Search Results for: Matthew Roberts

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: My Response to Matthew Roberts, Jim Spiegel, and Doug Groothuis

Dr. Michael W. Austin, PhD

In 2010, Austin wrote an article for The Other Journal, “Football, Fame, and Fortune,” which set-off a discussion among friends and associates regarding the connections between football (and sports, in general), virtue, human flourishing, and ethics. Specifically, discussions ensued between Austin and Matthew Roberts and Jim Spiegel on the matter. For the sake of further discussion, we asked if this discussion could be “formalized” for public attention at the EPS website. Doug Groothuis was also asked to contribute because of his thoughtfulness in this area and was already writing on the topic at his blog.

Thus, in this paper, Michael Austin consider the points raised by Professors Spiegel, Roberts, and Groothuis concerning the moral, physical, intellectual, and aesthetic value of football in particular, and sports in general. He considers how one might appropriate their points as a fan, participant, and parent of children involved in sports. He argues that there are ways in which the follower of Christ can and should seek to redeem life in the sporting realm.

Read his contribution by clicking here.

Virtue, Vice, and Violence

Virtue, Vice, and Violence

Dr. Matthew Roberts, PhD

Matthew Roberts argues that football possesses certain intrinsic bads which are both perpetuated by its extrinsic goods and perpetuate vice in some of its participants. As a means to the inculcation of virtue, football, like most sports, provides ample opportunity. But, other non heavy-contact sports are to be preferred over football when considered as a means to the inculcation of virtue.

Read his contribution by clicking here.

The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful: Extended Reflection on Football, Fame and Fortune

In 2010, philosopher Mike Austin (recently interviewed by me here) wrote an article for The Other Journal, “Football, Fame, and Fortune,” which set-off a discussion among friends and associates regarding the connections between football (and sports, in general), virtue, human flourishing, and ethics. Specifically, discussions ensued between Austin and philosophers Matthew Roberts and Jim Spiegel on the matter. For the sake of further discussion, we asked if this discussion could be “formalized” for public attention at the EPS website. We asked Doug Groothuis to contribute (HT: Lenny Esposito) because of his thoughtfulness in this area and he was already writing on the topic at his blog.

Here is a snapshot of the discussion as represented in our Library area:

Virtue, Vice, and Violence
Dr. Matthew Roberts, PhD

Matthew Roberts argues that football possesses certain intrinsic bads which are both perpetuated by its extrinsic goods and perpetuate vice in some of its participants. As a means to the inculcation of virtue, football, like most sports, provides ample opportunity. But, other non heavy-contact sports are to be preferred over football when considered as a means to the inculcation of virtue.

Further Benefits of Sports
Dr. James S. Spiegel, PhD

In addition to the potential of sports to help build virtue in athletes, there are many other benefits as well. In this piece Spiegel discusses some of these, which are social, aesthetic, and even theological in nature. And he notes how these benefits extend beyond athletes to spectators

Football, Baseball, and the Culture of Violence

Dr. Douglas Groothuis, PhD

Groothuis argues that football is morally objectionable because it is intrinsically violent and thus is conducive to vice in both its players and its fans. By way of contrast, he argues that baseball is only contingently violent, that it is not based on violence, and that it is, as such, a morally superior sport.

The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: My Response to Matthew Roberts, Jim Spiegel, and Doug Groothuis
Dr. Michael W. Austin, PhD

Michael Austin consider the points raised by Professors Spiegel, Roberts, and Groothuis concerning the moral, physical, intellectual, and aesthetic value of football in particular, and sports in general. He considers how one might appropriate their points as a fan, participant, and parent of children involved in sports. He argues that there are ways in which the follower of Christ can and should seek to redeem life in the sporting realm.

You can enjoy all of these fine contribution by clicking here.

On Biblical Ethics: An Interview with Paul Copan

EPS philosophers very often seek to address all areas of philosophy and theology, including issues of theoretical, biblical and practical ethics. Paul Copan recently co-authored Introduction to Biblical Ethics with author (and Paul’s former professor), Robertson McQuilkin. In this EPS web interview, Paul talks about the value of biblical ethics, the book project, and how to live faithfully in a pluralistic society.

