Review: Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting:  carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books.  I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes: 1) Control: 2) Authority  3) Covenant presence. 

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics.  He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic:  man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God. 

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications.  I am not going to give a summary of each commandment.  Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences.  Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW.  Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471). 

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories.  Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.” 

What about temple worship?  Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods. 

In his discussion of the Decalogue he hints at a rebuttal of Kline’s “Intrusion Ethics.” Kline argued that some of God’s more extreme measures (Canaanite genocide) are actually intrusions of God’s final justice.  Well, yes and no.  True, that was a positive command and not to be repeated by the church today. Frame notes that we “do not see biblical evidence of an ‘order’ or ‘sphere’ of common grace” (535). Is this a time or sphere of common grace?  But even if it is, God’s blessings fell upon elect and non-elect within theocratic Israel. 

Is Kline talking about government?  Perhaps, and a holy government is one that bears “the divine name” and “the promise of being crowned with consummation glory” (Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 96). But does Scripture ever describe a government as such? Israel is a “chosen people,” to be sure, but is the nation itself promised with consummation glory?

In any case, as Frame notes, nothing in Genesis 4-9 suggests a distinction between holy and nonholy governments (536).  And even if it did, that wouldn’t help explain how the modern magistrate, who might happen to be a Christian, is to rule.  What does it mean to rule according to common grace?  How could we even determine which application of “common grace” is more “gracey” or right than the other one?  General Franco of Spain probably had more common grace than either Hitler or Stalin, yet one suspects that the modern advocate of intrusion ethics wouldn’t praise Franco’s regime.

St Basil: On Social Justice

The book is a collection of homilies St Basil wrote during the famine that hit Cappadocia.  The book exhibits his sheer rhetorical power.  One almost wept with pity in his homily on those who lend at interest.  One problem, though:  The book is titled “On Social Justice,” which connotes blue-haired Antifa warriors on Tumblr.  And the editor never really defines justice except pointing to a term St Basil used a lot:  epanison.  Normally translated “distribution,” it actually means “restore the balance.”  I suppose that’s as good a definition as any.

https://www.amazon.com/Social-Justice-Basil-Popular-Patristics/dp/0881410535/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491006219&sr=8-1&keywords=basil+the+great+on+social+justice

To the Rich

What is the use of wealth?  “When wealth is scattered as the Lord intends, it naturally returns; but when it is gathered, it naturally dispurses” (Basil 44).

I will tear down my barns

Main idea: sow righteousness (63). “Do not make common need a means of private gain.” “If you want storehouses, you have them in the stomachs of the poor” (68).  “You are guilty of injustice to as many as you could have aided but did not” (70).

In Time of Famine and Drought

Main idea: Our needs are not provided for (per the drought) because we do not share with others (76).

Lessons for today

One of the difficulties in applying this is the contrast between Basil’s time and ours. The editor glowingly says “These could have been written yesterday.”  Well, only superficially.  Here is why I think that.  There was no middle class during Basil’s time.  The agrarian world was the norm and if there were drought and famine, it was a crisis. Things have changed somewhat to mitigate those disasters.

Secondly, his powerful prose targets the rich–those who l live like the Kardashians.  It doesn’t target the plumber today who is struggling to pay his bills. Yes, he is absolutely right that those who squander their wealth on crap deserve scorn and we shouldn’t live beyond what is necessary.  Ah, but 1600 years later how does one determine what is necessary?  I think there are answers, to be sure, but they are far more difficult.

But fear not:  this is a process. This is where the hard questions of ethics begin, not end.  For starters, just don’t spend money like a thot and you will be okay. Basil always gives brilliant psychological insights on the tentacles of wealth.  Sanctification is a process.

You are what you love (review)

What we love and desire forms the space for what we know. And so James K. A. Smith reads Augustine’s key phrases in the Confessions. Smith writes: ““In some sense, love is a condition for knowledge” (Smith 7). I love in order to know. As humans we are oriented towards something.

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

Thus, a teleological existence. Smith and Augustine call attention to Man’s “heart.” It is our subconscious orientation to the world (8). Our heart is always “longing” for something, some ultimate end.

Before he can clinch his argument, Smith calls attention to the virtues. “They are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you are the kind of person who is inclined to be” x, y, z (16), “a disposition that inclines us to achieve the good for which we are made” (89). They are “thick realities tethered to particular communities governed by a particular Story” (159-160).

