Urbana Theological Seminary


July 19, 2016

Systematic Theology by Dr. Todd Daly

Filed under: Course Preview,Theology — Tags: , , , — admin @ 1:21 pm

Why bother studying systematic theology? Who wants to rehearse obscure debates with their confusing terminology, hair-splitting tendencies, and willingness to label heretics as hopelessly damned? Isn’t any formal study of God in a seminary setting basically an academic exercise, devoid of the Spirit’s power, an exercise that encourages arrogance, condescension, and contentious attitudes? After all, don’t we already have everything we need to make our way in the world in the Bible, prayer and worship, and church? As one Christian put it, “I’ve never been to seminary, but I’ve been to Calvary.”

To be sure, these criticisms are not entirely wide of the mark. Seminary can foster attitudes inimical to humility and Christian discipleship. Yet, as Christians, we must recognize that we’re all theologians, whether we acknowledge it or not. Indeed, as Karl Barth once observed, it is impossible to criticize theology from a non-theological vantage point. In other words, to criticize theology is to do theology. In fact, the reasons given above for rejecting systematic theology come from an ‘embedded theology,’ understood as implicit, usually unarticulated beliefs about God, the world, Scripture, the human condition, salvation, and so on. All of these topics are undeniably theological. Part of theology’s work then is to help us articulate our own core beliefs about God, placing them under closer scrutiny. A conscious study of God and God’s ways as revealed in Scripture helps us when we are faced with numerous questions about the Christian faith, whether these questions come from ourselves, or from skeptics.

For instance, theology helps us in considering the following questions, such as how we can make sense of the theological truth that God is a triune being, and the implications of being created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), who exists in eternal loving fellowship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Though one could argue that the church’s confession of the Trinity is couched in obscure language and metaphysical abstraction, our prayer life will inevitably suffer if our understanding and practices of this core discipline do not include the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. When we think of prayer as our efforts to gain an audience before a solitary, all-powerful, transcendent being, it is little wonder that our prayer life suffers. Theology is equally useful when considering questions about Jesus Christ. What’s wrong, for instance, with celebrating Jesus as the greatest human being who ever lived, who, in his life, teaching and death, gave us the ultimate template for radical, God-centered obedience? And is this confession even Christian? To answer this (in the negative) requires some rudimentary theological knowledge of who Jesus Christ is, which carries significant implications for our very salvation.

However, we should note that these exercises do not merely aim at articulating our beliefs about God with greater precision, though this is an inevitable byproduct of theology, but are driven by the goal of loving God more deeply with our mind, heart, and soul. Ultimately, theology is about worship. The disputes in the history of the church that lead to division were really about whether or not opposing sides could continue to worship together. To label one a heretic—unfairly or deserved—was to cut one off from the fellowship of Christ, from corporate worship.
Yes, one can certainly pursue God without seminary. But the disciplined study of God—theology—in a seminary context can also prepare and equip us for a lifelong journey of growth through learning and worship. Indeed, our study of God should leave us more humble, gentle, and in awe of God’s mysterious wonder (Rom. 11:33). This semester we invite you to study the wonder of God’s works in a seminary setting—not for knowledge’s sake alone, not to develop a set of propositions that describe God in more detail, but to be awed and humbled before God’s greatness.


June 1, 2016

The Doctrine of Election: Dr. Todd Daly

Filed under: Course Preview,Theology — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:15 pm

For well over a millennium, the doctrine of predestination (or election) has for Christians been a source of both comfort and joy. Predestination means that our salvation is secured with God in Christ. Indeed, throughout history Christians have derived comfort from Jesus’ words that no one is able to pluck us out of the Father’s hands (John 10:28-29). But somewhere along the way the doctrine of predestination took a more potent form, leaving some unintended consequences in its wake. Over time the doctrine of election developed into a view that seemingly privileged the absolute sovereignty of God over against the freedom of humankind. The more one emphasized God’s sovereignty in salvation, the less our response to the gospel seemed to matter. The strongest view of God’s sovereignty asserted that God chose in favor of His own elect and against those He rejected (“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”) through a set of ‘divine decrees’ based on nothing but God’s own inscrutable will for the sake of His own glory, all before the foundations of the earth were laid. According to this view, God has already and irrevocably chosen who will and won’t be saved, though His purposes are somehow being realized through the God-given freedom that all humans enjoy.

