Science in Christian Perspective

Notes on "Science and the Whole Person" A Personal Integration of Scientific and Biblical Perspectives Part 8

Ethical Guidelines

Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305

From: JASA 30 (September 1978): 134-141.

[This continuing series of articles is based on courses given at Stanford University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College, and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Previous articles were published as follows. 1. "Science Isn't Everything," March (1976), pp. 33-37. 2. "Science Isn't Nothing," June (1976), pp. 82-87. 3. "The Philosophy and Practice of Science," September (1976), pp. 127-132. 4. "Pseudo-Science and Pseudo-Theology. (A) Colt and Occult," March (1977), pp. 22-28. 5. "PseudoScience and Pseudo-Theology. (B) Scientific Theology," September (1977), pp. 124-129. 6. "Pseudo-Science and PseudoTheology. (C) Cosmic Consciousness," December ( 1977), pp. 165-174. 7. "Man Came of Age?" June (1978), pp. 81-87.]

In several of the following installments, we consider a number of different practical issues in which science and Christian faith both come into focus. Before considering these specific issues, however, we take the opportunity in this installment to survey a few basic ethical guidelines of a more general nature. As in the last chapter we pointed out some of the insights into "man come of age" provided by Dietrieh Bonhoeffer, so in this chapter we continue this investigation of the thought of Bonhoeffer somewhat further into the matter of Christian ethics.

Christian theology comes to life in Christian living. In this context abstract principles must be translated into concrete action. Of the various possible frameworks for describing Christian doctrine and ethics: that of "either-or", "both-and," or "neither-nor," all can he interpreted in both a positive and a negative sense, depending on the application made. Bonhoeffer's Ethics1 provides a large number of striking examples of the power of a positive use of the "neither-nor" formulation. Although this hook is part of all uncompleted text more than 30 years old, its message is prophetic and relevant for us today.

Frameworks for Describing Ethics

Discussions of Christian doctrine or ethics are frequently cast into the form of one of three types of comparisons: "either-or," "both-and," and "neithe-nor." The "either-or" approach is essentially one of antithesis. A modern writer with whose style such an approach is commonly associated is Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer's emphasis on antithesis as opposed to synthesis, and his argument that the loss of antithesis via Hegel is the beginning of the road to modern despair,2 strengthen this association, He is explicit about this and identifies a "both-and" approach as part of the structure of disintegration, "Truth as truth is gone, and synthesis (the both-and), with its relativism, reigns."3 Schaeffer seeks to defend the reality of certain antitheses, e.g., either a man is a Christian or he is not, just as on a purely human level either a woman is pregnant or she is riot, but in setting forth this defense he perhaps argues more broadly than intended. In the Appendix to The Church Before the Watching World4, Schaeffer uses a "neither-nor" formulation with a concept of "freedom within circles" of doctrine, as long as one dues not proceed to extremes in one direction or the other. Here he comes close to a "both-and approach in such topics as the person of Christ: Christ is neither only man nor only God; Christ is both man and God.

With these kinds of comparison in mind, it is interesting to read the words of D. Elton Trueblood,

Always the great Christian word is and. In a number of situations the Christian insight is that either-or produces a heresy while and can bring us close to reality . . . . It is part of the Christian understanding of reality that all simplistic answers to basic questions are bound to be false. Over and over, the answer is both-and rather than either-or.5

Here the emphasis is on false dichotomies, between arguing for either the love of God or the love of man, rather than on both; between arguing for preaching the Gospel or serving the neighbor, rather than on both; between arguing for the sovereignty of God or the responsibility of man, rather than on both.

Ethics is not a matter for intellectual debate; ethics is a matter for living the life of Christ.

A few pages further on in the same hook as that containing Trueblood's words, the following remarks by Douglas D. Feaver bring out another facet.

