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Christian Ethics by Georgia Harkness


Georgia Harkness was educated at Cornell University, Boston University School of Theology, studied at Harvard & Yale theological seminaries and at Union Theological Seminary of New York. She has taught at Elmira College, Mount Holyoke, and for twelve years was professor of applied theology at Garrett Biblical Institute. In 1950 she became professor of applied theology at the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkeley, California. Published in 1957 by Abingdon Press. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Foreword


Why produce another book on Christian ethics when the library shelves are already full of them? This may be the reader’s query upon seeing this title, and it merits an answer.

In the first place, Christian living is an imperative for our time. Whether in the immediate relations of the family, the job or other personal contacts, or in the larger social scene, "where there is no vision, the people perish" (K.J.V.). This has always been true, but the complex and precarious situation within which our lives are now set makes it evident in a startling and at some points tragic manner. Any light that can be thrown on the problems of human decision ought to be shed — and the light that shines from the Christian gospel is a source transcending all others.

Furthermore, in spite of the plethora of books on Christian ethics, there are not many which do what this one attempts. There are the classics of the past, and fortunately some of the present, which are great books for the serious student but which are not apt to be widely understood or read by the ordinary person seeking light on his daily task. Also, there are the overly simple books. There are shelves upon shelves of books that deal with this, that, or the other ethical problem, but without a comprehensive frame of reference. There are books on moral philosophy and books on biblical theology. Among these are various moral philosophies and equally varied biblical theologies. This book has been undertaken because I have not found any which says just what I think needs to be said!

A word is in order as to the point of view from which this book is written. Any Christian ethic to be valid must take its starting point from the revelation of the nature and will of God as this has come to us in Jesus Christ. This revelation we know through what is recorded in the Bible, corroborated through many centuries of Christian experience, and witnessed to by the Holy Spirit in our own highest Christian insights. There is no fixed or inflexible code of Christian morality, no single-track way to the discovery of the will of God for each concrete decision. Nevertheless, we do have a dependable and adequate basis of judgment in what God has given us to know of Jesus. As the great truth of Christian redemption is expressed in the words "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself," so comparably the foundation of Christian ethics is epitomized in "Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus."

This means that the recorded words and deeds of Jesus must be taken seriously, with the best biblical scholarship available for their understanding but without dismissal or disparagement. There is a tendency in some quarters today to put the stress so completely on God’s redemptive act in Christ as to underestimate the ethical teachings of Jesus. Yet redemption and revelation belong together. When too little heed is given to what is revealed of God through the life and ministry of Jesus, there is danger of constructing an ethical system out of something else, whether the "road to happiness" or the demands of justice in the contemporary world. Paul spoke truly when he wrote, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

The first chapter of the book attempts to clear up some common ambiguities as to the meaning of the term "Christian ethics" and to state a frame of reference. The next three chapters present the basic biblical foundations. Two are then given to important meeting points of Christian ethics with Christian theology. The last half of the book deals with the major contemporary problems of social ethics and attempts to turn the searchlight of the Christian gospel upon them.

I have tried to write in a way that would be intelligible and helpful to college and seminary students and also to thoughtful laymen and ministers concerned with the inevitable problems of Christian decision. The difficulty of adapting one’s presentation to so varied an audience is obvious. Yet I have been emboldened to attempt it by the fact that Christian ethics is everybody’s business and not alone that of the professional moralist.

The reader will find that no attempt has been made to quote widely except from the Bible or to draw into the discussion all the wealth of material available in print. To do so would have been confusing rather than helpful to the reader, but I must acknowledge my debt to many more persons than those whose names appear in the footnotes. To Miss Verna Miller, my friend and housemate, I am grateful as always not only for her help in typing the manuscript but for the kind of understanding companionship that enriches a Christian home.

GEORGIA HARKNESS

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