Ethics Articles

Articles: Morality


>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles


>>The myth of moral neutrality: reflections on social action and a dialogue with the secular (Kwing Hung, 941200)

Sin Lists

A moral victory for Socrates (London Times, 970825)

On Society (Book Review, 010813)

Moving Beyond Moralism (Free Methodist Position Paper)

Symptom of Moral Crisis (Christian Post, 050430)





>>The myth of moral neutrality: reflections on social action and a dialogue with the secular (Kwing Hung, 941200)


            Since the Criminal Code section on abortion was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988, there has been no restrictions on abortions.  Today, the abortion rate is 1 abortion per 3 livebirths, rapidly approaching the U.S. rate....  This year, the federal government has put Bill C-41 before the Parliament.  It contains a clause specifying “sexual orientation” as a ground of discrimination.  In other words, homosexuality is being promoted as an acceptable alternate lifestyle....  Presently, a parliamentary committee is holding hearings on the question of euthanasia.  It is possible that euthanasia will be permitted by law in the foreseeable future.


            From a brief overview of the three main ethical issues facing today’s society (abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia), it is clear that the moral standard is declining.  From a biblical viewpoint, the moral standard of this world will unavoidably continue to decline until the second coming of Jesus Christ.  However, as Christians, we are “salt of the earth” , with a function of preserving the world from rapid moral deterioration.  One way to achieve this is to influence the legislative process through social action, such as letter campaigns, demonstrations, or bloc voting.


            While there may be occasional successes in Christian social action, much of the efforts by Christians have been failures because Christians often face two major setbacks: (1) many Christians play by the rules drawn up by secular humanists , and (2) those who try to uphold traditional Christian values are being marginalized by secular humanists.


The myths on social behaviour with respect to moral values


            The 1991 Census reported that 83% of Canadians profess to be Christians.   An Angus Reid poll in 1993 took into account attitudes toward God and Christ and reported that three quarters of Canadians are Christians.  If this is the case, why is the society as a whole abandoning traditional Christian moral values?  The reason is that many Christians segregate faith from practice.  For some, living a Christian life is something personal and they would never voice out their Christian views to influence others.  For others, their Christian beliefs have no bearing on their behaviour in the society.  Some even adopt the value system of non-Christians and pride themselves as secular humanists.  That is why even among evangelical Christians (which account for 13% of Canadians), 32% say they support homosexual rights.


            Even worse, many Christians accept the secular mindset as the basis of their social values.  They buy into numerous popular slogans on proper social behaviour, drawn up by secular humanists and intended to limit the influence of religion.  On closer examination, these “rules” are purely myths as they do not resemble reality.


            These myths can be roughly classified into three types.


            The first type of myths tries to exclude God from civil government and ultimately from human society.  Those myths include: “A modern nation must maintain the separation of church and state”, “Religion has no place in any public institution”.  The idea came out from the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.  The original intent of the law was on non-interference, as it was clearly stated that the government cannot prohibit the “free exercise” of religion.  However, when these myths are applied to exclude religion from all public institutions, “free exercise” is turned into restriction.   When any mention of religion is prohibited in the classroom, humanism and secularism are taught to our children by default.  Humanism (which teaches man is God) and secularism (which encourages antagonism toward religion) become the new religion.


            The second type of myths tries to exclude moral values from the writing of laws.  Those myths include: “Laws are morally neutral”, “We cannot legislate morality”.  As for the first of these myth, laws are never morally neutral.  The drafting of the Criminal Code was intended to teach values.  When the law prohibits certain acts, it is a lesson telling the citizens that those acts are morally wrong.  Conversely, when the law decriminalize certain acts, it is telling the citizens that those acts are normal and morally acceptable.  The inclusion of the “sexual orientation” clause is a good example of the latter kind.  It is easy to see how this clause will indirectly encourage more people to practise homosexuality.  As for the second of the above myths (“We cannot legislate morality”), it used to mean something like, “you can’t make people good and upright by passing legislation.  Real morality is a matter of the heart and no laws can change the heart of man.”  Now, the meaning is altered to imply that morality cannot and should not be legislated.


            The third type of myths tries to exclude absolute standards from the realm of morality.  Those myths include: “Moral standard changes with time”, “Moral standard is culture-relative”, “Morality is relative, not absolute”.  It is true that customs do change with time and vary with culture.  But, things that are inherently immoral will forever be immoral  because man was created in the image of a moral God.  There is an absolute moral standard, the standard of God.  That is why murder is always wrong and telling a lie always pricks our conscience.