And if our habits are often formed pre-consciously, then they need radical re-training, hence liturgy. Liturgy for Smith isn’t necessarily smells and bells (or even church-related at all). Rather, “a shorthand term for those rituals that are loaded with an ultimate Story about who we are and what we’re for” (46). A liturgy could be the Book of Common Prayer or it could be a trip to the shopping mall.

Smith ends with a wonderful analysis of the megachurch movement and reasonable proposals to end it without necessarily taking a side in the “worship wars.”

Criticisms

Smith rarely misses an opportunity to attack “intellectualism,” but with the exception of Descartes, we aren’t sure exactly who is guilty of this. He says “new information doesn’t change a deformation” (83), but do we not see the converse in American universities, where the professor speaks of Marxism, Darwinism, and gender fluidity?

In fact, it’s almost as if he attacks “the life of the mind” and disciplines like Scripture memorization are brushed aside (see p.139, 142). And while I heartily agree with his critique of the “seeker-sensitive movement,” no one would ever criticize seeker-sensitive churches for being overly intellectual (or intellectual at all). And I can only conclude by quoting Colossians 3:10 in that we are “restored unto knowledge.”

The Good

Smith is a talented writer and it shows. While there is a lot of repetition from his earlier works, his argument is focused. His take on virtue is quite good and his model for pedagogy bears promise. In fact, as a teacher I had been using his take on pedagogy (in short, we are in loco parentis).

Notes on Wyclif from O’Donovan.

A running series of notes I’ve made on John Wyclif over the past decade, with help from Oliver O’Donovan.

From his talk “The Human Person, Economics, and Catholic Social Thought”

On the term “communication.”

His view of lordship does not depend on property.  Wyclif sees property as “lordship on unequal terms.”  

God exercises his Lordship by “communication,” lending (not giving away, since God cannot alienate himself), by giving fellowship (communication) to human beings. God shares creation as a whole with mankind as a whole.

What is man’s response to this communication?  For Wyclif, every righteous man is lord of the whole world, and in receiving anything we receive the whole world with it.  Communicating the good of creation with each other, we discover a radical equality in our creaturely relation to God’s communication.

Summed up in this formula:  This mine is ours.

From Irenaeus to Grotius (with Joan Lockwood O’Donovan)

Evangelical lordship is the “natural, nonproprietary use of necessary things universally open to human beings” (484).  Following Augustine, Wyclif will argue that a just lordship of earthly goods involves a rightly-ordered love towards them, which depends on a true knowledge of them available only in Christ (485; cf. Augustine City of God, BK 19).  


Does this mean that we can overthrow tyrants since they don’t have a Christological understanding of rightly ordered loves, and hence no just lordship?  Not so fast, Wyclif would say, it is true they do not have just lordship, but we as those having true dominion in Christ bear witness that they have a “defective use of these goods” (Wyclif, 494). Tyrants posses “an unformed power” (Wyclif 510) but not true lordship.  Rather, it is the believer who has the epistemological authority to judge the failures of church and state  (O’Donovan 483ff).  

Communication and Sharing

“God communicates them (spiritual gifts) to mankind with no alienation or impoverishment to himself the giver” (Divine Lordship, bk. 3 ch. 1. 70c).  

Outline from Bonds of Imperfection eds O’Donovan and O’Donovan (Eerdmans).

The Proprietary Subject and the Crisis of Liberal Rights

Key point:  The possession of rights is always proprietorship; all natural rights (for the West) originate in property rights (Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, 75).   This originated with Pope John XXIII (1329 AD).  He saw man as created with full lordship and ownership as possession (dominum).  His point was to discredit Fransiscan theologians who insisted on radical poverty.

This is the rights culture that would spring full-bloom in the modern world.  The problem it created was how to have community if the above take on rights is true.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

The fathers thought men should share as an imitation of God’s sharing his goodness with us.

Augustine’s Achievement
 
Augustine distinguished between two objective rights:  (a) divine right, by which all things belong to the righteous, and (b) human right, in which is the jurisdiction of earthly kings (79, quoting Epistle 93).

