why Christian ethics should be story-formed

It would be a massive over-simplification to say that there are two ‘default options’ when it comes to Christian ethics (as I said for corporate worship).

Although, at a popular level in some of the circles I’ve moved in, people do tend to be drawn in one of two directions.

Either we don’t want to focus too much on ethical issues — particularly those ‘moral issues’ stereotypically associated with the Christian right: abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, etc.

Sometimes this marches under the banner of ‘gospel ethics for gospel believers’. No one wants to impose their views on anyone else in the post-Christendom West, after all.

But mostly it has to do with an evangelistic urgency. We don’t want to spend our time arguing about the rights and wrongs of a particular brand of behaviour, especially if this is going to stop someone hearing the urgent call to trust in the risen Lord.

The alternative is to make every ethical issue a ‘gospel issue’, treat every hill as a hill to die on. For Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world, doesn’t he?

There’s a moral seriousness to this view that mustn’t be scoffed at. As well as a recognition that if the Creator and Judge of all says something’s right, then it’s right — not only for those who worship him but for all.

Yet, again, I want to suggest a slightly different approach — a story-formed approach.

What would happen if we started thinking and talking about Christian ethics — and particularly about how Christian ‘moral issues’ related to the Christian good news about what God’s done in Jesus — in terms of story?

I wonder what it would do (a) to our ethics and (b) to the way people feel about the ethical stands we make if we started telling a story — rather than setting out abstract principles or artificially attempting to change the topic so that we can talk about Jesus.

The cross and resurrection is obviously the climax of the story. But, like all good climaxes, it draws together the different threads running through it. And it has a variety of implications and effects that mean that things are decisively different on this side of it.

How would this work? Imagine you’re asked about whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice.

How do you think the conversation would go if you wove into your answer a story about a God who gave life originally, who continues to care for and take an interest in it, and who has acted — dramatically and in person — to taste death for all and defeat it in his resurrection?

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