In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

324 BOOK REVIEWS Reading in Communion: Scripture & Ethics in Christian Life. By STEPHEN E. FowL & L. GREGORY JONES. Series: Biblical Foundations in Theology. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1991. Pp. ix + 166. $13.95 (paper). This book represents the collaborative attempt of a biblical scholar and an ethicist to determine the precise sense in which scriptural texts can be taken as normative for the Christian moral life. The collabora· tion is a fruitful one, its results illuminating not only the problem of method in ethics, but issues of biblical hermeneutics as well. This re· sult is not serendipitous; for the authors, the question of how one ought to live the Christian life and the question of how one ought to interpret Scripture are inextricably linked. Indeed, perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that, on the account that Fowl and Jones supply, these are different formulations of the very same question. There is no rigid demarcation here between the hermeneutical and the ethical realm, no rigorous sorting out of issues appropriate to each field of inquiry . The authors make good on their introductory promise "to write a single text " rather than simply to generate a series of " alternating perspectives " (p. 3). In the very first chapter of the book, certain typical, even dominant, ways of construing the relationship between Scripture and ethics are briefly reviewed and then rejected. Ethics is commonly perceived as being primarily "concerned with right actions and decisions," the authors contend, while the Bible is viewed as a moral guide for the " particular decisions made by isolated individuals " (p. 5) . In contrast , Fowl and Jones argue that " Scripture is primarily addressed not to individuals but to specific communities called into being by God " (p. 8). Moreover, our ethical deliberations ought not to be focused on particular decisions and the formulation of moral principles that bear on those decisions, but rather, on " issues of character and the formation of character in and through socially-embodied traditions" (p. 9). The consequences of such a general position are carefully and sen· sitively explored in this first and in subsequent chapters. The authors reject the assumption that one such consequence must be the conclusion that moral behavior is not, after all, ruled behavior, that one cannot formulate and articulate the principles that govern much of what we do. Their position entails the conclusion, rather, that such principles cannot be meaningfully detached from the communally embodied traditions that engender them. Indeed, they have meaning at all only in· sofar as the individuals describing, interpreting and employing these BOOK REVIEWS 325 principles possess the peculiar habits and beliefs characteristic of the :members of a specific community. In the analysis of any given moral situation, then, the discussion of principles will necessarily presuppose .a discussion of character, of the sorts of persons involved in the situation , their moral beliefs and capabilities. It is important to note that this discussion will often take a narrative form, precisely because the delineation of character is most readily accomplished by telling stories about persons, about their communities, their politics and practices, their interests and aspirations. Thus, moral capabilities are formed in " the friendships and prac- .tices " that constitute communal life. In asserting this, the authors defend an important but not terribly controversial claim. What is especially intriguing and insightful about their account, however, is the reIated claim that moral capabilities are also hermeneutical capabilities, that some of the patterns and habits of action acquired by living in a·Community also function as habits of interpretation. "Well-formed·character," Fowl and Jones explain, is crucial not only to "Christians' .ability to live faithfully in the various contexts within which they find themselves," but also to their " ability to read, speak and perform the word of the Lord " (p. 85) . Moral virtue is, on their account, a kind of interpretive skill. (If not identical, character and interpretive skill .are, at the very least, formed in the same process, inextricably linked ;together as aspects of "practical wisdom." See page 31.) This result is especially meaningful once it becomes clear that the authors are employing a usefully broadened concept of " interpreta· tion." To interpret a scriptural text can and often...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 324-328
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.