Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ethical Systems and Moral Dilemmas: Part 3

Here is the third in the three part series on ethical systems and moral dilemmas. In this section, we were to analyze the four case studies according to our own ethical systems and our position on moral dilemmas. We were also to answer the following questions:

  • Is this situation an actual moral dilemma? Why or why not?
  • What duty/duties are involved in this situation, and how does one know?
  • Is this situation a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils, the greater of two goods, or something else? Why?
  • Did the person act rightly or wrongly in this situation? Why?
  • What role do consequences play in deciding whether what was done in this situation is right or wrong?

Here I’ve provided the case studies and my very brief analysis of them. How do you look at the situations? What would you do?

Situation #1

Susan, a student in your youth ministry asks if she can speak to you. She has something she wants to tell you, but she makes you promise not to tell anyone. Without thinking, you quickly give your word to Susan. She tells you that Emily, another student in your youth group is experimenting with drugs. Susan want to help Emily, but does not know how. Emily is aware that Susan knows of her drug use and has made it clear to her that if Susan tells anyone, their friendship is over. Susan needs you to trust her. Emily is the senior pastor’s daughter. Do you keep confidentiality with Susan and try to help her help Susan? Do you break confidentiality (your promise) and talk to Emily and/or her parents? What do you do and why?

My two main duties in this situation are to protect Emily’s life and to protect Susan’s trust in me. Both duties stem from my position as a spiritual leader and my obligation to the wellbeing of those in my care. The probable (but not certain) consequences of Emily harming herself if I do not intervene and Susan not trusting me if I do, influence but do not determine my options. My first option is to see if Emily would be willing to meet with me, via Susan’s invitation. If I am able to meet with Emily, and her parents are included soon, there is no dilemma. If Emily will not meet, or the meeting(s) go poorly, I am forced to take option two, to talk directly with Emily and her parents without Emily’s consent. This is choosing the lesser of two evils, breaking my rash vow in order to protect Emily’s life. I honestly do not know if this is a true moral dilemma, because I got myself into it. Also, because Susan has also broken confidence by speaking to me, when I compassionately point this out, I should be able to keep a measure of Susan’s trust.

Situation #2

Michael comes to you for counseling. Michael desires therapy for a condition that is easily diagnosed and for which, through a series of sessions, you could help him. The problem is that his condition is not covered by his insurance. He seriously desired help. A possible solution is to “diagnose” him with a condition that will be covered by insurance (falsify his record), so that you can treat him for his actual condition. What do you do and why?

This situation is not a moral dilemma. My options are not limited to insurance fraud or being guilty of not fulfilling my professional and Christian duty to help Michael, my neighbor. The probable detrimental consequences to Michael’s health if he does not receive treatment do not force me to commit insurance fraud, but rather to seek out creative solutions. If Michael is truly desirous of help, I should be able to work out a payment plan or reduced rate for Michael. If that is not possible, I can choose to do pro-bono work or do some research and direct Michael to someone who is able to do pro-bono work. Intentionally misdiagnosing Michael is committing insurance fraud and out of the question because this is dishonest and illegal. My duty is to reflect the character of Christ, especially in my role as counselor where I am acting on behalf of the Great Counselor. As such I can not lie.

Situation #3

You have just been called to be senior pastor at Sun City Baptist Church in Sun City, Arizona (a community populated mainly by retirees). Shortly into your pastorate, you become aware that a significant number of the “couples” in your congregation are living together without being married. It is explained that they are widows and widowers who are married in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of the state of Arizona. As it is, the couples are barely able to make ends meet when both the man and woman are receiving benefits. If they married, the women would lose their state benefits and the couples would be unable to survive. What do you do and why?

