Tag Archives | ethics

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

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Ethical Leadership | Walter Earl Fluker

The cover of Fluker's Ethical LeadershipEthical Leadership was written to an America in crisis. In 2009, the date of publication, Walter Earl Fluker lamented a nation involved in “two costly wars; struggling with financial crisis precipitated by unscrupulous ethical practices on Wall Street; recovering from a presidential campaign that degenerated into character assassination based on race, religion, and unresolved cultural wars” (vii). The following years have only seen the issues grow more severe. We are in desperate need of ethical leadership.

Ethical leadership is the successful navigation of two worlds: lifeworlds and systemworlds.

“Lifeworlds” refers to the commonplace, everyday traffic of life where people meet and greet one another, where common values and presuppositions about order and the world are held. “Systemworlds” refers to the vast, often impersonal bureaucratic systems dominated by money and power (economics and politics and the various structures of communications and technology), which are frequently at odds with the pedestrian traffic of lifeworlds. (7)

A leader navigates the intersection of these two worlds through three ethical practices which have corresponding dimensions (viii) and are each marked by three virtues (130):

  1. Character  is the personal realm marked by integrity, empathy, and hope.
  2. Civility is the societal realm marked by reverence, respect, and recognition.
  3. Community is the spiritual realm marked by courage, justice, and compassion.

This three-times-three matrix forms “The Ethical Leadership ModelTM” which Fluker fleshes out by drawing on the work of Howard Washington Thurman and Martin Luther King Jr. along with a variety of voices from the black church.

On the positive side, Ethical Leadership is a thoughtful elucidation of many key virtues. Fluker’s selection and categorization was often thought provoking. You might expect reverence to be a spiritual virtue, but he explains it with respect to civility. Conversely, he explains the spiritual value of courage where I would have assumed it to be a personal virtue.

Unfortunately, two features took away from the value of the book. First, the selection and categorization of virtues seemed arbitrary. It is uncertain why he chose some virtues and ignored others. Second, his writing style didn’t suit the subject matter. He wrote about these academic issues like a preacher would preach. There were few concise sentences. If one term was sufficient, two were better, and three were preferred. This style undermined clarity and added (unnecessarily) to the length of the book.

The “The Ethical Leadership ModelTM” developed by Fluker is still a timely message, but it would be better experienced in a live conference than a book.

Fluker, Walter Earl. Ethical Leadership: The Quest for Character, Civility, and Community. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Christian Ethics | D. Stephen Long

The cover of Long's Christian EthicsChristian ethics, for some, is an oxymoron. “For some modern persons, the term ‘Christian’ conjures up images of past immoral activities: crusades, the Inquisition, the conquest of the Americas, religious wars, the Galileo affair, defences of slavery and patriarchy” (1). D. Stephen Long argues otherwise. In this very short introduction (135 small pages), Long covers the history of Christian ethics from its pre-Christian roots through two millennia and into the postmodern era.

Long understands Christian ethics in terms of Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. Abraham was called to be different from the world for the sake of the world. Christians are different from the world in that “the community of faith … seeks to embody the life to which God calls” (70). The second part—for the sake of the world—is the more controversial element which has led to all sorts of difficulty. Indeed, “[t]he failure to fulfil this mission was a central cause in Christ’s crucifixion” (70).

There are a number of black marks on Christianity’s ethical history. Still, Long’s brief historical survey demonstrates that the issues were not as black-and-white as some suspect. Indeed, it was mainly Christians who, against fellow Christians, recognized the injustices listed in the first paragraph and sought to change them.

Long completes his short introduction with an application of Christian ethics to some of the major issues of our day, categorized by money, sex, and power.

So what is Christian ethics? It is the pursuit of God’s goodness by people ‘on the way’ to a city not built by human hands. It is not a precise science but the cultivation of practical wisdom that comes from diverse sources. (121)

Christian ethics is a call to develop the sort of wisdom needed to navigate postmodern waters in a Christlike way.

Long, D. Stephen. Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. London: Oxford University Press, 2010.

MaddAddam | Margaret Atwood

The cover of Atwood's MaddAddamI closed my review of The Year of the Flood (the previous book in the series) with, “We can only hope this turns into a trilogy.” MaddAddam is the third book I hoped for.

Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy is the story of a dystopian future where human greed and pride have clashed to unleash a plague that wipes out the vast majority of humanity. The first two books in the series tell of this”waterless flood” from two different perspectives. They loosely cover the same amount time. In MaddAddam, these two stories converge and the timeline moves forward, albeit with frequent flashbacks.

At its core, MaddAddam follows the relationship between Toby and Zeb, two people who try to come to grips with their past lives as they live in the apocalyptic remains of their world. These characters are complex and surprising. Their past lives allow Atwood to explore themes like religious cults, the authority of large corporations, the ethics of genetic manipulation, and the role of law in a radically subverted context.

Atwood’s exploration of this world is shocking and even cringe-worthy at times, but her analysis left me thinking about important themes long after the novel was put back on the shelf.

—Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam (Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 2013).

The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’ve summarized and reflected on each of the 12 chapters that make up The Politics of Jesus. Since all the details have been covered, I’ll offer a few final thoughts here.

The Politics of Jesus was a landmark book. It was first published in 1972 in a world that didn’t take the ethical-social stance of Jesus seriously. In this right-place-at-the-right-time book, Yoder defended his belief that Jesus’ teaching has direct ethical implications today. The book was updated with additional material in 1994 to review the theological and sociological landscape since the first printing.

The book is 40 year old, and it shows its age. We miss the revolutionary impact today that it had in the 1970s because the main battle has been won. Yoder’s passionate defense of Jesus’ ethical-social relevance feels almost quaint in an age where that point has become a given. It’s akin to hearing arguments for the importance of wearing seat-belts. The war’s over.

Even though the main point’s commonplace now, the book is still worth reading for the wide variety of angles Yoder takes to support his thesis. When I read Hauerwas I’m amazed at the seemingly random conversion of stand-alone essays into chapters. Now I know where he got that style from! In one chapter, Yoder’s summarizing evidence for political relevance of Jesus throughout the Gospel of Luke. A few chapters later, he’s delving into the Stoic antecedents for the Haustafeln. This style might excite or terrify you, depending on how your brain’s wired.

I have to admit that Yoder stretches the exegetical evidence at times to strengthen his case. In the end, though, we’re left with a groundbreaking study on the political relevance of the Messiah.

The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder (Ch. 1)

I have been curious about Christian pacifism since the aftermath of 9/11. “Just war theory” had always been my official view, although I had no real idea what that meant.

A few years ago the documentary, God of War, Prince of Peace was produced. (You can grab it for free on TheMovieBlog.com.) In it, Tony Campolo’s story about his inability to drop bombs while asking, “what would Jesus do” really struck me. Lately I’ve been reading Hauerwas, a pacifist theologian. (I didn’t know they made pacifists in Texas!) It turns out Hauerwas was a student of J. H. Yoder, a Mennonite theologian and popular thinker in the 20th century pacifist tradition

I’ll be honest: I want to be a pacifist. I can’t believe Jesus wants us to kill other people created in his image. Still, when I think of the rise of Hitler and the abuse of innocent people, I wonder whether Christian love doesn’t compel us to act violently against oppression. I’ve decided to study The Politics of Jesus and really consider what Yoder had to say on the topic. I’m using the second edition (1994), which is an update of the 1972 classic. Each chapter (12 total) will have its own post as I try my best to respond to Yoder’s logic and, with the help of the Spirit, form my own perspective on Christianity and war. I welcome any constructive—surely I can’t be the only Christian wrestling with this topic!

An now, on to “the simple rebound of a Christian pacifist commitment as it responds to the ways in which mainstream Christian theology has set aside the pacifist implications of the New Testament message” (x).

. . .

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The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn (§23)

We’re closing in on the end. There are only two sections left before the epilogue. In these chapters (Motivating principles & Ethics in practice), I suspect we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty about how Paul’s theology should influence our day-to-day lives. As a preacher (not to mention a Christian), I suspect this to be among the most important elements of Paul’s theology. So without further ado …

. . .

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A Better Hope | Stanley Hauerwas

A Better Hope was my first introduction to Stanley Hauerwas, and I’m sure it will prove to be the start of a long fruitful journey. In this audaciously subtitled book, Hauerwas has collected 14 of his essays in one place.

If you haven’t read Hauerwas before, he’s an American theologian with a reputation for never backing down from a fight—which is mildly ironic given his devotion to pacifism. In these essays, though, he has set out to provide hope instead of just tearing down. Like the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, you can only write so much judgment before you must present a new vision.

This was a great introduction to Hauerwas because many of the essays are surveys of or reactions to other scholars he’s interacted with. It’s like a buy-one-get-one-free deal. You learn Hauerwas’ views while in the process discovering people like Rauschenbusch, Niebuhr (both of them), Yoder, and Jenson.

My only criticism of this collection is its randomness. In the Introduction and Table of Contents he tries to provide a framework to relate the diverse essays, but the topics are too diverse to wrap up so neatly. It would be better to understand this as a simple Hauerwas miscellany.

While I enjoyed and learned a lot from every essay, one in particular stood out: “Worship, Evangelism, Ethics: On Eliminating the ‘And'”. In it, Hauerwas laments the dumbing-down of modern corporate worship. One moment I was chuckling to myself:

“I come to the garden alone” are not appropriate words to be sung in corporate worship, no matter how meaningful some people may find the hymn.

Then immediately following that I was humbled and convicted:

Part of the difficulty is that Protestant Christians, evangelical and mainstream alike, have lost their ability to make such judgments. They have done so, moreover, because they debased their worship in the name of evangelism and moral uplift.

That’s the sort of depth you get when you read Hauerwas. I can hardly wait to dive deeper into his works.

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