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Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context Hardcover – February 17, 2003
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"Working out of a self-confessed blend of baptistic traditions, but including interpretive secondary materials from a broad range of different church traditions and scholarly perspectives, Glen Stassen and David Gushee creatively construct a Christian ethics modeled on an ethics of virtue. This model of virtue ethics is firmly grounded in the centrality of Jesus' proclamation of God's reign and its correlate moral teachings gathered in the Sermon on the Mount. The result is a rendition of Christian ethics that is focused on the cultivation of a persons virtuous character-in-community, and that is ecumenical in tone, experiential in nature, and salient in granting ethical insights, perspectives and guidance on contemporary moral issues. This book merits widespread use as a textbook for courses in Christian ethics in universities, colleges and seminaries, as well as a study guide for church-based educational programs desiring to engage class members in an informed and serious discussion of Christian moral life." (Murray W. Dempster, President and Professor of Social Ethics, Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California)
"Kingdom Ethics is a wonderful contribution to the community of Jesus' disciples. Guided by the dominant theme in Jesus' proclamation, the authors teach us that the issue is not the relevance of the kingdom of God to us but our obedient participation in its continuing activity. They accomplish this with accessible scholarship, perceptive cultural criticism and practical wisdom. Moreover, they manage the nearly impossible feat of introducing students to the range of issues in Christian ethics without losing the kingdom as the key to following Jesus. Kingdom Ethics should become an indispensable resource for discipleship in congregations, colleges and seminaries." (Jonathan R. Wilson, Professor of Religious Studies, Westmont College)
"This book is one I return to again and again. Stassen and Gushee have provided a clear and fruitful biblical framework for each contemporary issue. The exploration of various points of view is insightful and always gives me perspective―sometimes troubling, sometimes confirming. Kingdom Ethics is like a set of biblical and ethical spectacles to see through the fog of media and ideological distractions." (Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Christianity Today, January-February 2015)
"This is an important book for our times, when many Christians are once again looking to Jesus as someone who has something of unique significance to say about human life. For more than a century he has been regarded as someone to be right about, in one way or another. But his detailed teachings have for long not been taken seriously, within the church or out. They have been regarded as simply nothing essential to faith or to life. But he became the force he has been in the world precisely because those who initially took him seriously understood that who he is was a conclusive reason for regarding his specific teachings as the key to turning their concrete existence into a life in the kingdom of God--the only life suited to the human soul. The relevance of faith in him for the world of today and tomorrow will depend on those identified as his people reclaiming that same understanding of what it means for him to be Savior and Lord." (Dallas Willard)
"Kingdom Ethics is distinctive in the way that it takes biblical perspectives seriously. Rather than letting contemporary issues and agendas limit the number of biblical texts that are considered relevant for ethics, it allows the Bible itself to define what matters most in contemporary life. While it doesn't shy away from arguing that particular actions or practices should be made illegal, it is far more interested in helping us understand why people should not desire them in the first place. Even better, it constantly encourages the reader to keep in view the kingdom vision that majors in constructive alternatives rather than mere ethical condemnations. All who are serious about glorifying God by the life they live will benefit greatly from reading this book." (John F. Kilner, Ph.D., President, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity)
