«Ordnung in Gemeinschaft»

A Critical Appraisal of the Erlangen Contribution to the Orders of Creation

by Nathan Howard Yoder (Author)
©2016 Monographs XVI, 300 Pages
Series: American University Studies , Volume 338


The Lutheran doctrine of the orders of creation specifies fundamental forms of human community. Grounded in God’s structuring of the universe, these institutions acquire their expression in human history. Although they are fallen and distorted under sin, they remain God’s good creation. Illumined by the witness of Scripture, their ontology exists independently of ideological conceit.
The tradition is a specifically Lutheran consideration of natural law theory and plays an important role in two-kingdoms theology and the law/gospel dialectic. Historically, the doctrine has suffered significant abuse, specifically with the extra-scriptural elevation of Volk and race as inviolable institutions in support of Nazi ideology. Consequently, many have dismissed the doctrine as a static worldview that disallows critique of the status quo. In its orthodox biblical formulation, however, the doctrine remains a powerful safeguard against what Walter Künneth calls "the ideological alienation of the gospel" that invokes the name of Christ to justify sinful desire.
Nathan Howard Yoder evaluates the variant orders of creation models of the Erlangen theologians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Concentrating specifically on the work of Paul Althaus, Werner Elert, and Walter Künneth, he lifts up Künneth’s christological/trinitarian focus and appeal to sola scriptura as essential correctives to the tradition. He makes the case that the doctrine remains imperative to moral theology, specifically in the Church’s efforts against the rampant antinomianism of the postmodern era.
This book will serve well as a reference for graduate and post-graduate level courses in systematic theology, Christian ethics/moral theology, and the Lutheran Confessions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 0.1 Overview of the Tradition
  • 0.2 Purpose and Scope of Study
  • Chapter 1: The Nineteenth Century Erlangen Contribution to a Theology of the Orders of Creation
  • 1.1 Orders and Ontological Legitimacy
  • 1.1.1 Creation (Static), or Creator (Dynamic)?
  • 1.1.2 Biographical Givens as Orders of Vocation
  • 1.2 Gottlieb Christoph Adolf von Harless (1806–1879)
  • 1.2.1 Life and Thought
  • 1.2.2 Schöpfungsordnungen as the Foundational Forms of Community
  • 1.2.3 Fluidity, Stability, and Sacramental Comparisons
  • 1.2.4 The Lordship of Christ as Formative Principle
  • 1.2.5 Christian Marriage: Liebesgemeinschaft
  • The Joining of Vocation and Destiny
  • The Limitations of Marriage
  • The Wesen of Monogamy
  • The Question of Procreation
  • 1.2.6 The Form of the Family
  • Family as the Expansion of Marriage
  • Involuntary Placement and Voluntary Self-Sacrifice
  • Sinful Deformity
  • 1.2.7 State and Volk: Rechtsgemeinschaft
  • Volk and Romanticism
  • The Rise of Völkisch Ideology
  • Volksseele, “Bucolic Rootedness,” and Entwurzelung
  • Providence and Positive Law
  • The Origin of Authority
  • Preservation of the Völker and the “Principle of Nationality”
  • The Vocational Boundary
  • Resistance and Revolution
  • 1.2.8 The Church: Gnadengemeinschaft
  • The Community of Law and Gospel
  • Approximate Copy and Divine Archetype
  • Women and Berufsordnungen
  • 1.3 Johann Christian Konrad v. Hofmann (1810–1877)
  • 1.3.1 Biographical Description and Introduction to Ethics
  • 1.3.2 Marriage and Family
  • Family Encompasses Marriage
  • The Inviolability of Marriage
  • 1.3.3 The Fluidity of State with Volk
  • The Holistic Gemeinwesen
  • Volk and Vaterlandsliebe
  • The Distortion of Patriotism: Freiheitsschwindel and Kastengeist
  • The Consciousness of Belonging
  • The Volk Problematic
  • 1.3.4 The Church over against Human Community
  • 1.4 Christian E. Luthardt (1823–1902)
  • 1.4.1 Confessional Background
  • 1.4.2 “The Orders and Communities of Natural Life”
  • 1.4.3 The Family
  • 1.4.4 The Historicity of the State
  • 1.4.5 Temporal Authority and the National Organism
  • 1.4.6 The Church
  • 1.5 Summary and Evaluation
  • Chapter 2: The Orders of Creation as Articulated by Paul Althaus (1888–1966)
  • 2.1 Divided Reaction
  • 2.1.1 Theological Giant
  • 2.1.2 Ideological Culprit
  • 2.1.3 Strengths and Weaknesses
  • 2.2 Biographical Sketch
  • 2.2.1 A Call to Arms
  • 2.2.2 Professor and Pastor
  • 2.3 An Ethic of the Orders
  • 2.3.1 The Divine Command and Possibilities of Love
  • 2.3.2 Comparison with Natural Law Theory
  • 2.4 The Order of Marriage
  • 2.4.1 An Inalterable Divine Standard
  • 2.4.2 Defense against Reductionism
  • 2.4.3 Marriage as Corrective
  • 2.4.4 Marriage as Biblical Ethic
  • 2.4.5 Monogamy and Chastity
  • 2.4.6 The Limits of Marriage
  • 2.5 The Order of Volk: Ideological Construction or Arena for Christian Vocation?
  • 2.5.1 Wartime Experience as Minority
  • 2.5.2 Linguistic Difficulty
  • 2.5.3 The Coherence of Life Together
