Against Christianity by Peter J Leithart. A Review and Critique by Douglas W Jerving
Permission is granted to reprint the following article as long
as no changes are made and the byline, copyright information,
and the resource box is included. Please let me know if you
use this article by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Against Christianity by Peter J Leithart. A Review and Critique by Douglas W Jerving
Part Four: Ethics
Copyright © July 26, 2011 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.
Part Four: Ethics.
I studied Christian Ethics in College, along with the various worldly systems of ethics
(enough to boggle the mind). I never really thought of ethics in quite the same light that
Peter Leithart puts on it. The force of his argument is that ethics is an inherently worldly
and statist occupation intended for controlling the masses, whereas the morality of the
Christian life is an attribute of our new birth. The latter is inherent in our natures as
born again children of our Father in Heaven.
The Christian message does not imply that we can or should be changed ethically, but that
we have already been changed if we are believers in Jesus. Having repented of our former
life before Christ we are NOW the society of the redeemed. We have moved from the old Adamic
life that brought spiritual death to a resurrection life that can never die because Jesus will
never die. Because we are en Christo, in Christ, and He is perfect, holy and pure, we also are
perfect holy and pure. This is not a statement of what we hope to be at the resurrection. It is
who we are now. "Be ye therefore perfect as your Father Who is in Heaven is perfect". (Matt 5:48).
The Gospel is that we already are new creatures in Him. (2 Cor 5:17). We are now a new people.
We are being, not merely becoming, the image of Christ as He is the image of His Father. Ethics
in that sense is superfluous. It may be necessary for the world, but for the believer, it is no
more than a statement of who we are. Ethics is a worldly philosophical construct that Christians
try to attain, never realizing that their own lives in Christ are already above that system. We
are now a new Kingdom and a new ethic is inherent within us as the community of God. The City of
God has its own inherent politics, its own civics, its own statesmen. So too, the ethics of God's
people are resident within them, not something we strive to attain.
Christian life by its very nature is transformational of life, culture, action, etc.
Ethics is a study of human enterprise. It is humanistic and therefore seeks the probationary
acceptance of the group from which it springs. Every culture of ancient times, particularly the
Greeks viewed ethics as a way to control the masses. It was a power enterprise; an attempt to
mold the citizen into an object representative of the state to which he belonged. In contrast,
Biblical Christian life transformed the believer upon conversion by the rebirth of the heart. He
automatically became the perfect citizen because his ethic was inseparable from his life.
Christian Ethics are inherent in the life of the believer, not merely a goal or ideal.
The New Testament demand for love towards one's neighbor is the absence of ethics in the
Greek/Roman systems. Classical ethics required love, but it was love expressed only for those
in one's own clique or sphere of influence. It was really fear or admiration or honor expressed
for one's peers or to whom one was a subordinate. Love was the relationship one had with one's
business associates, or comrades in arms, or the Emperor. Christian ethics extended love to all
men unconditionally. Love is the transformational attitude of the heart as opposed to a coercive
demand. It is not how we should act, but how we do act. The man of the world should act as does
the true believer, but he does not because he cannot. It is not in his nature. He does not have
the new nature of Christ. Because the transformational love of God is our nature we therefore
exhibit unconditional love. The coercive enterprise of this world's ethics is unnecessary because
God has put His love in our hearts even for those who are unlovely, and outside of the Kingdom
Ethics loves those worthy of love admiration, respect and awe. Love for God loves those outside
the circle of those accepted. It dies for the unlovely. (Romans 5:6-8). Love even dies for those
who will not come to Christ as a result of our dying. This is the essence of Christian ethics in
the New Kingdom. The message of the cross picked up daily and carried in one's life is the ethic
of the New Testament. It is the ethic of the crucified life. (Galatians 2:20.)
In contrast to the New Testament way of life is the American ethic of individualism. American
ethics promote the culture of self aggrandizement, self service and self importance. It is directly
opposite to the Christian ethic of death to the self-life.
Americanism in the Church is an ethic of permissiveness. Everything is allowed so long as it is done
in the name of Jesus. One may be a rock star or a fashion model for Christ but strangely, one may
never be a judge, since we are told "Judge not lest ye be judged." (Matt 7:1). This lazy theology
fails to engage the Scriptures that tell us we know men by their fruits (Matt 7:17-20)and on that
basis we must "judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24). Under the American Christian ethos the law
has been nailed to the cross but somehow the sinner himself, condemned under that law, gets a free
pass. "Thou shalt not" is relegated to the Old Testament, and "I can do all things [without Christ]"
becomes our libertine manifesto. This is a horrific failure to realize our Christian freedom is
derived from our death in Christ's death, and our resurrection with Him in newness of life. (Romans
chapter 6). Without the complete identification of the believer with Christ's death and resurrection
there is no change of life. Our freedom is the freedom to live above sin, not to live in sin while
naming the name of Christ.