This situation is probably not a moral dilemma. My duty is to compassionately lead my flock, care for the widow, and hold a standard of morality. I have three main options. The first option is to do nothing. I am not aware of any law or compelling reason that a couple must have the state recognize their marriage by applying for marriage licenses. If our government stopped recognizing marriages, Christians would still publicly recognize their marriages among themselves. This is a grey area, as I do not have enough knowledge of the marriage and benefit laws in the state of Arizona. A second option is to research creative financial solutions. I could individually meet with each couple and stress the serious nature of their sin, insisting that the church seeks to support them. I would ask them to submit to a financial advisor, who would help them reorganize their finances, and to seek help from their children, as children are obligated to provide for their parents. (Mk 7:9-13) For those couples who were still in financial hardship, I seek to get the denomination behind a group home project. If the financial option failed, I would go with option three, to resign the position and request a transfer. I do not know how to properly uphold a standard of morality as a pastor, and care for the widow—two things very dear to God’s heart. I could not choose between excommunicating widows or putting them on the street. This congregation needs someone with more wisdom then me. (And I suspect, they will have tired of all my prodding and will want to be rid of me!)

Situation #4

You are on the mission field in Thailand. In the Hmong society of North Thailand, with the payment of the bridal price, the bride becomes the property of her husband and his clan. If her husband dies, the husband’s family will try to marry her to one of the clan. If she marries outside the clan, she loses her children. A young Christian husband succumbs to cerebral malaria and dies, leaving behind a young Christian wife and three children. As the property of her husband’s non-Christian relatives, she faces either being remarried within the clan to a non-Christian, or being remarried outside the clan to a Christian but losing her children to these non-believers. She gives her consent to an arranged marriage to a non-Christian within the clan, thus ensuring that her children will remain with her.

This woman acted rightly, choosing the lesser of two evils. On one side is Paul’s urging to the Corinthians about not marrying unbelievers (2Cor 6:14, 1Cor 7:39). If she had no children, she should not submit to marrying a non-Christian clan member. On the other side is the emphasis throughout scripture to raise one’s children in the knowledge of the Lord (e.g. Dt 6:7, Eph 6:4). If she chose not to submit to marriage in the clan, she would not “defile” herself, but she would also have no influence on her children. Her duty is to her children; their good comes before her own good. 1Cor 7:12-16 also has bearing. This passage refers to couples already married when one of them becomes a believer and that believer choosing to stay in the marriage with the hope of influencing the spouse and having continuing influence on the children. This woman’s situation is similar, though not exactly analogous, because in her culture she does not actually have free choice—she is property.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ethical Systems and Moral Dilemmas: Part 2

Moral Dilemmas

Here is the second in the three part series on ethical systems and moral dilemmas. The citation for the section can be found at the beginning of part one. As always, I welcome your comments and discussion!

Each of the three basic positions on moral dilemmas has commendable strengths, but also significant weaknesses. After wrestling with these, I find myself in the ideal absolutism (IA) camp, acknowledging that someone observing my actions would think that I was a non-conflicting absolutist (NCA). This is because I believe situations causing true moral dilemmas are possible, but they are rare, and I am always looking for the creative third option.

In stating that true moral dilemmas exist, I am in opposition to NCA, and I side with IA and graded absolutism (GA). The strength of NCA is that it seeks to defend a very high view of God. NCA holds that all moral absolutes are just that, absolutes, allowing for no exceptions. Also, because moral absolutes are from God, and because God is “a wise, compassionate, and enabling lawgiver” (Clark, 123), NCA holds that moral absolutes will not conflict. To do so would reflect at least oddly on God’s character, if not inspire outright doubt of his character. While this is a noble position, it does not match the world as we know it, nor how scripture describes this world (Gen 6:11-12, Rom 3:23, 8:18-23). IA and GA hold that with the fall and subsequent entrance of sin into the world, moral absolutes will necessarily conflict. The NCA response to this objection is, “Were not God’s absolutes (except those commanded before the fall) given to humankind in our sinful condition, as a standard for our lives in real, not ideal, situations?” (Clark, 123) My response is to ask if moral absolutes were created at the time they were given. Because moral absolutes flow from God’s very nature, whether moral absolutes were given to humankind before or after the fall is irrelevant. If we had never fallen, there would be no need to tell us not to murder, but “do not murder” would still be a moral absolute. Also, God’s character is not besmirched by conflicting moral absolutes, because, as IA holds, the reason for the conflict stems from humankind’s sin, not from God’s design.

