general and special ethics, and the KD

I said, "Which won't preach, because it's theological generalism. But that's also why preaching is an event, and the joy and pain of the notion. When you emphasize la nature événementielle de l'église ou du prédication, you either generalize unhelpfully about the abstract, or you become quite usefully specific only for a very particular audience."

And it's certainly a complaint which has been leveled against Barth's ethics (Lovin, among others). The notion that the Church Dogmatics should be useful in an immediate sense to people in ethical dilemmas seems ridiculous to the English-speaking American reader of more than half a century later. I'm supposed to struggle through this monstrosity of translated German logorrhea and derive immediate practical use from it in my daily life? But German readers engaged in the Kirchenkampf did. Bonhoeffer and Brunner may have disagreed on certain points of the approach, but the argument wasn't that Barth wasn't doing ethics. And while studying the KD and preaching, I've found profound gospel that isn't even related to Barth working with my text of the moment. (Not that I've found a way to get much out of the more popular extraction for preaching purposes ...) The question is what kind of ethics is Barth doing -- how does it work?

"Act deontology" has been thrown out there, based on the notion that Barth can't get more specific without going into cases, and won't get specific because he refuses to codify ethical responses that will then become limits which need to be surpassed. Situational ethics presupposes that every situation requires a different response. I'm not sure that's it, since the basic response is the same: attend to God.

I'm not sure ethics-as-event really suggests itself as a different category from situational ethics, but the notion of church-as-event, following the notion of preaching-as-event, grabs me as a way to describe the basic problem with Barth's approach. General and special ethics work out as the command in its aseity, and the command in its economy. It isn't theoretical vs. applied ethical principles -- I wouldn't call II/2 theoretical, even though it is proper to say that III, IV, and the non-existent V are the applications considered by Trinitarian roles. It isn't even a division in terms of considering God before God's persons, as II is thoroughly Trinitarian. The fact that Christ is Barth's anthropology keeps realization of the command of God in some sense practical the whole way along.

The trouble is, all this talk is missing I/2. It is terribly appropriate to talk ethics-as-event, because Barth is doing Word of God theology under the rubric of Gospel and Law that he established much earlier. As he says, pure doctrine is not theoretical -- that implies man-work presented as man's own work. A theory which may or may not be bruited about in public, not a divine Word which must be spoken and must not be withheld.


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