 

  • Justice for Augustine is a rightly-ordered love seen in the body politic, which would mean men loving the highest and truest good, God, for God’s sake.
  • Therefore, the bonum commune is a sharing in a rightly-ordered love (City of God, BK 19.21).
  • Because this sharing is spiritual, it is common and inclusive.  Thus we have a republic in the truest sense of the word:  res publica, public things.
  • Conversely, a disordered love in the soul is the privatization of the good.
  • Therefore, a disordered love will see the destruction of community.
O’Donovan comments,
It is the regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom, secured by the protection of property and enhanced by the provision of material benefits at the hands of unscrupulous tyrants (80).
Fransiscan Poverty: The Evangelical Theology of Non-Possession
 
  • Renouncing property right means that the viator is not a self-possessor, but rather is possessed by Christ and receives his powers (85).
Wyclif’s Ecclesiological Revolution
 
 
 
Irony: Wyclif’s reform program actually owed a great deal to Pope John XXIII’s reflections.
  • Non-proprietary posession belonged not only to Adam’s original state, but all the way forward to the episcopolate today: this should be seen in the church militant (88).
  • Divine lordship (dominum):  per Wyclif’s predecessor, Fitzralph, God is the primary possessor and enjoyer of creation.  Therefore, his giving of creation to Adam is a communication and sharing of himself, rather than a transfer of Lordship (89).
  • For the church, for Wyclif, this is God’s gift of himself as the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13).
  • Therefore, all of the “justified,” who coexist with Christ’s love, share (communicant) in this lordship directly from Christ.
  • Therefore, just dominion involves rightly-ordered love towards these communicable goods, which in turn depends on true knowledge of them available in Christ.

Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

“Samuel Rutherford’s Euthyphro Dilemma” in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland by Simon J. G. Burton

Cameron’s Thesis:

  1. Things that are good in themselves have a much stronger binding authority than adiaphora.

Rutherford’s Rejoinder:

  1. Constitution of the divine image is dependent on the divine will (130).
  2. Categories of simple and complex acts.
    1. The act of worshiping God is a simple act (for Rutherford, there is no object/intention in this act)
    2. The act of worshiping God in accord with the divine law is a complex act.
  3. Only complex acts have moral status (130).
    1. A created object is not the measure or rule of the divine will (131).
    2. When God creates rational creatures, he at once creates the common principles of the natural law (132).

Advancing the Position

  1. Love of God is the cornerstone of the natural law
    1. The question now becomes, per God’s command to kill Isaac, is whether a particular act should be considered obedience to God or not (132).
    2. This duty is not necessarily and immutably founded in God’s own nature before every decree of his will (133).
  2. Bradwardine
    1. Distinction between things reasonable naturally prior to the divine will
      1. Such as God’s being and goodness.
      2. They are able to move the divine will.
    2. AND things which are reasonable naturally posterior to the divine will;
      1. Depend on God’s will for their reasonable status.
      2. Caused by the divine will and cannot move it.
    3. and things which are said to be mixed.

Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

  1. Both Rutherford and Bradwardine attempted to identify different logical moments within the eternal and indivisible divine act.
    1. Grounds contingency not in the possibility of future action but in the present moment of existence itself (135).
    2. This allows Scotus to make a distinction between the single instant of time and the single instant of divine eternity in terms of a series of logically connected instants (135).
    3. Logically successive, but temporally synchronic structural instants.
  2. Highest principle of morality:  God is to be loved
    1. Every moral action is defined in relation to this.
    2. Except for those acts with an intrinsic and necessary relation to the divine nature–those acts with God as the immediate object–the moral status of every action is determined solely by the divine will (136).
    3. Aquinas:  God didn’t actually command Abraham to murder; rather, God was calling due on Isaac early (since Isaac was supposed to die because he was mortal).

Bottom line application:  God is not bound by his creation.

Turretin on the civil magistrate

A godly magistrate can call a council, for magistrates are nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 49:21-23, p. 308).

On The Civil Magistrate

Thirty Fourth Question:  What is the right of the Christian magistrate about sacred things, and does the care and recognition of religion belong in any way to him?  We affirm.

