Ethics is comprised of fragments of a book that DB never had the chance to write (though the book weighs-in at 593 pages with editors notes and appendixes). This is a heavy theological tome. Three important themes are presented within it.
DB distinguished between the ultimate and the penultimate dimensions of our lives. In the ultimate, we recognize that we are all sinners and stand only through the gracious forgiveness of our sins extended to us in Christ.
In the penultimate dimension, we are friends and family members. We are neighbors and recognize that we owe to each other our good works even though those works will never justify us. In the ultimate, we realize that our love for God must exceed any and all of our other loves in life. In the penultimate, we rejoice in the beauty and goodness of nature and in the capacity for creating beauty which God has given us. DB felt that Christians were far too often eager to rush past the realm of the penultimate and try to live exclusively in the ultimate.
Perhaps the most insightful part of the book is DB’s understanding of good and evil, something Sweet and I discuss in some detail in Jesus Manifesto.
The goal of the Christian life is not living according to the knowledge of good and evil. It is being formed into the image of Christ. When the Pharisees questioned Christ, His answer frequently seemed to be off the main point of the question. The reason is that the Pharisees formulated their questions in light of their expert knowledge of good and evil. Christ, on the other hand, always kept His eye solely on the will of the Father. (I prefer to emphasize that He lived by His Father’s life, embodied in the Tree of Life.) In the same way, we must be always open to the sometimes unexpected requirements of following Jesus rather than being guided by the knowledge of good and evil.
DB felt that the traditional Lutheran ethic based on being faithful to one’s station in life left the door open to the authoritarian abuses of the Nazis. This was the last theme developed by DB, and it was the least developed.
Click here to read Stanley Hauerwas’ brief commentary on the book and its new translation.