James Gustafson

American academic (1925-2021)

James Gustafson (born December 2, 1925) is an American theological ethicist.



"Varieties of Moral Discourse: Prophetic, Narrative, Ethical and Policy"

in Seeking Understanding: The Stob Lectures, 1986-1998 (2001)
  • Many years ago I heard a paper read by a colleague who was very philosophically astute and informed. The paper was on ethics, and it was rigorously argued, proper distinctions were made, and the critique of other points of view was cogent. ... When my colleague finished his paper the man chairing the meeting said, "That's not ethics. Ethics has to do with prophecy. I learned that from Rabbi Abraham Heschel."
    • p. 47
  • Prophets tend to be impatient with detailed analyses of particular choices made in the past—choices that determined how, month by month, we got to where we are from where we were. They tend to be equally impatient with how we can practically get from where we are today to some modest increments of improvement a month from now. To the prophet such preoccupation seems to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
    • p. 50
  • The legitimacy of prophetic moral discourse, I believe, is without question. It is not, however, sufficient as moral discourse. It undercuts preoccupation with meager thinking about means to short-range ends. ... It does not concern itself with incremental choices that have to be made by persons and institutions in which good and evil are intricately intermingled.
    • p. 55
  • Prophets do not help responsible Christian persons who seek to gain political and economic power as a means to serve the public good within the constraints of political, economic, medical, or other institutions.
    • p. 55
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