Thin language and the Scandal of Bioethics

As I continue to reflect on the recent CBHD conference one of the things that strikes me is the tension that was going on regarding the use of what Dennis Hollinger called thick and thin language in the communication of ethics by Christians.  As Christians we have a rich store of moral values that God has revealed to us in scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ.  We have access to that moral truth through the Holy Spirit who enables fallen but redeemed people to begin to comprehend these things from the mind of God.  Those who are not in Christ cannot begin to understand this foundation of our ethics.

That leaves us with a dilemma.  What should we do when we seek to communicate with those who do not have access to God’s resources?

We could strive to always communicate using the fullness of the scriptural and theological language that makes Christian ethics a rich source of moral truth.  That is faithful to what we believe and could be a witness of a different way in our largely secular world.  It would also be likely not to be understood by those outside of Christ and rejected without an attempt to comprehend it by many whose worldview has no place for the supernatural.

We could use the thin language of philosophical ethics and common morality to try to communicate what we believe about the moral issues of contemporary bioethics.  That would stand a chance of being understood by those with a different worldview and could have an impact on issues that we care about.  It can also be seen as an abandonment of the fullness of what we believe and have the potential of causing us to lose what is distinctive about Christian ethics in an attempt to be accepted at the table.

I would suggest that we could also use the thin language of common morality to try to bring those who do not accept Christ closer to him while we engage in the public dialog on bioethics.  When we enter the public discourse on bioethics all the participants are acknowledging that they consider moral values to be important.  They open themselves to the existence of those moral values that God has written on their hearts.  If we can help them see the existence of those moral values that have been intuitively understood across cultures and across time, they may then be able to make the step to understanding that we all fall short of those standards and are accountable to the one who made them.  That sets up the problem we all have that Jesus came to solve and the gospel can begin to make sense.  That was the process used by C. S. Lewis in explaining Christianity in Mere Christianity. I think we can use it today.

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Erik Clary
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I agree, Steve, that appeal to the “law written on the heart” can be of value in advancing a moral apologetic. Where, and when, a “thus saith the Lord” is to be preferred, however, over a “men of Athens” transition to the gospel, that I suppose is a matter of judgment and sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading.

Thanks for your thoughtful commentary. I greatly enjoy reading Lewis.