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Book Review by Mark Powell
Mark Powell is associate pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Sydney.
Every now and again comes a book which becomes the new standard reference work in its field. Grudem’s work on Christian Ethics is, in my opinion, one such book. There is a wealth of pastoral, academic and personal application to be discovered within its almost 1,300 pages!
As always, the strength of Grudem’s writing is both his clarity and commitment to Scripture. It is impossible not to be edified by what he writes even when one might disagree. Everything Grudem writes models the authority of the Bible, whereas other works—especially in the field of ethics—rely more on the importance of experience, human reasoning or tradition. This is seen through his extensive referencing of the Bible, with many of the passages being reproduced in full.
Interestingly, the book is structured around the framework of the Ten Commandments, and yet, strangely, Grudem himself denies the historic ‘tripartite’ view of the law – i.e. that the moral component of the law is binding, whereas the civil and ceremonial aspects are not. This is a popular approach within evangelicalism today, and Grudem gives a good defence of the position. However, apart from his view of the Sabbath, I would argue that he treats the moral component of law as more authoritatively binding than most other authors I’ve read.
Grudem is conservative politically which should come as no surprise to those who have read his Politics According to the Bible (Zondervan, 2010). Once again, this comes through in his robust defence of complementarism, homosexuality, capitalism and especially the environment.
In my opinion, his chapter on ‘Equality and Leadership in the Home’ is worth the price of the book alone. But there are many other excellent sections as well. In particular, his chapters on climate change, pornography, alcohol / drugs and economic stewardship.
I did have one or two quibbles. For example, Grudem doesn’t believe that masturbation is a sin and that it is ethically permissible. I found his argument here to be surprisingly simplistic and he didn’t really expand on the moral complexity of the issue. I also thought that his treatment of divorce and remarriage could have been more expansive in discussing alternative views – he does however, follow the classic Protestant interpretation of the pertinent texts.
There is a wealth of wisdom in this book, as well as robust scholarship. It is fruit of a thirty-plus-year career in teaching, but even more significantly, of walking closely with the Lord. Each page drips with spiritual zeal and an earnest desire to see God glorified. As such, it deserves to be on every pastors’ shelf.
Indeed, if you were to ever own only one book on Christian ethics then this would have to be it.
An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning