This is gonna sorta kick off a quasi-series of posts on Christian ethics, which will overlap with the series on knowledge that I’ve at least implied by the title of “Knowledge 1.” Now, if there are suggestions of uncertainty in that sentence you just read, and already in this sentence, that is (or maybe it is?) deliberate. If I start saying anything about ethics, especially ethics labeled “Christian” or “biblical,” or about knowledge for that matter, then there will be lots of uncertainty.
But, lest one group of people starts applauding and another gets up and clicks out, let me mention that I believe that lots of things are right to do and others are wrong to do, no matter who you are or where you live. Just in case you really like or really (really!) dislike moral fuzziness, that’s not one of the ways in which I am fuzzy.
First off, is there such a thing as Christian ethics? Let me give my non-answer, right here in my uncertain non-blog, in the form of a bunch of tightly disconnected statements:
In the Bible,
- people get into trouble for the first time for trying to get at “knowledge of good and evil,”
- all humanity gets into trouble another time for trying to organize themselves and work together as a community,
- sinners are accepted by God, the alienation having been solved at his initiative and his expense,
- laws are considered a problem, and
- people who are ostensibly righteous are rejected by God.
How, then, can we expect to construct an ethics on the basis of the Bible?
- In liberal theology, ethics judges the gospel.
- In liberation theology, the gospel serves ethics.
- In evangelical theology with “principles,” the gospel provides ethical rules.
- In biblical theology, there is no ethics, just obedience to the gospel.
If we have ethics,
- we know what to do,
- we have to know what to do,
- we can fail,
- we can fall,
- we can judge,
- we judge ourselves, and
- we can think that we are independent of God.
Even if we have ethics, we do not know what to do.
- If we obey God, we need not know what to do.
- If we believe the gospel, we can never fall.
- Jesus said “Judge not.”
- God is both our Judge and our Savior.
- Salvation is the premise of all that we do as Christians. It is not an ethical issue.
- Ethics is the attempt to transplant the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from God’s garden into our own, so that we can always have another taste.
- Discipleship is what we have instead of ethics.
The knowledge of good and evil appears to be the goal of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to supersede that knowledge. This attack on the presuppositions of all other ethics is so unique that it is questionable whether it even makes sense to speak of Christian ethics at all. If it is nevertheless done, then this can only mean that Christian ethics claims to articulate the origin of the whole ethical enterprise, and thus to be considered an ethic only as the critique of all ethics.
For Christian ethics, the mere possibility of knowing about good and evil is already a falling away from the origin. Living in the origin human beings know nothing but God alone.
That about says it.
- “people who are ostensibly righteous”: Matthew 9:12-13.
- “laws are considered a problem”: Romans 7:5-11; 8:3.
- “all humanity gets into trouble”: Babel.
- “The knowledge of good and evil appears to be the goal … ”: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works 6; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005) 299-300. I’ve quoted it before and will again.