Once in a while you meet a student who is head and shoulders above the rest, not necessarily in academic skills but in maturity level. I have such a student this semester. His name is John (not his real name). His father is the pastor of a small, quite conservative, Evangelical church. John loves the Lord. But he is learning some new things in college and is now asking some questions that his father is uncomfortable with. He is afraid that John might be abandoning the faith because of his questions and doubts. What John is doing, however, is healthy and normal. He is learning how to think and is beginning the process of individuation, which all of us go through to some extent. I love meeting with John; we have begun a weekly routine of chatting together and discussing matters of faith and ethics. In fact, we are meeting today.
In our text for this week’s reading, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context, Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener attempt to trace and revive the heart of Christian ethics in a world that is often resistant to such matters. Suffice it to say that there have been many views on this subject throughout the history of Western Civilization (which is the emphasis of this book) and many different views among contemporary philosophers and theologians. The authors do a thorough job of expounding on their subject, including chapters on Consequential Ethics (Chapter 3), Principle Ethics (Chapter 4), Character Ethics (Chapter 5), and Value Ethics (Chapter 6). Frankly, I found these sections to be good, but dry – until I came to the section on Thomas Aquinas. Since Thomas Aquinas is one of my heroes of faith, I found this particular section most interesting. The reason I have loved Aquinas for years is that he has given me permission to think, to reason, to ask questions, and even to doubt. In essence, Aquinas allowed faith and reason to coexist. For me, this was revolutionary in my faith journey. Like John, I finally had the guts to disagree with my strongly conservative, fundamentalist father. But unlike John, my journey did not begin until my mid-thirties.
Thomas Aquinas taught me to think and ask questions without fear, while still holding on to my faith. The text says of Aquinas, “Reason and faith were in tune with each other, but faith took precedence.” I do not agree with everything Aquinas taught (actually I do not fully agree with anyone), but nor do Nullens and Michener. Some of the areas I do agree with what Aquinas taught are as follows:
- The task of ethics is to use reason to guide people toward happiness.
- The ultimate goal of human existence is to manifest God’s glory.
- The will and reason make mankind unique as the image of God.
Aquinas states that man has free will. Whether or not I believe this as a theological system, one thing I do know for sure is that my will is strong and often supersedes my reason. I am a sinner. I mess up. I sometimes choose to do things, think things, and say things that are not godly. But I also sometimes choose to do right. God does not force me to do right, and He certainly does not force me to do evil. I am, like the apostle Paul, always in the midst of a wrestling match. Sometimes I pin my opponent, but often my opponent pins me.
To be honest, I struggled through most of this book and did not like the authors’ conclusions. I felt that they were comfortable with certain questions but not with others, particularly with concepts and views that disagreed with their own views of Biblical interpretation. Perhaps I struggle with the sacred cows of Evangelicalism, even though I (at least in part) am an Evangelical. It is OK to ask questions, to have doubts, to say, “I don’t know” once in a while, and to allow for mystery in one’s theological and Biblical views. So am I a skeptic? Probably. Do I believe in an ethical faith? Absolutely. I, like John, am no longer a fan of blind faith. I, like John, have a father who disagrees with me. I, like John, am comfortable with ambiguity. And finally, I, like John, desire to live a moral and ethical life. We are almost 40 years apart, yet we are on a similar ethical journey. By the way, if John’s father only knew how his son was thinking, he wouldn’t worry but would rejoice in the fact that his son is becoming an original, not a copy.
 Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener. The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster Publishing, 2010)
 Ibid., 93.
 Ibid., 94
 Ibid., 97.