Monday, 11 June 2012

Ethics in the Presence of Christ

Chris Holmes is Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Otago, and I have been privileged to read his latest book, Ethics in the Presence of Christ.It is a short book (164 pages including index and footnotes) but packs quite a punch. I have found it challenging, informative and not a little stretching.

Before I proceed to tell you why it has been so C,I & nal S, let me get its one shortcoming out of the road. Chris is an academic. He has a quick mind, and thinks clearly and deeply. He is very, very well informed. These attributes, so welcome in his professional life and in conversation, do not always make for a writing style that flows easily; to read it requires attention, but  because its thesis is so profound, it is attention well worth giving.

The book begins with an introductory chapter setting out the pattern and acknowledging the major sourcesof what is to follow. The basis of the book is a powerfully and clearly stated Trinitarianism. The author argues against any form of exemplarism in ethics; that is, he decries the idea summed up in the little WWJD bracelets. Christian ethics is often some version of identifying the example set by Jesus "back then" and then of applying this example, given by the Jesus in the past, to the particular moral dilemma facing us in the present or immediate future.

A more authentically Biblical approach is to recognise the fundamental nature of the Trinity; namely that each of the three persons is always fully present whenever one of them is manifest. This means that when the Holy Spirit is active in the world, as he is continually, the Creator and the Redeemer are also  fully present. When this fundamental principle is recognised, ethics becomes a case of asking, not so much  "what would Jesus do" as "what IS Jesus doing?" Christian  Ethics thus becomes an exercise in discernment and listening rather than  an intellectual exercise in researching and applying the example of Jesus. Ethics is practiced in the presence of Christ.I found this approach  very C,I & nal S, indeed.

This fundamental principle is picked up in the main body of the book which is, in effect, a series of three Biblical exegeses, seeking to discern the presence of the Trinitarian God in three key passages from the Gospel of John.The nature of Christ's power is explored in an examination of the healing of an unnamed man in John 5:1-18, Christ's truth in John 18:1-19:42 and Christ's love in John 21. The author points out that this power, truth and love, historically displayed, is precisely the power truth and love present in the world in the and accessible to us now. To act ethically to is recognise and to co-operate with the eternally present Trinity.

The book ends with a statement on the role of scripture in conveying the presence of God; of being The Word of God.  The scripture presents to us a God who is working, continually  demonstrating God's power, truth and love. In hearing and abiding in God's word,  we build a reality for ourselves which is informed by these eternal qualities, and we are thus built in a world which is essentially ethical.

This book calls us back to the Trinitarian doctrines which lie at the heart of our faith. It outlines an approach to ethics which is at once demanding and refreshing. It is a challenging but very rewarding read, and I highly recommend it. 


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