Ethicists' challenges & resources noted by Coppenger

by By T. Patrick Hudson, posted Monday, March 20, 2017 (8 months ago)

Mark Coppenger, a former president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, describes challenges Christian ethicists face in today's culture as well as key resources -- such as Scripture, the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ -- for doing their work.
MBTS photo by Liz Stack.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- A former president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Mark Coppenger, delivered this year's C.W. Scudder Lectures on Ethics at the Kansas City, Mo., campus.

MBTS President Jason Allen said the legacy of Coppenger as Midwestern's third president from 1995-1999 "continues on to this very day, especially in the area of faculty hires. There are still professors and administrators serving our seminary who were hired by Dr. Coppenger. We are truly grateful for all he's done to further Christ's Kingdom and, in particular, for his fine leadership of this institution during his tenure."

Coppenger, in beginning his lectures, noted that his titles reflected a country music flair, as he currently resides in Nashville. The first lecture, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Ethicists," tackled difficulties and challenges potential Christian ethicists can face when interacting with today's culture.

Coppenger noted, for example, what he called "the dirty weapons" that people who oppose Christian ethicists' views employ in making their case, such as intimidation to sway opinion and the use of phobias to frighten people about ethical issues.

To this last point, Coppenger said the ethics war is "largely fought by giving people creepy names and terrifying them so they run for cover."

"And I think we may run for cover a little bit too easily," he stated, "and may desire to be thought of well too much." He added, "I have to say I'm a little bit worried about that with the millennials."

There can and will be personal ramifications for those wishing to enter the field of Christian ethics, Coppenger said, acknowledging that a Christian ethicist's message can be divisive, though the ethicist should not go out of his or her way to alienate people. Coppenger also said there is a possibility that an ethicist could lose friendships over his or her stance.

Christian ethicists need to stick together and support one another in the fight, Coppenger added.

"You get embarrassed when you do that -- don't you? -- when you let somebody be pilloried and you didn't stick your neck out," he said. "There is a time for you to say, 'I do not care what this does to me ….'"

In his second lecture, "Mamas Encourage Your Babies to Grow Up to be Ethicists," Coppenger voiced encouragement that despite the difficulties Christian ethicists may face in the modern environment, they possess many tools to carry out their tasks effectively.

First, Coppenger noted that Christian ethicists have the riches of Scripture, the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ. It's comforting to have answers directly from the Word of God, he said, adding, "I feel so badly for people who have to make it up all themselves...."

Christian ethicists enjoy a "band of brothers" and sisters -- both ancient and contemporary such as Paul, Amos, William Carey and C.H. Spurgeon -- from whom to glean wisdom.

And it is a positive thing to confront the issues head on and deal with them because it opens an important, relevant dialogue at a time when people are "dying for solid answers with solid thinking behind them."

In wrapping up his Feb. 28 and March 1 lectures, Coppenger pointed out that silence, puzzlement and listening are great options when it comes to Christian ethics. "You really do not know everything instantly. It is good to model a certain kind of puzzlement, and then to just be quiet for a while and take a deep breath. That is an option."

In addition to his role as a seminary professor, Coppenger has authored the books "A Christian View of Justice"; "Bioethics: A Casebook"; and "Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians." He also is managing editor of the online Kairos Journal.

The Scudder Lectures are held annually at Midwestern to explore the biblical basis for dealing with contemporary social challenges and ethical issues. The lectureship honors the late C.W. Scudder, who served from 1975-1981 as administrator of internal affairs, as the institution's first vice president for business and development and senior professor of Christian ethics.

To view both of Coppenger's lectures, visit http://www.mbts.edu/video/scudder-lectures-with-dr-mark-coppenger-1/ and http://www.mbts.edu/video/scudder-lectures-with-dr-mark-coppenger-2/.

T. Patrick Hudson is executive assistant to the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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