The other weakness I find with NCA is the appeal to exceptions or exemptions built into moral absolutes when those absolutes appear to conflict. This strikes me as a shot in the foot for this position. The beauty of NCA is that it so rigidly holds that because moral absolutes are from God, they are absolutely absolute. Rakestraw defends this exemption idea with “An exception or qualification built into the absolute itself is not an exception to the absolute (for then it could no longer qualify as an absolute), but is an integral part of the absolute.” (Clark 120) I can appreciate the point made that such exemptions are internal to the absolute, not external, but it is still hair splitting and rings hollow. When NCA makes an appeal to exemptions, I find it difficult to see the difference between NCA and GA.

In contrast to NCA, both IA and GA see moral dilemmas as possible. Their main difference is whether one incurs guilt for the unavoidable breaking of a moral absolute. This difference can be described as IA choosing between the lesser of two evils and GA choosing between the greater of two goods. In his defense of GA, Geisler appeals to logic, conventional wisdom, and biblical examples of people who were praised for their actions in moral dilemmas. Moral dilemmas by definition place two absolutes in conflict. GA holds that one is not responsible for what is impossible, and it “is impossible to take two opposite courses of action at the same time.” (Clark, 134) GA says that by obeying one absolute, God will not hold you responsible for the absolute you could not obey. This “right of way” view of moral absolutes (Clark 135) is a good guidance for application, but a bad defense of the claim that one does not sin when in a moral dilemma. God is a truly holy God and can allow no sin (1 Pet 1:14-16). Breaking a moral absolute, even if it is unavoidable, is still sin. The GA response is to ask how a merciful and loving God could allow for situations where his people must sin. My response is that God has proved his mercy and love in providing atonement in his Son for all sin, avoidable or not.

To respond briefly to Geisler’s other two defenses, conventional wisdom and biblical examples, they both are unconvincing. He says, “Clearly a person is not blameworthy for breaking a promise to meet his wife for dinner at six o’clock if he has been delayed by helping to save a life.” (Clark, 135) No, what is clear is that she will surely forgive him for being late and praise him for his heroism. Because she was understanding does not mean he was not late. This also answers the biblical examples of people “who were praised by God for following their highest duty in situations of conflict.” (Clark, 135) Because God rewarded the Hebrew midwives for their disobedience to Pharaoh, does not prove that they were not guilty. Rather, they were rewarded for choosing rightly between conflicting moral absolutes.

It is also possible to argue whether the Hebrew midwives, and other such people held up as examples, were actually in true moral dilemmas. A true moral dilemma is a situation where all of one’s options will necessarily break a moral absolute. No matter what you do, you will in some form disobey God. Looking at a situation in isolation, petri dish style, one may craft a moral dilemma for ethical consideration. Like bacteria, however, moral dilemmas are not as prolific in the real world as they are in the laboratory petri dish. Examining moral dilemmas without being in the situation, one does not have access to all the information and the overlooked other possibilities that do not break moral dilemmas, the option C’s. A Christian in the actual situation will have access to the Holy Spirit and the needed wisdom and revelation that He will give. (Eph 1:17, James 1:5) In contrast, a student reflecting on a moral dilemma in ethics class, and not in the moment, will not have such access because the need is not there. This is not to say that thinking through moral dilemmas is fruitless—quite the contrary—but the limitations should be understood. This search for option C in a classroom verses in the situation could be akin to Watson’s take on events verse Sherlock Holmes’ take. Watson is continually baffled by events, while Holmes indubitably knows what happened. In keeping with this analogy, as an IA I would hold that there are mysteries that Holmes would not be able to solve. But they are so rare, Doyle did not dwell on them. Another consideration is whether the situation is an actual moral dilemma, or instead a crisis of knowledge. (Clark 114) When we are in a situation or looking at one, we are not omniscient and do not have all the pieces. With more knowledge, either from our own research or divinely revealed by God, often what appears at first evaluation to be a moral dilemma will solve itself.

Another significant contribution of GA is its discussion of the hierarchy of moral absolutes. This idea of hierarchy is good for setting priorities when faced with a moral dilemma, but not for proving that one does not sin when in a true moral dilemma. Breaking a moral absolute is a sin, even though it is possible to demonstrate that “not all moral laws are of equal weight.” (Clark, 131) All sin is wrong, but the sense of hierarchy comes from the differing consequences for sins.

