Open conversation on the crucial ethical issues of our day is infrequent. There is certainly no shortage of highly charged rhetoric of opinion. But, a willingness to look at both sides of complex issues that are the lightning rods of our religious, political and social debate is rare.
Adam Hamilton’s work, Confronting the Controversies: A Christian Looks at the Tough Issues, is that rare attempt to address serious ethical issues in open fashion. The book is based on sermons Hamilton preached as pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.
In the past decade he has led the church in a period of phenomenal growth from mission status to a weekly attendance of more than 6,000. One might argue that a successful tenure of some length provides a stable platform for a pastor to preach on such controversial issues.
Sermons on church/state separation, creationism/evolution, the death penalty, euthanasia, prayer in public schools, abortion and homosexuality are the basis for each chapter. Each chapter is ordered as follows: a prayer, Scripture texts, analysis of the issue, conclusion and effective follow-up questions for thought and discussion.
The author does well to present both sides of an issue, necessary historical analysis, and to state his opinion clearly without regarding his view as the only acceptable Christian position.
Hamilton’s aim is fourfold: to help Christians learn how to do Christian ethics, to provide a healthy model for ethical dialog that respects other opinions, to teach both Christians and non-Christians how the Christian faith relates to contemporary issues and to meet the goals of any sermon–evangelize, encourage discipleship, challenge prophetically and extend pastoral care.
His method of ethical analysis employs John Wesley’s “Quadrilateral” of four tools: Scripture, tradition, experience and reason. Hamilton stays true to both his aims and method. The result is an excellent example of how to address the issues of our day in an effective, consistent and honest fashion.
What are Hamilton’s conclusions on these matters of debate? While advocating strong Christian participation in the affairs of government, he is equally clear that the church “should not try to use the government to promote our faith,” nor expect the state to do the work of the church.
He speaks out against the death penalty, saying, “through the death penalty we, the society and state, usurp God’s authority, power, and time line and as Christians we contradict the gospel we proclaim.” He does admit that his position has evolved and he fairly represents Old Testament evidence for the death penalty.
The book provides compelling ethical arguments against any forms of active euthanasia and against state-sponsored prayer in schools. A loving pastoral heart is apparent in Hamilton’s treatment of abortion and homosexuality. He clearly struggles with the issues and extends grace and compassion without reservation to all, yet maintains an ethical position true to his biblical convictions that these practices are outside God’s intentions for our lives.
Who will profit from Confronting the Controversies? Pastors will profit from reading sermons of ethical conviction that state positions in a truly Christian manner. The book’s plain language and the questions posed after each chapter make the book ideal for individual or small group study.
This book will probably do little good where Christians hold opinions with an absolute certainty and leave no room for dialog or disagreement. But, where Christians in community seek understanding through open dialog, this book can effectively promote healthy ethical analysis on some of our day’s more controversial issues.
Jack Glasgow is pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C.