Christian Ethics

By James M. Rochford

Any sound ethical system needs three essential and coherent parts: (1) moral values, (2) moral duties, and (3) moral accountability. Without all three, any moral system will surely be inadequate. The Christian worldview grounds all three in the nature and existence of God himself.

(1) Moral values: From a Christian worldview, moral values are grounded in the very nature of God. That is, God is merciful, God is loving, and God is just. Instead of speaking of these qualities in an abstract way, Christians ground moral values in the nature of a personal being: God. Humanists cannot find an objective foundation for moral values, because human culture, human law, and human moral decision-making are ultimately subjective. But with God as our starting point, we have a grounding for moral values that is stable, unchanging, and objective.

(2) Moral duties: Objective moral values are expressed in moral commandments such as, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself… You shall not covet… You shall not steal.” These commands or duties are not arbitrary; they are based on God’s own nature. Secular philosophers have asked what a Christian would do, if God commanded him to torture a baby for fun or to rape a woman for pleasure. Would this be morally obligatory?

Not at all. Christian philosophers have responded that this is a logically contradictory speculation. God can no more command us to do evil, than he can command a circle to be a square. Since God’s nature is good, he cannot command evil.

(3) Moral accountability: While the first two aspects of our ethical system are necessary, they are not sufficient. We also need moral accountability. We might know Good from Evil (moral values) and Right from Wrong (moral duties), but without moral accountability, what does it matter? To illustrate, imagine a government that had laws, but never enforced them. The laws would be meaningless. Without justice or judgment, our decisions on moral questions would be ultimately meaningless. Moral accountability offers meaning to our moral choices.

Christian theism offers an objective foundation for all three aspects to an adequate moral system, while other ethical systems fail to ground ethics adequately (see Evidence Unseen: Exposing the Myth of Blind Faith, chapter 1). While this is a good starting point for ethics, there are certainly many other questions that confront us.

Articles on Ethics

Social Ethics describe how believers should relate to the government, the law, and society. How involved in politics should believers be? We believe that natural law is a better foundation for social ethics, offering an extensive criticism of theonomic ethics.

Prioritized Ethics are just as important as arriving at our ethical principles in the first place. Without a proper emphasis of ethics, our moral system will be terribly skewed.

Abortion is the second most common surgical procedure in the United States—second only to circumcision. This subject has generated no small amount of controversy and moral discussion. Where should we stand on such an important issue?

Divorce is analogous to being spiritually, relationally, and emotionally ripped in half. It’s no wonder, therefore, that divorce is such a painful experience—a fact to which countless divorcées will attest. This must be why God himself says, “I hate divorce” (Mal. 2:16), because it harms couples, children, and communities at such a deep level. At the same time, the moral gravity of divorce is matched only by its ethical complexity. What is the Bible’s view of divorce and remarriage?

Euthanasia comes from the Greek words eu (“good”) and thanatos (“death”). If the abortion debate deals with the value of life in its earliest stages, then euthanasia deals with it in its final stages.

Capital Punishment wrestles with the question of whether or not it is morally right to take the life of a violent criminal. Is this morally permissible or even obligatory?

Just War Theory Is war ever justified for the Christian? This, too, is a complicated subject—not given to simple yes or no answers.

Further Reading

Feinberg, John. Feinberg, Paul. Ethics for a Brave New World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 1993.

Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989.

Longenecker, Richard N. New Testament Social Ethics for Today. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1984.