Tag Archives: ethics

Book Review: The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership, by Sondra Wheeler

The Minister as Moral TheologianFor the aspiring, new, and even seasoned shepherd/pastor/preacher, I cannot recommend enough Sondra Wheeler’s The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership. This is not a book on ethics, as some would academically approach the subject, although Wheeler does offer a brief primer on types and methods; it is an encouragement and guidebook on being ethical for those shepherding the church. Pastors are not merely prayers, preachers, and teachers; we are (ought to be!) shepherds who model the life of a disciple of Christ and guide others to do the same. This means we “walk the talk,” so to speak, and come alongside others—beginning where they are—and guide them in the same.

Life is messy and often encountered in the grey, which makes how we “do ethics” vitally important in our greater task. Regardless of how much some may want or force it to be, it’s usually not as easy as “yes or no” or “do this to fix that.” In such a small book, Wheeler helpfully discusses with much wisdom the “what, when, why, and how” of living, preaching, teaching, and counseling—or not, as the case may need be. While written in a way that often presumes a more traditional, western and liturgical church, particularly with clergy, its application is by no means strictly understood and confined therein. As a longtime pastor of smaller and home-based churches, as well as a mentor, teacher, and guide to those who come from other churches for pastoral care, I found Wheeler’s book to be an exceptionally helpful and encouraging reminder. I learned from her scholarship and wisdom, as I suspect will any reader open to Spirit of God.

Wheeler is already working on a follow-up, also to be published by Baker Academic: Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving with Integrity. I look forward to reading that, too!

 

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Baker Academic via NetGalley.

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Book Review: Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, by Brent Waters

Just CapitalismIn Just Capitalism: A Christian Ethic of Economic Globalization, Brent Waters argues in favor of a transition from nation-states to market-states as our current best economic option from his perspective as a Christian moral theologian. Several problems quickly arise in this text. I provide the following examples:

 

Problems with Waters’ Method:

1) Beginning with the introduction and extending throughout the book, statistical data is manipulated to support the author’s argument.

2) The author’s arguments are overly simplistic, as he acknowledges throughout, but urges the reader to be patient because he will eventually bring it all together in a fuller and more convincing manner. He eventually does not.

3) Examples of others’ arguments are most often on extreme ends of spectra, would likely not be used by critical thinkers today, and do not adequately address concerns of nuance lacking in the author’s own arguments. All too often it is stated that there is not enough time or space to work out much-needed nuance and the reader is simply referred to a number of other texts via footnotes.

 

Problems with Waters’ “Christian Moral Theologian” Perspective:

1) “Human flourishing” is defined by a particular “Christian” economic and political view that is more “of this world” in favor of the “haves” obtaining more to potentially aid the “have nots” than it is about following Jesus in the kingdom of God as it is now. It is argued that all should be able to meet their desired needs and wants, that this is impossible within any nation or community anywhere in the world, and thus global trade is necessary for “human flourishing” as defined by the author. This is simply ignorant of how many places in the world function and assumes everyone’s “wants” are going to be “good.” This also makes unnecessary the provision of God over and above our own efforts, something for which God has often chastised his people.

2) It is rightly argued that affluence is not usury (obviously, by definition) and can, given the right circumstances, be a good. However, any Christian theologian should know and take into consideration that not all are set on the same path, that we are not all called to have “more than enough” in this life, and that living according to the Way is primarily seen by taking up one’s cross, living humbly, and following Jesus’ example of sacrifice, all while relying on God and not oneself for provision. This should not be taken to mean that we do nothing, but the arguments in this book have little to do with the potential workings of God and, subsequently, a “Christian” moral theology.

3) The reader is expected to take the author’s argument that the Spirit can work through capitalism and globalization as evidence for their being the best way forward. This argument, however, has been and is used for many programs and methods Christians desire to perpetuate and need to stamp with approval—a tactic of “the end justifies the means” that ignores the fact that God can and does work in the darkest places that we cannot even imagine without justifying that darkness as “the best way forward.”

 

Problems with Waters’ Idealism Conveyed as Pragmatism:

1) For the author’s argument to work, all of the world’s kingdoms and nations would need to move to market-states simultaneously and be concerned with one’s neighbor in the same manner (as argued, that would necessarily entail one taking care of oneself and making sure oneself has more than enough before aiding one’s neighbor). It is accepted that not everyone will act as a Christian and that people will be hurt and oppressed in this system, even by Christians, but that it will be a smaller percentage than any other conceived way forward.

