Theological Basis Of Ethics -- By: Larry D. Pettegrew

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 11:2 (Fall 2000)
Article: Theological Basis Of Ethics
Author: Larry D. Pettegrew


Theological Basis Of Ethics

Larry D. Pettegrew

Professor of Theology

Systematic theology must serve as a foundation for any set of moral standards that pleases God and fulfills human nature. Establishing such a set is difficult today because of the emergence of the postmodernism which denies the existence of absolute truth, absolute moral standards, and universal ethics. Advances in science, medicine, and technology increase the difficulty of creating a system of Christian ethics. The inevitable connection between ethics and systematic theology requires that one have a good foundation in systematic theology for his ethics. A separation between the two fields occurred largely as a result of the Enlightenment which caused theology to be viewed as a science. Since the study of a science must be separate from a religious perspective, theology underwent a process of becoming a profession and the responsibility for educating theologians became the responsibility of the college rather than the church. This solidified the barrier between theology and ethics. Who God is must be the root for standards of right and wrong. God’s glory must be the goal of ethics. Love for God must be the basis for one’s love for and behavior toward his fellow man. Other doctrines besides the doctrine of God, especially bibliology, play an important role in determining right ethical standards.

* * * * *

One of the most popular American movies last year was based on a book by John Irving entitled The Cider House Rules. The Cider House Rules tells the story of a young man eager to discover what life is like outside of the orphanage in which he has spent his childhood years. He ends up working on an apple farm where numerous ethical and moral issues confront him. According to a glowing recommendation from the Houston Post, “The Cider House Rules is filled with people to love and to feel for…. The characters in John Irving’s novel break all the rules, and yet they remain noble and free spirited.”1

The story and the American public’s positive reaction to it illustrate a number of serious ethical questions. Are rules often irrelevant? Are most standards

out of date? Do standards of right and wrong vary according to the circumstances? How can one decide what is right and wrong in any given situation? Is it possible that different communities can have equally valid, but contradictory standards? Ethicists have proposed answers to these questions. Some have insisted that the essence of ethics is obedience to laws (deontological ethics). Others have said that the essence of ethics...

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