Preface to BIBLICAL ETHICS, Volume 1: Old Testament Flourishing


When we live the way we are supposed to, God is glorified and we are blessed (happy)! Sadly, most well-meaning dutiful Christians take issue with the notion that happiness is for the here-and-now, delaying it for the afterlife. Too often they gorge themselves on an ethical diet of doing the right thing out of a sense of duty, while their taste buds for serving God out of a sense of desire become dull and desensitized.

  • In this volume, I tackle the ethical paradox between duty and desire showing that a morality of happiness, starting with the Old Testament, accounts for both in a complementary way.

There is so much that is morally and spiritually good and wise about the Old Testament because God’s laws for humanity stem from his nature. Sadly, the church, for the most part, has misunderstood the purpose of the Old Testament viewing torah as morally and spiritually oppressive. Contrary to popular opinion, the keeping of Old Testament laws was not a legalistic system of obligation and prohibition. Israel’s obedience to torah was a reflection of God’s benevolent being and behavior.

  • In this volume, I demonstrate that obedience to torah facilitates human flourishing.
  • This is the good news (gospel) of the Old Testament.

I have come to discover that the default ethic in the church today dictates that morality is governed by rules (i.e., obligation and prohibition) in order to foster the common good of all. It mandates that we sacrifice individual happiness for the sake of others, whenever possible. Sadly, the majority of contemporary Christians believe that the concepts of morality and happiness are counterintuitive, and thus, mutually exclusive.  

  • In this volume, I argue against the notion that morality and happiness make strange bedfellows. Far from it. Morality, which encompasses duty, and happiness, which encompasses desire, actually fit hand-in-glove.
  • Moreover, morality and happiness are actually biblical concepts that have inspired the production of classical[1] philosophy and religious literature, as well as commentary (ad nauseam) on both. As a matter of fact, the phrase “the morality of happiness,” used by Julia Annas, is a positive expression of their complementary nature.[2]       

An exegetical approach to a morality of happiness or a proper morality of happiness,[3] which is the biblical view of happiness, seasons our virtuous souls to function as they were designed, fulfilling our rational, moral, and spiritual natures. Sadly, too many Christians today are robbed of this pleasure when they interpret true happiness as hedonism.

  • In this volume, I demonstrate that the church is throwing the baby out with the bathwater when, in the name of piety, the biblical view of happiness or objective happiness is confused with subjective happiness—a merely emotional and thus relativistic view of happiness.
  • With that said, however, happiness does involve healthy human emotions, as well as determining how we should behave. That is, human happiness is both feeling and function.

The biblical view of happiness is cultivated by living according to biblical virtues[4] or practices, such as wisdom and humility, justice and righteousness, which are motivated by human flourishing. Sadly, the church, as a whole, has got it half-right when it comes to living in the kingdom of God: biblical practices are interpreted as moral obligations for their own sake and not for the sake of human flourishing.    

  • In this volume, I show that God inspires us to flourish via human obedience to divine commands.
  • Living virtuously, however, is not necessarily a virtue ethic, in which virtuous living is the end-goal. Virtuous living can be a means in a means-to-an-end relationship to the end-goal of human flourishing.

Human flourishing (in Greek, eudaimonia), however, was never meant to be practiced in isolation from a community of believers. Sadly, some Christians today hyper-focus on their own prosperity at the expense of living in right relationship with one another within the body of Christ.

  • In this volume, I explain that with a proper morality of happiness there is no room for selfishness; rather, we look out for the good of others, as well as our own. This enables us to flourish together in order to live life to the fullest as a Christian community.
  • When the world witnesses this kind of symbiotic flourishing, it will come banging on the doors of the church begging to be let in.

Ethical eudaimonism or eudaimonism (from eudaimonia), which is the view that human ethics is grounded in the pursuit of happiness, intentionally reflects the happiness of the Godhead. Sadly, in my experience, too many well-meaning academic Christians believe that divine commands, which are associated with eudaimonia, are all voluntarist (arbitrary) commands.   

  • In this volume, I espouse the view that far from being arbitrary, most divine commands are “asherist commands” (to borrow a term from Ellen T. Charry)[5] fixed on God’s immutably benevolent and flourishing character. Thus, when we flourish we reflect the flourishing of the Holy Trinity.
  • But far more than mirroring divine flourishing, we are meant to be active participants in the happiness of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit here on earth.