2) Any system argued against can be (and often has been) in similar fashion to the author’s idealism and come out as “the best way forward.” If everyone cared for one’s neighbor as Christian’s ought, then Socialism and Communism could both potentially work quite well (remember, we cannot deny the Holy Spirit can work through [insert preferred system], right?)—arguably even better than capitalism given its bent toward greed rather than love of one’s neighbor. That is not to mean that all capitalists are selfish, greedy individuals, but it certainly opens the door to that possibility at least as much (probably more) than to loving one’s neighbor.

3) Given the author’s concerns for the neighbor, there are several non-capitalist and non-free-market exceptions that are found to be necessary goods for the overall system to work (e.g., a socialist education system and unspecified government intervention with trade, the environment, and community are included), which should prove obvious to any reader that the ideal system does not work if it cannot work.

4) The author admits in his final chapter that if he is wrong about the environment and the overabundance of natural resources believed to exist to provide for our ever-increasing selfish desires for more and more energy/power, his entire argument falls apart. I don’t think we need to wait to see the failure.

 

My wife is an economist; I’m a theologian. Though I have certainly gained insight into economic theory, systems, and jargon through my wife’s teaching and working through some of that with her in light of scripture, the lens through which I read this book is primarily that of a Christian theologian and what I believe to be honest, rational thinking. I concur with Waters that globalization can be a good and that giving people the freedom of choice and open borders (borders that are often militarily—or at least by the threat of violence—established) is a good thing. However, I believe this because God has given us all the freedom of choice and that violence is contrary to the way of Jesus (Waters comes from a more Reformed theological perspective, so we likely disagree on exactly what “choice” implies, and his pro-military stance is something I obviously believe to be contrary to proper Christian moral theology). I also don’t think this is something we can force upon others via one system or another. Entering the kingdom of God is voluntary (again, Reformed folks will disagree here); likewise, the way Christians live should demonstrate the same method of volunteerism.

 

Regardless of the system(s) in which we live, we (Christians) are first citizens of the kingdom of God who should love our neighbor no matter the degree to which we “flourish.” The ideal human flourishing described by Waters and many others awaits us in the gift of eternal life when there will be no more fighting, separation, heartache, or tears of any kind. Given the words of Jesus, I do not believe this can or ever will happen prior to his return.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: What Would Jesus Post?: Seven Principles Christians Should Follow in Social Media, by Brian D. Wassom

What Would Jesus PostBrian D. Wassom tried to find a book that answered questions like, “Am I honoring God with how I use social media?” and, “What effect are these sites having on me as a person?” all from a Biblical perspective. When he couldn’t, he wrote What Would Jesus Post? In this short book he addresses “Seven Principles For Using Social Media” that he admits “are arbitrary ways of subdividing and explaining the one basic principle that underlies them all: ‘Fear God and obey his commands’ [Ecclesiastes 12:13].” The principles: 1) Think before you post, 2) To your own self be true, 3) Guard your heart, 4) Don’t miss the forest for the trees, 5) Don’t be a stumbling block, 6) Be a peacemaker, 7) Build genuine community. Wassom appropriately applies these (some secular or misapplied) statements through a biblical context to one more specific, encouraging readers to seriously consider how they interact with social media.

Wassom does not waste time or words. He’s concise and aptly applies scripture, life experience, and wisdom to his points. He makes no claim that his principles are exhaustive, but they are enough to get anyone thinking in a Christian manner before and during their interaction with social media. His observation that Christians are often the worst when it comes to political posts, often confusing their belief in an absolute truth and what they believe to be absolutely true, is spot on. This is the kind of honest dialogue one should expect, and the kind we should all have as we hold one another accountable in social media.

I thoroughly enjoyed What Would Jesus Post?, and would recommend it to anyone.

I received an e-book copy, which I found to be well done and easy to use.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, by Christopher J. H. Wright

The Mission of GodAfter a lecture given in 1998, Christopher J. H. Wright was approached by Anthony Billington and questioned “about the validity of using a missiological framework as a hermeneutical approach to reading the Bible. Is it possible, is it legitimate, is it helpful for Christians to read the whole Bible from the angle of mission? And what happens if they do?” (531). Thorough and dense, though still not exhaustive in its 535 pages, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative is the result of Wright’s journey in attempting to answer those questions. Just as it changed Wright in the process, I believe the journey will aid its readers in understanding what it means to be part of the mission of God, that which Scripture exclaims in its entirety.

