Against Christianity by Peter J Leithart. A Review and Critique by Douglas W Jerving

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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 of God.

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 governance.

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 You may contact him at


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