Time magazine’s feature article last Christmas on “The Evangelicals: New Empire of Faith” was thought-provoking. It spoke of the challenge and chance for evangelicals to help build faith and character in America again. Secularism and situation ethics had been a disappointment and failure. It quoted Illinois representative John Anderson as saying. “American democracy could collapse without a rebirth of the Founding Fathers’ belief in the ‘self-evident moral order of the universe’.” This makes sense.

Although evangelicalism today shows much movement, it yet lacks structure in order to make lasting impact. Truth is, there is little evangelical theology that could fill the opening void. Joseph Fletcher’s situation ethics has been a fad. It must have damaged countless lives, and perhaps—if we think of Watergate—a whole nation. But has it been replaced by a philosophy of moral absolutes?

Fletcher’s philosophy seems to have sunk into the fabric of our thinking. It succeeded because of the grain of truth inherent in its protest. Fletcher accused the Protestant Bible and the Roman Catholic Natural Law traditions of being too little flexible for the needs of individual persons and situations. In both traditions casuistry seemed highly artificial and a vain attempt to catch the spirit of life itself. In this Fletcher was right. He was wrong in doing away with the Decalogue and building an obviously atheist answer. Is there an alternative, taking into account moral absolutes and concern for the situation?

We have rarely looked back into the Protestant tradition of ethics. Luther fought the idea of the extraordinary Christian vocation as embodied in the monks and replaced ...

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