Toward Defining Christian Ethics: An Evaluation Of Contrasting Views -- By: Daniel R. Heimbach

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 08:3 (Jan 2011)
Article: Toward Defining Christian Ethics: An Evaluation Of Contrasting Views
Author: Daniel R. Heimbach


Toward Defining Christian Ethics:
An Evaluation Of Contrasting Views

Daniel R. Heimbach

Professor of Christian Ethics

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

I know of no evangelical scholar today who questions accepting Christian ethics as a valid field of study. Neither do I know any evangelical scholar today who is not also sure he or she knows what Christian ethics means. But, while evangelicals all accept Christian ethics as a valid discipline, we are far from united on what we think it means. This is not good and as James says in the Bible, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (Jas 3:10, KJV). While evangelicals all embrace Christian ethics, we have no common understanding and hold many incompatible views, not just on the end result, but on what we are doing in the first place.

This is in a way understandable because evangelical failure to embrace a single view of Christian ethics accords, not only with the cultural milieu, but also with the fact that no consensus exists among scholars in the field at large, which comprise a body many of whom do not even claim to be Christian. Stanley Hauerwas observes there is among scholars in the field “no consensus about what ethics is or how it should be done.”1 But while non-Christian scholars and those who deny the supernatural can be excused for having trouble understanding what Christian ethics means, this cannot be said for evangelicals. For, as Hauerwas also observes, lack of consensus on what Christian ethics means connects with the way people have become “less and less clear (on) . . . what it „means' to be Christian.”2 But surely evangelicals are not confused about that. Indeed agreeing on what it means to be “Christian” is the very thing by which we define ourselves as “evangelical.” And since we agree on that, we have no excuse for not having a common understanding of what Christian ethics means as well.

Of all people, evangelicals should know of what moral life consists. We of all people should know how God distinguishes right from wrong. We of all people should know the moral significance of living life in, through, and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And even if we differ on some details, we should at least be able to agree on what real Christian ethics really means for real Christians. Do Christian ethics deal with some-thing speculative or prescriptive? Does it deal with something transcendent or mundane? Is it about something supernatural or natural? Is it something old or new? Is it something religious or nonreligious? Is it for the world or only for Christians? Is it for the Here-and-Now-World or for a Not-Yet-Wo...

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