As mentioned briefly above however, this understanding of God’s predestination lead to some unforeseen consequences, namely, a considerable degree of angst concerning the certainty of one’s own salvation. If the basis for God’s election for salvation is God’s own good will and pleasure that is utterly independent of the will of humankind, how can anyone who claims to love Christ ever be certain that he or she is really saved? If I profess Christ as my savior, what difference does it make if it turns out that I am not among those God chose for salvation before the foundations of the earth was laid? Thus, the more one emphasized the absolute of God’s authority and inscrutable will in doling out salvation, the more powerless humans seemed to be in willing their own salvation. Ironically, these seeds of doubt were planted in the soil of God’s own inscrutable purposes in choosing to save some while rejecting others. As a result, a gnawing uncertainty regarding one’s eternal destiny gave birth to a new spiritual fervor marked by compulsive introspection and an intensive pursuit of spiritual practices aimed at deriving a modicum of peace concerning one’s own election, which, by definition, could never be fully discerned this side of eternity.

Even as these concerns were being articulated, an alternative understanding of election was being formulated as a more faithful account of the biblical witness to God’s sovereignty and human freedom. This view held that God elects individuals for salvation based on God’s own foreknowledge concerning people’s receptiveness to the gospel. This version of election, it is said, better accounts for God’s love and his desire that no one should perish. After all, doesn’t God desire everyone to be saved? (1 Tim. 2:4). Proponents of this view assert that the older account of election depicts God as at best an absolute, arbitrary monarch, and at worst a moral monster. How could God create some people for the purpose of rejecting them? And so the debate lines between Calvinism and Arminianism have been fairly clearly drawn since the late sixteenth century.

Four hundred years later, the controversy over this doctrine is still producing highly-contentious, emotionally-charged, acrimonious debates among Christians who read the same Bible yet come to radically different conclusions concerning the nature of both God and election. Such debates are often confused by unhelpful caricatures, and have contributed to a spate of polemical, combative, uncharitable publications rehearsing the same tired arguments and counter arguments. Unfortunately, many Christians who have the temerity to enter the fray are usually exposed to figures from only a small sliver of a much longer and richer theological history that spans from the early Church Fathers to seminal twentieth century theologians like Karl Barth (1886-1968), and are therefore less likely to appreciate the development of a doctrine before and beyond Calvin and Arminius. It is difficult, for instance, to understand the nature of the controversy over predestination without an adequate grasp of Augustine (354-430), who was also forced to wrestle with passages that affirm both God’s predestination and the genuine offer of the gospel as God’s free gift available to all, or Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275), who acutely felt the tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Equally lamentable is the sentiment shared by a vast swath of contemporary Evangelicals that the final ‘position’ on the doctrine of election lay with either Calvin or Arminius, as if nothing worthwhile has transpired on the theological landscape since the early 1600s. In this regard, the insights of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth represent a groundbreaking departure from the theology of Calvin and Arminius, who, like all others before him, was compelled to read his Bible afresh to address in re-centering the doctrine of election on Christ.

What’s at stake in the doctrine of election? Nothing less than our understanding of God, humanity, and the nature of salvation. But perhaps the greatest casualties in such debates have been both our lack of humility and our failure to appreciate the mystery of God. Any view of election that claims to tie up all of the ‘loose ends’ of predestination has failed to appreciate God’s mystery, and frankly lacks the humility that might come from a wider grasp of this doctrine across various historical and theological contexts. If you’re interested in learning about how Christians have sought to make sense of this doctrine across the centuries without the pressure of ‘picking a side,’ then perhaps our three day modular course on this topic would be good for you. For ultimately, all doctrine is judged by the worship it inspires.

Join us this coming weekend (June 3-4) as Dr. Daly explores these ideas more fully in a short summer course! To register (and for more info): http://www.urbanaseminary.org/courses/summer


