- File Size: 780 KB
- Print Length: 141 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0802869211
- Publisher: Eerdmans (June 11, 2013)
- Publication Date: June 11, 2013
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00FRMIYLI
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #503,373 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Self, World, and Time: Volume 1: Ethics as Theology: An Induction Kindle Edition
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"Undoubtedly one of the most important books to have been written in the field of Christian ethics in recent times. . . . Highly recommended to all those with an interest in the future of theological ethics."
-- Duke Divinity School
"Writing with a clarity that comes from a lifetime of reflection, Oliver O'Donovan here gives us an account of practical reason that shows why and how ethics is at the beginning, middle, and end of a theological work. I suspect this book is destined to become a classic because few authors are as capable as O'Donovan in combining wisdom and erudition. We are in his debt."
-- University of Virginia
"In this volume O'Donovan challenges how we do ethics, and what we say of ethics, across the board, from alpha to omega. The book is brief but elegant, erudite, judicious, its proposals matured by decades of reflection on what ethics can and cannot do. Its poetically dense, richly thought-provoking style invites one to leisurely reflection. After reading the first paragraph I was intrigued; halfway through the second I was hooked. You will be too: taste and see."
-- University of Nottingham
"In this splendidly dense yet lucid first volume of his new project, Oliver O'Donovan richly succeeds in re-connecting a neo-orthodox stress upon dogma with an earlier pietist stress upon personal formation. We are thereby inducted into a stance where vision and commitment, belief and action become fully inseparable. O'Donovan realizes that such an integral theology is what responsibility requires of us in the face of a double threat to our planet and to our humanity."
-- Clare Hall, Cambridge
"The achievement of Self, World, and Time lies, to my mind, in its much welcome purism: it is bright theology and moral theology, and moral theology as biblical theology. The well-known sin of moral theology, since the Latin Middle Ages, has been its philosophical proclivities. . . . O'Donovan has written one more contribution to a non-philosophical theological ethics. This may be his best contribution to it. In any case, it is a splendid book."
Studies in Christian Ethics
"This short book is enormously generative, and we in the field are indebted to O'Donovan for so pithy a summation of his own approach to the shared task of Christian ethics, for it awakens us all to a sharper sense of how, why and what we do."
"Throughout the book one finds a clear desire to balance theological and philosophical ethics, and a recurring call to the hard thought that alone gives rise to appropriate normativity. For the scope of the book's engagement with modern philosophical and theological ethical thought alone, one would be well advised to read it."
Choice (American Library Association)
"Written against the author's background of deep study in the development of moral theology and sure knowledge of philosophical ethics, this book has a poetic, flowing, informal character to its style. . . . O'Donovan provides a refreshing new look at the relation of faith to moral action and to love, drawing out previously undeveloped implications of Reformation theology. . . . One looks forward to the second and third volumes in this important series. Recommended."
"An achievement for many reasons. One, despite its extremely dense prose, it is remarkably clear. Two, the book's message is timely and urgent. . . . Finally, O'Donovan is immensely learned, and the reader will benefit from his interactions with other theologians and philosophers who precede him. . . . I am sure we will benefit richly from the fruits of O'Donovan's lifetime of learning."
Times Literary Supplement
"The book's depth, intricacy and subtlety testify to decades of theological reflections."
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The six chapters are as follows: "Moral Awareness," "Moral Thinking," "Moral Communication," "Moral Theory," "The Task of Moral Theology," and "The Trajectory of Faith, Love, and Hope." This book is "an 'Induction,' to pave the way for further 'Explorations.' It is concerned primarily with the form and matter of Christian Ethics as a discipline, in relation to its material (moral thought and moral teaching), its setting among the humanistic faculties of study, and its proper shape, a triadic trajectory in which self, world, and time are reflected and restored" (xi).
O'Donovan argues for wakefulness / awareness as the fundamental metaphor for the moral life. "What seems like the beginning is not really a beginning at all," he says. "We wake to find things going on, and ourselves going on in the midst of them" (2). And, this being so, "we know we must give our attention to being wider awake" (4). To what must we give attention? To the self as agent, to the world as the field of action, and to time as the future-present moment in which to "do something ... to endure before the throne of judgment" (17). He closes the chapter by noting some of the "moral diseases" that result from ignoring one or two of these foci of our awareness. "Good moral theory, like moral experience itself, triangulates" (18).
