Lehmann on ‘the Common Ethical Predicament’
Paul L. Lehmann, Ethics In A Christian Context (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1963): 154-5.Lehman is talking about the way in which his version of koinonia ethics understands the relation between believers and non-believers. Just as a little bit of background, Lehmann basically follows Barth on this point: believers are those who – on the basis of Christ – know what God is up to in the world and what it means to be truly human, while unbelievers do not. He grounds this in a discussion of the first / second Adam material in Romans. This discussion was carried out a few chapters earlier, but he returns to it briefly in this section and applies it in what I think is a very interesting way. We’ll see what you, gentle reader, think.
“The common ethical predicament is that compound of circumstantial involvement and human striving for maturity which forces into the open the issue of the falsification or the fulfillment of the authentic humanity of every human being. In delineating this predicament, and in the development of a sensitivity for it, ethical analysis and theological analysis have a very intimate relationship. For example, believers sometimes acquire a habit of behaving with more nuisance value than insight by pressing upon unbelievers the question whether they are saved. This question is at best premature; at worst, irrelevant.”
“But turn the question the other way around so that it is the unbeliever, not the believer, who asks it. Then the question undergoes a significant transformation. When a believer and an unbeliever are met on the level of their common involvement with the issue of the possibility and the integrity of their humanity, and when by reason of this involvement the question ‘What shall I do to be what I am?’ however it may be formulated, can no longer be suppressed, then the integrative power and the possibility of the Christian gospel are exposed. The New Testament offers no evidence for putting the question ‘Are you save?’ That is simply not a biblical question. However, the question ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ is a biblical question. It appears also in the form ‘What shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ The question means, in short, ‘What shall I do to be what I am?’ The lawyer, trying to justify himself, the Macedonian jailer, who found himself on the threshold of unemployment, put the question of authentic life from the level of an inescapable confrontation with a claim upon them to move in the direction of self-fulfilling self-surrender. It is only out of this kind of authentic human situation that the question of belief and unbelief, the religious question, has integrity.”