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Now in its second edition, Introducing Christian Ethics offers a comprehensive and engaging introduction to the field suitable for beginners as well as more advanced readers. The field is divided into three distinct approaches: universal (ethics for anyone), subversive (ethics for the excluded), and ecclesial (ethics for the church). These three approaches present a fresh understanding of the field of Christian ethics, whilst providing a structure for thoughtful insights into the complex moral challenges facing people today. The text encompasses the field of Christian ethics in its entirety, surveying its history, and mapping and exploring the differences in all the major ethical approaches.

This new edition has been thoughtfully updated. It includes additional material on Catholic perspectives, ethics and social media, further case studies and a stronger pedagogical structure, including introductions and summaries. As well as discussing ethical issues and key thinkers, Introducing Christian Ethics 2/e provides a significant foundation for students by setting them in a framework that explores scripture, philosophy and church history. The text is structured so that it can be used alongside a companion volume, Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), which further illustrates and amplifies the diversity of material and arguments explored here.

Samuel Wells is Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, and a widely-known theologian, preacher, pastor, writer, and broadcaster. He is also Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King's College, London. He has published 25 books, including Improvisation, God's Companions, and A Nazareth Manifesto. He edited the partner book to this volume, Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader (Oxford:Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

Ben Quash is Professor of Christianity and the Arts at King's College London. He is the author of Theology and the Drama of History (2005) and is former Reviews Editor of Studies in Christian Ethics.

Rebekah Eklund is Assistant Professor of Theology at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, where she teaches theology, ethics, and Christian Scripture. She is the author of Jesus Wept: The Significance of Jesus' Laments in the New Testament (2015).



















For Harry Geoghegan

For Kathryn Chambers

For Lucia Eklund


This is a textbook for entry‐level students in Christian ethics. It is designed for undergraduates and seminarians, in some cases pre‐college students, and the elusive but much‐coveted general reader. It is intended to be used in lay ministry courses, and a variety of educational and training courses, at diploma and informal levels. It sets out to do a number of things that are seldom done together.

It seeks to offer an overview of the whole field of Christian ethics. Some treatments offer a sequence of great authors in the history of the discipline. Others try to provide a taxonomy or typology or simply a list of the sometimes bewilderingly diverse and complex assortment of theories quoted and employed in the discourse. Others again work their way through a grab‐bag of controversial issues and endeavor to present both balance and wisdom. This book has the temerity to attempt all three. Like any mapping exercise, it cannot pretend to be wholly objective; the classification and selection of issues examined, approaches explored, and authors extracted will be insightful and constructive to some, arbitrary and partial to others. Nonetheless we hope that, for those many who may disagree on some of the details, many more will enjoy and embrace the overall organization and presentation of the field.

The book rests on a broad division of Christian ethics into three approaches: universal (ethics for anyone), subversive (ethics for the excluded), and ecclesial (ethics for the church). It needs to be said that this distinction is not by any means generally accepted and adopted in the field, being simply the usage of one of the authors of this volume. This book may therefore be read as an extended road‐test for the durability and comprehensiveness of this threefold distinction. But newcomers to the field who expect all subsequent interlocutors to recognize these approaches are likely to be disappointed.

The threefold distinction is designed to achieve a number of things. It is a tool for getting a handle on a huge subject, treating protagonists sympathetically but not uncritically. It is a means of distinguishing between the loudest voices in the field today, and the audiences and interests they perceive themselves as addressing. It is a way of showing unlikely correspondences between approaches that are sometimes perceived as opposites or antagonists. It is intended to balance description and critique, construction and analysis. It is not designed as a reductionist, watertight theory that diminishes the diversity and vitality of conversation across the discipline. There are many overlaps and anomalies in the field, as becomes clear in the last section of the book.

Not only does the book set out to discuss both approaches and issues (sometimes known respectively as theoretical and applied ethics), it is structured so as to bring the respective theories to bear on each issue. Once the threefold distinction of universal, subversive, and ecclesial approaches has been set out in the second part of the book, the third part examines fifteen pressing and abiding issues under each of these three headings. This not only amplifies the respective issues, it tests the respective approaches. The first part of the book may be read, among other things, as a long explanation of why the categories of universal, subversive, and ecclesial do not apply in anything like the same way before the era of Western modernity beginning around the early eighteenth century or even later. The birth of the discipline of Christian ethics as currently understood, and the plausibility of using these three categories, broadly coincide. They are both deeply related to the way ethics came to be pursued primarily in universities and only secondarily (and derivatively) in churches.

