ETHICS & Implications of Wesley’s quote: I would not tell a lie to save the souls of the whole world.

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/2/10.

John Wesley famously said, “I would not tell a lie, no, not to save the souls of the whole world.” So, I ask my students to grapple with this.

One student remarked that according to a book he read (written by two of my close friends, Gary McIntosh and Charles “Chip” Arn) that “the goal of your financial investing should be to make the greatest number of disciples” (What Every Pastor Should Know).

Subsequently, the discussion turned to a discussion if finances could be used in an unethical way because more people would be saved as a result.  As I mentioned above, I know the authors of the book and this is of course not what they are saying.

But, this reminds us that outcomes can (but should they?) be used to justify the means.

According to John Wesley’s writings, it has to do with our understanding of God’s foundational action in love. Here are some questions that will help our understanding of ethical actions:

  • Would God have us do something unethical to make the greatest amount of disciples (This is part of the question in the story of the “plank of Carneades.”)
  • In other words, should we do something that furthers benefit to ourselves or even someone else’s soul … when that action is unethical?
  • And finally, would God require such action?

What are your thoughts?  If you are a student of mine, you can reply in the discussion forums to garner more points.  For all others, this is a good exercise to keep your leadership team sharp when considering ethical dilemmas.

ETHICS & How Does Jesus’ Call to Self-sacrifice Impact the Plank of Carneades?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 9/1/15.

In an earlier posting, I described the classic ethical dilemma of the Plank of Carneades.  Read this posting if you have not already done so read my introduction to the Plank of Carneades.  Then undertake the following exercise.

What Part Does Self-sacrifice Play?

When considering what he would do regarding the Plank of Carneades, a student shared the importance of self-sacrifice for a stranger.  He stated,

“If I managed to get to the board first, it would be very hard for me to let it go knowing that I would not survive. It would be different if person B was my wife, or someone else I cared for; I would gladly give them the board. If I could be in a Christian spiritual state of mind in that situation, I know I could give the board to any person B, but, I am just being realistic here, God would have to give me that peace to make that sacrifice. I do think I would be willing to ask God to give me that peace” (student, anonymous).

I especially think it is important to note that he said, “God would have to give me that peace to make that sacrifice.”  That is an important aspect.  And, Church History is replete with examples of persons who gave their lives for others.  And, that “peace” to give up one’s life for a stranger is a powerful and spiritual force.

I often give students a short (optional) exercise for anyone wishing to garner more points (or needs to 🙂 in my courses. This can also be an exercise for your small group or leadership team.  Here is the exercise:

  • Do a quick Internet search,
  • Cut/paste a story about a Christian who gave their life for another.
  • Focus on what it takes to have “peace to make that sacrifice.”

The Key is Preparation for Sacrifice

The reason I think this endeavor important, is because ethical behavior requires self-sacrifice (according to Hill 1997:50-51).  Therefore, how can be prepare for such situations? The key lies in a readiness to deny our self.  Because this runs against our human instincts (except when we have a close, e.g. family, relationship) we must look at how to address this if we are to prepare to act in love.

Thus, contemplating about how to foster self-sacrifice is a crucial part of regular spiritual formation.  I hope all of us will pray and seek God who can prepare us for self-sacrifice in His name.

Here is a verse that sums this up nicely this connection between acting in love and sacrifice:

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.1 John 4:7-10 (The Message)