There is no Judeo-Christian Ethic…

In Kingdom Conspiracy Scot Mcknight makes an argument that the church in American has bought into the temptation of Constantinianism. This is especially evident in the form of civil religion that has emerged as Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and Evangelicals  have become more and more involved in furthering a particular political agenda.

Here is what he says about this civil religion which is based upon a “Judeo-Christian” Ethic.

There is no such thing as an ethic that is both “Judeo” and “Christian,” for one simple reason: the “Christian” part of the ethical question adds Jesus as Messiah, the cross as the paradigm, the resurrection as the power, the Holy Spirit as the transforming agent, the necessity of new birth, and the church as the place where God is at work. Hence, a “Judeo-Christian ethic” either strips the Christian elements or turns the “Judeo” part into a Christian ethic.

That is a pretty powerful claim. What do you make of it?


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

5 thoughts on “There is no Judeo-Christian Ethic…

  1. Interesting. Hadn’t thought about that before. The “Judeo” ethic, if you go strictly by the Levitical code, seems to be based upon law with strict discipline and ritual and with very particular punishments.

    I THINK the term makes the assumption that the Christian ethic is similarly based in the law… something that is PARTIALLY true in that it’s pretty obvious that Jesus (and later, Paul) did regard the Law as important… but that the Law actually had a priority build in with love, forgiveness, and sacrifice at the top, superceding other laws. So… throw the “Christian” in there and the “Judeo” follows along but is limited by the “Christian” part.

    The way, though, that it is used in public discourse is certainly MUCH more “Judeo” than “Christian” as it is usually used to indicate a law code of ethics with specific punishments/sanctions imposed when they are violated…. that’s more Jewish than Christian, certainly…

    1. I think you are on to something Robert. Scot definitely is implying that the “Judeo” & “Christian” parts have radically different foundations, or different points of departure, to lump them into one ethic is to erase the major & important differences between the two.

  2. I always took the term Judeo-Christian to be referring to and emphasizing the shared influences from both religions (i.e. the Ten Commandments), not to be implying that they are one and the same. If we’re to understand it in that way then what about the term Greco-Roman? Does that mean that we either mean Rome was a democracy of city states or that Greece was an empire that ruled for hundreds of years, or are we simply referring to the shared cultural heritage and borrowing/influence that occurred? In other words, I think these sorts of terms are more like the middle of a venn diagram than anything else. Of course there are incompatible aspects on either side. That’s the point.

    Seems to me like he may have made a straw man argument here. Of course, I only have this small excerpt to base it on.

    1. Greco-Roman isn’t necessarily used in the same way as “Judeo-Christian”… in political discourse, “Judeo-Christian” is used to defend the religious basis of the USA and justify that, yes, this IS a “Christian nation”. So, while I get your point, I think it’s a justified critique of the term in it’s more popular usage.

    2. Interesting thoughts Josh. I think the excerpt is pretty representative of his thought though. He seems to be arguing against american civil religion which is roughly based off Judeo-Christian ethics. His position is that any form of civil religion – especially in the US which has a “judeo-christian” background – “denies the cross, the resurrection, and the Lordship of Christ over all, and cannot be squared with the gospel.”

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