Doing Ethics in a Pluralistic World: Essays in Honour of Roger C. Hutchinson

By Roger C. Hutchinson; Phyllis D. Airhart et al. | Go to book overview

4
NOT MORAL HEROES
The Grace of God and the
Church's Public Voice
HAROLD WELLS

In this essay, I explore the foundation of the church's public proclamation and mission for social justice in the grace of God, disclosed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is, the church's social ethic is fundamentally not a matter of law, but of “gospel.” The church, I will argue, should not present itself as the national “conscience,” a righteous community of moral heroes, calling others to imitate its moral goodness. We are, at any rate, less than credible in such a role. Rather, we are people who have received love beyond measure, and so, in response, wish to live in a society marked by generosity, loving cooperation and friendship. The church's vision of human social order must flow from its vision of a generous God who loves all alike, but has a special bias for the marginal, the oppressed and the poor—a God who has suffered for us, and suffers with us in all the vicissitudes of our needy finite existence.

Basic to a Christian theology of grace is the doctrine of atonement. In a recent book, Timothy Gorringe 1 points out the relationship between religious doctrines and cultural attitudes at various periods of history. He suggests that theologies of atonement, which emphasize retribution for sin, are associated with harsh retributive practices toward criminals; at the same time, attitudes of compassion and rehabilitative

Notes to chapter 4 are on pp. 96–98.

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