Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues & Options, Second Edition by Norman L. Geisler In this thorough update of a classic textbook, noted Christian thinker Norman Geisler evaluates contemporary ethical options (such as antinomianism, situation ethics, and legalism) and pressing issues of the day (such as euthanasia, homosexuality, and divorce) from a biblical perspective. The second edition is significantly expanded and updated, with new material and charts throughout the book.
There are new chapters on animal rights, sexual ethics, and the biblical basis for ethical decisions, as well as four new appendixes addressing drugs, gambling, pornography, and birth control. The author has significantly updated his discussion of abortion, biomedical ethics, war, and ecology and has expanded the selected readings, bibliography, and glossary. Christian ethics is well summarized by Colossians 3:1-6: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. ” When we say that the Christian believes that God exists, we mean something significantly different from what many modern people mean when they make that statement.
The Christian believes in a God who is really there, a God who exists as an objective reality — not simply one who exists as a mere postulate. A postulate is something that is assumed to be true even when there is no proof that it is true; it is simply something assumed as a basis for reasoning. Modern theology, for instance, often tells man that God cannot be proved, that He must be accepted purely on faith, and it therefore reduces God to nothing more than a postulate. The Christian’s faith in God, however, unlike the faith of modern man, is a rational faith.
When modern man says that he believes in God and yet says that God cannot be proved, he is accepting the idea of God as a faith-assumption. He has no rational basis for his belief in God, but he merely chooses to assume, against all the evidence, that God is. The Christian’s faith is instead grounded in reality. He believes in God, not because he chooses to believe in Him on the basis of a faith-assumption, but because he knows God is really there; the evidences for His existence are overwhelming.
While more than just a list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” the Bible does give us detailed instructions on how we should live. The Bible is all we need to know about how to live the Christian life. However, the Bible does not explicitly cover every situation we will face in our lives. How then is it sufficient for the all the ethical dilemmas we face? That is where Christian ethics comes in. Science defines ethics as “a set of moral principles, the study of morality.”
Therefore, Christian ethics would be the principles derived from the Christian faith by which we act. While God’s Word may not cover every situation we face throughout our lives, its principles give us the standards by which we must conduct ourselves in those situations where there are no explicit instructions. The term “Christian ethics,” as I shall use it, means a systematic study of the way of life exemplified and taught by Jesus, applied to the manifold problems and decisions of human existence.
It therefore finds its base in the last of these frames of reference, and in the other five only as they are consistent with the sixth and exist as applications or implications of the moral insights of Jesus. This is not to claim that we have a perfect record of the life and teachings of Jesus, for historical scholarship has made it clear that the records we have in the Gospels reflect not only what Jesus was and did and said, but also what the early Church believed about him.
Still less is it to claim that any fallible human mind can enter so fully into the divine-human consciousness of Jesus as to say without error what his judgment would be in every concrete case of contemporary decision, It is only to affirm that we have an adequate, a dependable, and an indispensable guide to Christian action in what we know of Jesus and in what through him we know of God. No other guide, however important and useful, is either adequate, or so dependable, or so indispensable.
The Bible does not say anything explicitly about the use of illegal drugs, yet based on the principles we learn through Scripture; we can know that it is wrong. For one thing, the Bible tells us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we should honor God with it Knowing what drugs do to our bodies—the harm they cause to various organs—we know that by using them we would be destroying the temple of the Holy Spirit. That is certainly not honoring to God. The Bible also tells us that we are to follow the authorities that God Himself has put into place (Romans 13:1).
Given the illegal nature of the drugs, by using them we are not submitting to the authorities but are rebelling against them. Does this mean if illegal drugs were legalized it would be ok? Not without violating the first principle. By using the principles we find in Scripture, Christians can determine the ethical course for any given situation. In some cases it will be simple, like the rules for Christian living we find in Colossians, chapter 3. In other cases, however, we need to do a little digging. The best way to do that is to pray over God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit indwells every believer, and part of His role is teaching us how to live: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26) “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27) So, when we pray over Scripture, the Spirit will guide us and teach us.
He will show us the principles we need to stand on for any given situation. While God’s Word does not cover every situation we will face in our lives, it is all sufficient for living a Christian life. For most things, we can simply see what the Bible says and follow the proper course based on that. In ethical questions where Scripture does not give explicit instructions, we need to look for principles that can be applied to the situation. We must pray over His Word, and open ourselves to His Spirit. The Spirit will teach us and guide us through the Bible to find the principles on which we need to stand so we may live as a Christian should.
Ethics is the study of good and evil, right and wrong. Biblical Christian ethics is inseparable from theology because it is grounded in the character of God. The task of Christian ethics, then, is to determine what conforms to God’s character and what does not. Francis Schaeffer explains the uniqueness of Christian ethics: “One of the distinctions of the Judeo-Christian God is that not all things are the same to Him. That at first may sound rather trivial, but in reality it is one of the most profound things one can say about the Judeo–Christian God.
He exists; He has a character; and not all things are the same to Him. Some things conform to His character, and some are opposed to His character. ”?? Muslims believe that moral norms are arbitrary, a product of God’s decree, and therefore can change as God chooses. Marxists and Secular Humanists rely almost exclusively on their economic or naturalistic philosophy to determine ethics. Postmodernists argue for a morality based on shared “community” values and Cosmic Humanists assume that everyone acts morally by following inner truth determined on an individual basis.