Divided into four parts (The Bible and Mission, The God of Mission, The People of Mission, and The Arena of Mission), The Mission of God progressively brings the reader into the biblical narrative and a better understanding of what it means to be a fellow pilgrim in God’s creation as intended by our Creator, recalibrating our posture from one of self-focus to God-focused participants in the continued narrative of God’s mission. I strongly recommend reading through the book in its entirety—it’ll take a while—in order to fully appreciate the journey as intended, but there is a detailed outline at the beginning and lengthy index at the end for those wishing to jump to particular sections for personal study and/or research.

As a proponent of reading the Bible in its narrative context and encouraging others to find and live out their place within this continued narrative, I appreciate Wright’s work and the result of his efforts in wrestling with this hermeneutical quest. It is a “must read” in my opinion, especially for those teaching, promoting, or looking for a particular method, form, and mode of “doing missions,” as it is often described. A proper reorienting of one’s perspective on what it is to be on God’s mission will better (rightly!) enable one to address the pragmatics of living out that mission in one’s own (or “target”) context.

Book Review: Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple by Randy Harris

Life WorkRandy Harris’s latest, Life Work, just made it to my “Must Read” shelf on Goodreads, I’ve preordered copies for my church, and already purchased another copy in Kindle format to make sure I have it in my travels. For me, this was quite a timely read. I had just been to one of the largest bookstores in the world a few weeks ago looking for something on ethics from a Christian worldview, a daunting task when things are loosely categorized and you only have an hour or so to browse, and came out empty handed. I’ve been taking my brothers and sisters on a journey through political theology—how we as citizens of the Kingdom of God engage with those within and those outside—and have reached a point that begins to deal with our immediate context. Life Work fits right in (if only I could get enough advanced copies without waiting until summer!), saving me the time it would have taken to pull together (likely not as well) similar information and more.

Randy is a professor of philosophy and ethics at Abilene Christian University, and his writing is representative of one who thinks about and spends a lot of time with students—he mentions them quite often; but his latest work is not written for readers of a certain age or stage in life. Life Work is easily accessible for non-academics but not so fluffy as to be uninteresting by those wanting a bit more, and its application is far reaching. Beginning with four major ethics, Randy encourages and discourages certain ways of thinking from a Christian worldview for judging between right and wrong and offers a bit of his own ethic without trying to force the reader into one or the other. I recommend the reader take time with this first section before moving on, really thinking about one’s own ethic and if or how it may be altered in some way. The second section describes in more detail what a cruciform life—one of taking up one’s cross and following Christ—looks like as a Christian ethic is applied. This is a counterintuitive and subversive ethic that goes against the leaning and pushing of the world. Looking at Scripture from the perspective of first-century Christians, Randy convincingly offers interpretations of a few passages—those often looked at differently—as claiming Jesus Christ is King, not Caesar/Rome, and what that looks like in the way we live. The final third of the book looks at the lives of people past and present who have lived and are living lives that in some way express the way of the cross, noting a few things he would and would not recommend imitating but considers their lives worth looking at nonetheless. Randy concludes his book with a bit more on peacemaking and shalom.

Randy and I hold much in common, but perhaps have just as much not so. I always enjoy and appreciate his perspective even when we don’t agree, and it’s always challenging. In fact, Randy admits he doesn’t even live up to his own words and challenges, something I think we can and should all admit. Life Work was not only a timely read and a fit for some teaching material, but it also challenged me and made me rethink my own ethic and how that affects my cruciform living. It reignited and reaffirmed old and new passions and encouraged me to think more pragmatically than I may have been, something I’ve been working through for some time.

Lastly, which should probably mentioned first in any other review, Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple is the end of a trilogy, the first two being Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk and God Work: Confessions of a Standup Theologian. Since I have not read the first two and find Life Work wonderfully applicable without precursors, I still highly recommend picking up a copy even if the others have yet to be read. I’m sot sure if I’ll be getting to the others anytime soon, but feel free to let me know if readers of this review have read them and would like to offer their thoughts! Now, go pre-order your copy of Life Work right now!

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”