One of the most important resources on New Testament ethics is The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, written by Richard Hays (professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School) and selected by Christianity Today as one of the 100 most important religious books of the 20th century.
Many Christians are confused about what the New Testament teaches regarding some of the pressing issues of our day. Because different books and scholars, churches and denominations contradict each other on contentious subjects (abortion, war, sexuality, etc.), it is easy for some Christians to throw their hands up and think, I guess we can’t be sure what the Bible says! There are so many different interpretations out there!
The truth is, the New Testament presents a unified ethical vision that is profoundly relevant for today’s world. Many Christians disagree at certain points, but the majority of Christians throughout the world are united on the broad contours of Christian morality and in the belief that God’s original design and His redeeming work are essential for human flourishing.
In the upcoming weeks, I plan on blogging through Hays’ Moral Vision of the New Testament. Why now? And why this book?
Why now? Because Christian orthodoxy includes a moral test, not merely a doctrinal checklist. We cannot show Jesus to the world if we do not believe what Jesus taught about our most significant ethical choices.
Why this book? Because it is one of the most acclaimed treatments of New Testament ethics in our time. N. T. Wright recently pointed to it, saying it still remains the best brief summary of the New Testament’s teaching on homosexuality. He says:
This book isn’t just a breath of fresh air. It’s a hurricane, blowing away the fog of half-understood pseudo-morality and fashionable compromise, and revealing instead the early Christian vision of true humanness and genuine holiness. If this isn’t a book for our time, I don’t know what is.
Stanley Hauerwas writes:
This book is filled with wonderful readings that not only inform us about how to think better about the so-called “problem of the relation between the New Testament and ethics” but, even more, speak of how our lives should be lived in the light of Christ’s cross.
Leander Keck, from Yale Divinity School, writes:
Hay’s passionately written book, with its bold agenda, has neither peer nor rival.
Aside from Wright, these aren’t names we associate with evangelicalism. Hays himself is an ordained United Methodist minister, an egalitarian who, though he holds to the authority of Scripture, would not consider himself to be an advocate of verbal plenary inspiration or inerrancy.
So, why have I decided to work through Hays’ work? Precisely because the moral vision he sets forth is, by and large, in line with historic Christian reflection on the New Testament’s proposal for morality and ethics. And since Hays would not be considered a conservative evangelical, his conclusions cannot be easily dismissed by “progressive” voices as “right-wing.”
While it would be easier to blog through a classical evangelical treatment of ethics, I don’t think it would be nearly as fun, or fruitful. Yes, I differ with some of Hays’ interpretative choices and criteria, but I appreciate his intellectual honesty in confronting difficult texts. And in the places where Hays stands outside of the mainstream of Christian thought (on war and violence, for example), he does so because he elevates Scripture over experience and tradition, a principle I espouse even if the conclusion is one I disagree with.
Some of you may want to join me in working through this book. If so, go ahead and get a copy, and let’s get started. Below, you will find a reading plan.
Others may not want to wade through 500 pages of ethical reflection. I hope you join us for a conversation anyway. Every week, I will outline a section of Hays’ work, summarize it, and offering some considerations. My prayer is that this will be a fruitful exercise of discernment and discussion.
The Moral Vision of the New Testament (Reading Schedule)
- Preface and Introduction: The Task of New Testament Ethics (August 7)
- Chapters 1-2: The Moral Vision of Paul and Developments of the Pauline Tradition (August 14)
- Chapters 3-4: The Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Matthew (August 21)
- Chapter 5: The Moral Vision of Luke-Acts (August 28)
- Chapters 6-8: The Gospel and Epistles of John / Excursus / Revelation (September 4)
- Chapters 9-10: Diverse Voices in the New Testament Canon and Three Focal Images (September 11)
- Chapters 11-12: How Do Ethicists Use Scripture and 5 Representative Hermeneutical Strategies (September 18)
- Chapter 14: Violence in Defense of Justice (September 25)
- Chapter 15: Divorce and Remarriage (October 2)
- Chapter 16: Homosexuality (October 9)
- Chapter 17: Anti-Judaism and Ethnic Conflict (October 16)
- Chapter 18: Abortion (October 23)
- Revisiting Chapter 13: How Shall We Use the Texts? (October 30)
- Signifiant Quotes from The Moral Vision of the New Testament (November 6)