Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Sin of Gambling: Part 4 - The Case Against the Permissibility of Gambling

The Case Against the Permissibility of Gambling

A thorough case that supports gambling both in the context of larger society and even for the Christian essentially states that society accepts as normal participation in gambling in some form or fashion. Many in Christendom have adopted the previous arguments and freely participate in various forms of gambling seeing no contradiction with social mores or the biblical worldview they claim to hold dear. However, not all segments of society believe gambling is beneficial for government to permit or people to engage in. This is especially so within much of Christendom. As with the view for permitting gambling, four reasons opposing gambling are offered and explained in detail.

The Human Cost of Gambling

The commercial gaming industry has done an amazing job reinventing itself and convincing the public and government that it is merely a form of entertainment.[1] Only four decades ago the media referred to the rise of gambling in the United States as an “epidemic”.[2] Times have clearly changed! Promises of harmless fun for the gambling public and increased tax revenues for the state have lured many states into approving legalized gambling of one form or another. This is likely to continue. However, the human cost of gambling is rarely spoken of when the entertainment value and potential revenues are being discussed. The industry’s trade association does mention the resources they dedicate to such problems but this is after the fact.[3]

For many people, gambling becomes a serious problem threatening nearly aspect of daily life. Unlike in years gone by where the existence of problem gambling was disputed, today there is little disagreement. There is a wealth of evidence of the destruction caused by out-of-control gambling. There have been numerous case studies, members of Gamblers Anonymous participating in sociological surveys, and interviews with other individuals that chronicle the debts, outright theft, deceit, violence, failed relationships, depression, and even suicidal thoughts of those trapped in their gambling addiction.[4]

As with other addictions, the impact of gambling addiction does not end with the gambler. Scant attention is paid to the families of the gambler who suffer the effects of the problem. Research varies concerning how many people someone with a gambling problem negatively impacts but conclusions range from seven in one study to between ten and seventeen in another.[5] The impact of addiction certainly outweighs any benefits such as the enjoyment of some, the jobs created, any revenues raised for governments, etc.[6]

The point here is that gambling is not harmless fun for all to enjoy as espoused by the commercial gaming industry. As gambling spreads throughout the United States, the negative issues such as increased crime, increased gambling addiction, etc. associated with it will become more common. It is interesting to note that MacKenzie predicted the very outcome we are now witnessing nearly 120 years ago.[7]

The Paternalist Argument Against Gambling

Government, when viewed as an ambivalent parent, has certain obligations. Since gambling is bad for people and government is in the business of preventing people from doing things that are bad for them, it follows quite simply that government should stop people from gambling.[8] This argument avoids the issue of enforcing some sort of moral code that the entire population does not subscribe to. The government is not claiming to have a superior knowledge of right and wrong though it does claim to know what is good for people versus what is bad for them. Basically, this view seeks to protect people from themselves.

When considering the poor, this argument is especially powerful. The deontological ethic is on display here by government when considering the impact policy has on the poor. Being duty bound to protect the poor, even when they must be protected them from themselves, requires government to take action. The issue to be determined is whether or not gambling is, in fact, bad for people. It should also be noted that the paternalist argument is dependent on widespread agreement about what is bad for people.[9] Clearly there is disagreement when the topic of gambling arises.

Gambling Oppresses the Poor

Gambling is an exploitive business. There is a very good reason behind the commercial gaming industry’s desire to have their businesses referred to as “gaming” industry rather than gambling industry. The casinos charge what they consider a reasonable fee for the services they provide. This fee can be as simple as the fee to play a table game such as poker or blackjack or the house advantage for slot machines or video poker. What some wealthier people consider a reasonable fee for services impact the poor in a disproportionate manner.

Accomplished gamblers themselves pray on those with lesser skills in the games that require skill versus the games of chance. Sicart points out that when it comes to computer games, the design of the games plays a large role in the player’s behavior.[10] Though focused on computer games other than those used in commercial gambling, the point is still very valid. The designers of various video games understand how design impacts behavior. Those disproportionately impacted by gambling are the poor. As a percentage of their income, a small loss on any gambling is very significant. This is especially true of state-run lotteries where many poor people see the weekly winners and dream of hitting a large jackpot and thus changing their lot in life. Of course, this rarely happens. Further, God takes a dim view of oppressing and/or taking advantage of the poor (Amos 3:13-14; 4:1-3).

Gambling Undermines Biblical Principles

To assert that gambling undermines biblical principles first requires that we concede that gambling is present in the Bible. It is a fact that Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ garments while He still hung on the cross even though it is not referred to as gambling (Matt. 27:35). The fact that this is recorded in Scripture is by no means approval of the activity any more than the recording of the first murder or of sexual immorality is found to be approved. Quite the contrary, the recording of such acts is necessary to make the underlying point in each instance. Only poor hermeneutics would find otherwise.

