Whatever Happened to Christian Ethics?: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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64 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    This is what I’ve been saying for years. The god of all things American is pragmatism and the church has bowed deeper to that god than most.

    Evangelicalism loves tyrants…they get things done, they show tangible results.
    Character matters not…”they’re such a good teacher’…and the proof is that the seats are filled.

  2. Dan from Georgia says:

    1992: “character matters”
    2020: “well, we’ll give him a mulligan”

    You are right Michael. Whether politicians or pastors, we have missed the mark by a WIDE margin. Ethics and morality don’t matter anymore because “even God can use a broken vessel” or other rationalizations to prop up “our guy” (again, be it a politician or pastor).

  3. Dan from Georgia says:

    That 2020 quote is from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

  4. Michael says:


    Until we recover a sense of true Christian ethics, all attempts to reform the system will fail.

  5. filbertz says:

    I think too many have opted for the “code of conduct” model as a menu to select one’s preferred moral issue to emphasize (harp on). Instead of seeing moral development as emerging with one’s individual sanctification, it has become a loose code of loose suggestions that is loosely enforced. Loose leaders provide flimsy examples of moral leadership and closer examination would reveal a heart devoid of moral fiber.

    any suggestions for righting the ship?

  6. Duane Arnold says:


    When is the last time you heard a Bible study centered around Christian character as exemplified by Christ?

  7. Duane Arnold says:


    The root of pragmatism is that it is transactional. In the end it is about choosing an action, not on the basis of right or wrong, but with a view of how the “end product” will benefit me…

  8. filbertz says:

    Duane–I hesitate to say it, but it was a couple years ago and the presenter was a self-described progressive Christian who was/is frequently targeted by Evangelicals/conservatives as a heretic…

    Sanctification doesn’t seem to be a very sexy topic for most pastors these days. “Spiritual formation” lacks the gravitas of the Biblical description of the process.

  9. filbertz says:

    Besides, ‘I’m a christian in good standing if I declare myself “pro-life even if I drink too much, chase women (or men), cheat on my taxes, and neglect my kids.’

  10. Duane Arnold says:


    Litmus tests seem to be all the rage…

  11. Kevin H says:

    Yes, this has been a big concern of mine for several years now. Duane, you express it more eloquently than I ever do.

    Most times when I end up having a conversation with someone who is justifying their unethical means with their desired ends or are demonstrating selective morality, they avoid addressing the topic, even if I keep asking about it. Occasionally, they will just flat out deny that they’re doing it. I’ve only ever run into one person who pretty much admits to doing it and actually states they believe it’s the right thing to do.

    So I think most people have some awareness they are being unethical and applying selective morality, but it’s almost as if they think if they just ignore it, then everything is okay and they can continue on with their behavior to try to get what they want. There is little to no desire to come to an authentic reckoning of what they’re really doing.

  12. Duane Arnold says:

    Kevin H

    Many thanks. I think it was Kant who used the example of telling lies to raise money for a good cause. When he used this example, people of his time were outraged. In our present time and situation, it is almost common practice…

  13. Mike E. says:

    I think history both of the U.S. and the history of the church is important and largely misunderstood. I feel blessed to have a church historian in our midst.

  14. Duane Arnold says:

    Mike E.

    Thank you. I know that I’m prejudiced, but I think having a grasp of history would help enormously, both in the country and in the Church.

  15. Em says:

    “Pragmatism!” That is the ponder worth the time! ! !
    while it may be okay to say i like your [stupid] toupee = pragmatism, is it okay to say, “Oh God understands and you do what seems right to you. He is a God of love.” You’ve left out absolutes of righteousness and justice, you placated at the expense of the soul, ave you not?

  16. Em says:

    Filbertz @ 8:55
    AMEN ! ! !

  17. Linn says:

    Yesterday, in a conversation with a neighbor, I found out he is full QAnon. And, he networks with people to “take down” pedophiles, and he only listens to military and police “intel.” Banned from FB for publishing names of supposed “pedos” on line.

