A MORAL ONTOLOGY FOR A THEISTIC ETHICWritten by Frank G. Kirkpatrick Reviewed By Andy Draycott
Kirkpatrick’s subtitle for this volume, Gathering the Nations in Love and Justice is an easier read. The heavy academese of the first title and the niceness of the second on the cover of the book speak truthfully of the contents. The author seeks to construct a grounding for ethics in reality (ontology) that recognises the historical agency of a personal God (theistic) that can seriously engage secular conversation. The contents page lays forth great ambition as we dive into a discussion of relativism and deconstruction, and on to knowledge as relational, God as ‘Other’ and his agency in history, through to discussions of community, moral philosophy, psychology, flourishing, feminism, natural law, Marxism and virtue (those last four in the same chapter!), and finishing up with contemporary political philosophy. Reading in a wide range of disciplines is well-annotated. The dense academic language and the frenzied pace of the diverse discussions will make the book unfriendly to the undergraduate. Yet the book is ultimately unsatisfactory for the following simple reason: Kirkpatrick insists on a historical, personal God but cannot or will not identify him. He assumes an unwarranted interchangeability between terms like theistic, biblical, biblically informed, and Christian. For Kirkpatrick the Bible’s focus is on the universalist hope for an agape community. It seems Kirkpatrick feels he must soften the exclusivist identity of the personal God as Trinity and a Christ-centred gospel to engage in ethical discourse for all human communities. This is, at best well-intentioned niceness, but which does not give us Christian theology. A much more commendable project, the unfulfilled hopes for which surface occasionally in the text, would be to gladly identify a moral ontology for a Christian ethic that can engage with the discourse of our times. For this the reader will have to look elsewhere.
La Mirada, California, USA