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Ethics | Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cover of Bonhoeffer's EthicsSometimes I think I really have my life more or less behind me now and that all that would remain for me to do would be to finish my Ethics . . . (14)

Unfortunately, he was unable to finish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazi regime on April 9, 1945, a mere two weeks before the allies liberated the Flossenbürg concentration camp which held him. The essays and notes which comprise Ethics were gathered and published posthumously.

Despite the lack of unified structure or flow to the book, the work is rich. Bonhoeffer’s penetrating mind reached deeply into a variety of ethical topics. Consider, for example, this meditation on obedience and freedom:

Obedience restrains freedom; and freedom ennobles obedience. Obedience binds the creature to the Creator and freedom enables the creature to stand before the Creator as one who is made in His image. (248)

Bonhoeffer’s Lutheran background is evident throughout this work. His discussion of the church and the world, the three uses of the law, and the role of the conscience in the life of a believer all reveal a Lutheran mind at work.

Ethics is a slow read. It’s a book that forces you to slow down and consider the details of what it means to be an ethical Christian.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. Translated by Neville Horton Smith. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 (1955).

The Peaceable Kingdom | Stanley Hauerwas

The cover of Hauerwas' The Peaceable KingdomWe often think of Christian ethics in response to a concrete problem. Did that politician abuse his power when he dated that intern? Is it ethical for a rape victim to have an abortion? Is it permissible to lie in order to serve the greater good? Where can we go to find the resources to answer these questions?

Many Christians, especially of evangelical stripe, go to the Bible—Hauerwas goes to church. It’s not that Hauerwas doesn’t value scripture, but he knows that scripture was written by and formed within the church. Scripture is best read together, within the context of the church. It is in the community of the baptized that believers grow in virtue. It is in the church that Christians learn their place in God’s story and have their imaginations freed to think truly and ethically.

The entire book centres around chapter 5, “Jesus: The Presence of the Peaceable Kingdom” (72-95). The story of Jesus (not Christological reflection) is “meant not only to display [Jesus’] life, but to train us to situate our lives in relation to that life” (74). The life of Jesus is characterized by nonviolent love.

Thus to be like Jesus is to join him in the journey through which we are trained to be a people claiming citizenship in God’s kingdom of nonviolent love—a love that would overcome the powers of this world, not through coercion and force, but through the power of this one man’s death. (76)

The church embodies an alternate reality—true to reality. The church the place where nonviolent love reigns and thus bears witness to the world that Christ is present. (Or at least it should be thus. Violence and disunity threaten the witness of the church to its core.)

When it’s time to make difficult moral and ethical decisions, we will have been apprenticed by the church into the life of Christ and will have become the sort of people capable of making those hard choices.


Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002 (1983).

Snow Crash | Neal Stephenson

The cover of Stephenson's Snow CrashTry to remember what it was like in 1992 (if you were even alive back then). Microsoft introduced Windows 3.1. IBM introduced the ThinkPad. Intel released the 486DX2 chip. Neal Stephenson published Snow Crash.

There’s something winsome about reading science fiction that was written before personal computing took off. At one point in the narrative, a media mogul has to stop to use a payphone. Admittedly he’s outraged, but the fact that there are still payphones to use remind the reader of the cultural distance a couple decades can make.

Snow Crash is a thrilling novel with a climax that continues for over one hundred pages. The thrills are balanced by the philosophical mystery at the heart of the narrative. Perhaps it’s my training as a theologian, but the way Stephenson brings Eden, Babel, Enki, Asherah, and Pentecostals together is fascinating.

Snow Crash is a riveting ride from start to finish. It is a testament to Stephenson’s insight and imagination that a twenty-five year old dystopian fiction novel can feel so unsettlingly real.


Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Books, 2008 (1992).

Ministerial Ethics | Joe E. Trull & James E. Carter

The cover of Trull and Carter's Ministerial Ethics

The world today is marked by an “ethical uncertainty” (13) which makes it difficult for people, let alone professionals, to know what they ought to do in any given situation. This problem is magnified for Christian ministers since their unique role is more ethically demanding than other professions (14–15). Recognizing a lack of information on this topic, Joe E. Trull and James E. Carter wrote Ministerial Ethics with two purposes in mind. First, the book “intends to teach Christian ministry students the unique moral role of the minister and the ethical responsibilities of that vocation” (11). Second, the book was written “to provide new and established ministers with a clear statement of the ethical obligations contemporary clergy should assume in their personal and professional lives” (11). This book is intended to contribute to the character formation of ministers in training and to be pulled off the shelves by those same students years into their vocation in order to hone their ethical acuity.