"Kingdom Ethics is a profound call to Christian discipleship based on probing, incisive and illuminating reflection on the Sermon on the Mount. This is a very important book--a major contribution that provides a radically unique, compelling way of doing Christian ethics grounded in the teachings and practices of Jesus--and deserves to be used across denominational and cultural boundaries. I particularly hope that it will get serious attention from Asian American congregations as they seek to become faithful and prophetic communities of sojourners in the North American context." (Joon-Sik Park, E. Stanley Jones Associate Professor of World Evangelism, Methodist Theological School in Ohio)
"Stassen and Gushee provide a book on Christian ethics that is both 'deep and wide.' It is deep in its focused attention on Jesus as the defining reality and continuing source for Christian living. It is wide in two ways. It is wide in its focus on both the teachings and practices of Christ. Second, the majority of the book is given to a creative search for how the life of faith, informed and inspired by the life of Christ, can find expression across the spectrum of contemporary moral challenges and conundrums. From bioethics to gender role, politics to worship, and more, this book will inspire and inform those who take being Christian seriously." (Daniel B. McGee, Professor of Christian Ethics, Department of Religion, Baylor University)
"The most basic question of ethics is not, How should we live? but rather, To whom do we belong? This important book tackles both of these questions in the light of discipleship-based biblical faith. Both David Gushee and Glen Stassen are activists as well as theorists, and this book reflects their passion for following Jesus even when it means swimming against the stream. Not all will agree with every solution proposed here, but no one can ignore this contribution to the evangelical conversation." (Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and executive editor of Christianity Today)
"Many Christians in America have accommodated themselves to the values of a secular culture, either acquiescing to a materialist/consumerist ethos (on the ideological right) or a relativist 'I'm OK, you're OK' ethos (on the ideological left). Kingdom Ethics is a clarion call to the church to be the body of Christ on earth, to live incarnationally and be as unique today as Jesus was in his day. Stassen and Gushee have reclaimed the centrality of Jesus and his teachings for the distinctiveness of the Christian and the church in the modern world. They have written an exciting book that clearly and concretely demonstrates the Christian ethos is not some kind of quixotic idealism but is truly a radical but practical way of living. At a time when Christians everywhere are asking 'What would Jesus do?' Stassen and Gushee have provided searching answers to the moral questions of the day. Kingdom Ethics is an outstanding contribution to the field that should be read by every serious Christian." (Dr. Carlos R. Piar, Professor of Religious Studies, California State University Long Beach)
"With Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, Stassen and Gushee invite us to confront anew the radical nature of Jesus' teachings as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount--teachings that often rub modern sensibilities the wrong way--yet teachings that are indispensable for Christian moral consciousness. The book challenges us to consider the Christian ethical life as one oriented to this message of the kingdom--a way of life characterized by prayer, passion and fidelity to specific practices consistent with the will of God, or as they put it, 'holistic character ethics.' Readers will find the discussion of such practices in their view of the Christian moral life to be informed, energetic and engaging." (Samuel K. Roberts, E. Hervey Evans Professor of Theology and Ethics, Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia)
From the Author
IVP: Kingdom Ethics has been quite a collaborative project for you. How did you two happen to connect around this project?
David Gushee: Glen had the original idea while we both were teaching in our short stint together at Southern Seminary, from 1993 to 1996. As I recall, he had already written up a proposal and presented it to IVP before asking me to join him as coauthor in late 1995. Over the ensuing six years of research, writing, conversation, editing and reediting, the book developed into an extraordinarily rich collaborative piece that extended far beyond what I, at least, ever imagined it could become.
Glen Stassen: Well, I was so impressed with Dave's outstanding book Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust and so pleased with our collaboration in an article for Sojourners, "Disciples of the Incarnation," that when Dave expressed interest I jumped at the chance. Glad I did!
