Monday, April 02, 2007

The Noetic Effects of Grace: Pagan Ethics

When we consider the Bible's assessment of pagan ethics, we are forced, once again, to pause before we press the antithesis between the believer and unbeliever too far.

Jesus says plainly that "sinners" love and do good to others (Matt. 5:46; Luke 6:32-33); he also commends the scribes' and Pharisees' teaching of Torah, encouraging their disciples to obey their instruction despite the fact that their lifestyles are not always in conformity with what they teach (Matt. 23:2-3); Paul actually holds up pagan morality as a means to shame the Corinthians for the perversity allowed in their midst (I Cor. 5:1-2a); In Athens, Paul employs arguments from the intellectual tradition of Greece to demonstrate the folly of pagan idolatry, first quoting Epimenides of Crete, and then the Stoic authors Cleanthes and Aratus of Soli (Acts 17:28, [Apparently, these pagan philosophers had a sufficiently robust understanding of the nature of God to expose the futility of idolatry]). And finally, Paul quotes the Cretan poet Epimenides in his letter to Titus (1:12-13a), adding that the pagan poet's estimation of the morality of his contemporaries is "true."

To what can we attribute all of these things but to God's common grace?

What all of this amounts to is the conclusion that in common, non-redemptive fields such as art, music, philosophy, agriculture, architecture, and even ethics, the believer and the unbeliever are more similar than different due to their both sharing the imago Dei.

Moreover, if we mistakenly insist that the these fields of interest are under the jurisdiction of redemption and are therefore to be considered "holy," then not only ought all Christians to withdraw completely from culture into ghettos or compounds where the world's wicked influences can't touch us, but we also run the risk of dilluting the Bible's authority when it comes to the things it actually does address, like, say, the cross and empty tomb.