What is “biblical ethics”

My coauthor and I use the specific term “biblical ethics” rather than “Christian ethics.” One key reason for this is that the New Testament itself routinely appeals to virtues, behaviors, and duties highlighted in the Old Testament. The moral heart of the New Testament—even the Sermon on the Mount—isn’t as “radically new” as many think. For example, the Beatitudes very clearly echo the language of Isaiah 61—righteousness, brokenness, mourning, being comforted, rejoicing, possessing the land. Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, was not coming up with a revolutionary moral ideal. And the apostle Paul is standardly referring back to the Old Testament, though shaped by the Christ-event; when Paul says that “all Scripture” is profitable for our conduct (2 Tim. 3:6-17), he is referring to the Old Testament.

How does Jesus shape biblical ethics?
Christ’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection notwithstanding, Christ does not give much new ethical content. True, food laws, circumcision, temple sacrifices, and special days don’t characterize the people of God any longer. However, the command to love one’s enemies is found in the Old Testament (Prov. 25:21-22), and loving God and loving others as the moral heart of the Old Testament is repeated throughout the New. Rather, our spiritual lives, social relationships, and moral/virtuous living are shaped by God’s stepping into history in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. While the Old Testament people of God were called to love, Christ appeals to his own example in commanding love: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34). Our giving is to be shaped by the self-sacrifice of Christ’s incarnation (2 Cor. 8-9); he gladly became poor for our sakes, and this self-emptying is to shape our own giving through sacrifice, generosity, and cheerfulness.
The formation of the people of God is core to the biblical narrative. How does that shape biblical ethics?
To more clearly understand our calling to live before God as restored priest-kings and thus living faithful lives before God (which includes living and doing “biblical ethics”), we must understand two New Testament motifs: First, as the second Adam (or “new man”), Christ is the truest or the archetypal human being who redeems and restores fallen humanity. Second, Jesus (with those who follow him) is the new Israel—the new people of God. As a faithful Israelite, Jesus comes out of Egypt, is tested in the wilderness, calls twelve new “tribes” (apostles) to be a new people, and experiences the exile of the cross. That is, Jesus lives out Israel’s story as the obedient Son that the ancient people of God failed to be, fulfilling Israel’s and also humanity’s vocation before God. In doing so, he creates a new covenant people united through his death and resurrection.
In these two motifs, we see a new creation(a restored humanity of priest-kings) and a newexodus (creating a new people freed from the enslaving powers of sin, death, Law, and the flesh); these new realities give new shape, identity, and inspiration to the new people of God. Biblical ethics centers on the restoration of our calling as the new Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” or a “royal priesthood” (priest-kings) through Christ (1 Pet. 2:9; cp. Ex. 19:6), through whom we will reign upon the earth at Christ’s return—thus fulfilling humanity’s original calling in Genesis 1.  
How did this book develop?
My coauthor, Robertson McQuilkin, had been president of Columbia International University and my professor when I was a student there; he had been the original author of the first two editions of the Introduction. The book in its pre-published form was a textbook for my biblical ethics class there, and it had an influence on my thinking about ethics and theology. I greatly appreciated McQuilkin’s nuanced and careful approach to biblical ethics. For example, he discussed ethical hierarchies as well as the permissibility of, say, deception in the face of criminal activity or warfare—exceptions not merely abstracted from philosophical principles but emphasized in Scripture itself.
Our friendship continued over the years, and McQuilkin contacted me about possible leads for coauthoring and revising the book for a third edition. I said that this was a project that interested me, and the significantly revised version brings together our strengths—biblical studies, theology, ethics, philosophy.
How might this co-authored book serve ethics readers?
The book serves ethics readers by anchoring this discipline not in philosophical ethical theories, but in the biblical text, showing the remarkable ethical texture of the biblical narrative and teachings. This includes the foundational reality of the triune God and his making humans in his image as well as the narratival, salvation-historical context of biblical commands, and the moral significance of the Christ-event—his incarnation, teaching, ministry, atoning death, and bodily resurrection.
To Christian philosophers, you seem to suggest that simply analyzing ethical systems is not enough when doing work in ethics. What does your book encourage?
The book serves philosophy by showing how the gospel shapes our ethical thinking; it sets the Christian philosopher on a different cross-shaped pathway. True enough, the Christian philosopher can greatly profit from the study of various ethical systems—even affirming some of their features to varying degrees—without compromising his commitment to Christ. However, Christ-shaped philosophy will lead us to challenge various philosophical ideas. For example, Aristotle’s ethic points away from grace(according to Aristotle, one should never be in anyone else’s debt) and away from humility (we detect a certain pride and even pomposity in Aristotle’s “excellent” man); the gospel is all about receiving God’s grace in Christ and humbly submitting to God and to others.  Furthermore, the Bible presents a rich tapestry of ethical thought in the context of narratives, parables, sermons, epistles, proverbs, and divine commands. Unlike ethical systems like utilitarianism, social contract theory, virtue theory, Kantianism, and the like, we see all of their emphases in the Bible; the Bible takes such perspectives into account to offer a broader, richer ethical outlook rather than reducing all ethical thinking to consequences, virtue, or the like.
Systematic theologians often seek biblical applications and entailment. In some sense, this book could be a handy compliment to a systematic theology.