April 28, 2016

Veritas Forum

Here at Urbana Theological Seminary we are working toward more ways to be both an outreach and a resource for the U of I campus. One of the ways we are doing this is by assuming responsibility for the local chapter of Veritas Forum. Veritas Forum is a national organization that dedicated to help students and faculty ask life’s hardest questions, while providing a Christian voice to the academic conversation.  The first Veritas Forum occurred at Harvard University in 1992, and since then, over 200 universities in North America and Europe have hosted over 2,000 forums.
The local chapter, Veritas Forum at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was founded six years ago as a Registered Student Organization at U of I. Each year the Veritas Forum organizes one big event that brings in a speaker seeking to inspire the shapers of tomorrow’s culture to connect their hardest questions with the person and story of Jesus Christ.
Urbana Theological Seminary is pleased to announce that this year’s Veritas Forum will be occurring on Monday, May 2, at 7:00 PM at Twin City Bible Church, at the Corner of Lincoln and Michigan in Urbana). The speaker is Dr. Tim O’Connor, professor of Philosophy at Indiana University. Dr O’Connor is the author of Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency and The Metaphysics of Free Will, as well as a large number of articles and essays, in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion.  The title of this forum is “Faith & Reason: Friends or Foes?”
The evening will start with a half hour lecture on the topic, followed by a half hour discussion between Tim and local pastor Seth Kirlin. Seth will be asking questions to flesh out the ideas presented in Tim’s talk. Finally, the evening will wrap up with a question and answer time, open to the audience.  So come and join us!  We’d love to see you there!


February 17, 2016

Can Aging be Treated with a Pill? New Study May Challenge Our Understanding of Medicine and Aging

Filed under: Ethics,Faith and Culture — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 5:25 pm

Dr. Todd T. Daly
The desire for indefinite youth is as old as humanity itself. From the Epic of Gilgamesh, to quests for the fountain of youth, to the various elixirs concocted by alchemists, human history bears witness to innumerable—and often bizarre—attempts to extend life by defeating aging. Though current life expectancy figures testify to the power of medicine, hygiene, and better living conditions, we are nearing its upper limits. Curing all forms of cancer, for instance, would increase current life expectancy by a mere three years. Despite these advances, aging itself has not been altered. Scientists have, however, achieved remarkable results in slowing the aging of nematode worms, fruit flies, and mice through genetic engineering and pharmacology. Unfortunately, these successes have occurred on organisms that are far less complex than the human body. They represent the first steps of a long, arduous, and perhaps impossible journey toward slowing human aging that might span decades, or even centuries.

Or so it was thought, until late last year when the FDA approved the first ever human trial of a drug already on the market, in order to study its anti-aging properties. The study, dubbed TAME—“Targeting Aging with Metformin”—will investigate the effects on several thousand people who suffer from cancer, heart disease, or cognitive impairment. Scientists have observed that the diabetic drug metformin, which has been on the market for over sixty years, has enabled diabetics to live longer than people who don’t have diabetes—even though diabetes typically reduces life expectancy by an average of eight years. Not only do people on metformin have reduced incidences of cancer, but it has also shown to prevent cognitive decline. The drug has already produced impressive results in mice, lengthening their healthy lifespan by nearly forty percent.

Could a simple pill help us live a century or more in a state of improved health? Many hope that Metformin will enable us to live into our hundreds in a state of relative health. This represents the first time in the history of modern medicine that the FDA has recognized aging itself—rather than its effects—as a drug target. In short, it may mark the beginnings of a shift in the goals of medicine where aging itself is considered a treatable condition. This conceptual shift not only challenges the discipline of medicine and our notions of health, but it also presses us to consider where aging comes from, and whether or not we are wise to consider it a disease.

These challenges are no less real for Christians, who in this Lenten season are invited to reflect on the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) How do we understand aging as it relates to our finite, creaturely existence? Where does aging come from, and what is its relationship to sin? Would it be wrong for people who look to the resurrection to take a metformin supplement in hopes of securing a few more years on earth? These are complex questions that we’ll be taking up over the next several months as we try to formulate a theological understanding of aging.


