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Approaches to Theological Ethics: Sources, traditions, visions, by Maureen Junker-Kenny

15 January 2021

Robin Gill admires an Anglo-German study

PROFESSOR Junker-Kenny is a Roman Catholic feminist theologian who has taught at Trinity College, Dublin, for the past 27 years. Born in Münster and educated at Münster and Tübingen Universities, she is unusually well placed to compare and contrast the theological approaches to ethics of German- and English-speakers; and that is exactly what she does in this new book.

She knows the work of British and American Christian ethicists well, but, unlike many of us, she also has an in-depth knowledge of the work of Roman Catholic theologians such as Dietmar Mieth at Tübingen, Johan Verstraeten at Leuven, Arno Anzenbacher at Mainz, and Christoph Hübenthal at Nijmegen.

The book is divided into three parts. The first is concerned with sources — the Bible, tradition, philosophy, and science — and will be familiar territory for any Anglican theologian. She clearly approves of the shift that Vatican II prompted, encouraging much greater attention to the Bible among Roman Catholics. She, however, like many Anglicans, also believes that the Bible should not be the only resource for theological ethics.

The second part is the longest and most significant. Here, she makes detailed comparisons of English- and German-speaking Christian ethicists. She is particularly attracted (as am I) to the RC theologians at Boston College — Lisa Cahill, David Hollenbach, and James Keenan — and to David Tracy at Chicago. They combine a concern for biblical studies with a modified natural-law approach to ethics. With Cahill she shares, in addition, an emphasis on feminist theology. Nevertheless, beyond all of these theologians, she brings her special expertise on German-speaking theologians and finds similar affinities among them.

In the final, shortest part, she argues for an approach to theological ethics which is “praxis-oriented”. She is clearly not impressed by the school of Christian ethics which Stanley Hauerwas has generated, especially since “its more recent specification towards worship has based a whole approach to Christian ethics on one verse . . . Matthew 3.15.”

With its jargon and Latin tags, this is not exactly an Introduction to Christian Ethics. It is, however, a very welcome addition to the ever-increasing number of books in theology concerned with ethics. Her stance is essentially liberal Catholic; I could find little or no discussion of those status-of-life issues — especially abortion and euthanasia — that tend to dominate traditionalist RC ethics. Instead, her admirable aims are to promote both Anglo-German theological ethics and virtues such as care and justice.

Canon Robin Gill is Editor of Theology.


Approaches to Theological Ethics: Sources, traditions, visions
Maureen Junker-Kenny
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