Chapters 2-4 nicely illuminate the terrain of Christian Ethics, but they are less central to the thrust of this book than Chapters 1, 5-6. He does spend a few pages developing a beautiful exposition of the Lord's Prayer in its Matthean and Lukan contexts; he does this in service of his claim, following Barth, that "developed and self-conscious moral thinking begins and ends by calling on God" (38). Prayer, he says, "is the form thought takes when we understand that agency implies a relation to the government of the universe, at once cooperative and dependent" (38-39). God alone, he insists, makes the moral life intelligible. He also argues, in chapter 3 in particular, for an understanding of moral thought as a "communicative inquiry with a social basis" (44), from which point he proceeds to discussions of the natures of moral advising, moral authority, and moral teaching. Going back to the Lord's Prayer, O'Donovan points to the recurrence of first-person plural pronouns, which indicate a "'we' within which each and every 'I' can realize itself" (65). Along the way he decries the rampant individualism of many evangelical liturgies, contending for a central place for the Lord's Prayer in our gatherings to counteract this self-focus. As for the chapter on Moral Theory, O'Donovan unpacks the claim that Moral Theology must focus both on looking to God in heaven and on deliberating over practical possibilities of action.
In Chapter 5 O'Donovan starts to describe and develop his 3-volume project. Again, the moral life calls for wakefulness to the self, to the world, and to time. He connects these three foci with the three classic virtues--faith, love, and hope (which he takes to be the default order, 1 Cor. 13 being a purposeful variation). In faith we give our attention to the self as an agent made competent for obedient self-disposal. In love we give our admiration to the world as it is--to the order of creation given to it by its Creator (in this sense Ethics is, as O'Donovan calls it, a descriptive enterprise). And in hope we look forward to the realization of the promises of God our Redeemer and Restorer and seek to place ourselves in action in line with that future reality. "Faith anchors the moral life in an awareness of self and responsibility, for agency is distorted and uncertain until we grasp hold of God's work in shaping us to be effetive agents. Love structures our awareness of the world and our appreciation of its ordered values, rejoicing in the world as God's creation and its history as the stage of God's self-disclosure. Hope focuses our awareness of time upon the 'works prepared before us to walk in' (Eph. 2:10)" (102).
In the final chapter, O'Donovan focuses at greater length on faith, love, and hope. Faith, again, looks to God's act in Christ on our behalf. "The root of agency lies not in self-perception"--or in some potency immanent within each person--"but in receiving God's address to us" (112). This address tells us that we are not bound to a particular course because of the way we've come or because of the person that our history has made us. "We stand," O'Donovan says earlier, "in need ... of a 'renewal' of agency, of 'the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.' The supreme power of the act of God the Redeemer lies in those repeated 're-' prefixes, the power to make again without unmaking" (42).
Love is founded on knowledge. We do not love abstractions; love implies a concrete act of beholding and admiring. Moral action, then, requires us to know the world in which we must act in this "age of Ethics." We must pay attention to the order of God's world, knowing that this will not only enable us to act wisely in the world but will also increase our love of God, from whom all other good things derive their goodness. "Love requires its communicative medium of loveliness. Love of God is affirmed in and through our other loves, structuring them and ordering them, so that with each new discovery of good that world and time lay open to us, the question of the love of God is put again, its sovereignty over other loves reasserted or forgotten. For love of the world and of the God who gives the world occupies our experience not as a settled condition, but as a series of openings and adventures" (119).
Hope, again, is grounded on the promise of God, and in this way differs from anticipation, which looks for certain events to come because they appear probable in light of present circumstances. The act of God and the promise of God mean we are "no longer allowed to suppose that the next thing will follow from the last"; therefore, hope clears a space of freedom before our feet, even if that space is no larger than will allow for a disciplined and patient waiting" (123). As O'Donovan puts it so beautifully, each moment is an opportunity to "witness to the promise in our action."
He concludes by proffering Rest as the completion and goal of action, entrance into which constitutes our partaking of the divine nature. "'The end crowns the work,' as the proverb has it. As completed work our agency has a place within the world, and can be offered back to God in praise as the contribution to the world's preservation and redemption which he has been pleased to accomplish through us" (128).
Reading back on my summary, I'm all to aware that there's much in this slim volume that I missed or misunderstood. It will easily withstand several re-readings, and the density perhaps demands them. In fact, I might say that one could re-read this until the day the "age of Ethics" comes to a close, if only for the sheer rapture effected by O'Donovan's evocative metaphors, conceptual rigor and clarity, and plain joy in wrestling with how we might live faithfully before God our Savior. Know that O'Donovan doesn't always translate non-English quotes, so you will have to do some additional research if you don't know Latin, German, and French but do want to track the argument all the way.
His "double trilogy" of (1) self, world, and time and (2) faith, love, and hope provide the matrix for a remarkable exploration of the awakened and emerging Christian ethical mind which (a) reflects on moral experience and ethical perspectives and (b) deliberates the forward path of mature ethical living while aware of the opacity of the future. He clarifies so much that has been debated through the years. This work clearly serves the cause of wise and fruitful "transnomian" Christian ethics.
Top international reviews
Difficult to follow if you have a wondering mind but again worth the pain of slow reading.