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Play the ball, not the player

Talking about ethics: Negotiating the maze

Acorn Press, 2011

RRP $14.95

Reviewed by ethicist Trevor Jordan.

It is often said that "ethics is a conversation", but as Justin Denholm points out in his helpful study guide, we need conversations that go beyond a mere sharing of opinions or disagreements.

Talking about ethics is a good place to start for Christians interested in becoming part of the ethics discussion.

Dr Justin Denholm has directed the Centre for Applied Christian Ethics at Ridley College Melbourne since 2008.

He provides succinct introductions to common approaches to ethics — principle, utility and character (virtues).

Perhaps that latter could have been fruitfully expanded, as it often is, to include the feminist ethics-of-care approach, particularly as Denholm is otherwise careful to explain how ethical approaches are shaped by our worldviews; that is, our interlocking beliefs and attitudes about the physical world and the human condition.

For Denholm, the best way to study Christian ethics is in conversation with other Christians.

He offers practical and clear guidance about the relationship between Christian ethics and other approaches, and how to encourage ethical reflection both in the church and in the wider community.

Denholm offers advice on using the Bible in ethics, recognising that there is no reliable index for ethical issues in Scripture that could save us from the necessity of interpreting passages both in the light of Jesus prioritising love as the great commandment, and the realities of modern life.

For example, there would be no entry under "F" for Facebook, a current site of ethical concerns.

A strong emphasis is placed on first understanding the viewpoints of others, and then offering a Christian alternative, if need be, in a reasonable and constructive way.

Even within the church there are differences of opinion on ethical issues, so creating a safe environment for ethics discussion is important.

This is achieved primarily by encouraging each other to "play the ball and not the player". Using stories as tools in ethics discussions will lead to a greater appreciation that ethical decisions are embedded in relationships, rather than being free-floating intellectual calculations.

Recommended for groups wanting to start talking about ethics.

Trevor Jordan is the founder of Encouraging Ethics .