  1. Thesis: the pious and believing magistrate cannot and ought not to be excluded from all care of religion and sacred things, which has been enjoined upon him by God (316)
    1. “A multiple right concerning sacred things.”
    2. Isaiah 49.23 calls him a “nursing father” to the church.
    3. Magistrates are called “gods” (Ps. 82.6).
    4. Natural law argument: to him is commended the safety of the commonwealth and all things pertaining to it, which includes religion.
  2. Explanation: While magistrates may not usurp the calling of preachers, they may still discharge the duties of their own office.
    1. As ministers may not draw the sword, so magistrates may not take the keys of the kingdom.
    2. Jesus told kings to “Kiss the Son” (Ps 2).
  3. Magistrates have a limited, not absolute sacred right.
    1. Stated negatively
      1. He cannot make new articles of faith.
      2. He cannot preach or administer the sacraments.
      3. He cannot exercise church discipline
    2. Stated positively
      1. Establish sacred doctrine in the state and reform it when it falls, as per Asa, Josiah, etc.
      2. Protect the church, restrain heretics, promote the glory of God.
      3. Open and encourage schools (320).
      4. Convene councils
  4. Political power is occupied with a thing either directly and immediately, or indirectly, mediately, and consequently..
    1. In the former, it is concerned with the external man.
    2. In the latter, with spiritual.
    3. If the title “Head of the Church” is applied to the magistrate, then it can only be applied in an external, defensive way (322).
  5. Can he compel to faith? (323ff)
    1. “No one ought to be forced to faith.”
  6. What about heretics?
    1. Heretics should be punished, but not capitally (327ff).
    2. They can poison a nation just as thoroughly as an “external criminal.”  However, Turretin makes a distinction between the ringleaders and those deceived.  The latter shouldn’t really be punished.
    3. Turretin gives three propositions:
      1. Heretics can be coerced.
      2. Most heretics shouldn’t be executed.
      3. One may kill blasphemous arch-heretics (332).

Self-Love and Augustine: Analytical Outline

This is an outline of Oliver O’Donovan’s The Problem of Self-Love in St Augustine.
Thomas Aquinas identified three different froms of self-love: friendly, hostile, neutral.

      1. Augustine’s own use of it identifies with the eudaimonist tradition (O’Donovan 2).
    1. Four Aspects of Love
      1. Dilectio and caritas are words better-suited than amor.
        1. There is no caritas about evil things; only cupiditas.
      2. The loving subject stands in a complex relation to the reality he confronts.
        1. “Order” is a teleological notion.
        2. The subject discovers this order.
      3. The final good.
        1. Augustine initially thought this meant happiness.
        2. The supreme Good can’t be below or equal to man; it is above him.
        3. Using language like finis bonum introduces a positivist note (17).
      4. Cosmic love
        1. Metaphysical/ethical realism.
        2. The love of God is a metaphysical movement of the human will towards its final cause.
          1. But this doesn’t really account for deviations.
          2. Augustine then said that the movement of each thing is “proper” in that it occurs without any exterior force as an intervening cause.
        3. Augustine’s “Neo-Platonism.”
          1. The good of each degree is identified with the degree above it.
          2. Yet Augustine the metaphysician had to admit that only one object of love was permissible.
      5. Positive Love
        1. For the early Augustine “use” was opposite of love.
        2. Distinction between things and signs
          1. Things are subdivided
            1. Objects of enjoyment: you cleave to something for its own sake.
            2. Objects of use: not all use of temporal things is love.
        3. This is classical eudaimonism: the end is something one posits (28).
      6. Rational Love
        1. Love is estimation, appreciation, approval, not appetite or movement.
        2. The lover’s response to the object of his admiration is dilectatio.
          1. The basis of this delight is rational.
          2. Love’s order is given by its comprehending conformity to the order of reality.

 

  • Self-Love and the Love of God

 

      1. The pyramidal ordo amoris supposes that every subordinate good derives its value from its final orientation to God.
      2. Knowledge: We require God’s merciful self-communication
        1. The human mind
          1. We also need subjective criteria: the mind loves itself.

