| David W. Gill Ph.D., Becoming Good.
Becoming good is not simply a matter of a few dos and dont’s. In fact we can’t begin to do the right things until we have built an adequate foundation. This is precisely what David Gill sets out to help us do.
Book Review by Jennifer Lahl, B.S.N., M.A. Executive Director, The Center for Bioethics and Culture
Becoming Good: Building Moral Character
During a period of heightened interest in books written about virtue and moral character, David Gill positions his contribution specifically ‘outside the scholarly guild’ and primarily to the ‘thoughtful Christians’ (pg. 3) but remains successful in his effort to write a book of interest to the more scholarly and philosophically minded. Through in depth footnotes, endnotes and side bar highlights, the more serious reader is able to have the resources to dig deeper into Greek philosophies, ethical theories and theological doctrines. For example, in the chapter on ‘The Goodness of God’, Gill does justice to the different philosophical positions on what is the good and how do we know it. He takes the reader through Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Ellul and others but lands with goodness coming from God and our ability to be good and know good as we grow in our knowledge of God and His character. The general content of the book achieves his goal of writing a study on virtue and character ethics from a Christian perspective. Over and over we are reminded that our character is not on or off, that we are not to be in character or out of character, but that our character is the ongoing, daily ‘inclination of our hearts and minds’ (pg. 144).
This book is divided into three parts. Part one, called ‘Prepare’, develops the tools and skills needed to lay down a moral foundation on which to build our moral character. He rightly reminds us that we live in a moral wilderness, born without a morally developed character and the life long process of character formation requires our active attention. The communities we live in, both secular and sacred, help prepare us to become good as we develop skills to live in relationships with one another, through thick and thin. The chapter entitled, ‘Ethics Isn’t Pretty’ challenges Christians to actively engage in the messy business of ethics. Gill states that ‘it is a matter of obedience and fidelity to Jesus Christ that demands our interest in recovering a robust, vital, insightful Christian ethic.’ (pg. 23).
Part two, called ‘Build’, incorporates Jesus’ Beatitudes and the Pauline virtues, faith, hope and love into the foundation of our moral character. Gill looks at five roles Christians live out. Through our role as a disciple of Christ, we must become faithful, holy and wise. Our faithfulness must become habitual and foundational so that we might be wise and holy. As servants, we are to be meek, mournful and poor in spirit, willing to assume a servants position. To be Christian leaders we need to hunger for righteousness and be lovers of mercy, and not get caught in the radical autonomy and personal rights language of the day, as we understand justice. If we are to become peacemakers, we need to sacrificially love one another and have purity of heart, promoting reconciliation and the ability for people to flourish. Finally, as ambassadors for Christ we are to be hopeful, joyful and courageous, boldly sharing the Good News. As we build these virtues into our character we become like Christ; we become good.
In the third part, called ‘Test’, Gill points out what might happen to us if we choose not to actively involve ourselves in a character-building program. If we do not become faithful, holy and wise we will become conformed to the world and accommodate to our culture. Unless we develop a servant’s heart, we run the risk of being arrogant know-it-alls. Apathy to our communities and uninvolvement with our world comes at the risk of not being righteous, just and merciful leaders We become divisive and antagonistic if we are not committed to being peacemakers. Lastly, if we deny the hope we have in Christ and abandon our call to serve as ambassadors for Him; Gill accuses us of being selfish escapists. Becoming Good is not a self-help book for how to live a problem free life. It is not a book of promises, if you do this then this will happen. It is a call back to the goodness of God, to know God through scripture, and to be committed to a daily effort of following Christ’s example of how to live in but not of the world. One of the greatest strengths of this book are the questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. These questions will serve the individual reading this book well and also provide a great study guide for small groups looking to learn more about ethics from a Christian perspective.
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