Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality. By Kyle D. Fedler. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006. 233 pp. $29.95 (paper).
Exploring Christian Ethics: Biblical Foundations for Morality starts off strong. Kyle D. Fedler attempts to do two things with this text: give some basic definitions from Christian ethics, and present the key themes of biblical morality. It is meant to be an introductory book, and at times the author almost succeeds. Most Christian ethics professors search for introductory books, especially at the upper undergraduate or entry graduate levels, which are neither too simplistic nor too complicated. The beginning of the book seems to set the right tone. However, this reassuring introduction makes it all the more disappointing when the book ultimately fails at its attempt.
At the start of the book, the author renews some major definitions in ethics, some secular and some specifically theological: deontologv, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics are discussed. His emphasis on "what kind of person I should be" over simply "what I should do" is right on point. The book avoids the individualistic, decisionistic ethics of liberalism. The focus is placed on virtue ethics over the mere keeping of rules. Fedler lists important virtues, identifying their scriptural source and contexts. The author explains succinctly how moral identity is formed, including the emotions. He states what the therapeutic culture needs to hear: "I contend that part of what it means to be a good person is to learn to feel the right way towards the right things" (p. 40). This positive formation can only happen through the practice of habits that lead to sound character.
The second section of the book deals with the use of the Bible in Christian ethics and an exploration of key texts. It is refreshing to find an author who is able to be so forth right about the importance of the Bible for Christian ethical behavior. Fedler states, "It is through the stories of God's dealings with Jews and early Christians that we come to know who God is and what God wills. . . . anyone who claims to completely dismiss the Bible as irrelevant and immaterial is placing himself outside the realm of Christianity" (p. 52). Fedler also states clearly a forgotten premise concerning interpretative disagreement: the culture of even interpretation is valid and therefore true. He goes on to say, "Simply because people disagree with one another does not mean there is noway of adjudicating various interpretations. Just because people disagree does not mean that evenone is equally correct. This is an improper move from the descriptive to the normative" (p. 51). However, these bits and pieces of clarity do not stop most of the book from falling into a muddle.
Although one book cannot cover everything, a little more detail in the right places could have helped …