 

  • Self-Love and Self-Knowledge

 

      1. Love follows knowledge.
      2. Matter and Mind
        1. To be in matter is to be in space.
        2. The intelligible realm is “in itself.”
      3. Soul and Presence
        1. Self-presence: the soul detached from the world of matter
        2. Distance-from-self: the soul in matter.
        3. Augustine identifies the inner self with conscience (71).
      4. There is a gulf between self-knowledge and knowledge of God.
      5. Commentary on De Trinitate
        1. First three-fold division
        2. Amans, amata, amor
          1. This was the Trinity of external love.
          2. The subject-object-copula only yielded two terms.
          3. New triad can yield three: mens, notitia, amor.
        3. Memoria, intelligentia, voluntas

 

  • The Primal Destruction

 

      1. Self-love is to reject the good common to all, God himself, in favor of some limited personal good.
      2. Platonic echoes: Augustine sees the soul of man occupied in the middle place of the universe.
        1. We must view the soul as expanding (reaching towards God) and contracting (sin).
      3. Your private interests should not clash with another’s, for the only true interests have to be communal because the only true goodness was God, who gives himself freely to all (103).
        1. Neglecting the common good is neglecting the transcendent good common to all.

 

  • Suum has become an ontological category (104).

 

Thesis: Self-love is notorious to define, be it pagan or Christian.  And it isn’t always clear what Augustine means by it.  O’Donovan, however, does point the way through the morass and gives us something like the following: Augustine takes classical eudaimonianism and gives a “communal” and eschatological cast to it:  self-love finds its true expression in love to God, which orders my love to others (138).

O’Donovan ends with an outstanding presentation of Christian Eudaimonism.  Such a view will have to take a positivist view of the finis bonum.

But in some ways more important than the above is O’Donovan’s wise, judicious handling of the history of ethics in the ancient world.  Among other things, he gives us an outstanding commentary on the latter half of De Trinitate.

Love your God (Moreland)

Moreland, J. P. Love your God with all Your Mind (Navpress).

53b160cadd8b2_j_p_moreland

Many have rightly hailed this book as a game-changer. Unfortunately, not enough have. It’s hard to put this book’s importance into words. It changed my life in college. Enough with the praise; let’s begin.

Moreland’s thesis is developing a Christian mind is part of the essence of Christian discipleship (Moreland 43). Further, since the mind is a faculty of the soul (72, more on that later), one cannot develop one’s soul in relation to God without taking the mind into account. Yet Moreland is not encouraging us to become arcane theology wonks. He places the life of the mind within cultivating a framework of virtue (104-112). Virtue is elsewhere explicated as “the good life,” the life lived in accordance with God’s design (35). A virtuous life is a free life: freedom is the power to do what one ought to do. Finally, a virtuous life is a communal life.

Indeed, for example, it is this communal aspect of the virtuous life that Aristotle sought (170). It is a view of friendship that is formed around a common vision and shared goods (shades of Augustine!). Rather, New Testament fellowship–koinonia–is commitment to, and participation in, advancing the Kingdom from the body of Christ. What relevance, then, to the life of the mind? New Testament fellowship should be guided by the good life as revealed in the gospel, which includes a life of epistemic virtue. We are to build each other up in this.

Notae bene

Theology and Worship: God is a maximally perfect being. He is not just a perfect God, but perfect in all possible worlds. From this Moreland develops his theology of worship. While not Reformed, he anticipates some like an RPW. I disagree with his “testimony” time after the sermon, but mainly because this almost always kills the flow and narrative of worship (have you ever been to the last night of summer camp in youth group? Then you know of what I speak).

Interestingly, Moreland also accepts rule by elders, if not by synod.

Ethics: happiness, following the ancients and utilizing the New Testament, is a life of virtue whic includes suffering (35).

Philosophy and the Soul: we must remember that both ancient man and the Christian tradition defined the mind (as well as the spirit) as a faculty of the soul (Moreland 70-73). While it is a true statement that the soul has contact with God, yet it is the mind that is the vehicle for the soul’s making contact with God. On the other hand, the spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (Romans 8:16 and maybe Eph. 4:23).

Moreland then outlines the five states of the soul (sensation, thought, belief, act of will, and desire). What’s interesting about that is the above states of the soul cannot be reduced to purely physical categories. This means the soul/mind is not reducible to the brain, which means scientific naturalism is false. This is also what R. L. Dabney meant by “connative” powers (I think; see Dabney Discussions II: 240, 243, III: 281; The Sensualistic Philosophy, chs. 1-2).
Not only does the soul have the aforementioned five states, it also has capacities or hierarchies. Without getting too technical, understanding the soul’s capacities is key in the abortion debate.

Moreland further gives some practical lessons in logic and analytical reading. That, too, changed my life. Few things are more beautiful than a well-time modus ponens.

