Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.


On doctrine and ethics

The teachers I’ve learnt most from have been those who integrated both doctrine and ethics. Indeed, they didn’t see a dualism between the two. Today I was reading an essay by Stanley Hauerwas that summed up this idea of integration nicely. In critiquing the divide he says,

Those trained to do theology ‘proper’, however, seldom stray into ‘ethics’ as part of their job description. Too often theologians spend there time writing prolegomena, that is, essays on theological method meant to show how theology should be done in case anyone got around to doing any. Those who do try to do theology too often assume that their primary task is to construct a systematic presentation of theological loci and their interrelations. Ethics is what is done after one has accomplished these more primary tasks, or ethics becomes the responsibility of those who teach course in ethics.Stanley Hauerwas, “On Doctrine and Ethics” in The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (ed. Colin E. Gunton).

BTW – There’s a Hauerwas portal of sorts here with links to many online articles.


  1. Andrew

    Have you read much of James McClendon? I’m doing a masters thesis around his theology and especially his theological method. He says very similar things to Hauerwas. His 3 vol “Systematic Theology” has his book Ethis as its first volume for the same reason that you point out through Hauerwas.

  2. I borrowed McClendon’s ethics volume Monday from the BCNZ library for exactly that reason. Hauerwas’ essay hast a historical survey of doctrine and ethics in it and he points out the point you make.

    Of course, while the ethics volume forms part of a 3 volume systematic theology the ethics volume is catalogued under “BJ” while the other two volumes are under “BT” (Lib. of Congress scheme), reinforcing the point that Hauerwas makes about separating the two in our institutions.

    Will post another comment on ethics later today.

  3. Andrew

    Really interesting point about the different classifications of his Systematic Theology, I’m sure McClendon would laugh at that as well! Can I recommend McClendon’s book “Biography as Theology” to you. It is basically his theological methodology and tends to undergird most of his theology. One that I haven’t yet read but which he seems to fall back on very often is his book “Convictions”. He, like Lindbeck, bases a lot of his theological method on Wittgenstein’s language games. In the intro to vol 2 of his sytematic theology (Doctrine) he says: “It is important here that life, faith, and vision are not three realitiea but one: it is not as though what is done can be pried apart from what is taugh or what is envisioned; rather these volumes constitute three distinct probes, three levels of inquiry, into a single ‘life-faith-vision,’ one whole.” And so he says, following Wittgenstein, what doctrine is about is: “What must be taught in today’s churches if they are to be what they claim to be? In brief, what must the church teach to be the church now?” Looking forward to your next post on this subject!

  4. Curtis Freeman

    I’m glad you are reading McClendon’s Systematic Theology. I’m writing a review essay of all three volumes for a journal, so I thought I’d surf and see who referenced Jim’s work and how. Hope you’re getting a lot out of it. I use Doctrine every year in a course on theology, but re-reading Ethics has made me realize how much Jim’s mind changed over the course of writing the Systematic. He was a great soul and is greatly missed.

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