As for the many instances where the casting of lots is used to determine the will of God, in none of these instances was gambling involved. Keeping in mind the definition of gambling previously discussed, two or more parties were not placing something of value at risk. The division of land or determining who God has chosen for service is a one-sided decision. It is a mistake for the secular world in general and the Christian specifically to use these instances as justification to participate in gambling.

Having demonstrated the error some make in believing that Scripture supports gambling, attention is now turned to the ways gambling violates biblical principles. The dream of obtaining wealth, often viewed as a brief escape for those who choose to gamble, is contrary to the way in which God has appointed man to earn a living. In Genesis 2:15, the Hebrew word עָבַד means to do work or to labor.[11] Man was created to occupy his time with work. Then, after the fall, God tells Adam that he shall live a life of labor simply to survive until he returns to the dust of the earth from which he came (Gen. 3:19). The point is simple: if a man is to eat, he shall have to work for it. In fact, man should take great joy in labor as this is a gift from God (Ecc. 3:9-13). Gambling, by contrast, robs man of the joy of God-given labor. Gambling undermines the importance of work with the lure of the possibility of avoiding work by winning a large amount of money and living a life of leisure. Such a life is contrary to the plan set forth by God from the beginning in Genesis.

Self-control is a fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:23). There is no greater test of self-control that personal discipline in the entertainment choices Christians make.[12] While it is true that Christians have liberty, not all forms of entertainment build up the believer (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). In fact, gambling tears down the faith of the believer. Gambling addiction and the pain is causes for the gambler and those around him, is a clear loss of self-control for believers and non-believers alike.

Gambling is poor stewardship of the resources entrusted to believers by God. For the Christian, there should be a clear understanding that all we have and are is owned by God.[13] From a financial point of view, we are to give generously when we become aware of a need out of love. Further, our time is a commodity that must be carefully guarded as well. We must be accountable to God for the ways in which we use our time (Eph. 5:15-16). Spending hours and dollars playing casino games or simply playing the lottery is poor stewardship of both our time and finances.

[1] Collins, Peter. Gambling and the Public Interest. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 20-21.

[2] Petersen, William J. What You Should Know About Gambling. (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1974), 1-2.

[3] American Gaming Association. 2011 Annual Report. 2012. (accessed April 28, 2012).

[4] Oxford, Jim. An Unsafe Bet? : The Dangerous Rise of Gambling and the Debate We Should be Having. Birmingham, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 48-49.

[5] Ibid, 53-54.

[6] Collins, 34.

[7] MacKenzie, William Douglas. The Ethics of Gambling. (Philadelphia: Henry Altemus, 1896), 49-50.

[8] Collins, 31.

[9] Ibid, 31-32.

[10] Sicart, Miguel. The Ethics of Computer Games. (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2009), 199.

[11] Gesenius, Wilhelm, and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles. Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), 598.

[12] Eckman, James P. Biblical Ethics: Choosing Right in a World Gone Wrong. (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway Books, 2004), 86.

[13] Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Readers Companion. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991) 781.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Sin of Gambling: Part 3 - The Case for the Permissibility of Gambling

The Case for the Permissibility of Gambling

There are a number of reasons given for allowing gambling, even among professing Christians. Often quite convincing, the supporters of legalized gambling make passionate arguments supporting their views while also calling into question the views of those who argue against gambling. Here a review of five common reasons in support of the permissibility of gambling are explained in detail. Though not an exhaustive list, the general notion of the arguments in support of gambling are represented.

Gambling is Merely a Form of Entertainment

Casinos are in the business of organizing the play of games. This is a fact which is not in dispute. However, the games those casinos organize are played for money and for providing this service, casino operators charge what they consider a reasonable fee. The commercial gaming industry has worked very hard for many years to change the image the public have of gambling from that of vice to a view of gaming being merely one form of entertainment. This is an important distinction. If people considered the gaming industry to be a business similar to peddling drugs or pornography, public perception would be decidedly different. However, the gaming industry has successfully reinvented itself as participants in the leisure or entertainment industry rendering a visit to the casino a normal part of someone having fun rather than some sort of moral failing.[1]

If commercial gambling is a form of entertainment, what exactly is the entertainment casinos are selling? There is the pleasure of simply playing games. Whether playing with/against others in some sort of table games or playing by oneself on a video poker machine, the simply joy of play the game is for sale. There is also the fantasy of hitting the big jackpot and becoming wealthy.[2] The lottery offers the clearest example of this where winners of the weekly drawings are used in the advertising campaigns of the respective lotteries where those players won. There is also the pleasure of escaping the ordinary, boring, and even stressful part of life and going to a place that is stimulating, congenial, and even thrilling. Such an escape offers the benefit of being allowing the player to be both a spectator and participant at will in an unfolding drama.[3] The best part for the player is that it will all be there the next time the player returns to escape for the pressures of daily living. All this benefit for the individual without the worrisome issue of harming anyone!

