Essential Reading: Christian Ethics

By Sedgwick, Timothy F. | Anglican Theological Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Essential Reading: Christian Ethics


Sedgwick, Timothy F., Anglican Theological Review


Essential readings for what? For Christian ethics this is a question of what is needed in order to understand the Christian moral life. This requires studies of Christian faith, the human person, and culture and society. These studies must draw from a range of disciplines. Here are ten such readings, each of which introduces the reader to a broad range of literature essential to Christian ethics.

1. Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity (Harvard University Press, 1989)

The result of a life teaching the history of philosophy and more broadly Western thought, Taylor tells the story that untangles the strands that have formed us and the way in which we now see ourselves as having an interior sense of self that seeks fulfillment in the world about us.

2. Martha C. Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton University Press, 1994)

Since her highly praised book, The Fragility of Good: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1986), the prolific scholar Martha Nussbaum has written broadly across the fields of classics, philosophy, literature, and law. The Therapy of Desire is of special importance to persons in ethics as it addresses how our understanding of the good is shaped by our experience of the good. She shows that ever since the Greeks, ethics has been grounded in ascetics (practices of formation).

3. Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Columbia University Press, 1988)

Peter Brown always tells a good story. Here he tells the story of sexual renunciation in Christian late antiquity, not so much as a denial of the body but as forming the self, of freedom, of the shaping of desiring, and of knowing God and what is good.

4. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory (University of Notre Dame Press, 1981)

This contemporary classic makes clear that our post-Enlightenment sense of ourselves has a history: this is the history of the autonomous (and narcissistic) self that denies the importance of traditions and the practices that form the self.

5. F. D. Maurice, Reconstructing Christian Ethics: Selected Writings, ed. Ellen K. Wondra (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)

Essential reading in Christian ethics requires not only accounts of the self in terms of how we know and do good, but Christian accounts of how we come to faith and what difference that makes in our lives. As an Anglican, the nineteenth-century F. D. Maurice offers the most comprehensive account of how in faith we are formed in history, socially and sacramentally. This book offers an outstanding collection of his writings, beginning with The Kingdom of Christ (1838/1842). …

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