Trueblood vividly reminded us of the "gutters" on either side of the Narrow Way-the one of personal piety, the other of social concern. He rightly emphasized the holy conjunctions both-and, over against the heretical either-or. But I fear the situation today is neither holy nor heretical; instead we have the demonic neither-nor-neither personal piety nor genuine communal relevance.6

Thus we come full circle with a negative use of "neither-nor" to compare with Schaeffer's positive use described above. It is evident that there is nothing intrinsic so any of these formulations that guarantees one to he more faithful to truth than another, but rather the objects of each set of conjunction pairs determine the type of usage and interpretation. We say Yes to "either a Christian or not a Christian," but No to "either personally pious or socially concerned.

We say Yes to "both true God and true Man" for the person of Christ, but No to "both sin and expression of love." We say Yes to "neither one God without diversity nor three Gods," and No to "neither a sovereign Cod nor a responsible man."7

Of all these forms, that of "neither-nor" has a particular crispness in helping the Christian avoid the extremes. As human beings we tend to oscillate between extremes, finding it difficult to come to dynamic equilibrium at a balanced position. Few examples of the effectiveness of the "neither-nor" approach are more illuminating than those presented in Ethics by I)ietrich Bonhoeffer. One of the advantages of the allows us to define errors clearly even in situations where we cannot define truth clearly.

What Christian Ethics Is

In normal discourse, the term ethics means to know good, to do good, and perhaps to be good. Bonhoeffer stresses the radically different view of ethics appropriate for Christians. To speak of ethics is not to speak of rules of right and wrong, of knowing or seeking to know right from wrong, or of any kind of abstract consideration of principles, laws, or knowledge-but it is to speak only of the way in which "Jesus Christ takes form in our world.8 Ethics is not a matter for intellectual debate; ethics is a matter for living the life of Christ.

The form of Christ does not take form in us by our own efforts but it is a work of God in our lives (Galatians 4:19) in keeping with the biblical description of our sanctification as our transformation into Christ's image.

For those whom lie knew lie also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Romans 8:29) Do not he conformed to this world but be transformed liv the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another. (II Corinthians 3:18) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. (Philippians 3:10)

To be conformed to Christ, is first of all to be conformed to the Incarnate One, God incarnate in manand hence to he a real man. To be conformed to Christ is secondly to be conformed to the Crucified Oneand hence to he a man sentenced by God for sin. To he conformed to Christ is finally to be conformed to the Risen One-and hence to he a new man before Cod (Colnssians 3:3).

One starting out to consider ethics from a specifically Christian perspective must discard both the question, "How can I be good?" and "How can I do good?" and must ask instead only, "What is the will of God? 9 To concentrate on being good or doing good presupposes that one's self and the world are the ultimate reality, rather than that the ultimate reality can be only God, Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer. To inquire about the goodness of self or the world is possible only after inquiry about the goodness of Cod, and this "question of good can find its answer only in Christ."10 Abstract goodness apart from the reality of life in the world has no meaning; there is no possible separation between man and his acts, as Jesus said, "Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit," (Matthew 7:17)

The knowledge of good and evil seems to he the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge . . . . Mao at his origin knows only one thing: God, . . . The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with his origin.11

God can be truly known, only if only God is known. To know good and evil is to confirm separation from God (Genesis 2:17); man's knowledge of good and evil can only stand against Cod. Ethics, therefore, in its uniquely Christian perspective must be directed toward knowing Cod and in the formation of the form of Christ in us and in the world through us.

