Christians have long struggled with the ethics of Jesus, who consider him to be at least a prophet of God, and more often the Son of God, whose ethical teachings must therefore be taken seriously. Why has it been a struggle to determine the relevance of the moral teachings of Jesus? In part because he set a high standard, urging those who would follow him to leave their possessions and pursue a life characterized by a difficult unconditional love, one which embraces even enemies. Moreover, he taught in parables, which can be variously interpreted. And as a Jew he was drawing on a religious tradition already rich in its own right, leaving unclear the extent to which that tradition was morally binding on those who would follow him. Complicating matters further, he seemed to believe in an imminent end of the world, raising the question after it failed to materialize as to whether there are different ethics for our earthy existence, and our future one. All of this raises the further question: To what if any extent is Jesus’s own life a model, and morally binding, on his followers? The answer to this question is complicated by the belief that in an important way, Jesus is unlike ordinary humans, who are not considered in any way divine by most Christians. Is it then proper or even fair to expect humans to model their own moral life on the life of the Son of God? If Christians are to model their life on that of Jesus, does this include the supreme sacrifice, giving up one’s own life for the well being of others?
These questions introduce only a few of the conundrums that have been faced by Christians trying to figure out the moral significance of what they consider to be the incarnation, namely, the “Christ event” wherein God became a man, in order to redeem the creatures he created in his own image. This course explores the plural and contested nature of Christian Ethics. It will have a strong contemporary dimension, focusing...
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