  • 2.5.4 Blood and Soil Problematic
  • 2.5.5 Language as Volksgeist
  • 2.5.6 Sin, Destiny, and Vocation in the Identity of Volk
  • 2.5.7 The Interdependence of the Völker
  • 2.5.8 Corporate Sin and Volksschuld
  • 2.6 Ur-Offenbarung as a Prerequisite for Schöpfungsordnungen
  • 2.6.1 Conscience and Ontological Bonds
  • 2.6.2 Distinction from Natural Theology
  • 2.6.3 Is Volk Ur-Offenbarung?
  • 2.6.4 Israel as Ur-Erlebnis
  • 2.7 Volksgeschichte and Heilsgeschichte
  • 2.7.1 Christological Import
  • 2.7.2 “Religion of the Atrium”
  • 2.8 Critique of Volk as an Order of Creation
  • 2.8.1 Does Historical Reality Grant Ontological Validity?
  • 2.9 The Order of the State
  • 2.9.1 A Telos Beyond Itself
  • 2.9.2 The Political Sphere and the Kingdom of God
  • 2.9.3 The Call to Responsibility
  • 2.10 Authority and Leadership
  • 2.10.1 The Evolution of the Volk/State Relationship
  • 2.10.2 Philosophical and Theological Developments
  • 2.10.3 The Führer Principle
  • 2.10.4 The Volk/State Problematic
  • 2.11 Is Race an Order of Creation?
  • 2.12 Althaus and Anti-Semitism
  • 2.12.1 Unfortunate Association
  • 2.12.2 “The Frontline Between Geist and Geist”: Althaus’s Self-Correction
  • 2.13 Summary and Evaluation
  • Chapter 3: Gesetzliche Ordnungen, The Nomological Paradigm: Werner Elert (1885–1954)
  • 3.1 Life and Thought
  • 3.1.1 Unapologetically Lutheran
  • 3.1.2 Biographical Sketch
  • 3.1.3 Kirchenkampf and Decanus Perpetuus
  • 3.1.4 Defense of the Law/Gospel Dialectic
  • 3.2 Orders of Nomological Existence
  • 3.2.1 Divine Judgment and Concrete Placement
  • 3.2.2 Imago Dei and the Creator/Creature Contrast
  • 3.2.3 The Moral Import of Response
  • 3.2.4 The Universality of Conscience
  • 3.2.5 Conscience under Law
  • 3.3 Orders of Creation and Ständelehre
  • 3.3.1 “Ought” and “Must” in Christian Ethics
  • 3.3.2 Placement, Being, and Command
  • 3.3.3 Specific Stände and General Orders
  • 3.4 The Orders of Being
  • 3.4.1 Antecedent Reality and Historical Relativity
  • 3.4.2 “Configuration of Ought” vs. “Configuration of Being”
  • 3.4.3 A “Greater, Third Entity”: Interpersonal Orders of Being
  • 3.5 The Orders and Natural Law
  • 3.5.1 Elert’s Critique of Natural Law Theory
  • 3.5.2 The Order of Evil and the Law of Demonization
  • 3.5.3 The Orders of Wrath, Lex Semper Accusans
  • 3.5.4 The Law of Life
  • 3.6 The Christological Transfiguration of the Orders
  • 3.6.1 Agape, Freedom, and the Law of Christ
  • 3.6.2 “Evangelical Despair” and the Law/Gospel Dialectic in the Orders
  • 3.7 The Centrality of Marriage and the Family
  • 3.7.1 The Centrifugal Model of Order Ethics
  • 3.7.2 The Order of Family
  • 3.7.3 The Order of Marriage
  • 3.8 The Order of Volk
  • 3.8.1 Volk as Seinsgefüge
  • 3.8.2 “Blood and Soil” as Nomological Forces
  • 3.8.3 Blutzusammenhang as a Given of Existence
  • 3.8.4 Volkstreue as Stewardship
  • 3.9 State and Law
  • 3.9.1 Obrigkeit: Responsible Authority
  • 3.9.2 Preservation of Volk or Inalienable Human Rights?
  • 3.9.3 The “Total” State, the Threat of Tyranny, and the Limitations of Government
  • 3.10 Summary and Evaluation
  • Chapter 4: Erhaltungsordnungen, A Trinitarian Answer to Ideology: Walter Künneth (1901–1997)
  • 4.1 Gospel and Ideology
  • 4.1.1 Political Structure and Underlying Mythos
  • 4.1.2 An Unsuccessful Attempt at Demythologizing National Socialism
  • 4.1.3 Overture Against Racial Ideology
  • 4.1.4 Work with the Jungreformatorische Bewegung
  • 4.1.5 The Goal of Theology
  • 4.2 Rassenseele and Volk: The Unity of Race and Religion
  • 4.2.1 “Der Blutwert is der Grundwert”
  • 4.2.2 Moral Relativism and Racial Revisionism
  • 4.3. Ideology as the Aggrandizement of the Human Condition
  • 4.3.1 Characteristics of Ideological “World-Centers”
  • 4.3.2 The “Ideological Alienation of the Gospel”
  • 4.4 Critique of Schöpfungsordnungen in Response to Ideological Abuse
  • 4.4.1 The Apotheosis of the Orders
  • 4.4.2 The Problem with Schöpfungsordnung
  • 4.4.3 Three Points of Critique
  • 4.5. Reexamining Natural Law
  • 4.5.1 Ethical Autonomy and Legal Positivism
  • 4.5.2 The Strengths of Natural Law Theory
  • 4.5.3 The Limitations of Natural Law Theory
  • 4.5.4 The Necessity of Sola Scriptura
  • 4.6 The Orders of Preservation
  • 4.6.1 Grounded in Revelation Alone
  • 4.6.2 A Change in Terminology
  • 4.6.3 The Legal Character of the Orders
  • 4.6.4 Historical Gestalt and Underlying Wesen
  • 4.6.5 Künneth on Volk and Race, Pre- and Post-War Formulations
  • 4.7 Theology of the Resurrection: The Culmination of Creation
  • 4.7.1 Ideological Distortions of Creation
  • 4.7.2 Creation Centered in Christology
  • 4.7.3 The Resurrection Orientation of Creation
  • 4.7.4 Order of Preservation and Order of Resurrection
  • 4.7.5 A New Natural Theology?
  • 4.7.6 Künneth, Bonhoeffer, and the Resurrection Hermeneutic
  • 4.8 Summary and Evaluation
  • Summary and Concluding Observations
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Subjects
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Biblical References