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The discussions of the Beatitudes in general are particularly interesting, with some useful insights. For instance, regarding the third Beatitude ["Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth," Mt 5:5, NRSV], they cite another author who "says it would be better to translate the word 'tamed' rather than 'meek,' in the sense that their wills have been tamed by God’s will" (40). And on the sixth Beatitude ["Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Mt. 5:8, NRSV] "So the sixth Beatitude means, in a nutshell, blessed are those who give their whole self over to God, who is the only one worthy of the heart’s devotion." 45
A worthwhile commentary on the Beatitudes, the main point is that the Christian's life ought to be completely congruent with Jesus' teachings, in particular, the Sermon on the Mount:
"Christian churches across the confessional and theological spectrum, and Christian ethics as an academic discipline that serves the churches, are often guilty of evading Jesus, the cornerstone and center of the Christian faith. Specifically, the teachings and practices of Jesus – especially the largest block of his teachings, the Sermon on the Mount . . . . Jesus taught that the test of our discipleship is whether we act on his teachings, whether we “put into practice” his words. This is what it means to “buil[d our] house on rock (Mt 7:24)." 11
I also like the definition of a Christian, as the authors describe it:
"A Christian is (or should be) defined as one who humbles himself or herself and chooses to enter into discipleship, to follow Jesus’ path, to build his or her life upon his teachings and his practices even at great cost, to pass those teachings and practices on to others, and thus to enjoy the unspeakable privilege of participating in the advance of God’s reign. Jesus inaugurates the long-promised kingdom and thus offers holistic deliverance to the sick, the poor, the guilty and the rejected; incarnates and demands justice and righteousness; practices and teaches the way of peacemaking; and both experiences and imparts joy. Meanwhile, in his ministry and then through his living Spirit, Jesus offers the very presence of God." 30
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of their Kingdom perspective is the section on the "Transforming Initiatives of the Sermon on the Mount." The authors present the commonly held views of The Sermon on the Mount, but then move to give new meaning to the Sermon and its application through a new look at the construction of each teaching section.
The heart of their argument is that Jesus's teaching is a tripartite entity, dealing with the problem, the vicious circle caused by the problem, and the transforming Kingdom initiative which places both the problem and those involved in it, in a new light. An example would be:
Traditional Righteousness: Matthew 5:38 -- "You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'"
Vicious Cycle: Matthew 5:39 -- "But I say to you, do not retaliate vengefully by evil means." (This is the vicious cycle of violence, retaliation, and more violence.)
Transforming Initiative: Matthew 5:40-42 -- "But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if any one wants to sue you and take your coat give your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go the second mile. Give to one who begs from you, and do not refuse one who would borrow from you."
The authors contend that the entire Sermon on the Mount features this pattern of Jesus presenting the traditional view, the vicious cycle that results, and the alternative way of the Kingdom. Rather than the Sermon being an ideal, but unattainable vision or a spiritualized ethic, the Sermon becomes a practical, yet radically different way for the followers of Jesus to live out Kingdom values.
This approach allows a depth of discipleship that previously held views (idealized or spiritualized) of The Sermon deny. One does not have to be perfect to be a follower of Jesus. Following Jesus also can take place in a very real, and gritty world. The individual disciple can apply Jesus teaching in practical, workable ways that will contribute to transforming relationships with people and with God.
But this ethic of transformation based on The Sermon does not apply just to interpersonal relationships. Stassen and Gushee find application in the thorny issues of war, peacemaking, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, gender roles, and biotechnology. Walking, not just a middle way but a transformative way, Kingdom Ethics presents a fresh look at how Christians can apply the teaching of Jesus in ways that are different from either a biblical legalism or a political liberalism. This transformative way often arrives at its application by means of a very different route than previous options.
This fresh look at both the Kingdom and its values avoids the hardline approaches of both liberals and fundamentalists, and offers room for dialogue, appreciation, conversation, and peacemaking between the various hard-fought positions. The entire ethic becomes itself a type of peacemaking instrument, grounded in conviction, but recognizing that God's justice and love must both find expression in God's Kingdom as it is lived out.
This approach deepens the Christian disciple's relationship to God in several ways. It is an approach which takes seriously the Biblical account, but which also brings the accumulated insights and tools of robust scholarly research to the task of interpretation. The authors accord Scripture a prime place, but interpret the texts in light of the life, teaching, and insights of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. This focus on the Lordship of Christ as the interpretive hermeneutic of Scripture grounds the follower of Christ in the real-life example of Jesus.
If you're interested in ethics in light of Jesus' life, this is a book you must have. At almost 500 pages, it's not quick reading (I know because I read it), but will serve as a great ethics resource in any Christian leader's library.