In addition to the three conventional kinds of introductions to Christian ethics cited earlier, a fourth kind presents a series of excerpts from significant works or on salient issues in the field, either in contemporary voice or across the historical tradition. Not content simply to synthesize the three earlier kinds of introductions, this project attempts this fourth kind as well. A sister volume to this one, Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader, adopts exactly the same structure (not just in chapter titles but also in subheadings) and seeks to illustrate, amplify, and develop the diversity of material, voices, and arguments explored in this book. Thus, the companion volume deals with the tradition, the variety of approaches, and the range of issues, just as much as the textbook does. As far as we are aware, the bringing together of all four of these kinds of introductions to the field is unique to this project. The two volumes are carefully designed so that, while complementary and supplementary to one another, each can serve alone as an introduction to the subject, depending on the needs, opportunities, wishes, and budget of the student and teacher.

Any book that quotes ancient texts in English translation faces the difficulty of older conventions that used masculine pronouns for God and referred to people in general as men. We have decided to retain the original quotations without alteration, even where we might today have written “humanity” instead of “man.” All Scripture quotations are New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) unless otherwise noted.

It may be asked whether the authors have a particular agenda in setting this project before the academy and reading public, beyond the customary humble disclaimers of hoping to be of some service and participating in the honored process of education and formation in Christian ethics. There is no doubt we have a close interest in the strand of ethics we are calling ecclesial. Some proponents of this strand have been associated with abrasive, not to say dismissive, regard for the other two strands as we are presenting them. But ecclesial ethics is not a monochrome approach, in style or in content, any more than subversive and universal ethics are. Thus aside from simply offering an accessible introduction to the field, part of the purpose of this book is to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that ecclesial ethics, when not in the mode of polemical stridency, is deeply respectful of, open to lively conversation with, and indeed profoundly indebted to, other approaches to ethics, and on many issues shares evaluations and commitments that resonate with subversive and/or universal approaches. It is not necessary to adopt the assumptions of ecclesial ethics to seek here an introduction to the dynamics and prospects of Christian ethics as a whole.

This book arises and derives from a number of friendships and collaborations. Most obviously, it has been shaped by a friendship between the two initial authors, Ben Quash and Sam Wells. We have collaborated on various projects in the past, academically and pastorally, with happy results; we have found our respective research interests complementary and stimulating, but most of all we simply enjoy one another’s company, in laughter and in grief. It is a change of style, for each of us, to write a book together, but we hope it is no less a book for having two authors rather than one.

For the second edition, we have been joined by Rebekah Eklund, a third partner in scholarship, dialogue, enquiry, and friendship, and the joy of collaborating has been only increased by the greater wisdom and breadth of insight that a third heart, and mind, and soul, has brought. Among other improvements, the second edition includes a general introduction addressed to the reader, offers revised introductions to each of the three parts of the book, gives greater attention to Catholic and Orthodox ethics, revises and expands the section on the ethics of race to include more recent thinkers, and updates the section on media to incorporate the rapidly changing field of social media.

We have all been greatly enriched by the encouragement, imagination, and wit of Rebecca Harkin, whose vision for this project and depth of understanding of the issues and questions involved makes her a remarkable editor and publisher, and a rewarding creative partner. We are grateful to many wise colleagues, notably Hans Hillerbrand, Michael Goldman, Ebrahim Moosa, Kishor Trivedi, James Ong, Ellen Davis, Mary McClintock Fulkerson, John Kiess, and Fritz Bauerschmidt for guidance in waters where our judgments were unsteady. Jo Wells and Susannah Ticciati, among others, have offered perception in times of clarity and companionship in times of mystery.

Christian ethics is done in the communion of saints, and in this context Christians learn that they have living relationships with Christians past and future, departed and yet to come. The obligations and the joys traced by ethics bind the generations, and in this bond the memory of what has been takes the form of praise, and the anticipation of what will be is called hope. Rejoicing in this communion that binds the generations, and full of hope, we dedicate this book to two nieces and a nephew who make our lives richer, deeper, and truer.

Samuel Wells
Ben Quash
Rebekah Eklund


We’ve written this book to give a student who is new to Christian ethics the ability to address issues and methods in the field in an informed and confident way.

To do that we believe a student needs three things:

  1. a sense of what Christian ethics is, what its sources are, and how it has been practiced;
  2. a framework for distinguishing between different styles of argument; and
  3. discussion of the major topics that Christian ethics most frequently addresses, and an opportunity to apply the framework through exploring those topics.

These three elements constitute the three parts of the book.

The first part explores the four intertwining “stories” that contribute to the rich and complex story of Christian ethics today: the story of God as found in Christian Scripture; the story of the church from its origins in the first century through the present day; the stories of ethics in contexts outside Christianity, including in classical philosophy, in other religious traditions, and in present‐day professional settings; and the historical development of Christian ethics as traced through its most influential figures.

In the second part of the book, we suggest that there are three major approaches to Christian ethics: universal, subversive, and ecclesial. (These terms, and the threefold division itself, are distinctive to this book and are not often found elsewhere in the field of Christian ethics.) The three chapters of Part Two describe in greater detail the origin and shape of these three major branches of Christian ethics. The first, universal ethics, assumes that ethics is for everybody. If it applies to one, it applies to all. Many of the conventional approaches to ethics fall into this category: deontological, consequentialist, natural law, and so on.