| xi →

This study was originally submitted as a dissertation at the University of Regensburg in the summer of 2011 to the Faculty of Protestant Theology. It would not have been possible were it not for the generosity of a good number of people. First and foremost, many thanks are due my Doktorvater, Prof. Dr. Hans Schwarz, for his guidance and patience throughout the course of my research and writing, as well as for his continuing example to me that whoso would be a theologian, must also be an adventurer. I also wish to thank my second reader, Prof. Dr. Matthias Heesch, for the gift of his time and insightful critique, and Dr. David Yeago, who as my STM advisor introduced me to the work of Adolf von Harless and the 19th century Erlangen school. My work with Dr. Yeago informed much of the first chapter of this volume. Frau Hildegarde Ferme deserves many thanks for help above and beyond all expectation in the technical areas of this project, especially in her efforts to format and print my work from a continent away. I also wish to thank Dr. Paul Hinlicky, Dr. William Rusch, and Dr. David Nelson for their insights and advice prior to publication. Burl McCuiston and Vicki Woodrich, reference librarian and inter-library loan officer, respectively, at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC, helped me tremendously in acquiring the texts I needed on this side of the Atlantic. I am very grateful to Michelle Salyga and Jackie Pavlovic, acquisitions editor and production supervisor, respectively, at Peter Lang New York, for ← xi | xii → their advice and patience throughout the publication process. Thanks also to Dr. Carl E. Braaten, both for the specific work which inspired this project and for his enduring admonition to theologians of my generation that our calling is for the sake of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

I also wish to thank my loving parents, the Rev. Dr. J. Larry Yoder and Marianne Howard Yoder, for their continuing wisdom and example for their son, and for making this endeavor possible on so many levels.

