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Christian Social Teachings

A Reader in Christian Social Ethics from the Bible to the Present

edited by James M. Childs and George W. Forell

Publication Year: 2012

No question has been as persistently nettling as the proper relationship of Christians and the Christian church to political power, and the results have often been calamitous. This classic collection of Christian statements on social ethics, now fully revised and augmented, provides a panoramic view of the 2000-year development of Christian concerns for political justice, peace, civil rights, family law, civil liberties, and other "worldly" issues. In readings that range from the Bible to church fathers to Bonhoeffer and Pope Benedict XVI, these substantial excerpts enable the student to see the flow of Christian thought and the deeper religious context for addressing today's most pressing problems. 

Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-xi

A Thematic Organization of Sources

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pp. xii-13

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pp. xiii-xiv

George Wolfgang Forell (September 19, 1919–April 29, 2011) was the Carver Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. The following tribute that appeared in the online Journal of Lutheran Ethics expresses the high regard in which Professor Forell was held by so many: ...

Part 1: Biblical Influences

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pp. 1-16

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1. Hebrew Bible

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pp. 2-6

The ethical vocation of the people of Israel and the Christian community that followed is grounded in and takes its life from the intimate relationship God has chosen to establish with humankind. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that humanity is created in the very image of God. It is a special relationship that human beings enjoy among all creatures. ...

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2. New Testament

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pp. 7-16

The message of the New Testament might well be summarized by Jesus’ words in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” The whole of New Testament ethics is implicit in this proclamation. ...

Part 2: The Early Church

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pp. 17-32

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3. Apostolic Fathers

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pp. 18-25

The ethical teachings of these early Christian Fathers receive their special character from the fact that they are written by Gentiles living in a pagan world. The Torah cannot be assumed; it is not an integral feature of the cultural context. Thus, practices such as abortion, infanticide, pederasty, magic, and witchcraft that were common ...

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4. Tertullian

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pp. 26-33

Tertullian, born about 160 in Carthage, North Africa, the son of a pagan centurion attached to the Roman proconsul of that region, is one of the most rigidly moralistic theologians in Christian history. As an apologist for the Christian faith, he was and remains an outstanding representative of an extreme yet recurring Christian attitude toward society, ...

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5. The Alexandrian School

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pp. 34-39

The two outstanding exponents of the theology of the Alexandrian catechetical school were Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150–ca. 215) and Origen (185–254). Clement is often considered the founder of this school, historically notable for its defense of Christ’s divinity against various adoptionist Christologies that stressed Christ’s humanity at the expense of his co-eternal divinity, ...

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6. Chrysostom

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pp. 40-43

John of Constantinople (354–407) was called since the sixth century Chrysostom (gold-mouth) because of his eloquent use of the Greek language in his preaching. Indeed, his homilies are the vehicle for many of his principal theological and ethical contributions. He lived at a time after Christianity had become the ruling religion of the Roman Empire. ...

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7. Augustine

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pp. 44-56

Aurelius Augustinus, born November 13, 354, in Thagaste, North Africa, became eventually the most influential theologian in Western Christendom. His thought is seminal for Roman Catholics as well as the descendants of the Lutheran and Calvinist reformation. He wrote so broadly in response to the myriad of events, social, political, theological, ...

Part 3: The Medieval Church

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pp. 57-72

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8. Monasticism

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pp. 58-65

As the numbers of Christians grew in the first few centuries of Christianity, so did the concern to maintain true Christian piety. This led to the development of a double standard of morality and spiritual practice. The ascetic tradition of poverty and chastity present in surrounding religious cultures and exemplified by leading figures such as Origen ...

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9. The Mystics

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pp. 66-75

The contemplative life of the medieval mystics was a quest for the height of spiritual experience. The mystic followed a path of purgation, illumination, and, finally, the soul’s communion and union with the divine. The path to that apogee of union was one marked along the way by dark nights of the soul and episodes of rapture, and ecstasy. ...

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10. Thomas Aquinas

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pp. 76-98

Thomas Aquinas is the most outstanding example of medieval scholastic theology. His thought has been a dominant force in Roman Catholicism to this day. As late as 1879 he was declared by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Aeterni Patris the standard theologian of that Christian communion. ...

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11. The Medieval Papacy

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pp. 99-102

During the medieval period political and religious authorities were closely intertwined, sometimes supporting one another, often in competition with one another for power in both the ecclesial and secular realms. Issues of power arose for the most part in relation to the claims of the medieval papacy, ...

Part 4: The Reformation

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pp. 103-118

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12. Martin Luther

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pp. 104-118

A German Augustinian monk and later university professor at Wittenberg, Luther was the most important of the early leaders of the Reformation. Born in Eisleben in 1483, he died in 1546 in the very same town while on a journey. ...

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13. John Calvin

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pp. 119-128

Calvin was the most important of the second-generation reformers. Born in 1509 at Noyon, France, he first studied law and later came under the influence of humanism and pursued linguistic studies. Soon he joined the cause of the Reformation and became its leader in the French-speaking world by virtue of his authoritative position in Geneva. ...

