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Book applies ‘ethics beyond rules’ to abortion, race and more

Keith D. Stanglin’s “Ethics Beyond Rules: How Christ’s Call to Love Informs Our Moral Choices” is an excellent, popular-level introduction to Christian ethics.

Unlike some similar books, it does not pretend to offer decisive answers. Instead, it is an aid for carefully thinking through sometimes complex and troubling ethical dilemmas.

Keith D. Stanglin. Ethics Beyond Rules. Zondervan, 2021. 256 pages. $26.99.

Keith D. Stanglin. Ethics Beyond Rules. Zondervan, 2021. 256 pages. $26.99.

According to Stanglin, professor of theology at Heritage Christian University in Florence, Ala., and director of the Center for Christian Studies in Austin, Texas, rules are necessary but not intrinsically sufficient for living an ethical life. The true goal for Christians is to imitate God. While rules are necessary in a fallen world, they become less necessary as people adopt the mind of Christ more perfectly and are animated by love of God and neighbor.

“Ethics Beyond Rules” pursues its thesis in two major sections. Part 1 includes five chapters addressing foundational considerations like the existence of right and wrong and the reasons and motivations for pursuing “good.” It commends love as the proper touchstone for Christian ethics and presents Scripture as the principal guide in ethical matters.

For Stanglin, tradition and reason are aids to the teachings of Scripture, essential for making proper application of Bible texts to contemporary challenges. He explains, “If Scripture seems to be saying X, and it is supported by Christian tradition, and it does not contradict reason, then that’s a pretty solid case.”

Related: To affirm or not? That is the question

Part 2 includes a series of discussions illustrating the approach outlined in Part 1. Each chapter surveys a category of ethical problem by explaining the current social landscape, presenting the testimony of Scripture, describing the relevant Christian tradition and attempting to apply reason. Like most ethics books, it tackles sexual ethics, homosexual practice and abortion. It also treats some matters that others do not, including the use of technology, politics and identity and race.

“Ethics Beyond Rules” is not exhaustive. It does not deal with some topics that readers might expect — like capital punishment, civil disobedience and war. Given the book’s design and target audience, this is expected. Selections regarding topics and depth were understandably necessary in order to maintain a manageable size for non-expert readers. Still, a brief list of suggested readings to facilitate further investigation would have been helpful additions to the individual chapters.

This book is a good primer for individuals and groups wanting to think seriously about Christian ethics because it introduces concepts and questions. Each chapter includes discussion questions, and the book can easily be covered in a typical quarter of congregational study. Readers who are uninitiated in ethical studies will find explanations of key terms, relatable anecdotes, familiar examples and prominent Scripture references.

Yet, people who are familiar with the basics are likely to be challenged to embrace higher motivations for positions they may already hold because Stanglin calls readers to something more than rule-keeping — applying the divine ethic of love in every situation.

MELVIN L. OTEY is an associate professor of law for Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala. He preaches for Churches of Christ and speaks at ministry events.

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Filed under: books Center for Christian Studies Ethics Features Heritage Christian University Keith Stanglin Morality Reviews Top Stories

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