Moral Conflicts and Evangelical Ethics: A Second Look at the Salvaging Operations -- By: William F. Luck

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 08:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: Moral Conflicts and Evangelical Ethics: A Second Look at the Salvaging Operations
Author: William F. Luck

Moral Conflicts and Evangelical Ethics:
A Second Look at the Salvaging Operations

William F. Luck

Many evangelical ethicists have rightly reacted to Joseph Fletchers situationalism while wrongly choosing the ground from which to respond. Having conceded to Fletcher the reality of moral conflict among the laws of God, these ethicists must embrace incoherent ethical systems that deal with the wrongly imported moral conflict by introducing what amounts to a situationalism of their own. In particular, examination of the greater good alternative of Norman Geisler and the lesser evil alternative of Erwin Lutzer reveals their failure to avoid situationalism. Their failure substantiates the concept that one cannot have a coherent plural absolutism and yet admit to the conflict of (absolute) moral rules. Since the Scriptures stand solidly behind the presence of a plurality of absolute moral rules, the evangelical ethicist must reject the possibility of real moral conflict.

* * *


Joseph Fletcher thought that he had exposed the folly of any system of morality that was composed of more than one universal obligation. In his Situation Ethics, he argued that traditional, orthodox morality (which he called “legalism”) entangled itself in its own rules.1 Said Fletcher,

as statutes are applied to actual situations, something has to give; some latitude is necessary for doubtful or perplexed consciences. Inexorably, questions arise as to whether in a particular case the law truly applies

(doubt), or as to which of several more or less conflicting laws is to be followed (perplexity).2

“Nothing in the world causes so much conflict of conscience,” continued Fletcher, “as the continual, conventional payment of lip service to moral ‘laws’ that are constantly flouted in practice because they are too petty or too rigid to fit the facts of life.”3

To illustrate the inadequacies of multi-ruled morality, Fletcher strewed his pages with case studies of “perplexity” which he called the “penumbra.”4 And he concluded from their presentation that, “prefab code morality gets exposed as a kind of neurotic security device to simplify moral decisions.”5

Following the publication of Fletcher’s Situation Ethics, there was a flurry of activity on the part of Evangelicals. Most of their concern centered around the confutati...

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