When I present my services as a Christian ethicist, I immediately feel several insufficiencies. My lack of love meter twitches in my mind as lower than desired: Why even talk about a love ethic, when I am so far from this ethic in my life practices? My resolution is to admit to myself I am low, and that I have not arrived and but that I am confident God will help me as “He’s still working on me.” I figure trying to do more ethics will show that and that talking about what I aspire to might help me keep aspiring to it.
The other twitch that automatically click’s in is more deep and disturbing: Why does the book I base this love ethic on—the Bible—seem so devoid of love. Only the most naïve Christian would deny this Holy Book doesn’t have a lot of unholy stories. Hate and killing are everywhere, even among God’s people and apparently even inspired and promoted by God himself. We will try to address this over the next couple of posts in our
Today we dismiss some possible short-cuts to developing a love ethic and then take up the task of offering some possible solutions in later blogs.
Some find it is best to dispense with the Bible altogether in building a good ethic. They base their eithic on other material: like neuroscience or philosophy or, in the case of the social scientist Haidt–on an social analysis of the evolutionary intuitive values that seem well developed in our social species. And most of these author’s I read about seem to have developed a good ethic that grows pretty good lives. My take away, is that there is a lot of evidence out there upon which to build some good ethics. This makes sense to me as a Bible-reader. Proverbs 8 suggests this is the case when God purposely wired into the physical and social world principles of ethics. There is a natural law that makes moral law clearer (see Romans 1:20).
But if we want a theological ethic, and believe keeping ethics and all our moral impulses close to the Maker is a safer place to do ethics, then the Bible, somehow, needs to be involved in the process.
One solution some Christians have is to cherry pick a few scriptures and mix them with Guidepost and Reader’s Digest goodwill stories to build a slogan focused Christian love ethic. And this works for the most part. Most of God’s revelation is clear we are to keep loving. Seeing reminders of love and calls to do good on sofa pillows and picture frames and posters with sayings can go a long way to keep us on track in a love ethic. I even bought a small saying to put on my work bench when I work on projects for myself and others: “You can’t make everyone happy, you are not pizza.” I know it helps me with boundary maintenance, something crucial for real love to flourish. But I wonder how deep my ethic will be anchored if this is its only strengthening resource. They may be like strings on my fingers reminding me of my commitment, but I need deep strategies and understandings to guide a more sophisticated judgment process.
A more sophisticated approach by some Christian’s eager to do ethics from scripture is to “unhinge” the New Testament from the Old Testament. That cuts down on the killing fields one has to tiptoe around. Andy Stanley’s promotes this approach. He often reminds people that the 10 commandments of the OLD were replaced by One commandment of the New Testament, and living in the resurrection creates a whole different ethic. Stanley is one of my favorite Christian speakers and I highly recommend people listen to him but I disagree with him on this point. In fact, when we you get to the last chapter of the New Testament, Revelation, the killing fields are back—and with a global vengeance. Scholars tell us there are about 300 Old Testament references in that book suggesting that even John the Beloved, who had more Jesus time than anyone else, still seems to pull the Old back into the New.
I doubt Christianity makes sense without its Jewish roots. It is too easily Hellenized or made a superficial “love” ethic if it is not kept part of God’s panoramic work of redemption which gets a special message when he works through his chosen people. Here special revelation adds meaning to general revelation all have access to. The privileged arguments of “His people,” both in the Old and New, bring a richer glue to doing ethics. Our ethics and our God-worship can get distorted without the rich connection to the WHOLE of scripture and the WHOLE of God’s work to reveal himself in direct revelation and in general. The resurrection is an especially amazing special revelation and the amazing event with the Cross the New Testament promotes repeadedly. But it is part of a larger story. Doing away with the Old Testament can rob us of figuring out that larger story.
A more melancholy task awaits us who want to stay grounded in scripture in figuring out the good life. It require us to sift through its painful stories with our eyes on God’s eyes. It is to ask Him constantly how this passage should teach us about his loving redemptive ethic he most wants for the human race. It puts the Bible back into the Holy Spirits tool box of His work on our sanctification.
Over the next several blogs, we will try to do this more melancholy task.
Prayer: God, help us in our moral journey. Hold our hands least we stray into legalism or licentiousness and away from your loving path.