            This last type of myths gives rise to some other values that a humanistic society generally endorses.  These include: freedom of choice, tolerance, and pluralism.   The central themes are: since there is no absolute moral standard, everyone has the freedom to choose whatever he/she believes and practises; since this is a pluralistic society with much cultural diversity, everyone has to respect the beliefs and behaviours of others; even if those beliefs and behaviours conflict with one’s values, one has to tolerate them.  Christians need to realize that the Canadian society has gone too far in promoting individual freedom and rights and neglecting the rights of the community and the society.  Everybody knows that there can never be total freedom as total freedom for everyone becomes anarchy.  As for tolerance, Christians need to listen to people with opposite opinions but do not need to condone immoral behaviours.  Efforts can still be made to point out their fallacies and restrict them from causing moral decay.


            While all secular humanists pretend to promote the above values, some of them do not always practise what they promote.  As can be seen from below, they do not tolerate Christian social action even though they tolerate and even encourage social action by pro-abortionists or homosexuals.


            What is the result of widespread acceptance of the above myths by most of the populace?  The result is that God is excluded from our lives, moral standard is no longer absolute, and anything is permitted and tolerated, provided they do not directly interfere other people’s lives.  These lead unavoidably to moral decay.  In the past, many evangelical Christians believed that our mission is to spread to gospel and not to preserve the moral standard of the world.  However, in the last 20 years, there have been more evangelical Christians standing up to express their concern about the continuous moral decay and participate in social action.


The marginalization of evangelical Christians


            When evangelical Christians first entered into the debate on moral issues, many secular humanists just ignored their opinion.  However, more recently, they have felt a threat to their grip of power as a result of successful Christian social action.  Consequently, their strategy was changed to marginalizing evangelical Christians by portraying them as a sect occupying the rim of society and thus pushing them out of the mainstream of society.  They describe evangelical Christians with terms such as: “the radical right”, “the religious right”, “extremists”, “ultraconservative”, and “fundamentalists”.  These terms are used deliberately by secular humanists to arouse among the populace negative feelings towards evangelical Christians in order to isolate and marginalize them.


            A good example of the venomous words thrown by secular humanists at evangelical Christians can be seen from how the famous Isaac Asimov ridiculed the leaders of the New Christian Right  as “ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make of themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us.”


            What is the Christian response to marginalization?  Regretably, many evangelical Christians actually cooperate in such deliberate effort of marginalization.  They persistently insist on the subordination of all moral judgment to a divine principle, always quoting “God” and “the Bible” in their arguments.  These only cause even harsher criticisms from secular humanists and result in greater isolation of evangelical Christians from the populace.


Social action through dialogue and demarginalization


            Under these adverse circumstances, how can Christians be effective in any efforts of social action?  There are two strategies, in response to the two setbacks described above.  The first strategy is dialogue.  Christians need to dispel the myths in their own minds and to exert their influence on public opinion through dialogues with the secular.


            However, to have a real dialogue with the secular is not an easy job, as is evident from past examples.  In the mid-1980s, Jerry Falwell, an evangelical and the founder of Moral Majority, and Edward Kennedy, a wellknown left-wing secular humanist, held a series of TV debates.  While both participants appeared to be courteous and civil to each other, it was clear that there was no “meeting of minds” because their primary assumptions, definitions and criteria for truth are vastly different.


            For example, Kennedy believed that the U.S. is great because it is a place which allows exchange of ideas through debates, based on the ideal of “tolerance in American society”.  Falwell too believed that the U.S. is great because it is a “bastion of freedom” but he also made it clear that the responsibility of keeping it free is “charged” by God.  On the question of morality in the society, Kennedy insisted that many issues are “private in nature” and there is no consensus so that the religious witness should not intervene into the arena of public policy.  Falwell, on the other hand, emphasized the need to let religious beliefs guide moral positions, even when they involve public issues.  In the concluding remarks, Kennedy spoke about the value of working together as human beings for peace and justice.  In contrast, Falwell talked about the value of recognizing the loving and sovereign God.


            That experience showed that courteous dialogues between the two sides often produce no constructive results if both sides are not on the same playing field because of their different worldviews.


            It is true that evangelical Christians and secular humanists have incommensurate worldviews.   Each side possesses different methods of judging and deciding what is true, good, and practical.  As a result, the two sides can never agree on the meaning of events or objects.  For secular humanists, the world is constantly evolving; what is right and what is wrong change with time; moral standard is relative.  For evangelical Christians, the world is always under the sovereign rule of God; moral standard is God’s standard and is absolute.  It is no accident that the two sides do not speak the same language and cannot engage in a meaningful dialogue.


            In view of this, is it then impossible for dialogues?  Not really.  Nevertheless, a real dialogue must be conducted at a level where the two sides can meet.  Here, we can apply a major principle used in Christian apologetics: defend our faith by establishing a common ground or a shared understanding, such as rules of logic, scientific evidence, and historical facts, despite the difference in the source of morality and truth.


            While analysis on social and moral issues must include arguments based on the biblical perspective, this type of arguments should be reserved for teaching professed Christians.  In a dialogue with the secular world, we must rely on empirical evidence and mutually shared concerns.


            For example, in the abortion issue, we can concentrate our opposition to abortions on the adverse effects of abortion on health, such as the higher likelihood of breast cancer  and the severity of post-abortion trauma.  We can also raise the issue of defending the defenceless.  In the homosexuality issue, we can talk about “traditional family values” and emphasize that objection to homosexuality is based on the fact that it is an unhealthy lifestyle.   In the euthanasia issue, we can use the example of the Netherlands  and discuss the problem of “violating the sacred trust” based on the Hippocratic Oath.


            Notice that while we like to discuss the issues in terms of morality, secular humanists like to discuss the issues in terms of rights.  In a dialogue, we can alter the direction and discuss the issues in terms of health.  Objective scientific evidence would still support our position.


            The second strategy is demarginalizaton.  Christians must avoid being marginalized.  On one hand, we can stress that Canada was founded on Judeo-Christian values.   What we emphasize now are the same values of the founding fathers.  On the other hand, we have to position ourselves as part of the mainstream of society by refusing to be labelled and pushed to the margin.  We can describe our beliefs as “traditional Christianity” and we can identify ourselves as “evangelicals” or “conservative Christians with a social conscience”.


            Notwithstanding these efforts of gaining public support, the most effective weapon in social action remains to be the vote, the one thing that politicians cannot neglect.  Successful social action should include coordinated bloc voting and letter campaigns which emphasize our voting power.


Social involvement by evangelical churches


            Does the above discussion have any implications for evangelical churches?  In the past few decades, evangelical churches are seldom involved in social action.  There are two main reasons for such lack of involvement.  First, it was a reaction against liberal theology and “social gospel” of the early 20th century.  Second, the belief that the world is irredeemable and can only be changed with the Second Coming of Christ resulted in pessimism towards any attempts in changing the society.  However, such attitudes began to change after the 1974 when the “Lusanne Covenant”  affirms that “evangelism and sociopolitical involvement are both part of our Christian duty” and that they are not incompatible and are both important.  Examples of recent involvement by evangelical Christians and churches include the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Focus on the Family.


            Some Christians may have the illusion that whatever happens in the society may not affect them.  Yet, this illusion is far from reality.  What happens in the society will likely affect our lives and almost certainly affect our children’s lives.  When homosexuality is taught in the schools, we can be sure that more of our children will become homosexuals.


            Evangelical Christians have to be more involved in the discussion on social and moral issues of the day and in the participation in social action.  If all evangelical Christians can coordinate in social action, we can be a real social force.  This would be one important step toward fulfilling the mandate of being “salt of the earth”.


Kwing Hung, Ph.D.


December 1994




Sin Lists


            wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, slanderer, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, invent ways of doing evil, disobey parents, senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless, approve sin (Ro 1:29-32)

            sexually immoral, greedy, idolater, slanderer, drunkard, swindler (1Co 5:11)

            sexually immoral, idolaters, , greedy, drunkards, slanderers (1Co 6:9-10)

            quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, disorder (2Co 12:20)

            sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies (Gal 5:19-21)

            bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, malice (Eph 4:31)

            sexual immorality, impurity, greed = idolater (Eph 5:3)

            sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed or idolatry (Col 3:5)

            lovers of themselves, boastful, proud, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure (2Ti 3:2-4)

            evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly (Mk 7:21-22)

            malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander (1Pe 2:1)




sexual immorality (6, frequently the first one), adultery (2), homosexuality (2), lewdness, lust, debauchery

greed (6), idolatry (4), lovers of money, theft (2), deceit (3), swindling

slander (8), gossip (2), discord, strife, factions, dissensions, disorder, brawling

arrogance (3), boasting (2), proud, conceited

malice (4), treacherous, wickedness, evil (4), ruthless, brutal

jealousy (2), envy (4)


drunkenness (3)

murder (2) = hate

rage (3), quarelling, rash


selfish (2)

impurity (3)