In summary, the major strength of NCA is that moral absolutes are absolute. NCA’s weakness is its refusal to allow for conflicting absolutes and resorting to exemptions. GA’s major strength is in recognizing that moral absolutes can and do conflict. The weakness of GA comes from its misguided attempt to defend God’s love and mercy by stating that the absolute not followed does not incur guilt. This unintentionally compromises on God’s holiness. I approach moral dilemmas from the IA position. IA recognizes that moral absolutes are from God, and thus absolute, but also recognizes the state of reality, that because of humankind’s sin the universe is not as God intended it, and moral dilemmas do occur. IA also affirms the holiness of God by recognizing that sin, whether unavoidable or not, is still sin and in need of forgiveness. This does not negate God’s love and mercy because God has provided for this forgiveness in Jesus. Moral absolutes can be placed in hierarchy for decision on action when in true moral dilemmas, but that does not prove that guilt is not incurred by breaking a lesser absolute. NCA’s emphasis on the existence of option C which does not break any moral absolutes is also important, but it must be admitted that, on the rare occasion, because of the fallen nature of humankind and creation, a situation will happen where there is no option C. If I ever find myself in a situation that is a true moral dilemma, I must pray and choose the lesser of two evils, then seek the forgiveness that has been provided for me.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ethical Systems and Moral Dilemmas: Part 1

Ethical Systems and Moral Dilemmas: Part 1

This series in three parts covers the three sections of my first project for my “Growing Into Ethical Maturity” class. For my defense, each part may feel like I am racing through, only briefly covering deep issues. That’s because I am. :o) We were given a maximum of nine pages. I could have easily taken fifteen. The third part, application, is especially short changed.

Here are a few notes for all three parts. First, pronouns referring to God are not capitalized, not due to a lack of respect, but because it gets really cumbersome in a longer paper. Second, this is an academic paper, so I’m using my academic voice. There are also references to technical terms that we discussed in class, which is why I did not need to define them in the paper. I’ve tried to anticipate what terms I need to define for someone not in my course, and provided those. Third, the only reference I use is our text book, because this was a synthesis, not a research, paper. Here’s the citation:

Clark, David K. and Robert V. Rakestraw. Readings in Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994. pp 17-61, 113-137.

For part one, we were to describe our own personal ethical systems. I am including the specific questions that we were to address to give you points to think through as you define your own ethical system.

  • What constitutes an action as right or wrong, good or bad?
  • How does one know what is right or wrong, good or bad?
  • What is the proper motivation for moral action?
  • What role do the following issues have in your system:
  • regard for oneself and for one’s own welfare?
  • others?
  • consequences?
  • duty or universal principles?
  • reason, God, and Scripture?
  • virtue and character?

Personal Ethical System

A coherent ethical system is possible and necessary. In describing my personal ethical system, I affirm that right and wrong, good and bad, do ontologically exist and are epistemologically knowable. Moral absolutes are rooted in God’s own person. God is good, existentially, and there is no good apart from him (Mk10:18). God’s moral commands are not arbitrary, nor is there a moral standard apart from and above God. Rather, they flow from his character; God commands the good because he is good (Lev 19:2). Thus, actions are determined to be right or wrong, good or bad, based on how they line up with God’s commands and character.

Moral absolutes are knowable because God has chosen to reveal himself and his will to us. God reveals himself in his creation (Ps 19, Rom 1), his incarnation (Jn1:1-3, 14), his written word (2 Tim 3:16), and his Holy Spirit (Jn16:7-15; Acts 2:17-18). God is a personal, communicative being. God spoke creation into existence and has continued to speak to his creation. Micah 6:8 affirms that God communicates moral commands: “No, the Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.” (GNB) Living in humble fellowship with God is how one comes to know what is good. Because moral absolutes flow from the character of God, the better I know God, the better equipped I am to live morally.

A coherent ethical system is rooted in a proper relationship with God, which includes growing in understanding of and conformity to all of his revelation. Because moral absolutes come from God’s own character, as I am conformed to his image my character becomes more and more like God’s character, and I am better able to live ethically. I must submit to being and seek to be conformed and transformed to his will and likeness (Rom 8:29, 12:2). I must have knowledge of his written word and I must use my reason to determine how that word is applied. Throughout all I must rely on the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance.

