Attunement to Saints Past and Present: Clarifications and Convergences

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This paper discusses the responses to Singing the Ethos of God in the present volume by Gordon Wenham, Don Wood, Bernd Wannenwetsch and Hans Ulrich. The conversation with Wenham begins with the question of whether, in Christian theological exegesis, ecclesial interpretation or exegetical fidelity should be more fundamental. It argues that neither the location of biblical interpretation in the Church nor an interest in exegetical fidelity is primary in defining the role of Scripture in the moral formation of the Church. Discussion then turns to the related question of what happens when Christian ethics becomes wedded to the idea of 'ethical principles'. The paper suggests that the extreme difficulty of deriving such principles alerts us to fatal theological flaws in the concept of 'Christian moral principles'. The response to Wood takes up his worry that the moral realism of Singing is in jeopardy without a more careful account of the transitions between descriptive and prescriptive moral language. The paper suggests that this criticism is a more sophisticated repetition of the assumption that Christian ethics cannot do without principles and rests on the bifurcation of theoretical and practical reason that has plagued modern theology. Here judgments about developments in western theology are crucial. The paper contends that the most pressing question for contemporary Christian ethics is how best to respond to contemporary tendencies to marry creedal orthodoxy with either ethical heterodoxy or the focusing of Christian morality on a very narrow band of litmus test issues. The final section moves from clarification to constructive theology, drawing together convergences between Singing the Ethos of God and the articles by Wannenwetsch and Ulrich. It develops the position that Christian ethics is most appropriately understood as a discipline serving the orientation of Christians in reality, reality being defined in terms that are thoroughly Trinitarian, ecclesial and scriptural. Doxology is seen as the ongoing human acknowledgement of reliance on and gratitude for God's presence and care. Theology and ethics within the orbit of doxology affirm the situation of human thought 'in the middle' of God's creation and salvation of the world. God must break in on humans to make them aware of his presence and care amidst the countervailing tendencies that characterize fallen psyches and the social formations within which they are wholly embedded. Christian theology can therefore never transcend the patient 'chewing' meditation demands (Psalm 1:1) and in doing so must avoid as a temptation the desire to come to rest in a reading that is so complete that reading can cease. Reading Scripture with the saints resists this closure in affirming that human sanctification is found in joining in unity with them in our age rather than in innovation or progress beyond them. Such Christian ethical exegesis is depicted as being best supported by the biblical language of 'transformation of the schemas of this age', 'meditation' and 'torah'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-163
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Theology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

This article reviews the contributions of the five other authors who contributed to a special issue on my Singing the Ethos of God:
Simon Woodman, “‘An Alien in the Land’: A Summary of Singing the Ethos of God by Brian Brock,” European Journal of Theology, 18:2, 2009, 105-114.
Gordon J. Wenham, “Reflections on Singing the Ethos of God,” European Journal of Theology, 18:2, 2009, 115-124.
Bernd Wannenwetsch, “Conversing with the Saints as they Converse with Scripture: In Conversation with Brian Brock's Singing the Ethos of God,” European Journal of Theology, 18:2, 2009, 125-136.
Hans G. Ulrich, “On Finding Our Place: Christian Ethics in God's Reality,” European Journal of Theology, 18:2, 2009, 137-144.
Donald Wood, “Some Comments on Moral Realism and Scriptural Authority,” European Journal of Theology, 18:2, 2009, 145-154.


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