January 15, 2016

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis has often been described as one of the most influential Christian writers of the twentieth century. For example, in an article called “The Top 50 Books that have Shaped Evangelicals,” Christianity Today listed Lewis’s Mere Christianity as one of the top three books that have influenced American Evangelicalism. A couple of years ago a Huffington Post article titled “Spiritual Classics: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read” lists Mere Christianity as one of the most important books written throughout the history of the church, placing it in a list with The Confessions of St. Augustine and Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. And it is not just his nonfiction that gets attention. According to various online lists of bestselling books of all time, C. S. Lewis’s children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the top ten, having sold more than 85 million copies since its first publication in 1950. .
So the question becomes, WHY is Lewis so popular? There are several answers to this question. He is popular because he is able to take difficult theological concepts and reword them in such a way that readers with no theological background can understand and enjoy them. He is popular because he worked in so many different fields: not only did he write apologetics and children’s literature, but he also wrote science fiction, poetry, literary theory, novels, sermons, and even memoir.
Because Lewis was able to work in such different genres, he was comfortable using both rational thought and the imagination to help others in their spiritual journey. In fact, he often used both to explore the same themes. For example, he tackles the idea of education and what it is supposed to do in both the nonfiction study The Abolition of Man and the dystopian novel That Hideous Strength. In The Four Loves he examines four different ways of relating to other people that are commonly called “love,” and then in the book Till We Have Faces he explores not only what love is, but also how it is both used and abused. In the two books that made his name a household word in WWII Britain, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, he explores both what Christians believe and how Christians should live.
Starting Thursday, January 21, Urbana Theological Seminary will be offering a sixteen week course on C. S. Lewis. In this course we will be reading and discussing several of his works. We will also be taking a one-day road trip to the Wade Center, a museum/study center at Wheaton College that focuses on Lewis and six other authors.
If you would like to know more about this class, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org. To register, go to http://www.urbanaseminary.org/courses/spring, or contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org for registration help. This is going to be an awesome class—you don’t want to miss it!


January 8, 2016

FINDING YOUR WAY . . . A CLASS ON MAKING THE BEST CHOICES IN LIFE (starting January 19)

Filed under: Course Preview,Spiritual life — Tags: , , , — admin @ 12:04 pm

starting January 19th

There are times when life seems so hard to navigate, especially because it’s not clear what to do. In certain cases I know exactly what it right, and what God would want. This would be like Jesus, this is true, this is pure . . . whether or not I obey, it’s clear. But other times, life seems less black and white. It’s full of gray areas. I don’t know what God wants, and it’s not crystal clear that this option or that choice are right or wrong.

Should I cheat on my taxes? Have an affair? Ignore my aging parents? The right path to walk is probably pretty clear-cut in these instances. Should I marry this person? Should I take the job in Chicago or Boston? Should I confront my annoying neighbors or bake them cookies? Should I call my landlord about her manipulative behavior or write her a letter or send an e-mail? Much less clear. For the person who wants to follow Jesus and cares about doing right, I can’t look these up in a passage in God’s Word (Thou shalt go work in Boston! Thou shalt bake cookies for neighbors who annoy you! It’s just not there.)
Why would God let a devoted couple, always serving him, get badly injured in a car accident that wasn’t their fault? I can’t fathom what God has in mind, or that he even seems fair!
How do I think about my work when it seems so mundane? Is there any point in going in to the shop or office tomorrow? It seems like it’s all going nowhere in a hurry.
Heavens, I’m racked with sensual desire! How much can I express that in this relationship?—we are dating pretty seriously. How much more can I ask my spouse for? Does God even like sex? Or care?

And so much of life is like this, lived in the gray areas between clear good and evil. How do I get through these portions of life? How can I know what decisions to make, what choices will be best?

Did you know that the Bible has a whole section devoted to learning how to navigate the challenges of making life choices in the murky areas? An amazing set of four books in the Old Testament are a guide for living life where there is no clear-cut command elsewhere. These are the Wisdom Books—Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. How do you think the way God does when he sees life’s ambiguities? Proverbs sets us up with a framework for thinking and approaching life in general. This down-to-earth guidebook helps us see what are the best decisions, the wisest choices, we can make, as well as how to come to those conclusions. Job helps us sort through the times in life when really rotten and horrible things happen to us, that we in no way deserved. Ecclesiastes guides us to port when we wonder about meaning and purpose in our life. Song of Songs is a delightful and startling window into what the full scope of married love should be, and how God feels about marriage and its emotions.

On Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9, starting January 19th, Urbana Seminary will offer a course to dig into the Old Testament Wisdom Books. Taught by Dr. Ken Cuffey, this class will look at what true wisdom is and how we find and appropriate it in life today. Through each of the four books of OT Wisdom we will reflect on the different aspects of what constitutes wisdom in our thinking and actions—both how to be wise and make wise decisions, and how to understand life when difficult questions are raised. To register or for more information, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org


December 27, 2015

From Dr. Cuffey

Filed under: Alumni ministry involvement,students,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:23 pm

Dear Friend,

This past year I received a remarkable reminder of the ministry that God has called Urbana Seminary to fulfill. When past students of the Seminary head into missions service around the globe I try to keep up with what our alums of all sorts are doing. Every other year I have the delight of teaching a course on Inductive Bible Study Methods, truly one of the most practical and down-to-earth courses of study–it’s a straightforward means of ensuring that each of us learns to listen to God speaking through His Word. Midyear I received a prayer letter e-mail from a student who had been in that course in 2014. I was so surprised and delighted to find that she had been training nationals where she serves overseas in Bible Study methods learned in that course. And even better this is a country that is totally closed to missionaries and the gospel of Christ, and here there were believers in that country learning the principles taught at Urbana Seminary to enrich their own growth in Christ and then turn around and be able to use their deepening knowledge of God’s story to change lives of those around them.