Yes, the book serves theology by offering an ethic rooted in the biblical text, following a number of lines of biblical theology (e.g., Christ as the new Adam and true Israel), the theme of our kingly/priestly status and vocation redeemed and restored in Christ, who has made us a “kingdom of priests” who will “reign upon the earth.” It discusses themes important for theology, such as the implications of the Trinity for ethics and for community; it examines various attributes of God (e.g., God as humble) that have a bearing on how we are conduct our lives. And theologians, who typically appreciate systematization, can benefit from some of our discussion of common themes—law, love, sin, etc.—as well as from the philosophical engagement of themes in biblical ethics.

What is distinct about the book’s approach when doing biblical ethics?
One chief distinctive is this—being anchored in the biblical text. The book offers numerous philosophical—though still accessible—reflections with ample practical applications on themes such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality/gay marriage, bioethics, pornography, dating, marriage, parenting, economics, just war/pacifism, and the like. Yet we coauthors try to listen carefully to the biblical text and thoroughly engage it. We try to draw out just how rich a source of ethical reflection the biblical text is. 
Do you neglect discussion of ethical systems?

No, and a second distinctive is that the book includes an accessible discussion of prevalent ethical systems (relativism/situation ethics, social contract theory, utilitarianism, Kantianism). We note where they overlap with the biblical ethical picture—and where they depart from it. 

Can readers catch a vision for practices in Christian formation in this book?
Yes, the book—as thick as it is!—has an additional feature of being very practical. How do I take steps in becoming more virtuous?  How do I deal with temptation? What are the pitfalls of dating, and how can I cultivate mental purity in sex-saturated society? It also offers a number of apologetical insights to help believers address moral challenges to their faith.
Is there something distinct about the structuring of the book?
The book begins by discussing love, law, sin, virtue/vice, but then it moves to the broader themes of loving God and loving others. At its core, it is structured around the Ten Commandments (loving God—commandments 1-4; loving others—commandments 5-10). The book also covers material not often found in similar titles. It discusses the relationship of the church and state, the Christian in society, ethical issues on which Christians disagree, divine guidance on matters not revealed in Scripture.
You sometimes disagree with your co-author, Robertson McQuilkin. The book’s lack of uniformism yet unity seems like a distinctive.
Indeed, we coauthors disagree on various matters, and so each of gives his own vantage point. We address topics like the Sabbath (Sunday, or fulfilled in Christ?), alcohol consumption (discouraged, or biblically encouraged within limits?), the complementarian/egalitarian discussion, capitalism and socialism (a “plague on both houses,” or the free market appropriated with important ethical cautions—a system that has helped hundreds of millions create wealth and come out of poverty?), and so on. And we complement each other with the mutually-reinforcing strengths each of us brings to the book.
Any other distinctives?

Yes, these come to mind: Robertson’s late wife, Muriel, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and so Robertson stepped down from his university presidency to care for her. Some of his reflections on his care for her are in this new edition. Also, I address in detail certain ethical issues found in Scripture—namely, “slavery” in the Bible (in the Old Testament, it is like indentured servitude or being a “worker” for someone) as well as the dominant question of God’s command to drive out the Canaanites. These topics and other Old Testament themes reflect work done in my other writings: Is God a Moral Monster? (Baker) and (with Matthew Flannagan), Did God ReallyCommand Genocide? (Baker).