This reinventing of themselves by the commercial gaming industry from purveyors of vice to respectable participants in the entertainment industry has also altered the discussion from the perspective of government regulation. Rather than discussing how best to regulate gambling, if permitted, along with other things such as tobacco or alcohol, the discussion has now shifted to one centering on regulating how Americans are permitted to play. Of course, this is a very different discussion and impacts people in a far different manner. Further, this is a significant shift from previous years where gambling was lumped in with tobacco, alcohol, prostitution, etc.

The Utility of Gambling

By taking a teleological, or utilitarian, approach to the permissibility of gambling, we arrive at the conclusion that those who engage in this activity derive obvious pleasure from doing so without causing any obvious pain to anyone else.[4] So in the case of state-sponsored lotteries, the players benefit from the pleasure of the game while the state receives funds for worthy uses such as education and has the added benefit of employing those who manage the lottery itself. There are economic benefits to those who supply commercial gaming services – the investors and employees. Let us not forget the additional tax revenues those commercial gaming operators pay into the state coffers. On its face, it would seem there are many winners and no losers which in turn will provide the greatest amount of happiness to the largest number of people. As such, based on utilitarian principles, the government should allow legal gambling.

Social Justice and Gambling

The argument for social justice, also known as distributive justice, in support of permitting gambling is based on the claim that doing so is a good way to raise funds for public interest projects and, particularly, to redistribute funds from those higher up the socioeconomic ladder to those lower. Therefore, if allowing gambling allows government to fund projects that are mostly paid for by the affluent yet mostly benefit the poor, then it is said to contribute to social justice.[5]

A great deal of public policy is driven by the quest for morality. The question is not whether morality can be legislated but rather, whose morality should be legislated?[6] It is generally accepted that alleviating poverty is in the public interest. Addressing poverty by redistributing from richer to poorer, however, is disputed by some who believe the only legitimate way to address social ills is by raising taxes on all citizens. In the United States, political parties regularly develop policies that make the government responsible for limiting poverty and the worst effects it has on the citizenry. As a people, Americans generally believe that everyone should be fed, clothed, housed, and educated.

The Freedom to Engage in Gambling

To say that individual freedom is an important aspect of being an American is to make a gross understatement. Individual liberty is a way of life for the majority of Americans. Using the power of government to limit individual freedom is in opposition to the American ideal that people should be free to live their lives as they see fit. This should include their right to meet their desire to be entertained provided the entertainment has minimal, indirect impact on others and any participation by others must be consenting adults.[7] This matter of individual freedom is no small matter. If people are not free in the area of entertainment, they will not be free in other areas.

If government is allowed to restrict what some people are permitted to do on the grounds that another segment of the population finds the activity to be foolish, unhealthy, or immoral, then it will only be a matter of time before a different segment of the population finds behavior acceptable to the first group to be undesirable. When this happens, division follows and the notion of whose morality is legislated becomes a much larger concern for people on both side of the debate. Further, such a view of freedom is decidedly counter to deontological ethics as there is no perceived duty to society, only to oneself and protecting the rights of the individual. Exactly what do citizens owe to society at large? Is ensuring that the pursuit of pleasure is limited only to consenting adults causing no harm to anyone enough?

Gambling is Present in the Bible

The notion that gambling is present in the Bible may not sit well with some Christians but it is true. Simply making such a statement in some circles is enough to start a rather heated argument. Regardless, the fact remains that while Christ hung on the cross, the Roman soldiers threw dice gambling for His garments as described in Matthew 27:35 (fulfilling Psalm 22:18). Roman soldiers gambling while others looked on, mocked by passersby, and even one of the criminals who hung on an adjacent cross made disparaging remarks (Luke 23:39). What a scene that must have been for those looking on who knew and loved the Savior.

There appears to be additional evidence from the Bible in support of gambling. Not long after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Apostle Peter announced that a replacement for Judas must be chosen. After narrowing the selection down to two candidates, the method they chose to use to make the final determination was the casting of lots (Acts 1:12-26).

