A return to deep living (Trinitarian ethics)

This post continues an exploration of Deep Church Rising by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. For other posts in the series, click a number: 12345, 6, 89.

Icon of the Resurrection
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Last time we looked at Walker and Parry's appeal for the church to return to right (deep) worship (orthodoxia). Now we'll examine their appeal for a return to right (deep) living (orthopraxia), which they define as "a wide-ranging concept covering everything from the ritual use of the body in worship to appropriate Christian moral behavior." For them, right living is "intimately entangled with belief in God as Creator and the story of God in Christ" (p. 114).

One of the reasons the church in modernity largely lost its ethical moorings is that modern thinkers largely rejected the idea that human nature has a goal or purpose (telos). Once recognition of this telos ceases, ethics becomes grounded only in the empirical world of facts devoid of values. Gone is any concept of moral "ought," to be replaced by such approaches to ethics as utilitarianism, emotivism, naturalism and subjectivism (p. 116).

In much of Western culture, this trend in ethics led to a moral pluralism and moral relativism, where there is no right or wrong in any absolute sense. Ironically, certain ethical precepts continued to be viewed in modernity as "absolute"---a concept that largely was a carryover from Judeo-Christian biblical ethics. An example is the enduring belief in universal human rights. But given the state of ethics in modernity (and now post-modernity), those rights lack an objective moral foundation, being "reduced to the protection of the individual's right to realize his or her own desires" (p. 118). In contrast, ethics within the apostolic Christian tradition was...
...determined by the transcendent realm and the very structures of the creation that God had made, by the kinds of creatures human beings were (in the image of God), the purposes for which God had made them, and the commands that God had given to guide them. Virtues were those dispositions that led toward those divinely appointed ends and vices were those that led away... Right and wrong were objective truths about the world. But as the theological framework upon which such moral vision depends loses its public acceptance the vision itself loses its basis (pp. 118-119). 
The authors emphasize that the divine laws fundamental to ethics in the apostolic tradition...
...[were not] random prohibitions and prescriptions but were related to the kinds of creatures that God had created humans to be. Christian virtues such as faith, hope, and love were not arbitrarily selected but were similarly tied to God's purposes for humanity (p. 119).
Those purposes were directly related to the gospel, which tells us where we are from and where we are going. Ethics in the apostolic tradition was not about a mere list of do's and dont's but about the grand story of creation and redemption---the narrative of God into which we are included through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God, our representative and substitute. This gospel-shaped approach to ethics is seen clearly in Paul's epistles. Note his use of the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, where being "in Christ" means being "a living exegesis of this narrative of Christ" (p. 121). The authors comment:
The Christian journey, for Paul, is a journey toward being conformed to the image of the Messiah and what that means is cruci-formity. It is a story that links into a bigger story of Adam created in God's image for glory, about the defacing of the image and its recovery. It is a story that tells us where we are from, where we are, where we are going, and how God is going to get us there. It is a story that subverts all the alternative stories in both the ancient and the modern worlds, reconfiguring ethics in the process (p. 122).
In the apostolic tradition, is it the story of Jesus (the gospel) that gives meaning to such ethical concepts as goodness, gratitude, and love. This is important to note, because in popular culture, ethics often is grounded in a pop-culture conception of love ("If it's loving, it must the right"). But in the gospel, love is defined "by the master story of Christ crucified" (p. 121). Note, for example, John's definition of love in 1 John 4:10-11. For Christians, Jesus' sacrificial love is determinative of Christian ethicsOrthopraxis (right living) flows from a heart transformed by the gospel--a heart full of love for God and for people.

This being the case, the authors note that orthopraxis (right living) is inextricably connected to orthodoxia (right worship). This is seen in Paul's comments about the Eucharist in 1 Cor. 11:17-34 where he notes that the Lord's Supper is a community-building feast where all should gather, in love, as equals---as the one body of Christ. But that is not how some in Corinth were celebrating Eucharist. They had become "poisoned by anti-gospel values" (p. 124).

The authors urge the church to return to "deep living" (right living/orthopraxis)---behavior that exemplifies gospel-shaped ethics in which human life is viewed as having a God-ordained telos revealed by the gospel. They urge us to ask ourselves: Are our ethical values and imperatives drawn from popular culture, or from the gospel itself? Gospel-shaped answers to such questions often will not be black or white. Finding the answers will typically require "careful reflection and nuanced responses" (p. 128). Why? Because "the call to deep church is a call to an ongoing discernment of the gospel-shaped response to the complex world in which we live" (p. 129). Is this a call to situation ethics? No, it's a call to gospel-shaped ethics---to a life lived out in the presence of the resurrected God-man, Jesus Christ.

Next time we'll look at what Walker and Parry advocate concerning implementing in churches a gospel-shaped discipleship program (catechesis).

For another series of Surprising God blogs on the topic of Christian ethics, click here.