A moral victory for Socrates (London Times, 970825)


Lesley Chamberlain on the need for clear moral teaching


This autumn schools will begin piloting the teaching of “moral values” based on guidance which has already caused a hue and cry. Last year the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community delivered a non-unanimous report on the subject, which was approved in May by the new Labour Government, paving the way for compulsory lessons.


According to schismatics within the forum, the majority relativists take a subjective approach to “what we value”, and they have focused their attacks on the chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Nick Tate.


On across-the-board subjects, such as the self, relationships, society and the environment, the official forum statement demonstrated a tendency to waffle to the point of meaninglessness. For example: “We value ourselves as unique human beings, capable of spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical growth and development.”


Opponents of the relativists have all the more reason, then, for insisting that society needs clear moral rules, and in their support the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has made the excellent point that there can be only a weak morality at best where no clear moral and spiritual language is in common use. But at worst the “rules” side sounds preachy.


As a teacher, I feel some sympathy for both camps, but my sympathy translates into classical scepticism. Through this year’s debate I found myself muttering: do we need a better way of teaching morals than Socrates? The end of exams last term gave me a chance to try out the dialectic on 20 ten and 11-year-olds from mixed backgrounds.


Socrates tells the story of Gyges’ Ring early in The Republic to jolt those who believe in power and advantage into reconsidering their definition of virtue. If you found a magic ring to turn you invisible whenever you wished, what would you do? Parents may blush. The majority answer was: raid the nearest toyshop. Delayed gratification interested only one boy, who thought he would use the ring to seek fame, and by that route riches.


Yet I don’t think we need to be shocked by the realisation that most children are materialistic. Asked how they felt about a ring which instantly turned them from good boys to bad, all without exception rushed to disapprove of it and put it back. What, put it back so that someone else can do far more wicked things? Don’t you want to throw it away? But then, if you destroy it, you destroy the chance of doing extraordinary good, too. In good Socratic fashion we got stuck. The next class, facing up to the uncertainty of the modern world, would discuss what is a good person, and a good action, and why we need to know.


Used to an uphill struggle, teachers no doubt exaggerate, but I do believe we had fun in this exploratory class. Those who spoke often, and cogently, were not always the best academically, which gave a chance for new lights to shine. But the real joy was the revelation of instinctively critical minds, so that, for all that we agreed the only unassailable standards we could find were in our various religions, we also agreed that the practice of religion, and thus the provision of moral role-models, was fraught with hypocrisy.


We were also aware of “doing good” for less than good motives, like wanting to shine in the eyes of our peers, all of which gave us a sceptical philosophical foundation for our discourses on faith. In effect, we agreed that God alone knows who is a good person, and that if we don’t believe, we can only confront our insufficient human knowledge. This is philosophical, not cultural relativism, which I complemented instinctively with the story of a good action, while a disbelieving listener equally instinctively began to deconstruct my story. The spontaneous course the lesson took was thoroughly interesting. It reminded me of why religion teaches in parables and also that rules, critical reflection and literature are all necessary parts of moral teaching. The plan for future lessons was to work out what rules individuals and society needed. We knew already, in all humility, why we should adhere to them.


If I ever teach it, I shall call it the “Who What Why?” class. To endorse the rule-seekers, I’m sure it is the practice that matters and that good practice should be taught. It would be wantonly destructive to let cultural relativism get in the way. But our children are neither naive nor dim, and to give them a critical underpinning as to why we need to keep creating and recreating our shared values, guided by the wisdom of our respective traditions, is to salute their potential as educated modern citizens.




