Introducing Christian Ethics: a brief review

Wiley-Blackwell released this month an entry level text on Christian ethics by Ben Quash and Samuel Wells, Introducing Christian Ethics. I was eager to see it because I teach a course in Christian ethics, but I am also an avid reader of Quash’s work (Theology and the Drama of History was simply excellent and so well-written it gave me hope in the midst of my dissertation that theological prose could be precise and elegant). It arrived earlier this week, and, while I have not studied it in detail, I am intrigued.

There is no shortage of texts such as this, but what makes this one note-worthy is it’s entirely novel, broad division of Christian ethics into three  approaches:  “Universal” (ethics for anyone), “Subversive” (ethics for the excluded), and “Ecclesial” (ethics for the church).

By the authors own admission, time will tell if the approach has staying power, but I am optimistic about the possibilities it offers for parsing the similarities and dissimilarities between various approaches to Christian ethics. To give you a sense for how at least one approach is marked out, Quash and Wells sum up ecclesial ethics with the word “character” and define it generally as,

a call for a renewal of the visibility of the church and for an emphasis on the distinctiveness of Christian ethics, particularly in relation to the person of Jesus. Such a distinctive ethics may have something to offer those beyond the church but that is not to be taken for granted; nor is reflection about what is right for Christians to be restricted to what can be expected of or legislated for everybody. This kind of ethics is less about the decisions everyone takes, and more about the distinctive character of those making the decisions. If one were to sum up ecclesial ethics in one word, that word would probably be ‘character’ (p.113).

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