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Systematische Theologie: Ethik


Schaeffer, Hans


Createdness and Ethics. The Doctrine of Creation and Theological Ethics in the Theology of Colin E. Gunton and Oswald Bayer.


Berlin-New York: de Gruyter 2006. XI, 412 S. gr.8° = Theologische Bibliothek Töpelmann, 137. Geb. EUR 98,00. ISBN 978-3-11-019073-1.


Diederik Noordveld

This doctoral thesis examines the connection between the doctrine of creation and theological ethics with specific reference to two contemporary theologians: Collin E. Gunton and Oswald Bayer. By way of conclusion Sch. applies the relevance of this connection to the Christian view on marriage.
Sch. first discusses Gunton (cf. chapter 3). Startingpoint is his definition of life as ›otherness-in-relation‹. By means of this definition Gunton emphasizes that every human act must take into account the substantiality of God, of fellow human beings and of nature. At the same time, this definition expresses the essential relationality of life. In the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, this substantiality and relationality of life can be observed criteriologically. In his doctrine of creation Gunton elaborates the ontology of otherness-in-relation. Every being is created in relation to God, man and nature. Nonetheless, man has no direct knowledge of this intrinsic rationality of the world: only God’s ›creational mediation‹ connects the triune God with reality. In this way Gunton explains the different substantiality on the one hand and the connecting relationality on the other hand. Within ethics, this works as follows: God is still actively involved in his work as creator and brings creation to its goal. Simultaneously, man as the image of God has the task of reaching this goal. He is part of God’s creational mediation. Sch. stresses that this does not mean that man must or can reach this goal by himself. The Christological criterion shows that the consequences of the fall call for redemption. This redemption is achieved in creation on the way to the eschaton, for only the work of Jesus Christ has life saving value.
Sch.’s second discussion partner is Oswald Bayer (cf. chapter 4). Characteristic of his doctrine of creation and theological ethics is the criteriological use of the term promissio, borrowed from Martin Luther. In Bayer’s view, God’s promises are the theological hermeneutics of the human experience of reality. The truly determining factor in reality is God’s creative and upholding activity. Man, therefore, should primarily be considered as a passive creature. Simultaneously, the linguistic character of promissio concretizes the re­lation of God with his creation. In his doctrine of creation, Bayer sees creatio ex nihilo as promissio: God’s life-creating speech act brings creation into existence and through this creative act God still speaks to creation. Sch. emphasizes the central role of man’s passivity in ethics. Man is a being spoken to and created by God. That is why ethics deals with the interpretation of the world as God’s gift and with man’s calling to live rationally in this reality structured by God. Because Bayer’s ethics does not start with what man does but with what he receives, the first commandment plays a central role. Sin is man’s attempt to break this asymmetrical relation between giving and receiving by means of other gods.
Having dealt with these concepts from Gunton and Bayer, Sch. addresses the connection between the doctrine of creation and theological ethics (cf. chapter 5). He mainly follows Bayer’s doctrine of creation, completing it with elements found in Gunton’s thinking. Amongst other things, Sch. stresses the importance of divine revelation in connection with the knowledge of creation. It is only Christ who shows to man God’s intention with creation on the one hand and his own deviation from this destination on the other. Thus, the tension between good and evil becomes visible. This tension also exists in all moral knowledge and is therefore always provisional knowledge. In addition, creation is viewed as an interpretation of reality, shaped by liturgy and explaining God’s relation to his creation. His providential care still upholds creation. Thus, the doctrine of creation functions as a context of life for theological ethics. Sch. then moves on to an evaluation of Gunton’s and Bayer’s contributions, in which hamartiology plays a central role. Speaking about creation is not possible without speaking of sin, which transformed the created order into chaos. Both theologians extensively elaborate the concept of sin, while Gunton seeks more intellectual answers to conquer sin and Bayer observes God’s purposes with creation in the life forms of the church. Sch. prefers the radicalism with which Bayer connects the doctrine of creation with sin to Gunton’s approach. Moreover, Bayer’s theology demonstrates an interesting eschatological element which both relativizes and intensifies life. Attempts by man to save the world come to nothing, but at the same time God’s demonstration of faithfulness shows that there is meaning to life. Gunton’s emphasis on the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit leaves more room for a possible change of the current order and can therefore be characterized as more optimistic. Bayer puts more emphasis on the hiddenness of God, which calls for repentance within the context of the church to see creation for what it really is. Sch. agrees with this but also con­cludes, with Gunton, that God gives man a foretaste of perfect glory through his Spirit.
With marriage as a touchstone, Sch. then examines the value of the connection between the doctrine of creation and theological ethics (cf. chapter 6). In order to achieve this, he discusses four different views on marriage: marriage as a contract, marriage in the tradition of natural law, the constructivistic approach to marriage and the eschatological relativization of marriage. Sch. describes each of these views in detail, spells out the relevance of the doctrine of creation in relation to the various concepts and then concludes: marriage too, is constituted through the relation between creation and Creator. Because marriage receives its true value within the context of experienced trust in the triune Creator, the Christian community plays an important part here. Sch. emphasizes that also in marriage, man is not the creator of his own happiness, but that God in his providence brings this history to its goal.
Sch. ends his dissertation with a short exposition on the rele­vance of the doctrine of creation for ethics (cf. chapter 7). The impor­tance lies, first of all in a more specific application of the communitarism of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor by offering criteria to redefine the concept of community. In addition, the perspectives of Gunton and Bayer provide a classic Neo-Calvinist ethics. The doc­trine of creation cannot be limited to creatio ex nihilo – and the created order based upon this – but in connection with the doc­trine of providence and eschatology, it can also be seen as the history of creation in which God’s promissio still speaks to mankind. At the same time, the apologetic meaning of the doctrine of creation is brought to the fore: trust in the upholding work of the Creator relativizes the activity of man and also gives hope for a future that often looks bleak.
Createdness and Ethics offers an impressively detailed overview of the theological views of Colin Gunton and Oswald Bayer, and therefore the opportunity to get to know these theologians a little better. Because Sch. writes in the Neo-Calvinist tradition, he also offers a more specific application of the reformed use of the doc­trine of creation to theological ethics. Especially interesting is also Sch.’s discussion of the way Gunton and Bayer relate to the Enlight­enment, whereby the former was influenced by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the latter by Johann Georg Hamann. Sch. knows how to make this fruitful for today by redefining the doctrine of creation as a possible answer to Post Modernism. That makes it possible to read this thesis from various angles.