Is John Piper’s definition of “Judeo-Christian ethic” sufficient?
By: Billy Atwell|Published: March 21, 2011 8:04 AM
I've been reading part of a lecture transcript of John Piper, in which he says that the term “Judeo-Christian ethic” is “flawed.” “If you say 'Judeo' and you mean Jews who do not believe in Jesus Christ but hold to the Ten Commandments, then you're introducing a flaw into worship which is utterly profound,” said Piper.
He goes on to say, “The New Testament is written to say that those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father. So the concept of a Judeo-Christian ethic as the goal to which people ought to aim is profoundly mistaken, because ethics has to grow out of a true view of God. And to reject Jesus Christ is to have an absolutely flawed view of God. Therefore the ethic of morality that flows from this kind of flawed view of God is going to be flawed, even if some of the behavior is the same.”
I understand what he is saying, and I agree with his point about ethics requiring a proper view of God. But I think he is mistaken in saying that the term “Judeo-Christian ethic” is flawed. The way you define a Judeo-Christian ethic makes all the difference in the world.
I, for instance, believe that to believe in Judeo-Christian ethics does not mean that you are restricting the reality of Jesus. It merely reflects the reality that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures. If the term in use was “Judeo ethic” then Piper might have a strong point.
But a Judeo-Christian ethic properly demonstrates the fact that we come from a Jewish tradition in which the 10 Commandments and other ethical and moral commands were intently tied to the covenant God had with His people, and His desire to separate His nation from the others.
Since the coming of Jesus, we now have the fulfillment of those commands and know that we are saved by God’s grace, which comes as a result of faith, which, without works, would be dead. So obviously the works without the grounding of faith and understanding with the heart would be pointless from a salvific standpoint, but not necessarily from a moral standpoint.
“The point of ethics is not merely the shell of the behavior, but it is the inner convictions of the mind, the disposition of the heart, and the goal of what we're displaying. If Jesus Christ is omitted from that then I don't think we have Christian ethics or morality,” says Piper.
Is Piper restricting acts to being either being totally moral or totally immoral? I understand his point that if we were to have no religious faith at all, for instance, and only helped the elderly lady across the street because we thought she might tip us on the other side, then the act would not be a moral one, despite the good it did for the woman.
But if someone has no religious faith and does a good act out of this inner desire to be charitable, selflessly, then could we not also say that the act is moral? God did make us in His image a likeness, after all. Though dismayed and flawed, and regardless of whether or not we recognize Him, we are wonderfully made.
Similarly, when Piper says, “And to reject Jesus Christ is to have an absolutely flawed view of God. Therefore the ethic of morality that flows from this kind of flawed view of God is going to be flawed…” in the first quote, he takes another misstep.
Those who reject Jesus do not necessarily have an “absolutely” flawed view of God. Jews, for instance, have “an incomplete view due to the full revelation in Christ Jesus,” as a friend recently said. They have part of our salvation history, but lack the fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Whether their view of God is absolutely corrupted or just incomplete, would this person also have an absolutely flawed morality?
If God is love, then whenever we love we are participating in the source of love as well. Does that mean the loving unbeliever will be saved? Not necessarily. But the notion that an absolutely flawed view of God, or incomplete one, means an absolutely flawed moral act is unfounded.
While good, selfless and charitable acts are more holy, fulfilling and complete when done in union with a firm belief in Jesus Christ, can’t there be moral acts of varying degrees without that belief?