Though two examples have been presented from the New Testament, it is important to note that there is additional support in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 16: 6-10, Aaron cast lots to determine which goat would be used for the sin offering. The land west of the Jordon was divided by lots (Joshua 14:2) as was the remaining land (Joshua 18:6). Numbers 26:52-56; 33:54; and 34:13 all make references to dividing the land by lot. There are other examples in the Old Testament that could be provided but the point would be the same. The casting of lots was common throughout the Bible.

A final note on the presence of gambling in the Bible is in order before concluding this section of the discussion. While there appear to be examples of gambling in both the Old and New Testaments, nowhere is the word gambling actually found in Scripture. The unavoidable fact is that there are no biblical texts that refer to gambling.

[1] Collins, Peter. Gambling and the Public Interest. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 20-21.

[2] Ibid, 22.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 42-43.

[5] Ibid, 45-46.

[6] Geisler, Norman, and Frank Turek. Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is it Legal? Is it Possible. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 20-25.

[7] Collins, 47-49.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Sin of Gambling: Part 2 - The Different Forms of Gambling

The Different Forms of Gambling

When discussing the topic of gambling, an image of casino-style gambling such as that found in Las Vegas or Atlantic City generally come to mind. Gambling, however, is not limited to this commercial activity. Gambling takes on a variety of forms that will be discussed in broad terms. The following is not intended to be an exhaustive listing.

State-Sponsored Lotteries

As previously mentioned, there are now thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia that have state-run lotteries. These lotteries include the weekly lottery games as well as the daily lottery numbers and scratch-off tickets.[1] There is a great deal of money that passes through these state-run lotteries. In 2010, the latest year for which data is available, there was over $53 billion in ticket sales with about one third of those revenues available for use by the states to fund various activities.[2] In the author’s home state of Georgia, less than two percent of total state revenues raised came from the state-run lottery.

Casino Gambling

Though not the most common type of gambling, the image of casino gambling is what comes to mind most frequently when the topic of gambling arises. Casino gambling includes slot machines, video poker, craps, roulette, and various card games such as poker, blackjack, and baccarat.[3] As with state-sponsored lotteries, there is a great deal of money passing through the operations of casino gambling establishments throughout the United States. These companies, who prefer the term commercial gaming considering that more marketable, saw $34.6 billion in revenues in 2010, the latest year for which data is available.[4] The American Gaming Association also reports that 2010 Commercial Casino tax revenues paid to the 22 states that permit casino gaming were nearly $7.6 billion in 2010.[5]

Sports Betting

Sports’ betting is an activity in which someone can gamble on the outcome of a sporting event such as football, baseball, basketball, etc. or even a particular part of a sporting event.[6] Typically, bets are placed on a bookmaker’s odds against the point spread for the particular sporting event. Included in this sort of gambling are illegal office pools and even the so-called friendly wager on holes of a golf game.

Pari-mutuel Betting

Another form a sports betting is called pari-mutuel betting. This form of betting is usually on horse racing, dog racing, and more recently on a game called jai-lai where those backing the first three finishers divide the losers’ stakes. With over 150 racetracks in the United States, horse racing is legal in forty-three states.[7]

Convenience Gambling

Convenience gambling is a growing category that includes games such as stand-alone slot machines, video poker, video keno, and other games of chance that are typically found in bars, truck stops, and convenience stores around the United States. This type of gambling is also known as retail gambling.[8]

Internet Gambling

The World Wide Web is the latest forum to see gambling take root. The availability of accessibility of internet gambling appears to be attracting increasing numbers of people on a regular basis.[9] Internet gambling presents unique challenges for state and federal regulators. The federal government has taken the position that online gambling is illegal based on their interpretation of the 1961 Interstate Wire Act.[10] Though legislation has been introduced at the federal level, none has yet been signed into law.

[1] Anderson, Kirby. Christian Ethics in Plain Language. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 166.

[2] United States Census Bureau. State Government Finances. November 12, 2011. (accessed May 2, 2012).

[3] Anderson, 166.

[4] American Gaming Association. Gaming Revenue: 10 Year Trend. 2011. (accessed April 28, 2012).

[5] American Gaming Association. Tax Payments - Commercial Casinos. 2011. (accessed April 28, 2012).

[6] Anderson, Kirby. Christian Ethics in Plain Language. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 166.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid,

[9] Ibid.