On Society (Book Review, 010813)


By John Leo


My morals, myself Personal rules mean trying to have it both ways


Alan Wolfe thinks that the United States, like other Western nations, is undergoing a radical revolution in morals, and is now “morally speaking, a new society.” This is a familiar argument, made bitterly by conserva-tives such as William Bennett and Robert Bork. But Wolfe is no prophet of despair. He is a sociologist and an upbeat public intellectual who has spent many years examining the moral condition of middle-class Americans. Americans are as morally serious as ever, Wolfe says, but they are no longer willing to follow old rules. Besides, he says, the revolution is irreversible. There’s no going back, so we might as well get used to it. “Americans are not going to lead 21st-century lives based on 18th-and 19th-century moral ideals,” he writes in his new book, Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice.


Wolfe thinks the traditional sources of moral authority (churches, fami-lies, neighborhoods, civic leaders) have lost the ability to influence people. In part, this is the result of appalling behavior by so many authority figures (lying presidents, pedophile priests, corrupt corporate executives, etc.). And as more and more areas of American life have become democratized and open to consumer “choice,” people have come to assume that they have the right to determine for themselves what it means to lead a good and virtuous life.


Waning war. Wolfe, a moderate and centrist by inclination, tends to see moderate behavior in the people he studies. In his previous book, One Nation, After All, he argued that the culture war is dead or dying and that America has evolved a strong consensus on political and social issues. This is a highly debatable thesis for all who remember the stark red and blue electoral map of Bush versus Gore, but Wolfe is surely right that Americans today are reasonably well united. Moral Freedom continues this genial, middle-of-the-road analysis. Wolfe finds San Francisco gays and militant feminists who speak for self-restraint and Bible Belt conservatives who argue for more self-expression. Americans, he says, are not caught up in the liberation-versus-oppression battles left over from the 1960s. Based on a New York Times survey he helped design, Wolfe concludes that Americans don’t spend time pondering a culture war. Instead, they are caught up in an effort to bridge the old and the new, holding on to traditional standards, but refusing to accept them as absolutes. “Any form of higher authority has to tailor its demands to the needs of real people,” he writes.


Hovering over the new moral universe is the great cloud of nonjudgmentalism. Wolfe has qualms, but true to his approach, he sees the nonjudgmental ethic in generally positive terms. Americans are now unwilling to tell others how to live. By refraining from judgment, Wolfe thinks, Americans express a sense of humility and respect for the moral freedom of others. Nonjudgmentalism pushes us to interpret immoral behavior as a result of medical or genetic problems. The perpetrator is not at fault; he is the helpless victim of bad genes or a medical-psychiatric problem. A lot of moral concern is smuggled into the national conversation disguised as a scientific discussion of public health or addiction.


Much of the book analyzes various virtues and argues that Americans uphold the old virtues in principle while in practice turning them into personal “options.” Americans prize loyalty, but in an age of easy divorce and mass corporate layoffs, loyalty is now seen as conditional. The same is true of honesty. Success today, Wolfe writes, often depends on managing the impressions of other people–a form of dissimulation. Honesty is no longer the best policy. It is a general mandate, strategically applied.


Wolfe offers the good news: Americans share a common moral philosophy “broad and inclusive enough to incorporate people whose views of the actual issues of the day are at loggerheads.” But he doesn’t spend much time lamenting the downside. Americans have strong principles, but they reserve the right not to apply them in difficult situations. Subscribers to the new moral order can have it both ways–strong principles with a built-in escape hatch. This would explain much of the gap between polls on moral issues and actual behavior. One L.A. Times poll, for instance, shows that 57 percent of Americans think abortion is a form of murder. An annual survey of college freshmen consistently shows that about half of those polled think abortion should be illegal. Yet the prevalence of abortion points to a more relaxed moral standard when the chips are down.


Is this the future: Strong standards casually applied or simply ignored under stress? Could be. In his book After Virtue, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre lamented that today “all moral judgments are nothing but expression of preference, expressions of attitudes or feelings.” But moral codes are supposed to rein in many feelings and desires, not to offer them all free expression under cover of alleged moral seriousness. Wolfe’s “moral freedom” seems to whisk away duty and obligation, relieving us all of the burden of doing anything costly. If this is the future, let’s have more of the past.




Moving Beyond Moralism (Free Methodist Position Paper)


“Well, that maybe true for you -but it’s not true for me.”


“I can’t believe you are so ignorant that you believe Jesus is the only way to God.”