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14. The Anabaptists

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pp. 129-139

In the sixteenth century the name “Anabaptist” was applied to a widely divergent group of reform-minded people who disassociated themselves from Luther and Zwingli and their followers as well as from the Roman Catholic Church. Often identified as constituting the “Left Wing of the Reformation” or the “Radical Reformation,” ...

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15. The Jesuit Legacy and Francisco de Suárez

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pp. 140-146

The reformation of the Roman Catholic Church by the Council of Trent and the character of post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism were profoundly influenced by the Spanish knight Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1556), the founder of the Jesuit Order (Societas Jesu). After his own conversion in 1521, the care of men’s souls and the defense of the papacy became Loyola’s main interests. ...

Part 5: Post-Reformation England and America

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pp. 147-162

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16. The Puritans

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pp. 148-152

Puritanism is a most complex term that has acquired connotations of rigid moralism in the popular parlance of today’s world that is only vaguely related to its original meaning. While it is certainly true that Puritan divines were concerned with holiness of living, the term puritan originated with the efforts of this Calvinist oriented movement to reform or “purify” the Church of England of its Catholic tendencies. ...

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17. Roger Williams

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pp. 153-158

The founder of the colony of Rhode Island and its capital of Providence Plantations, now Providence, Roger Williams (1603–1683) is famed for his advocacy of the separation of church and state over against the theocratic tendencies of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay colony and for his insistence on religious freedom. ...

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18. The Quakers

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pp. 159-164

The Society of Friends, popularly called Quakers, is a relatively small religious movement that has its roots in the religious excitement of Cromwell’s revolution. The original leaders started as Puritans and moved through various transformations (Independents, Baptists) to their final religious vision. ...

Part 6: Eighteenth-Century Voices

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pp. 165-180

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19. Rationalism

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pp. 166-171

The so-called “Age of Reason” had a profound effect on Christian ethics. In England it found an early and eloquent spokesman sympathetic to the Christian Faith in John Locke (1632–1704). His insistence that one must make the distinction between propositions which are (1) according to reason, (2) above reason, and (3) contrary to reason, ...

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20. Pietism

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pp. 172-180

The definition of “Pietism” is controversial, but its significance for the development of Christian social thought is massive. Associated with the names of Philip Jacob Spener (1635–1705), August Hermann Francke (1663–1727), and Nicolaus Ludwig Count Zinzendorf (1700–1760), the movement had precursors like Johann Arndt (1555–1621), ...

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21. John Wesley

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pp. 181-194

The founder of the Methodist movement was born in Epworth, England, on June 17, 1703, and died in London on March 2, 1791. After studies at Oxford he was ordained in 1728 as a priest of the Church of England. Even at Oxford he had participated in study groups concerned not only with personal piety but social improvement, which he expressed by visiting jails, ...

Part 7: Nineteenth-Century Voices

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pp. 195-210

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22. Friedrich Schleiermacher

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pp. 196-198

Friedrich Schleiermacher (1769–1834) is often regarded as the theologian whose thought led the way to modern liberal theology. His apologetic effort to give an intelligible account of the Christian faith in the face of its Enlightenment critics has had a lasting impact on theology up to the present day. ...

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23. Horace Bushnell

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pp. 199-202

Horace Bushnell (1802–1876) was a Calvinist of Puritan background. A pastor in Hartford, Connecticut, he was both highly influential and highly controversial. In his speech, Politics under the Law of God, delivered in the North Congregational Church in Hartford in 1844, he argues that the ministry should provide moral guidance to government, a view that met with considerable opposition. ...

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24. Frederick Denison Maurice

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pp. 203-206

F. D. Maurice (1805–1872) was widely regarded as a Christian socialist, though at the same time a critic of secular versions of socialism. He held deeply felt convictions on matters of social concern rooted in his theology of the kingdom of Christ under whose present and ongoing rule all are drawn together in community with God and each other. ...

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25. Abolitionists

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pp. 207-212

Though it is a sad truth of American history that many Christians claimed biblical support for the institution of slavery and others believed it was a social issue not pertinent to the proclamation of the gospel. However, there were Christian voices raised against slavery that actively sought its abolition. ...

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26. Albrecht Ritschl

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pp. 213-216

Albrecht Ritschl was a paramount figure of the liberal theology of nineteenth-century Germany and the European continent. His embrace of historical criticism led him to abandon much of the dogma of Protestant orthodoxy and instead to a theology resonant with the ethical dimensions of Kant’s critique of practical reason. ...

Part 8: Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Catholic Social Teaching

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pp. 217-232

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27. On Behalf of Workers: Industrial Revolution and the Great Depression

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pp. 218-223

These early encyclicals voice a strong concern for the well-being of workers and justice in the face of exploitation and great disparities in the distribution of wealth. These themes are prominent in the tradition of Catholic social teaching. ...

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28. Pope John XXIII and Vatican II

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pp. 224-232

John XXIII (1881–1963) is perhaps best remembered by the world at large as the pope who called Vatican II into session. This was a surprise if not a shock to many church leaders since it had been only ninety years since Vatican I (1869– 1870), which was not convened until three hundred years after the Council of Trent. ...

