Monday, August 01, 2016

BookPastor >> "Evangelical Ethics" (John Jefferson Davis)

This review was first published on Feb 24th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today, Fourth Edition
AUTHOR: John Jefferson Davis
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2015, (400 pages).

We are living in precarious times. As technology advances everywhere, the moral frameworks for decision making continues to keep up. What good is science and technology if they fail to address the holistic benefits of human beings? What good is a piece of technology if it is used to harm others? How can Christians formulate their decision making in the light of modern technological advancements? While there is a general sense of pros and cons for everything, brainstorming does not equal decision making. We need guidance far more than ever. Some of the brightest kids in science and technology are young and inexperienced. Some of the oldest and most experienced people lack the innovation and vitality that the younger generation possess. The question before us is: How do we make sense of the moral decision making in the light of these advancements? For Christians, we need a framework to help us think through the issues wisely and biblically. Yet, even Christians disagree on how to interpret biblical principles for modern issues. Enter this book on "evangelical ethics" which paves the way for evangelicals to think in a tradition they hold. Some of the decision making parameters include:

  • What constitutes general Biblical commands vs specific directives?
  • What is prescriptive and deontological? (focusing on rules for right action)
  • Is there less appeal for exterior in favour of interior dispositions?
  • To what extent do we apply human reasoning over biblical injunctions?
  • What about conflict between two legitimate views? 
  • What are the limits of "situation ethics" (ethics depending on love)?
  • Can "contextual absolutism" (assumption of the existence of a morally right decision) hold sway over difficult issues?
  • How do we deal with "telling the truth" when it threatens the saving of human lives? Case of Lie vs Life.
  • In a pluralistic society, how can one apply biblical principles in a situation that involves non-believers?
  • What about the first amendment? While the constitution does not have the words "separation of church and state," there is still debate over the separation of values vs institutional separation. 
  • ...
As far as the author is concerned, the general principle used is: "Where Scripture indicates that unbelievers can have moral awareness on a given issue through general revelation, then it may be appropriate for Christians to press for legislation in that area." Those seeking to influence public policy must learn that civil law has limitations and is often not the best way for social change. John Jefferson Davis is Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He authored this book back in 1985 and this book is now in its fourth edition, a testimony to its influence in evangelical circles. The issues tackled are:
  • Contraception
  • Reproductive Technologies
  • Divorce and Remarriage
  • Homosexuality
  • Abortion
  • Termination of Treatment, Infanticide, and Euthanasia
  • Capital Punishment
  • Civil Disobedience and Revolution
  • War and Peace
  • Environmental Ethics, History, Issues, and Values
  • Genetics
  • Slavery, Race, and Racism in America
The chapter on slavery and racism is a new chapter added, to reflect on the recent cases of racial violence and discontent. Many of the statistical material have also been updated for the times with additional discussion questions to guide the reader and student. The listing of key terms and the expanded bibliography makes this book a lot more complete as a text for evangelical ethics. Davis is very comprehensive in the coverage of the issues concerned. The chapter on marriage and divorce is particularly enlightening as he draws in Old Testament texts and Jewish laws, and weaves them in together with New Testament interpretations. Divorce is a result of sin and remarriage in itself should not be taken lightly. Davis spends considerable time on the divisive topic of homosexuality.Despite the recent acceptance of homosexuality in the West, Davis shows us that the same-sex orientation is nothing new. Throughout history, based on data from various cultures, all known cultures are strongly based on heterosexual relationships. He probes the medical findings that propose a homosexual gene. He looks at the witness of Scripture. He tackles the medical risks. He points out that sin has disordered all of life, including our sexuality. The other issues are dealt with using lots of scholarship views, data, biblical references, and Davis' summary of the findings and tips from a pastoral and theological angle. The tips themselves are worth the price of the book.

One glaring omission is the moral complexity surrounding intellectual property rights in a digital age. Things like private vs public interests when talking about information sharing; the use of the Internet; the implications of social media; and the rising conflict between the connected and the disconnected. What about the rapid distribution of news yet to be vetted for factual accuracy? This is still one of the best texts on Christian ethics and I would recommend this highly for anyone interested in the field of tackling difficult issues from a Christian perspective. If you want a book that methodically traces the history, the changing perspectives, the controversies, and most importantly, a respectable use of Scriptures to point the way forward, this is a good resource to help us be contextually thoughtful and biblically grounded. 

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of P & R Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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