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“Ethics As Cult” By Mark D. Liederbach And Evan Lenow

In recent years, evangelicals have unapologetically upheld the inerrant Word of God and sought to properly order our lives around the rich theological truths found within the pages of this sacred revelation. Our focus on orthodoxy and the propositional truths of our faith is laudable and necessary amid the massive theological declines within the church as well as the shifting sands of culture influencing everything about our lives.

But an unfortunate byproduct of this entrenchment is the failure to also consider the fullness of our call to faithful orthopraxy. We need an emphasis on right actions, not just right beliefs. We often reduce the task of Christian ethics to the mere application of theological beliefs, rather than seeing the beautiful and inextricable relationship between theology and ethics as the two primary disciplines of the Christian life.

We see this imbalance playing out today in churches and classrooms—and even in the public square. But to find the proper relationship between these disciplines, we must be reminded that our actions (ethics) reveal what we really believe (theology), just as our beliefs equally inform our actions (175).

This properly ordered view of theology and ethics as essential to the Christian life is the foundation Ethics as Worship: The Pursuit of Moral Discipleship by Southern Baptist ethicists Mark D. Liederbach (Professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Evan Lenow (Director of Church and Minister Relations at Mississippi College). This book serves as a useful introduction to Christian ethics as a form of worship centered on our love for God and neighbor.

Ethics as Worship: The Pursuit of Moral Discipleship

Mark D. Liederbach and Evan Lenow

Ethics as Worship: The Pursuit of Moral Discipleship

Mark D. Liederbach and Evan Lenow

P&R publishing house. 792 p.

Ethics as worship examines the biblical, theological, and philosophical foundations and application of Christian ethics, providing an ethical system that emphasizes the worship of God as the motivation, method, and goal of ethical endeavor. It concludes with an exploration of how worship should shape a response to certain ethical topics and issues most relevant today: from race, justice, and environmental ethics to sexuality, reproductive technologies, and other important issues related to life and death.

P&R publishing house. 792 p.

We need the foundation

Liederbach and Lenow illustrate the fullness of Christian ethics, not as a mere application or subdiscipline of theology, but as a fundamental element of the Christian life.

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The title Ethics as worship takes up the theme of the Great Commandment (Deut. 6:4–5; Matt. 22:37–39; Mark 12:28–31) of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves (xxii). Liederbach and Lenow establish early on that this double commandment of love underlies both the theological and ethical aspects of the Christian life—both must be a form of worship that gives “to the right God. . . all praise, honor, and glory are due to him from the heart, as he directs us, in every aspect of our existence, both by ourselves and with all men created in his image” (xxiii).

Ethics as worship then informs the entire method of ethics that the authors develop and apply to both personal and social aspects of the Christian life.

The volume is laid out so that each section can be used independently, but also builds on one another to give readers a complete sense of the Christian ethical system. This is in stark contrast to many of the most popular non-Christian systems of our day, including the ever-present and widely used ideas of consequentialism and its modern form of utilitarianism.

Liederbach and Lenow guide readers through an introduction to Christian ethics (part 1), showing the metaethical foundation (part 2), normative formulation (part 3), and finally the application of Christian ethics to many aspects of life and culture ( part 4). The authors use a metaphor for each element of Christian ethics, with metaethics as the compass, normative ethics as the map, and applied ethics as the journey (15).

Ethics Foundation

One of the main strengths of this volume is that the authors begin by exploring the metaethical foundations of ethics—or, as they describe it, “revealed reality.” Although our entire ethical system is built upon it, this reality is rarely exposed in Christian ethics texts. The authors convincingly argue that our growth as disciples and our worship of God is rooted in first understanding “the nature of how things ought to be and how they actually are before we can best understand how we ought to live” ( 29). Many popular texts used to teach Christian ethics assume a basic metaethical framework rather than spending time on this crucial element of Christian ethics as they begin their exploration into the normative formulations and applied aspects of ethics.

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While most of the book is rightly devoted to applied ethics, it is commendable that the authors spend more than 100 pages on these metaethical themes as they explore the motif of ethics as worship through the biblical metanarrative (creation, fall, redemption and restoration). as well as the role of both the Holy Spirit and the Bible in Christian ethics.

We fail to see the beautiful and inextricable relationship between theology and ethics as the two primary disciplines of the Christian life.

They rightly point out that metaethics informs the Christian worldview and ethics, which is built on a sound metaphysics (the study of being), epistemology (the study of knowledge), anthropology (the study of humanity), theology (the study of God), and axiology (the study of . of value) (14).

Given the size of the book and its focus on Christian moral discipleship, the discussion of metaethics is primarily concerned with how Christians are to understand these foundations. Thus, curious readers will need to consult other works of moral philosophy to see how Christian metaethics differs from non-Christian formulations of the subdiscipline. Despite this, the authors provide a solid account of these foundations that is much more extensive than the texts often used in universities and seminars, which treat metaethics as a footnote or relegate it to a few introductory pages.

Ethics methods

After the establishment Why of ethics with metaethics, the authors turn to what the of normative ethics by exploring the most used ethical theories, which I describe as theological/normative domains of ethical evaluation. They show the six primary methods or domains of ethics, including systems that focus on telos, agent (virtue), act (deontology), circumstance (situational), consequence (consequentialism/utilitarianism), and relationship (ethics of care).

In each of these areas (180), the authors include a brief introduction to these moral systems and show how each can play a role in Christian ethics. For example, while consideration of consequences should not have a primary role in Christian moral evaluation, this does not mean that there is no place for evaluating the consequences of an action (216).

Throughout these sections on normative ethics, readers are reminded that “without a firm, transcendent foundation, the ethical process becomes a struggle for the power to invent morality rather than a discovery of what God has fixed and revealed about the nature of reality and of morality” ( 225n24). There is a useful chapter on the apparent problems of morally complex situations (explored through the lens of humble absolutism) and a guide to navigating these situations that arise naturally when ethics is applied in the real world (277–79).

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Everyday ethics

The final and most substantial section rightly focuses on the application of this system of ethics as worship to many of the most important aspects of our personal and social lives today. The authors do not shy away from exploring topics that are becoming divisive in the church as we do seek to live consistently with our biblical call to speak the truth with grace. This call is especially difficult because of us society often rejects a transcendent foundation of truth and reality and because our church culture sometimes tells the truth without grace.

The authors explore a wide range of issues, from biblical justice to the care of creation to bioethical questions such as abortion, end-of-life decision-making, and reproductive technologies. Unfortunately, the applied ethics section lacks a substantive look at the ethical contours of emerging digital technologies. But this is understandable given the scale of the project as a whole. This volume can be of great help to those teaching and learning ethics, as the authors conclude each chapter with key terms and concepts, scripture references, study questions, and lists of further reading.

This is a wonderful introduction to the vast world of Christian ethics and a helpful reminder that simply having the right beliefs does not account for the fullness of the Christian life and our pursuit of being transformed into the image of Christ. The Church would do well to heed his call Ethics as worship and remember that our beliefs inform and shape our actions just as our actions reveal our true beliefs.

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