    All I could think, besides crazy, was what happens if you publish a name and that person isn’t who you think they are? What happened to the police, innocent before proven guilty vs. a lynch mob? And, that is where character comes in; it supports the processes, although it’s not perfect, that we supposedly decided upon as a country to deal with difficult people. There was a lot more to the conversation, but I’m afraid he is going to end up totally self-deluded, doing something stupid (think 1/6 in DC) or losing his family.

  18. Duane Arnold says:


    Our ethical lapse within the Church has aided and abetted delusional thought that will end in tragedy.

  19. Anon says:

    that will end in tragedy.

    Yes. And sadly, it already has.

    I wonder if Linn’s friend will see the light and, like an ex-QAnoner, have to go on CNN and tell one of the anchors that he/she doesn’t really believe he eats children.

  20. Duane Arnold says:


    … And instead of showing a different ethical way, many Christians have become enablers of that tragedy…

  21. Anon says:


    I’m sure a CNN anchor makes a ton of money. But I wonder if it’s worth it to them when they encounter someone like that! Good grief. I didn’t see the interview, but I sure hope the interviewee didn’t ID as a believer in Christ.

  22. Em says:

    A question, not a conclusion….
    Even though there has, historically, been corruption in the Church, are we now seeing a situation overtaking us similar to where Israel was at our Lord’s first advent?
    A sobering ponder….

  23. Bride of Christ says:

    This is such an important article. I wish that the leader of every Christian church in America could see it. It is so true that there has been various litmus tests in many of these evangelical churches; most which gave no biblical basis. ‘Real’ Christians don’t drink or allow their children to attend public schools. ‘Real’ Christians are Republicans. Real Christians must picket abortion clinics, real Christians never get depressed, real Christians don’t get professional mental health counseling…the list is endless. My former church, Calvary Chapel, enforced all of these litmus tests on believers. And yet they never really asked themselves if they were lovng their neighbors as they loved themselves as Jesus commands us to do. I left Calvary Chapel because I loved Jesus, but I couldn’t pass their legalistic litmus tests any longer, and it was getting harder and harder to even see Jesus amongst them.

  24. Jerod says:

    Linn – this is QAnon if you are a visual learner like me.



    I worry for your neighbor. I know of some folks who dance with this and it is a demonic (read esoteric Gnostic theosophical sensual) movement.

    Q’s ecumenical new age theology is frightening in that is an **anarchic pragmatism** which swallows the minds of zealots who haven’t got a clue. They are like Jacobins but unlike them in that they will tear it down just to watch it fall and get a sense of accomplishment from that. At least the Jacobins profited from the lands they stole from the church
    who stole it from the laity but I digress

    I believe this sentiment is stated by some in QAnon but they go on as if they are the chaos from which a pure order will arise. One of the big names -Simon Parkes- has REALLY peculiar beliefs. They are tied to 4chan/8chan ( which is a porn-hole conspiracy site and one-step from what they decry) and subsequently Reddit.

    There’s a reason Antifa and QAnon can hang together. What’s funny is they are not exactly irreligious folks! I think God has shown us that the remnant is about to be purged from the nominal “church” and society.

  25. Jerod says:

    As bad as it gets

    His mercies are new every morning – “Great is Your faithfulness!”

  26. Duane Arnold says:


    The shaman was the one who led the “prayer” in the chamber. He identifies as a Christian…

  27. Linn says:

    Thanks for the links! I did some basic research on Q last summer when I first realized it was “a thing.” (You can tell that I don’t follow conspiracy theories). A friend of mine mentioned it on FB, and I googled. My neighbor is the first person I have met who actually seems to believe it. He talked about being up late at night with his buddies to manage stings to trap pedophiles, and how he has military intel on 200 (!!!!!) ISIS bases in Mexico. I just stared at him, and said I had to go. He has done some work in my home, and I’m friendly with the family, but I’m rethinking the whole relationship at this point. This is dangerous stuff when you actually start acting on it.

  28. Anon says:

    I found this article, written by a woman who’s a scholar of new religions, including Q.


    QAnon has little by way of a coherent internal structure, but the little it does have owes a debt to the long tradition of American intuitionalism — the philosophy that our hunches can be as or more correct as what we know through reason or evidence. You can’t trust anybody, the ideology goes, especially not anybody in control.