[10] McGowan, Richard A. The Gambling Debate. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), 38-40.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Sin of Gambling: Part 1 - Introduction

**This series originated as part of my studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary**


In Christendom, whenever discussions of so-called hot button social issues arise, gambling is usually among the topics. In 1964, New Hampshire became the first state since the Civil War era to operate a lottery renewing a debate that continues to this day.[1] The now familiar reasoning behind New Hampshire’s decision is the desire to raise state revenues without imposing unpopular taxes. Today, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have also instituted state-run lotteries in the name of raising state revenues for such worthy causes as education and supporting women and children. It has been suggested by McGowan that the lottery era is drawing to a close and new, expanded era in the gambling industry is about to commence.[2]

As is true with other social issues such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, it comes as no surprise that opinions on the permissibility of gambling among Christians vary depending on who is answering the question. Is it permissible to smoke cigarettes? What about cigars only? Is a glass of wine permissible with dinner on occasion? While refraining from actually gambling personally, may a Christian watch others gamble? Though there is certainly a variety of opinion on the topic of gambling, those opinions are easily and simply categorized.

There are essentially two views within Christendom when considering whether or not gambling is a sin. Of course, there are ancillary issues that may be of interest but for the purpose of this monograph two broad categories will be used. Before identifying those views, it is appropriate to accurately define what is considered gambling and what is not. Gambling is defined as an activity where two or more parties place at risk something of value, known as the stakes, in the hope of winning something of greater value, known as the prize, where who wins and who loses depends on the outcome of events that are unknown to the participants at the time of the bet, known as the result.[3] All of these criteria must be met in order for an activity to be considered gambling. If this definition seems broad this is because it is. Gambling is not limited to commercial gaming such as that found in Las Vegas or state-run lotteries. Defining gambling does not require the activity involve high stakes. Whether or not gambling is sinful requires argument and should not be a matter of definition.

The first view states that there is nothing inherently wrong with gambling. Rather, the problem arises when one gambles to excess. Historical arguments from some actually support gambling and include the character-building aspect of gambling where showing gentlemanly demeanor whether winning or losing is a virtue and offering the common man an opportunity to develop such skills is a benefit to both the man and to society.[4]

The second view is one in which gambling is thought to always be wrong as it is an activity that encourages greed in place of goodness and attempts to obtain something for nothing at the expense of our neighbor. Two of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet” have a direct bearing on gambling.[5] If we truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves, it is difficult to see how we can do so while taking advantage of our neighbor though gambling.

After analyzing both sides of the argument, this monograph will demonstrate that the correct view for the Christian to hold is one where gambling is always wrong. This conclusion is reached after a thorough review of the man-made arguments in support of gambling and carefully studying what the Scriptures have to say on the topic.

[1] McGowan, Richard A. The Gambling Debate. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), xiii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Collins, Peter. Gambling and the Public Interest. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 15.

[4] Oxford, Jim. An Unsafe Bet? : The Dangerous Rise of Gambling and the Debate We Should be Having. (Birmingham, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 134-35.

[5] Petersen, William J. What You Should Know About Gambling. (New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1973), 86.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Liberty University Commencement 2012

This past weekend was an amazing experience for me and my family. If you are connected to me via Twitter or Facebook you are already aware that we traveled to Lynchburg VA to participate in Commencement exercises for the graduating class of 2012. Though I have a couple of classes I am taking this summer, I am approaching the end of a 3 ½ year journey in obtaining the Master of Religious Education from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. This would not have been possible without the constant support and encouragement of my wife Melisa.

Many of you are aware that Mitt Romney was the key note speaker on Saturday and let me tell you, having a presidential candidate present made for some interesting experiences I never thought I would have.

For example, going through metal detectors and being individually screened by the Secret Service was certainly unexpected. Snipers on the rooftops was also something else I never thought I would see at my own graduation. Then there were the “suits” everywhere! The entire experience was kind of surreal to say the least. I must say that in my interactions with the agents that I came in contact with, they were the epitome of professionalism.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give some sort of recap of the remarks made by Gov. Romney during his address. He received robust applause for his statement on marriage being between one man and one woman brought the entire stadium to its feet. From my vantage point, the balance of his remarks was received with tepid applause. The crowd was respectful of Gov. Romney though many of the military (current active duty and former service men & women) I was seated with remained seated throughout Romney’s address with the previously noted exception. I have to say I respect Romney for clearly stating that his own religious views are decidedly different from those of Liberty University. It needed to be acknowledged by the governor himself. All in all, Romney’s remarks were more or less what I expected them to be.

From the stadium, the graduates went to a separate ceremony for their respective schools within the university. The School of Religion and LBTS went to Thomas Road Baptist Church for their respective honors. When the seminary graduates gathered, emotions were running high with anticipation. Meeting Dr. Elmer Towns was a thrill as was watching so many graduates cross the stage. When my own turn arrived, I was overwhelmed by the sense of the moment. My wife had been asking me if the events felt “real” yet. At that moment, everything most certainly did feel “real”.

