Jeph Holloway, a professor at East Texas Baptist University, spoke on the practice of Christian moral discernment at the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics at Howard Payne University.
Jeph Holloway, a professor at East Texas Baptist University, spoke on the practice of Christian moral discernment at the Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics at Howard Payne University.

Prof says ethics more than moral choice

Christians err when they treat decision-making — rather than spiritual formation and character — as central to ethics, theologian and ethicist Jeph Holloway said in a recent lecture series.

By Ken Camp

Christian ethics involve more than guidelines for making decisions, a Texas theologian said in the sixth annual Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics Feb. 28-March 1 at Howard Payne University.

“The moral life cannot be reduced to the isolated moment of decision,” said Jeph Holloway, a professor at East Texas Baptist University.

Holloway spoke on the practice of Christian moral discernment at the lecture series established in 2008 by an endowment honoring former Texas Baptists Committed leader David Currie and Phil Strickland, longtime head of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission who died in 2006.

“That we habitually think about ethics as focused on making the right decision is itself a modern habit,” Holloway said. “When we recognize that such is the case, we can at least entertain the prospect that is a habit we might be able to break.”

Holloway said many evangelical Christians make ethical decisions based on fixed moral codes. While reducing morality to matters of choice might seem to simplify things, he said such an approach is in reality “more problem than solution.”

That’s because the Bible’s commands are intended for God’s people and not society as a whole. “The Ten Commandments do not offer moral absolutes,” he said. “They are covenant demands for a people who know both grace and calling.”

Holloway said that does not mean God intends for only a small segment of humanity to enjoy blessings.

“It is never God’s will that generations be divided by contempt, that human life become cheap, that families suffer breakdown or that community be threatened by impoverishment and deception,” he said. “The critical question is what God is doing about these evils that hover ominously over human well-being and infect even the most treasured relationships.”

Holloway said the answer “cannot be reduced to an appeal to law -- even divine law -- without regard to a broader inquiry into matters of human capacity for moral action.”

“God is not simply the giver of divine law to satisfy our code-fixation,” he said. “God is also the author of a gospel that provides for new possibilities of human moral agency.”

Holloway said the New Testament model focuses on discerning God’s will in the context of daily life and in Christian community where moral vision is sharpened.

“This offers a setting in which the pretentious assumption that discernment is an individualistic affair is checked by the necessary contributions of those variously gifted within the body of Christ,” he said.

Holloway said the distinctive Christian community offers a counter-cultural alternative to conventional wisdom of the world and gives Christians a new language to describe the moral life.

“In the setting of communal worship and mutual service, believers learn a new way of saying that enables a new way of seeing,” he said. “To live in the world faithfully, we must learn to see it truthfully.”