Which areas of biblical ethics seem under-addressed by self-identified evangelical theologians and philosophers?

There are certainly many Christian ethicists from various traditions and disciplines who have done fine, wide-ranging work for our generation—for example, Oliver O’Donovan, Nigel Biggar, Stanley Grenz, Gilbert Meilaender, Glen Stassen, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Robert George, Stanley Hauerwas, Francis Beckwith, Max Stackhouse. With new challenges emerging—from technology to terrorism to sexual ethics—we are seeing many thoughtful Christians rising to incisively and eloquently address them. What is sometimes lacking, though, is a distillation of the academic discussions in order to make them more accessible to a widely Christian audience—what McQuilkin’s and my book has attempted to do.

What is the role of the Spirit when ‘doing’ biblical ethics?

The gift of the Spirit is, of course, the mark of the new covenant people of God. The Spirit, who communicates the presence of Jesus to the believer, enables obedience from the heart (Jer. 31; Heb. 8). God’s people are no longer marked by circumcision, kosher laws, Sabbath-/holy day-keeping, and national identity. Indeed, one could have these markers, but they were inadequate without faith and the Spirit’s empowerment. So while some Israelites had the Spirit of God or were temporarily empowered by the Spirit, many Israelites died in unbelief (Heb. 3:16-18). Not so with the new people of God. Every member of the “new Israel”—Jew and Gentile in Christ—is marked by the Spirit of God, who transforms our thinking (Rom. 12:2). He also enables us to become more like the second Adam (the “new man”) in our character, both as individual believers and as the body of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).
Practically, how does this get worked out?
Prayerand trust in God prepare the soil for the Spirit to work in our lives and to bear fruit through them. While there are “cardinal” or “pagan” virtues such as prudence and self-control, which can often be cultivated by unbelievers, for the believer these virtues are given fresh, powerful inspiration by the Spirit through Christ’s own example, character, and work. What’s more, the “theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love are distinctively Christian, as they are shaped by the Incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and promised second coming of Christ and carried forward by God’s Spirit.

You say that perhaps ‘traditional religion’ could be understood “as a deeply embedded heart-commitment that is (a) comprehensive, (b) identity-shaping and (c) of central importance” (17). How might we account for ‘traditional religion’ as a moral-spiritual tradition of knowledge and wisdom? How does it ‘fit’ with (a)-(c)?

This threefold description of “traditional religion” (taken from Paul Griffiths) actually accounts for more than just religion; it actually describes the idea of a “worldview” more generally. So this could include atheism or naturalism as well.

However, in speaking of “traditional religion” as “a moral-spiritual tradition of knowledge and wisdom,” we emphasize that all truth is God’s truth.  While Christ is the embodiment of divine wisdom and knowledge, wisdom and moral knowledge in traditional non-Christian religions like Islam or Buddhism still reflect God’s common grace at work in the world. Such truths are not saving truths, however, but they do ultimately point to Christ, who is the truth and the fullness of God’s wisdom. As with Paul at Athens, we should not dismiss such insights, but we can affirm that these display God’s own self-revelation–particularly in Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3); thus, to see Christ is to see God the Father (John 14:9).  

In our book, we note that any person’s view of the State and its role will not be neutral but will flow from a worldview with its assumptions about authority, citizenship, society, human nature, and the good. Moreover, the notion of a “secular State” is itself a myth; the State’s legislation and goals will also reflect a certain view of authority, citizenship, society, human nature, and the good.  So we must, first, recognize and name this reality rather than falling into the sacred-secular dichotomy. We should also challenge the foundations of an arrogantly presumed State authority since authority is ultimately given by God (Jn. 19:11). Such authority is neither free-floating in metaphysical mid-air, and anyone in a position of authority must has a duty to humbly serve the common good. Finally, the church is to be the prophetic voice and the conscience in any nation. God’s primary agents in the world are his people who are called to be salt, light, and doers of good deeds—to be a faithful presence wherever they reside.
How might we think about ethical disagreement from a biblical ethics perspective?