The highlight of the weekend occurred when Dr. Dan Mitchell called the graduates back to the stage which became our altar. We were lead in prayer while the seminary faculty present lay hands on the graduates. The presence of the Holy Spirit was unmistakable! When we concluded, I looked up to see it was Dr. Towns himself who had lay hands on me during our time of prayer. The entire experience was very humbling!

It was wonderful to be able to share this experience with my wife and children. The kids especially got a close up look at how a large school honors graduates. We were all especially impressed with the emphasis placed on recognizing the online students.
Liberty is leading the way in the online delivery of education enabling thousands of people each year to achieve their educational goals. Perhaps one day the schools who have not yet recognized the value of offering their programs in an online or hybrid residency format will do so.

Thanks for all of the support and congratulations from my family and friends! I think you all know this has been a labor of love. And the journey is not over just yet! There is a little more left to do to conclude this part. Then, who knows what lay ahead but there will certainly be more to come!

Sunday, May 06, 2012


Chapter 4: Sweet Hour of Prayer

Arriving at the third of the three classic ethical systems, Reuschling provides the definition for Aristotle’s theory of virtue ethics missing from the opening chapter: the acquisition of specific virtues, or those qualities that make a person good, enables that person to achieve a life of happiness, which is the end and substance of the moral life.[1] Righteousness is referred to more often in Scripture than virtue likely because the former points to God’s acts rather than to human achievement.[2] A fact not lost on Reuschling in this chapter.

Reuschling sees a great deal of commonality in Aristotle’s virtue ethic and Christian morality. In fact, she states that virtue ethics has an important place in Christian morality.[3] Jesus personally modeled proper Christian virtues during His incarnation. Since we have the perfect example from which to draw, it is not enough to ask, “What would Jesus do?” The proper question is, “What did Jesus actually do?”[4] Clearly, the life of Jesus is to be used as the norm for the Christian moral life.

If this is the case, spiritual formation as moral formation becomes our focus and is the process by which believers are transformed into the image of Christ.[5] Reuschling presses this point emphatically stating that spiritual formation is moral formation and that one cannot be molded into the image of Christ without also being committed to the moral and ethical concerns of Jesus including righteousness, justice, and peace. Of course, an improper understanding of such virtues leads to behavior as seen in Israel between 700 – 600 B.C. where the people hid behind their own spiritual “rightness with God” as His people at the expense of others.

In concluding, Reuschling reiterates that the Christian cannot be conformed to image of Christ and not be touched by social injustices. Though her remarks would likely stir spirited debate in certain evangelical circles, Reuschling’s willingness to call out her brothers and sisters in the faith for their skewed sense of justice is a major strength of this chapter. Her weakness is in stating her belief in the need for practices such as prayer, meditation, fasting, contemplation, and solitude while seeming to say that these should be tempered by her view of social justice.

Chapter 5: Reviving Evangelical Ethics

Attempting to make good on the promise to address the question she raised as to what really evangelical practices, Reuschling launches in the fifth chapter of her book by proposing three dimensions she deems vital to an appreciation of the ethical life in an evangelical context. Reuschling states, “These are the development of conscience, the role of Christian community, and the practice of moral reflection and ethical deliberation as a means for becoming an ethically competent thinker and practitioner.”[6]

Stating that moral development requires not only the formation but also the use of conscience, Reuschling explains that the understanding of total depravity taught by Luther and Calvin is the basis of a high view if sin. She sees as further complicating the assessment of conscience evangelical fear of subjectivity, the desire for simplicity, and the tendency to spiritualize ethical issues.[7] From this point Reuschling moves on to repeat an earlier statement that the believer is forced to face reality only if the Bible is actually read.

Strengths of this chapter include that thoroughness characterized by the entire book. Regrettably Reuschling returns to her verbose ways delivering a chapter twice the length necessary to accomplish the task at hand.

Reuschling’s Conclusion

In her concluding remarks, Reuschling launches a final volley at the evangelicals from which she comes offering her reflections on three practices held dear: preaching, small groups, and service.[8] Of preaching, Reuschling expresses her concern over topical sermons and cherry-picking texts at the expense of the larger narrative from which those texts come. Concerning small groups, she first states that though this is likely the shape of the early church, we evangelicals have only recently “discovered” them. Rather than forming small groups based on specialized needs, Reuschling recommends groups that cut across generational, class, lifestyle, and gender boundaries.[9] Of service, Reuschling encourages groups to make a commitment to service and being open welcoming others rather than being perceived as being closed to new members.


