If step one in Stackhouse’s theory of Christian realism is to sketch his method, step two is to provide the big themes that put all of Christian realism and ethics in context. This is all found in chp 6 of Making the Best of It. His question, “Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?,” is set now in the context of the biblical Story. (Everyone “Stories” today; good, we need to.)
His story is the same as everyone else’s too: creation, fall, redemption, consummation. But he says somethings here that deserve conversation.
First, the one who takes the Fall seriously knows that “nature” cannot determine Christian ethics. Nature, he would argue, is not as God intended it to be.
[He points to homosexuality, but I would have a question here: How does Stackhouse’s Christian realism take into consideration the limits of the Fall — a broken world — and yet at the same criticize the view that “what is, is good”? I think this can be answered, but this question arose as I read this section. Let me put this differently: let us assume homosexuality is not God’s design. Is homosexuality then something to be embraced by a the “realism” in Christian realism? Is not accepting cracks in the world part of realism? Why, then, do we accept war but not homosexuality?]
Second, in his redemption section he offers some strong critique of the Anabaptist vision. He critiques the “imitation of Christ” tradition (WWJD). ” ‘What would Jesus do?’ therefore is the wrong question for Christian ethics. … Instead, ‘What would Jesus want me or us to do, here and now?’ is the right question — or, if I may, Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?” (190-191)
Question: I think he’s a bit hard on what imitation means for he seems to assume it is too literal but I wonder how many of us think the “WWJD?” approach is really the question he thinks should be asked. What do you think?
Third, his approach to Scripture is that we have to know what the Bible was saying at its point in the Story. Thus, Moses and Jesus and Paul each played their part in the Story. No one plays the trump card.
Now he critiques the Anabaptist view …
The Sermon on the Mount (SoM) was meant literally and Jesus intended us to do it. Lessening these is lessening the demand of Jesus upon his disciples. There is here a “clarity and radicalism.” He doesn’t agree.
1. The “clear and radical” version is “incoherent with itself” (195). The SoM’s statements are not as clear as many think. Gouging out of eyes is not literal but how do we know that? Some of this cannot be applied to parents or to churches. We don’t “simply” obey the SoM.
2. Only Jesus lives within the kingdom totally. “So since the Kingdom is ‘already, but not yet’ come, we should not be trying to act as if it has already and fully come, even as we strive to yield more and more to the impulse of those values that draw us forward and upward from ‘the age to come’ “(197).
3. This “clear and radical position” has never been done in the history of the Church. “Not even close.”
He prefers an ethic of the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church to live out the gospel in each age. “God recognizes both our sinfulness and the topsy-turvy world in which we live” (198).
He says a few things about heaven and they sound a bit like Tom Wright, and I will soon do a series on the blog on the meaning of “heaven” in the NT. Then he sums up some vital principles for Christian ethics:
1. The individual matters, and so does the social.
2. The physical matters, and so does the spiritual.
3. Unity matters, and so does diversity.
4. The world to come is in continuity with this world, and fulfills the noble aspirations of this world, even as it clearly transcends this world.
5. The principle of win-win-win. Thus, altruism is in one’s own interest and God’s own interest. It is not about losing so others can win, but losing that leads to winning — for all involved. “No zero-sum, but abundant life forever and for all” (205).