.
Karl Marx launched a significant discussion of Luther’s economic views. Economic historicists, e.g., Wilhelm Roscher, determined much subsequent interpretation of these views, labelling them retrogressive and naïve. Recently, scholars have widened the focus of study beyond treatises particularly aimed at usury and related topics to Luther’s use of the Sermon on the Mount and other biblical texts. His steadfast opposition to usury arose from his sharp condemnation of greed in every form and his criticism of self-seeking in all economic activities. Love of neighbour should inform all commercial endeavours.
Luther’s political thought is an expression of his theological convictions. His concepts of God’s kingdom in conflict with Satan’s and the kingdoms or governments of both earthly and spiritual life frame his application of his appreciation of governmental service and other societal activities within the context of the three estates which constitute society. In concrete crises Luther’s political views took shape; these included student riots in 1520, the Peasants’ War (1525), plans of Roman Catholic princes to attack evangelical estates, and the development of Wittenberg theories justifying resistance to the emperor. His successors used Luther’s political statements to defend their own pursuit of policies sometimes at odds with his intentions. Modern democratic theory has eliminated the foundation of Luther’s political thinking in the command–obedience structure.
After a brief overview of the social context and role of marriage and sexuality in Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, the chapter traces the impact of the Genesis creation narratives, positively and negatively, on how marriage and sexuality were seen both in the present and in depictions of hope for the future. Discussion of pre-marital sex, incest, intermarriage, polygyny, divorce, adultery, and passions follows. It then turns to Jesus’ reported response to divorce, arguing that the prohibition sayings should be read as assuming that sexual intercourse both effects permanent union and severs previous unions, thus making divorce after adultery mandatory, the common understanding and legal requirement in both Jewish and Greco-Roman society of the time. It concludes by noting both the positive appreciation of sex and marriage, grounded in belief that they are God’s creation, and the many dire warnings against sexual wrongdoing, including adulterous attitudes and uncontrolled passions.
For Paul, human participation in Christ is inaugurated and sustained by God’s apocalyptic incursion into the realm of sin and death through the incarnation and death of Christ in solidarity with sinful humanity. Human personhood is constructed in union with larger powers—on the one hand, sin, and on the other hand, the grace of God in Christ. Through Christ’s interchange with humanity under the power of sin, to the point of death on a cross, humanity is set free from sin’s power and joined with Christ.