Victory in Christian ethics can be won neither by the reasonable man, nor by the fanatic, nor by conscience, nor by duty, nor by freedom, nor by concentrating on private virtue, but only by the man who can combine simplicity with wisdom. The reasonable man fails because he considers that a little reason is sufficient and therefore strives to save through education; he does not recognize the spiritual dimension of the human condition. The fanatic fails because he believes that purity of the will is sufficient to oppose evil; he fails to take account of reality and cannot handle the frustration of real circumstances. The man who trusts in conscience is all too willing to trade a peaceful conscience for a clear one, and fails to realize that a bad conscience can he healthier than a deceived one. The man who trusts in duty fails because he places his responsibility on an authority figure, but all too often he find that that authority figure has played the part of the Devil himself. The man who values freedom above all else is willing to act without regard to principle,

He will easily consent to the had, knowing full well that it is had, in order to ward off what is worse, and in doing this he will no longer be able to see that precisely the worse which he is trying to avoid may still be the better,12

The man who prizes his private virtue above all lives scrupulously within himself, but fails to be sensitive to the needs around him; what he fads to do will finally leave him no peace.

Only the man who can combine simplicity with wisdom can gain the victory in Christian living. Unlike the double-minded person of James 1:8, he is not hampered by abstractions but is bound by love for God. Since his simplicity looks only to God, it is able to look at the reality of the world without failing. In this way simplicity becomes wisdom, and the only man who is wise is the man who sees reality in God.

There is a place at which God and the cosmic reality are reconciled, a place at which God and man have become one . . . . This place does not lie somewhere out beyond reality in the realm of ideas. It lies in the midst of history as a divine miracle. It lies in Jesus Christ, the Reconciler of the world ..... Whoever sees Jeans Christ does indeed see God and the world in one. He can henceforward no longer see God without the world or the world without God.13

To the biblical, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom" (Psalm 111:10), Bonhoeffer adds, "To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom."14


Man is to be regarded neither with contempt nor with idolization.

Out of love for man, God Himself became man. It is not toward ideals that God's love is directed, but toward real men in a real world. In the Incarnation, Cod becomes a real man. The realization of the significance of the Incarnation leads one to regard man neither with contempt nor with idolization.

The tyrannical despiser of men exploits the worst aspects of human nature for his own purposes; the greater his contempt for men, the greater his tendency to exalt himself for deification or idolization. But the good man is also guilty of despising men if he sees what is going on and still withdraws to leave his neighbor to his fate. Even an honest kind of philanthropism is guilty of despising man if it leads to indulgence for evil, overlooking of baseness, and the excusing of the reprehensible; once again it is the real man who is despised because the real man is denied.

It is only through God's being made man that it is possible to know the real man and not to despise him. the reason why we can live as real men and can love the real man at our side is to be found solely in the incarnation of God, in the unfathomable love of God for man.15

Contempt for the real man and the idolization of man go hand in hand. Wherever one is found the other will follow. Neither the one nor the other is possible for the man who sees Jesus Christ.


Success is neither to be simply identified with good, nor are we to hold that the good alone is successful, nor that all success is the product of wickedness.

For life in the world apart from Christ, success is often the only and sufficient justification for any action or program. In this framework the crucified Christ, sentenced for the sins of men, remains an enigma.

As we see him, however, we recognize that success can never he taken as the standard for the Christian.
To claim that success defines what is good is possible only in the complete absence of moral sensitivity. To claim that only the good is successful leads to a false optimism that must ultimately require the falsification of historical facts. To claim that all success comes from wickedness leads to unproductive criticism of the past and a failure to act in the present. "Christ confronts all thinking in terms of success or failure with the man who is under God's sentence, no matter whether he be successful or unsuccessful."16


Earthly life is to he seen neither as all nor as nothing.

The crucified Christ is also the risen Christ, and Christ's resurrection does away with all idolization of death. If death is the last thing, then life must be either all or nothing. To believe fanatically in the finality of death forces one either to clutch madly at everything in life, or to reject everything in life. The idolization of death is evident in a time when talk is everywhere about building for eternity, but in which life itself has no value.


Neither the past nor the future are to command our total devotion.

Those actions that stem from attention to only the past or to only the future are in fact rejections of both past and future. The real past is rejected in favor of a mystical glorification of days that never really were. The real future is rejected in favor of a transcendent preoccupation which enables one to evade the responsibility of tomorrow.

