Christian Ethics as Witness: Barth’s Ethics for a World at Risk

By David Haddorff

An analysis uniting social theory with Barth’s moral theology, emphasising how Christian moral thought is primarily a matter of witness to God’s grace.

ISBN: 9780227173749


Christian ethics is less a system of principles, rules, or even virtues, and more of a free and open-ended responsible witness to God’s gracious action to be with and for others and the world. Postmodernity has left us with the risky uncertainty of knowing and doing the good. It also leaves us with the global risks of political violence and terrorism, economic globalization and financial crisis, and environmental destruction and global climate change. How should Christians respond to these problems? This book creatively explores how Christian ethics is best understood as a witness to God’s action, thereby providing the ethical framework for addressing the various problematic social issues that put our world at risk.

Haddorff develops the notion of witness through a detailed study of Karl Barth’s theological ethics. Barth, he argues, provides a language enabling us to know what a Christian ethics of witness actually looks like in both theory and in practice. In correspondence to God’s gracious action, Christians remain free to think and act in faith, hope, and love in respondence to their unique circumstances, even in a world at risk. In their witness, Christians remain confident that God has not abandoned the world but loves and cares for its future.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 494

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

David Haddorff is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at St. John’s University, New York. His previous works include Dependence and Freedom: The Moral Thought of Horace Bushnell and a lengthy introduction on Barth’s political theology in the reprint of State, Community, and Church.



Part One. Ethics and Barth’s Witness: Theology and Practice
1. Theological Ethics in Transition
2. Barth’s Early Ethics and the Trinitarian Other
3. Barth’s Social Ethics: Witness in Tumultuous Times

Part Two. Postmodernity and a World at Risk
4. Social Theory and Postmodernity
5. From Modern to Postmodern Ethics

Part Three. Witness and Barth’s Ethics: Toward Contemporary Understanding
6. Witness and the Word of God
7. Witness and Christian Moral Judgment
8. Witness and the Powers
9. Witness and Public Ethics: Options in Christian Ethics

Part Four. Christian Ethics as Witness: Political, Economic, and Environmental
10. Witness and Christian Responsibility
11. Political Witness: For Faith and Peace
12. Economic Witness: For Love and Justice
13. Environmental Witness: For Hope and Freedom



Endorsements and Reviews

At a time when one might be tempted more than ever to offer an ethics of self-help, David Haddorff presents us with a truly theological ethics of ‘witness’ based on the truth of the Gospel … Haddorff skillfully holds together theology and ethics as well as theory and practice. This is a compelling book that will be of great interest to theologians, ethicists, and to students of the theology of Karl Barth.
Paul D. Molnar, St John’s University, Queens, New York

That Barth is a moral theologian is now firmly established; this presentation offers its readers sure guidance as they explore the large landscape of Barth’s ethics, and is much to be commended.
John Webster, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Far more than a summary of Barth’s ethics, David Haddorff’s book is a first-class effort to think in company with Barth about the source of our knowledge of the good and about the meaning of human freedom and ethical responsibility as faithful correspondence to God’s free grace in Jesus Christ. Employing witness as the interpretive key of his work, Haddorff shows that Barth’s ethics is radically Christocentric, and just for that reason is highly dialectical, free to recognize its limitations and avoid absolute claims, and free to engage in conversation with and learn from other ethical perspectives without becoming captive to them. In particular, Haddorff underscores the difference between Barth’s ethics of witness on the one hand and the ethics of both reductionist secularism and theological isolation on the other. In the final section of the book, the author offers a highly creative deployment of Barth’s ethics as it bears on the political, economic, and ecological crises of our time.
Daniel Migliore, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey

Social ethicists have little trouble applying the ethics of Swiss theologian Karl Barth to such issues as church and state, war, or politics, says Haddorff, but the matter is not so easy when the ethicist takes Barth’s theology seriously before discussing these other issues in Christian ethics. He makes the effort, looking at Barth’s theology and practice; postmodernity and a world at risk, toward contemporary understanding; and Christian ethics as political, economic, and environmental.
Reference & Research Book News, October 2011

Haddorff’s is an excellent contribution to the field.
Matthew Barton, in Theological Book Review, Vol 23, No 2

David Haddorff has produced what is probably the deepest analysis of Barth’s ethics – in the context of a contemporary worldview. This is a synthesis of a social theory with Barth’s moral theology grounded in thought and action issuing from God’s grace. … In the fourth and final part Haddorff presents his synthesis, a creative arrangement of Barth’s ethics determined in relation to the contemporary body politic that is defined by economic and ecological krisis. This opens with the question of Christian responsibility, to be analyzed in relationship to a trilemma of Christian markers – face and peace (political witness), love and justice (economic witness), hope and freedom (environmental witness). Does this work? – generally speaking yes, particularly given that other theologians attempt to justify a relativistic liberal Postmodern ethic by reference only to the human. Dialectically setting-off today’s political, economic and environmental crisis in Barthian, and therefore Trinitarian, context is refreshing.
Paul Brazier, in Heythrop Journal, Vol 53 (4)

David Haddorff … constructively applies the basic proposals of Barth’s ethics to some of the major global problems of the day: globalization, nationalism, militarism, ecological disaster, economic injustice, and so on. … The reader should be impressed by the breadth and depth of Haddorff’s critical and constructive handling of his primary texts.
A.J. Cocksworth, in The Expository Times, Vol 124 (1)

I finally put this book down with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. It makes serious demands on the reader and is, in every sense, a big project. Ambitious in its scope, wide-ranging in its concerns, unashamedly intellectual yet also pastoral in its concern to integrate theology, ethics and witness in a distinctive and hopeful way in tumultuous times. … Professor Haddorff has done a fine job here in not only introducing us to the fertile landscape of Barth’s ethics but also alerting us to the inconvenient truth that in a world at risk, Christian witness is neither pure not simple.
Rod Garner, in Reviews in Religion & Theology, Vol 20, Issue 2

The volume of material covered in this book is substantial, covering a vast range of sources and commentators and engaging in a huge variety of conversations and controversies. That Haddorff is able to attempt this task, let alone accomplish it with both competent assurance and creative flair, is deeply impressive … What Haddorff’s work has achieved is to advance the kind of constructive reception of and advance upon Barth’s ethics which will undoubtedly sustain further interest in the topic in the seasons ahead. His work is both unceasingly realistic and relentlessly hopeful, and is a welcome addition to the field.
Paul T. Nimmo, in Studies in Christian Ethics, Vol. 26(2)