There are several books on virtue/character/ethics that have come out in the last couple months. I am currently reading NT Wright’s After You Believe and Tim Keller’s Prodigal God and a new biography on Bonhoeffer but Steve Chalke and Alan Mann’s book Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully may be the best of the current crop. I have not finished the other books yet, so I am not ready to make a definitive statement, but I am far enough into both that I am leaning strongly in the direction of Chalke and Mann.
The point of these books seems to be overlapping: Christians often seem to have missed the point of their Christian-ness. It is not about the instance of our salvation, but about what we do in response to God’s grace that really makes a difference in the world around us and attracts others to God.
Different Eyes starts out discussing ways that Yahweh differenciated himself from other Gods as he presented himself to the Israelites. He was not like other Gods and that is slowly revealed throughout scripture. Chalke and Mann quote Aristotle, “Histroy deals with facts, story deals with truth.” They continue the thought by showing that “in ancient times, just like now, the primary teachers of morals were storytellers.” So Chalke and Mann try to show God as a story teller more than a rule giver.
Jesus is shown, instead of giving rules and commands to an already rule bound society of Israel, told stories and gave illistrations to show “how to play jazz.” It really is a good metaphor, jazz musicians understand music and music theory on a very deep level. Jazz is not about the scales and what is written on the page, but an understanding of why what is on the page is on the page. Once you know that, then you can start doing interpretation that makes sense and actually fulfills the purpose of the law, not just the letter of the law.
Both NT Wright’s After You Believe and Different Eyes use the example of Captain Sullenberger landing the plane in the Hudson River as an example of virtue. Both books say that virtue does not appear, but is the result of long practice, so that when something occurs that requires virtue, a person does not make a decision and work through the consequences, but that it becomes more instinct. (Both books have been published within the past couple weeks, so they were not plagiarizing one another.)
There are several attempts at showing different sides of current debates (Just War, Use of Wealth/Capitalism, Homosexuality and Euthanasia.) I thought these were fairly weak sections of the book because they really did seem to be written by average people. The arguments (both pro and con) were not all that strong and could have used some more weight to them.
I think that NT Wright’s book will go much deeper into the subject of developing virtue and Bonhoeffer is not about trying to show how to think ethically, but instead is telling the story of a Christian that struggled through terrible ethical difficulties. Overall, this is a great introduction to the idea of thinking ethically and really grappling with the ideas, not the just the easy “laws”. It would be a good book for a small group to discuss or for a person that interested in Christian ethics. It is not an upper level philosophy book and is very understandable and quite well written.
One section in particular on story is very well done and I going to give my copy to some youth workers that are trying to help students overcome some bad past histories.
Disclosure: This book was provide free for the purposes of review. I gave away my copy after the review was completed.