One maxim that applies both to Christian communities and also to Christians within a pluralistic society is this: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Wherever possible, Christians should work with one another to strengthen the church—in worship, the faithful proclamation of the word, in community, and evangelism—and they should be a faithful presence in the communities where God has placed them. Even if they disagree about the nature of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, Christians can band together, say, to help support and rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Katrina—or help women contemplating abortion, or resist society’s sexual slippage by promoting sexual purity and Christ-honoring patterns of relating to one another.

What do you see as a biblical vision for living faithfully in a pluralistic society?
In a pluralistic society, we see plenty of disagreement about political and social policies, but also in the very worldviews we hold. Yet being honorable citizens of a nation is a biblical imperative for us. The book of Acts shows how Christians can be the best of earthly citizens. We should, insofar as it depends on us, live at peace with all people (Rom. 12:18) and pray for those in authority over us (1 Tim. 2:1-4). As citizens of heaven, we must speaking the truth in love, using our prophetic voice to challenges societal injustices and abuses. As citizens of earth, we should set the tone for good citizenship by taking three “Rs” seriously: (1) protecting and promoting the basic rightsof all persons, who are divine image-bearers; (2) taking seriously our responsibility as citizens to promote the good; and (3) showing respect to all in conversation, relationships, and political discourse. Despite disagreements of all sorts, tolerance and civility in an age of angry, polarizing political discourse are incumbent upon all Christian citizens.

Web Project: Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family Topics

Instructions for Submitting a Paper Proposal

Purpose: For scholars interested in ethics, theology, and philosophy work on ‘marriage and family’ topics, we invite carefully-honed papers that advances discussion of any of the below areas of the Potential Paper Topics.

If you are interested, please contact our project coordinator and editor Michael Austin (info below). Michael is seeking to coordinate all potential contributors and their topics for this endeavor. When you pitch your possible contribution, please provide the following:

  • Your name, institution and contact info.
  • Title and description of your proposal (e.g., 100 words).
  • Reasons for how your contribution will help advance the purpose of this project.

We are looking for papers that a) argue for a perspective on a marriage and family topic, or b) casts a vision for more work to be done in a particular area or c) offers a literature review and assess what seems to be ‘under-developed’ work.

Length: 1,500 to 2,000 total words (minimum). You are welcome to work with the Project Editor on length issues.

Deadline: TBD by the project coordinator

Project Coordinator and Editor
Michael Austin
Eastern Kentucky University
Department of Philosophy

Priority will be given to those papers that offer a perspective on questions and problems that especially hone in on what have been ‘under-represented’ in this theme for Christian philosophers. Please seriously consider developing paper topics with the below examples in mind. We encourage papers that will be of interest not only to the ethics scholar but also to the epistemologist, metaphysician, theologian, etc.


Find this Project interesting? See these other EPS Web Projects

Potential Paper Topics

Developed by Michael Austin (Eastern Kentucky University) & Joe Gorra (Veritas Life Center).

Much has been addressed by Christian philosophers on questions related to bioethics, reproductive technologies, and so on. But some under-represented ‘marriage and family’ topics include the following:

Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Issues in Marriage and Family Studies: If philosophy and theology are understood as ‘second-order’ disciplines, how might they contribute to the work and contributions of ‘first-order’ disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, cultural studies and their accounts of marriage and family? How might ideas and images shaped by these disciplines enable and clarify the work done by philosophers and theologians? We strongly encourage contributions from Christian philosophers who have understanding of the ‘meta-‘ issues involved with philosophy’s contribution to interdisciplinary discussions. We also encourage Christian non-philosophers to propose papers that are attentive to philosophical issues and concepts that converge with their discipline and areas of expertise. Co-authored proposals from philosophy and non-philosophy scholars are welcomed.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Ethics of religious upbringing of children: how to share, model, and influence our children for Christ in ways that honor God and respect them as well. Defenses of the morality of a Christian upbringing in the face of challenges at a popular level (e.g. Dawkins and “child abuse” claims) as well as at the scholarly level. How might philosophical accounts of ‘harm’ and ‘interest’ (of children, parents, etc) contribute to clarifying what is often a legally vague idea of ‘Acting in the best interests of the child.’