How do you respond when people say things like this? Many Christians in Canada aren’t sure what to say. For more than a thousand years the Christian church has dominated Western culture. But Christians today increasingly find themselves excluded from the public discourse, just another minority among a growing number of special-interest groups. The result is that pluralism- “the belief in many” - is one of the greatest challenges facing the church today.


Which pluralism?


The challenge of pluralism confronts the church on many levels. There is political pluralism which allows us to express our own opinions. There is also cultural pluralism, which describes a country like Canada where people are encouraged to celebrate their cultural heritage. These forms of pluralism are not unChristian, though they may force us to think harder about how we reach out to different cultural groups and respect the political beliefs of people who disagree with us. It is interesting to note that some historians suggest that Canada’s tolerance for cultural and political diversity has actually emerged from its Christian heritage; many Muslim countries, they point out, have little tolerance for those who think differently. Some even see “secularism” as a Christian invention!


It is important, however, to distinguish cultural pluralism and political tolerance from religious pluralism. Religious pluralism asserts that all religions are equal, and that it is wrong to assert any idea to the contrary. Cultural pluralism--the idea that cultural expressions are all relative--has grounding in Scripture (read Acts 15, for example), but religious pluralism is incongruent with everything the Bible teaches about who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by me” (John 10:14). He did not claim to be a saviour among many; he declared himself the saviour.


But if Scripture is so clear on this, why is pluralist thinking so common nowadays? How has it infiltrated the church?


I believe that the contributing factor is religious moralism. Webster’s dictionary defines moralism as an “often exaggerated emphasis on morality.” Christians, of course, believe that people ought to strive to be moral in God’s grace. But religious moralism goes further.


Moralists believe that Christianity is only about human decisions, only about being moral. Moralists make it seem as if you earn your salvation by your good actions or decisions for God. Yes, they might admit, we’re all sinners, but everyone has the power inside them to change, to turn away from their sin and follow God. All people are created equal, they say, but some choose to follow God and others reject him. God rejects those who don’t choose him. God rewards those who help themselves.


There are many problems with moralism, but here are three of the biggest ones:


#1) Moralism is contrary to Scripture


Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith. We do not earn our salvation by our actions, not even by our ability to choose. Jesus said that no one comes to him unless the Father draws him or her first (John 6:44). This gets at the heart of what theologians call “the doctrine of election.” Election is the belief that, contrary to our human-centred sensibilities, God chooses some people to accomplish his purposes - and not others - at least not for now.


God’s calling of us is not based on our response to him, it is “previent”; that is, the Holy Spirit works ahead of our response preparing us, drawing us into his plans. In other words, we are not saved by our own decision to follow God; we are saved by God when we awaken and respond in faith to God’s prior choosing of us.


Many people are uncomfortable with the word election because some theologians have said that election means that God determines that some people go to heaven and others to go hell; God in effect decrees some people to condemnation and others to heaven.


Free Methodists reject that understanding of election, often called the “unconditional” view of election. Instead, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, argued for conditional election. Sadly, not everyone that the Spirit draws will respond. Some people resist the Holy Spirit, reject Christ, and are condemned. “This is the verdict,” said Jesus, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light” (John 3:19). Scripture teaches that people can separate themselves from God. Hell is what Christians call the ultimate and final separation.


Election is a powerful and undeniable biblical truth. It is wrong to deny it. At the same time, it is not our job to determine who is elect and who is not--as some Christians have done historically. It is far more important for us to ask ourselves what we have been elected to do, understanding that God’s purpose in electing us is to bring “salvation to the ends of the earth.”


It may be helpful at this point to make a distinction between a “theological mystery” and “theological problem.”


A theological problem is a practical obstacle to living out one’s faith. A problem paralyses the believer so that they cannot act out their faith. A theological problem needs to be resolved in order for a Christians to follow Christ. Martin Luther, for example, encountered a theological problem when he realized his inability to save himself through good works. Luther’s problem was human in origin and the resolution of his dilemma came through a careful examination of God’s word revealed in Scripture. God, he discovered, has clearly revealed to us that salvation is by faith and not good works. There is no ambiguity in the Bible on this matter.


A theological mystery, on the other hand, is something that is beyond our understanding, but something that we do not necessarily need to understand completely in order to function as Christians. The correct response to mystery is trust and faith in the personal character of God as he has revealed himself to us. The incorrect response to a theological mystery is to assert what God has left unspoken. Most Christian heresies have begun as attempts to define what God has left undefined.


