Wayne Grudem’s latest book, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, stands as an excellent installment among other Christian Ethics introductory works. Staying true to his style, Grudem’s work is logical, linear, and easy to follow. The precise formatting strikes similarities to his well-known Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Though Grudem covers a wide array of topics, they are buttressed on a scaffolding of the 10 commandments, which serves as his outline for the whole book. His 42 chapters are divided among the following sections:
Part 1: Introduction
Grudem introduces the topic of Christian ethics as well as the biblical basis, source, goals, and utility of the sources for each topic. The introduction itself accomplishes more than other similar books, which often assume a greater understanding or further starting point among the audience. By doing this Grudem does not come across as condescending, but clear and thorough. Careful attention is given in his seventh chapter: How Should Christians Use the Old Testament for Ethical Guidance? This last chapter is beneficial to support his balanced use of the entirety of scripture throughout the rest of the book.
Part 2: Protecting God’s Honor
This section takes the five commandments of the Decalogue which nest most neatly under the heading of God’s honor and expounds them. The commandments he covers in this section include:
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image.”
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”
“Remember the Sabbath day.”
“You shall not bear false witness.”
Practically, they cover the need for a right relationship with God to do ethics and move toward questions about how to regard the Sabbath in our modern era.
Part 3: Protecting Human Authority
Grudem rightly applies the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” to parents, but also to marriage, civil government, and other authorities. However, his fifteenth chapter, “Equality and Leadership in Marriage,” feels a bit belabored. Perhaps it is because Grudem has written on the topic elsewhere and it was easier to insert and use his own materials already available to him. In any case, his arguments are sound. Though, the space he used in this section could have been better used in other, more complex sections.
Part 4: Protecting Human Life
We often rush through the ten commandments since they’re so familiar to us, and we fail to understand the full breadth of their application to our lives. On his section addressing “You Shall Not Murder,” Grudem is able to address a wide variety of issues which go against God’s revealed character in this commandment. While moving through familiar matters like capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, he does not fail to mention oft-neglected topics like suicide, aging, and death. Some of the better chapters in the book are in this section which include discussions on racial discrimination and health. I take the treatments of these topics (and some which come later) as indications of Grudem’s correct sense that these issues are under-engaged yet still noteworthy.
Part 5: Protecting Marriage
In this portion Grudem takes hold of the seventh commandment, “You shall not commit adultery.” Now moving into some unpopular, yet needed, territory, Grudem covers a wide array of sins which are prevalent in our society. He does not address those, however, until he lays an important positive case for the intention of marriage found in chapter 28. Following this is birth control, infertility, pornography, divorce and remarriage, and finally, homosexuality and transgenderism. I hope that in subsequent generations of Christians studying ethics, there will be no need to talk about transgenderism, which is entirely a novelty of our age. Thankfully, Grudem addresses it since other Christian Ethic’s books do not even conceive of the notion that people would be wrestling with this subject. In fact, these sections display Grudem’s pastoral heart even in the midst of his very logical flow of thought.
Part 6: Protecting Property
The eight commandment “You shall not steal,” is the central feature in this portion of the book. I found this section to be particularly interesting and useful. I think this was the case because considerations Grudem covers for owning property, poverty, wealth, stewardship, borrowing and lending (as a few key examples), are issues which have slipped out the church’s handling. Debt, money, and other similar subjects are spoken about by Christians, but they tend to take on the shape of a Dave Ramsey class and have less (if any) undergirding from God’s law, which is a reflection of his character. These topics, though important, tend to be considerably less “charged” than, say, race or abortion. As such, I think this text will serve to refresh the church to a point that it will be willing to engage these issues from a biblical understanding.
Part Seven: Protecting the Purity of the Heart
This final section includes only one chapter, based on the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet.” It does seem at this juncture that there is a lack of balance, at least visibly, to each section. But this apparent imbalance may be misleading. Truth be told, Grudem covers aspects of this commandment in many topics, such as Chapter 28, on marriage, and Chapter 31, on pornography.
I will be hard pressed to decide between using this book or John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Christian Life: A Theology of Lordship in teaching on Christian Ethics. Frame’s influence on Grudem’s thought is evident not only in his citations and footnotes, but also his theology. At times earlier in the book, it seemed like he was perhaps a little too dependent on Frame. I was surprised in later chapters, such as Chapter 29, on birth control, that Frame was not mentioned. I say this because I have found Frame’s arguments to be, perhaps, the most cogent on the subject, and with Grudem’s earlier dependence I expected to see his helpful arguments addressed here, as well.
I was also refreshed by Grudem’s ability to be extremely charitable with people he disagrees with. In intermural debates among Christians, the conversations seem a bit toxic, of late, and Grudem stands above the antics modeling an excellent way to both name people he disagrees with, and yet, show love and respect toward them. This even included, to my surprise, a brief discussion on theonomy, which is notoriously associated with some of the worst examples of dialogue.
The few potential drawbacks are 1) its length and 2) the overlap with other material published elsewhere. The length is not so much the issue as is the fact that the many of topics have already been written and published by Grudem, himself. For a self-contained book, I understand the purposes and agree with them. For my desire to retain the length, but cover more ground, I would have been satisfied with mere footnotes to those other works so he could discuss more issues. I will admit that my view is probably in the minority, though. Lastly, I would recommend that if anyone purchases this book that they would buy a hard copy and not an eBook version, such as the one I reviewed. The sheer size is much harder (if not impossible) to have the “page memory” a physical textbook provides.