Theology and Ethics By Ben Wulpi February 8, 2008 Generally, the terms “theology” and “ethics” don’t seem

to be related to each other very much. One is the study of God, and the other is the system that tells us how we should act. Ethics can be a field of study, but most commonly it is thought of as a practical guide to right living. Most often theology is thought to be a study of abstract, indefinable things like God and heaven. It’s not usually thought of as a practical field of study, but rather a thought system based around intangible things. But the truth is that theology is a much more practical study than it appears on the surface, and it has a much deeper relationship with ethics than most people would think. Ethics is defined as a system of moral principles or a moral philosophy. It encompasses right conduct and the pursuit of a good life. Theology is defined as the delineation and articulation of our faith. When one studies theology, one studies God, his attributes, His creation, and his relation to his creation. This includes God’s moral decrees to His people—namely, the Ten Commandments. These commandments are God’s moral revelation to the world. It is where Christians get their system of ethics. In this way, our ethics are derived from our theology. As we study God and his revelation to us, we discover how He has intended for us to live. These guidelines are the ethics of Christianity. Contrary to this, I believe many people can gain a theology from their ethics. Many non-believers see that there is a standard of right and wrong in the universe, a moral code of ethics that tells us how we should live. The existence of this moral standard


could lead them to a conception of God, or some form of higher deity who presides over this moral law and stands on the side of good. In this way, they derive their theology from their ethics. The Scriptures tell us a lot about the attributes and the character of God. They tell us that He is love, he is good, he is righteous, he is holy, etc. These attributes are the things that ethics has us strive toward. A system of ethics tells us how we should live. Everyone knows that love is a good thing, a thing worth pursuing. Everyone knows that good is the better pursuit than evil. It is inherent knowledge in people that righteousness and holiness are higher pursuits than hedonistic ones. This is ethics—what drives us to pursue these things. So when we pursue these disciplines, these attributes of God, we are in effect pursuing God. God is—indirectly—ethics. Karl Barth explains it like this: “When we speak of ethics, the term cannot include anything more than this confirmation of the truth of the grace of God as it is addressed to man” (Church Dogmatics 2.2.518). In other words, ethics is the confirmation, the active response, of the truth God has provided through His divine revelation to us. In his book, Theology for the Community of God, Stanley Grenz tells us that “Theology fulfills a role in the life of the people of God. Its purpose is ultimately ‘practical’; it is related to Christian life and practice” (7). The purpose of theology is primarily to articulate the mysteries of the faith. But once this has been accomplished, that knowledge must be applied to life. Knowledge without relevance is useless. “To construction we must add application” (Grenz 25). Theology outlines the doctrines of the faith and shows us the mysteries of God. What then are we to do with this knowledge? We must apply it to our lives and pursue the life that God wants us to.


Therefore, it is the high calling of theologians to outline the doctrines of the faith, that they might be applied to life, “in order that faith can issue forth in discipleship” (Grenz 25). To become disciples of Christ we must follow in his footsteps, in the way of life that He has set before us. To know clearly what that way of life looks like, we must study theology. Theology, the study of the doctrines of God, is ethics. So let us pursue those things that are good. Let us practice love over hate, justice over injustice, righteousness over evil. Let us pursue God.


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