A Short Overview of Christian Ethics according to Roger Crook

Summary of excerpts of An Introduction to Christian Ethics, 5th edition by Roger Crook

CHAPTER 5: BIBLICAL ETHICS

Jesus

  • Jesus’s ethical teachings are usually framed in terms of the “ideal pattern of human relationships” while also recognizing and being sensitive when the ideals are almost always unmet. (77)
  • He was not legalistic. “Had he legislated, his teachings would have been limited in scope and in time.” (78)
  • He emphasized an anticipation on living in the eschatological Kingdom of the End Times. If this is how it’s going to be in the Kingdom, then this is how we ought to live now. (80)
  • Regarding the Law of Moses: 1) he revered the Law more than the subsequent rabbinic interpretations of it, 2) he considered some parts of the Law as more important than others, 3) motive and intent was more important than overt action (“moral wrong lies in one’s attitudes toward other people”), and 4) he said the Law should apply to how Jews interact with everyone, not just other Jews. (80-81)
  • Jesus used “agape” love to characterize how we should love God and each other. What is this agape love? (82-83)
    • It is the opposite of hatred, anger, and contempt.
    • It is active and must be expressed in some way.
    • It is to be shown impartially for all and universally.
    • It is to be devoted to someone (cling to, give oneself to).
    • It is not focused on obligation, but rather on compassion.
  • Jesus emphasized the character of disciples should be: 1) humble–not arrogant or seeking to presume status or entitlements, 2) sincere–no hypocrisy, deliberate deception, or pretense, and 3) faithful–we are stewards of that which we own. (84-85)
  • Jesus’s example shows that “every individual is of infinite worth and is to be treated with respect.” (86)

Paul

  • Paul’s theology is: God is sovereign; we are sinful; Christ is the solution to our sin.
  • Paul’s take on Christian freedom: freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever we want (negative freedom). Yes we’re free from the Law of Moses but that doesn’t mean selfishness.
  • We should have respect for the Church and the body of Christ.
  • We should respect ourselves, seek to avoid putting ourselves into submission to something that’s not God.
  • We should respect each other, fellow Christians, and outsiders.

CHAPTER 6: FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE

  • “Love thy neighbor” means: (105)
    • “unselfish concern for the welfare of another person”
    • “rational, deliberate acceptance of responsibility for another person”
    • “does not depend on reciprocation. We must love regardless of how the other person acts.”
    • “seek what is good for that person”
  • Love demands that we: (107)
    • “accept our own limitations and strengths”
    • have an “attitude of concern and respect for other people”
    • “we are trying to act in the best interests of the other person”
    • forgive and pursue reconciliation where possible
    • have a “special concern for the unfortunate”
  • “In Christian thought, therefore, justice is not merely giving all persons their due. Rather it is acting toward them as God acts.” (108)
  • Christian love is a balance of working at both the individual and social/systemic levels.

Otherwise, Crook’s account of Christian ethics seems to convey a sense of pragmatic moderation. At various points in the text he points out that we exist in a particular context (time, place, economic system, political system, etc.). He argues that most of the time we should accept our context and work within it as much as possible to bring about the ends of Christian love as best that we can, recognizing that we are limited in our ability to radically change systemic issues all by ourselves. Nonetheless, even though “no one can do everything; we can all do something.”

For example, he argues in Chapter 14 that most of his readers live in a liberal capitalist economic system. He doesn’t advocate that Christian ethics require overthrowing the economic and political order to create communal utopia system. Rather, he argues that we should accept the reality in which we live, acknowledge that no one economic system is completely compatible with Christian ethics, and work within our context to act as well as we reasonably can. For example, in terms of our property and money, he argues that there are some key generalizations that can be made: 1) private property is not antithetical to Christian ethic (Jesus and the Bible recognize it and work within that reality of their own context), 2) we’re responsible to God and each other for how we use our property, 3) if we have more property than we need it can lead to “great spiritual danger,” and 4) those who acquire property “are responsible for helping people who are unable to do so.”

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