Tag Archives | morality

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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The Christian Existentialist | Bernard Häring

The cover of Härings The Christian ExistentialistThis book made me nervous. While I have been formed intellectually by many themes of existentialism (see my review of The Committed Self), the existential emphasis on individualism is troublesome, theologically. The Christian is never a mere individual, but a member of an interdependent body with Christ at the head holding his body (along with the whole created order) together.

These four lectures, from one of the formulators of the ecumenism of Vatican II, quickly put my fears to rest. The very first lecture differentiates Personalism (Häring’s viewpoint) from mere Individualism. Individualistic existentialism embraced in various forms by Heidegger, Sartre, and de Beauvoir “aims at man’s stepping out of an anonymous existence and emerging from himself in true being-one’s own” (22). Fully developed personalism, on the other hand, portrays a person who steps out of anonymous existence as a mere functionary in a technological machine into communities of love where “he once again feels himself a man in the full sense of the word, i.e., he becomes a person” (9). This Personalism is fundamentally Christian: “a personalism of encounter and community in word and love” (11).

The second and third lectures discuss the intertwined ideas of morality, conscience and freedom. “The fully developed Christian conscience,” writes Häring, “is inseparable from a loving regard for one’s neighbor and a presence before God in faith and love” (57).

The final lecture, “A Christian Existentialism in the Perspective of Salvation History,” was a compelling exposition of the Christian virtue of prudence. The word prudence today is closely associated with the pejorative epithet “prude,” as in someone who has limited their freedom. Häring takes a richer view. Prudence is “the art of adapting our action to the redemptive actions of Christ within the whole history of salvation and in the context of a present salvific community.” Prudence is nothing less than an attentive alignment with the kairos of God’s pneumatic presence in the world.

Existentialism embraces a broad gamut of thought from Nietzsche to Buber. Häring shows that existentialism and Christianity not only fit together, they enable thoughtful Christians to reflect deeply on the their existence and responsibility before God.

Häring, Bernard. The Christian Existentialist: The Philosophy and Theology of Self-Fulfillment in Modern Society. The Deems Lectures. New York: New York University Press, 1968.

How Does God Reveal Himself? | Jacques Ellul

Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity is just too good to contain within one Weekend Wisdom post. Here’s the second of five good quotes:

God does not reveal by means of a philosophical system or a moral code or a metaphysical construction. He enters human history and accompanies his people.

—Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity, 23.

Morality as Art | Eugene H. Peterson

Here’s the third of six posts from Peterson’s Practice Resurrection on morality:

The Christian life does not start with moral behavior. We don’t become good in order to get God. But having been brought into the operations of God, moral behavior provides forms for maturing in a resurrection life. Moral acts are forms in the sense that a pottery vase gives form to a bouquet of flowers, in the sense that a bucket provides a container for getting water from the well to the kitchen, in the sense that a bugle gives form to a compressed column of air so that taps can be played. Moral acts are art forms for arranging and giving expression to resurrection.

Ezekiel 22:1-16: Don’t Forget

Better to sleep in a house full
of adders and venomous beasts
than sleep in one sinne.
— William Fenner

Ezekiel is not the kind of book that reads like a novel. (You have probably guessed that by now!) Instead, it’s a collection of prophecies that God gave Ezekiel to deliver. Many of these prophecies are self-contained; meaning, they have their own internal structure and form. Chapter 22 is a good example of his.

Chapter 22 is God’s legal response to Jerusalem. The chapter is full of language and customs borrowed from the courtroom.

  1. In the first 16 verses, God indicts Jerusalem.
  2. In verses 17-22, God delivers his judgment on Jerusalem.
  3. In verses 23-31, God explains why he judged Israel—evoking many of the themes from the first 16 verses.

Let’s look at the first 16 verses now.

. . .

One of the biggest paradoxes in Christianity is the tension between moralism and morality. Moralism is the human-centred attempt to make God happy with you by living the way he wants you to. Morality is how we live in response to God’s grace (moralism=bad; morality=good). In life, however, these definitions constantly intermingle.

The maxim is true: we are saved by grace. Yet that grace should stir in us a loyalty and love for the person who offered it to us. God is faithful to us, we need to respond in faith to Him.

. . .

In many passages of Scripture, God clearly lists how he expects us to live. In the New Testament, we have the sin-lists of Paul. In the Old Testament, the prophets remind us. In God’s indictment of Jerusalem, there are 10 behavioural issues that God is concerned about:

  1. The leaders are guilty of shedding blood. While this most commonly refers to murder, it can also be a critique of improper worship (animal sacrifices that deal with blood). Whenever I read about murder and its punishment, I can’t help but remember Jesus words on the topic: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; . . . But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22, NRSV).
  2. The people dishonour their parents. Honouring your parents is one of the ten commandments, and is therefore central in the moral consciousness of the Jewish people.
  3. Immigrants, orphans, and widows are extorted. God’s love for the underprivileged is a common thread that ties both testaments together.
  4. They broke the Sabbath. This is another of the ten commandments that Jerusalem was ignoring. Sabbath rest was meant to be a blessing and marker of God’s covenant people—and they were ignoring it to be like the surrounding nations.
  5. People slander others. This can be tied to the commandment against lying, but is more fully expressed throughout the Bible in the exhortations to avoid gossip.
  6. They participate in pagan ritual meals. This is what was meant by “those in you who eat upon the mountains” (v. 9, NRSV). Idolatry (spiritual adultery) is a perennial temptation.
  7. They indulged in a variety of sexual sins. You can read the list of particulars for yourself. The bottom line is that they ignored God’s guidelines for community life to indulge their own passions.
  8. They accept bribes for murder. Judges are commanded in Exodus 23:8 never to take a bribe. Bribery perverts justice.
  9. They extort their neighbours by charging too much interest. God made it clear in the Torah that the Israelite community was to be generous to each other.
  10. “You have forgotten me, says the Lord GOD” (v. 12, NRSV).  Ouch.

. . .

While trying to avoid lapsing into moralism, I believe that God still cares about the same sorts of things now that he did then.  This might be a good time to read through that list and think about how those same actions permeate our society, and even our lives.

. . .

Omniscient God, search my heart. Help me to live a godly life, in response to your costly gift. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Ezekiel 22:17-22 | Fiery Furnace >

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