The Moral Vision Of The New Testament
Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction To New Testament Ethics
Richard B. Hays
ISBN 9780567085696 (0567085694)
Category: Ethics & Morality
Richard Hays addresses head-on the issue of how the New Testament ought to shape the ethics of the contemporary Christian church. In doing so, he has written a book which combines clear scriptural insight with a deep concern to relate it to today's world.
In his opening chapter, he speaks of four operations in the task of New Testament ethics. This fourfold task is then used to divide the book into its four main parts:
- The descriptive task:
Reading the text carefully. At this level, we look at the individual New Testament documents, noting their distinctive emphases. For instance, we study the particular features of Paul's ethics or of Matthew's understanding of the law or of John's understanding of love in the believing community, and so on.
- The synthetic task:
Placing the text in canonical context. We move on from description to raise the question of coherence among the various writers. Hays suggests a cluster of three focal images to govern our understanding of New Testament ethics, images that arise from the texts themselves: community, cross, and new creation.
- The hermeneutical task:
Relating the text to our situation. Even if we succeed in working out what Matthew and Paul (for example) each have to teach about divorce (for example), and even if we succeed in synthesising them together at a canonical level, we still need to bridge the cultural and temporal gap between their world and our world. How do we move from the Bible to today? Hays here outlines some of the different ways the Bible itself offers modes of 'doing ethics' — whether in stating rules, or in suggesting principles and paradigms, or offering examples. He also considers other possible sources of authority (e.g. tradition, reason and experience) and their relationship to Scripture. He then moves on to appraise the work of five theological ethicists.
- The pragmatic task:
Living the text. Scripture is to be embodied in the life of the Christian community. After all the careful exegesis, the careful synthesis, the careful move from the New Testament to the modern world, all is worthless without the test of good fruit. He concludes by looking at how the church today should address particular issues: violence, divorce, homosexuality, racism, abortion.
Hays wants to argue, along with some other ethicists, that exegesis, synthesis and hermeneutics are intricately tied to pragmatics. There is no true understanding of the text apart from a lived obedience in conformity to the text. The value of our interpretation will be tested by its capacity to produce a community of people who truly are transformed into the character of Christ.
Hays has already been criticised for not taking the Old Testament into consideration, and for focusing excessively on the issue of pacifism, but none of this should detract from a truly excellent and warm book, which deserves to be read widely and carefully.
Antony Billington, January 1998
Antony Billington teaches Hermeneutics (that's Biblical Interpretation to you & me) at London School of Theology. He's heavily into film and contemporary culture and spends most of his wages in the LST Bookshop (enter at your own risk).
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.
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