Reuschling uses her book to identify and classic theories of ethics and how those theories have impacted Christian morality. She certainly succeeds in this task seemingly accomplishing what she set about to do. The books begins with a very academic tone and is challenging to follow the author’s train of thought as she spends more time than necessary meandering through some parts of the book. While coming to her work from an evangelical background, she seems to become increasingly hostile towards her roots as the book progresses. In the opinion of this seminarian, her critical analysis of those roots in the context of Christian ethics and morality seems to border on attacks at times while at others seeming to closely identify with them.

It is apparent that Reuschling has a passion for her work and the topic at hand. While her book is certainly worth reading, it would be quite difficult to recommend it to a layperson or anyone other than a seminarian, theologian, philosopher or ethicist. The needless level of difficulty in the presentation of the material covered in the book makes this one only the most dedicated of readers should undertake. Still, the contribution to Christian ethics is significant and this is a book to which reference will be made by this seminarian.

[1] Ibid, 116.

[2] Achtemeier, Paul J., and Literature Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical. Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 1114.

[3] Reuschling, 120.

[4] Ibid, 123.

[5] Ibid, 124.

[6] Ibid, 145.

[7] Ibid, 147.

[8] Ibid, 170.

[9] Ibid, 178.

Thursday, May 03, 2012



Dr. Wyndy Corbin Reuschling’s book, Reviving Evangelical Ethics: The Promises and Pitfalls of Classic Models of Morality, seeks to explain the misconceptions of Christian ethics. Writing in a style best suited for seminarians, theologians, and perhaps philosophers, Reuschling’s background as a professor of ethics and theology at Ashland Theological Seminary is quite evident. Though academic in approach, Reuschling writes from the perspective of evangelical insider comfortable with the language, the communities, the commitments, and the moral and spiritual practices valued in evangelicalism.[1]

Reuschling approaches the topic at hand by conducting an examination of three classic theories of ethics, deontology, teleology, and virtue ethics. Deontology is a term first used by J. Bentham in 1826 for the science of ethics or moral obligation.[2] Teleology is essentially the science of ends or final causes.[3] However, for her purposes, Reuschling defines the term as being typically understood as the ascertaining and achievement of moral outcomes or ends by considering the consequences of decisions for the good they achieve or harm they minimize.[4] Virtue ethics focuses on individual character shaped by and reflected in the decisions, behavior, and habits of the individual.

During her review of these three classic theories, Reuschling seeks to compare and contrast these views while looking in depth at the forms that these theories have taken in evangelical morality and ethical practices. At its core, Reuschling is trying to answer the question of what really shapes evangelical ethical practices.

Chapter 1: Classic Models of Morality

After a lengthy introduction, Reuschling opens her discussion by describing each of the three classic theories used in her work. Beginning with deontology, Reuschling uses the work of Immanuel Kant who was among an informal group of philosophers who rejected the authority of the Christian church and opened the door for the acceptance of humanism.[5] The foundation of Kant’s ethical system is his categorical imperative also referred to as absolute moral law. Kant believed actions must be drawn from a sense of duty dictated by reason rather than from obedience of a law or custom in order to be considered moral.[6]

Kant sought to find a morality that could be decoupled from religion not because he was against religion but because he believed that morality had to be based on a what all people have in common. Kant’s categorical imperative relieves a person of the contingencies of ethical decision making by focusing on one’s duty rather than desires or the ends produced. Geisler’s description, more succinct and easily understood, clarifies Reuschling’s description by stating of Kant’s view that duties are duties regardless of the consequences.[7] An example of Kant’s categorical imperative is that of telling the truth where if lying were to become a universal rule then there would be no more truth to lie about.

Having thoroughly discussed Kant’s categorical imperative, Reuschling turns her attention to teleology and the work of John Stuart Mill. Mill expanded on the idea of Bentham and the notion of utilitarianism focusing on maximizing the general happiness by trying to determine the greatest good for the greatest number of people.[8] Utilitarianism has for its focus three notions that happiness is the only thing that is intrinsically good, no person’s happiness is more important than another person’s, and the only thing that is ethically significant in judging an action is the outcome.[9] The links between doing good and happiness and a measureable outcome make this ethical system attractive to many people. Where a deontological ethic believes that the result is always calculated within established rules, utilitarianism, or a teleological ethic, believes the result sometimes justifies breaking established rules. The description provided by Geisler and Wilkens greatly assists the reader in understanding teleology.

