Book Recommendation – Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning by Wayne Grudem.

I’ve been waiting for this volume for some time because there are few books on Christians ethics that I would immediately recommend. As a Christian and teacher of Theology, I’ve long wanted an easy-to-read but technically in-depth guide that covers a broad range of relevant, contemporary issues delivered in well-written, easy to understand language and which, most importantly, is biblical faithful. That set of requirements is met comfortably by Wayne Grudem’s latest work on Christian ethics. It is simply the best book of its type that you can buy.

Many will be familiar with Dr Grudem’s Sytematic Theology. One of its best features is the clarity of language. For whatever reason, writers on systematics haven’t always exhibited the greatest skill in writing but Grudem’s work is a class apart in this aspect. The same easy-to-read style is found in Christian Ethics and, as with Systematic Theology, the clarity is coupled with precision and accuracy in the use of terms and definitions. That’s not easy to accomplish. Often, less skilled writers (including me) will sacrifice readability for accuracy. On the other hand, one can easily make the mistake of avoiding technicalities to the extent that vagueness and imprecision clouds the truth. It’s rare to find a writer who can match readability with accuracy and in this, Grudem is one of the most gifted.

Another similarity this book has with Systematic Theology is the organisation of chapters into specific units, each covering a particular topic. Therefore, one doesn’t need to read it front-to-back for it can be used as a reference book as well. Topics covered are exhaustive, as can be seen from the contents page provided by the publisher here. But by way of example, and in no particular order, here are some questions that Grudem deals with on various ethical topics:

Is it ever right to lie? Is it wrong to work on Sundays? How can husbands have a leadership role in marriage if men and women are equal in value before God? What is the right relationship between church and state? Does the Bible support monarchies, or does it favor some sort of democracy? Is it ever right for the government to put a criminal to death? Is it right for nations to have nuclear weapons? Is it right for a Christian to own a gun? What about abortion in the case of rape or to save the life of the mother? Should the law allow doctors to perform euthanasia when a patient requests it? What should we think about sleep, vaccinations, organic foods, tattoos, and circumcision? Is it wrong for a couple to live together prior to marriage Why is viewing pornography wrong? If a divorce is granted for biblically legitimate reasons, is remarriage always allowed? How should we evaluate the claims of certain people that they are “transgender”? Is all monetary inequality morally wrong? How much of our income should we give to the Lord’s work? Does the Bible teach us that it is always wrong to charge interest on a loan? 

Grudem’s theology is best described as reformed evangelical and Christians from that perspective, or from conservative viewpoints generally, will find much in agreement with this book. It takes courage to discuss some of the matters contained, but Grudem is willing to tackle difficult topics head-on and is respectful and courteous in assessing opposing views. I certainly found his arguments consistently persuasive and academically rigorous.

One downside to the book is the noticeably US-centric material. For example, the chapter on drugs and alcohol begins with a lengthy introduction giving statistics on alcohol abuse, all of which are from the US. So we learn that 10% of US children live with a parent with alcohol problems; that in 2014, 31% of US driving fatalities were linked to alcohol; and that 88,000 people a year die from alchohol-related deaths in the US

Similarly, the chapter on divorce and remarriage offers more American statistics: in 2014 there were 813,862 divorces and that the number of US couples getting married has fallen from 10.6 marriages per 1000 people in the 1980s to 6.8 marriages per 1000 people in 2009-2012. Elsewhere, we learn that in 2013, the US Department of Agriculture estimated that the total cost of raising a child from birth to high school graduation was $245,340. Such statistics won’t resonate as much for readers in another countries and cultures. (As an aside, given this is an academic book touching on social sciences, the data is somewhat outdated for a 2018 publication.

But these are minor quibbles. The rest of this worthy tome is biblically faithful, well-written, and both a joy and a challenge to read. This will be useful for bible college or seminary students taking introductory classes in Christian ethics, but it’s also well suited for Christians interested in how to think about living lives that reflect the ethical values of the Bible.

Dr Andy Cheung teaches Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School.

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