My motivation for ethical behavior also comes from my living in fellowship with God. As I grow in my relationship with God, so too does my motivation for obedience mature. Fear of punishment for not obeying moral absolutes is a valid motivation (e.g. Jonah 3:4-10), as is anticipation of a future reward for acting rightly (e.g., Dt 5:16). A better motivation is obeying God simply because he commanded me to. Fear of punishment or anticipation of reward are future consequences and I may ignore them and act immorally in the face of a great enough immediate gratification. Thus doing my duty for duty’s sake is a better motivation than anticipation of rewards or consequences. But the best motivation for acting rightly is because I love God and seek to please him. Machiavelli was wrong when he maintained that fear is a better motivator for obedience than love. He was correct in observing that fear motivates quicker obedience. However, fear is a short term motivator. Constant long term fear will lead to rebellion. On the other hand, love is a long term motivator. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn14:15) This is both a motivation to, and a promise of, obedience. The more I walk with God, the closer a relationship I will have with him, and the less I will want to grieve him by acting immorally.

When faced with a specific ethical decision, I rely on the modified command theory utilizing a mixed deontology. It is my duty to obey the moral absolutes given by God. This is even if I anticipate that great good will result from my not obeying. (The converse of anticipating great evil resulting from obeying also holds, but will be addressed in greater detail in section two.) However, finding the correct application of God’s moral absolutes will often involve consideration of the results of my actions. Clark describes this well, “In a mixed deontology, it is always my duty to love, but consequences properly help me decide just what that duty requires of me concretely.” (Clark, 21) All things being equal, the action that obeys God’s moral absolutes and produces the greatest good for the greatest number is the action to take. Jesus explains that my greatest priority is to love God with my whole being and then to love my neighbor as I love myself. (Mt 22:35-39) By perfectly obeying these two commandments I then obey all of God’s moral absolutes. (Mt 22:40, Rom 13:8) In this command is the understanding that I will have concern for myself, for I love others in the manner that I love myself. (See also Eph 5:28-29) However, when the choice is between the good of my neighbor or my own good, even to the extreme of my life, I am to sacrifice my own good. (Jn 15:12-13, Ps 15:1, 4)

Some definitions:

Ontologically Ontology deals with the nature and relations of being and existence. Ontology asks, “What makes goodness good? What justifies the right?”

Epistemologically Epistemology deals with the nature and ground of knowledge. It asks, “How can I come to know what is right?” When I say that moral absolutes ontologically exist and are epistemologically knowable, I am making a technical philosophic statement. Moral absolutes really do exist and we really are capable of knowing them. This is completely in contrast with the post-modern, relativistic culture we live in, which affirms everyone has access to their own personal truth, but that objective Truth does not exist. But this is fodder for a completely separate post. :o)

God is good, existentially What I mean is that God, in his very being and existence, is good. Humans can act good and do good things, but goodness is not fundamentally our very being and existence. Again, this is for a completely separate post. :o)

Modified command theory Command theory is that we are to govern our conduct by what God says. God says it, so we do it. The problem with that simple statement is that it makes God seem arbitrary. Could God command rape, and then it becomes a moral good? That flies in the face of reason. To correct this, the idea is posited that God commands things because they are good. But that makes it sound like there is a higher standard of good above God to which he must conform. That doesn’t fit either. So modified command theory is that God is good, and he only acts in accordance with his character, so it is both true that he commands the good and his commandments are good.

Mixed deontology Deontology is an ethic of duty. It is my duty to obey God, is the position I am taking. Saying that it is a mixed deontology is saying that my hierarchy of priority in my ethical system is this:

Modified Command—God said it, out of his nature, so do it.

Deontology—It is my duty to obey God.

Teleological Ethics—After the above are consulted, the results of my action should be considered. Consequences help me properly decide just what duty requires of me concretely.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Use of Scriptue in Ethical Decisions

The following is a paper I wrote for my "Growing Into Ethical Maturity" class. The assignment needed to address the following: how the atomement impacts the use of the Bible, the role of principlization, the role of spiritual illumination, how to develop a biblical response to social ethical issues, and how to use scripture in areas where it appears not to address the specific issue. At the end of this post, I also provided the two lists I mentioned in the paper.

