So, I’m essentially done with my major research on both Thomas Aquinas and Kongzi (Confucius), and today I started into my research on Jonathan Edwards. One of the interesting questions that you run into, especially when approaching ethic from a Reformed perspective, is whether non-Christians can be good in any meaningful sense of the word. This is because ‘good’ both by Augustine and by many Reformed theologians is defined as ‘God and God alone.’ That is to say that any action that does not both stem from God’s will and return to God’s glory is a wicked action (i.e. God is the formal, but not necessarily the efficient, and final cause of the action). Thus, the argument goes, God is good, and those who are beneficiaries of his grace are capable of doing that which is truly good because he alters their wicked natures to be able to know him and know his will so that they might be able to choose to act on it. This can be compared to bringing home flowers that you intend to give to your secretary the next day, only to find out that they are your wife’s favorite flower and she had been pining for flowers all day. Though bringing home the flowers might be similar to something that would please your wife, the fact that they are for your secretary and not your wife kind of destroys any pleasure that she might take in them. Similarly, the same action can be pleasing to God when done because of an intention to please him, but displeasing to God because it is done for some other reason.
The argument has been raised that this concept of ‘good’ makes it impossible for non-Christians to every do anything that can actually be described as good. Thus, this raises the question of whether non-Christians can be or do good in any meaningful sense of the word. Now, because of the way the ideas interrelate either a yes or a no answer has significant impact. If the answer is yes, non-Christians can be and/or do good, then we are forced to question whether we are even using the same definition of good, and if we are, how they can do good. If the answer is no, then we must deal with the seemingly elitist result that only Christians can be good in any meaningful sense of the word.
So, your challenge this week is a little bit specific: I want you to assume a Reformed perspective and then answer the question ‘Can non-Christians be/do good in any meaningful sense of the word?’ Once you’ve done this, the actual challenge begins. You are to write a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your conception of the impact that your answer to the question has at a practical level. Have fun!