An Ethics of Character
To have correct information about behavior is important, but not enough to live Christianly. Therefore we seek to work from a paradigm that includes character formation and development of Christian virtues. Christian ethical action is formed by a long succession of choices that become habit forming, and development of virtues and wisdom that will lead to not just making correct ethical choices, but also living them out.
Following N. T. Wright, let's observe the character ethics in Paul. Although there are rules and specific commandments in Paul’s writing, there are also lists of virtues (for instance 1 Cor. 13:13; Col. 1:4-5; I Thess. 1:3; 5:8). Paul also emphasizes imitation and formation in regards to ethical living.
In an ethics of character, telos--the end, the goal we aim for--is central.
N.T. Wright points to the ethics of character being informed by the eschatological element in Paul—the end to which we are heading. And, importantly, “a small but highly significant part of the future has come forward to meet us. . . Having already been grasped by that telos, we now advance toward it.” Wright argues that therefore Christians inhabit virtues in a different way than others. “We do not simply make ourselves good by learning about virtues and then trying hard to practice them. . . Rather, we find ourselves caught up by the story of Jesus, by the events of his life, his kingdom announcement, his death and resurrection, and we find both that he is himself the goal, the fullness of humanity as well as the fullness of divinity, and that he himself is the way, the journey by which we may ourselves come to that goal” (477). Wright states that I Cor. 13 is not so much our duty as our destiny.
This lifelong faithfulness is a matter of practice. It means acquiring a habit: making thousands of small decisions to trust God now, in this matter, to believe in Jesus and his death and resurrection today, to be faithful and trustworthy to him here and now in this situation. . . and so coming, by slow steps and small degrees, to the point where faith, trust, belief, and faithfulness become, as we properly say in relation to virtue, ‘second nature.” Not ‘first nature,’ doing what comes naturally
“This lifelong faithfulness is a matter of practice. It means acquiring a habit: making thousands of small decisions to trust God now, in this matter, to believe in Jesus and his death and resurrection today, to be faithful and trustworthy to him here and now in this situation. . . and so coming, by slow steps and small degrees, to the point where faith, trust, belief, and faithfulness become, as we properly say in relation to virtue, ‘second nature.” Not ‘first nature,’ doing what comes naturally” (495).
- N. T. Wright, “Faith, Virtue, Justification, and the Journey to Freedom,” in The Word Leaps the Gap: Essays on Scripture and Theology in Honor of Richard B. Hays,
Character Ethics in Les Mis
Mark Baker delves behind the movie version of Jean Valjean's encounter with Bishop Myriel, into the book's portrait of a man who reacted with grace because of the formation of his character and its implications for Christian discipleship.
During the most terrible years of World War II, when inhumanity and political insanity held most of the world in their grip and the Nazi domination of Europe seemed irrevocable and unchallenged, a miraculous event took place in a small Protestant town in southern France called Le Chambon. There, quietly, peacefully, and in full view of the Vichy government and a nearby division of the Nazi SS, Le Chambon's villagers and their clergy organized to save thousands of Jewish children and adults from certain death.
A powerful story that shows what it looks like to embody an ethic of character. The people of Le Chambon acted compassionately in the midst of great opposition and personal risk simply because it felt like the normal thing to do--it naturally spilled out of who they were.
Stanley Hauerwas, a leading theological ethicist, shows how discussions of Christology and the authority of scripture involve questions about what kind of community the church must be to rightly tell the stories of God. He challenges the dominant assumption of contemporary Christian social ethics that there is a special relation between Christianity and some form of liberal democratic social system.