Ministerial Ethics can be grouped into three sections (160). The first two chapters are foundational, exploring the minister’s vocation and underscoring the importance of moral vision. The following four chapters explore the various moral situations that the minister will encounter in the four spheres of life: personal, congregational, collegial, and community. The final two chapters focus on one particular ethical issue, clergy sexual abuse, then provide a code of ethics primer to aid the minister in responding to this crisis. It is worth noting the substantial appendices which include example codes of ethics from various eras and organizations. This valuable resource gives practical examples for the theoretical content of the final chapter.

Foundational Issues

Continue Reading →

Natural Born Heroes | Christopher McDougall

The cover of McDougalls Natural Born HeroesNatural Born Heroes is three books in one. The first book tells the story of how the daring resistance movement on Crete kidnapped a German General and then disappeared. The second book is a study of the hero in Greek mythology, suggesting links between the Greek heroes and modern Cretans. The third book is an autobiographical glimpse into McDougall’s studies in endurance diets and fitness training.

I picked up Natural Born Heroes on the strength of McDougall’s first book, Born to Run. While Born to Run was an inspiring book that actually made me want to run more, his sophomore effort lost me. The World War II story was exciting, but in order to fit the other material in he had to draw it out to an unnatural length. His fascial fitness ideas were exciting, but ended up sounded like fringe science.

While the idea was interesting, the execution left me wishing I could have just read a complete history of the Cretan resistance or a scientific study of endurance training. Both subjects are well worth their own treatment!


McDougall, Christopher. Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

The Erstwhile | B. Catling

The cover of Catling's The ErstwhileThe Ersthile are the abandoned. Having failed their responsibility to protect of the primeval tree, they were abandoned by their creator to seek meager shelter as they faded away under fallen leaves and soil. That is, until they begin to awake.

With this theme in mind, Catling returned to the surreal world he created in The Vohr, picking up right where he left off. Like the first novel, Catling develops his fiction with a dash of history. In lieu of Muybridge, we are introduced to William Blake. Unlike the first novel, this story is tighter—the plot threads are more tightly intertwined.

The final scene sets up the third novel, The Cloven, to be released next year. I can hardly wait.


Catling, B. The Erstwhile. New York: Vintage Books, 2017.

A Tale of Three Kings | Gene Edwards

The cover of Edwards' A Tale of Three KingsA Tale of Three Kings is dedicated

To the brokenhearted Christians
coming out of authoritarian groups, seeking solace,
healing, and hope. May you somehow recover
and go on with him who is liberty.

And to all brokenhearted Christians:
May you be so utterly healed that you can still answer
the call of him who asks for all because he is all.

The book’s theme is simple. God used David’s suffering under King Saul to form his character. When David’s son tried to usurp the throne, David refused to become Saul-like. I can understand how appealing this sounds to those who have suffered under abusive leadership. The fact that this book is so popular is a sad testimony to the state of leadership in the church!

While there is deep value in suffering and God uses everything in our lives to develop our character, this book offers but one answer to the problem of Saulide leadership: “What, then, can you do? Very little. Perhaps nothing” (44). To the abused, this is a counsel of despair.

Edwards’ story presupposes an authoritarian type of leadership in which the leader, for good or for ill, is anointed of God and in place to call the shots. There’s nothing for the Davids of this world to do but to endure. While rebellion is never a good solution to poor leadership, mute endurance only enables the abuser.

Jesus has demonstrated and calls for a different type of leadership—servant leadership. Perhaps the model of King and servant isn’t the best metaphor for church leadership in light of the one who washed our feet.


Edwards, Gene. A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.

Lives Entrusted | Barbara J. Blodgett

The cover of Blodgett's Lives Entrusted

The ability to trust other people is fundamental to the human experience. Trust is “the very basis for acting in the world—our sense of security, our relationships, and our ability to navigate through problems. Without it, life becomes despairing” (8). In Lives Entrusted, Barbara J. Blodgett develops a philosophy of trust which she uses to explore four “relational practices” (31) of ministry: confidentiality, misconduct, gossip, and bullshit. Blodgett is concerned with how trust operates as a verb. Trust is something we do. More specifically, “[t]rust is a transaction that establishes a relationship” (2).

A Philosophy of Trust

Blodgett approaches trust with a philosopher’s eye. She examines the phenomenon from a variety of angles in order to precisely describe the structural features of trust. This process is evident in chapter one when Blodgett rejects three impostors of trust. First, trust resembles familiarity since we often trust those whom we are familiar with. However, there are times when we trust strangers and withhold trust from people who are familiar to us (17). Second, trust also resembles reliance since we rely on people whom we trust. Blodgett considers motivation here. Some people are reliable simply because they follow a set of instructions which indicates something less than a trust relationship (18). Third, trust resembles consistency, since we trust people who behave in a consistent fashion. Sometimes, however, relationships require rule-breaking or inconsistency in order to be trusting (18). Continue Reading →

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