The primacy of religious disposition in James M. Gustafson's "Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective"

Shawn Marie McCauley Welch, Marquette University


This dissertation examines the two volumes of James M. Gustafson's Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective. It is motivated by the concern that moral theological vision should be integrated with fundamental systematic theology. Gustafson describes his two volumes as a culmination of thirty years of work and the first publication of his mature work. The two volumes are intended to be a systematic work on theology and ethics, discussing foundational issues. In this dissertation I argue that the profound piety (religious disposition) and the ethics that Gustafson describes is not congruent with the theology that he articulates; furthermore this incongruence between piety and theology originates within Gustafson's notion of God's immanence and transcendence and presents difficulties in deriving an ethic from his notion of divine ordering. Gustafson's understanding of piety emphasizes God's transcendence from the created world; yet its strong experiential dimension retains a hold on an awareness of God's immanence through a language filled with images that are both personal and relational. Although this combination involves some internal contradictions, it avoids a collapse in the distinction of God's immanence and transcendence. Gustafson's theology, however, is not as successful. It tends to emphasize the notion of transcendence without integrating it with a notion of immanence. Addressing Gustafson's notions of God's immanence and transcendence, requires that we examine his understanding of how God is encountered in the world, particularly how he sees the relationship between the Creator and creation. Gustafson adopts a naturalistic theology which views God as an impersonal Deity who sustains creation but does not give it any particular direction. I argue that it is actually Gustafson's understanding of piety that shapes and fuels his ethic. I also indicate that his description of piety seems to be informed by another theology that he never fully articulates. Furthermore, I discuss that it would be difficult to coherently derive an adequate ethic from our relationship and the relationship of all things to the sort of Deity that Gustafson describes.

Recommended Citation

McCauley Welch, Shawn Marie, "The primacy of religious disposition in James M. Gustafson's "Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective"" (1998). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9842441.