Joined-up life (book review)

A Christian account of how ethics works
By Andrew J.B. Cameron
IVP. 336 pages. £16.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 159

Andrew Cameron lectures in ethics at Moore College, Sydney. Like all human beings, Christians face a whole range of ethical decisions and dilemmas. We feel instinctively that we have important things to say in this morally complex world. The problem with most Christian treatments of the subject is that they give us ready-made answers without any underlying rationale. An even greater danger is that ethics becomes divorced from the gospel, leading to a form of legalism and moralism.

Cameron’s book is a brilliant effort to avoid these two tendencies while locating ethics within the context of biblical theology, Christian truth and the wisdom of Jesus. He is determined to demonstrate that ethics flow from and are intimately connected to the gospel of grace. He aims to give us a framework in which we can think about ethical questions, coming to wise decisions consistent with the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The book is in seven parts. Part 1 deals with the way we talk about right and wrong, while Part 2 explores some of the forces that determine the way we act — our passions and our need to belong. Part 3 is the crucial section — how can we live good lives? We find our true identity in Christ and it is the power of his gospel which enables us to please God. ‘This book is about finding our best humanity in Jesus Christ. It’s about how to understand ethics as springing from Jesus. It seek to show how identifying with Jesus Christ brings order and clarity to human life.’ We live in a ‘Christ-empowered universe’ and he provides all we need to live good lives.

Part 4 deals with the ‘sources’ that will determine our moral choices — creation, community, God’s character, the future and biblical commands. These sources determine the way we act. This applies to the way we approach everyday life (Part 5) and to our ‘life-package’ or vocation (Part 6).The last section (Part 7) deals with some of the ‘hotspots’ — such as homosexuality and bioethics — where painful and disturbing questions must be addressed. There are 47 short chapters making it easy to dip into.

The book is stimulating, original and accessible to the intelligent reader. It is not intended to be a primer in ethics but to challenge us to joined up thinking. Cameron encourages us to look at ethical questions through ‘a different lens’ — the gospel of Jesus. He is not into giving us easy ready-made answers — his purpose is to make us think in a wise biblical way. The gospel sets us free from attempting to justify ourselves and gives us liberty to follow the wisdom and example of Jesus. This new perspective enables us to ‘join up’ the fragments of our lives and thus give cohesion to the way we live.

The book is delightfully Christ-centred — ‘He gives us a better angle on life. We find an understanding of created good, a glimpse of God’s character, a place to belong, the hope of a better future, and some changes to our desires by his Spirit. We don’t live it very well- after all, we’re Just fumbling extras in the game he pioneered. But he forgives and accepts us, and we’re finding the Jesus-shaped version of ourselves. We’ve begun to find, in him, a joined-up life’.

You will not agree with everything you read, but you will be stimulated to think in new ways about complex and unavoidable issues. I highly recommend this book.

Paul Mallard,
a pastor at Monyhull Church, Birmingham