Christians, on the other hand, believe that moral norms come from God’s nature or essence. Rather than believing in some passing fancy bound to society’s ever-changing whims, as Christians we are committed to a specific moral order revealed to us through both general and special revelation. ?We know that God’s ethical order is the only true source of morality, and, in fact, the only possible morality, there can be no other. “The human mind,” says C. S. Lewis, “has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.”
For the Christian, the moral order is as real as the physical order—some would say even more real. The Apostle Paul says the physical order is temporary, but the order “not seen” is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). This eternal moral order is a reflection of the character and nature of God Himself. Christian ethics, in one sense, is simply an expansion of a moral order that is generally revealed to everyone. Despite some disagreement regarding the morality of specific actions, Calvin D. Linton comments on the consistency of the moral code within all people everywhere: “ . . . [T]here is a basic pattern of similarity among [ethical codes].
Such things as murder, lying, adultery, cowardice are, for example, almost always condemned. The universality of the ethical sense itself (the ‘oughtness’ of conduct), and the similarities within the codes of diverse cultures indicate a common moral heritage for all mankind which materialism or naturalism cannot explain. ”3 ?? We may define this common moral heritage as anything from an attitude to a conscience, but however we define it, we are aware that some moral absolutes do exist outside ourselves.
According to this universal moral code, whenever we pass judgment we are relying upon a yardstick that measures actions against an absolute set of standards. Without a standard, justice could not exist; without an ethical absolute, morality could not exist. This objective, absolute standard is apparent throughout humanity’s attitudes toward morality. According to a secular philosophy, we should treat all morals as relative—but in practice, even secular society treats some abstract values (such as justice, love, and courage) as consistently moral.
Secular society also cringes at the Nazi holocaust, the Russian prison system of Siberian gulags, and the abuse of children. We cannot explain this phenomenon unless we accept the notion that certain value judgments apply universally and are somehow inherent to all mankind. ?? Christian morality is founded on the conviction that an absolute moral order exists outside of, and yet somehow is inscribed into, our very being. It is a morality flowing from the nature of the Creator through the nature of created things, not a construction of the human mind.
It is part of God’s general revelation. “At the core of every moral code,” says Walter Lippman, “there is a picture of human nature, a map of the universe, and version of history. To human nature (of the sort conceived), in a universe (of the kind imagined), after a history (so understood), the rules of the code apply. ”4 ?? This moral light is what the Apostle John refers to as having been lit in the hearts of all men and women—”The true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9, NIV).
It is what the Apostle Paul calls “the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience” (Romans 2:15). ?? This morality is not arbitrarily handed down by God to create difficulties for us. God does not make up new values according to whim. Rather, God’s innate character is holy and cannot tolerate evil or moral indifference—what the Bible calls sin. Look in any concordance of the Bible, and it becomes apparent that one of the words, which appear most frequently, is “sin. ” From first to last, sin is the story of man’s behavior, even as salvation from sin is the great theme of the Bible.
Christianity is through and through a religion of redemption, and while the whole gamut of salvation is not expressed in redemption from sin, this is its central core. Although, as we noted, naturalism and humanism tend to think of sin as an outmoded concept and talk instead about maladjustment, insecurity, neurosis, or antisocial conduct, the term remains in the diction of Christians. But what does it mean? There is no clear agreement as to its meaning, and the ambiguity with which sin is regarded is responsible for much ineffectiveness in Christian preaching and in Christian living.
To some persons, and probably to the majority of ordinary Christian laymen, sin means transgression of those standards of conduct usually accepted by the people around them. A Christian is expected not to kill, steal, lie, commit adultery or other sexual infractions, or get drunk. How far he can move in these directions, as in exploiting others to one’s own gain, driving a shrewd deal or pursuing an advantage, stretching the truth, “having a little affair,” or drinking in moderation, depends for most persons less on the will of God or the revelation of God in Jesus Christ than on what is and what is not done in one’s community.
The community, though it embraces the geographical area in which one lives, is a far more pervasive thing than this, for a community is in a large part defined by the social standards of like-minded people. For this reason conflicts as to what constitutes sin often arise between the younger and older generations, or between ministers and their laymen, or between the people of one church and another. Take, for example, the matter of drinking a glass of wine or beer. To some Christians this is a sin. To others, if it is done in moderation, it has no more significance than to drink a cup of coffee.
Some regard it as sinful for a minister to drink, but not for a layman — and still more is this disparity in evidence with regard to smoking. A Roman Catholic or an Anglican or a German Lutheran Christian is likely to take a much freer view of such indulgences than is an American Methodist. I am not at this point trying to say who is right. What this illustrates is the ambiguity that emerges when the attempt is made to define sin, or “a sin,” by accepted social practice. A large part of the message of Jesus was the challenging of both Pharisaic and Gentile ideas of sin by a higher law.
The chief danger in defining sin by accepted social practice is not its ambiguity. This, if recognized, can be made the basis of mutual tolerance while holding to one’s own convictions. Thus, Christians may sincerely differ as to the duty of the Christian to be, or not to be, a pacifist; but if one forms his opinion only by the standards of his group and then calls it the will of God for all, God has actually been left out of the picture. This procedure constantly happens, from the most insignificant matters to the greatest, and is a major source of the perversion of Christian ethics.