Dr. David Gushee on the Importance of ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ in an era of ‘Global Killers’

Q&A: How does ‘Christian Ethics’ translate into a ‘guide for daily living’?

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

A year ago this week, only four days after Russia invaded Ukraine with the blessing of the Russian Orthodox church, our publishing house released Dr. David Gushee’s magnum opus: Introducing Christian Ethics: Core Convictions for Christians Today, which currently is available with a striking new blue cover via Amazon in Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle and Audible audio.

Our magazine headline that week, one year ago, was: With Christianity in crisis, Dr. David Gushee’s ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ lays out a faithful path forward.

Soon, Russia began rattling its nuclear sabers, millions of new refugees were moving across Europe, global fears rose and many of us became more aware than we were before of threats that Gushee describes as “global killers”—threats to our future as a planet.

To mark the one-year anniversary of this timely book, Read The Spirit Editor David Crumm sat down with Dr. Gushee for this Question and Answer session.

QUESTION: What feedback have you heard from readers of Introducing Christian Ethics over the past year?

ANSWER: I continue to hear very encouraging things from readers. For example, Shane Claiborne sent me a new endorsement as we reached the one-year anniversary of the book.

QUESTION: We got a copy of Shane’s endorsement at the publishing house and we’ll add it to our conversation right here. He wrote:

Honestly, David Gushee is one of the most important voices on morality in our generation. I keep this book on my top bookshelf and it never gathers dust. David is one of the most wise, comprehensive, kind people I know. I could not more highly recommend Introducing Christian Ethics, especially in this current age where morality, truth, history and the future are all in jeopardy. It’s gold—actually, it’s even better than gold.

In relatively few words, Shane managed to hit on several of the key points readers are making about this book, didn’t he?

ANSWER: Yes, he did and that was very kind of Shane. He sums up a lot of the things we’re hearing from readers around the world.

First, readers tell us that this book is accessible and readable in a way that they’re not used to seeing in academic writing. I’ve also heard a lot of appreciation for the balanced presentation of the field as a whole—readers are pleased that they do not find just one perspective on these questions. And, I’ve heard from readers who appreciate learning more about Howard Thurman’s approach to the teachings of Jesus.

A Deep Dive into the Nature of Truth

QUESTION: We’re hearing those same things at the publishing house, but I would say that one of the most urgent questions readers are raising concerns the nature of truth itself. Did you expect to have to write about that so prominently in this book?

ANSWER: You’re right, this book takes a deep dive into the meaning and importance of truth. People realize that we are living in an era when truth is challenged, threatened, contested in ways that are new to those of us who have been around for a while. We have not seen this kind of manipulation of words, disinformation, misinformation—and now we have fewer if any agreed-upon arbiters of what is true. When I first began working in Christian ethics years ago, these were not the kinds of central issues they are now.

I also have heard from readers who appreciate the way I name Donald trump as having abused the truth in his presidency—and he continues to do so even now. I do not hold back or try to write in generalities about this. I feel strongly that his name needs to be named if we are going to be at all honest about what we’re dealing with right now.

The value of the truth, the significance of the truth, matters if we are going to maintain truthfulness as a laudatory character quality that we want to inculcate in our children and in our churches. That used to be taken for granted, but now people boldly tell bald-faced lies if they feel it can benefit them—and there do not appear to be substantial consequences for doing so.

In this new book, I get deeply into the question of truth—in fact more deeply than anything I have written before.

A ‘Magnum Opus’ with the emphasis of audio and video

QUESTION: We also are hearing from readers who are impressed that this is a uniquely multi-media book with options to read the text—or to listen to the audio or watch the video version with the click of a QR code. That’s something new for you, isn’t it?

ANSWER: Yes, and I am so pleased that we were able to put all of that content, including the audio and video, into the book without jacking up the price until it’s not affordable to most readers.

People tell me that they like to hear me read the book or to see me on video, if they choose to use those links. Hearing me or seeing me that way gives readers a better sense of my convictions, my passions, as I was writing these chapters. Most readers still want an ink-on-paper version of a book like this, so they can mark it up and add notes and so on. But, in this case, they also have those multimedia options.

It’s been fun, even in my own family. My grandson Jonah thinks it’s wonderful that he can click on a code and hear me, or see me.

QUESTION: Those multi-media options seemed important to all of us as we worked with you in developing this book. After all, this book has been described as your magnum opus—a major work summing up your decades of teaching. Do you agree?

ANSWER: Yes, but it’s more than a summation. One way to think about this book is that it represents an extended meditation on my own prior thought, including my earlier book Kingdom Ethics, which many readers also have on their shelves, as well as my other books.

If people already know my work, they will find in these pages a fresh engagement with that work over the decades. I graduated 30 years ago with my phD, which is a nice round number as a point to think back on three decades of work. So, it’s not just a summation. There’s fresh reflection here on all that has come before.

The Centrality of the Holocaust in Christian Ethics

QUESTION: Some of your reflections have changed, over time. But some of the major themes in your life’s work remain constant. For example, you continue to lift up the importance of minority voices. And you continue to emphasize the remembrance of past crimes and injustices—the Holocaust comes to mind. That’s central to your own life story, right?

