Ethics as Discipleship: a book review

Recently I sat through a presentation where the presenter made the claim that people always act out of their own self-interest. That ethical egoism was enshrined as the only option for personal decision making made my inner-ethicist cringe. In that environment it was too much to hope for a full-scale discussion of ethical approaches (i.e. the role of rules, formational habits, or even the ‘greater good’). While this discussion didn’t happen in a religious environment, the moral decision making of Christians often looks the to the same as everyone else. And as much as I may balk at that presenter, we live in an ethical-egoist-age.

9780830824656In Pursuing Moral Faithfulness, theologian Gary Tyra explores the realm of moral decision-making under the rubric of Christian discipleship. Tyra is professor of biblical and practical theology at Vanguard University and has more than three decades of pastoral experience. His approach to ethics as discipleship aims to set ethics within a larger frame. One that has the possibility of theological and moral realism, accounts for the Spirit’s role in moral guidance, and balances respect for rules with considering consequences and cultivating character (21-27). The goal of ethics is to make thoughtful ethical decisions in keeping with what it means to be a follower of Christ.

This book divides into two sections. Part one introduces readers to Christian ethics and names the major ethical options (i.e. deontological and consequentialist approaches, and the effects of our cultural moral relativism on our ability to make ethical decisions). Part two aims at describing the ethic of responsible Christian discipleship: Christ-centered, biblically informed and Spirit empowered moral decision making.

Tyra is a pastor and theologian. His ethical formation came from studying with Lewis Smedes at Fuller Seminary (and practical theology from Ray Anderson). Throughout this book he focuses on the practical dimension of moral deliberation in the Christian life. The rubric of discipleship enables him to include the best elements of deontological, consequential and virtue ethics.  In this respect his approach reminds me of Dennis Hollinger’s (Choosing the Good, Baker Academic, 2002).

One of the features of Tyra’s approach is his use of scripture. He points to the ethical insights of Micah 6:8, the importance of consequences and God given wisdom for proper moral deliberation evidenced in Proverbs 2, how Jesus’ antithetical statements in the Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 5:21-47), reveal God’s heart in a way that hyper-literal observance of the law did not (216-219). Tyra doesn’t explore Torah at length or the ten commandments; he is more interested on what the heart behind a law is than mere legal observance. Laws and consequences are re-framed relationally. So is formation (the Spirit’s work guiding and enabling our moral life). I think his articulation could have been sharpened by a more substantive engagement with the Pentateuch and the concept of covenant. however, Tyra paints a practical picture of what responsible Christian moral decisions look like.

This is a good introductory book for Christian ethics. Tyra argues for a thoughtful approach to ethics which defies the relativism of our culture. This will be a good text book, and a helpful resource. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

 

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