Finally, I wish to dedicate this work to my wife, Rebecca, and our children, Luke and Mary. They have endured a labor of love with me throughout the course of this project, which has encompassed the duration of our life together thus far.

Thanks be to God!

Nathan Howard Yoder

Lent, 2016

| xiii →

Standard Abbreviations

BC The Book of Concord. The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Edited by Theodore G. Tappert. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959.
CD Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics. 4 vols. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1961.
LW Martin Luther. Luther’s Works. American Edition. 55 vols. Edited by J. Pelikan and H. Lehmann. St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia and Fortress, 1955ff.
WA Martin Luther. Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 57 vols. Edited by J. F. K. Knaake et al. Weimar: Böhlau, 1883ff.

Frequently Cited Works of 19th Century Erlangen Scholars

CE Adolf von Harless. Die christliche Ethik. 8th enl. ed. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1893. ← xiii | xiv →
KTE Christoph Ernst Luthardt. Kompendium der theologischen Ethik. Leipzig: Dörffling and Franke, 1896.
TE Johann Christian v. Hofmann. Theologische Ethik. Nördlingen: C. H. Beck’schen, 1878.

Frequently Cited Works of Paul Althaus

DSK Die deutsche Stunde der Kirche. Göttingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1933.
EK Ehe und Kinder. N.p.: n.p., 1929.
EML The Ethics of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert Schultz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1972.
GE Grundriss der Ethik. 2nd new ed. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1953.
KV “Kirche und Volkstum. Vortrag auf dem 2. deutschen Kirchentage zu Königsberg, 17. Juni 1927.” In Evangelium und Leben. Gesammelte Vorträge. Gütersloh: E. Bertelsmann, 1927.
KVS “Kirche, Volk und Staat.” In Kirche, Volk und Staat. Stimmen aus der deutschen evangelischen Kirche zur Oxforder Weltkirchenkonferenz, edited by Eugen Gerstenmaier, 17–35. Berlin: Furche-Verlag, 1937.
OF Obrigkeit und Führertum. Wandlungen des evangelischen Staatsethos. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1936.
PC Politisches Christentum. Ein Wort über die Thüringer “Deutschen Christen.” 3rd and 4th ed. Theologia militans 5. Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1935.
SRG Staatsgedanke und Reich Gottes. 1st and 2nd ed. Langensalza: Hermann Beyer und Söhne, 1923.
TO Theologie der Ordnungen. 2nd ed. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1935.
UL “Unwertes Leben im Lichte christlichen Glaubens.” In Von der Verhütung unwertes Lebens. Ein Zyklus von 5 Vorträgen, 79–97. Bremer Beiträge zur Naturwissenschaft, Sonderband. Bremen: n.p., 1933.
VvnC Völker vor und nach Christus. Theologische Lehre vom Volke. Theologia militans 14. Leipzig: A. Deischertsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1937.
ZGLS “Zum gegenwärtigen lutherischen Staatsverständnis.” In Die Kirche und das Staatsproblem in der Gegenwart, edited by Paul Althaus, Emil Brunner, V. A. Demant, J. Fedotoff, M. Huber, R. Keussen, A. Lecerf, W. Menn, J. H. Oldman, A. Runestan, B. Vyscheslavzeff, ← xiv | xv → and S. Zankow, 2nd. enl. ed., 6–9. Forschungsabteilung des Oekumenischen Rates für Praktisches Christen- tum, Genf. Berlin: Furche-Verlag, 1935. Berlin: Furche-Verlag, G.m.b.H., 1935.

Frequently Cited Works of Werner Elert

BBB Bekenntnis, Blut und Boden. Leipzig: Dörffling & Frank, 1934.
CET The Christian Ethos. Translated by Carl J. Schindler. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957.
CG Der Christliche Glaube. 3rd rev. and enl. ed. Hamburg: Furche-Verlag, 1956.
CVW Der Christ und der völkische Wehrwille. Theologia militans 15. Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1937.
Ethos Das Christliche Ethos. Grundlinien der lutherischen Ethik. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. Hamburg: Furche Verlag, 1961.
LiA Die Lehre des Luthertums im Abriss. Erlangen: Martin Luther-Verlag, 1974.
LG Law and Gospel. Translated by Edward H. Schroeder. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967.
ML Morphologie des Luthertums. Vol. 2, Soziallehren und Sozialwirkungen des Luthertums. 3rd ed. München: C. H. Beck’sche Verlag, 1965.
SL The Structure of Lutheranism. Vol. 1. Translated by Walter A. Hansen. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962.
Stand Stand und Stände nach lutherischer Auffassung. Berlin: Verlag des Evangelischen Bundes, 1940.