Conclusion

This is a book to be savored, meditated upon. I’ve bought it several times and whenever I see it at used book sales, I buy it to give it away. It is that important. Don’t stop here, though. Immediately transition to Kingdom Triangle.

Situation Ethics (review)

You can summarize Fletcher’s ethic as “Claim love, and then you can use it to fornicate and stuff.”

Even though this book is bad, it isn’t completely bad. The beginning of the book is fairly well-written. I will do my best to outline Fletcher’s position but I will follow with an extended critique.

While Fletcher’s ethics is formally empty, he does explain it (sort of). Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26). It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27). All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What is its method? Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).
1. Only one law, agape.
2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.

1 Pragmatism. In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem 2. in ethics. Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
3. Relativism. To be relative means to be relative to something (44).
4. Positivism. Faith propositions are posited a-rationally. “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
5. Personalism. Love people, not things (50).

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).
Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).
Third Proposition: Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed (87).
Fourth Proposition: Love wills the neighbor’s good, whether we like him or not (104).
Fifth proposition: Only the End Justifies the Means; nothing else (120).

*Fletcher isn’t all bad. He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics. Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past. Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such). Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

* calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84). In fact, he has a very perceptive critique of Tolstoyanism: they want love but deny order.

*Says the social gospel is “pietistic” about love (91).

*His criticism of Catholic moralism’s separation of love as a supernatural virtue but justice as a natural virtue is interesting and should have been more developed (93ff).

* He helpfully outlines Chrysostom’s ethics as not confusing ends and means. Fletcher just sinfully rejects it.

The Critique:

(1) Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not? He just asserts this. He doesn’t prove it.

(2) Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting. Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.” “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52). But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?

(3) Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments. Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.

(4) Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done. Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion: “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).

(5) When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80). Which is another way of saying, “I don’t know.”

(6) Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious. He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like. He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

(7) Fletcher holds to utilitarianism and so his position is suspect to all of the critiques of utilitarianism. But more to the point: in his calculus do we evaluate neighbor-good qualitatively or quantitatively? Unbelievably, he even says we can use numerical factors for issues relating to conscience (118). He is actually serious. Even worse, he tells a tale of the god-demon Moloch and sides with Moloch on how many to kill!

(8) More on utilitarianism: who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? Sounds kind of “literalist” to me! Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number. Fletcher defends racial minorities. Good for him, but it’s not clear on his ethics why he can do so, since they are never “the greatest number.”

As Norman Geisler points out, “The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not.”

8.1) Another problem with utilitarianism, as noted by Arthur Holmes. What does it mean to “maximize the good?” Do we take the sum of the surplus good or do we just average it across the population? If we talk about the “Greater good,” can we ignore minority rights as long as we maximize the greater good?

“If 100 people each receive 10 bens (units of benefit), then the sum total is 1000 “bens” and the average is 10. But if we increase the benefit for 10 people to 100 bens each, give the next 60 people their original 10 bens, and the remaining 30 no bens at all, then the total benefit is 100 + 600 + 0 = 1600 bens; and the average is up to 16. But the distribution is now extremely unequal. Which of these two is the morally better distribution of benefits” ?

Can the utility principle by itself tell us how to best distribute benefits?

(9) Says Paul was “obscure and contradictory” about the problem of the justice of God (122). In fact, Fletcher formally disagrees with Paul on Romans 3:8. That’s because, per Fletcher, Paul erred in seeing “good” and “evil” as properties, not predicates.

(10) If love is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of neighbors, and Fletcher lists the situation where a group of people are hiding from murderers and a baby starts crying, which would expose the group, then the most loving thing to do is kill the baby. Okay, what if I refuse to kill my baby, did I sin? Corollary: Does Fletcher say I must kill my baby? Corollary #2: What if I refuse? Should the group make me?

(11) Throughout the book Fletcher makes a number of category confusions. This is not surprising, given his lack of ethical knowledge due to his only reading Neo-Orthodox and death-of-God theologians. For example, ethical theories like graded absolutism do not see deception in war as lying.

(12) Fletcher is guilty of circular reasoning:
P1: The end justifies the means
P2: The end does not justify itself
C1: Only love does.
Yet, how can I know the loving action?
P3: Love = greatest good to greatest neighbors. Yet, this is materially the same thing as P1.

