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.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Harkness has applied Christian ethical principles to the major issues of contemporary life. From the starting point of the revelation of the nature and will of God that has come to man through Christ, she has dealt first with the biblical foundations of Christian ethics followed by their application to specific contemporary problems, including self and society, marriage, economic life, race, the state, war, peace and others.


  • Foreword

    Proceeding from the purpose of presenting an understanding of Christian ethics that is biblically and theologically informed, as well as practically relevant and intelligible to theological students, laity and clergy, Dr. Harkness describes the direction she will take in developing her thesis that there is no fixed or inflexible code of Christian morality.

  • Chapter 1: What is Christian Ethics?

    Christian ethics is defined as the systematic study of the way of life set forth by Jesus Christ applied to the daily demands and decisions of human existence.

  • Chapter 2: The Covenant, the Law, and the Prophets

    In tracing the source of Christian ethics to its Old Testament roots, the author explores the covenant and its developing radical monotheism, the law as it evolved from cultic ritual observances to a more humanitarian community of law, the prophets and their refining of Yahweh’s judgment and mercy, finally to Jesus’ unique understanding of God – centered moral living that moved beyond his Old Testament heritage to an exemplification of hope for the righteous rule of God in a redeemed community for this world and the next.

  • Chapter 3: The Ethics of Jesus

    The primary and final authority for Christian ethics is found in the life, teachings, ministry and death of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God. He clarified the ethical demands of a God-centered life by applying obedient love or agape to all human situations, both personal and social, and insisted this included the earthly as well as the eternal, and required our best actions amid the relativities of the present world.

  • Chapter 4: Ethical Perspectives of the Early Church

    Expanding from a Jewish to a Gentile world the early church concluded that no legalism, Judaic or Gentile, was adequate to fulfill the gospel standard of agape, that the Kingdom of God was already present and yet to come, and that in living the gospel in this world with its political, economic and social challenges would require faithfulness and patience.

  • Chapter 5: God, Sin, and Christian Character

    Christian ethics begin with the assumption that Christian character is founded, not on naturalism or humanism, but on Jesus as the supreme revealer of God, that Christian virtues are not the exclusive possession of Christians, that sin is not a state of being but rebellious self-love and self-exaltation that leads to failure to be adequately responsive to the love commandment of Jesus, that humans are created free to make moral choices, and Christians are called to make these choices in light of the love commandment.

  • Chapter 6: Duties to Self and Society

    Jesus’ love commandment assumes we will love ourselves and calls us to expand beyond self-realization to devotion to God, and concern for others. Brotherly love should not be restricted to interpersonal relations, however primary they may be, but extend to wider service, including social service and social action to those persons and institutions not known to us directly, where social sin calls for our best response in the light of the gospel.

  • Chapter 7: Marriage and the Family

    Christian ethics establishes the family as primary in all social relations based on the explicit teachings of Jesus and their implications that monogamy is the standard, agape the controlling factor, divorce a compromise, and our relation to God the foundation.

  • Chapter 8: The Ethics of Economic Life

    The ethics of economic life is second only to family life and covers the Christian vision of property, work and vocation, and economic justice, all stemming from the position that all things belong to God and we are to be faithful and loving stewards in managing God’s world and ourselves in it.

  • Chapter 9: Christianity and the Race Problem

    While there is agreement in principle among Christians that all persons are equal before God, the reality of racial prejudice, whether based on biology, geography, education, economics, color, nationality or any other discriminating factor, must be addressed by the church in proclaiming its gospel and putting its own house in order.

  • Chapter 10: The Christian Conscience and the State

    Since the Christian’s ultimate loyalty is to God and not the state in its demand for obedience to the law, the Christian always tempers his loyalty with insistences on justice with love that calls for an equality and liberty that holds the state’s necessary powers of coercion under restraint and accountability to God.

  • Chapter 11: War, Peace, and International Order

    Christian ethics starts from the position that God created the world for good and that war involves great evil, and calls us to a stewardship that enjoys much convergence based on agape as redeeming love, but also significant divergences over the best strategies to establish peace with justice.

  • Chapter 12: Christian Ethics and Culture

    For twenty centuries the Christian faith has struggled to come to terms with culture, and with the Christian ethic of love has both informed and challenged the various expressions of civilized culture, particularly in the areas of science, art and education.