An Overview of Barth's Ethics
It is typical to approach Karl Barth's ethics by identifying one dimension—for example, the relation of dogmatics and ethics, of gospel and law, or of divine and human action, or the nature and practice of moral reasoning—as the key to the whole. This overview focuses instead on the centrality of God's covenant with humanity to Barth's theology, arguing that ethics is grounded in election and sanctification: the determination of humanity as God's covenant partner and the summons to humanity to exist as God's covenant partner. This determination and summons are actualized in the movement in which God resolves on the good from eternity, fulfills it in time in Jesus Christ, and summons, empowers, and directs us to confirm it in each moment of our lives. But how is ethics possible if, as Barth stresses, it is Jesus Christ who fulfills the good in our place? The structure of Barth's ethics is supplied by his distinctive notions of responsibility and gratitude, in which human action is established not as gradual approximation to the divine goodness but as a thankful response to grace. All of this amounts to a vision of the moral life as a human analogy to God's grace, and this vision contrasts with the bourgeois vision of the moral life as an expression of human capability.
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