Ethics Reading Group
Our online Ethics Reading Group is led by our Tutor in Christian Ethics, Matthew Mason. The group discusses classic and contemporary ethics texts, some of which are immediately accessible, some of which are more challenging.
The group is open to anyone interested in Christian ethics, but is especially intended to help pastors think about important ethical questions and to dig deeper into what they are reading. Together, we learn from the writings of wise guides about how to think about and teach important ethical topics in ways that help and enrich our congregations.
This term, we will study one of the greatest and most important works of ethics, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (NE).
It may seem surprising to focus our attention on a pre-Christian pagan philosopher. Indeed, early in his career, Luther called Aristotle, ‘the worst enemy of grace’. However, NE had a huge influence on Christian theological ethics, including Protestant ethics, and still offers rich insights today. Yet, because Aristotle was not a Christian thinker, we will also think hard together about how the gospel modifies and corrects his insights.
Herman Bavinck described NE as ‘a practically useful, measured morality that was satisfying in practice’, and told his ethics students that ‘We can profit from Aristotelian thought, and without doubt, Aristotle’s Ethics is the best philosophical ethics available’ (Reformed Ethics, Vol 1, pp. 3, and xxxviii).
As scholars are increasingly recognising, our Protestant forebears recognised the value of NE. In the 150 years following the Reformation, it was a standard work among the Reformed and Lutherans for teaching ethics, with at least 50 commentaries being written by confessional Protestants in that period, as well as many other ethical works highly influenced by Aristotle. Even Luther eventually changed his mind, and in 1543 argued that ‘Aristotle similarly also [wrote and taught] excellently and very learnedly about ethics. Indeed, the books of both [Aristotle and Cicero] are very useful and of the highest necessity for the conduct of this life.’
Although it may seem daunting to tackle a text like this, it is more accessible than many more recent ethics texts, and a short introductory reading guide will be provided.
There are many translations available, and it is possible to find free versions of older translations online. However, it is strongly recommended that participants obtain the third edition of the following translation, which is clear and accurate, and comes with an extremely helpful introduction, notes, and glossary of Aristotle’s key terms:
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Terrence Irwin (3rd edition; Hackett Publishing Company, 2019). ISBN: 978-1624668159
London Reading Group
Our reading group is open to any serious reader of Christian literature.
We meet several times a year to discuss classic and contemporary theological works. Our meetings are held at London Seminary in Finchley, from 11am to 3pm. Please bring a packed lunch with you.
Discussions for the book that we are reading are sent out by email about two weeks before the group meets. The questions are prepared by a volunteer from the group, who then leads the discussion.
In 2018/19 the group has read Apostasy from the Gospel by John Owen (abridged and made easy to read by R.J.K. Law), The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, Calvin’s Company of Pastors by Scott M. Manetsch, and Thoughts on Religious Experience by Archibald Alexander.
To find out more about the group, and how to join, get in touch.