ANSWER: I was born in Germany in 1962. There were war criminals and survivors walking the streets of Frankfurt when I was a baby. The centrality of the Holocaust to understanding Christianity and God’s relationship to the world is so clear to me that it surprises me to see how students I am working with today do not see the Holocaust as such a central issue in their studies. It’s as if the salience of the Holocaust is fading in our culture and in academia. I feel my generation has a sacred responsibility to keep this memory alive.

My dissertation was on Christians who rescued Jews in the Holocaust and that was significant in setting a trajectory for me. The Holocaust comes up in this book periodically because it’s a feature of all of my work.

QUESTION: You also emphasize the importance of our individual points of view—the lenses of our individual lives—even as we try to reach out to build bridges with minority communities. You’re talking about the importance of Black scholars like Howard Thurman and the importance of remembering Christian guilt in the Holocaust, but we’re well aware as readers that you are neither Black nor Jewish yourself.

Why is that question of personal perspective so important?

ANSWER: I am increasingly aware of the white Christian-centered world in which I was educated and into which I emerged. Now, I’m much more aware than I was years ago at the structural problems that European-American-colonial-White Christianity has caused. I’m more aware of the sins and the damage caused by this community out of which I come. The only hope for redemption, I think, lies in consciously trying to move outside of that world so we can listen to those who have been trampled on by our forebears. We must listen to those who have been on the margins and whose lives and voices have not mattered to the dominant groups. By situating Howard Thurman early in this new book, for example, I’m saying: I want us to read and think about Christian ethics through the experiences of people like Howard.

Why is ‘Introducing Christian Ethics’ a ‘guide for life’?

QUESTION: You have described Introducing Christian Ethics as a “guide for life.” At first glance, this looks more like a textbook than what we might think of as a daily “guide.” How are you hoping this book can guide everyday readers?

ANSWER: I think that we live in a time of a great deal of moral confusion and moral conflict. We are less and less clear about even the most basic things that have helped to structure Christian moral thinking—and that’s true whether we are “Christian,” “ex-Christian,” “Evangelical” or “ex-Evangelical.”

In this book, I take the reader on a journey through a series of questions: What is ethics? What is morality? Why is morality important? Is there any substance and solidity to our moral beliefs? How do we know what we know? How do we deal with the inevitable moral differences between people?

Confronting an Aggressive and Unjust War

QUESTION: Let’s talk about differences between Christians. Right now, for example, the head of a major branch of Christianity—the Russian Orthodox Church—has aligned himself completely with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The global consensus on Christian ethics clearly is divided, isn’t it?

ANSWER: That question illustrates the importance of thinking about differences we may encounter in Christian ethics, but I do not think the Christian world really is divided on the question of the Russian invasion. What this example illustrates is the problem of leaders who sometimes are not trustworthy. My reading of the Patriarch of Russia is that his loyalty to his country and to his president is outweighing his clarity of thought that ought to be there when he thinks about this war. This is an aggressive war against a country that the world recognizes as an independent nation. I would say that 99.99 percent of all Christian ethicists and Christian leaders in the world understand this to be an aggressive and unjust war.

One of the things my colleague Glen Stassen helped me to see—and this point is included in Introducing Christian Ethics—is that it’s quite a struggle to think clearly faithfully and biblically in a Jesus kind of way when our own interests are at stake and our own loyalties are implicated. If our own family members are involved in something, we’re not going to think about it in the same way as someone whose family is not at the heart of it.

What are ‘Global Killers’?

QUESTION: Considering all the ethical issues you cover in this book, which ones would you place at the top of a list of “Most Urgent” issues today?

ANSWER: That’s a difficult question to answer because so many of these issues relate to daily headlines we all are reading from around the world.

So, I’m going to answer that question by grouping some issues together under what I would call “Global Killers.” By that I mean that “most urgent” are threats to the survival of human life—and planetary life as a whole. So, that puts global environmental challenges at the top of my list and the potential use of weapons of mass destruction from nuclear to chemical and biological weapons. There are more weapons of mass destruction now in the hands of dangerous leaders than ever before.

In responding to these “Global Killers,” we must affirm that life is God’s gift. This planet is God’s—and we humans have been entrusted with stewardship responsibilities.

Right now, we are wondering: Will our positive and creative potential prevail over our negative and destructive potential? A lot of pessimistic scholars today are saying that humanity is suicidal and even homicidal in terms of our treatment of God’s creation.

QUESTION: And yet you remain optimistic. This ultimately is a hope-filled book, isn’t it?

ANSWER: As a Christian, I have to believe that God is alive, that Jesus is not finished with us, that the Holy Spirit still moves—and that humanity and the church can continue to learn new things.

In fact, a good example of that is the way I describe how our tradition can be open to new insights in my earlier book, Changing Our Mind.

Care to Read More?

FOLLOW DR. GUSHEE’S WORK through our ongoing coverage at Read the Spirit weekly magazine. Click on the “get updates” link in the upper-right corner of our website to sign up for free weekly email updates. Don’t worry—you also can cancel those emails anytime. When Dr. Gushee has important new columns, new public appearances and even new books, our magazine will let you know.

ORDER YOU OWN COPY of Introducing Christian Ethics from Amazon now.

ON AMAZON, you’ll also find Dr. Gushee’s earlier best seller, Changing Our Mind.



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