A masterful application of Scripture to life
An Introduction to Biblical Ethics: Walking in the Way of Wisdom, Third Edition
Authors: Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpress.com)
Bob Dylan sang, “Someday, everything is gonna be diff’rent/When I paint my masterpiece.” “Masterpiece” is what comes to mind when I read the third edition of An Introduction to Biblical Ethics by Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan.
As close as this comes to such an ideal, one could argue that McQuilkin’s masterpiece is the care he gave to his late wife, Muriel, after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This moving story of love and sacrifice is told in A Promise Kept (1998). This was what I knew of McQuilkin, before discovering in this volume, that he is a scholar when it comes to discovering the ethics in Scriptures and how they relate to the issues of life.
This 28-year-old textbook, now updated, was used in a class taught by McQuilkin at Columbia International University, where he served as President from 1968 to 1990. Paul Copan, a former student in the class, and now an ethics professor, was eager to collaborate on revising a book that had been so influential in his life.
How appropriate, given McQuilkin’s background, that the opening section focuses on foundations such as love. The authors write in the hope that their examination of the Scriptures and its relationship to modern ethical dilemmas provokes right attitudes and affections, not merely outward conformity to behavior patterns. Repeatedly, they succeed in getting to the heart of the matter: “Love toward God will exhibit single-mindedness (“purity of heart”), obedience and worship. On the human level, love toward others means sacrificing for their well-being without the motivation of personal gain” (31).
I relish their simple descriptions of love: “The primary characteristic of biblical love is commitment to act for the well-being of another” (33). “Biblical love, then, is an affectionate disposition that motivates the lover to consistently act for the welfare of another, whether or not the other deserves it or reciprocates” (37).
Though this is a textbook it is far from being dry. The authors occasionally personalize the material with quotations and anecdotes. Though I highly recommend this for any Bible college or minister’s library, anyone wanting to lead a richer Christian life will benefit from reading this work. It contains a wealth of wisdom that is highly accessible.
Most of the time the authors are in agreement, but when they differ, the book offers both of their perspectives. A person might agree with McQuilkin’s complementarian view of marriage, and then have second thoughts after reading Copan’s egalitarian perspective. Regardless of where one stands, or who seems right, it’s helpful to have summaries of contrasting positions.
This book provides the heart of a biblical perspective on a vast array of subjects. It’s what makes this such a marvelous resource. Gay marriage, transgender issues, dating, abortion, suicide, medical ethics, war and peace, and just about any topic you can think of are covered here. This new edition updates the subjects, making them relevant for our day. Each chapter ends with suggestions for further reading.
The Ten Commandments provide the outline and basic framework for analysis. They are taken in order and each topic is examined and finds its place under the appropriate command. It’s a marvelous exposition from beginning to end.
What a far cry from my experience with the textbooks of my youth! Of course, much of the problem was an unconverted soul with no heart for learning. Even so, textbooks that leave out God are limited. Having Scripture as the source material, this volume comes alive with the breath of God. This takes God and His word as the starting point. It is true delight for the follower of Christ who rejoices in God’s commands.
Even if one may disagree on some points, it’s wonderful to be immersed in such holy perspectives. Our wrestling with complicated issues may help us to not only get closer to the truth but closer to the heart of God.