    It’s not wrong, in other words, to call QAnon a kind of religion. But it is a religion of the self. Its “shamans,” “Vikings” and “patriots” claim to turn away from the corruption of the modern world but end up exemplifying our commercial internet age. It may claim to try to tear down the hierarchies of modern power, but at its core, it reinforces them.


  29. Nathan Priddis says:

    I have stated numerous times that Neo-Evangelicalsm’s creation in the 1940’s was pragmatic and laid the foundation for a Christian moral relativism.

  30. Duane Arnold says:


    Yes, and it is hard, if not impossible, to rise above the source…

  31. Nathan Priddis says:

    Duane. I agree totally that reversing course would be unlikely. The Neo-Evangelicals called for a replacement of Fundamentalism because it had no conscience. Their replacement movement was ironically corrupt as well, and now needs replacement itself.

    I see only two choices, go back to an earlier form utilizing creeds and traditions, or diverge into a hybrid civil religion, where the Church develops it’s own truth.

  32. Duane Arnold says:


    “…or diverge into a hybrid civil religion, where the Church develops it’s own truth.”

    I think that is exactly what has been happening for some years, but we just did not want to say it out loud.

  33. Em says:

    Pilate asked, “what is truth?”
    Christians have no excuse for not knowing the answer. ….

  34. Steve says:

    The second aspect is that by which we assess choices in which the choice made is based upon whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of understood rules of conduct, rather than based upon the consequences of the action.


    Duane, could it be that there is no agreement what these standardized rules of conduct are anymore? I look at Pete Buttigigeig the first openly gay presidential cabinet member. He is an evangelical but there is absolutely no shame in his world view in being in a same sex marriage. In fact, this actually gives him more accolades. Now, before I’m tarred and feathered here, I think somewhere along the way, the rules of conduct changed for a lot of Christians. Without morality standardized, can you have ethics?

  35. Michael says:

    Where does separating families and sending people seeking asylum to their deaths rank in standardized morality?

  36. Jean says:


    We (Christians) should not base our rules or our standards or our ethics by the the fact that others don’t. In other words, if Pete or anyone else has a false teaching on God’s moral law, that is there problem not ours. We march forward, ethically.

    If (and I am just granting your comment at 3:16pm) Pet self-identifies as evangelical, well so does the whole synod of the ELCA and likely the other mainline denominations. They corrupt God’s Word as a defense mechanism to attempt to remove their guilt and shame. Then, they go one with their lifestyle without the need for repentance.

    There are only two kinds of human beings in this world: There are those who acknowledge they do not measure up to the law of God and despise their sin, and their are those who for one reason for another, do not acknowledge that they do not measure up to the law of God and believe they are just fine as they are.

    One type suffers in this life, but is delivered in the next. The other type is delivered in this life, but suffers in the next.

  37. Steve says:

    Jean,. Thanks. Finally we agree.

  38. Duane Arnold says:


    We might do well to start with the ethical standards of Christ, before we start the process of condemning others…

  39. Duane Arnold says:

    BTW, Pete presents himself as an Episcopalian, not an evangelical…. whatever that might mean these days…

  40. Nancy Holmes says:

    Is there a difference between Episcopalian and Anglican?

  41. Duane Arnold says:

    Anglican designates the worldwide Anglican Communion, while Episcopalian designates the Episcopal Church USA. There are, however, several large bodies in the US that have broken away from the Episcopal Church, who designate themselves as “Anglican” …

  42. Steve says:

    Duane, I have condemned no one. But I have seen plenty of condemnation though on Trump, etc. and white evangelicals. I’m mistaken that Pete is an evangelical. Either case, he identifies as a Christian. You are the one that brought up the concept that character matters. Really? I’m asking an honest question but I think I have found my answer. When it comes to the standards or rules of conduct I assume they should only come from the red letters in the Bible.

  43. Duane Arnold says:


    “When it comes to the standards or rules of conduct I assume they should only come from the red letters in the Bible.”

    Given the low state of Christian ethics at present, I would consider this to be a good start…

  44. Michael says:

    “When it comes to the standards or rules of conduct I assume they should only come from the red letters in the Bible.”

