Crossway Books, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong books)
There have been a number of solid evangelical works on ethics which have appeared over the years. Most have gone through various revisions. One thinks of works by John Stott, Norman Geisler, and John Jefferson Davis. Another standard conservative Christian work has been this volume.
It first appeared in 1993, and I have a well-worn copy of that terrific volume. But when I heard that a major revision and expansion of the book had just occurred, I knew I had to pick up the new edition. And it certainly is quite an expansion, almost doubled in size.
It has mushroomed from the original 479 pages to its current 846 pages. Basically all of the main subjects are still covered, but some have been expanded into two chapters (eg., the discussion on homosexuality), while other sections have been consolidated and/or repackaged in various ways. But all the original chapters are there.
Let me point out that although I refer to “them” or “they” throughout this review, Paul Feinberg sadly passed away early in 2004, so the final work on this book was of course carried out by his brother John. Thus the bits of revision are due to John, but both authors are responsible for the original version.
After an introductory chapter on ethical decision making and the Christian, there are meaty chapters on abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, genetic engineering, divorce and remarriage, war and peace, and so on. Each chapter interacts with both the relevant biblical data and the various secular arguments, facts and issues involved.
Consider the two lengthy chapters on homosexuality which cover some 80 pages. All the biblical material is carefully examined, along with the attacks on it from the theological revisionists. Thus those arguing that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not because of homosexuality but because of inhospitality are answered in some detail. Indeed, a full 13 pages are spent rebutting this claim alone.
And the social science data is also explored rather thoroughly. The particularly unhealthy and promiscuous lifestyle of homosexuals is carefully documented, and a full discussion about whether people are born homosexual, and the like, is amply discussed.
Or take the issue of euthanasia. Again, all of the biblical data is examined in detail, and the social science arguments are also looked at and evaluated. For example, they look at the scary situation in the Netherlands where many Dutch people are euthanised without even giving permission. And they note how numerous infants are also being bumped off there, and they ask whether older children will soon face the same fate.
Of interest is how some changes of thinking – at least minor ones – have occurred between the two editions of this book. For example, in their chapter on capital punishment, they carefully lay out the pros and cons of the argument, looking at both secular and biblical concerns.
In both editions they argue that there is a strong biblical case for capital punishment. However in the second edition they add some further considerations which have developed over the years. They still favour the death penalty, but now add two exceptions to it, both involving the extension of grace to the prisoner.
Of course as with any book, one may find areas of disagreement. For example in the Stott book on ethics I love what he does with family and sexual ethics, but I am not as impressed with what he does with the ethics of war and peace, especially the nuclear dimension to it.
The same here. The authors offer quite good chapters on the new reproductive technologies, but I sometimes think they may be a bit too lenient in some areas. Admittedly, a lot of this is new moral territory, because the technologies are so new.
And Christians will have to agree to disagree in many of these areas. So it is not surprising that readers may well find parts of this book more to their liking than others. But for the most part it lays out a solid, evangelical, and basically conservative assessment of a number of hot potato topics.
One should not depend upon just one ethics book such as this, but consult several at least. But I for one would be quite happy to include this in a top ten list of general introductory texts on Christian ethics. It is well worth getting and carefully digesting.