Books reviewed by James Woodward

Jesus as ethical teacher

Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality by Kyle D. FedlerExploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality
Kyle D. Fedler
Westminster John Knox. 2006.    

Kyle Fedler is a theological ethicist of American Presbyterian provenance. He bears the academic and pastoral marks of that distinguished stable, writing with admirable clarity and candour. He begins by setting his biblical analysis against a background of ethics in general as a topic of intellectual analysis and human significance. He introduces us to its main questions and styles of thought. Only then do we move to the very different world of ethics as encountered in the Bible, which (we are left in no doubt) is to be our primary ethical guide as Christians.

We are led through the two very different (though related) ethical worlds of the Old Testament and then of Jesus and the apostle Paul. The former comes the two distinct ethical styles of the Law and the Prophets, each raising issues for human behaviour. There is nothing here about the ‘wisdom’ writers who in some ways come closest to modern ethicists in the society of ancient Israel: their secular orientation, taking human behaviour on its own terms, has never commended itself to Christian thinkers, even those who are solidly biblical in allegiance and inspiration.

Jesus as ethical teacher is presented first in relation to the proclamation of ‘the kingdom of God, with special attention to his teaching about wealth, sexuality and the family. In a separate chapter, ‘love’ is analysed usefully in its various senses and there is a discussion of the ethic of ‘bearing the cross’. A final, rather brief chapter outlines some leading topics in the ethics of Paul. And a short epilogue sends us on our way. There is a good pastoral tone to the book as a whole and its deserves praise for both its Christian fidelity and its openness of spirit. This is the attractive face of the more liberal American Protestantism of which we hear too little.

Weaknesses? While the Gospels are not treated uncritically, the constant focus is on the ‘life of Jesus’ – almost as if they were newsreels open to our viewing and to selective treatment. There is here no sense of them as documents each with its own standpoint on Jesus and its own theological and religious concerns. Nor are we allowed to be aware had lived and died before any of them was written. Finally, almost every allusion to the Latin or Greek background of words discussed is erroneous.

James Woodward