Frequently Cited Works of Walter Künneth

AM Antwort auf den Mythus. Berlin: JM Wichern, 1935.
BO “Die biblische Offenbarung und die Ordnungen Gottes.” In Die Nation vor Gott. Zur Botschaft der Kirche im Dritten Reich, edited by Walther Künneth and Helmuth Schreiner, 1–23. Berlin: JM Wichern, 1933.
ID “Ideologie und Evangelium in systematisch-theologischer Deutung.” In Ideologien—Herausforderung an den Glauben, edited by Peter Beyerhaus, 22–36. Bad Liebenzell: Liebenzeller Mission, 1979. ← xv | xvi →
PzDG Politik Zwischen Dämon und Gott. Berlin: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1954.
RN With Hans Schemm and Walter Wilm. Was haben wir als evangelische Christen zum Rufe des Nationalsozialismus zu sagen? Drei Vorträge auf den Vereinstagen für Innere Mission in Dresden am 21. April 1931. Dresden: Verlag des Landesvereins für Innere Mission der ev.-luth. Kirche in Sachsen, 1931.
TR The Theology of the Resurrection. Translated by James W. Leitch. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1965.
VRG Die völkische Religiosität der Gegenwart. Berlin: Wichern Verlag, 1932.

Other Sources

AR “Der Ansbacher Ratschlag.” In Die Bekenntnisse und grundsätzlichen Äußerungen zur Kirchenfrage. Vol. 2, Das Jahr 1934, edited by D. Kurt Dietrich Schmidt, 102–104. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1934.
Mythus Alfred Rosenberg. Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts. Eine Wertung der seelisch-geistigen Gestaltenkämpfe unserer Zeit. München: Hoheneichen Verlag, 1942.

A Note on German Sources

Unless otherwise indicated in the notes, translations of the original German works are my own. In various instances I have included the German quotations in the notes for texts of particular significance. In the case of all others, please refer to the cited work. NHY

| 1 →

0.1 Overview of the Tradition

In a 1990 essay, “God in Public Life: Rehabilitating the Orders of Creation,” Carl Braaten calls for a fresh analysis and revitalization in theological scholarship of a Lutheran expression of natural law consonant with the confessional doctrine of the two kingdoms. Braaten locates the origin of the “orders of creation” (in German, Schöpfungsordnungen) in Luther’s three-fold delineation of status economicus (marriage), status politicus (state), and status ecclesiasticus (church).1 He believes the tradition was co-opted by and falsely conflated with the ideological platform of German National Socialism, which distorted a biblically grounded ethic to suit its own nefarious ends.2 Though he likens the task of repristinating the doctrine to “raising the Titanic,” Braaten believes it is essential for moral theology, and historical misappropriation does not warrant its consignment to the doctrinal dustbin. “If misuse were the criterion of elimination, the whole of Christian dogmatics would have to be abolished.”3 In point of fact, the loss of this paradigm has left Lutheran ethics adrift without ballast on a chaotic sea, where every Geist that blows is taken to be the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:14). “We have lost our way in a labyrinthine antinomianism that leaves it up to each individual to intuit his or her way out of moral dilemmas. In any ethical situation, Christians ← 1 | 2 → are told to rely on what the Spirit nudges them to do on the spur of the existential moment.”4 Deprived of a biblically sound framework and a recognition of universal principles, moral theology is unavoidably mercurial, a question of caprice and individual whim.

The Lutheran doctrine of the orders of creation as ethical categories of existence reached its high water mark in the scholarship of Werner Elert (d. 1954) and Paul Althaus (d. 1966), colleagues at the University of Erlangen whose careers spanned the Great War, the disappointment of the Weimar Republic, the ascendancy of Hitler, the nadir of Nazi Germany, and the horror of the Holocaust. Like their lives and those of their families—both men lost sons in World War 2—their theology did not escape this turbulence unscathed. The so-called “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen), the radically nationalistic faction of the Protestant Church in Germany, exploited their deficiencies and filtered their thought to fuel a neo-pagan fanaticism steeped in racial ideology and the “Führer” cult of personality surrounding Hitler. In the words of Hans Schwarz, this Schwärmertum of nationalist ideologues hijacked the orders of creation in their efforts “to give the ideology of a Germanic master race its metaphysical foundation.”5 The tradition has consequently been tarred with the Nazi brush and tarnished by its evils.