When both the real past and the real future are rejected, it is as if man hovered over the "void," attempting to snatch the moment. Under such conditions it is impossible to sustain periods of tension or necessary periods of waiting; all must be resolved at once with the simplest solution conceivable. Slow pain is more feared than death; there are only two viable alternatives: health or death. Great convictions are replaced by the path of least resistance; challenges of personal responsibility are avoided in favor of compliance with authority. Instead of the dissemination of truth, we face the spreading of manufactured information and propaganda. Pragmatism rules the day, and whatever is useful is declared for that reason to be just. Trust gives way to suspicion. Only one thing remains: the universal fear of the "void."17


Reality is to be defined neither in terms of empirical positivism nor in terms of idealism.

The two hallmarks of Bonhoeffer's theology and ethics are their Christo-centricity and their emphasis on the real. His treatment of reality is therefore a central point in his ethics, and his attempts to circumscribe reality give rise to a number of "neither-nor" formulations.

This participation must be such that I never experience the reality of God without the reality of the world, or the reality of the world without the reality of God.16

"Whoever sees Jesus Christ does indeed see God and the world in one. He can hence forward no longer see God without the world or the world without God."

The empirical positivist errs by identifying the good with nothing more than the expedient, the useful and the advantageous. But even this is superior to the idealist who is concerned with the attainment of impossible goals unrelated to the real, with abstractions and ethical ideals. The weakness of the positivist is that his reality is circumscribed by what is empirically verifiable, "which implies denial of the origin of this reality in the ultimate reality, in God."19

Traditional Christian ethical thought blocks the road to perceiving ethics in terms of reality because of the common emphasis on "two spheres, the one divine, holy, supernatural and Christian, and the other worldly, profane, natural and un-Christian."25 No progress can he made until it is realized that we are called to choose neither the one nor the other of these two spheres, but rather to see the unity of the one reality which exists embracing both divine and worldly, holy and profane, supernatural and natural, Christian and non-Christian. History provides examples of the extremes that must be avoided. On the one hand there is the devout monk, who withdraws to the monastery to concentrate wholly on the first sphere; on the other hand there is the secular Protestant, who becomes so caught up in the second sphere that he can no longer perceive the first.

To think in terms of these two spheres is to make secular and Christian oppose each other, to pit the natural against the supernatural, the profane against the sacred, and the rational against the revelational. These two aspects of reality are certainly not identical; yet they have a unity which is derived from the reality of Christ.
It is possible neither for Christianity to thrive apart from the world, nor for the world to thrive apart from Christ.

A world in isolation from Christ falls victim to license and self-will. Christianity withdrawn from the world falls victim to the unnatural and the irrational, to presumption and self-will. The Christian's worldliness does not separate him from Christ; his Christianity does not separate him from the world. The Christian belongs wholly to Christ; at the same time he stands wholly in the world.

The Ultimate and the Penultimate

Neither the ultimate nor the penultimate must be taken exclusively.

The final, last and ultimate word for the Christian is the justification of the sinner by the grace of God. The whole of his past is comprised in the word of forgiveness; the whole of his future is safely held in the faithfulness of God. His past sin is swallowed up in the love of Cod in Christ; his future in a life proceeding from God is without sin (1 John 3:9). There is no word of God that goes beyond his mercy; it is his final word. Yet it comes at the end of a span of time during which the man has passed through accusation and found himself under the sentence of God. The way to the ultimate must of necessity pass through the way of the penultimate. But the penultimate has no value of its own, only the value it receives in relationship to the ultimate. Two extreme attempts at solutions have been proposed, both of which must be rejected since they make the ultimate and the penultimate mutually exclusive.

One solution sees only the ultimate; Bonhoeffer calls it the "radical" solution. It sees only the complete breaking off of the penultimate, views Christ as the destroyer and enemy of all penultimates, and fastens on the last word only and the last conduct only to such an extent that the effect on this world is judged to he of no consequence.

