I recently read an article in the Christian Post by Lillian Kwon regarding Chuck Colson’s “doing the right thing.” The article begins with the Colson’s observation that America is an ethical mess. It seems painfully obvious that America is in an ethical mess. Colson believes that America is in desperate need of a revolution in ethics. With the issues of violence, divorce, crime, racism, sexual deviance, and a plethora of other behaviors, it is clear that a problem exists. Based on the article, it seems that Colson thinks the answer is a revolution is ethics. But that only begs the question as to the proper basis for ethics. Ethics are informed by norms. Whose norms? More about that later.
Colson argues that Christians and the majority of Americans are intimidated into silence by the cultural elite. Unfortunately, this is more true than not. It is true in the public and even more so in the workplace. Opponents of Christian values have done a marvelous job of polarizing those who hold views with which they disagree. For instance, abortion is not really a “life and death” issue. Opponents of Christianity have successfully made it about a woman’s right. The argument is terribly flawed, but it seems to work. Homosexuality is not about unnatural and harmful sexual behavior, it is about love. Those who disagree with the homosexual arguments are labeled as bigots. Those who disagree with abortion are oppressors of women. Who wants to be viewed as an oppressor of women or a bigot? Because they are unwilling to stand up to the heat of these accusations, both Christians and conservatives retreat to the shadows of silence and safety.
Colson thinks it is time for people to change this retreating behavior. It is time for a revolution in ethics. Of course, I wonder what an ethical revolution looks like and what it will accomplish in the end. In other words, if the “do the right thing” movement is successful, what is different. What does success look like for the “do the right thing” movement? This is a good question. One of Colson’s partners in the movement, Del Tackett blames this issue on relativism. He refers to it as the “silly little mind games we play in order to convince ourselves that truth ultimately springs from me.” Would it solve the problem if we admitted that absolutely truth exists if we cannot agree on its source? I think this is another good question. Can a Christian and an unbeliever really ever agree on the source for absolute truth? Scripture answers this question. More about that later. The problem is much deeper than relativism.
Tackett says much of the ethics problem can be linked to “the social covenant” that we have made with one another. This is a covenant of tolerance in which both sides agree not to direct moral judgments against one another. Hence, the age of a utopian tolerance is born. However, the social covenant is a self-referentially incoherent endeavor. The very idea of a covenant is antithetical to moral neutrality, which is precisely what the covenant seeks to establish. Perhaps we should spend more time confronting this ungodly and irrational strategy than we should contemplating a strategy for an ethical revolution. Tackett tells us that the covenant tells us it is wrong to say something is wrong. But how can you tell someone it is wrong to tell someone that they are wrong without telling them they are wrong? At that point, aren’t you violating the covenant? Second, Tackett tells us that it is equally wrong to assert that absolute truth exists. But in order for that statement to be meaningful at all, absolute truth actually does have to exist. Otherwise, what is one saying? I realize Tackett is criticizing these views, but I think there might be a better way to do it. Or, should I say, there is a more biblical, and hence, a better way to do it.
The “do the right thing” movement asserts that you cannot look within yourself as a source for ethics. You cannot go by your own conscience. You cannot rely on your feelings. Indeed, this is very true. What is the suggestion to get this revolution in ethics? Practice says the leaders. Practice? Practice what? It is at this point that we begin to recognize that this movement is not a gospel movement at all. Yes, there may be Christian labels, bible verses, and other Christian material used, but that does not make it biblical. Stonestreet comments that it is easy to take the attitude that world is going to hell and there is nothing we can do about it. But, he says, the “doing the right thing” movement brings hope to the table. Really? What kind of hope? Is the gospel of Jesus Christ really about an ethical revolution? Is that the message the apostles preached?
Colson says that Christians cannot go around imposing our views on others. This is not a theocracy. He says what we can do is propose a better way, an alternative. Is this what Jesus did? Did John the Baptist propose that the Pharisees repent of their hypocrisy? Did Jesus say, I would suggest you consider a different way? Colson says that we don’t have any more reason for being angry at a secularist culture than we do for a blind man who stepped on our foot. Is this a fair comparison? Is this the attitude of the apostles? The apostle Paul, when confronted with the pagan idolatry of Athens, become very upset at what he saw. Paul become very upset when he observed just how far these people were carried away with idolatry. (Acts 17:16) I admit there is a balanced and wise delivery of the gospel and one that is less so. But to say that gospel proclamation is better delivered as a suggestion than as imposition is simply not in accord with how prophets and apostles delivered God’s message in Scripture. In fact, this approach is indicative of postmodern influence, which is the very thing it seeks to confront.
The biggest problem with the “do the right thing” movement and its program calling for a revolution in ethics is that the call itself does not insist that the basis for these new ethics must be Scripture alone. Colson “is hoping Americans, Christians especially, will step up to start an ethics revolution – one based not just on the Bible but on common sense, the common law, and the common good.” And this introduces the basic problem, not just in the ethics of American society, but in the visible church.
Scripture alone must serve as the basis for morality. God is the source of ethical norms and as such, His revelation must inform every culture its moral code. Every ethical system based on anything other than God inevitably ends up being relativistic. The problem with basing ethics on something outside of God is that you end up with an ethic that is contrary to God. Why is this? This is true because man never does the right thing for the right reason apart from grace, apart from God. An unregenerate man may avoid adultery because he believes it is wrong, but he does not do so out of a genuine love for God. This actually makes his avoidance of adultery sinful because his purpose is unholy. There are millions, no, billions of ungodly moralists running around this planet. They wear many different labels, including Jesus and Christianity. The label a moralist wears does not have the power to sanctify.
If we are to experience a man-driven revolution of ethics based on common sense, whose common sense shall we choose? Should we use the republicans or democrats? Maybe we should choose either the conservatives or the liberals? Perhaps we should use a ethnic group as our basis. Immediately you can see the problem with choosing common sense as the basis for a revolution in ethics. I have not even mentioned the problem with unregenerate “common sense.” In addition, the same holds for common law. Should we allow the same common law that legalizes abortion as the basis for our ethical revolution? I think not. Is that the only problem with our “common law?”
There is no neutrality in ethics. Either ethics are godly or they are ungodly. There is no middle ground. We either seek to honor and please God with our behavior or we seek to please ourselves. We either love God or we love the world. A revolution in ethics does not solve the problem of sin. What the “do the right thing” movement does is focus on outward practice without giving any attention to inward transformation. This would basically increase the number of moralists in a culture without doing anything to further the gospel. In fact, some of the most difficult people to interact with regarding the gospel are moralists.
We do need a revolution in ethics in America. In fact, the entire globe is in desperate need of a revolution in ethics. What does that look like? Eph. 2:10 says that we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. If there is to be a revolution in ethics, it will be because God authored one. Man is not free to change his true character. Again, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom. 12:2) The only way one can truly conduct themselves in a genuinely ethical manner is if God graciously regenerates the heart, inclining that heart to seek out those things that please Him. Without heart transformation, there will be no true revolution in ethics, only outward moral compliance. Moreover, without the preaching of a gospel, which Scripture says the culture will consider foolish, there will be no heart transformation. Therefore, without the foolishness of the preaching of the cross, there can be no true revolution in ethics.