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  • Responses to Dwayne Tunstall and Lewis V. Baldwin
  • Rufus Burrow Jr.

This has been an excellent opportunity for me to get a sense of what scholars in fields other than my own (viz., theological social ethics) think I am trying to do, and whether there might be some sense in it. But in all honesty, I must say that the experience of reading and pondering the articles by Lewis Baldwin and Dwayne Tunstall in this issue of The Pluralist has been both enlightening and a joy, inasmuch as it has been an opportunity for me to find out what I have been doing in the academy for the last twenty-five years and where might be some of the limitations as well as promise in my work.

When I read these articles, I recalled an experience that second-generation personalist Francis J. McConnell reported in his biography on Borden P. Bowne (1847-1910), the father of American personalism. During his student days in Germany, Bowne studied under Rudolph Hermann Lotze. In a number of Bowne's early books, he acknowledged his indebtedness to Lotze. But what impressed me even more was Lotze's appreciation for Bowne's contributions and the challenge these presented for his own thought. In the pertinent passage, McConnell writes: "Lotze himself always paid high tribute to the work of Bowne. One afternoon in student days Bowne called on Lotze. As Bowne left he called attention to a heavy thunderstorm coming up a valley. 'That is nothing,' said Lotze, 'to the storm of questionings you have raised in my mind concerning my own philosophic system.'"1

While I have developed no philosophical system as such, it is true that for more than two decades, my writing has followed a certain trajectory, correctly identified by Tunstall and Baldwin as focusing on issues pertaining to Martin Luther King, Jr., and personalism, and what Mary Alice Mulligan and I have called ethical prophecy.2 Having read the articles published in this issue of The Pluralist by Baldwin and Tunstall, I am left with a number of questions regarding my work on King and ethical prophecy.3 Mostly, I think, [End Page 30] I feel pressed to clarify several matters that these scholars have raised. I will first respond to issues that warrant comment in Tunstall's article, followed by a response to some issues raised by Baldwin.

Tunstall's "Prophetic Ethics: Rufus Burrow, Jr.'s, Personalist Contribution to Religious Ethics"

Tunstall rightly observes (along with Baldwin) that personalism of the Bowne-Brightman type has not been taken seriously in academy and public square venues for decades. Indeed, Edgar S. Brightman lamented as far back as the early 1920s that personalism was not popular in philosophical circles, and he feared that if proponents were not vigilant in clarifying its major points in their teaching, scholarship, and publications, it could easily be forced into the closet.4 Interestingly, my late teachers, third-generation personalists Peter A. Bertocci and Walter G. Muelder, expressed concern to me about this very thing near the end of their lives.

Although I have long been aware of Cornel West's concept of prophetic pragmatism, I had not looked at this to compare his view with my idea of ethical prophecy. Having looked carefully at both types of prophecy, Tunstall has done an excellent job of showing the similarities and differences between the two. He did this as a way of introducing his audience to my way of thinking about prophetic ethics.

Of the half-dozen elements of prophetic ethics in my work, Tunstall thinks that the prophetic pragmatism of Cornel West would find two of them to be problematic: (1) my acknowledgment that reality hinges on a moral foundation, and (2) my claim that God created human beings to be in a covenantal relationship with God and each other. Tunstall is unquestionably right that West would find these problematic for his view.

Both Tunstall and Baldwin identify the conviction of the existence of an objective moral order as a key to my thought regarding ethical prophecy and King, respectively. As for the first trait of ethical prophecy, Tunstall accurately points to what I consider to be evidences...


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