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Christian Ethics 101

Theologian John Frame in his excellent large book The Doctrine of the Christian Life presents an approach to ethics that has been very useful to me in how I analyse difficult moral questions. Frame says that "ethical judgement involves the application of a norm to a situation by a person".  When we have a problem there are three pieces of information we need to reach an informed ethical judgement : the situation, the Word of God, and person with the problem. These are summarised in the triangle of ethics below
The situational perspective examines the situation or problems. It asks, "what are the best means of means of accomplishing God's purposes?". That is, how can we take the present situation and change it so that more of God's purposes are achieved? Here we explore the consequences of our actions. We ask, "if we do this, will it enhance the glory of God?". Will it please God in the end?

The normative perspective  focuses on the Word of God (the Bible). It is the standard for our decisions. Our purpose is to determine our duty, our ethical norm or our obligation. So we bring our problem to the Bible and ask, "what does Scripture say about this situation?". 

The existential perspective focuses on the ethical agent, the person(s) who iss trying to find out what to do. From this perspective, the ethical question becomes, "How must I change if I am to do God's will?". Here the focus is inward, examining our heart's relationship to God. It deals with our holiness and inner character. 

These three perspectives are interdependent. We can't understand the situation fully until we know what the Bible teaches and until we know understand our own role in the situation. We can't understand ourselves fully, apart from the Bible or apart from the situation that is our environment. And we don't understand the Bible unless we can apply it to situations and to ourselves. Hence these are "perspectives" not "parts". 

To illustrate. Suppose someone comes and asks us - is it okay for Christians to go on strike? The first question we must ask is, "what is meant by striking?". We also want to know why do these people want to strike? Who are the players involved? What is driving them? What is their motive? How much information do they posses about their decisions?  

The second question is what does Scripture say about situation? As we move to look at the Bible we may find aspects of our situation also clarified. We may find our "motive" perhaps is wrong. Scripture may throw up other dimensions to striking we have not considered - for example we may conclude that it is us who are responsible due to our sins for the situation. 

The third question is what should be our response? Depending on the interplay between our situation and the Scripture study, we may reach various conclusions - convicting us to respond to God accordingly. 


Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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