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysics of the Family: What is a family? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a family, on Christian theism? What biblical, theological, and philosophical data are relevant to this question? How important is genetics or biology to this definition? Or what value is there with respect to a biological connection of some sort between parent and child? Who is a father or a mother? How might a vocational account differ from strictly a biological account? How might we reflect upon ‘step-parenting,’ ‘foster-care parenting’ and ‘surrogate parenting’ in light of Christian theological accounts of adoption and hospitality of God? How might we think about the nature of parenting and family in light of the genetic modification of children and the technological possibilities of creating babies from three or more parents? And what implications do our answers to these questions have for the current cultural debates about same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting? From a political philosophy standpoint, what are strong, non-religious arguments for why a ‘secular state’ has an interest in protecting the family?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysical and Epistemological issues in Gender, Sexuality and Identity: What are necessary and sufficient conditions for defining ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality’ and ‘human identity’? On what basis are such distinctions drawn? In what sense and on what basis are these terms considered social constructions? ‘Self-identification’ of one’s experience as x, y, or z often populates studies in this area. Is this knowledge from a first-person perspective? Is it simply one’s construal? How might we understand the ‘authority’ of such claims relative to the authority of tradition, history, social institutions, etc.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral-Spiritual Formation of the Family: How does this occur, for both parents and children? What theological and philosophical resources can we bring to bear on this? How can parents be intentional about such formation for themselves and their children in the family? What does the Bible have to say that is relevant to such questions? And what do psychology, sociology, and other disciplines have to contribute to this? Is virtue formation and spiritual maturation in a family interconnected with being the roles of a mother and a father? What is the role of ecclesial communities in such matters of formation? Does the ‘Christian family’ exist primarily for the interests of the ‘household of faith’?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

  • For ‘ethics and family’ treatments, see Julie Rubio, Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (Georgetown University Press, 2010); Michael W. Austin, Wise Stewards: Philosophical Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel Academic, 2009).
  • For some work on the vocation of the family, see Gene Edward Veith and Mary J. Moerbe, Family Vocation (Crossway, 2012).
  • For recent article examples on philosophy and spiritual formation integration, see from the (Fall 2014) Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, Steve Porter, “A Call to Philosophy and Spiritual Formation” (248-257), and “Philosophy and Spiritual Formation: From Christian Faith to Christian Philosophy” (258-269); and also from JSFSC’s (Spring 2014), see Brian Brock, “Discipleship as Living with God, or Wayfinding and Scripture,” 22-34.

Non-Religious Arguments for Marriage and the Family: What are the opportunities and limitations for using ‘natural moral law arguments’ in public and pluralistic contexts? Are such arguments mostly useful for ‘consoling the faithful’? How are ‘secularists’ compelled by such arguments, if they are compelled at all? How might such arguments be retooled in light of changing plausibility structures in Western societies, which increasingly view Christian accounts of marriage and family to be contestable and not believable? How might sociological, psychological and economic reasons and evidences be more persuasive to most secularists than natural law arguments?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral Vision of Flourishing ‘Families’ in a Pluralistic Society: Culturally speaking, the experience of marriage and family is no longer a homogenous kind of experience in Western societies. Increasingly, we have ‘pluralist’ accounts recognized by law, legitimized by cultural pressures, and encouraged by various social institutions.

Drawing from Christian Social Thought, how might Christians envision a society that attends to our differences, even contradictions, regarding marriage and family flourishing? Is such a society possible? What conditions or values should shape how we are bound together? How might Christians think societally about such issues like ‘gay adoption,’ government assistance for unwed mothers, illegal immigration and deportation of parents, youth incarceration and single-parent homes, etc? What society should be built by Christian thought and leadership influence given the particularities of our cultural moment? We encourage constructive responses that seek to minister to each person made in the image of God, and seeks to uphold the social order.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

‘Health,’ ‘Well-Being,’ and ‘Holiness’ of Marriage and Family: Innumerable scientific studies have been written about the health and happiness of individuals, their family and affects on society. ‘Health,’ though, is usually given a reductive account: a scientific or medical question about an organism. Similarly, ‘happiness studies’ usually assume a psychological account about someone’s mental outlook on life. Is there a thicker account of ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ that includes but is not reduced to the hard or soft sciences? Moreover, Christians have historically understood marriage and family as sacred or holy, set apart for the glory and purposes of God’s work in the world. Is there ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ entailed by that sacred, perhaps even ‘sacramental vision’ of marriage and family? How might we recapture a more holistic understanding of eudaimonia as a collective, relational phenomenon, in family, church and state.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Please consider becoming a regular annual or monthly financial partner with the Evangelical Philosophical Society in order to expand its reach, support its members, and be a credible presence of Christ-shaped philosophical interests in the academy and into the wider culture!

