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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Christian Ethics" (Wayne Grudem)

TITLE: Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning
AUTHOR: Wayne Grudem
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (1296 pages).

What are the basis for moral reasoning? What are the differences between morality, immorality, and amorality? Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today? Absolutely! Indeed, as society becomes more secular and moral reasoning replaced by amoral philosophies, we become more confused and less convicted about what is the right thing to do. Things may be legally right but ethically wrong. How then do we do our part to retain basic human decency in the things we do or say? Without any guide, we are left to our own devices and we are prone to make serious misjudgments about what we ought to do in the light of societal pressures and what basic norms should be. This is especially so for Christians who are increasingly been challenged by the world to give a defense of the gospel and the basis for moral reasoning. We need help in order to structure our thoughts and to understand the Bible's principles for moral reasoning. Here we see the brilliance of Bible teacher and theologian, Wayne Grudem, who guides us through the basics of understanding what ethics was; what the Bible teaches; the purpose of ethics; the need for God's laws in society; and many fundamental elements on how we should anchor our ethical framework based on biblical principles. In a clear and concise manner, he leads us through each of the ten commandments and shows us the relevance of the ancient laws for modern times. Most crucially, he tells us why we follow ethical principles. That is because of the glory of God. He explains the different kinds of ethics that we have today: Deontological; teleological; relativism; virtue ethics; among the various normative ethics, and compares them with biblical ethics. He cautions us as we study Christian Ethics not to presume we could "improve upon" biblical ethics. The reason why we study is because we want to better know God's will for us. This is perhaps the key point to take home as we read this book. For reference, the ten commandments are:

  1. No other gods before the LORD
  2. No graven image
  3. No misuse of the LORD's Name
  4. Keep the Sabbath
  5. Honour your parents
  6. You shall not murder
  7. You shall not commit adultery
  8. You shall not steal
  9. You shall not bear false witnesses
  10. You shall not covet.
The book is framed as follows:
  1. Part One - Ethics for Today
  2. Part Two - Protecting God's Honour (Commandments 1-4)
  3. Part Three - Protecting Human Authority (Commandment 5)
  4. Part Four - Protecting Human Life (Commandment 6)
  5. Part Five - Protecting Marriage (Commandment 7)
  6. Part Six - Protecting Property (Commandment 8)
  7. Part Seven - Protecting Purity of Heart (Commandments 9-10)
Grudem covers a lot of ground. Part One sets the stage for the relevance of biblical principles for modern ethics. He deals with questions surrounding Christian ethics and the ultimate basis for ethics. He defines Christian Ethics as:
"any study that answers the question, 'What does the whole Bible teach us about which acts, attitudes, and personal character traits receive God's approval, and which do not?'" 
He boldly declares that the Bible is essential for our everyday living. Knowing the many different modes of opposition by an unbelieving society, he argues that the commandments should still be taught regardless of opposition. The way forward is to do it gently and sensitively. In fact, the bigger concern is about Christians who are becoming more apathetic about the ethical state of the world today. So Grudem goes to list down the authority, the clarity, the necessity, and the sufficiency of Scripture for daily living. This is important because without it, this book would be meaningless. Those who reject or ignore the Bible would be doing so at their own risk. Each chapter is structured in a way that makes this book an excellent textbook for students of ethics and Church school curriculum. There is the explanation of the meaning of the commandment followed by the rationale behind it. He dives into the nitty-gritty of both ancient and modern contexts before showing us that the commandment is still crucial for proper functioning of any society. This is followed by a list of probing questions for personal application and a list of resources for further research. One interesting feature is the placement of hymns at the end of each chapter to remind us that Christian Ethics is not simply about good works, it is about godly worship. It is about honouring God. It is about dependence on Him to help us do the things that bring glory to His Name.

My Thoughts
First, this is an excellent primer for studies about Christian Ethics. Grudem is systematic about laying down the basics about the meaning of the commandments and the basis of how human ethics grow out from. Students will find a huge collection of topics that are meaningful for our society today. Even though Grudem's background is more conservative, the format and approach can be easily understood which is a key criteria for good textbooks. As an introduction, readers are made aware of the many different perspectives out of any one topic. He is not afraid to make known his views. At the same time, he opens the topic for us to consider the different perspectives.

Second, Grudem is not afraid to deal with controversial or contentious issues. There are many topics of interest such as capital punishment; suicide; racial discrimination; aging and death; marriage; birth control; divorce and remarriage; homosexuality and transgender issues; financial stewardship; corporate thefts; environmental protection; and many more. Though one does not have to agree with everything the author says, most of us would agree that the topics highlighted are of high relevance for our society today. The value in this book is not the opinion expressed per se, but the methodical steps to explain what the ethical issue is and how to go about understanding God's point of view and ours.

Third, Grudem makes not apology for his theological stand. He readily compares and contrasts different opinions without compromising his own beliefs. At the same time, he puts forth the reasons for differing with dissenting views. One of the ways he does so is to make a difference between biblical principles and personal opinions. Grudem does not compromise on the former but gives ample room for differences in opinions.

I would recommend this book for personal study of Christian Ethics as well as for preachers wanting to preach a series on the Ten Commandments. This resource is an essential resource for any library collection.

Wayne Grudem is Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. He has published 22 books and is also the General Editor for the ESV Study Bible, published in 2009.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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