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3 Stars Out Of 5
Solid Reference for Biblical Ethics
March 8, 2011
My interests in reading this title were the following. First, a desire to be better informed on the many ethical fronts Christians find themselves. My personal knowledge on subjects such as abortion, euthanasia/suicide, sexuality, just-war theory, etc. is rather limited. Second, I wanted to see how the authors might use the Scripture to lay a foundational methodology and framework for the discussion. My apologetical method presupposes that with ethics (as all realms of life) the Scriptures are our guide to all things essential to faith and practice. Third, I was curious as to how the authors would approach ethics from an Evangelical tradition. Rather than answer these questions directly, I will let my summary of the book speak to them more holistically.
This work is very comprehensive in its treatment of all subjects considered. The introduction makes it clear that the authors know their field, their terminology, and a helpful manner of dialogue on such sensitive issues. Regardless of the chapter I read, I was constantly surprised at the depth of statistical information, knowledge of many complex scientific and philosophical arguments, and an overt understanding that the authors took no shortcuts. There is something positive to be said for such methodical consideration of details. I definitely learned a lot of new information related to scientific and political spheres in life. This book will make for a handy reference in the future.
The authors did use the Scriptures (starting in the Intro) as a basis for their foundation. Throughout the book the Scriptures are referenced; in making a case, considering objections, and refutations offered. So from a quantitative standpoint it was as expected. I do feel it suffered though in the qualitative use of the Scriptures. The Scriptures were stated as a presupposition for the direction of findings later. But in each chapter biblical evidences were placed alongside a host of points (philosophical, medical, scientific, etc.) So the Scriptures were used, but more to address the particular than to lay a Christian worldview. Maybe more of an evidentialist approach than I am comfortable with. For example, the book did not relate or define biblical doctrines that are fundamental to a proper worldview, such as human nature, providence, sovereignty, suffering, death, and particularly, the resurrection. Each of those must be understood in their relation to Christ. Nor did the book frame Christian virtues such as faith, hope, love, contentment, and wisdom as criteria for people to make decisions through. Reasons for or against a particular point tended to the ethicist terminology given in the introduction.
The Evangelical tradition from which this work is written is apparent in two ways worth mentioning. To be fair, my vantage point if from a confessionally Reformed tradition. In a couple cases I felt there was the tendency to make definitive claims of morality, immorality, or moral obligation, that I believe could be considered legalistic. For example, the authors state it would be preferencial for a woman who had been raped, who then given birth to a child, to offer it up for adoption. They do consider she could keep the baby, but based on their criteria for responsibility, she isn't obligated to keep the baby in any way. Biblically there is more to be said. A second example was with the case of removing a feeding tube and oxygen. The authors determine it is immoral to do so, even in the case of those who have not shown signs of mental or physical activity for years on end. I don't deny a case could be made for such conclusions on a personal level, but to make the rule for the reader is to speak beyond the Scriptures. This relates to my second observation. The concept of Christian Liberty, as discussed in Romans 15 must not be pushed aside. Though Christians have responsibilities which they can't brush aside in order to sin (not antinomian), they have certain freedoms in what their conscience permits (not legalistic). To do otherwise, and act in doubt (apart from faith), is sin. Despite the dangers lurking on many ethical issues, the church (as entrusted with the Keys of the Kingdom in a ministerial capacity) should not speak beyond what the Scriptures declare as such. Allow biblical wisdom to operate there. I believe this is a tendency of Evangelicalism, to sometimes view matters of church polity (gov.), ecclesiology (form), and doctrine, too broadly while viewing matters of faith and practice too narrowly (more fundamentalist).
Overall I do recommend this work for others to read. But I recommend it more as a reference tool than a primary source. There is much knowledge and wisdom contained in its pages, if another primary source could better lay the Scriptural foundation. I would recommend for that task a book such as David VanDrunen's Bioethics and the Christian Life.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
I wanted to read this because I've always loved ethics, but I have to say that when the 800+ page treatise arrived in the mail I seriously considered returning it to sender. I'm long past my academic days of wrestling with lofty topics for the mere purpose of debate and discourse.
But I steeled myself and sat down with the massive text and a cup of tea. What I found was pleasantly surprising. The book tackles a number of hot-button issues, including:
* Stem cell research
* Capital punishment
* Birth control
It isn't the type of reading I'd plow through for the fun of it, but each chapter (or set of chapters) gives systematic, full-range coverage of the topic at hand, all with a solid theological and biblical backing. It's a comprehensive reference for those rough topics, and I think what I like best is how the Feinberg brothers give fair hearing to each side of the equation.
They do so well enough that certain questions that have plagued me for years have now been answered. Each topic has sides presented from the Bible, history, statistics, logic, philosophy... Different sides are heard, and what I like (though some people might not), is that each chapter concludes with a definitive answer. I'm the type who wants to know, is it right or wrong? And while the authors give clear evidence and backing for each side, they give the reader strong guidance as to the final reckoning.
I've turned the tide from wanting to distance myself from this giant `paperweight' to giving it a prized position on my bookshelf as a top reference for my family as we track through major issues.