The other solution sees only the penultimate; Bonhoeffer calls it the "compromise" solution. It sets the last word apart from all preceding words and holds that the penultimate retains its right on its own grounds. It concentrates on the penultimate, since the end is not yet here; it deals with men only as they are, not as they are called to become in Christ.

The "neither-nor" aspects of Bonhoeffer's treatment of the radical and compromise solutions can be most graphically shown in the form of the following table of comparisons. It is evident that elements of the classic personal evangelism vs. social gospel conflict are also included here. Only the proper relationship between the ultimate and the penultimate, a relationship with precarious dynamic balance, is adequate for a Christian following Jesus Christ.
Advocates of the radical solution must come to realize that Christ is not radical in their sense. Advocates of the compromise solution must come to realize that Christ does not make compromises. There is value neither in the concept of a pure Christianity in itself, nor in the concept of man as he is in himself; there is value only in the reality of God and the reality of man which becomes one in Jesus Christ. It is not some kind of Christianity that has value, but it is Jesus Christ himself, It is only in Christ that the solution of the ultimate-penultimate problem lies: his Incarnation shows the love of God for his creation; his Crucifixion shows the judgment of God upon all flesh; his Resurrection shows God's will for a new world. These three revelations are revelations of one God; they cannot he separated.

The Christian life calls for neither the destruction nor the sanctioning of the penultimate. The reality of God meets the reality of the world in Christ and allows us to share in this real encounter; it is an encounter beyond all radicalism and beyond all compromise. The ultimate leaves room for the penultimate, yet a thing becomes penultimate only through the ultimate. The ultimate is coming and the penultimate is here to prepare the way.
In relation to justification of the sinner by grace, two things are penultimate: being man and being good. It is only by reference to Jesus Christ, who has come and who is to come, that we can know what it means to be man and to he good. It is possible for us to be human and good because he has come; we must he human and good because he is coming.

The Natural

The natural is to be identified wholly with neither the creaturely nor the sinful.

The concept of "the natural" as an ethical guide has been generally forsaken by Protestants, and has been retained primarily in Catholic circles. Although there are undoubtedly ambiguities in its use as a viable concept, there is also something lost if it is completely neglected. Subjects such as abortion, euthanasia, contraception, suicide and sterilization cannot be treated without some consideration of "the natural" and some evaluation of "the natural" as a meaningful guide. We consider these topics in greater detail in subsequent installments, giving here a brief overview of Bonhoeffer's perspective without necessarily indicating our agreement with it on all points.

The natural is distinct from the ereaturely because of the effects of the Fall. The natural is distinct from the sinful in order to include the creaturely, i.e., the good creation of God. Bunhueffer offers the following definition of "the natural,"

The natural is that which, after the Fall, is directed towards the coming of Christ. The unnatural is that which, after the Fall, closes its doors against the coming of Christ . . . . The natural is the form of life preserved by God for the fallen world and directed towards justification, redemption and renewal through Christ.22

Comparison of Radical and Compromise Solutions21
Radical                                                                             Compromise
Penultimate destroyed by ultimate.                                      Ultimate excluded from penultimate.
Ultimate does not admit penultimate.                                   Penultimate does not admit ultimate.
Sees God as judge and Redeemer.                                     Sees God as Creator and Preserver. 
The end is rendered absolute.                                             Things as-they-are are rendered absolute.
Hatred of the established, of creation.                                 Hatred of ultimate, of justification by grace.
Hatred of time.                                                                   Hatred of eternity.
Hatred of patience.                                                             Hatred of decision.
Hatred of wisdom.                                                              Hatred of simplicity.
Hatred of moderation and measure.                                     Hatred of the immeasurable.
Hatred of the real.                                                               Hatred of the word.
Gives rise to ethic based solely on Cross or Resurrection.    Gives rise to ethic based solely on Incarnation. 

Alternatively, the difference between natural and unnatural is the difference between a proper and a mistaken use of freedom.