Therefore, his argument runs:
P1
P2
Therefore, P1

(13) Fletcher openly ridicules Middle-Class America (137).

(14) He wants to say that “law-based” citizens would have rejected Dr King, yet on what grounds can Fletcher say that? Why can’t the evil-capitalist-white-man say, from his perspective, that the most loving thing to do is uphold segregation? Now, I believe the segregationist is wrong, but I can say, unlike Fletcher, that he is absolutely wrong.

(15) Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.

(16) Let’s go back to his consequentialism in ethics. The mainline Protestant denominations more or less adopted Fletcher’s position? How are they doing today, membership-wise? The PC(usa) and TEC are losing members by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Seems like they failed Fletcher’s consequentialist test.

Conclusion:

While Fletcher highlights some interesting and difficult issues in ethics, he rarely gives solutions (unless it involves extra-marital sex, in which he is always for it). This is not surprising. He cannot give solutions. He cannot give solutions because his criterion for value, “love,” is empty and meaningless.

Fletcher likes to tell “bleeding-heart” stories to show how wrong his critics are. Okay. Two can play at that game, as one reviewer notes. Fletcher tells the story:

A young woman, jilted by her lover, is in a state of great depression. A married man, with whom she works, decides to have an affair with her in order to comfort her. Some, like Fletcher, would argue that what he did might well have been a noble deed, for the man acted out of concern for his friend. What a perverted viewpoint! Here is the rest of the story. The man’s wife learned of his adulterous adventure, could not cope with the trauma, and eventually committed suicide. One of his sons, disillusioned by the immorality of his father and the death of his mother, began a life of crime, and finally was imprisoned for murder. Another son became a drunkard and was killed in an automobile accident that also claimed the lives of a mother and her two children. Now, who will contend that that initial act of infidelity was the “loving” thing to do?

At the end of the day, not only is Fletcher’s ethics morally depraved, it is logically useless. As Erwin Lutzer notes, “It’s like saying, “The only rules to the game is “Be fair!”” (less)

Situation Ethics, Part 1

Towards a full review.  Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics was the theological justification (ad hoc, no doubt) of the Sexual Revolution during the 1960s.

Three Approaches

Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26).  It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27).  All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What, then, is the place of rules?  Fletcher calls them “illuminators, not directors” (31).  There is an element of truth to this, as it echoes some wisdom literature.

What is its method?  Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).

  1. Only one law, agape.
  2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
  3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Some Presuppositions

In this chapter Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.  

  1. Pragmatism.  In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem in ethics.  Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
  2. Relativism.  To be relative means to be relative to something (44).  
  3. Positivism.  Faith propositions are posited a-rationally.  “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
  4. Personalism.  Love people, not things (50).
    1. No such thing as value as inherent good.  A value is what happens to something when it “works.”
    2. Values are relative to persons and persons are relative to society.  (Dr Mengele, call your office).  
    3. If all he means by that is persons are persons in relationship—no, I am still uncomfortable with it.
    4. Fletcher says it is bad to “use people,” but what does he mean by “use”?  People are means in one sense–no person is to be loved for that person’s sake, but for God’s.  
  5. Conscience

Love is Always Good

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).

Fletcher is a nominalist (57ff).  He continually asserts that love is a predicate, not a property or universal.  As a result, values are extrinsic to a person or thing.

Fletcher’s target in this chapter is Kant’s extreme deontological ethics.

What is a good action:  “whatever is the most loving thing to do” (65).  So what is the most loving thing to do?  Well, it depends on the situation.  Okay, so in Situation (S₁) what should I do?  No answer.  Probably fornicate.  

Love is the only universal (64).

Love is the Only Norm

Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).

Fletcher now moves towards a definition of agape-love: goodwill at work in partnership with reason (69).   The essential spirit of many laws has been distilled into love. Fletcher points out that Christian love is not desire (79).

The Good in Fletcher’s Approach

*Fletcher isn’t all bad.  He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics.  Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past.  Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such).  Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

*calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84).  

Critique

  1. Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27).  What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules.  But why not?  He just asserts this.  He doesn’t prove it.
  2. Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting.  Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.”  “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52).  But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?
  3. Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation?  Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments.  Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.
  4. Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done.  Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion:  “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).
  5. When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80).  
  6. Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious.  He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like.  He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).