Robin GILL. A Textbook of Christian Ethics, Fourth Edition. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. pp. xv + 575. $42.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-5675-9592-8. Reviewed by James T. CROSS, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, FL 33574
Robin Gill’s A Textbook of Christian Ethics contains five sections on each of the following areas: methodology; politics, economics and justice; war and peace; the environment; human life and interpersonal relationships. Each section is ca.100 pages and is subdivided also into five parts: introduction; excerpts from Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther; modern and postmodern extracts; analysis; critique. The methodology excerpts, for example, are from: Augustine on free will; Aquinas on natural law; Luther on good works. After each excerpt is critiqued by Gill, eight related extracts by twentieth century ethicists are given. The extracts by Bonhoeffer, Fletcher, John Paul II, Schussler Fiorenza, and Porter fit well, while those by Copleston and Cupitt are, arguably, unnecessary. Noticeably omitted—here and throughout Gill’s text—are essential figures such as Louis Janssens and Charles Curran. Although Gill’s critique at the end of the methodology section barely exceeds one page, this brevity is intentional since students “should be encouraged to make their own critique” (Gill 22).
Why are Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther the only theologians given to represent premodern Christian ethics? Granted, these three men are widely recognized as veritable giants who obviously influenced much subsequent moral thought. Nevertheless, Gill’s basing each section’s critical thinking upon them may discourage students from searching the tradition for other contributors to these and additional ethical issues (e.g. the Cappadocians on economics and Bonaventure on the environment). Furthermore, Gill’s excerpt choices may be reflective of a resistance to contemporary efforts to reintegrate ethics and spirituality. For example, in addition to excerpts from Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, would not one from Marguerite Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls enrich discussions about moral methodology? Other weaknesses of Gill’s Textbook are his omission of current publications and of some field experts. Examples of these is extract on world government being drawn from 1963’s Pacem in Terris (Gill 212-221), and his extract on euthanasia being drawn from Hans Kung (Gill 485-
Gill’s Textbook will expose students new to the area of Christian ethics to classic and relatively recent thought-provoking writings on some ethical issues. It will also challenge them to recognize how the Christian tradition contains both unity and diversity. In the overall, it is probable that many instructors of undergraduate theology courses will consider this book to be recommended, but not required, reading for their students.