The natural is already established and present in the created world; neither individual, nor community, nor institution decides what is natural. The purpose of the natural is to safeguard life; the unnatural is the enemy of life. The unnatural requires organization; the natural is simply there.

Life must be viewed neither in terms of vitalism nor in terms of mechanization. Life which sets itself up as an absolute destroys itself. Vitalism is an absolutization of life as an end in itself; mechanization is an absolutization of life as a means to an end. Natural life stands between these extremes. Both vitalism and mechanization express despair toward natural life.

Life is neither only an end in itself nor only a means to an end. In relation to Christ, the status of life as an end in itself is understood as ereaturehood, and its status as a means to an end is understood as participation in the Kingdom of Cod. Within the framework of natural life, the status of life as an end in itself is manifest in the rights with which life is endowed, and the status of life as a means to an end is manifest in the duties which are imposed upon it.

Bodily life carries within itself the right to its own preservation since it is the will of God that life on earth should be in the form of bodily life. It is therefore the "first right of natural life" to safeguard "the life of the body against arbitrary killing."23 "All deliberate killing of innocent life is arbitrary."24 This perspective leads Bonhoeffer to be extremely cautious with the practices of abortion and euthanasia. In the ease of euthanasia, he recognizes the difference between "allowing to die" and "killing" to be valid, but finds that many arguments stem from the utility of life as the deciding criterion. The destruction of human life can in general he justified neither on the grounds of consideration far the patient nor on the grounds of consideration for the healthy. The argument that human life should he destroyed when it has lost its social usefulness, or that innocent sick life can he properly destroyed in the interest of healthy life, spring from a utilitarian view toward life and from an improper struggle against the character of the fallen world itself. "In the sight of Cod there is no life that is not worth living; for life itself is valued by God."25

The human body must never become a thing, an object, completely in the power of another man to do with as he pleases. Rape, exploitation, torture and arbitrary confinement of the human body are all violations of natural life.

A Good Life

Life most be made neither a purely private concern nor the occasion for participation in "enthusiasm."

Because the concept of the good most he bound to the concept of the real, the ethical abstraction of an isolated individual with a knowledge of good and evil, facing incessant decisions between clearly recognizable good and clearly evil, must be forsaken. When life is a purely private concern, then a man's loyalty to his own principles is represented as the good, without consideration for the effects on other men. When we become "enthusiasts," we join the ranks of political fanatics, ideologists, and importunate reformers whose failure is guaranteed, since they do not come to grips with life, with man, as they are in reality.

Our life is lived in the tension between the "yes" of Creation, Atonement and Redemption, and the "no" of Condemnation and Death. A man who knows Christ must always hear the "no" with the "yes," and the "yes" with the "no."

When Jesus says, "I am the life," (John 11:25, 14:6), he hinds every thought of life to his person. Life can never be separated from the person of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:21, Colossians 3:4).

If we leave him out of our reckoning, as the origin, the essence, and the goal of life, of our life, if we fail to consider that we are creatures, reconciled and redeemed, then we shall achieve no more than more biological and ideological abstractions.26

Our life is lived in the tension between the "yes" of Creation, Atonement and Redemption, and the "no" of Condemnation and Death. A man who knows Christ can hear neither the "yes" only, nor the "no" only, but he must always hear the "no" with the "yes," and the "yes" with the "no."

Responsible Living

The possibility of responsible living arises from the realization that man is neither wholly free nor wholly hound. Life is bound to mail and to God, and a man's own life is free. Without this bond and this freedom there can he no responsibility.

Responsible living evokes the concept of "deputyship," of representing other men (e.g., as father, statesman or teacher) selflessly. Deputyship must avoid two abuses: one must neither set up one's own ego as an absolute, nor must one set up the other man as an absolute. Both abuses set up false absolutes, not recognizing the ultimate authority for responsible living in Jesus Christ. The first leads to tyranny and exploitation; the second makes an idol of responsibility per se.