Are we able to use the Bible when making ethical decisions? Yes, of course! But the Bible can effectively be utilized only because of Jesus’ work of atonement. By faith we are fully justified before God because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and we stand in his righteousness. No unholy thing may be in God’s presence. By the atonement, we appropriate Christ’s righteousness and thus we are able to fulfill God’s command to be holy as he is holy. Jesus promised the disciples that it would be better for them when he returned to the Father, for he would send the Holy Spirit. Jesus could send the Holy Spirit to indwell the people of God after he returned to the Father, because at that time he had completed his work of atonement and it is by the atonement that God’s people are made righteous. Thus, God may again dwell with his people.

This is key to ethical decision making because moral commands flow from God’s very nature and only God is good and wise. To act ethically, I must know the will of God, and this is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not eliminate the need for study and sound hermeneutics. However, a good scholar is able to effectively argue heretical points. It is the revelation of the Holy Sprit that brings good fruit from study. Apart from identifying with Jesus’ work on the cross and seeking the Holy Spirit’s illumination, it seems that using the Bible in ethical decisions (or in any matter) ends up being “dead works.” Jesus is the Life—whatever I do on my own apart from him leads to death.

What does this mean for understanding the continuity between the Old and New Testaments? Is the Old Testament a valid guide for ethical decisions? Or is the Old Testament merely to be honored as recording the preparation for Christ’s coming? While the cross is the event of history, the entirety of scripture is vitally important in ethical decision making. Something changes at the cross, yes, but that something is me, not God. Malachi prophesies, “For I, the LORD, do not change.” (Mal 3:6). God makes this affirmation in the midst of speaking about the Day of the Lord, a future event after the cross. Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” And Peter, after exhorting his readers to remember that they were redeemed by the blood of Christ, says about Christ, “For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world.” (1Pet 1:20) The three persons of the God-head—the Lord—does not change. And further, the atonement was planned before the fall. Thus, while my position before God and his law radically changes, God’s law does not.

There is a permanence to God’s word. Jesus said, “The Scripture can not be broken.” (Jn10:35) Also, Paul exhorts Timothy that, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:16-17) While I do not know Greek grammar, the English of this passage reads in the present tense—that all of scripture is currently profitable, so that we may be equipped for good works, which includes moral action.

The Sermon on the Mount is Matthew’s first recorded teaching of Jesus after his baptism and temptation. In this sermon, Jesus stresses the permanence of the law, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Mt 5:17-18) Those who see the greatest discontinuity between the covenants will stress that Jesus accomplished all on the cross. However, the passage itself makes this an odd interpretation. In verse nineteen Jesus goes on to commend those who keep the law, “but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is preaching the coming kingdom, but entrance into this kingdom is only by being born again, which can only truly happen after Jesus’ work of atonement. It seems odd that Jesus would so strongly praise behavior that should only be practiced for the three years preceding the cross.

The next issue of this passage in Matthew is Jesus fulfilling the law. It is clear that here abolish and fulfill are in contrast. The law remains in effect, but is fulfilled (Strongs #4137). This same word (Strongs #4137) is used in Galatians 5:14, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” and again in 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” A difficulty with “fulfillment” is that “the use of the term ‘fulfillment’ is generally conceded as deliberately ambiguous by most scholars.” (Gipp, 22) What is clear is that “fulfilled” does not mean abolished, or completed and thus set aside. No one proposes that we set aside the law of Christ, which we are commanded to fulfill.

I have difficulties with both of the discontinuity camps presented. There is unity to God’s work and purpose to which the discontinuity theories seemingly do injustice. What changes at the cross is first and foremost me. Viewing the cross as a brick wall or screen door in history through which nothing or little of the Old Testament passes through is not correct. The cross is a brick wall to my old man. When I identify with Christ’s dying and rising again in baptism, there is something in me that dies and does not continue.

