‘Ethics as Worship’ by Mark D. Liederbach and Evan Lenow

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In recent years, evangelicals have unabashedly relied on the infallible 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 commendable and necessary amid the massive theological drifts inside the church as well as the shifting sands of culture that influence everything in our lives.

But an unfortunate byproduct of this entrenchment is a failure to also consider the fullness of our call to faithful orthopraxy. We need to emphasize good deeds, not just good beliefs. We often reduce the task of Christian ethics to the simple application of theological beliefs rather than seeing the beautiful and inextricable relationship of theology and ethics as the two main disciplines of Christian living.

We see this imbalance playing out today in our churches and our classrooms, and even in the public square. But finding the right relationship between these disciplines requires remembering that our actions (ethics) reveal what we truly believe (theology), just as our beliefs also inform our actions (175).

This orderly view of theology and ethics as central to Christian life underlies 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 ministerial relations at Mississippi College). This book serves as a useful introduction to Christian ethics as a form of worship centered on our love of 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 Edition. 792 pages.

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

P&R Edition. 792 pages.

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Liederbach and Lenow exemplify the fullness of Christian ethics, not as a mere application or sub-discipline of theology, but as a fundamental element of Christian living.

The title Ethics as worship picks up the theme of the Great Commandment (Deut. 6:4-5; Matt. 22:37-39; Mark 12:28-31) to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves (xxii). Liederbach and Lenow establish early on that this dual commandment of love underlies both the theological and ethical aspects of Christian living—both must be a form of worship that gives to the “correct God”. . . all the praise, honor and glory due to him from the bottom of his heart, as he commands, in all aspects of our existence, both by ourselves and collectively with all people created in his image (xxiii).

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

The volume is designed so that each section can be used independently, but they also build on each other to give readers a comprehensive idea of ​​the Christian ethical system. This contrasts sharply with many of the most popular non-Christian systems today, including the still prevalent 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), the normative formulation (part 3) and finally the application of Christian ethics to many aspects of life and culture (part 4). The authors employ a metaphor for each element of Christian ethics, with metaethics as a compass, normative ethics as a map, and applied ethics as a path (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 whole ethical system is built on it, this reality is rarely exposed in Christian ethical texts. The authors argue convincingly that our growth as disciples and our worship of God is rooted in first understanding “the nature of how things should be and how they really are before we can better understand how we should live” (29). Many popular texts used to teach Christian ethics adopt a basic metaethical framework rather than spend time on this crucial element of Christian ethics as they begin their exploration of normative formulations and applied aspects of ethics. .

While the majority of the book is rightly devoted to applied ethics, it is commendable that the authors devote over 100 pages to these metaethical themes as they explore the motif of ethics as worship across the biblical metanarrative (creation, fall, redemption and restoration) as well as the role of the Holy Spirit and the Bible in Christian ethics.

We do not see the beautiful and inextricable relationship of theology and ethics as the two main disciplines of the Christian life.

They rightly show that metaethics informs Christian worldview and ethics, which are built on proper metaphysics (study of being), epistemology (study of knowledge), anthropology (study of humanity) , theology (study of God) and axiology (study of value) (14).

Given the size of the book and its emphasis on Christian moral discipleship, the discussion of metaethics deals primarily with how Christians should 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 far more expansive than the texts often used in academic and seminary settings, which treat metaethics as a footnote or relegate it to a few pages of introduction.

Ethics methods

After establishing the Why from ethics to metaethics, the authors revolve around What of normative ethics by exploring the most widely used ethical theories, which they describe as the theological/normative domains of ethical evaluation. They show the six main methods or areas of ethics, including systems that focus on the telos, the agent (virtue), the act (ethics), the circumstances (situational), the consequences (consequentialism/utilitarianism ) and relationships (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 within Christian ethics. For example, although consideration of the consequences should have no primary role in Christian moral evaluation, this does not mean that there is no place to evaluate the consequences of an action (216).

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

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 issues that divide the church as we seek to live consistent with our biblical call to speak the truth with grace. This appeal is particularly difficult because our society often rejects a transcendent foundation of truth and reality, and because our church culture sometimes speaks truth without grace.

The authors explore a wide range of issues ranging from biblical justice and care of creation to bioethical issues such as abortion, end-of-life decision-making, and reproductive technologies. The applied ethics section unfortunately lacks a substantial 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 who teach and learn ethics as the authors end each chapter with key terms and concepts, Bible references, study questions and additional reading lists.

This is a wonderful introduction to the wide world of Christian ethics and a helpful reminder that simply having the right beliefs does not account for the fullness of Christian life and our quest to be transformed into the image of Christ. The church would do well to respond to the call of 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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