What is “ethics” exactly?

by | Apr 9, 2016

Our CCL tagline (and everyone needs a tagline) is ‘Bringing biblical ethics to everyday issues’. But what is ‘ethics’ exactly? And what would make them biblical?

One common view is that ‘ethics’ covers all the stuff that isn’t in the Bible. There are things that the Bible clearly tells us to do (like “do not steal”), but then there are all those other issues we face that aren’t specifically mentioned in Scripture—like euthanasia, abortion and same-sex marriage. And that’s where ethics steps in.

This is one of those statements that is quite wrong, but also reflects an important truth.

It’s wrong, because ethics is about far more than hard-case controversial moral issues. It’s about every aspect of ourselves and our actions that can be thought of as ‘moral’ (as relating to what is good and right and wrong and evil). And even though many of the moral issues or questions we face today aren’t specifically named in Scripture, God still has a great deal to say about them through the Bible. In fact, we can be confident that by his divine power God has “granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:3).

So this common view of ethics is inadequate, but at the same time it does express an important truth—namely, that ethics is concerned not only with ‘what is in the Bible’ but with the world outside the Bible that the Bible address. That is, ethics is concerned with the world of action and relationships and character that we inhabit day by day; it’s concerned with what we do with the convictions and promises and truths of Scripture in our daily lives.

Every day we face situations or circumstances in which we face the challenge of acting—of doing something that could be good or right or desirable or commendable, or something that could be evil or wrong or blameworthy. It could be deciding how to treat our child when they have been disobedient; or how to react to the driver who cut in on us; how to order our priorities in spending our money; or complex situations like how to approach IVF if we are struggling with infertility.

And as we are confronted by these multiple and variegated circumstances, we have a framework of beliefs and convictions in our heads and hearts about what is true and good and right—convictions that, if we are Christian, should be formed by Scripture.

Ethics is really the process of thought that connects the two—that is, by which our (biblical) convictions drive and shape our contextual action in the world.

Much of the time, this process of thought happens quickly and without us being much aware of it—for good or ill. But we will do better, both in our instinctive moral reactions, and in the more complicated situations that require some considered thought, if have a good framework or thought process for bringing the truth of the Bible to bear thoughtfully, coherently and consistently to the issue at hand.

That’s what we’re seeking to model and to teach at the Centre for Christian Living—a good and consistent thought process that brings the theological convictions of Scripture to bear on Christian-living issues we face every day.

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