I really enjoyed this book. The Matrix of Christian Ethics by Patrick Nullens and Ronald Michener tackle a very difficult topic and do a good job of simplifying it for all to understand.
For many, ethics are black and white. Do this, don’t do that, and all the while the actual relationship/people piece gets taken out of the discussion. As an example, many conservative Christian groups like to make the issue of illegal immigration a black and white issue while the truth is these are actual men, women, and children impacted by these important decisions. It’s rarely as easy as people think and Nullens and Michener help us understand that.
In their book they define ethics as a “scholarly reflection on morality as a whole, subjecting all of the above to systematic and critical evaluation.” But they then go on to give a more detailed definition of Christian ethics when they say, “Christian ethics is methodological reflection on the values, norms, virtues, and purposes of Christian life in one’s contemporary context, drawing on Scripture and the tradition of faith.” Yet, what we all know, is that people use scripture to defend their own views or they misuse scripture out of ignorance of naivety. By their very definition, Nullens and Michener open up the conversation to debate, yet why I liked this book, is that they directly address the process one must go through to determine Christian Ethics. And it’s not as black and white as any Christians might think.
I appreciate Nullens and Michener making this an issue of relationship with God and not a do this, don’t do this, conversation. We’ve all seen the person pull a scripture verse out of context and seem to shape their entire worldview around it. The authors addressed this when they said, “Whenever we say, “the Bible says,” we must remember that it always “says” through a particular lens of understanding.” Nullen and Michener challenge us to take a deeper look and not just read scripture at the surface level.
For many this becomes a challenge of having more knowledge of scripture. They study Greek and Hebrew. They get scholarly degrees. But knowledge without relationship can be harmful. Nullens and Michener address this too, pointing that it’s not just more knowledge but a relationship that helps understand. The authors state, “Simple bumper-sticker hermeneutics is not the answer by any means, nor is rigorous exegesis alone. Those who think that they may discover the proper ethical application of the Bible solely through more sophisticated exegesis are like people who believe that they can fly if only they flap their arms hard enough. Our ethical character does not lie simply in our rationality, but in our relationship with God as his creatures created in his image.”
One of the problems I think our Christian culture has fostered is making Christian ethics a list of rules you can check off from day to day instead of a transformed life. The mainstream media has captured this and they carefully craft news stories into right and wrong issues, all the while successfully making Christianity a polarizing religion instead of a relationship with our creator.
So how does one live in a culture with so much ethical tension? I think we can learn a lot while reflecting on Romans 14. While dietary issues might not be a cultural hot topic issue now, it was back in the Apostle Paul’s day. In Romans 14, Paul makes the ethical question not a question of right and wrong but a conversation of weak faith and strong faith. Paul makes it an issue of personal relationship, between you and the Lord. Whether it’s dietary issues or defining the Sabbath, Paul encourages believers to live in unity with one another, with grace for one another, and yet saying, “so then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” It’s not always as easy as saying you are right and they are wrong. But I do think it’s as easy as making sure I, personally, am in right relationship with my creator.
 Patrick Nullens and Ronald T. Michener, The Matrix of Christian Ethics: Integrating Philosophy and Moral Theology in a Postmodern Context (Colorado Springs: IVP Books, 2010), 9.
 Ibid., 12
 Ibid., 195
 Ibid., 193