Article Apr 29, 2014

TRANSCRIPT: How can a Christian become well-versed in ethics?

Hello, this is Russell Moore, and this is Questions and Ethics, the program where we take your questions about moral and ethical issues and try to answer them through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the question that I have today is from André, and André says, “Dr. Moore, what can a lay Christian do to become well versed in ethics?”

That is a really good question, and the answer that I am going to give to you is not so much a list of books to read, although it’s always good to read books. I think the most important thing sounds obvious, but it’s really not, and that is to be well versed in the scriptures—to know the Bible. And I don’t mean that you need to go and learn Greek and Hebrew. I mean knowing your English Bible really well.

There are a lot of Christians who know specific proof texts, but they don’t know how to understand the whole fabric of the scriptures, to be able to inhabit the world of the scriptures and to be able to see how those things apply to ethical issues and moral issues that are happening in your life, including those that aren’t easily proof text-able or those that seem to be new. I mean we live in a time where because of technology there are all sorts of ethical issues that we haven’t had to think about before. But they are really not new. There is nothing new under the sun, the scriptures tell us, but there are just new applications of old principles.

So, for instance, one of the things that I have to answer a lot from parents is what do I do about an iPhone or an Android phone—a Smartphone for my pre-teen or young teenage son or daughter? Now, that is a question that we can answer, but it’s the sort of question that, frankly, fifteen years ago, if you had described that question and described what a Smartphone is, it would have sounded like science fiction to be able to do all of this on one little brick-like device that you have. And if we were to try to speculate about the sorts of questions that people are going to have to address in the church in the next fifteen years, or the next twenty years—what do we do with artificial intelligence? How do we think about that child in Vacation Bible School who was cloned? Those are questions that may seem science fiction-ish to us right now, but they are really dealing with very old, ancient issues being brought to the forefront in a new way.

The second thing I would say is to develop an understanding of human nature, and I think that means listening and developing empathy with people in different situations from the situation that you find yourself in right now. I mean, frankly, right now one of the things that I miss the most since I have been here as president of the ERLC is counseling. Sometimes people will say do you miss life in the academy? I really don’t because I get to do so much of that. What I miss is when I was serving in a pastoral role at a church and then also in my function at the seminary is there would be, every day, people who were coming in, in crisis situations, and I am counseling them through that. And it helped me to learn to understand and to develop empathy for people in situations that I just don’t have to face—people who have different points of vulnerability or different points of suffering from the points of vulnerability or suffering that I have. So when I am talking to that widower who is lonely after  the death of his wife—I’ve never been through that—but in talking to him and ministering to him now I pay attention to that more—to people who are lonely because of death of a loved one. When I am dealing with someone who is facing some particular temptation that I have never faced—talking to compulsive gamblers or talking to people who are addicted to prescription drugs, I no longer caricature those things. I pay attention to how does someone find himself or find herself in that situation.

Now, you may not be in a situation where you are counseling people, at least not in any formal sense, but you can still pay attention to the struggles that people have, to help you to understand human nature, which helps you to understand yourself. I remember there would be many times when I would counsel someone—I remember talking one time with a husband and wife and the husband was having an extramarital affair, and he was sitting in my office justifying why what he was doing isn’t wrong. And he is sitting there—they had a little baby who was probably six weeks old in a car seat on the floor, and I am thinking guy! How can you do this? Don’t you see the pain in your wife? Don’t you see your child? Why would you walk away from all of this? And when he left, I realized what are those areas in my own life that I don’t see—those areas that everybody else would be able to say why can’t you see this, but I can’t? It helps you develop that sense of awareness to some degree that you might not have before.

And then I would say also reading good literature, especially fiction, is more important that keeping up with current events. That’s not to say that it’s not important to keep up with current events, but I think that reading good fiction can help you to get inside the minds of people different from you in a way that is more significant than simply knowing here is what this group of talking heads and that group of talking heads are saying about this particular issue that is going on right now.

And so those would be the main things that I would say that you can do to immediately start developing a sense of becoming more well versed in ethics.

What’s your question? Send it to me at questions@erlc.com: Maybe something that you are reading about in the Bible or maybe something you are facing at your workplace or in your neighborhood or in your family. Send it to me and we will try to answer it here on Questions and Ethics.