Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context by Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee. InterVarsity Press, 2003. 491 pages.
In Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen (Fuller Seminary) and David Gushee (McAfee School of Theology) provide a Christian ethic rooted in the idea of the Kingdom of God as defined by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. But this is not a typical treatment of either.
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of their Kingdom perspective is the section on the “Transforming Initiatives of the Sermon on the Mount.” The authors present the commonly held views of The Sermon on the Mount, but then move to give new meaning to the Sermon and its application through a new look at the construction of each teaching section.
The heart of their argument is that Jesus’s teaching is a tripartite entity, dealing with the problem, the vicious circle caused by the problem, and the transforming Kingdom initiative which places both the problem and those involved in it, in a new light. An example would be:
- Traditional Righteousness: Matthew 5:38 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'”
- Vicious Cycle: Matthew 5:39 — “But I say to you, do not retaliate vengefully by evil means.” (This is the vicious cycle of violence, retaliation, and more violence.)
- Transforming Initiative: Matthew 5:40-42 — “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if any one wants to sue you and take your coat give your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go the second mile. Give to one who begs from you, and do not refuse one who would borrow from you.”
The authors contend that the entire Sermon on the Mount features this pattern of Jesus presenting the traditional view, the vicious cycle that results, and the alternative way of the Kingdom. Rather than the Sermon being an ideal, but unattainable
vision or a spiritualized ethic, the Sermon becomes a practical, yet radically different way for the followers of Jesus to live out Kingdom values.
This approach allows a depth of discipleship that previously held views (idealized or spiritualized) of The Sermon deny. One does not have to be perfect to be a follower of Jesus. Following Jesus also can take place in a very real, and gritty world. The individual disciple can apply Jesus teaching in practical, workable ways that will contribute to transforming relationships with people and with God.
But this ethic of transformation based on The Sermon does not apply just to interpersonal relationships. Stassen and Gushee find application in the thorny issues of war, peacemaking, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, gender roles, and biotechnology. Walking, not just a middle way but a transformative way, Kingdom Ethics presents a fresh look at how Christians can apply the teaching of Jesus in ways that are different from either a biblical legalism or a political liberalism. This transformative way often arrives at its application by means of a very different route than previous options.
This fresh look at both the Kingdom and its values avoids the hardline approaches of both liberals and fundamentalists, and offers room for dialogue, appreciation, conversation, and peacemaking between the various hard-fought positions. The entire ethic becomes itself a type of peacemaking instrument, grounded in conviction, but recognizing that God’s justice and love must both find expression in God’s Kingdom as it is lived out.
This approach deepens the Christian disciple’s relationship to God in several ways. It is an approach which takes seriously the Biblical account, but which also brings the accumulated insights and tools of robust scholarly research to the task of interpretation. The authors accord Scripture a prime place, but interpret the texts in light of the life, teaching, and insights of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. This focus on the Lordship of Christ as the interpretive hermeneutic of Scripture grounds the follower of Christ in the real-life example of Jesus.
If you’re interested in ethics in light of Jesus’ life, this is a book you must have. At almost 500 pages, it’s not quick reading (I know because I read it), but will serve as a great ethics resource in any Christian leader’s library.
Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy and received no inducement to review this book.