Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Review: “Introducing Christian Ethics: a Short Guide to Making Moral Choices,” by Scott B. Rae

Shortly after beginning my first pastorate, I was called upon to help a family in the midst of making decisions about declining medical treatment. Realizing that there was some difference of opinion among family members, as well as uncertainty about what the hospital would be willing to accommodate, I knew that I would need to have clarity with regard to what my pastoral counsel should be. I would also need to be able to communicate that counsel compassionately and convincingly to a hurting family.

Of course, I had thought about those issues in the abstract, but being confronted with a real situation was different, and I have to confess that I initially felt completely lost. Fortunately, a former seminary professor answered my late night call and walked me through the issues, helping me to apply biblical truth to my specific situation. While I am grateful for that professor, it occurs to me that I could have also been helped by a book such as Introducing Christian Ethics, a newly published book written by Scott B. Rae.

Dr. Rae, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, teaches ethics to business students at Biola University and to seminary students at Talbot School of Theology.

The opening four chapters of the book are foundational in nature, establishing the sources of ethical authority from a Christian perspective and placing the Christian understanding of ethics in the context of other contemporary views. These introductory chapters conclude with a helpful model for ethical decision making, particularly in complex situations where ethical considerations seem to conflict. In that chapter, Rae develops an example of a manager attempting to determine the right course when obligations to his employer and to his friend seem to be in conflict.

The remaining chapters develop a Christian understanding of a variety of contemporary ethical concerns: abortion, the use of reproductive technology, genetics and biotechnology, issues related to death and assisted suicide, capital punishment, war, sexual ethics, and economics and the value of work. For each of these, the author develops realistic examples in order to identify areas of ethical impact, lay out the Christian position(s), and answer objections.

Because this is an introduction, and, as the title indicates, a “short guide,” one should not expect an in depth treatment – obviously, each of these issues could take up its own volume. For those wanting a deeper understanding, each chapter provides a bibliography of two or three other works that the reader might consult.

Rae points out that Christian ethics requires that we learn to think through what we believe: “Often we focus on what position someone holds on a specific moral issue. That’s important, but it’s also critical to identify how they think about right and wrong more generally and how they justify their position.” This book will help the reader to think as Rae suggests we should.

This book could be useful in a variety of ways. Because it is not overly technical, it is accessible for both pastors and laymen. As such, it could be consulted by pastors developing sermons on these issues or looking for a quick guide for his pastoral work. It could also be used by small groups, and to that end each chapter has a list of review questions that could be used for group discussion.

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