While I would be most akin to moderate continuity, I also have difficulties with both continuity positions. The biggest problem I see is the tidy division of the Mosaic Law into civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. It solves the continuity tension nicely to say that in Jesus our obligation to the civil and ceremonial aspects are handled (by either observing them in him, or his vicarious fulfillment of them) and then that the remaining third, the moral law, has always and will always be in effect. However, this tripartite division strikes me as a manifestation of our Western mindset’s desire to compartmentalize, imposed onto the Hebrew text. From my studies thus far, the Hebrew mindset seems far more holistic, in that you could not isolate an event to be purely moral, with no civil or ceremonial consequences, and visa versa.

In the Mosaic Law, God is fulfilling his covenantal promise to Abraham to bring a nation from him that will be God’s own people. God’s purpose in his covenant with Abraham is to advance his plan of redemption. Thus, God impresses upon the Israelites that they are to be his people, he will be their God and will dwell with them, but they most be holy as he is holy. Gipp explains, “The law for the ancient Israelites guided their conduct in order to keep the physical presence of the Lord with them. The Lord’s consistent, physical presence forces the Israelites to be concerned about what is holy and common (status); clean and unclean (condition).” (Gipp, 8) The change at the cross is that believers are now enabled to be holy, by the appropriated righteousness of Christ and the very presence of the Holy Spirit in each of God’s people. Again, Gipp explains this shift, “Holiness that was once performed because of the physical presence of the Lord has now been molded internally because [of] the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.” (Gipp, 24) Jeremiah prophesies this shift the believer’s position before the law:

“’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” (Jer. 31:31-34)

Verse 34 points to the atonement as key for this new promised covenant—God’s people know him because he forgives their iniquity. A promise of this new covenant is that God will write his law on their hearts. This is accomplished through the giving of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension.

In addition to the repeated testimony of the Old Testament that the law of God is good (e.g. Ps119), Paul is emphatic on this point, particuarly in Rom. 7:12. On the other hand, Paul also “emphasized that human transgressions horrifically exemplified the hijacking of the law done by sin. Sin takes the law hostage and perverts the law’s intention—thus making it condemnation focused.” (Gipp, 19) (See Rom. 7-8) But, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Rom. 8:1-2) The law was given for life (Dt 30:15-16) and is holy, but because of my sin it brought death. By Christ’s atonement, the way is made for me to die to sin and live to God. Identifying with Christ’s death in my baptism, my old man dies and I can live by the law of the Spirit. The law is the same, what has changed is my position. By the indwelling of the Spirit I can obey God’s law—fulfill it. (Gal 6:2)

In Numbers 11, Moses pleads with God for help in dealing with the Israelites. God tells Moses to assemble the seventy elders so that he may empower them to bear Moses’ burden with him. Two of the elders did not assemble, but stayed in the camp. God caused his Spirit to be on all seventy of the elders and they all prophesied, including the two in the camp. In response to Joshua’s defensive report of this, Moses exclaimed, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29) Moses longs for a time with all of God’s people would be able to discern his will and follow after him with all of their hearts. This would happen when God pours out his Spirit. Gipp summarizes this continuity well,

“Again the link between the Old Testament and the New is found in the person of Jesus Christ and the coming [of] of the Spirit. . . . On the basis of the personal, powerful, motivational indwelling of the Holy Spirit each individual believer can fulfill the whole law since it is written on the heart. Without needing to divide the law, abrogate the law, or eliminate the law, the believer, with study and dedication, can find the trajectories of application from one setting to another. All of these things are made possible through the Spirit of God.” (Gipp, 26)

Such heavy reliance on spiritual illumination is often charged with being far too subjective. And yes, it is possible to err. The kingdom of God is inaugurated, but not consummated—as such we still fight our flesh. But my flesh is equally capable of skewing my hermeneutics as it is of distorting my hearing of the voice of God. The primary guard against both errors is live in submission to the local and universal body of Christ. Principlization is also charged with being highly prone to err or ambiguity. There are difficulties with principlization—it is complicated. However, our cars are complicated machines, and could even kill someone if not used properly, yet we still drive. Principlization is also a biblically supported tool. Paul uses it in 1 Cor. 9:9. Principlization utilizes our God given faculties of reason. In explaining principlization, Kaiser points out our natural tendency to “appeal to the reason behind a case law.” (Clark, 199) When we are submitted to the Holy Spirit and Christian community, principlization can be used responsibly.