The second approach challenges this universal assumption by considering the role of social location in ethics, asking who is excluded from this so‐called “everybody,” and focusing particular attention on questions of gender, race, and class. The branch of ethics we are describing as subversive is sometimes described as liberationist, since it is committed to the liberation of the oppressed and the empowerment of the voiceless or the dominated.

The third approach is a retrieval of the language of virtue, most associated with the classical Greek philosopher Aristotle, and also adopted in the thirteenth century by the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas. It assumes that the primary context of Christian ethics is the church (the word “ecclesial” derives from the Greek word for church). It focuses on the shaping of character rather than on the moment of decision. Ecclesial ethics places Christian ethics into conversation with the church’s specific theological commitments and practices, including the creeds and the sacraments.

This three‐part structure is intended to be illuminating and not restrictive. We believe that it offers a useful way to identify different tendencies and methods within the broad field of Christian ethics, but it does not imply that we think individual thinkers often or always fit neatly into only one category. Instead, our hope is that the reader of this book will be trained to discern the methodological underpinnings of the texts and authors with whom they interact. Thus, one might come to read a document such as a papal encyclical, a university honor code, or a newspaper editorial and recognize a mix of methods and commitments in that one document. We have a particular interest in making more widely known the claims and possibilities of ecclesial ethics, but in general we seek to present each approach as clearly and charitably as possible.

The final part devotes five chapters to exploring the key issues and challenges addressed by Christian ethics. Here we meet a conventional list of ethical trouble‐spots (abortion, euthanasia, war) as well as more general questions (the role of the state, environmental crises). In each chapter, we explore how the three “branches” of Christian ethics might typically approach these central ethical questions.

To avoid cluttering the text with footnotes or references, we have included the sources used in each chapter at the end of the chapter, alongside suggestions for further reading. Links to online documents are included where they are available. A selection of primary texts paired with each chapter is also available in the companion volume Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader.

People often begin the study of Christian ethics hoping to find the right answers. Our approach focuses more on asking the right questions. Sometimes there are no easy answers: if there were, perhaps we would not need the church, a company of pilgrims with whom to share in discernment and practice. We have shared innumerable good disagreements in writing this book together, from which we have, we trust, become wiser and more humble. We hope the reading of the book will be as rewarding as the writing has been.

Part One
The Story of Christian Ethics

Christian ethics has three key sources: the written word of Scripture, the prayer and practice of the church, and the distilled wisdom and experience of the ages.

The document that shapes the identity of Christianity is the Bible, and it is impossible to begin studying Christian ethics without an understanding of the nature and content of the Scriptures and their role in the discipline. Thus, our first chapter begins with a consideration of Scripture and the nature of its authority and place in Christian ethics. It then considers the Bible in three parts – the People of God (the Old Testament), God in Person (the four gospels), and Following Jesus (the remainder of the New Testament).

The New Testament was written by the early church, and it was likewise the early church that determined the shape of the Bible as a whole. Christian ethics does not primarily refer to a sequence of significant authors or a collection of influential texts: instead it concerns a historical series of attempts to embody the instructions of Scripture, the good news of Jesus, and the example of his first followers. This historical series of attempts is called the church. Our second chapter therefore develops the story of Christian ethics by exploring the history of the church, again in three eras – Minority Status (the era before Christianity became the norm in the Mediterranean world), Christendom (the era when Christianity was the norm, while the Mediterranean world expanded its influence across the globe), and the Church in Modernity (the era when Christianity had ceased to be the norm, at least in the Western world).

Before Christians began to try to translate the heritage of Israel and Jesus into the habits and norms of personal and communal life, there had already long been a tradition, stretching back to ancient Greece, of reflecting on how human beings should live. Christian ethics has always been developed in relation to a conversation about what a person should do, and who a person should be, that went beyond the culture of the church. In fact it is only in relation to such conversation partners that the discipline of “Christian ethics” emerges at all. Christian ethics becomes the place where the heritage of Israel and Jesus, the practice and expectations of the church, and the disciplines and vocabulary of philosophical ethics, all meet. Hence our third chapter considers the emergence of “ethics” as a discipline in several key “non‐Christian” contexts: in classical philosophy, in other religions, and in particular professional contexts.

Finally, these three strands – Scripture, history, and philosophy – come together to form the contemporary discipline of Christian ethics. Yet this discipline itself tends to trace its lineage less to the stories told in the first three chapters, and more to a story that emerges in relation to all three: that is, the sequence of great authors whose works form the canon of writings in this field. This fourth story is not so much the story of Christian ethics as a history of Christian ethicists. Many, perhaps most, of these figures did not explicitly think of themselves as ethicists (as distinct from theologians or philosophers), but it is in their tradition that most of those publishing work in the field of Christian ethics believe themselves to stand, as will become clear in the second and third parts of this volume.