The purpose of ethics is godward—to obey, honor, and glorify God. Indeed, even in a secular world, that which is ethical must point to what is good, beautiful, and true. The problem facing the secularist, however, is an unclear starting point: Where do ethics begin? What defines truth? How do we know if something is good or if something is wicked?
Given the realities of secularization, the binding authority of theism and objective order has dissipated, giving way to subjectivized standards for what is “ethical.” Truth, goodness, and beauty are now in the eye of the beholder.
Secularization has pushed western society into a moral revolution. The moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a host of issues has undergone not small adjustments, but comprehensive alterations. As Theo Hobson put it, a full moral reversal takes place once three conditions are met. First, what was condemned must be celebrated. Second, what was celebrated must now be condemned. And finally, those who will not join in the celebration will be condemned.
We can see this moral revolution in many places. Consider, as one example, the issue of same-sex marriage. Since the Obergefell decision in 2015, we have witnessed a swift moral transformation on the issue of marriage, sexuality, and gender.
The task of Christians in this secular moment requires a faithful response. We cannot be silent because God has not been silent. Carl F.H. Henry rightly deduced in his book Twilight of a Great Civilization that our moral crises are irreducibly and inescapably theological. He wrote, “Our generation is lost to the truth of God, to the reality of divine revelation, to the content of God’s will, to the power of his redemption, and to the authority of His Word. For this loss it is paying dearly in a swift relapse to paganism.” In other words, for the Christian, neutrality does not exist. Silence from Christians is tantamount to capitulation. We surrender ourselves and our neighbors to the ravages of moral progressivism. True human flourishing, conversely, will only come as Christians, equipped with the gospel, rooted in the Scriptures, and filled with the Spirit speak to the issues facing our society.
Since Henry’s time, our crisis has only deepened; there has been no reversal of the trends he observed. On the contrary, we face a moral revolution marked by a comprehensive scope and velocity that are perhaps without precedent in human experience.
Christians are called to the battle of ideas, and faithful discipleship requires careful thinking—as the Apostle Paul commanded in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The Bible honors the life of the mind, and Christians in our time must learn the necessity of thinking through the lens of a Christian view of the world and our place in it.
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If the purpose of ethics is godward, then we find ourselves in the conditions optimal for Christian witness. Under these conditions, the keenest edge of Christian thinking is required and the church of Jesus Christ must be the kingdom community of the blood-bought, deployed people we were called to be. The times call for the deepest level and highest quality of Christian thinking, cultural engagement, gospel-mindedness, strategic ambition, and churchly demonstration.
Much is certainly demanded of us. Let us, therefore, remind ourselves that we belong to Christ. We have his unfailing, unfading Word and his Word will not return empty or void. There is a lost and dying world that desperately needs the gospel. Let us meet that need with faithfulness and conviction.
Shepherds 360 is pleased to welcome Al Mohler as one of the speakers at our 9th annual Church Leaders Conference.