A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Steve West
Table of Contents
Part 1: An Introduction to Ethics
- What Is Christian Ethics?
Part 2: Revealed Reality: The Metaethical Foundations of Ethics as Worship
- Revealed Reality: Ethics as Worship through the Lens of Creation
- Revealed Reality: Ethics as Worship in Light of the Fall, Redemption, and Restoration
- Worship in Spirit and Truth: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Ethics as Worship
- Worship in Spirit and Truth: The Role of the Bible in Ethics as Worship
Part 3: Revealed Morality: The Normative Formulation of Ethics as Worship
- The Normative Methodology for Ethics as Worship: Part 1
- The Normative Methodology for Ethics as Worship: Part 2
- The Problem of Moral Dilemmas: Ethics as Worship in Morally Complex Contexts
Part 4: The Application of Ethics as Worship
- Justice and Social Engagement
- Race, Ethnicity, and Kingdom Diversity
- Wealth and Poverty
- Creation Care and Environmental Stewardship
- Capital Punishment
- Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and End-of-Life Decision-Making
- Biblical Sexuality and Disordered Sexuality
- Marriage and Divorce
- Contraception, Birth Control, and Reproductive Technologies
There are currently a good number of recently published textbooks in the area of evangelical Christian ethics. At this point it seems like the number of basic options and conclusions have largely been settled. For example, there is disagreement about donor sperm for artificial insemination, but there is no disagreement on the unacceptability of elective abortion procedures as a convenient form of birth control. A nod will often be given to pacifism, but some type of just war theory is almost always advocated. Capital punishment will be endorsed in theory, with caveats about care or a call for moratoriums in practice if capital punishment is unjustly and discriminatorily applied. For environmental ethics, non-exploitive stewardship and a theocentric orientation are the order of the day, with the recommendations often falling into the basket of shallow ecology (e.g., reduce, reuse, recycle), and a leaving off to the side a profound engagement with the issue of climate change and ethical responsibilities in light of global discourse concerning that subject.
When judged by the standards of contemporary Christian ethics texts, Ethics as Worship definitely holds its own in general. It deals with the subjects that one expects to find dealt with in such a book, and its arguments and conclusions fall squarely within the pale of evangelicalism. On some issues the authors will be too conservative for some evangelicals, and on other issues too liberal for other evangelicals, but that’s entirely expected. (One exception to this is reading the book on ethics by Wayne Grudem, which falls on the political right-wing side of every issue he deals with. This isn’t surprising, given the fact that a number of chapters of his ethics book were previously published in his book on politics.) The authors do a good job on the issues they deal with, but there are a welter of good books that do a good job on the same issues, even if they have differences in some nuances. If such is the case, what, if anything, makes this particular book unique? What would make it worth buying?
First, don’t underestimate the value of a book that does a competent job dealing with contemporary ethical issues. There are other books that do this as well, but reading several textbooks on evangelical ethics will give you a better sense of the range of the field. Culture is also changing rapidly, and issues that were not normally treated twenty years ago (like the environment, or transgenderism) are being treated today. Even when the main conclusions are the same, the lines of reasoning, evidence, anecdotes, and style of the authors can help round out your perspective or help you see things you had missed before.
Second—and this is the key to this book—the authors take a good deal of time to set up a framework for ethics which is genuinely helpful. They do not merely give a nod to the importance of worldview, they endeavor to establish a biblical-theological worldview in which ethics is at home. Their worldview is not merely, or even primarily, philosophical—it is biblical. It is also not generic, relying on some kind of supreme theistic moral lawgiver. They are Trinitarian and Christocentric in their approach to ethics and theology. They argue that morality and ethics are revealed by God rather than invented by us. They carefully present the importance and function of the Holy Spirit and the Bible in ethics. They take sin seriously. As a result, when they come to deal with particular ethical issues (i.e., the standard topics found in virtually every textbook), they have actually provided a biblical worldview in which reasoning about such issues can be coherent. The reader has been made aware of the biblical grounds and motives for ethics and morality before turning to weigh particular contemporary issues. The authors also don’t leave aside their theological framework and foundation when they evaluate specific topics, either; they continually bring their analysis back to the biblical axioms they previously identified.
The title, Christian Ethics as Worship: The Pursuit of Moral Discipleship is not merely giving things a nice evangelical gloss—it really does capture the theme of the book. The authors see living ethically as irrefragably tied to worship and growth in discipleship. They connect ethics to the Great Commission, evangelism, and world missions. We worship God as we grow in our moral discipleship, and as we make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all of the words of Christ.
Often even evangelical ethicists seem to mainly evaluate issues philosophically, or in terms of balancing individual rights with the greater good of the community, but these authors keep their eye on Christ the whole way through the book. Their vision is healthy and refreshing. Their treatment of ethical issues is generally good, but the work they do in setting out the biblical and theological foundation for Christian ethics is excellent. Perhaps this should go without saying, but without this foundation, the next generation will never have firm ground to stand on, and they’ll be swept away in the rising flood that is anti-biblical and anti-Christian. Before addressing contemporary issues we need a proper, lasting foundation, and this is what the authors provide for us. In so doing, they’ve provided the church—and the world—with a genuine service, and a book that is worth the read.
Steve West (PhD) is pastor of Madoc Baptist Church in Madoc, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Heritage College and Seminary and Toronto Baptist Seminary. He is also an assistant editor here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
ETHICS AS WORSHIP: THE PURSUIT OF MORAL DISCIPLESHIP, by Mark Daniel Liederbach and Evan Lenow