In Praise of Virtue: An Exploration of the Biblical Virtues in a Christian Context

By Carroll, M. Daniel | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1999 | Go to article overview

In Praise of Virtue: An Exploration of the Biblical Virtues in a Christian Context


Carroll, M. Daniel, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


In Praise of Virtue: An Exploration of the Biblical Virtues in a Christian Context. By Benjamin W. Farley. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, x + 181 pp., $13.00 paper.

This book is designed to offer the reader an introduction to virtue ethics found in the Bible. Farley presents his survey of the Biblical data against the backdrop of discussions, both ancient and modern, about virtues in philosophical ethics and the concerns of feminism.

The author's thesis is that an investigation of Bible reveals that, from a Christian standpoint, these virtues are ultimately grounded in the redemptive initiatives of God, which is manifest from the very beginning by the creation of human beings in the divine image; they are the dispositions and activities of a life lived in accordance with the love of God and the love of the neighbor. He opens with a chapter that presents summaries of the contributions of several important thinkers of the Western tradition, in whose reflections the virtues play a significant role (Aristotle, Aquinas, Nietzsche and Hauerwas). What follows are four chapters (two on the OT and two on the NT) on what he considers to be the relevant Biblical materials. The closing chapter summarizes the content and relevancy of the theological virtues and suggests that a commitment to common human virtues would allow for interreligious cooperation within our pluralistic world.

For those unacquainted with contemporary virtue ethics theory and its long historical trajectory, Farley's book can serve as a helpful primer. His handling of both testaments can also alert the reader to read the text for insights into the kind of character and life that reflects belief in God. I must confess, however, that I was disappointed in the book, because I had hoped that it would deliver more. I will limit my observations to two.

First, in regards to the Biblical discussion, Farley appears to write as a philosopher or professor of religion who has awareness of Biblical studies of only a certain sort. His lack of familiarity with recent work in the relevant fields makes his book less than satisfying. For example, in the OT chapters he obviously holds to classical critical theories and utilizes its terminology (e. …

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