Karl Barth, the Reformed theologian who spearheaded the Barmen Declaration (1934) of the Confessing Church movement, rejected the orders of creation in favor of a christological moral paradigm based on the one Word of God alone.6 Barth holds that both law and gospel share the single function of conveying grace through God’s self-disclosure in Christ.7 He categorically denies the notion of ethical “orders” that are discernible apart from scriptural revelation, and he counts reason incapable of grasping moral truth claims in any capacity.8 “Reliable and legitimate information about this horizontal [ethical action] is available either by God’s Word or not at all.”9 Barth believes morality is unknowable without the biblical witness. “Even at best,” he ventures, “we can give only uncertain and confusing perhaps even utterly false information about the character of [an ethical] event and the standards by which human conduct is measured there by God.”10 The concept of a general divine command merely “clamped on” to an anthropological justice is untenable for Barth.11 Instead of recognizing universal moral principles, Barth believes that Scripture alone defines morality and informs the actions of individuals in specific circumstances.12

Braaten refutes Barth’s ethics as “christocratic” because it begins with divine revelation and restricts justice and human rights to the boundary of Christian theology.13 In denying reason and experience essential roles in moral discernment, Barth rejects natural law as a “bridge category” of ethical discourse between the ← 2 | 3 → church and a largely non-Christian, pluralistic society.14 “One might call this the soteriological captivity of creation,” argues Braaten, “because it succeeds in emptying the world of its own meaning as a realm of divine governance and human involvement prior to and apart from the biblical story of salvation culminating in Christ.”15 Barth thus ignores the fundamental provision of the two kingdoms doctrine that inalienable human rights are discernible apart from knowledge of the gospel.16

By contrast, Braaten points out that Lutheran moral theology begins with general human experience (Erfahrung) and subsequently illumines connections between secular justice and the revealed content of the faith.17 Where the Reformed view places gospel (the revealed Word of God in Christ Jesus) before law, the Lutheran view acknowledges the law as a common ethical reality before proceeding to the special revelation of Christ.18 As articulated in the “second table” of the 10 Commandments, the horizontal plane of morality lies on the general law of human existence.19 There is no part of life in community where the law of God is not efficacious, whether it is acknowledged or not. “No secular world exists in which God is dead, no empty world into which believers have to introduce the law of God for the first time.”20 The Lord challenges the consciences of all people through his law, both directly through the Scriptures and indirectly through the orders of creation.21

Braaten therefore refutes Barth’s christological paradigm on the grounds that moral reality is both universal and somewhat accessible to reason. As “common structures of human existence,” the orders of creation bind people together “in various relationships and mutual service” and convey “the historicity of the command of God” in the normal relationships and “givens” of life.22 The orders are concrete forms of natural law discernible through common human experience apart from faith, and they function as moral principles independently of the special revelation of Christ.23

Barth’s wholesale dismissal of natural law conveys a decidedly individualistic focus. He rejects the concept of “orders” as too static and abstract for engaging the status quo and the dynamic conditions of life.24 If the “givens” of natural law are not universally valid and readily discernible, however, then moral decisions inevitably take on a quality of occasionalism.25 Braaten repudiates this idiosyncratic bent in Barth’s moral theology as the kernel of Protestant situation ethics.26


XVI, 300
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XVI, 300 pp

Biographical notes

Nathan Howard Yoder (Author)

Nathan Howard Yoder, STS, completed his doctoral work in theology at the University of Regensburg, Germany. He currently serves as the pastor of St. Martin’s Lutheran Church in Maiden, North Carolina, and Dean of the Carolinas Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church. He is adjunct faculty for the North American Lutheran Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the NALC’s Commission on Theology and Doctrine and the Society of the Holy Trinity. Some of his recent publications include "Breaking the Promise of Lutheran Unity: Apostasy, Heresy, and Schism," in On Being the Church in These Precarious Times, edited by Carl E. Braaten, and "Pygmalion Redeemed: The Christ-Centered Imperative of Marriage," in The Lake Louise Commission: The Sacred Family.


Title: «Ordnung in Gemeinschaft»
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