Like the ripples on a pond spreading outward, the impact of a Seminary education is always increasing in scope, multiplying outwards . . . And in truth, your support of gifts and prayers makes this ministry a reality. We are definitively thankful for each one of you in our support team.

Now is a traditional time of giving, as the year winds down. Would you prayerfully consider including Urbana Seminary in your year end giving? To donate online: http://www.urbanaseminary.org/giving-uts/donate/

Thank you!

Ken Cuffey


December 16, 2015

George Whitefield and the Re-evangelization of America

Filed under: Course Preview — Tags: , , — admin @ 9:10 pm

In this week’s blog, Dr. Joe Thomas explains the class he will be teaching this spring:
“George Whitefield and the Re-evangelization of America” is a course specifically designed to help the church think through its approach to evangelism today by reflecting on Whitefield’s diverse evangelistic ministry during the 18th century. George Whitefield is often considered the preeminent preacher of the American Great Awakening. What is not so well known is the revival methodology he developed for reaching the spiritually lost and bringing them to Christ. More than just a great preacher, Whitefield was strategic in outlining his evangelistic work in America. Whether it was taking advantage of the burgeoning print media, understanding the cultural shift towards commerce, developing close friendships with key people, or reaching out to the poor and marginalized, Whitefield’s core Christian convictions all became a part of his widely successful ministry. Much like today the 18th century was a fast moving time when culture was changing rapidly. Some had rejected the Christian faith outright – elevating reason above the Scriptures – many more had succumbed to a cultural Christianity that needed reviving. Whitefield accepted the challenge to call the American colonists back to their Christian roots. This he did effectively through God’s grace. But it wasn’t all good times. In his suffering, be it from persecution or simply the travails of evangelistic ministry, we discover many timeless lessons about the cost of evangelism. It is the goal of this strategic study to help the church and its leaders reflect on a more effective evangelistic outreach approach for today. Whitefield’s life and work is an excellent example of such a strategy that holds hidden gems for those who will take the time to study it.


December 7, 2015

Biblically-normed Christian Mysticism

by Peter D. Spychalla, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation

Is there a biblically-normed Christian mysticism? While there is no agreed-upon definition of mysticism in popular or academic literature, it can be defined as direct, transformative experience of hidden Divine Reality that exceeds human comprehension. On this characterization, the Christian life is mystical in several important respects.

The hidden Divine Reality with whom we have to do, the Triune God of the Bible—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is not directly detectable via our ordinary physical senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing, or seeing. Nor do our scientific instruments record His presence, His manifold excellencies, His mercy, His love, or His relationship to the believer. Yet, objectively, in terms of ontology, the individual who exclusively relies upon the propitiatory, substitutionary atonement of Christ (biblical faith), and receives the righteousness of Christ by imputation (biblical justification), is united with Christ and has direct, immediate relation to each Person of this hidden God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The believer is “in” Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in the Father. She is indwelt by the Son and the Spirit. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make their abode with the believer. This mutual indwelling of the believer with, and in, each Person of the Trinity is portrayed at length by the Apostles John and Paul (John 14–17, First John, Paul’s epistles). The Christian life is the experience of the Triune God actively working in the believer. “It is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13), “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), “His power which mightily works within me” (Colossians 1:29), “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man . . . the power that works within us” (Ephesians 3:16, 21). This union with the hidden Triune God, and His active working in the life of the believer, are objective, mystical realities that are at the core of biblical Christianity.

In addition, noetically, in terms of epistemology and perception, the believer experiences intimate relational knowing of Living God. “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3), “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Jesus promised that He will “manifest” or disclose Himself to the believer (John 14:21). There is direct, immediate communication from the Holy Spirit within the believer. “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6).

