Covenant and Ethics

So I’ve been doing a new thing with my WordPress site. Instead of blogging my work as I did on my honours project (which resulted in posts that were haphazard, to say the least) I’m now writing it up in pages with content menus and everything. But that means the blog goes very quiet. So now I’m going to post random thoughts and questions from my research, which currently is a new read-through of the Bible with eyes open for a number of topics.

So here’s my thought for the day, which I suspect will take a lot of thinking:

God interacts with his people in ‘covenant’. his commands to us come from within that covenant. What does this do to our ethics?

Firstly, what does it do to the frameworks (teleological, deontological, consequentialist, insert-Greek-word-here-ological) that we try to cubby-hole biblical ethics into? How does the intrinsically relational element of covenant and covenant conditions affect how we read biblical ethics, how we apply it, and how we teach it to others?

Secondly, if covenant was out unifying theme for ethics, would that not further undermine Christian attempts to apply biblical ethics to non-Christians? They’re not part of the covenant, of course they could not be expected to see how good it is to live in the covenant way, and they won’t get any of the benefit. It’s like an Australian going around wearing All-Blacks gear: it doesn’t make them part of the team, and it doesn’t even give them any of the benefits. It’s just pointless. The problem is that they go for the Wallabies, until they fix that, it doesn’t matter what they wear (for non-Rugby people, insert good team and bad team here).

This thought puts a different slant on the common argument using creation ethics. The argument goes: God created a certain order, and it is Good. Thus, even if people are not part of the kingdom/covenant/church, then getting them to live the way of the creation order is still good for them. HOWEVER, if biblical ethics is fundamentally covenantal, then the commands to restore that order only make sense within the relationship of the covenant. Let’s face it, the only place where the macro created order of God->humanity->creation is restored is within the covenant. so why are we forcing non-Christians to follow a tiny part of that order (say, in their sexuality) when they have got the whole pyramid upside-down?

More on ethics in Genesis

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2 thoughts on “Covenant and Ethics

  1. Fun thoughts, Mike.

    I like that you’re thinking of covenant as a framework, and that you’ve highlighted the intrinsically relational element of that; it resonates nicely with the Youth ministry angsty vibes coming from the States (Root etc) at the moment, that Youth & Kids Ministry isn’t about producing _good_ kids, it’s about producing (if we can use that term…) _Christian_ kids. There’s no use discipling kids to recite the 10 Commandments if they don’t know the God who spoke those words.

    Thinking of the relational element of covenant in regards to ethics, Marcus Peter Johnson has a neat chapter on Sanctification in ‘One with Christ: an evangelical theology of salvation’. He argues that sanctification is neither entirely positional or progressive, but both; because our sanctification is in Christ. Jesus’ holiness is ours, and our progress in sanctification is not the fruit of rigorous spiritual discipline exercises (as good and useful as they can be), but a growing more and more familiar (and therefore, more and more imitatory – inventing words because I can) with the one in whose image we are being reformed.

    It’s remarkably freeing from the burden of not measuring up, and remarkably exciting at the prospect of having a person with whom I am intimately connected to, to imitate, I find!

    I think also potentially fruitful for evangelism; it’s not a list of rules we’re selling, but a person we’re shining the spotlight on.

    A push back: are we forcing non-Christians to follow God’s created order? Are you thinking along the lines of CDP in Australian Politics? Or just culture vibes in our churches, that we seem to kind of expect people to be like us, in order to be members of us?

    Hey the blog is looking promising!

    • Johnson sounds like he is channelling David Petersen’s magnum opus “Possessed by God”. Yeah, there are two meanings of holy, and I like how 1 Cor blends them both in the first few lines where the Corinthians ARE holy and CALLED TO BE holy. Paul then uses all the “you are” language to push the “therefore be who you are” commands. Sex: “You are the temeple…” therefore “flee…”

      Yes, this is significant to evangelism. I will have to fit this into the notes somewhere (I’m writing an evangelism unit right now)

      Finally: yes, this is a direct swipe at the CDP and the ACL and the gay marriage debate among other “make people do what we want” campaigns. There is a role for Christians to campaign in government, especially for the protection of the weak and powerless, but there is a real problem when we are trying to use the arm of government to make people live how we want them to.

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