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Ethical Systems. I. Secular Ethical Systems A. Cultural Relativism 1. Intuitionism a. Conscience, hunch, primal instinct 2. Subjectivism a. Truth based on the individual 3. Hedonism (value theory) a. Most pleasure, least pain. B. Utilitarianism – Focus on the End or Result

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I. Secular Ethical Systems

    • A. Cultural Relativism
      • 1. Intuitionism
        • a. Conscience, hunch, primal instinct
      • 2. Subjectivism
        • a. Truth based on the individual
      • 3. Hedonism (value theory)
        • a. Most pleasure, least pain

B. Utilitarianism – Focus on the End or Result

    • 1. Reason Based Methodology
      • a. Tries to determine an ethical conclusion by means of a mathematical formulation
      • b. Highest possible outcome
    • 2. Consequentialism
      • a. The right moral decision can be determined by evaluating the probable outcomes or consequences of possible actions
      • b. The goal is to find the single greatest good by balancing the interest of all affected persons
    • 3. Principle of Utility
      • a. The greatest good for the greatest number of people
      • b. Action of behavior that should be undertaken is that which results in the highest level of utility and simultaneously the lowest possible dis-utility

II. Making Ethical Decisions

    • A. Wisdom Decision Making
      • 1. Where God commands, we must obey
      • 2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose
      • 3. Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose
      • 4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good


Study for clarification

Obey Command

Not Sure

Covered by a clear Command



Yes. An expectation to obey.

Consider Rom. 12-14 & 1 Cor. 8-10


Process Date Through Your Biblical Worldview


Probe biblical teaching to critique your situation through all areas…

  • Your critical self-awareness
  • Your role and obligation to God’s Kingdom
  • Your human obligation (kids, married, etc)
  • Personal desires
  • Circumstantial providence
  • The counsel of informed people and friends
  • Researched opinion about your current issue
  • The views/approval of the community to whom you answer
  • Your theological tradition and understanding
  • Etc

Identify and evaluate your options

Make a decision

Plot a course of action

Periodically review your decision

Adjust or continue your decision


B. Moral Dilemmas

    • 1. Secular Options for solving
      • a. Antinomianism
        • i. No moral laws, no objective right or wrong
        • ii. Conflict between moral norms can arise
        • iii. Problems
          • Self-defeating system
          • Impractical b/c humans need absolutes to exist
          • Irrational and illogical since 2 contradictory positions cannot be correct (law of non-contradiction)
          • Bible contains many self-evident moral norms

b. Situationalism

    • i. There are no absolute laws, morality is situationally determined
    • ii. Greatest benefit for greatest number of people
    • iii. One norm – do that which is most loving
    • iv. No conflicts, one rule
    • v. Right thing to do will vary by agent and by situation
      • Two people in exact situation choose differently and be correct
    • vi. Problems
      • Norm changes with situation and agent, really means no norm at all
      • Reducible to antinomianism, ultimately denies moral norms

c. Generalism

    • i. Prima facie principles
    • ii. Rules generally applicable all the time
    • iii. Conflict b/w moral norms cannot arise
    • iv. Problems
      • Reducible to antinomianism since it holds that there are no universal or absolute norms
      • Non-contradiction

2. Christian Options for solving

    • a. Conflicting Absolutism (Ideal absolutism)
      • i. Lesser evil view
      • ii. Many absolute norms that sometimes conflict, and we are obligated to do the lesser evil and rely on God’s forgiveness in light of our finiteness and depravity
      • iii. Emphasizes God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness
      • iv. Emphasizes the fallenness of creation by rooting corruption in the sinfulness of man rather than in the design of God

v. Problems

    • Jesus’ incarnation either less authentic or artificially engineered since he never sinned
    • God unjust b/c he allows you to be in an environment where you have to sin, yet still holds man accountable for necessary transgressions
    • Minimized personal holiness since it results in a moral duty to sin on some occasions
    • God gave his law to humanity after it had fallen; therefore we ought to expect that it is possible to keep the law (Matt 5:48)
    • Over simplistic in that it does not look for a way out of potentially sinful situations
    • Seems to be anthropocentric in that it puts man in charge of deciding which laws to break when two laws are in apparent conflict

b. Graded Absolutism (Hierarchicalism)

    • i. Many absolute laws sometimes conflict and we are responsible for obeying the higher law, making breaking of the “lower law” justifiable
    • ii. Many universal and absolute moral norms
    • iii. They do and can conflict
    • iv. It is not sinful to break a lower moral norm in order to keep a higher moral norm “Greater Good”
    • v. Arguments
      • Apparent unavoidability of moral conflicts in real life
      • The apparent moral conflicts in Scripture

vi. Problems

    • Who sets the hierarchy and how are we to know it?
    • Verses that may indicate a hierarchy do not say that conflict will occur between higher and lower norms
    • No evidence that the Lord sanctions breaking lower norms
    • Redefine sin as non-sin when an absolute is broken in a given situation. Makes it situational ethics
    • Tenuous view of the nature of the law
    • Anthropocentric because you are generating the hierarchy

c. Non-Conflicting Absolutism

    • i. There are many universal and absolute moral norms
    • ii. Conflict b/w moral norms cannot occur. There will never be a case of having to break one moral norm in order to keep another
    • iii. Apparent conflict b/w moral norms is a result of human misperception of circumstances or human misunderstanding or moral norms
    • iv. Biblical Evidence
      • Mt. 5:48; 1 Cor. 10:13; Heb 4:15; 2 Pet. 2:9

v. General Arguments

    • Moral norms are rooted in God’s character, which is absolute and non-contradictory; we ought to expect that moral norms likewise will be absolute and non-contradictory
    • The biblical record focuses upon conflict b/w believers and moral norms, not conflict b/w moral norms themselves
    • Practically speaking, it minimizes the moral agent (by focusing his role upon obedience) and maximizes the law-giver

vi. Problems

    • Real life experience seems to testify that conflicts do occur
    • Biblical examples seem to testify that conflicts do occur
    • Abraham’s offering of Isaac
    • Hebrew midwives lie
    • Rahab’s lie
    • Samson divinely approved suicide
    • Samuel’s lie
    • Daniel’s disobedience to gov’t
    • Apostle’s disobedience to gov’t