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bits from bob....

Faith Development How? - Moralizing vs. Developing Moral Reasoning

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Church leaders, especially those who preach and teach, must study and understand faith development and motivation. The church hears a lot of moralizing in classes and sermons, but almost every church has members who remain basically immoral. I urged my preaching students to avoid moralizing, i.e. you must, we need to, you ought to, and we have to. The church does not need more moralizing-the church must learn moral reasoning. The church does not need moralizing leaders and preachers; the church needs examples who lead by moral principles and can teach others moral reasoning. Moralizing does not motivate faithfulness. People struggle with faith because they have not learned moral reasoning.

In a world of bumper-sticker morality which reduces the most important ethical questions of life to sound-bites and clichés, the sermon is not the place for another sound-bite. (And God deliver us from sermons that are cliché collections!) The effective sermon does not depend on moralizing. Moral behavior is not the result of moralizing, threats or demands. Moral behavior arises from a clear self-identity rooted in faith.

Therefore I maintain that the church is not a place for moralizing, but is rather a place for moral reasoning-a place to learn what must be discussed and how to discuss the most serious and difficult ethical questions. At church, we learn how to progress beyond contrasts of punishment and obedience; we do more than revert to ethical relativism. It is not enough to be good, nor does mere law (legalism) provide the necessary order and motivation. Moral reasoning identifies ethical principles and applies them in the context of relationships.

Christian moral reasoning is possible only by combining Biblical studies, ethics, relationships, and the cultural context of life and ministry. May God send us those who will lead us to stronger faith-not by shaming us or scolding us or "shoulding" us, but by leading us in thoughtful study and life applications that teach us to think the faith.


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Last updated July 7, 2011