The believer intimately experiences, and gains direct personal knowledge of, divine realities that exceed human comprehension. “And the peace of God, which surpasses comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19). Such experience is transformative. Believers are being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, 12:2).

In light of this teaching from Scripture, I conclude there is a biblically-normed Christian mysticism. It is an intelligent, Scripture-focused, living union and communion with the Triune God, the experiential elements of which are utterly informed and controlled by the Holy Scriptures, which are the final norm for all doctrine (orthodoxy) and Christian living (orthopraxy).

In Spring 2016, Urbana Theological Seminary is offering the course, “Christian Mysticism and Contemplative Spirituality,” in which we are exploring how believers in Jesus Christ across two millennia of Christian tradition have understood, written about, and reflected upon mystical aspects of the Christian faith.

Course Description: Survey of major texts, individuals, themes, imagery, and theologies of spirituality found in the Christian mystical tradition. Reading portions of representative original works in English translation. Characterization of mysticism and contemplation in the Christian tradition. Exploration of Biblical foundations for direct experience of God. Evaluation of the epistemology of religious experience. Consideration of contemplative spirituality and Centering Prayer. Emphasis on formulating and integrating a Biblically-normed understanding of direct experience of God into a Scripture-focused, gospel-emphasizing theological framework.

Consider joining us for a stretching and engaging study that will help you understand and navigate the landscape of the diverse, and frequently difficult, Christian mystical tradition. We will engage this tradition critically, yet charitably, with a view to growing in our own intimate experience of living union and communion with the Triune God of Scripture.


November 30, 2015

Why should Christians care about ethics?

In this blog entry, Dr. Todd Daly explains why ethics matters: CT510 Christian Ethics

At first glance, the discipline of Christian ethics seems fairly straight forward, almost to the point of being unnecessary. What, after all, could Christian ethics possibly tell us that that Bible can’t? Isn’t Christian ethics really just about learning to apply the Bible to one’s life? Certainly, this basic understanding of Christian ethics has much to commend, but this description also leaves several critical questions unanswered, questions that take us deeper into the dynamics of the Christian life and indeed the discipline of Christian ethics itself.

While it is good and proper to agree that the Bible is our primary source for daily life, and that the whole of Scripture should be consulted, we must still ask some basic questions about how the Old Testament Law relates to morality in the New Testament. Why, for instance, do we not morally condemn those who wear clothes of mixed fabric, since Leviticus 19:19 clearly forbids the practice? More generally, what parts of the Old Testament carry over into the New? And is it right to view the New Testament as simply a new set of laws based on the life of Christ and the writings of Paul? Or, more fundamentally, is the concept of law the best way to depict how the Bible contributes to ethics? Should we interpret Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount simply as a new set of even more stringent demands where lust is equated with adultery and hate with murder?

We are also faced with other issues that the Bible does not directly address. The mind boggling explosion of technology that daily increases our control over matters of procreation, life, and death present us a dizzying array of options regarding having children, and when and how our lives will end. What are we to make of such technologies? Should Christians use the widely-available prenatal testing in order to detect for chromosomal abnormalities? Should it matter that a great majority of the identifiable conditions are incurable? What is the moral status of the embryo? We about those who are confused about their gender identity? Can transsexual surgery ever be condoned? Moreover, there are perennial ethical questions that continue to be relevant today: When is war a justifiable option? How do governments fit in with God’s rule? What does a ‘good death’ look like?

Finally, considering these important questions might lead one to conclude that Christian ethics is mainly about solving moral dilemmas. While this is part of the discipline, there are other elements of Christian ethics that consider the character-shaping actions and decisions of life. In short, what does Jesus have to say about Christian ethics? It may be surprising to find that the life and teachings of Jesus in Scripture are often marginalized in Christian discussions about war (Who would Jesus kill?). But Christian ethics is also concerned with who we become, which means that the teachings of Christ should have something to say about cultivating certain kinds of virtue. In an age where our default mode of moral deliberation often fall along consequentialist lines—i.e. the end justifies the means—Christian ethics challenges us not only to consider the teachings of the Bible, but exhorts us to become certain kinds of people. Frankly, when these considerations are brought to bear on today’s moral problems, Christian ethics often identifies moral problems to which other ethical systems see none.

This spring, Dr. Todd Daly will be teaching a modular course over four weekends that is designed to help us wrestle with these complex theological and moral issues. For more information about how to enroll in CT510 Christian Ethics, contact mgreen@urbanaseminary.org


Older Posts »