Tag Archives | ethics

Resident Aliens | Stanley Hauerwas & William H. Willimon

The cover of Hauerwas and Willimon's Resident AliensFirst Century Philippi was a colony of Rome. It was the place where grizzled Roman soldiers would settle when their warfare was over. Consider it a mini Rome—a place where Roman law and values reigned. It was to the Christians in this Roman colony that Paul wrote, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20 NRSV). In the same way that Roman citizens embodied Roman values in Philippi, heavenly citizens are called to embody heavenly values while in the colonies on earth.

Resident Aliens is a fiery book. In it, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon describe a tragic situation: the colony of heaven is starting to look like the kingdoms of this world! Rather than being different, the church tries to fit in. In contrast to this capitulation, the goal of Hauerwas and Willimon is

to empower people in the church by exciting their imaginations to see what wonderful opportunities lie at the heart of Christian ministry—once the integrity of the church is reclaimed. (144)

The world has changed. Christendom has fallen. Rather than mourn, Christians can view this as a blessing. The church is no longer church-by-default. It must, once again, be the colony of heaven.


Hauerwas, Stanley and William H. Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.

After Virtue | Alasdair MacIntyre

The cover of MacIntyre's After VirtueIs there anything left to be said about After Virtue? With this book, Alasdair MacIntyre brought Aristotelian-style virtue ethics back into the modern conversation. It is a true classic, still quoted and built upon today, almost forty years after its original publication date.

After Virtue falls into two parts. The first half of the book is deconstructive. MacIntyre carefully explains how the ethical problems of our time cannot be answered from within our post-Enlightenment framework. The ethical landscape today resembles the ruins of a once great culture. We have bits and pieces of ethical material from the past, but no historical context with which to apply them. Without context there can be no ethical progress beyond the emotivism of the day.

[M]oral judgments are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by these practices. (60)

The second half of After Virtue is constructive. Now that the problem is diagnosed, MacIntyre prescribes Aristotelian medicine. Humans are social creatures, narrative construed toward a telos or goal. It is through the practice of virtues within a community that humans mature and become the sort of people who are able to encounter the moral quandaries of the day.

It is difficult to overstate the value of this book. After Virtue is one carefully argued perspective in which each of the 286 pages adds value. It is multidisciplinary, combining philosophical argument with sociological and historical context. Despite its age, I found myself continually reflecting on current political and social events through MacIntyre’s lens.

This is not a Christian book per se, but it has serious implications for the church. This is the foundation on which Stanley Hauerwas has based his ethical perspective. Pastors who wish to understand the moral makeup of the world and the church would do well to revisit this venerable volume.


MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 3rd Edition. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

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).

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).

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