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IV.

Compare and contrast Martin Luthers notion of ethics


with Karl Barths notion of ethics.
Christians have often struggled with the following question: Is it necessary to
understand the revelation in Christ in order to make good ethical decisions about
good and bad? Or is the human experience in general and the rational conclusions
drawn from it enough?
Different theologians come to different conclusions. Protestant theologians tend to
stress the necessity of the revelation in Christ more than Roman Catholic
theologians. They often are very dependent on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas
and his Aristotelian views about nature and reason.
Drawing on experiences of the Nazi terror under Hitler in Germany, which often
pretended to justify its actions from human reason, Barth is very negative over
attempts to base Christian ethics in any way in the natural law or in reason.
According to Barth ethics is an essential part of the Christian teaching about God.
An action is good only when it is in accordance with the will of God. In order to
achieve knowledge about what is good and bad you must first know God. There is
no other way. And knowledge about God is only possible through Gods revelation
in Christ, in no way in other religions or in ones reason.
There are two main reasons for this in Barths theology. His understanding of God is
that God is the Totally Different One. God is for Barth far above all that is human.
God is holy and almighty and cannot be grasped by human reason. On the other
side Barths view of the human being is very negative. Man is a sinner, which also
means that the reason as a way to reach true understanding is very limited. She
cannot reach God through her reasoning. Knowledge comes only through Gods
coming down to earth in Christ. There is no preconceived point of connection for
God in human nature.
Barth rejects the assumed superiority of a theological moral teaching that draws
from a special source: Roman Catholic Church. For Barth, only through
encountering Christ can a human being realize what action is good or bad. Christ
shows what actions are truly human and what Gods demands are like. Gods
demands can only be understood in the light of Jesus life, death and resurrection.
Only here we can understand what is good and bad. Barth rejects non-theological
ways of organizing ethics. Barth desires ethics to be driven by theology, rather than
the other way around. In this kind of theology the gospel comes before the law!
Martin Luther had also maintained that there is a basic difference between the law
and the gospel. But for him the law comes first, then the saving gospel. For him
one main function of the law is to show human beings that it cannot be followed
entirely. This insight forces us instead to open the heart for Christ and his mercy
and forgiveness, the gospel. Luther said, The law drives us to Christ.