Many of the letters written to the early church are split into two parts: the theology and then how that theology looks like in real life. Christian ethics seeks to answer the question, “What does all of the Bible say about how to engage ____ in real life?” With us this week is world-renowned theologian Wayne Grudem who’s just written a brand new book that gives an introduction (quite a large one) to biblical moral reasoning. Many of us have instinctual feelings that some things are wrong and some are right, but Wayne helps clarify whythose things are right or wrong. In our conversation, he talks about his new book, lying/telling the truth, marijuana, and more.


 

Who is Our Guest?

Wayne Grudem is research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary and author of Systematic Theology. He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.


Episode Links

Make sure to check out Wayne’s new book, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning.

Also, you’ll want to take a look at Wayne’s blog.

Read It

Isaac:

With me today is author and professor Wayne Grudem. Wayne is research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary and author of the popular theology textbook, Systematic Theology. He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and he also served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible. It’s a great privilege to have you on the show with us today, Wayne.

Wayne:

Thank you, Isaac.

Isaac:

Firstly, just so people can hear a little bit more about who you are personally, could you just give us a brief testimony of how you were saved?

Wayne:

I used to say that I’d first trusted in Christ when I prayed with my mother to receive Christ as my Saviour when I was 12 years old, living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Later, as I began to look back on my earlier childhood, I realized that I used to pray often, I loved to read the Bible, I loved to sing hymns; there were many things in my life as a lower elementary school child, I’m talking first grade, second grade, third grade, that would indicate to me that I probably was born again at a very early age. I don’t remember a time ever when I didn’t believe in God and believed in Jesus.

I’m thankful for that, and that’s been 70 years now.

Isaac:

Wow, that’s amazing. Love to hear that. Now Wayne, with our short period of time, I’m going to jump right to the point of our conversation. Your recent book, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, it’s releasing very soon, excited about it. And really the first thing I want to ask you is this: What exactly are you talking about when you refer to “Christian ethics”?

Wayne:

Well I define Christian ethics as any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us about which acts, attitudes, and personal character traits receive God’s approval, and which do not?” So, the question that I’m trying to answer in various parts of the book is, “How does God want us to act, and think, and even feel in our emotional level in various situations that come up in life?” Another way of saying this, Isaac, is I’ve written the book to help Christians understand what the Bible teaches about how to obey God faithfully in daily life.

Isaac:

This is a massive book that you’ve written. So, why write a book on Christian ethics at this point in history? Can you identity maybe some problems that you’re seeing or issues that you’re seeing in our culture that you kind of think that your book would help aid or solve?

Wayne:

Yes, definitely. My opinion, Isaac, as I read and as I circulate among people in the Christian world, is that there is a lot of confusion even among Christians about how God wants us to act, because, in many cases, the secular culture around us is so hostile to a Christian worldview and a Christian view of obedience to God and moral right and wrong. That has to do with issues such as lying and telling the truth, greed and selfishness, sexual morality certainly, purity of speech, authority of parents, men’s and women’s role in marriage and how we should act with each other in marriage, questions of divorce, abortion, end of life issues like euthanasia. There are so many things that the secular culture has settled on moral opinions that are contrary to God’s Word. Christians need teaching about this, and I’ve been now as a professor teaching biblical ethics for, I think, 41 years.

Isaac:

Oh, my goodness. That’s great. And it’s true though; when I think of the different questions, a lot of them are these more practical ethical questions rather than the deep theological foundational questions. So that makes a lot of sense.

You know, one thing you did say as I was reading the beginning of your book, and I really appreciated this, was that studying Christian ethics in addition to regular Bible reading helps you go from having just an instinctual ethical conviction to an informed one. And I could relate to that, because as I think about some of the things like abortion or euthanasia, I have this instinctual conviction that, “Oh, that’s definitely wrong.” But you’re saying studying Christian ethics gives you this informed conviction. So, I’m just wondering if you could flesh that out a little bit because I think that’s important to hear.

