Why should Christians care about ethics?

In this blog entry, Dr. Todd Daly explains why ethics matters:

CT510 Christian Ethics

At first glance, the discipline of Christian ethics seems fairly straight forward, almost to the point of being unnecessary. What, after all, could Christian ethics possibly tell us that that Bible can’t? Isn’t Christian ethics really just about learning to apply the Bible to one’s life? Certainly, this basic understanding of Christian ethics has much to commend, but this description also leaves several critical questions unanswered, questions that take us deeper into the dynamics of the Christian life and indeed the discipline of Christian ethics itself.

While it is good and proper to agree that the Bible is our primary source for daily life, and that the whole of Scripture should be consulted, we must still ask some basic questions about how the Old Testament Law relates to morality in the New Testament. Why, for instance, do we not morally condemn those who wear clothes of mixed fabric, since Leviticus 19:19 clearly forbids the practice? More generally, what parts of the Old Testament carry over into the New? And is it right to view the New Testament as simply a new set of laws based on the life of Christ and the writings of Paul? Or, more fundamentally, is the concept of law the best way to depict how the Bible contributes to ethics? Should we interpret Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount simply as a new set of even more stringent demands where lust is equated with adultery and hate with murder?

We are also faced with other issues that the Bible does not directly address. The mind boggling explosion of technology that daily increases our control over matters of procreation, life, and death present us a dizzying array of options regarding having children, and when and how our lives will end. What are we to make of such technologies? Should Christians use the widely-available prenatal testing in order to detect for chromosomal abnormalities? Should it matter that a great majority of the identifiable conditions are incurable? What is the moral status of the embryo? We about those who are confused about their gender identity? Can transsexual surgery ever be condoned? Moreover, there are perennial ethical questions that continue to be relevant today: When is war a justifiable option? How do governments fit in with God’s rule? What does a ‘good death’ look like?

Finally, considering these important questions might lead one to conclude that Christian ethics is mainly about solving moral dilemmas. While this is part of the discipline, there are other elements of Christian ethics that consider the character-shaping actions and decisions of life. In short, what does Jesus have to say about Christian ethics? It may be surprising to find that the life and teachings of Jesus in Scripture are often marginalized in Christian discussions about war (Who would Jesus kill?). But Christian ethics is also concerned with who we become, which means that the teachings of Christ should have something to say about cultivating certain kinds of virtue. In an age where our default mode of moral deliberation often fall along consequentialist lines—i.e. the end justifies the means—Christian ethics challenges us not only to consider the teachings of the Bible, but exhorts us to become certain kinds of people. Frankly, when these considerations are brought to bear on today’s moral problems, Christian ethics often identifies moral problems to which other ethical systems see none.

This spring, Dr. Todd Daly will be teaching a modular course over four weekends that is designed to help us wrestle with these complex theological and moral issues. For more information about how to enroll in CT510 Christian Ethics, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org