Note well that theological mystery lies at the very core of Christianity. How can Jesus be both man and God? (The Trinity) How can the death of one man two thousand years ago take away my sins today? (The Atonement) If God is good, omnipotent and good, why does he allow evil and suffering to exist? (Creation). Most heresies through Christian history have begun as attempts to rationalize what God has left unexplained, or that our finite minds cannot grasp.


Clearly Scripture teaches that God has chosen us in Christ before the beginning of the world. And yet Scripture also asserts that we are responsible for our actions. Moreover, God at times has appeared to change his mind (remember the story of Jonah?). The historical tendency has been for Christians to cling to some passages and reject others, resulting in camps on either end of the continuum--Wesley on one end, Calvin on the other. But this selectiveness should alert us to the fact that Scripture does not claim either predestination or free will, but rather elements of both. Some events have clearly been predestined (Rev. 22), and others appear to be conditional upon human response. Scripture is ambiguous on this matter -- and this is the first clue that we are dealing with an issue that should be categorized as a “theological mystery” beyond our finite human understanding.


#2) Moralism ignores the facts that lead many people to pluralism.


“All people are created equal” is not in the Bible - it is part of the American Constitution, which is designed to protect the legal rights of all human beings. That’s fine in the political arena. But theologically Christians believe a human’s worth is found in our being created in the image of God, not in a legal document. Sadly, the spiritual reality is that some people, due to physical and mental challenges, do not have equal opportunity to accept Christ and live out the gospel. Some people do not even have Bibles in their language. Some people have cognitive problems or mental illnesses which inhibit their decision-making. Millions of people in the world today have not heard the gospel of Jesus Christ simply because they were born in a different culture, and billions more throughout history have died without ever knowing the name of Jesus Christ. Honest seekers want to know how Christianity deals with these issues, and an honest Christian response to pluralism needs to address these realities--which are becoming more and more evident as we learn more about other cultures. Moralism cannot provide such answers. Instead, by idolizing human power to change, it produces a deadly legalism and cultural insensitivity. Worse, by denying our deep-rooted original sin and our helplessness to change ourselves apart from the Holy Spirit, moralists write off everybody who cannot live up to their standards as ignorant or lazy. No wonder people react against it so strongly.


#3) Christian moralism falls apart in a pluralist society


More than any other time in North America, Christians are being exposed to the variety of world religions. As one Christian observer has put it: “The end of the world has come to the end of the block.” The Canadian city of Surrey, British Columbia, now has the second largest population of Sikhs of any city in the world. And statistically most North Americans know at least one person who adheres to a non-Christian religion, or new religion such as Mormonism. As a result, it is more important than ever before for Christians to think clearly about how we view other religions.


On a practical level, Christians with moralist tendencies have no defense against pluralism. If God judges us by our intentions only, then why can’t good Buddhists and Hindus be saved too? What makes Jesus so special in a world full of religions?


The moralist has no response except to concede that all religions are good as long as they produce good, moral people. Soon the Christian moralist ceases to be a Christian.


If we read Scripture carefully, however, we see that moralism does not square with biblical Christianity. There is a choice to be made: either moralism is right and the Bible false, or it is the other way round: moralism is false and the Bible right.


I am committed to the latter: I believe that the Bible reveals God’s plan of salvation for all people everywhere, not just white English-speaking Canadians. But that is not to say there are not important questions that the church needs to ask about other cultures and other beliefs. How do we approach other religions? What happens to people who have never heard of Jesus? To answer these questions we need to go back to Scripture and relearn what it means to be God’s chosen people.


How do we develop a functional faith for a pluralist society? You start reading God’s story, you figure out what “chapter” you’re in, and then you get with the program. Getting with the program means getting a grip on what God was doing with people like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It means drawing lines between David, King of Israel, and Jesus, King of the Jews. It means seeing yourself and your context through the eyes of Scripture. In our day, I think it means reflecting on how biblical characters like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego worked in their pagan context.


When we do this we begin to see what God cares about, and we begin to see ourselves as participants in God’s story of redemption rather than as people who are responsible for changing the world ourselves. All of us need to be reminded of that occasionally.




Symptom of Moral Crisis (Christian Post, 050430)


Yes, there was systemic failure, but we should be raising individuals capable of separating right from wrong anyway.


