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Book Critique: Reviving Evangelical Ethics

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Reviving Evangelical Ethics

Introduction

The Word of God stipulates the manner in which God’s people ought to live. Apparently, many Christian’s in today’s church are lacking Christian ethics. The evangelicals have conformed to classic models of morality at the expense of the standards that God has set for the church. It is this outright disobedience of God’s commands that Reuschling finds disturbing. She devotes her book, Reviving Evangelical Ethics, to expose how secular ethics has extensively invaded the Christian one. In order to prove the extent of deviation, she carefully exposes Christian ethics as portrayed in the Scripture and explores the need of God’s people to revert to God’s original intention for them. Reuschling’s commitment to building communal church defines the strength of her work. Nonetheless, her emphasis on hybrid social gospel at the expense of personal holiness appears to be her major weakness throughout the text.

Current paper is a critique of Reviving Evangelical Ethics.

Classic Models of Morality

Reuschling begins her work by calling the attention of her audience to the meaning of Christian ethics. She then takes her time to enlighten the readers on three classic models of morality that she believes has infiltrated the church. The three ethical areas that she confines herself to are the duty, utility and virtue. In addition, she briefly covers the views of three philosophers, including Immanuel Kant, Aristotle and John Mill. Remarkably, her approach to Christian ethics differs from the approach taken by Geisler on the same topic. In his book, Christian Ethics, Geisler gives attention to numerous ethical views in more detailed approach. Although she is not exhaustive as Geisler, her approach enables her audience to obtain general information concerning the benefits and shortcomings associated with the three schools of thought to believers.

While discussing Duty Ethics, Reuschling delivers the same fundamental explanation concerning Kant’s beliefs as Geisler and Wilkens. She observes that Kantian ethics gives no place for God. Remarkably, Geisler’s approach concerning Kantian discussion tends to be more detailed than Reuschling. He provides deeper research of the ethics topic in certain respects, including his attention to the three types of absolutism. Wilkins, on the other hand, begins his discussion on Kant’s duty ethics topic by giving attention to what duty means to most people. He observes that the relegation of ethical views to cliché status is the basis of the problem. Wilkins then proceeds to expound on such ethical understanding alongside with its advantages and disadvantages.

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The discussions by Wilkens and Geisler enable readers to understand that the views of Kant hold the basics of an acceptable ethical system. However, the authors move further to expose the weak points that are evident in Kantian Ethics. They point out the conflicting ideas between Christin and Kantian Ethics. Though Reuschling does the same, her approach is unique. She endeavors to make believers understand where their ethical views lie. In addition to essential understanding of Kantian Ethic, Reuschling’s approach enables believers to determine whether their views conform to Christian or Kantian Ethics. She explains why believers find Kant’s morality attractive and how they easily conform to such views as if they were proper to Christianity. She identifies the Golden Rule simplicity of Kant’s views as factors that appeal to believers. Though Geisler and Wilkens also give this information, Reuschling’s discussion is more direct. Her approach conforms to Utilitarianism and Virtue approaches.

Both Geisler and Wilkens note that the Utilitarianism concerns having the majority benefiting greatly. In a similar fashion to Kant’s Duty Ethic, Utilitarianism, as fronted by John Mill, has no place for God. However, Mill’s views contradict Kant’s as Mill believes that using duty as the sole standard for defining moral deeds is unrealistic. Reuschling clarifies the concept of Utilitarianism to her audience and exposes the points of departure between Mill’s and the Kantian’s views. Although it is apparent that Utilitarianism has no place for God, Mill defends his view against such perception. In objectivity, Reuschling outlines the defenses put forth by Mill. The defenses are based on Mill’s belief that Jesus Christ exemplifies the final standard of Utilitarianism. He maintains that the character of God is inclined towards ensuring the happiness of His people. Even though Mill’s defense might satisfy his critics, Reuschling notes that they cannot guarantee that people will act morally.

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In her book, Reuschling enables her audiences to realize their ethical standing with regards to Utilitarianism view. She prompts her audience to ask themselves whether they identify more with utilitarian morality or Christian ethics. She explores reasons why Utilitarianism may be attractive. Her discussions reveal how several believers in Christian faith find Mill’s ethic more appealing.

