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Towards integrated character

21 May 2012

David Atkinson reads disjointed reflections on discipleship

Joined-Up Life: A Christian account of how ethics works
Andrew J. B. Cameron

IVP £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

IT’S a good title. And Andrew Cameron’s aim is a good one: to show how our humanity is at its best when united with and unified by Christ. This is really a book about how to live the Christian life in which faith and practice are integrated.

The subtitle is confusing, however. Cameron himself says that he is not too happy with the word “ethics”: he is really exploring Christian character formation, and builds up what he calls a “unified field” for understanding responses to Jesus Christ which draw on categories such as God’s character, creation, a “Jesus-shaped commun­ity”, God’s new future, and the place of rules in learning to love. But he does so, in part, in conversa­tion with the world of secular ethics. This gives him some of his agenda.

Cameron teaches at Moore College, Sydney, and names as his intellectual guides people such as Michael Banner, Oliver O’Donovan, the Australian theologian Michael Hill, and Archbishop Peter Jensen. The tone of the book is a Reformed Evangelicalism, but not a narrow one. There are many biblical references, and a warm gospel flavour.

We are taken through various ethical themes, then through the way Jesus changes ethics — a chapter on the atone­ment, another on the resurrection, for example — and eventually into some practical examples of how his “unified field” approach to the Christian life makes an impact on such topics as drunkenness, rage, forgiveness, freedom, obedience, and church life. There are glances at singleness, marriage, children, friendship, sustainability, and work, and finally a (to my mind, strange) selection of very brief “hotspots” of just a page or two each (women, sex, homosexuality, bioethics, divers­ity, and Christian engagement with secular culture).

I cannot decide for whom Cameron is writing. The chatty, anecdotal style — full of references to films — suggests the “ordinary Christian reader”. But many theological assumptions are made, and the book is more than 300 pages long; so that is asking a lot. It is not deep enough to be an ethics textbook. Cameron acknowledges that each chapter is “ridiculous” in trying to tackle so much in so brief a compass. The last part seems to be written in order to persuade secular readers that a (fairly conservative) Christian viewpoint on these topics is not as objectionable as they might assume, and as a plea for giving each other respect for diverse views.

It could be a good resource for sermons, and some of the chapters would be very good discussion starters for a home group. But, as a book, it is not quite “joined up” enough for me.

Dr Atkinson is an Hon Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Southwark.

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