Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 1)

Every time I come back to The Master’s Seminary I feel like I’m coming home. I suppose that’s because I spent so much time here in college and seminary, but for me there’s just something special about this place.

Our class started promptly at 8am with a few introductions and then Dr. Feinberg launched us into our study of Issues in Christian Ethics. He began by pressing the point that Christians have something weighty to say about the current ethical issues that face our culture and that we do ourselves a great disservice by not speaking to these issues in a public fashion. 

The issues that we’re going to cover in this class are 1) Foundations of Christian Decision Making, 2) Euthanasia, 3) Homosexuality, 4) Genetic Engineering with a special focus on the ethical implications of In Vitro Fertilization and 5) Divorce and Remarriage. So, in other words 4 of the most controversial topics in our day.

We spent the rest of our time today talking about “Foundations of Christian Decision Making”, which for the most part included a lot of terms, definitions, etc. that just help to set the stage. So, while there wasn’t anything particularly controversial about today’s class there were three very powerful lessons that I took away with me.

1) There is a very important distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language in Scripture. Descriptive language tells us about what happened, while prescriptive language tells us what we ought to do. One of the great mistakes that Christians make when it comes to ethics is taking things that are described in the Bible and turning them into prescriptions for how we are to live today.

2) In order for someone to be accountable for their actions, they must be free to act. In other words, “No one can be held morally accountable for doing what they could not fail to do or for failing to do what they could not do.” That’s kind of a mouth full but it seems to be a very important principle for determining right from wrong when it comes to ethical dilemmas. I think the basic idea is that if I am faced with an ethical dilemma where no matter what I choose, I’m going to violate an ethical principle than I can’t be held accountable for doing so. Dr. Feinberg uses the example of a pregnant woman who is diagnosed with cervical cancer. If she does not have chemotherapy than she will lose her life, if she does have chemotherapy than the baby will lost it’s life. The basic idea here is that regardless of what she chooses, she does not incur moral guilt because no matter what she does there will be harm, so she can’t be guilty because she couldn’t do otherwise.

3) The final big take away from today’s class was how prevalent in our society is the idea that the ends justify the means. In other words, if the outcome is good than it doesn’t matter how I got to the outcome. One of great dangers here is that we are asking how we can get what we want, rather than what is ultimately right. We crave consequences that are pleasing to us, rather than embracing the truth that if you follow the rules that God has given, you will have the best consequences every time.

It sounds like tomorrow we’ll be wrapping up the foundations portion of the class and moving on to talking about Euthanasia and end of life care.

Here’s a video that I found of Dr. Feinberg being interviewed by Justin Taylor on his new book Ethics for a Brave new World.

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January 09 2012 08:23 pm | Issues in Christian Ethics

2 Responses to “Issues in Christian Ethics (Day 1)”

  1. George on 09 Jan 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Thank you Andrew for sharing what you are learning.

  2. Heidi on 10 Jan 2012 at 4:55 am #

    Wow. Sounds heady! Thanks for taking the time to write it up so we can benefit, too!