Book Reviews

Book Review: “Discerning Ethics: Diverse Christian Responses to Divisive Moral Issues” edited by Hak Joon Lee and Tim Dearborn

Discerning Ethics: Diverse Christian Responses to Divisive Moral Issues introduces numerous moral topics to Christians while providing insight into various approaches Christians have had to those same moral questions. Each chapter of the book introduces the moral topic at hand by providing a “real life” and “real world” example of how that moral question has arisen in the world and in real life. Then, different positions (in every chapter but one, three of them) are presented on that topic. Finally, each author gives a brief outline and defense of their own position on the question. The main text of the chapter is followed by discussion questions and recommendations for further reading.

The topics addressed in the book are broad and divided into four parts: ethics of the globe (climate change, poverty and income inequality, urban degradation, and immigration); of the body (access to health care, abortion, transgender, homosexuality and sexual identity); of violence (violence against women, war/nonviolence/just peacemaking, gun violence, and mass incarceration); and of formation (racism, disability, social and entertainment media, and public education).

The way the book is formatted allows for a surprising amount of depth despite the relatively short chapter length on each topic. For example, in the chapter on Access to Health Care by Brian White, the “real life” story reads, in part:

On April 8, 2016, the director of Uganda’s cancer institute at the Mulago Hospital announced that the country’s only radiotherapy machine, used for the treatment of a broad range of cancer patients, had finally broken down beyond repair. This machine typically treated around one hundred patients every day, and the hospital received nearly forty-four thousand new referrals each year, not only from Uganda but also from the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan… (91).

The story becomes my heartbreaking as Brian White notes that Victoria Akware, a woman who had cervical cancer, got the news just after having “sold her land to help pay for the long trip to the Uganda Cancer Institute to receive treatment…” (ibid). Clearly, this is a travesty on a major scale, as people’s lives are at risk due to inaccessible health care. The approaches to these topics White outlines are universal–everyone gets health care with a single-payer system; two tier, in which everyone gets a minimum level of care as a human right but can pay for higher levels of care; and private, in which health care is a commodity. As with the other chapters in the book, each of these positions has a specific thinker (or thinkers) the author draws from to expound their position. Ultimately, White argues for a position that he sees as a kind of middle way among these positions that provides for equality, need, and merit (see esp. 104-105).

Each chapter is outlined like this, and no matter what one’s own position is on the topic at hand, it will likely be challenged by having other positions presented fairly and own their own merits. Possibly the author’s perspective will provide its own challenge as well. Each chapter was excellent in its own ways, and several chapters provided surprising perspectives that I didn’t necessarily expect.

One example of the latter was the chapter on homosexuality and sexual identity by Matthew Jones. The author of this chapter is a gay man who is celibate because he believes that his conscience is bound to not act on his sexuality. His own “real life” story includes being removed from a pastoral internship for even admitting to his sexual identity (144-145). Jones’s analysis of the varied positions is insightful and should give a challenge to readers from any position. For example, he notes that the position that holds to a kind of sexual essentialism often fails to provide any context for people to live out their lives in a way that can comport to the expectations of their beliefs (154). On the far other end, Jones argues that Christians who hold to full biblical acceptance of differing sexual identities do not do justice to the texts involved (155). Again, wherever one falls on this spectrum, one will likely find their position challenged to do better by both real people involved and by their own work to live out Christ’s commands in the world.

The one caution this reader would give for the book is that readers should try to see it for what it is–an introduction to the topics it discusses. There is no way to fully engage with all of these topics in the length given, but the editors and authors set up a way to at least get an idea for why people, and Christians specifically, may think differently on these important issues. The book would serve as an excellent guide for one’s own exploration of contentious topics, a superb book to read in a study group, or as a textbook for a class on ethics.

Discerning Ethics is a fantastic introduction to numerous moral topics. It affords Christians access to diverse voices on important moral topics that are challenging in our own time. I recommend it highly.

(All Amazon links are affiliates links.)

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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