Wednesday, December 7, 2016

AN INTRODUCTORY INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN ETHICS - A Book Review

Introducing Christian Ethics: A Short Guide to Making Moral Choices. By Scott B. Rae. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016. 189 pp. $16.99. ISBN978-0-310-52118-1.

            In the study of moral philosophy, we discuss the most controversial subjects of our time. Thought it is, by far, preferable to begin discussing moral issues once we have a solid foundation in metaphysics and the philosophy of human nature, a minimum of instruction in ethical subjects is necessary for living a moral life—assuming that one wishes to live a moral life. So it is that, for those who will never pursue studies in moral philosophy or theology, an introduction to the subject could certainly be quite informative, and helpful. Introducing Christian Ethics, by Scott B. Rae, professor of Ethics at Biola University, is just such a book. We will here provide a brief overview of this book, followed by some comments as to its relative worth.

            The author does not explicitly state either the purpose of the book, or the intended audience. However, it seems obvious that the book is intended for neophytes to moral philosophy, and is written with the purpose of providing a brief overview of the primary themes that are discussed in moral philosophy. The book is composed of 12 chapters which are followed by subject and a scripture indices. In chapter 1 Rae introduces the reader to some notions of moral philosophy, such as the ontological foundations of morality, the relationship between moral philosophy and Christian theology, and the relationship between morality and the law. He also discusses some of the main elements of moral assessments. He proposes that Natural theology and God are the sources of human morality. In chapter 2 he outlines the foundational principles of a moral theology. In chapter 3 he summarizes a number of approaches to morality that are prevalent in our contemporary society (such as Deontology, Utilitarianism, Egoism and Relativism). He shows how these different approaches come to moral claims, and brings out some of the difficulties they must deal with. In chapter 4 Rae discusses moral dilemmas in general, and how to properly resolve them. He provides us with an example, and then uses his 7-step method to answer the dilemma in his example.

            In chapter 5 the author first considers, and refutes, arguments in favor of abortion. He then considers arguments against abortion. He finishes with a brief discussion concerning stem cell research and the harvest of fetal tissues. In chapter 6, Rae looks at a number of options in reproductive technologies. He summarizes how they work and mentions the major areas which are liable to cause moral questions. Rae attempts to provide biblical principles as guidelines for approaching this question, and, in general, does fairly well. He does not answer all of the moral issues which are brought up by these technologies, though he does suggest some areas of potential moral conflict. In chapter 7 he provides a brief discussion of bioethical subjects related to reproduction, such as genetic selection and cloning. He does not provide very clear positions, in this chapter, on the morality of each issue.

            In chapter 8 Rae discusses end of life issues, such as physician-assisted-suicide, euthanasia, and the termination of treatment. These are issues that more people should know about. In chapter 9 the author addresses subjects related to the death penalty. Without explicitly taking sides in the debate, Rae looks at the pros and cons of both sides of the debate. In chapter 10 the author looks at discussions about war between pacifists and just war theorist. He provides a summary of the positions and appears to lean towards Just War Theory. He then discusses torture in a very summary fashion (he takes no clear position, and does not define his terms). In chapter 11, probably the longest chapter in the book, the author explains the various issues related to the numerous moral debates in sexual ethics. Though he does not take a clear position on some issues, he does introduce most of the important debates in this area. In the twelfth and final chapter of the book the Rae discusses economics and a Christian workplace ethic. He also talks about how all occupations should be seen as “ministry”.

            This is a very short introduction to some of the main issues in contemporary ethics. Each chapter is no more than an introduction to the subjects discussed, which, to be covered properly, could take up many books. Though the author does not take a clear position on many of the subjects discussed, and the subjects are covered in a cursory manner, this book most definitely will be helpful for a particular audience. In my humble opinion this book will be overly simplistic even for those who are in undergraduate studies in philosophy. However, this book, written for a Christian audience, is a must read for those Christians who do not plan on pursuing studies in moral philosophy or theology, but who wish to better understand the moral issues that they will be confronting in our contemporary society. This book is a great introduction to the issues, and would be a great addition to every young persons, parents, and pastors library.