Thursday, November 06, 2008

ethics: book recommendations

I was asked about book recommendations on ethics. Here are my four choice picks

The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics
Hays is a top-notch NT scholar. I don’t agree with everything he says about the NT, but I think his ethics text is an excellent example of how to do ethics in a theoretical and exegetical framework.

Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics
To be honest, I have not read this book in its entirety, but I have read several of O’Donovan’s other works. O’Donovan probably represents the most thought-through and sophisticated evangelical ethicist today. This book outlines his approach to ethics overall, and is well worth the read. Slightly convoluted at points. My major criticism of O’Donovan concerns his political theology and the ethics of war.

The How and Why of Love, Michael Hill.
Hill’s book is far more straightforward than O’Donovan’s, but is working from roughly the same framework. Hill is an easy entry-point, explaining things from the start, but his ethical theory is powerful, radical, and his book seeks to apply it sensitively to contemporary ethical issues.

The Politics of Jesus
Yoder’s classic work, ‘The Politics of Jesus’, remains an indispensable read. I believe Yoder shows how to take Jesus seriously for one’s ethics, and unlike Hauerwas and many who have followed that line, Yoder has a convincing biblical ethic of Christo-centric non-violence that does not neglect a classic doctrine of atonement, but arguably depends and is integrated with it. My major criticism of contemporary christian pacifism is that most strands of it are allied with theological trends that are dubious at best, heretical at worst. Yoder provides a powerful counterpoint and alternative, and his work deserves more and more attention.

I would also encourage a careful consideration of the NT scriptures and how they deal with the OT Law, particularly both Matthew’s Gospel, and a nuanced and extensive consideration of Paul. Our ability to read the integrity of the scriptural canon in large part depends upon the full scope of the NT witness


Mark said...

All great books (though I still haven't read Yoder). But how about ethics texts for not-so-literate Christians?

We ran an ethics course at church last year and people really struggled to read even Hill's HWL. For most people its actually not an 'easy entry point'. For most the first half of the book is quite technical and dry.

There's a need for a simple book that explains how to do ethics by working through live issues upfront (or after a very simple framework), rather using the issues as a means of illustrating a system after the fact. I still haven't found that book yet.

Care to write it for me? :)

Seumas Macdonald said...

I'm glad you mentioned that HWL is a struggle for most people, since I wouldn't have thought that. If there is a book out there like you suggest is needed, I certainly haven't come across it.

I think I can see how one might write it though. Take a few issues, work them through with a consistent framework, then spend the later chapters showing that framework and how it was used and how to use it.

Mark said...

That was my assumption too - that HWL was a primer, a 'Resurrection & Moral Order for Dummies' - but we found that many people in our congregation simply couldn't get through the opening chapters and so were turned off from getting to the heart of the book.

The sad thing is that all Christians face ethical issues everyday, but books about ethics are only aimed at the well-educated. Does it have to be that way?

Mark said...

The best/simplest book I've found is Andrew Goddard's 'A Pocket Guide to Ethical Issues'. Its strong on the biblical approach to ethics, though unfortunately presents no real ethical framework. But I could see how you could rework this book with a simple, but strong framework exemplified in each chapter.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Mark, I was rethinking this issue a little while dipping into Hay's book recently, as well as Wright's "Walking in the Ways of the Lord" (OT Ethics).

I think what it needs is not necessarily a book, but a group. Take some ethical issues, and with a good leader who has some solid biblical theology, they could lead a group through a kind of full-orbed approach to those issues, week by week, and then talk about the framework as it is used.

I realise this is substantially the idea we've been tossing around, but I think the teaching of ethics that you're grasping for is more about the group than about the set-reading.

Mark said...

Great minds and all that ...

I should have actually said that in our frustration one of our ministry apprentices Doug and I ending up writing a short 6-week course doing just that.

We briefly outlined a framework using a modified version of Andrew Cameron's 'marshaling data' schema, working through homosexuality as an example and then teaching ethics in practice as we looked at the topics of: lying, the environment, divorce+remarriage and poverty.

It's not great and is highly reliant on leaders who know their stuff, but it's a start ...