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29. United States Catholic Bishops

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pp. 233-240

This lengthy pastoral letter from the United States Catholic bishops is strong in its concern for the prevention of nuclear war and specific in its proposals to wage peace. This is still the era of the Cold War, the fear of nuclear holocaust is real and debate about the arms race in general and theories of deterrence through nuclear arms buildup in particular were much on the minds of the public and of the bishops. ...

Part 9: Early- to Mid-Twentieth-Century Voices

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pp. 241-256

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30. The Social Gospel

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pp. 242-251

The social gospel movement is in many respects heir to the ideas of human moral progress found in nineteenth-century liberal theology as represented by Albrecht Ritschl. There are also echoes of the transformational impulses we have seen in Bushnell and Maurice. ...

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31. Reinhold Niebuhr

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pp. 252-265

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) is arguably the most widely influential native-born American theologian of the twentieth century. His unsentimental social analysis in tandem with the insights of his Christian heritage—his “Christian realism”—influenced a generation of socially concerned Americans both inside and outside the churches. ...

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32. Paul Tillich

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pp. 266-271

Born in Germany in 1886, Paul Tillich had made a name for himself as a leading philosopher and theologian in that country as well as an active voice for religious socialism. When he came to the United States and Union Theological Seminary in New York in 1933 as a result of the Nazi rise to power, his thought underwent change in the face of a new social political context. ...

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33. Karl Barth

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pp. 272-284

Born in Basel, Switzerland, on May 10, 1886, Karl Barth was Professor of Theology in various German universities until forced out by Hitler. He then taught for the remainder of his career in Basel. Influenced by religious socialism he showed a deep interest in social and political questions. ...

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34. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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pp. 285-296

Born on February 4, 1906, in Breslau, Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis at Flossenberg concentration camp for his alleged connections to the July 20, 1944, plot on Hitler’s life. It was a cruel and meaningless act as the Third Reich was collapsing and, tragically, only two weeks later the camp was liberated by the United States Army. ...

Part 10: Twentieth-Century Feminist and Womanist Ethics

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pp. 297-312

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35. Feminist Voices

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pp. 298-323

As an expression of Christian social teaching, feminist theology and ethics develops within and alongside the broader social movements that have sought equal rights for women. However, feminist theology and ethics has gone beyond issues of civil rights and equal opportunity and equal treatment in the workplace to concern itself with all forms of patriarchal oppression ...

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36. Womanist Voices

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pp. 324-344

Womanist theology and ethics developed as a voice that was not being heard in either the feminist movements or the black liberation theology of the second half of the twentieth century. Womanist theology embraces the concerns of gender discrimination associated with feminist thinkers but distinguishes itself from them by virtue of its concern ...

Part 11: Contemporary Issues: The Mid-Twentieth Century to the Present

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pp. 345-360

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37. Justice and Liberation

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pp. 346-376

In addition to the themes of liberation evident in feminist and womanist theology and ethics, the latter half of the twentieth century has seen a powerful upsurge in the literature of liberation theology and its concern for social justice. The examples below feature two of the foremost representatives of Latin American liberation theology ...

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38. Human Sexuality

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pp. 377-409

Once thought to be matters of personal ethics, issues of human sexuality have in recent decades become a topic of widespread public debate inside and outside the churches. Traditional norms of sexual morality have been challenged and for many have been superseded by new models of sexual ethics as new understandings of sexuality have emerged. ...

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39. Environmental Ethics

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pp. 410-441

Since the mid-twentieth century up to the present, the fate of the environment has become an international concern for scientists, philosophers, public policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and no less theologians and ethicists who have given expression to this urgent issue for Christian social teaching. ...

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40. Biomedical Ethics

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pp. 442-474

The advances of medical science during the latter half of the twentieth century have spawned a burgeoning field of biomedical ethics. These new developments have posed serious issues for the churches’ witness on behalf of the sanctity of life. ...

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41. Pacifism, Just War, and Terrorism

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pp. 475-490

We have already encountered discussions of just war thinking in selections above from Augustine and Aquinas particularly. Previous selections from Origen, the Anabaptists, and the Society of Friends have touched upon Christian pacifism. ...

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42. The Church in the World and the Ethics of Virtue

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pp. 491-508

The selections in this chapter are different but connected. John Howard Yoder’s theological perspective on the church in the world deeply influenced Stanley Hauerwas in that regard and became foundational for his emphasis on the ethics of virtue and the church as a community of character. ...

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43. Trinitarian Theology and Social Ethics

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pp. 509-522

Ever since the work of Catholic theologians Karl Rahner and Karl Barth gave special attention to a renewed consideration of trinitarian theology, there has been something of a renaissance in the theology of the Trinity. The emphasis on the relationality of the persons as constituting the unity of the divine life in the communion of love has led to the development of commensurate visions of social justice ...

Bibliography of Original Sources

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pp. 523-531


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pp. 532-534

E-ISBN-13: 9781451424348
E-ISBN-10: 1451424345
Print-ISBN-13: 9780800698607
Print-ISBN-10: 0800698606

Page Count: 500
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 2