Wayne:

Well, just to take one example, Isaac, the question of lying and telling the truth. I think because God has given us a conscience, Romans 2 says that God’s law is written on everyone’s heart, people have an instinct that it’s wrong to lie. They don’t understand clearly what a lie is; there are some situations in which they think a lie may be okay, other situations in which they’re uncomfortable but they don’t have a clear sense of what is right and wrong. The Bible is very explicit. I think, after careful study and analysis, I hope that people can read the chapter, chapter 11, on lying in this book … Oh, sorry, chapter 12 on lying. I inadvertently spoke falsely.

That people will come away with the sense of yes, this is what the Bible says, this is what the Bible’s standards are. If you define lying in a narrow sense, of affirming something you believe to be false in speech or writing, affirming something you believe to be false, then I think the Bible teaches us never to lie, that it’s never right to lie.

But people have to distinguish those verbal affirmations from actions intended to deceive. The people of Israel, in battle, would sometimes fake defeat and then ambush the enemy who came out of the city, or Samuel would take a heifer to sacrifice where he was really going to anoint David as king, but he had an action that was a subterfuge. And you think of, in football, a quarterback fakes a pass and then runs with the ball. I don’t think we want to say that all actions that are deceptive are wrong; Jesus said, “When you fast, anoint your head, wash your face … ” I don’t have the exact words,… “so that it may not appear to others that you are fasting. ” So, then we make a distinction.

Sometimes actions intended to mislead or deceive or conceal are right, but words, verbal affirmations of a lie, are never right. I don’t know if that’s a helpful explanation.

But I’m trying to give more precision to the moral standard that people instinctively have a sense of their conscience about but haven’t really analyzed the biblical data. And so, I’ve put here in, this chapter 12 about lying, a whole large number of biblical verses about lying and truth-telling, saying how important it is and how the Bible does specify how we are to act in these situations.

Isaac:

Yeah, that’s great. And really you are, you’re just helping explain and inform the Christian that this is coming from … It’s not just coming from the fact that it’s written on their heart, but it’s because God has said it clearly in His word.

Wayne:

Exactly. And people can differ with me if they wish. In that chapter on lying, I’m disagreeing with the authors of two other wonderful textbooks on ethics. John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, he was my ethics professor at Westminster Seminary and has been a lifelong friend, and then my friend and colleague John Feinberg at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Both of them think there are some times when it’s appropriate to lie in order to protect life, and I go into their arguments in some detail and explain why I don’t agree with them. But people at least have the arguments laid out there, and they can read them and evaluate them for themselves.

Isaac:

Yeah, no, that’s so good.

You know, from reading your introduction, Wayne, in your book, it sounds like the moment that we disbelieve the inerrancy or the infallibility of the Bible, then our Christian ethics aren’t as solid and that they’re prone to potentially shift or move. And I’m just wondering if you can explain this in a little bit more detail, because I know that there are people listening that maybe wouldn’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible yet hold to Christian ethics.

Wayne:

Well I would say to someone who thinks there are some historical facts that are reported inaccurately in the Bible, I would say still you can go to the Bible and find what it teaches about how to live the Christian life, what it teaches about moral right and wrong. But I would also encourage people to consider the arguments for the total truthfulness of the Bible. I have a little bit of material on that in chapter 3 in this textbook on ethics, I have more in my Systematic Theology.

But the question is, does God always speak truthfully to us? That’s the question. If you begin to think there are some errors in the Bible, some things you can’t trust, some mistakes, then you cast doubt on the whole of the Bible because you’re going to wonder if perhaps other areas of the Scripture have mistakes as well. And so, I take all of the Bible as God’s words; completely truthful and reliable and trustworthy. And I’ve examined alleged contradictions and alleged errors in the Bible for over 40 years in my work as a professor, and I’ve never found any passage that is untruthful or that doesn’t have good explanations for why it can be consistent both with the rest of the Bible and with what we know about historical information from other sources.

