A review of Evangelical Ethics, 3rd ed. By John Jefferson Davis.

Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2004.

For two decades this book has well served the evangelical community as a basic textbook in ethics. First published in 1985, a much needed second edition appeared in 1993. But with further ethical reflection called for, especially in the rapidly developing area of bio-technology, a third edition was in need, and here is the result.

This new edition features a new chapter on genetic engineering, which looks at the history, technology and morality of such issues as cloning and stem cell research. There is also a new chapter on environmental ethics. In addition to addressing some contemporary environmental concerns such as global warming and biodiversity, it offers a biblical foundation for thinking about the earth and our stewardship of it.

And the existing ten chapters have been revised as well, bringing statistical and bibliographic information up to date.

The opening chapter lays out some general principles of ethical thinking from a biblical viewpoint, including the problem of conflicting obligations, and the place of Christian morality in a pluralistic culture.

The other nine chapters focus on major ethical and social hot potatoes of the day. Thus there are meaty chapters on such issues as contraception, reproductive technologies, homosexuality, abortion, war and peace, and capital punishment.

All the issues are approached from a decidedly biblical and socially conservative standpoint. Thus in the chapters on abortion and euthanasia, a strong pro-life stance is argued for as the one most closely reflecting the biblical data.

On the issue of war and defence, Davis argues that the Christian case for pacifism rests on a weak hermeneutical basis, and that the just war tradition, including nuclear deterrence, is morally justifiable.

On the related issue of capital punishment, the author takes the view that it is still a binding principle, not limited to Old Testament times. It reflects both the justice of God as well as his wrath against the wrongdoer.

On the thorny issue of divorce and remarriage, Davis argues that while God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16), there are cases, such as sexual infidelity and desertion, where divorce is morally permissible, though not obligatory. Reconciliation should be the main emphasis, with divorce seen as a painful last resort.

Homosexuality is not overlooked. The social, medical and theological components of this discussion are all well covered. Davis argues that homosexuality is contrary to the divine will for human sexuality, and real hope is available for the homosexual who seeks to renounce his lifestyle.

In sum, this book offers a clearly biblical approach to many of the controversial social and ethical debates of the day. A lot of ground is covered in the book’s 350 pages. One can argue that more could have been included. For example, a full discussion of cloning and stem cell research could have been featured in a separate chapter. The very topical issue of same-sex marriage is not even mentioned in the chapter on homosexuality. Other omissions come to mind.

But one can only cover so much material in a single volume. And Davis has elsewhere developed some of these topics further, as in his 1984 book on abortion. All in all this is one of the best books on contemporary social and ethical debate from a biblical perspective.

[518 words]

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