With its focus on the traditions and communities that form us over the course of a lifetime, virtue ethics has richly expanded our understanding of what the Christian life can look like. Yet its emphasis on human virtues and habits of mind and life seems inconsistent with the Reformed tradition’s insistence that sin lies at the heart of the human condition. For this reason, virtue ethics seems out of place in Reformed theology, especially in the company of the Reformed tradition’s greatest twentieth-century theologian, Karl Barth.
In this new addition to the Columbia Series in Reformed Theology, Kirk Nolan argues that Barth’s theology actually proves virtue ethics can be compatible with the Reformed tradition. Rather than see virtue as an inevitable and natural process of growth, Barth helps us understand that development in the Christian life comes through a process of repetition and renewal, and that all virtue comes solely as a gift from God. Nolan establishes an important bridge between Reformed moral teaching and the tradition of virtue ethics.
All theologians, clergy, and seminarians will want to read this book because it launches a new era in a tradition that has long considered moral virtue ethics as incompatible with its basic principles. After responding to each objection the author constructs a moral virtue ethics that is largely implicit in the Reformed theologies of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth, as well as the church’s confessions and social witness policies. Thus, this book addresses a long-standing lacuna in the tradition and marks a clear advance in the ecumenical dialogue between Protestants and Catholics.
—Peter J. Paris, Elmer G. Homrighausen Professor Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary
This work presents a fresh, creative approach to Christian virtue ethics from a Barthian perspective. Building on a careful analysis of the Reformed theological traditions of Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Westminster Confession, and also through a critical conversation with Aristotelian and Thomistic virtue ethics, Nolan develops a constructive Reformed Christian virtue ethics based on Karl Barth's theology of revelation. An important addition to current scholarly conversations on virtue ethics from a Reformed Christian perspective!
—Hak Joon Lee, Professor of Theology and Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary
The best theologians lead you to some place new while remaining faithful to all that has gone before. This is precisely what Kirk Nolan does in this deeply learned volume. On the ground of careful historical and theological scholarship, he builds an unexpected bridge between traditional approaches to moral virtue ethics and the theology of Karl Barth. The result is a compelling account of the place of virtue in the Christian life. His argument opens the door not only to new intellectual insights but also to a fresh vision for Christian practice. Scholars interested in Christian ethics, Reformed theology, or the theology of Barth will find much of value here. At the same time, pastors and laypeople seeking to figure out what it looks like for the church to live faithfully as the body of Christ will be stimulated and enriched.
—Keith L. Johnson, Wheaton College
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