Biblical Ethics (Volumes 1 and 2), broadly speaking, is an amalgamation and culmination of over ten years of study and research in the academic fields of biblical hermeneutics, spiritual formation, Christian apologetics, theology, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and, obviously, ethics. [6]  

The major theme in reclaiming an exegetical approach to a morality of happiness[7] to an anemic church is similar to that of Julia Annas’s theme in The Morality of Happiness, whereby she retrieves happiness for classical philosophy, and Ellen Charry’s theme in God and the Art of Happiness, whereby she “recovers the historical trajectory of the Western theological discussion of happiness.”[8] Our common denominator is that we seek to restore a morality of happiness, although my method is not as philosophical as Annas’s or as theological as Charry’s. I focus on a more exegetical approach, as the title of my book indicates, which does overlap with the disciplines of western philosophy and theology. Ressourcement (a French word),[9] which means “a return to the sources”—scripture, as well as to the patristic fathers and medieval theologians—is the main method I employ in this book.[10]

The purpose of this type of restoration is to aid Christians in “enjoying God, creation, and self,”[11] which means to enjoy “the good life” (in Greek, agathos bios) or to live life to the fullest as Jesus taught (see Jn 10:10b).

This book is written for any and all Christian leaders, whether in a familial, pastoral, seminary, academic, or educational setting. My desire is to see the biblically deep-rooted moral principles that are substantiated in these volumes taught and lived out among the leaders of today’s generation, so that their pupils—tomorrow’s leaders—are not stymied from flourishing by the same ethical roadblocks that have inhibited the previous generations’ calling to be blessed in order to be a blessing.        

San Clemente, California                                                             C. J. D. October 2015               

[1] I use the term classical here to refer to early to late medieval Christian thought.

[2] See Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, [1993] 1995). In her book, Annas demonstrates that the moral theories of ancient philosophers, starting with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, contain the common denominator of virtuous living in order to be happy.

[3] In the phrase a “proper morality of happiness,” I use the term proper to distinguish my religiously motivated morality of happiness from the morality of happiness of ancient philosophies. And thus it should be clear that this pursuit of a morality of happiness is not a history of happiness, unless, of course, we are speaking of the biblical history of happiness, starting with the Old Testament. 

[4] In order to be clear, I want to briefly discuss what I mean by the term biblical virtues by comparing it to Aristotle’s definition of the virtues of humanity. According to Aristotle scholar Richard McKeon (1900–1985), the four characteristics of a moral virtue for Aristotle are “(1) a habit or state of character, (2) concerned with choice, (3) lying in a mean relative to us, and (4) determined by a rational principle, or the principle by which a man of practical reason or prudence would determine it” Introduction to Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, [1947] 1973), 333. It is safe to assume that (1) and (2) overlap naturally onto the biblical landscape. (3) Does apply to universal virtues, such as courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice, but I am not thinking of them necessarily as a mean. And (4) is questionable at least for virtues such as humility and fear (of God) that could be interpreted as irrational or imprudent. My contribution to this multi-faceted moral matrix is to baptize (1) and (2) into theological waters by adding that (1) and (2) are modeled after God’s character and free will.

[5] See Ellen T. Charry, God and the Art of Happiness (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 170.

[6] In this volume, I use the terms ethic and morality interchangeably. Although they each stem etymologically from a different language, they mean virtually the same thing: ethic stems from the Greek word êthoi, which is the plural form of ethos, while morality stems from the Latin word morês, which is the plural form of mos. Êthoi and morês mean “conduct” or “character,” while ethos and mos mean “custom” or “practice.” I am thankful to my former ethics professor David A. Horner for bringing this matter to my attention. 

[7] It is my contention that when assessing the proper criteria for systematically interpreting the Old Testament, the theme of human happiness or flourishing should be considered.

[8] Charry, God and the Art of Happiness, xi.

[9] I am borrowing the term ressourcement from the literature concerning Vatican II. At the heart of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) was ecumenical theology. The spirit of Vatican II that sought to bring healing and unity was expressed in two complementary ways: ressourcement and aggiornamento (an Italian word), which means “a bringing up to date” in the context of modernizing the church via integrating the natural with the supernatural.

[10] In this volume, I return to what the Old Testament says about a morality of happiness. In Volume 2, I will return to what the New Testament says about a morality of happiness with the theological assistance of the patristic fathers (viz. St. Augustine) and medieval theologians (viz. St. Aquinas).

[11] I follow Charry’s lead here when she says that “happiness is enjoying God, creation, and self by cultivating the wisdom behind divine commands that enable one to become an instrument of the world’s flourishing. Happiness is a discipline that might be called godly self-enjoyment.” Charry, God and the Art of Happiness, 182 (emphases in the original).

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4 years ago

This is a powerful book that will give people the freedom they need truly to flourish.


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