American Christian ethics fails at the point of discipline. The New Testament establishes from the
beginning that Christians are disciples, submitted to the teaching and direction of Jesus. The Gospel
creates a people who live a disciplined life. Self discipline is at the heart of Biblical Christianity,
and part of that self discipline results in our ability to live and work toward common goals as the one
body of Christ having many members. Our corporate life is derived from taking up the cross daily in
our personal lives so that the lives of others are given equal attention. The American Church,
however, never condemns those who fail to live a life consistent with the Gospel, or who refuse to
live a life of discipleship. Such persons are excused as misinformed, misguided, or baby Christians
( even though in many cases they have supposedly been Christians for years). They are anything but
rebels and heathens (Matt 18:17), or wicked reprobates as Paul said they should be treated in 1 Cor
5:13. We excuse, we coddle, we nurture them. We coo at them so that they are encouraged to remain
babies. But we never discipline them or demand that they change or be removed from the fellowship
and turned over to Satan. (1 Cor 5:4-5).
Leithart (p. 129) says:
Pastors see themselves as proponents of Christianity, teaching "religious" things or
assisting people on their personal spiritual journeys. Pastors have lost any sense that
they are overseers of a new city and that they therefore have responsibilities for
My wife and I experienced the consequences of this lack of leadership in a Church that we were
longtime members of. When a man came into the Church and began violating her personal space
repeatedly, including at one time embracing her against her wishes and refusing to let go, and on
another case touching her from behind inappropriately, the pastor merely listened to his
justifications, then excusing him as someone less mature, who needed training in appropriate
relationships with women. The problem continued and only became worse (for eight months) until
the last incident above took place. The pastor ignored the fact that a woman in his Church felt
threatened by this man and that other women also had had difficulties of a lesser degree. At that
point it became my responsibility as a lesser magistrate to defend my wife's virtue. I stopped the
man in the pew one day and shared some words from the psalms. "Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate
you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count
them my enemies." (Psalm 139:21-22). "Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Who will stand
up for me against the workers of iniquity?" (Psalm 94:16). "Arise, O LORD; Save me, O my God! For
you have struck all my enemies on the cheekbone; You have broken the teeth of the ungodly."
(Psalm 3:7). With that I warned him to stay away from my wife or he would find out what being my
enemy was like.
Strangely disconcerting was the pastor's eventual response to the months' long oppression of the
weak by the strong. Rather than deal in a serious manner with a man who had been imposing himself
both physically and emotionally upon my wife, denying her the right to feel comfortable in her own
Church home, the pastor insisted the man had done no wrong, was misguided, and misunderstood. The
pastor then asked my wife to "stay home" from Church until she can publicly apologize to the man,
and allow him when he may want, to hug her. Needless to say, that ended our relationship with that
Church. The lack of appropriate discipline of the man coupled with disciplining the truly injured
party caused an unnecessary rift in the body of Christ, even while maintaining an unscriptural
relationship with the offending party.
American Christianity never disciplines or casts out those who refuse to live Christianly. We merely
placate them, hoping they will become more Christian as they move forward, and consequently, they
never do move! We permissively allow what the New Birth decidedly denies. We wink at those who will
not act like Christ hoping that they will change with a few more sermons. We seem to believe words
alone will change the heart, even though 1 Corinthians 5 teaches us that action alone will change
the sinner. The corporate nature of Christ's body demands that all parts work together or be cut
off, like an offensive right eye or right arm, lest the whole body be condemned. (Matt 5:29-30).
"Christian Ethics" is a name for nothing. It implies a value system on equal footing with other
value systems rather than realizing it's superiority over the ethical systems of this world. Ethics
is not part of the Church's theology. It is the Church, because as a result of the New Birth we are
Living Epistles.(2 Cor 3:2,3). There is no believing and doing apart from who we are in Christ.
In summary, ethics is the world's way of enforcing submission to the social fabric of any particular
culture. The Christian ethos on the other hand is the outworking of a life transformed by Christ.
It is who we are. We are Christians, Disciples of Christ, and therefore it is necessary to apply
discipline to those who call themselves Christians but fail to live disciplined lives. The ethic
of the New Testament demands a division be maintained between those who name the name of Christ
living lives consistent with their confession, and those for whom Christianity is merely self
promotion. The Christian life, after all, is more than peddling life insurance.
Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at
Return to The New Edison Gazette main site.