A Brief Sketch On Compassion

An Ongoing Series of Sketches from the Contributors of Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life, co-edited by Michael W. Austin and R. Douglas Geivett (Eerdmans, 2012). More info can be found at

Compassion is in. Celebrities champion compassionate causes. Bono, U2’s lead singer, has been instrumental in bringing attention and aid to those in Africa who suffer deeply due to grinding poverty, AIDS, and unfair trade policies. Other celebrities such as Julia Roberts, George Clooney, and Tom Brady have joined in this fight through their involvement with the ONE campaign.

A Christian account of compassion will focus on the sick and the poor. our moral exemplar in this regard is of course Jesus Himself, who was moved with compassion at the suffering of those He encountered in His earthly ministry (Matthew 9:35-37; Mark 6:30-44). However, compassion will also be relevant to our relationships with family, friends, and others who are perhaps suffering in other ways.

Many of us tend to think of compassionate actions as good things to do, but not in the sense that we are morally required to do them. We often think of compassionate acts, especially as they relate to the poor, as supererogatory acts of charity.[1] My claim is that exemplifying the virtue of compassion in our everyday lives is a matter of justice, rather than an optional matter of charity. The basic reason that compassion is an obligatory matter of justice, apart from the biblical injunctions, is that human beings have great value as image-bearers of God. Genesis 1:27 states that humans are created “in the image of God”, but what does this mean? A variety of answers have been given to this question, but for our purposes, it is enough to point out that being made in God’s image means that we are God’s representatives, and that we are representational of who God is.[2] We are free, relational, morally responsible, self-conscious beings. We reflect and represent who God is as human persons made in His image. God is the locus of ultimate value, and we, as human beings created in His image and to reflect His character, share in that value. This has important implications for ethics generally, and the virtue of compassion specifically. Given that all human beings are made in the image of God, all human beings possess a basic dignity, a fundamental value such that they have a conditional right to have their basic needs met.[3] Hence, in some contexts, especially when a person’s basic needs are at stake, showing compassion is an obligatory matter of justice rather than an optional matter of charity. Or so I believe.

Interestingly, the term “compassionate” has a verb form. Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752) was an influential British pastor, theologian, and philosopher, and his writings still receive the attention of philosophers today. In a sermon on compassion, Butler observes that when we

rejoice in the prosperity of others, and compassionate their distresses, we, as it were, substitute them for ourselves, their interest for our own; and have the same kind of pleasure in their prosperity and sorrow in their distress, as we have…upon our own.[4] 

This quotation from Butler is pregnant with meaning and insight, but note how he speaks of compassion. We are to compassionate the distresses of others. True compassion includes assisting others who are in distress.[5] For Butler, as for Christ, compassion necessarily involves action.

As an action that we engage in, compassion often involves sacrifice. Perhaps it requires that we give up some of our comfort, our time, or our talent. As Butler pointed out, it involves taking the distress of others to be as significant as our own distress. As such, it involves a turning away from what philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) called “the dear self”.[6] We often find self-love at the bottom of much of our actions that otherwise appear to be morally right. This can also be true regarding acts of compassion. However, even if this is descriptively true of human beings and our motives, this does not count against the claim that we ought to act out of a genuine and unselfish concern for others. Nor does it entail that we shouldn’t seek to take the flourishing of others to be as or more important than our own. This is demanding, to be sure, but it remains within our reach, not only as we seek to alleviate the distresses of the poor and the sick, but also those closest to us.

Further Work: Questions:

  • The claim that compassion is in some sense a duty, or that others have a right to our compassion at least sometimes, is controversial. What arguments for and against such a claim are there, expanding on the suggestion above that human dignity as bearers of the image of God justifies such a claim?
  • How do we engage in self-deception which undermines compassion? What sorts of practices at the individual and community level foster the development of compassion?
  • In what ways is compassion relevant to the parent-child relationship? Marriage? Friendship? Employer-employee? Teacher-student? Believer in Christ-non-believer?

Michael W. Austin

Eastern Kentucky University