When approaching an ethical decision, the whole Word of God must be utilized, with spiritual illumination in the forefront. I appreciate Frame’s explanation that the Word of God includes, first and foremost, the written word, “but is also revealed in the world . . . and in the self. . . . A Christian will study those three realms presupposing their coherence and therefore seeking at each point to integrate each source of knowledge with the other two.” (Clark, 183) When approaching a social ethical decision, it requires “[s]aturation with God’s Word.” (Clark, 182) The issue must be studied from all three facets of the Word of God. From the world aspect, what is the science pertaining to this issue—biological, physical, social, other? What methodologies are used currently and are there other options? What is their impact? What has been proven around this issue and what further claims are being made? Are these claims substantiated? From the self aspect, what are the emotions attached to this issue, in myself and on all sides of the issue? Almost always those on all sides of an issue will resort to emotionally charged rhetoric for persuasion. The emotions must be recognized and analyzed to enable a more objective decision. All biases must also be identified and analyzed—those of all sides and my own. From the aspect of scripture, what does the whole of the cannon have to say on the issue? Even if there are specific passages that seem to address the issue, getting the large picture of the entire Bible is vital. Here principlization is often helpful. A useful tool for deciding if a passage of scripture is relevant to the issue, is Fee and Stuart’s guidelines found in Clark, 202-206. Their list is specifically for determining if a passage of the New Testament is culturally relative or normative for all Christians, but given the unity of scripture, their list can be profitable for passages in the Old Testament as well. When all of the data is gathered from the three aspects of God’s Word, with expectation earnestly pray and seek out spiritual illumination. God promises wisdom to those who ask him for it. (James 1:5)

If, when examining the issue from the aspect of scripture, it seems to fall into a gray area where the Bible says nothing at all, Miles’ ten questions are the way to go. They are an excellent, exhaustive treatment to which I have little to add. The ten questions examine an issue with the following order of priorities: First, does it glorify God? Second, do I love my brother through this? And third, am I built up in my faith in this? If the gray issue fails at any point in these ten questions, then I would not have faith that it is a right action and I must not do it. For whatever is not done in faith is sin.


Clark, David K. and Robert V. Rakestraw. Readings in Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994. pp 179-206.

Gipp, Kevin M. “Continuous Discontinuity? Continuously Discontinuous? Some thoughts about the relationship between the Old Testament and New” A paper for partial fulfillment of PT 811, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 2003

Distinguishing Culturally Relative from Normative Teachings

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart

(As quoted in Readings, but taken from How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.)

1. Distinguish between the central core of the message of the Bible and what is dependent upon or peripheral to it.

2. Distinguish between what the New Testament itself sees as inherently moral and what is not.

3. Make special note of items where the New Testament itself has a uniform and consistent witness and where it reflects differences.

4. Distinguish within the New Testament itself between principle and specific application.

5. As much as one is able to do this with care, . . . determine the cultural options open to any New Testament writer. The degree to which a New Testament writer agrees with a cultural situation in which there is only one option increases the possibility of the cultural relativity of such a position.

6. Keep alert to possible cultural differences between the first and twentieth centuries that are sometimes not immediately obvious.

7. Exercise Christian charity at this point.

Ten Questions for Guidance in Morally Indifferent Matters

Prof. Todd L. Miles

Class notes for SFS504 "Growing Into Ethical Maturity." Western Seminary, Sp 2007.

1. Am I fully persuaded that this activity is right? (Rom. 14:5, 14, 22-23)

2. Can I practice this as “unto the Lord”? (Rom 14:6-8)

3. Can I engage in this without being a stumbling block to my brothers and sisters in Christ? (Rom 14:13, 15, 20-21)

4. Does it promote righteousness, peace and joy? (Rom 14:17, 19a)

5. Does it edify others? (Rom 14:19b)

6. Is this practice profitable? (1 Cor 6:12a)

7. Does this activity enslave me? (1 Cor 6:12b)

8. Is the Holy Spirit guiding me into this? (Gal 5:16-18; Rom 8)

9. Does it bring glory to God? (1 Cor 10:31)

10. Can I be thankful for this?