Sunday, January 4, 2015

Determining Right From Wrong

Edward Le Roy Long, Jr. retired as the James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and Theology of Culture at Drew University after a long academic career that included Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Oberlin, Purdue University, and Union.
A prestigious lecturer , he served numerous academic Societies, joining Drew University in 1976. In 1984 he was awarded the James W. Pearsall Professor of Christian Ethics and Theology of Culture. In 1981, he received the Will Herberg Distinguished Professor Award for his contributions to Drew University. He retired from Drew in 1985, but continued to teach a variety of courses including: Christian Ethics, Historical Figures in Christian Ethics, Religion and Law, Theological and Related Diagnoses of Culture, The Reformed Tradition, Personhood, Community & Institutions, the Church's Role in Peacemaking.
Between 1945 and 1993 he authored 60 articles and numerous books on The Christian Response to the Atomic Crisis (1950) , Science and Christian Faith (1950) , Religious Beliefs of American Scientists (1952) , Conscience and Compromise (1954) , A Survey of Christian Ethics (1967), War and Conscience in America (1968), Peace Thinking in a Warring World (1983), Academic Bonding and Social Concern: The History of the Society of Christian Ethics: 1959-1983 (1984), and Higher Education as a Moral Enterprise (1992). To Liberate and Redeem: Moral Reflections on the Biblical Narrative (1997), Patterns of Polity: Varieties of Church Governance (2001), Facing Terrorism: Responding as Christians (2004).
His book, Conscience and Compromise, rested in my library quietly undiscovered for many years. I just now read his book, liked it enough that I had to know his pedigree. Now I know that he published in 1954 with Westminister Press and offers an approach to Protestant Casuistry that he defines as the “process of relating the high demands of faith to the perplexing moral dilemmas that appear in daily life” (9). 
He was a heavy weight in his academic world of Christian ethics and the culture. From chapter 13 I have excerpted several quotes of his relating to the limits and dangers of casuistry (I have italicized his quotes).
“Casuistry must be undertaken in the framework of faithful reliance upon God. It must be chastised and corrected by a power beyond itself. This power must keep ethical devotion true to Christian love and recall men when they stray from allegiance to it. To argue this way makes little sense to the advocate of a non-“Christian ethic. It makes little sense to the pragmatists and humanists who, having no resources beyond their own strategies for dealing with human problems, are forced to rely upon the self-sufficiency of their ethic and the self-correctiveness of  its equivalent to casuistry. Whereas the secularist, who believes in no power beyond that of human skill and wisdom, must calculate and scheme with only human resource, the Christian may work as in devotion to God. This devotion may include calculation but can never be reduced to it alone.
“The casuist must recheck each ethical decision against the norm of love and not merely judge it by its practical fruits or short-range results. To this end he must know the master plan. A man who builds a house must cut and fit each individual piece, but if he does so without checking the whole building against the larger guides of square and plumb line, the building will be lopsided and out of true. Likewise, the cutting and fitting process of casuistry will build properly only when checked against the standards of the gospel.
“The gospel ethic never lets us go; it calls for a continual striving after a goal that admittedly will never of itself be attained. We hear much these days from the theologians about the scandal of the gospel in the metaphysical realm, but there is also a scandal in the ethical realm. It is the demand for a total abandon to the unconditional claim of love in order that its conditional claims may be properly managed. An element of intense ethical devotion that lies beyond casuistry is the only power that can preserve casuistry from its errors ... The final word by which men are saved comes from God in his justification of men by faith. This word emphasizes that men are saved by God’s own power and love and not by casuistry or ethical devotion, however strong and valid they may be. . .” 147-150).
As Christians we may enter into the problems of our culture. We need, however, to be aware that the culture may accept our intentions and assistance but call us to compromise by rejecting or reducing what for us is the ultimate demand of our faith—radical commitment to God’s call upon our lives.
Some unwittingly downsize their solutions to cultural problems by accepting the cultural rationale and minimizing, ignoring, or deleting God’s call upon their life. They flirt with a humanistic approach, which is ultimately a-theistic in ignoring, minimizing, or scaling down God’s radical demand of love and grace.
I will end with this quote, which I like: “The meaning of Christian experience is found in the relationship of obedience as undertaken in response to the forgiving love that has been made known to us in Christ. Without the love of Christ to ennoble and redeem it the whole enterprise of Christian ethics is frustrating” and I might add futile.

As Long concludes, “The last word of the gospel does not concern the ambiguity of ethical choice but proclaims God’s choice in Christ” (164). From Warner’s World this is

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