    Jesus spoke very little about sexuality and a great deal about oppressing people on the margins of society.
    Glad we’re on the same page…

  45. steve says:

    Actually, I’m not quite on the same page. Yes, I agree that Jesus spoke little about sexuality and a great deal about oppressing people on the margins of society. I can agree with that 100%, yet I can also disagree that we are to only look at the RED letters in developing our Christian ethic. My starting point is that Jesus is God and the same God who inspired both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not sure where we get to throw away non RED words and also thousands of years of church history. As Christians though, I do expect we will all be oppressed in this life and persecuted. Its a consequence of following Christ.

  46. Duane Arnold says:


    I’m not just a red letter person either, but with Christian ethics it’s a good place to start…

  47. steve says:


    I can agree with that. Also, it seems Christian ethics is something that we should really only look to for ourselves and our churches. When it comes to public servants in a pluralistic society, I think its almost irrelevant to thinking a non Christian could ever adhere to a Christian ethic. Its simply impossible.

  48. Duane Arnold says:


    I agree, but only to a point. As I’ve said before, I stand with Augustine when it comes to the City of Man. We can judge our leaders on the basis of character and the desire for justice.

  49. steve says:

    Thanks Duane. Good article and good conversation. Good plug for Augustine. I need to starting reading him.

  50. Duane Arnold says:


    A good place to start is Augustine’s Confessions. The translation by F.J. Sheed captures the poetry of the language and as a bonus, there is an Introduction by Peter Brown (Augustine’s best biographer in my opinion).

  51. Jean says:


    “When it comes to public servants in a pluralistic society, I think its almost irrelevant to thinking a non Christian could ever adhere to a Christian ethic. Its simply impossible.”

    There is nothing especially distinctive about Christian ethics. Most of it overlaps with natural law, and would be embraced by the world’s major religions (Rm. 2). Therefore, I personally would judge a candidate’s character and fitness by Christian ethics.

  52. steve says:

    There is nothing especially distinctive about Christian ethics. Most of it overlaps with natural law, and would be embraced by the world’s major religions (Rm. 2).
    Jean, let me ask an obvious question here. If there is nothing distinctive about “Christian” ethics, than why are they labeled Christian? Wouldn’t a more generic term like standard Human Resources language of just plain ethics suffice? There has to be something distinctive if we are going to use Christian to define them.

  53. Duane Arnold says:


    I think there is a distinction between “virtue” which may be seen in Christian and pagan alike, and a Christian ethic which, for instance, is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. Christ even says, “You have heard…” and then follows up with “but I say to you…”

  54. Duane Arnold says:

    BTW, the Church Fathers were very big on “virtuous pagans”…😁

  55. Jean says:


    I think virtue is right behavior, however, I think it gets its content (or rules and norms) from ethics.

    I think depending on your tradition, you either see Jesus as correctly exegeting the original intent of God’s revealed law to his disciples (i.e., not giving them a new law), or you see Him giving His disciples a new higher law. Lutherans would be in the former camp FYI.


    I think we say Christian ethics, because there are competing ethics in society. Even within American Christendom, as with everything else, there is no consensus on what Christian ethics are.

  56. Duane Arnold says:


    If I remember correctly, Augustine held that virtue, even among pagans, was a good in itself, but was incomplete as it was not animated by the love of God. In his estimation (and I think he was correct) it was the motivating force of the love of God that made Christian virtues and a Christian ethic distinctive.

  57. Duane Arnold says:

    “Virtuous behavior pertains to the love of God and of one’s neighbor…”
    Augustine (De doct. chr. 3:10)

  58. Jean says:


    Without understanding the full context of Augustine’ statement, where I would concur with him is in the context of what motivates virtue (or good works). Christian virtue is empowered by the love of God poured it to our hearts (Rm. 5:5), whereas pagan virtue may be motivated by fear or seeking a reward.

  59. Duane Arnold says:


    I would agree. The love of God both motivates and it also empowers, making Christian virtue and hence ethics distinctive…

  60. Jean says:

    Thank you Duane. Good and valuable discussion!

  61. Duane Arnold says:


    It’s a pleasure. If you ever want to explore Augustine, the biography by Peter Brown is wonderful. When I read it, I discovered it to be life changing.

  62. Jean says:

    I purchased and read that after you recommended it a couple years ago.

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