God’s Commands and Christian Ethics (Jan-Feb 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
January – February, 2005

Every Christian ought to read Christian Ethics: The Issues of Life and Death, edited by Larry Chouinard, David Fiensy, and George F. Pickens.

The book is so valuable, we’ve decided to review several of the chapters in detail and provide four whole chapter excerpts and offer a link to purchase the book.

It also goes a long way in setting the stage for our Wineskins issue on ethics and points us toward an ethic that is grounded in who God is. In other words, we are talking about ethics with a theological foundation.

Why should every Christian read this multi-author work? As the title says, it deals with issues every human experiences—life and death and the way we live in between. Ethics deals with the questions of right and wrong, but it runs so much deeper than the average person may perceive on first glance.

This volume in particular covers four major parts of ethics:

 

  • Ethical Foundations
  • Social Ethical Issues
  • The Family and Ethical Choices
  • The Christian and Medical Ethics

The eighteen writers, says one of the editors, George F. Pickens, share three things in common: the belief that ethics ought to be “rooted in Christian Scripture,” that Christians are called to live distinctly from the culture around us, and the third thing they have in common is that they all share a religious community background of the Stone-Campbell (Restoration) Movement.

Chapter 1: God’s Commands and Christian Ethics: A Theology of Christian Life (PDF)

Written by Ron Highfield, the first chapter, “God’s Commands and Christian Ethics: A Theology of Christian Life,” shows first the problem of ethics: that many try to do ethics without any grounding except ideas such as “utilitarian preferences,” which could also be called an ethic of selfishness, doing what comes natural to the individual. The bad news is that many Christians are doing this, in some cases by default without thinking about it.

Highfield’s essay does not brush aside the conversation on ethics but introduces concepts important in understanding ethics in general and Christian ethics specifically. He says, “Christian ethics, as I conceive it, seeks to understand the truth, justice, and moral excellence of the commands of God.” He goes on to lay out an ethic that is grounded in who God is—he believes Christian ethics cannot be divorced from theology, otherwise it ceases to be Christian ethics. Ethics, then, begins with a worshipful response to the God of the universe who created and sustains us, who has been acting to reconcile us in the world, and who provides a glorious hope for us.

Here you can see an ethic that is not built from a list of rules but from a litany of God’s wondrous acts. Highfield moves to a “draw you in” discussion of “shadow ethics,” which is the opposite of ethics done ought of theological concerns of living in the image of Christ. Instead, shadow ethics assume we can act as our own gods. Don’t think this section is for someone else. The practical concern for ethics is to live them out. Yes, ethical dilemmas abound, as will be laid out in sections in the book (and in this issue of Wineskins) concerning homosexuality, medical ethics, non-violence, capital punishment, aiding the poor. But the rub of ethics, as Mark Twain famously spoke of, is not only the confusion of difficult to understand issues or Scripture but doing what we know is plainly right.New Wineskins

Order Christian Ethics Parma Press, 2004.

Greg TaylorGreg Taylor is managing editor of New Wineskins magazine.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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