A GUIDE TO CHRISTIAN ETHICS
A Guide to Christian Ethics is my most recently authored book, available in both print and electronic formats. Suitable, according to one reviewer, as a text book. In any case, touching on a critical concern for both Christians and those wishing to better understand their perspective. There follows an abbreviated review.
The initial segment touches on prime Biblical texts. This is in keeping with the conviction that Scripture provides the norm for faith and practice. In this regard, “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
For instance, when Jesus was asked, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36), he replied that we should love “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” “This was originally cited in association with the Shema, embraced as the cornerstone of Jewish faith” (p. 3). “And the second is like it,” he continued: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Lev. 19:18). “While two commandments, they are inseparable.”
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus cautioned. “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Accordingly, “It would appear that the decalogue consisted of core teaching, which would be elaborated subsequently in its covenant setting. The latter was fashioned after a vassal treaty, wherein God pledges to intercede on behalf of his people on condition of their loyalty” (p. 10).
The second section deals with the divine mandates. These relate to the church, family, labor, and government. Two qualifications are invoked. “First, none of the institutions resulting from a divine mandate usurp divine sovereignty. As such, they are imperfect means for achieving God’s ultimate purposes” (p. 37). “Second, these must take care not to infringe on the legitimate domain of one another. Accordingly, they are not meant to compete, but to cooperate.”
In the above regard, “there are numerous opportunities for Christians to cooperate with other well-meaning persons. Such as providing for the needs of the poverty-stricken, services not readily available, and emergency relief” (p. 41).
“One person can make a decided difference. If not at once, then with the passing of time. If not by him or herself, then in league with others. The problem is that there are far too many persons sitting in the stands, while far too few are on the playing field” (p. 66).
The cardinal virtues next invite our attention. These consist of justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. “This exploration becomes imperative since man’s fall has seriously compromised his moral integrity” (p. 69). But for the grace of God, we would be left to struggle on our own.
“Away with the noise of your songs!” the oracle exclaims. “I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:23-24). “The intensity of the reproach is striking, in that the cluster of abhorrent practices accents the thoroughness of God’s rejection of their ritual overtures.”
Prudence “implies sound judgment in practical matters. A representative passage from Proverbs will serve to elaborate. ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act’ (3:27). Evil is quite another matter. Do good as enabled to do so. Otherwise, one may compound the problem he or she seeks to resolve” (p. 78).
The theological virtues then solicit our consideration. In particular, these pertain to faith, hope, and love. “And now these three remain:“faith, hope, and love,” Paul assures us. “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Together these pervade the whole of Christian existence, as believers explore the potential of life in Christ. Faith in God, as they trust him to him to forgive and enable them through Christ. Hope for the future, which has been guaranteed through Christ. Love exemplified by appreciative obedience, and concern for the welfare of others. “Love is singled out since it remains applicable, even after faith and hope have served their purposes” (p. 101).
“Faith and obedience then come into play. In brief, those who believe, obey; and those who obey, believe. This rejects the dichotomy between faith and works, opting instead for a faith that works” (p. 103).
“Those listed as exemplars of faith might as readily qualify as precedents for hope. Faith, however, is exercised concerning promise, while hope focuses on fulfillment. As such, they are complementary” (p. 108). This invites the reader to reflect on the Job narrative.
The text concludes with a discussion of representative sage sayings. Such as played a prominent role in my early years. “A person is as good as his word,” my father would confidently affirm. As the owner of a general store, he had to contend with persons who failed to pay what they owed. “Take a load when you go,” my mother would urge. “While this was derived from the practice of carrying our dirty dishes to the sink, it came to mean that we should not expect others to do for us what we were unwilling to do for ourselves” (p. 125).
As a case in point, “We are all Adam’s children (Spanish proverb). Both as regards our divine origin and fallen estate. As for the former, all persons are worthy of consideration. As for the latter, we are again reminded that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23)” (p. 130).
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds?” James rhetorically inquires. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17). With such in mind, this pertinent text provides helpful insight.
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