We believe that speaking about ethics Christianly calls us to hold together two seemingly paradoxical commitments. First, we strive to avoid using an ethic of obligation that feels like line-drawing judgmentalism. Second, we are to communicate the imperative of acting upon the issues explored the course and this website to others. How does one do the latter without falling into the former? One class session (see the "open lecture" below) addresses the question of how to offer strong ethical exhortation in a way that will not be experienced as bounded group religiosity. But we have included this topic in the paradigm section of the website because we seek to engage each theme in a centered way. We pray that an ethic of freedom rooted in God’s love will permeate this website.
Romans 12: Contrasting Exhortations, Mark Baker
Two brief examples of contrasting exhortations, based on the same biblical text, that display the difference between an approach that reinforces religious tendencies and one that seeks to undercut religious tendencies.
How can we give more exhortations that contribute to a centered group ethic of freedom and help prevent people from experiencing them as a bounded group ethic of obligation? This excerpt from a “how-to” class lecture describes a number of specific practices. It also includes brief excerpts from sermons that model some of the practices.
Exemplar Ethical Exhortations
One of the assignments in Discipleship and Ethics is to write an ethical exhortation. Here are some examples of strong exhortations that avoid a bounded approach ethic of obligation:
Examples of Ethical Exhortation in a Fuzzy Church Context
Whenever I teach about doing ethical exhortation in a centered way I quote my friend Bob Hill, “Paul was ever answering the question of what we should do by saying something first about what God has done.” I recommend listening to Bob’s sermons as great examples of doing just that. Bob models this and other aspects of centered exhortation—beneficial in any context. Bob preaches in an environment, the chapel at Boston University, in which much of his audience is in the fuzzy category. Therefore, we can especially learn from Bob how to preach in a centered way to a fuzzy audience. Observe this one example; at the end of his sermon he calls for repentance and conversion without using those words that would set off alarm bells for many fuzzy group listeners:
From a sermon on Mark 1:14-20: “To lay hold of faith, you may just have to turn. You may have to leave the nets, or leave the nest. To lay hold of the future you have to let go of the past. To lay hold of life we may need to summon the courage to leave. To leave the inherited for the invisible. To leave the general for the particular. To leave existential drift for personal decision. To leave the individual for the communal. To leave renting for ownership. To leave auditing for registration. (Some of us have been auditing the course on Christianity long enough. It’s time to register, buy the books, pay tuition, take the course for credit, and get a grade!) To leave engagement for marriage. . . [it] takes courage to turn. Faith, as human response, is a decision, a choice, that inevitably includes some risk. As D. Bonhoeffer wrote on this passage, ‘When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.’” Robert Hill, Marsh Chapel, Boston University, 1/25/15
Listen to Bob’s current sermons or series from the past and learn from his methods and language of exhortation, but also listen to Bob to drink deeply from indicatives of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Sermons by Debbie Blue
Passionately critical of what I call bounded group religiosity Debbie Blue is even more passionate about the Bible—the text used by so many in religious ways. She is passionate about the Bible because she finds within it windows into the radical love of God. Let Debbie lead you to hear familiar texts in surprisingly refreshing, and challenging new ways. Truly a centered approach. Listen to her sermons and read her book of sermons, Sensual Orthodoxy.