The last of the three classic theories of ethics is virtue ethics as understood by Aristotle. Building on platonic thought, Aristotle believed that acting like a human being is commensurate with acting like a rational human being, and acting like a rational human being is the same as acting as a good human being.[10] In short, be good. Aristotle’s thinking here is that reason must be educated since it is what ultimately controls the passions of human beings. Intellect is the seat of virtue and the virtuous person is one who pursues happiness using higher faculties over the course of a lifetime. Here, Reuschling and Geisler are both far more complicated than is necessary whereas it is Wilkens who provides the clearest explanation.

The key strength of the first chapter of Reuschling’s book if her thoroughness in the approach taken. Clearly she has done a tremendous amount of research on the three classic theories of ethics. Where her strength is in the research conducted, the weakness of chapter one is the unnecessarily complicated explanations of these theories. There is tremendous value in the ability to explain the complex in easily understood terms, even to academics, which Reuschling seemingly misses.

Chapter 2: Trust and Obey?

Reuschling’s focus in chapter two is deontology which she renames trust and obey. Her purpose in doing so is to demonstrate the limitations of reducing Christian morality to mere rules to be obeyed.[11] Reuschling rightly points out that under Kant’s approach to ethics, God is unnecessary because human beings have the ability through reason to ascertain truth and to act accordingly. Further, rules to be followed make sense according to reason even though they may have been previously revealed by God. As such, belief in the God who revealed the rules is unnecessary since any reasonable creature is capable of following a universal moral code.

The issue Reuschling brings to the fore is this narrow view of Scripture excludes the rich narratives and contexts behind the prescriptions found therein while being careful to acknowledge that deontological commands do exist.[12] Reuschling also rightly points out that our moral obligations are not exhausted when we simply do what we are told to do. There is a purpose to our obedience beyond this. As a cornerstone of obedience, Christians are required to actually read the Scriptures allowing them to interpret, sanctify, and reorient the lives of believers.[13] Reuschling believes if this reading were actually taking place that the behavior of the church would be decidedly different when approaching polity, war, economics, and even immigration; a sentiment with which this seminarian is inclined to agree.

The strength of this chapter is again found in the thoroughness Reuschling demonstrates. Her approach also uses language that is not overly and unnecessarily complicated. Laypeople should not struggle with this chapter as with the first. The weakness to be found in this chapter, if there is one, is the length of the chapter itself. Reuschling uses twenty-three pages to accomplish what could have been done in chapter half the size.

Chapter 3: We’ve a Story to Tell

With an unexpected description of a church in the early nineties beginning a contemporary worship service, Reuschling begins her treatment of utilitarianism. Her question: is the greatest good for the Christian faith in seeing the “greatest number” saved by whatever means possible?[14] Do the ends justify the means as teleological ethics eventually leads one to believe? This view builds on the assumption that what has the desired effect for the greatest number of people is inherently good and just.

There are four issues expressed by Reuschling about this ethic. First, this ethic leads people to the belief that the church exists to meet the needs of the religious consumer. Second, believers are free to pick and choose which aspects of Christianity to apply to their lives. Third, this ethic is in direct conflict with the Christian obligation to serve the least of these among us. And fourth, utilitarianism easily lends itself to be used in support of the ends justifying the means.[15] Again, this is clearly contrary to biblical teaching. Essentially, “getting saved” is stressed as the only important thing and life change is unimportant once this salvific experience has taken place.

Reuschling’s candor and openness in this chapter is the key strength found there. Questioning they type of Christians created by meeting the “needs” of the religious consumers in the “spiritual marketplace” is intriguing for the reader and is an open condemnation of the church moving towards the secular ways of drawing a crowd. Reuschling rightly reminds her readers that Christendom needs people who practice the ways of Jesus as His disciples viewing the church as an agent of the kingdom of God. If a weakness is to be found in this chapter, it is again the logorrhea Reuschling employs needlessly.

[1] Reuschling, Wyndy Corbin. Reviving Evangelical Ethics: The Promises and Pitfalls of Classic Models of Morality. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2008), 27.

[2] Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 473.

[3] Ibid, 1594.

[4] Reuschling, 10.

[5] Story, Dan. Christianity on the Offense: Responding to the Beliefs and Assumptions of Spiritual Seekers. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 141.

[6] Anderson, Kirby. Christian Ethics in Plain Language. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 3.

[7] Geisler, Norman L. Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues & Options, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1989, 2010), 69.

[8] Anderson, 16.

[9] Wilkens, Steve. Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: An Introduction to Theories of Right & Wrong. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 90.

[10] Reuschling, 51.

[11] Reuschling, 66.

[12] Ibid, 72-73.

[13] Ibid, 86.

[14] Ibid, 90.

[15] Ibid, 92-93.