Tag Archives | ethics

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).

. . .

Continue Reading →

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 …

. . .

Continue Reading →

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.

After You Believe | N. T. Wright

Good things happen when you mash different subjects together (just search for “mashup” on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean). In Wright’s latest book for the public audience, he’s mashed up three topics:

  1. New Testament ethics
  2. Christian virtue
  3. Non-Christian ethics

Here’s the book in a nutshell: We are called to habitually practice the virtues of the Kingdom of God here in the present, so when difficult situations arise we will act according to our second nature (Christian habits) rather than our old nature. Wright develops this theme in quite a bit of detail.

My only criticism of the book is its length. While I love his 800 page works of theology, this could have been trimmed down for the popular audience.

Wright has an uncanny ability to pierce through the quagmire of mushy modern theology and deliver substance that will help the believer live life to the fullest. This is worthwhile reading for anyone who has ever wondered what to do after becoming a believer.

Ezekiel 45:8b-17: Honest Justice

Religious piety is bankrupt without justice.
— Richard Foster (The Challenge of the Disciplined Life)

Nothing’s more frustrating than sitting down in front of some mindless TV drama with a fresh bag of chips, only to open the bag and find it half full. I know they sell it by weight, not volume—that doesn’t matter. What matters is I expect a full bag and get half what I thought I paid for. The latest scam is 100 calorie chocolate bars. Anyone with half a brain knows they’ve just figured out a way to sell less chocolate for more money while making the dumb consumers feel healthy in the process.

Okay, my rant’s over.

Just imagine if that deceptive principle was in place in every area of commerce. Imagine if it was actually deceptive instead of just low-handed.

In the three sections of today’s passage from Ezekiel, God deals with princes. In vv. 8b-9, he demands that they be honest in their real-estate dealings. In vv. 10-12, the princes are charged to make sure their weights and scales are legitimate. Finally, in vv. 13-17, the tax rate on grain, oil, and sheep are set. In the future that God showed Ezekiel dishonesty would still be a temptation, so God set his standards in place from the start.

. . .

In Israel’s history, the rulers would often exercise their right to take a commoner’s land. There’s a good example of this in 1 Kings 21, where King Ahab & Jazebel seized Naboth’s land.

God underlines his determination to deal with this by calling the people his own. Lest the ruler be tempted to think the people belonged to him, God reminded him that the people belonged to God and should be treated with respect.

When it came to weights and balances, it was very easy to deceive the poor. Today, there is no question how much liquid is in a litre (or quart). We know 100 centimetres make a metre, and 12 inches make a foot. In Ezekiel’s day though, standards were hard to come by. It was all too easy to put a false bottom in a clay measuring pot, or juice the weights in your favour.

The question of grain, oil, and sheep taxation is very similar to what the moneychangers were exploiting in the Temple, when Jesus showed up with a whip.

. . .

I guess the question for us is, are we fair in our financial dealings. I don’t mean just legally fair, either. Are we Sermon-on-the-Mount-style ethically impeccable? I’ve seen otherwise good and generous Christians go crazy when it came to finalizing a car or a house deal! If we take Jesus seriously, we need to have the welfare of others in mind when we make deals. Isn’t it better to pay a fair price, then to leverage an under-pressure seller?

Whether buying or selling, the charter of the Kingdom of God demands that we strive to be just like the King himself.

. . .

King of Israel, remind me throughout my day-to-day life to stand for justice.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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