In their book The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context, Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener take us on an historical journey of discovery as we explore the approaches taken to ethics and morals throughout the centuries by various philosophers.
For many, ethics is based solely on what a particular society or group deems normal. Laws and rules are established to uphold these “normal” behaviors. As long as everyone believes the same way, all is well; sort of. What happens when “normal” shifts? The fact is, we have a propensity to normalize certain behaviors while demonizing others, but how do we measure the legitimacy of the norm? Ethics gets messed up if it is only tasked with normalization and lacks any sort of compass. Certain behaviors may be considered “normal” within the confines of a mental institution or prison, but when compared with standards of behavior from “outside” of these institutions, the deficits become apparent. The same applies to societies. Many Nazis carried out horrific acts while viewed as “ethical” people by others who held the same beliefs. We currently live in a country where plagiarism (which is not considered unethical in some countries) is illegal and punishable but killing millions of unborn babies is protected by law.
Ethic must be anchored in something. As Christians, it seems obvious that this anchor is the Bible. “Christian ethics seeks the will of God from love in faith. For this purpose we need the commandments in Scripture.” But even Christians who hold the Bible as their standard embrace diverse views of what is considered ethical. Three conversations in the past few weeks highlight the disparity in ethics for professing Christians.
Conversation #1 “I’m struggling with people in the church doing things that were always against the rules and considered sin when I was growing up. How do we know what is really sin?”
Conversation #2 “I can act however I want. The Bible says ‘do not judge’, so no one better ever tell me that what I am doing is wrong.”
Conversation #3 “I don’t understand how it is so hard to stop ISIS. Just find out where they are any kill them all. We didn’t worry about collateral damage in World War Two, and we won.”
These conversations illustrate that one anchor is often insufficient. A boat needs more than one anchor; with only one anchor, the boat is tossed about and becomes very unstable. Adding a second anchor keeps the boat in the desired location and gives stability. Another anchor for Christian ethics is a focus of Christ’s kingdom and his righteousness; “The most important demand is that we seek his kingdom and his righteousness…Righteousness is a summary of God’s will as it is and will be manifested in his Kingdom.” “We must continually ask ourselves whether our decisions and actions contribute to or harm the manifestation of God’s kingdom.”
Another anchor is the conscience. While it is possible to shape our conscience in ways that are harmful, a healthy conscience becomes a great tool. I love the way Nullens and Michener stress both the role and the formation of the conscience, “The conscience is developed as it summits to the influence of Christ, Scripture, and the faith community through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is not simply about blind obedience to the hard facts of the law, but it is about discovering joy in obedience to the purposes we were created for.”
 Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Paternoster, 2010), 166.
 Ibid., 169.
 Ibid., 169-170.
 Ibid., 187.