T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Ethics
Series: T&T Clark Handbooks
- ISBN: 9780567677174
- Published By: Bloomsbury Academic
- Published: January 2021
In the T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Ethics, Tobias Winright endeavors to provide a textbook for basic undergraduate Christian ethics courses, inclusive of new moral issues and voices, that will inspire future contributions by scholars and students. The effort is more successful in including new issues than voices.
Winright envisioned an “ecumenical effort” among contributors who do not necessarily agree with him “on what Christian ethics should be or how it ought to be done” (2). The editor’s only stated framework is to employ what is called "the four fonts of moral wisdom," also known as the “Wesleyan quadrilateral”: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience (3). This loose methodological framework lends surprising consistency to the volume, even though contributors vary in how they understand these sources. Explaining a diversity of interpretations of the “four fonts,” Winright references several Catholic authors, including Charles E. Curran, noting his “small-‘c’” catholic approach, understood as “a broad and inclusive Christian ethics that is ecumenical and not solely Roman Catholic” (3). This is also an accurate description of the entire book, which is a broadly catholic conversation, with its Roman Catholic center of gravity apparent throughout.
Forty-eight scholars, six from the United Kingdom and forty-two from the United States, contributed original writings to this volume, providing expert guidance for navigating the complex field of Christian ethics. The book is partitioned into three main sections. Part 1, “Fonts, Grounds, and Sources of Christian Ethics,” effectively introduces the book’s methodological approach by emphasizing the interrelated and interdependent nature of the four sources. Each author also grounds Christian ethics in specifically Christian theological convictions: the good news in Christ (15), the church (24), “faith and hope in Christ” (35), and discipleship (45), respectively.
Part 2, “Approaches, Methods, and Voices in Christian Ethics,” includes ten thematic chapters on topics such as virtue ethics, conscience, natural law, emotions, narrative, responsibility, and worship. James Bretzke’s examination of “the moral evaluation of an act,” tracing developments in Catholic thought from the scholastic moral manualist tradition through Vatican II and subsequent tension between classicist and historicist worldviews (54), provides an entry point. Bretzke’s description of the resulting paradigm shift in casuistry could also describe this book’s implicit moral pedagogy: “an inductive investigation of as many morally relevant features as possible,” which then leads to an integration of “the corresponding moral principles, with the accent on the personal discernment and appropriation of conscience” (55). Each contributor takes seriously the integrity of the human person in social, cultural, and historical context.
These parts effectively establish the approach and tone for the rest of the book. Each chapter is written invitationally, providing an overview of the topic, noting relevant points of contestation, and inviting the reader to engage in their own study and discernment. For most contributors to this volume, moral principles are derived from Catholic social teaching and broad scriptural themes, such as love, justice, and mercy. In Part 2, Michael Jaycox provides an outstanding example of engagement with ancient, Enlightenment, and current-day thinkers, including womanist and liberation theologians, as he addresses suffering, systemic oppression, and injustice by considering emotion as a source of moral insight. Also, one would be hard-pressed to find a more nuanced and accessible discussion of conscience than that offered by Elizabeth Sweeny Block.
Part 3, “Issues, Applications, and Twenty-First-Century Agenda for Christian Ethics,” contains the bulk (about 70 percent) of the book’s content. This part is subdivided into seven topical, lettered sections: A) politics and society; B) conflict, war, and peace; C) criminal justice; D) medicine and health care; E) economics; F) ecology; and G) sex, gender, marriage, and family. Each section contains between three and six chapters, including an overview essay providing conceptual vocabulary and background important for engaging the more narrowly focused chapters that follow. There are many illuminating discussions among the chapters in Part 3. Darlene Ford Weaver (sec. G), Aana Marie Vigen (sec. D), and Kara N. Slade (sec. D) offer notably bold essays, respectively arguing for the theological centrality of adoptive families in Christianity, calling for strategic policy interventions to address health inequities, and pressing deeper theological questions about the life and hope offered by genetic and reproductive technologies.
Distinctive to this volume of Christian ethics is its attention to criminal justice (sec. C), reflecting the editor’s background in law enforcement. Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom opens this section with a provocative essay on crime and punishment in the United States, engaging critical race theory, abuses of scripture by White Christians, and penal substitutionary atonement. This section includes chapters on mass incarceration, restorative justice, police, capital punishment, and the legalization of marijuana. It is also the only section of the book to include BIPOC contributors.
Considering who is included at the table is an essential aspect of the project of Christian ethics, and this volume suffers from significant limitations in this regard. Among the twenty-eight men and twenty women, there are only two BIPOC contributors, both African American males. Winright acknowledges the importance of diverse voices and laments that women of color were among those who had to drop out of the project. This situation, however, is compounded by other features of the project: a White editor beginning with White source material (4), many contributors who list only White authors in the suggested readings, and a few who engage only White scholars in their notes. Tellingly, the book’s index lists more popes than BIPOCs. This handbook is White by leadership, design, participation, and engagement. While the collection includes critiques of racism, it cannot be seen as an antiracist collection.
This handbook is appropriately suited for undergraduate and seminary teaching. The book covers a wide range of topics. Each chapter provides a trove of notes and suggested readings for further research, though references to non-Catholic social teaching and ecclesial statements are few. Whether its Whiteness is considered a fundamental flaw or an unfortunate feature of this introduction to small “c”-catholic Christian ethics is something that each instructor will have to consider for themselves.
Darryl W. Stephens is director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ministry and director of United Methodist Studies at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
Darryl W. StephensDate Of Review:March 21, 2022