The responsible maim does not live in an ideal or abstract world, but in the world of reality. His conduct is therefore dependent on his neighbor and the context in which they live. But this is not an advocacy of "situational ethics" in which every powerful pressure is yielded to; such a response would be irresponsibility, not responsibility. Two extremes must be avoided: neither servility to the factual, nor opposition to the factual in the name of a higher reality.

Action in correspondence with reality, i.e., in correspondence with Jesus Christ, neither sets up a "secular principle" and a "Christian principle" as conflicting perspectives, nor does it consider the secular and the Christian to be identical. The former leads to the setting up of eternally conflicting laws of reality which are the substance of Greek tragedy, but such a tragic reading of life has been overcome by Jesus Christ. The latter neglects the fact that the reconciliation between God and the world achieved by Christ consists not in abstractions of conflicting principles but "in him as the one who acts in the responsibility of deputyship, as the Cod who for love of man has become man."27

Responsible living requires that man commit his life and ways into the hands of God, and live day by day by God's grace; the man who acts on the basis of abstract ideology sees himself as justified by the idea itself.
In the outworking of responsible living, both obedience and freedom must he united. We must have neither obedience without freedom-which is slavery, nor freedom without obediencewhich is arbitrary selfwill. For the responsible man is called upon to choose, not simply between right and wrong, but also between right and right, and between wrong and wrong.


In this installment we have explored a form of ethical formulation-the "neither-nor" approach, and an approach to ethical guidelines-the system developed in embryonic state by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, While being committed to neither in any kind of absolute sense, we have explored their utility and relevance for modern man.
The "either-or" formulation of doctrine and ethics, often vigorously expounded as the means of retaining antithesis in Christian thought, must frequently be supplemented by a "both-and" formulation. In many cases, furthermore, a "neither-nor" formulation provides the best method for avoiding extremes without restrictive or unrealistic attempts to define or delimit the desired middle ground. To see things in a "neither-nor" framework indicates why the "either-or" formulation is frequently inadequate for the full expression of the biblical perspective on doctrine or ethics. This follows from the realization that we may often be able to say what something is not, even when what it fully is lies beyond our grasp and understanding. Most of the creeds of the Church came into being with this kind of goal.

To sharing some of the striking examples of "neithernor" formulations which characterize the incomplete Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we have sought to emphasize Bonhoefler's biblical insistence on both the Christocentricity and the importance of reality for any adequate Christian approach to ethics. The Christian approach to living grows out of a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, a relationship through which the Christian is continuously transformed more and more into the image of his Lord (the process of sanctification). This personal relationship and daily walk must be at the basis of any Christian discussion of ethics, rather than abstractions, idealizations, or search for knowledge.



1D. Bonhoeffer, Ethics, E. Bethge, Ed., Macmillan Co., New York (1961).
2F. A. Schaetfer, The God Who Is There, Intervarsity Press (1968), p. 20.
3F. A. Schaefter, Escape from Reason, Intervarsity Press (1968), pp. 41, 42.
4F. A. Schaeffer, The Church Before the Watching World, Intervarsity Press (1971), pp. 83-105.
5D. Elton Trueblood, "The Self and the Community," in Quest for Reality: Christianity and the Counter Culture, C. F. H. Henry, Ed., Intervarsity Press (1973), pp. 35, 40.
6D. D. Feaver, "The Failure of a Religious Subculture," in Quest for Reality: Christianity and the Counter Culture, C. F. H. Henry, Ed., Intervarsity Press (1973), p. 45.
70r changing the field of discourse to physics, we note the interesting result that we say No to "an electron is either a particle or a wave," and No to "an electron is both a particle and a wave," but Yes to "an electron is neither a particle nor a wave." We thus leave unanswered what an electron is, but we avoid the pitfalls that such a definition might involve us in. See also P. T. Arveson, "Dialogic: A Systems Approach to Understanding," Journal ASA 30, 49, June 1978.
8Ethics, p. 25. 
9Ethics, p. 55. 
Ethics, p. 56. 
Ethies, p. 142. 
Ethics, pp. 5, 6. 
Ethics, p. 8. 
Ethfrs p. 7. 
Ethics, pp. 12, 13.
Ethics, p. 15.
17Is it not remarkable how these conditions, fashioned in Bonhneffer's thought by the immediate events of the Hitler regime in Nazi Germany more than 30 years ago, are so applicable to us today?
18Ethics, p. 62. 
Ethics, p. 60. 
Ethics, p. 62. 
Ethics, pp. 86-89. 
Ethics, pp. 102, 103. 
Ethics, p. 115.
24Ethics, p. 116. 
Ethics, p. 119. 
Ethics, p. 189. 
Ethics, pp. 201, 202.