Several believers have adopted the view that the ultimate goal of God is to ensure happiness of His people. It appears the intention of Geisler and Wilkens is to enable their audiences to comprehend the benefits and shortcomings of Utilitarianism. Contrariwise, Reuschling employs her discussion to reveal how much Utilitarianism has managed to infiltrate believers’ views of morality.

Reuschling also devotes her time to discuss virtue ethics as understood by Aristotle, divulging its benefits and demerits. Concerning the subject of virtue Wilkens gives a more simplified discussion compared to Geisler and Reuschling. He gives a brief focuses on the views of Plato and Aristotle concerning virtue. Like Reuschling, Wilkens describes the advantages and disadvantages of virtue ethics. Geisler, on the other hand, uses a very detailed approach in his discussion of ethics comparing to both Wilkens and Reuschling. Nevertheless, Reuschling seems to explain Aristotelian virtue ethic in a precise and understandable way.

Trust and Obey

In Chapter Two, Reuschling focuses on deontology that she prefers to call “trust and obey.” Revealing the limitations of degrading Christian morality to meager rules that ought to be obeyed is Reuschling’s main goal in this chapter. She notes that a Christianized arrangement of deontology prompts Christians to obey God’s word simply without necessarily believing in the same. Reuschling identifies two critical limitations with the deontological perspective. First, deontology “undermines Scripture as a revelation.”

Second, it reduces the effectiveness of the Scripture in molding morality, more so when “What ought I to do?” is posed as the primary question. The deontological perspective has gained much ground due to failure by believers to understand how they ought to read the Bible. While Christians might “purport to believe in Scripture’s authority,” Reuschling notes that the reading strategies of Christians and the actual use of the same might indicate otherwise.

Current chapter is the Reuschling’s strongest one. She does not discredit the importance of the life of a Christian. However, Reuschling exposes the incorrect Bible reading trend that has infiltrated the church. She precisely maintains that the Bible cannot be reduced to a meager rule book, since having that perception lessens its significance and impact. A rule-based attitude to Scripture fails to put into consideration the contexts and narratives that underlie scriptural prescriptions, as well as commands.

Reuschling observes that God did not save Israel to obey rules and commands merely. On the contrary, He set them apart and established Israelites as His covenant people. He ordained them to live rightly in His presence and before other nations. Regrettably, most believers are only taught obedience to the Scripture. Hence, obeying Scripture only appears as an art of performance. However, Reuschling notes that learning obedience requires believers to read the Scriptures and to engage the acquired knowledge with other individuals in the faith community.

We Have a Story to Tell

Reuschling begins Chapter Three putting her focus on the extent to which Utilitarianism has infiltrated the church. Evangelicals have adopted a modern seeker-sensitive approach that aims at getting the greatest number of persons saved regardless of the means employed. Reuschling wonders whether “the greatest good of the Christian faith” is to have “the greatest number” of individuals attaining salvation. Reuschling raises pertinent concerns with the utilitarian view from a Christian morality perspective. Chiefly, Utilitarianism has prompted an underdeveloped “understanding and appreciation of the church.” She maintains that utilitarian individualism has also undermined the communal nature the life of Christians. From a utilitarian perspective, the church is in existence to satisfy “needs of individual religious consumers seeking happiness and self –fulfillment.”

Essentially, Reuschling is right in her critique of churches that are seeker-sensitive that merely market themselves to exclusively meeting personal necessities. She heavily criticizes the “getting saved” ambition that evangelicals have assumed as their main goal. The focus on corporate feature of Christianity is her strong point in this chapter. Her assertion that “Christian morality has its source in our relationship with Christ and flows from that relationship…” appears as one of the most important quotes in the entire book. Reuschling maintains that a Kingdom life, shaped by the Gospel, draws its foundation for proper morality in various relationships.

The relationships include that with God, the church, the world and ourselves. She emphasizes that morality is an uncorrupted overflow of the much Christ has done in the life of believers.

Conversely, a substantial fault is exhibited at Reuschling’s conclusion of the chapter. Her assertion that the church needs “people who are captivated by the moral vision of the kingdom of God” makes her fall into the trap she endeavors to expose in her discussion. Evangelicalism needs individuals who are consumed by the King of the kingdom rather than morals as Reuschling claims. Christ’s parable in Mathew 14:44 concerning the hidden seems to clarify this point. Jesus is the genuine treasure of the kingdom.