Isaac:

Wow. Now Wayne, I’m interested as you just said that, have you found that studying Christian ethics and writing this textbook on Christian ethics … Is believing, like you’re saying, in the inerrancy and the infallibility of the Bible, has that made your study easier?

Wayne:

Yes, absolutely. Well, I mean, easier and harder.

Easier because I have one source to look at for moral and ethical standards, and that is the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. That is an easier task than our Jewish friends, who would look through the teachings of the Mishnah, and the Talmud, and the writings of the Rabbis; 14 volumes on my shelf here. Or our Roman Catholic friends, who have not only the teachings of the Bible, but the entire history of the authoritative teachings of the Catholic church and its leadership has to be taken into account. That’s a much larger body of material, so then my task is easier looking through just the Bible.

But when I say just the Bible, that’s over 700,000 words, and a lot of very rich and deep material. And I am not content to say that there’s one moral standard taught say in the book of Exodus or Leviticus, and another moral standard taught in the book of Matthew or Ephesians; it’s all God’s word, it’s all consistent when we understand it rightly.

Isaac:

You know, it’s interesting. I think about lying, telling the truth, and you’ve listed … And I saw that in your chapter on it, chapter 12 as we said, not chapter 11, you’ve listed many. You even said it was a handful of the many more Scriptures talking about the importance of telling the truth and not, you know, bearing false witness. So, if lying was sort of an easier one to find in the Bible, what about something like marijuana or something like that? Was that harder to figure this out because it’s not in the Bible as much?

Wayne:

Well, there are a couple of things to say about hallucinogenic drugs or actually about what I call illicit or illegal drugs. If in the country we live the government has outlawed certain drugs, then we should be subject to the authority of the government and not use them. Also, with regard to the Bible, we have Ephesians 5 which says, “Do not be drunk with wine in which is excess,” or in which is debauchery, “but be filled with the Spirit.” So, there’s a command against drunkenness which means losing sobriety, sound judgment, because of the intoxication with alcohol. There’s a parallel to the use of some drugs, which are mind-altering drugs, and inducing people; similar loss of the ability to have good judgment, sound judgment, and make wise decisions. And so, if the Bible forbids being drunk with alcohol, I think it would forbid being, in a way, intoxicated with drugs as well.

There’s another question, that is, there are some passages in the Bible that use a Greek word related to our word “pharmacy,” pharmacos, pharmacia. And it was used not only of positive use, of pharmaceutical medicines in the ancient world, but it was also used to speak of harmful use or use of drugs for mind-altering purposes, and that is sometimes translated as sorcery in a number of Bible translations today. But it does put several cases among a list of sins. And those verses that say “sorcery” should, at least some of them, be really translated or understood to mean don’t use mind-altering drugs.

Now having said that, I say something about medical marijuana at the end of the chapter, and that is to say if there is a legitimate case to be made for the medical use of marijuana, if it is controlled like other prescription medicines and dispensed for legitimate medical needs, to control pain particularly and sometimes for other symptoms of other diseases, then I don’t think we should have objection to it because it could be a medicine that is occurring naturally in nature. But that’s completely different from recreational use of marijuana or other drugs, which I think the Bible would consistently be opposed to.

Isaac:

Absolutely, and I’m glad that you went in detail there about marijuana. But, I guess, is there any topic that you dove into in your book, Christian Ethics, that was particularly a little more difficult because perhaps the Bible wasn’t as clear specifically?

Wayne:

Well, when you ask about difficult topics, one is certainly how Christians should use the Old Testament as a guide for ethical decisions in the New Testament age, and I have a long chapter … Now before I tell you what chapter it is, I’d better look. It’s chapter 8, a fairly long chapter on how Christians should use the Old Testament for moral guidance.