Topics for Discussion

1. In describing the relationship between science and Christian faith, which of the formulations: "either-or," "both-and," or "neither-nor," is most effective? Construct positive examples of each approach.
2. Show how the major interpretations of the Lord's Supper can be categorized in terms 0f which formulation: "eitheror," both-and," or "neither-nor," is chosen for expressing a particular interpretation.
3. What is the major difference between standard concepts of ethics as the choice of right or wrong in a particular situation and Bonhoeffer's concept of a uniquely Christian ethics?
Do you find this difference substantive?
4. What is the basis for ethical choice outside of the Christian context? Can ethical relativism be avoided?
5. Does an acceptance of Christian ethics as "the form of Christ taking form in us" rule out the use of scientific understanding to guide us in ethical matters?
6. Theodosius Dobzhansky writes, "The Book of Genesis gives an unexcelled poetical account of the decisive evolutionary step from animal to man (Gen. 3:22). The capacity to know and to forsee the consequences of one's own and of other people's actions is, indeed, the fundamental biological precondition for becoming an ethicizing being." (Zygon 8, 261 (1973)) Does the acquiring of the knowledge of good and evil mark the beginning of the human condition, or does it mark a departure from what it means to be truly human?
7. What is the Christian basis for the intrinsic value of a human being? Can there be an intrinsic value of a human being if this is not derived from religious sources?
8. Consider the common conflict between loving one's neighbor and loving mankind in terms of the difference between the real and the ideal.
9. Discuss how acceptance of the "two spheres" concept has affected our ideas of education, worship, welfare, sex and vocation. How does a realization of the unity in Christ affect these ideas?
10. In terms of Bonhoeffer's categories of "radical" and "compromise" solutions, consider the political revolutionary and the practical politician.
11. Indicate how the concept of "the natural" as an important consideration in ethical thought has been revitalized by our environmental concerns.
12. What are some of the major weaknesses of taking "the natural" as an ethical guide? Consider shaving, being immunized against polio, using contraceptives, and flying in airplanes. Is it "natural" for married couples to have children? Which is more unnatural: to practice birth control by use of contraceptives or by abstinence?
13. Does Bonhueffer's assertion that 'life itself is valued by God" have a biblical foundation? Which is better: not to be at all, or to exist with physical and mental suffering?
14. Which is easier for the human being: relational living or ideological living, i.e., action growing out of reality or out of abstractions? Why?
15. When called upon to choose between wrong and wrong, is no choice the best choice of all? Is no choice possible most of the time?


Ian Barbour, Christianity and the Scientist, Association Press, N.Y. (1960).
A. Dumas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian of Reality, MacMillan (1968).
M. 0. Hatfield, Conflict and Conscience, Word (1971). Between a Rock and A Hard Place, Word (1976).
C. F. H. Henry, Ed. Quest for Reality: Christianity and the Counter Culture, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois (1973).
H. F. Boellig, The God Who Cares, Branch Press, N.Y. (1971).
Zygon 8 (1973), "Papers from the Symposium on Science and Human Purpose of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science."