Sweet Hour of Prayer

In Chapter Four, Reuschling defines for Aristotle’s theory of virtue ethics missing. In her evaluation, she concludes that Aristotle’s model is unsatisfactory for the church. She notes that Jesus’ ekklesia and Aristotle’s polis are immensely different. In addition, she argues that the virtues necessary to conform to Aristotle’s city and those to serve God are vastly different. In Jesus’ ekklesia, humility is provided as an example; it is both expected and required. Conversely, humility was considered a vice in Aristotle’s model.

Reuschling observes that the evangelical refers to the cultivating virtue as “spiritual formation.” She expresses concern over the subversion of spiritual formation by individualism. She observes that individualism has prompted the rise of a consumer culture in the church. Consequently, in actual practice, spiritual formation is considered to be the quest for personal healing and self-fulfillment rather than the image of Christ as the telos of believers’ lives. Although American Christianity has embraced an individualistic mindset as Reuschling suggests, she appears to provide an imbalanced assessment. It would be more proper for Reuschling to underscore personal piety, as well as community mission. True disciples in Christianity are both pious and mission oriented. However, Reuschling advocates for what most liberals have championed in a “social gospel” at the expense of personal piety.

Furthermore, Reuschling notes, “Being right with God is no guarantee for living righteousness in the world.” She insists that such status must not serve as an “excuse for ignoring injustice.” Such assertion is somewhat correct; leading a righteous life is more than just the confession that one is right with God. More so, those whom God has converted and have undergone justification have to produce evidence of the obtained faith through personal, as well as communal ways. If Reuschling had this in mind, it would have been beneficial to discuss in her work the state of Christianity and the nature of salvation in America today.

Meanwhile, the noted assertion prompts several questions among the readers. Could there be justly regenerated Christians who hide behind “being right with God” to subvert justice? Could it be that the individuals that Reuschling refers to are in essence to born again and not partakers of God’s Kingdom? Personal piety of such people only qualifies as a mere pretense. To some extent, Reuschling has created a caricature of a true Christian in order to support a hybrid social gospel.

Reviving Evangelical Ethics

In Chapter Five, Reuschling finds three elements as appropriate in reviving evangelical ethics, including moral conscience, community and competency. She observes that the reading of the Scripture in the church has assumed a mere-intellectual nature; believers read the Bible to accumulate knowledge. Although knowledge accumulation is not misplaced, she notes that knowledge does not equate to wisdom. It is the latter that is essential in the application of the Scripture in real life situation. She also observes that believers have disregarded the church history, as well as traditions of the Christian faith. Essentially, it is a strong viewpoint, since the 21st century church does not operate in a vacuum. Apart from individual commitment to honor Christ, believers must pay earnest attention to the extensive community of saints so that to learn proper ways of living.

Reuschling’s major strength in this chapter concerns her assertion that “the church ought to be a community of moral discourse, deliberation and discernment.” She considers the individualistic Christian as an oxymoron. If believers were to consider the Scripture wholesomely, they would realize that the local church ought to act as a source of moral development rather than the Christian individual. Reuschling robustly underscores this theme throughout Reviving Evangelical Ethics. She brings her focus on the theme of prominence in current chapter.

In her conclusion, Reuschling observes that “Christian morality is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.” She admits that the morality ought to be a product of salvation. In essence, it qualifies to be an attractive point to close her work. God’s Law as recorded in the Scripture was not tailor-made only to lead people to Christ. Rather, it points out how life in Christ ought to be lived.

Conclusion

Reuschling’s work is insightful and resourceful for individuals who have resolved to practice ethics in the evangelical world. She has equipped American evangelicalism with an essential examination on how to develop morality. She has carefully exposed individualism that has consumed American church and given a direction towards the building of the body of Christ. However, she, at times, favored hybrid social gospel thereby making the gospel solely corporate. The imbalance towards the social gospel minimizes the emphasis that the Bible renders to the need for individual reconciliation to God. Though the supreme significance of community in Christianity cannot be underrated, the community comprises individual Christians. Such individuals must cultivate a right standing with God to ensure that morality of the communal church. In this way it is possible to uphold the morality of the church as a community. Despite the shortcomings, Reuschling successfully demonstrates that the infiltration of classical ethics into the church has proved to be detrimental. Therefore, she urges believers to turn to the Scripture as the sole manual that properly defines and dictates Christian morality.

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