Thoughts on Christian Ethics, The Essential Guide – Robin Lovin

I am using the Kindle version, so page numbers may be off a little:

Beginning the class with a book which begins with Aristotle makes me look forward to the rest of the semester. (p16)

Dr. Lovin’s statement, on page 7, is one which struck me,

“Ethics is about how we try to become good people and shape for ourselves a life that is worth living.”

Initially, I have no issue with that definition, because after having read the book, his focus on community and covenant (53) sheds more light on what otherwise looks to be an individualistic statement. Like theology, I cannot imagine that it would be good to ‘do’ ethics without a community. As a matter of fact, neither should be tried unless there is a community present. He follows this statement up with several, anti-individualistic statements (p11), and although he later goes on to speak about the Jeremy Bentham (p23) and the U.S. Constitution as a covenant (see 50 for an what  I believing is instantly quotable in regards to community, covenant, and rules) as well as 51, “but covenant rules go beyond this minimum…), he never approaches the key phrase in the Declaration of Independence which I believe needs to be better understood today, “the pursuit of happiness.” But, I digress, and before I move to the talk about civic good (p31) verses market/commercial/individual good, I’ll move on. I do appreciate his focus, though, the inability, at times, to accurately judge for ourselves what reward (p11) we give ourselves. And of course, any reward, I might argue, will come from someone else, at their expense.

In Lovin, I denote a connection, although never mentioned, to Kingdom Theology, of the Wrightian type. This, of course, may be my subjectiveness getting in the way, but when I read statements like, “Love for God is lived out in a world that is suited to human purposes,” I get all tingly thinking about how this relates to Wright’s meta-narratives, or rather, perhaps, the biblical meta-narratives as spelled out by the good Bishop. I am also reminded on the Temple theme in Genesis 1 and how this world is suited, as a Temple to God and humanity it’s priests, to our purposes. Further, this idea of theme and narrative (61), is drawn out by Loving, especially in such statements as found on page 15 (And the sum of all our choices…). Indeed!

In chapter 2, he gets into what are basic goods, and is right when he says that they are “not simply material necessities.” I disagree with him, however, that “freedom to make our own choices and to hold to our own beliefs is also a basic good.” Could Dr. Lovin say this about War-Time Communists? Or the North Korean leadership? Or the host of cults which seemingly spring up when the calendar looks dark? Further, he goes on to note that we, and I assume he means Westerners, have our needs met. (p28) He speaks about the hours not being so long and the labor not so physically intense. That “physical or mental challenges” no longer lead to marginalization. I am unconvinced that Dr. Lovin knows enough about the coal miners, or Appalachian-Americans, the fishermen, the farmers and other still life-threatening occupations to make such bold statements. Sure, in comparison, we have become better, but to whom are we comparing ourselves too?

I like Aristotle, but I do not care much for the way in which he brings in Augustine. (p27) I note the role in which Lovin gives to Augustine, in securing Christians in political roles, and I find it distasteful.

In chapter 3, Lovin gets into the discussion of natural law, and makes bold, timely statements. For one, he notes use of the Old Testament in modern American law. (41). Further, his take on the fact that for natural law, the oppressor decides what that actually is, is refreshing. (48) “Power alone determines whose views will prevail.” (49)

His slow and steady progress to bringing in Christianity to the discussion of ethics is sometimes painful, but I can understand it more. Finally, he gets there (54, 77) and begins to show how they, Christian and Greek, get together. I still detect a trace or two of Augustine (p75, but counters it on 77), however, when everything is dependent upon what God gives us, in the way of gifts. I have no issue with salvation being a gift, but I do recoil at the thought that we cannot increase our own ethics. However, bringing in Thomas Aquinas to the discussion is always welcomed (p75).

I enjoy the limitations placed on achieving virtue for the Christian, in that we realize that we have something which stands between us and achieving perfect virtue. Sin. I further like Lovin’s argument on 2502 (in the conclusion, Kindle goes to location) which begins, “It is supposed that those who have faith in God…” This, I think allows us to understand more fully the limitations of our own arrogance in assuming that in doing such and such, perfectly, we will somehow be rewarded while others won’t be.

And finally, his closing statement, “So the moral life, instead of being a way to defend ourselves, becomes a way to love our neighbors and a way to love God as well” is something I completely agree with. Coming from a legalistic background, I fully resonated with several of his points, and further, as I move close to studying Aristotle and exploring a communal covenant, Lovin and I agreed more and more. While the discussion sometimes lagged, I found that Lovin presented what I believe are correct points, except for the one noted above. One thing which was lacking in the reading, was teaching ethics. I guess I’ll have to read chapters 5 and 6 at a later date.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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