(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

How do we know what God wants of us? This is a question that has accompanied Christian belief since its beginnings and still divides modern Christians today. In The God Who Commands, Richard J. Mouw writes, for some Christians, the way to truth lies in simple transposition of biblical literalities into everyday life. The Decalogue and the Gospels are for them the highways that cut through even the most challenging moral debates. For others, divine revelation is thought to pierce only the hearts of God’s chosen. Through highly personal inward communication, God’s “elect” become vessels of his will and its only accurate communicators. Still for even more Christians—Calvinists like Mouw and members of much of Reformed Christianity—the path to biblical truth and divine revelation is necessarily much more complex. It weaves through an intricate architecture of internal understanding and outward preconception. Before it can lead each believer to a clear, personal reception of God’s commands, it must be fully and properly navigated through the cracks in the Christian debate.

That there are hazards invoked by Christians’ attempts to live, make decisions, and form society in accordance with divine commands, Mouw does not deny. He admits divine commands—as revealed through Scripture, broad biblical themes, and Christians’ personal lives—have been, arguably, empirically impalpable. Nevertheless, he still refutes many of the claims that critique Christians’ ethical “posture of obedience” in total. Some have painted Christians as psychologically “infantile.” They claim Christians obey when they should be autonomous, and submit when they should approach others as equals. To Mouw, such categorizations elide the greater truth that Christians submit not because they feel inferior to other men but because men are not God. Christians fundamentally believe God exists and they perceive him to be their telos-desiring creator and personal redeemer. Thus, Mouw claims their admission of inferiority to God and their assent to his command is, from this...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Adams, Robert Merrihew. Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. In this book, Adams connects his extensive, expert theories on divine command to modern, pragmatic ethics of politics and epistemology.

Anscombe, G. Elisabeth M. “Modern Moral Philosophy.” Philosophy 33 (1958): 1-19. Anscombe’s opinions here are cited as some of the most influential arguments against the reason and efficacy of divine-command theory.

Aquinas, Saint Thomas. Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1981. In the second section of the Summa on ethics, Aquinas lays out the classic Catholic Christian argument for the authority of divine command.

Copper, John M., and D. S. Hutchinson, eds. Plato: Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997. Plato’s Euthyphro initiated the “divine command” ethical debate by asking if it is God’s commanding that makes his commands good, or their innate goodness.

Evans, Stephen C. Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Kierkegaard’s significant existentialist Christianity is here argued to be another functional and beneficial reformulation of divine-command theory for the modern world.

Kennedy, Thomas D. Review of The God Who Commands. Theology Today 48, no. 2 (July, 1991): 240-243. Concludes that Mouw’s is an “important book. Those who take the Reformed tradition seriously, or those who wish to understand it, would do well to consult this work.”

Quinn, Philip L. Divine Commands and Moral Requirements. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1978. Quinn’s long, logical, and prominent defense of divine-command theory refutes charges of irrationality and unworkability.

Reynolds, Terrence. Review of The God Who Commands. Christian Century 108, no. 4 (January 30, 1991): 118-119. Notes that Mouw offers “a sophisticated interpretation and defense of the ethics of John Calvin” and that Mouw “has reintroduced divine-command morality to contemporary Christian ethics, and his work should be central in the dialogue he encourages.”

Schuurman, Douglas J. Review of The God Who Commands. Journal of Religion 73, no. 1 (January, 1993): 120. A professor of religion at St. Olaf College reviews Mouw’s work on divine-command morality.