Gary Tyra. Pursuing Moral Faithfulness: Ethics and Christian Discipleship. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Gary Tyra teaches biblical and practical theology at Vanguard University. Tyra has observed that a number of Christian young people either do not give much thought to the way that they make ethical decisions, or they make ethical decisions like others in their peer group (i.e., they do what is socially acceptable, or what feels good or right to them).
In Pursuing Moral Faithfulness, Tyra looks for a model of ethics that can serve as a foundation for moral faithfulness, within a Christian context. He believes that there are weaknesses in utilitarianism and in both relativistic and absolutist approaches. Tyra ultimately settles on two principles. First, he emphasizes the importance of Micah 6:8, which affirms that God requires people to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Second, Tyra stresses the importance of believers being personally guided by the Holy Spirit as they make ethical decisions. Tyra believes that there are moral rules, but he also thinks that there are many ethical decisions that are contexual and that require the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Moreover, Tyra does not support making Christian ethics primarily a matter of keeping rules, for he maintains that a relationship with God is important. I should also add that Tyra values consulting other Christians about ethical decisions, for they can provide support and guidance.
This book will be useful to people who are interested in a lucid description of the thoughts of Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Immanuel Kant. Tyra narrates how Bentham qualified his claim that ethics was a matter of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, and how religion fit into (and did not fit into) Kant’s views of ethics.
The book is also interesting, and eye-opening, as it talks about what people have said about ethics. One thinker whom Tyra profiles maintains that love should be the focus of ethics, and this thinker posits that prostitution may be acceptable to counter espionage, and that a terminally ill man may be right to refuse medical treatment out of concern for his family’s financial situation. Another Christian thinker said that mentally and physically complete people are more valuable than those with deficiencies in these areas (which shocked and appalled me), as well as argued that Exodus 21:22-23 shows that a mother is of more value than a fetus (which surprised me, considering the opposition of many conservative evangelicals to abortion). Going to the opposite extreme, another Christian view implied that a family hiding Jews from the Nazis should tell the Nazis where the Jews are if the Nazis ask, rather than lying, and that this family should trust in God to work things out. (I thought, “What’s God going to do?”) Tyra also mentions a survey of Christian young people regarding their ethical beliefs. While a number of these young people believed in being kind to others, they did not think that they were really obligated to help people: they viewed that as an option, but not as a moral obligation.
A view that I, and also Tyra, found intriguing said that Christians may find themselves having to choose the lesser of two evils, and that, while this may be acceptable morally, they should still ask God for forgiveness for their choice. While Tyra does not fully embrace this view, he does consider it intriguing because it implies that sin is still a matter of grave concern to God, even if there may be situations in which a Christian may find it to be a better option. I find this view interesting because it seems to run contrary to what I hear Christians say about repentance being necessary to receive God’s forgiveness. If a person made a decision, and would make that decision again if he had to do it all over again because the alternative was worse, should he ask for God’s forgiveness? He is not really repentant, right?
Tyra effectively knocks down a variety of ethical approaches, while holding on to the aspects of them that he considers valid, correct, or helpful. One could ask, though, if his own model is better at handling moral dilemmas. Maybe, or maybe not. Either way, Tyra does well in providing a model of how Christians can approach ethical decisions in a thoughtful manner, and he provides questions that they can ask themselves when they are confronted with an ethical decision.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for an honest review.