A Missional Ethic

How shall the people of God determine God’s will for ethical living? Many Christians would say passionately, “By the Bible alone.” It is not my intent to challenge this answer, but to ask a necessary second question: “And how are we to use the Bible to derive our ethics?” Shall we read and apply it as if we were twelve year olds, as Mark Driscoll has suggested? As if it were written to us and for us? Shall we ignore the accidents of time and place, of the contexts and situations which precipitated its writings? Shall we respond to the commands of scripture as if we were their first hearers, living in Ancient Mesopotamia or Palestine under Roman rule?
Obviously not. (I say obviously, because it is obvious to me, but sadly not to all. Far too many wish to treat our Holy Book as the Muslims do theirs --- as though it were written by God alone, without a trace of human authorship, and without respect of time or place, timelessly establishing the culture into which it was delivered to the level of divine culture.)
If Scripture is not going to be applied to our ethic by merely picking out all the commands and attempting to follow them precisely as did their first hearers, then how is Scripture to be instructive for our ethics?
I believe the answer to this question is that we read Scripture as an overarching narrative of God’s love for the world and God’s use of election of individuals and peoples to bring about redemption. We read Scripture as not only commands, but as a story, in which we are living in the final incomplete chapter. We study the main characters, namely God and God’s people, trying to penetrate into their motivations, so that we can play our part as we ought. Like an actor, trying to portray a living human, we study Jesus, attempting to know him well enough to rightly imagine how he would live our lives, if he were us.  
We must ask, what role has God meant God’s people to play in the redemptive plan?
We look to Abraham, God’s first chosen person, remembering God’s covenant with him to bless all the nations through him.
We look to Israel, the people God rescued out of slavery, gave the Law, formed in the wilderness, and brought into the Promised Land, recalling God’s intent for them, that through observance of the Law, their contemporaries would say: “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” because they notice how near Yahweh is to them (Deut. 4:6-7).
We look to Jesus, who by his life, witnessed to the love of God. We look to the disciples who Jesus taught to “let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). We look to the early church, who Paul instructed to not violate household order, “so that the word of God may not be discredited” (Titus 2:5).
And in each of these periods, we see that the people of God are given culturally significant ethical commands to make a good name for God. A biblical ethic is a missional ethic. The biblical way to live is the way that makes God look good. And so God’s people must at all times ask, how can we live in such a way that makes God look good? In order to do ethics missionally, one has to understand the context. (See Contextualization in Kenyan Contexts for more on this.)
I am deeply convinced that this way of doing ethics far surpasses simply cutting and pasting biblical injunctions, irrespective of context, into 21st century USA, and yet…a missional ethic is also quite dangerous if done poorly. 

For more on a missional ethic see this post-on "A Good-looking Gospel: The Missional Heartbeat of the Household Codes."

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