The Baghdad prison abuse scandal should serve as a warning to Americans that something has gone terribly awry in our society. Political talk shows and news columns this week are all about whether or not the top commanders—perhaps even all the way up to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld--should be fired. These are important conversations, but they avoid a sickening fact: As a society, we are raising too many children who don’t understand the difference between plain right and wrong. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have U.S. soldiers committing such crimes.When I first saw the photos, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, I was shocked and horrified. The feelings of outrage were intensified by the fact that the perpetrators were American soldiers. How could American boys and girls do things so contrary for all we stand for in the world?


As I struggled to answer that question in my own mind and heart, I was reminded of a little book called The Abolition of Man written in 1947 by C.S. Lewis, the British author and social commentator. Responding to a textbook that introduced subjective and relativist values into post-war British schools, Lewis defended traditional Judeo-Christian morality.


Lewis explained that in the properly ordered composition of a human being, the head (the intellect) ruled the belly (the visceral appetites) through the chest. Lewis defined the chest as the “higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character.” Lewis went on to argue that the higher emotions of the chest—in essence, the workings of the heart--were the essential liaison between the cerebral and the sensual. Without the chest, human beings become self-idolatrous worshipers of their own minds and their own appetites.


C. S. Lewis understood that moral relativism eventually eviscerates moral character. When schools train students to “clarify” their own values, tell them they have the right to question parental or societal values, and that each person’s values are as valid as any other person’s values, then you have made all morals relative and each person becomes the final arbiter of what is “right” or “wrong” for them.


When such thinking permeates society, there are no agreed-upon absolute Truths (with a capital “T”) where some things are always right and some things are always wrong. Instead, you are left with an almost endless number of personal idiosyncratic “truths;” nothing is always right or wrong but entirely dependent upon the situation, circumstance, or personal opinion. Additionally, no one has the right to assert that anyone else’s values are wrong. In such a society, where nothing is always objectively wrong, anything is possible.


Post-modern relativism tears out the “chest” so necessary for stable moral character. As Lewis put it so poignantly: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked when we find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then we bid the geldings to be fruitful.”


Having subjected too many of our children to more than a generation of “values clarification” and societal moral relativism, we have produced ever larger numbers of “chestless” men and women. And this is far more than a religious vs. secular issue. It is a traditional morality vs. post-modernist issue. Going to church, synagogue, temple, or mosque, doesn’t guarantee Lewis’ “chest” or heart. We know that some of the accused soldiers attended church regularly. Perhaps some of these churches have been heavily influenced by moral relativism. Perhaps these soldiers were taught by precept or example, or both, to view the Ten Commandments as the Ten Suggestions to be affirmed or rejected by personal choice. Examples abound in our society of Buffet Baptists and Cafeteria Catholics who believe they have the right to pick or choose which parts of their religious tradition to affirm or reject and that the moral imperatives of their religious traditions are mere suggestions until personally affirmed by themselves, the final arbiter of right and wrong. Both The Barna Group and the Pew Forum have done surveys which show a remarkable disconnect between the teachings of various religious traditions and the personal beliefs and practices of those tradition’s adherents.


Dennis Prager, a popular social commentator and Jewish ethicist, tells a story that illustrates the impact this moral relativism has had on our children. He says that for more than a decade now he has been asking young people in various forums this question: “If your pet dog and a stranger were both drowning and you could only save one, which would you choose?” Consistently, one-third answer their dog, one-third answer the stranger, and one-third say it’s too hard a question and they can’t answer it.


And for many of these young people, the one thing about which they are certain is that their answer is not normative or morally binding on anyone else. They believe each person must decide for himself and that makes the answer “right” for them.


Bad ideas have bad consequences. Moral relativism has produced more and more moral “geldings.” Eventually, some of them found their way into our military. What is particularly upsetting is that a few soldiers have besmirched the reputation of the American military, the societal institution least impacted by moral relativism. The American military has continued to teach, affirm, and honor, objective concepts of “duty, honor, country” long after civilian society made these ideals far more relative and subjective.


When society produces citizens without an internal moral compass, the military cannot manufacture soldiers who possess such a compass. The military system can punish scandals like Abu Ghraib prison, but when the nation gives them men and women without chests, without hearts, they can’t prevent them.


The Baghdad prison scandal should send alarm bells clanging throughout our society. Like the dead canary in a coal mine, it is a warning that a lethally poisonous moral gas is loose among us.