Another fairly difficult, or at least extensive question, is the question of how to know God’s will. I think we are complex persons, as God has made us, and certainly the Bible is our absolute moral guide, but we have to take into account circumstances, and our own persons, and gifts, and callings. And I think there are … I think God does relate to us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit at times as well, and through also putting things in our heart and giving us a conscience. Well, it is a complexity of various factors to take into account in knowing God’s will. So that was a more complicated topic as I got into it.

Isaac:

Yeah, no, that’s definitely interesting to hear. And you know, it’s interesting; I’m curious as to hear your process for discovering the Christian ethic on each topic that you chose because … I don’t know, did you just look up a concordance, look for the word, and then just sort of make a Christian ethic based on what you’ve read? I’m just curious as to know what was your process?

Wayne:

Yes, that’s part of the process, Isaac. But another part of the process is, there’s been a huge amount of material written on Christian ethics in the history of the church, and so part of the process is reading what other ethics teachers, writers, authors, professors have written about Christian ethics. I was influenced by John Murray, former professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, influenced strongly by his book, Principles of Conduct; influenced by John Calvin in the 1500s in his Institutes of the Christian Religion; influenced by some things I read in Charles Hodge, a Princeton theologian from the 19th century; influenced by John Frame, my wonderful and remarkable and amazing and brilliant ethics professor from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. And then influenced by interactions with students, and teaching, and conversations through 41 years of being involved in these topics. So, there’s an abundance of input that comes into studying any ethical topic.

Isaac:

Absolutely, and I’m curious as to why you chose to outline your book with the Ten Commandments. I think that’s kind of an interesting way to do it.

Wayne:

Well, I do have a tendency to favor things that John Calvin has done, and he arranged things this way. Another source that does treat the Christian life in this way is the Westminster Confession of Faith, so it’s a common tradition in the history of the church to organize topics according to the Ten Commandments.

And when you think about it, Commandments 1 to 4 have to do with honouring God; Commandment 5, honouring your father and your mother, has to do with protecting the human family; Commandment 6, “You shall not murder,” has to do with protecting life; Commandment 7, “You shall not commit adultery,” has to do with protecting marriage; Commandment 8, “You shall not steal,” has to do with protecting property; Commandment 9, “You shall not bear false witness,” has to do with protecting truth; and Commandment 10, “You shall not covet,” has to do with protecting purity of heart. And so, once we list those major subject areas, we’ve covered all of life.

Isaac:

Wayne, as the last question that is not so much connected to our conversation but a little bit. For someone like yourself who has written some mammoth books that intend to teach others, like your Systematic Theologytextbook that I’ve used many times, your books on feminism, and now Christian Ethics, this might seem kind of funny; I want you to hear it in the best way possible. But does James 3:1 ever haunt you, that those who teach are going to be judged with greater strictness?

Wayne:

All the time.

Isaac:

So how do you work through that?

Wayne:

Pray, ask God to enable me to have good judgment and be faithful to His Word, and I have a group of friends who pray for me and pray for my writing regularly and that’s a wonderful encouragement. My wife, Margaret, I know she’s praying for me; I told her I had an interview with a Canadian radio program and asked her to pray that the Lord would guide the conversation.

I am conscious, Isaac, of the need to be faithful to the Lord every day of my life until the very last day, and I don’t want to mess up, I don’t want to dishonour Him, I don’t want to be unfaithful to His Word or teach something contrary to His Word and not be faithful to the calling that God has given me and the opportunities that He’s placed before me.

Isaac:

Yeah, no, that’s so good to hear you say that.

Thank you so much, Wayne. I really do appreciate your wisdom and your time today. If you’re listening and you’re interested in what we’ve been talking about generally, I’d really highly suggest you check out the book Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning. I’ll provide a link to that book on the episode page, but you can also head online to find it on Amazon and Crossway. You can also always find more about Wayne, including articles and other resources, at WayneGrudem.com or just search his name on other popular sites like DesiringGod or The Gospel Coalition and you’re going to be sure to find lots of good stuff there.

But anyways, thanks so much, Wayne, and I hope to have you back on again.

Wayne:

Thank you, Isaac.