“Preface” to my book, BIBLICAL ETHICS: An Exegetical Approach to the Morality of Happiness

WHEN WE LIVE the way we are supposed to God is glorified and we are blessed (happy)! Sadly, most modern Christians take issue with the notion that happiness is for the here-and-now, delaying it for the afterlife. Too often we gorge ourselves on an ethical diet of doing the “right thing” out of a sense of duty while our taste buds for serving God out of a sense of desire become dull and desensitized.
• In this volume, I tackle the ethical paradox between duty and desire showing that a proper morality of happiness actually accounts for both in a complementary way.

From my personal experience undertaking a moral survey, the default ethic in the church seems to dictate that morality, which is for the here-and-now, is governed by rules (i.e., obligation and prohibition) in order to foster the common good of all. It mandates that we sacrifice individual happiness for the sake of others, whenever possible. Sadly, the majority of Christians today believe that the concepts of morality and happiness are counterintuitive and thus mutually exclusive.
• In this volume, I argue against the notion that morality and happiness make strange bedfellows. Far from it, morality, which encompasses duty, and happiness, which encompasses desire, actually fit hand-in-glove.
• Moreover, morality and happiness are actually biblical concepts, which have inspired the production of classical philosophy and religious literature, as well as commentary, ad nauseam, on both. As a matter of fact, the term “morality of happiness,” used by Julia Annas, is a positive expression of their complementary nature.

A proper morality of happiness —objective happiness—seasons the virtuous soul to function as it was designed, fulfilling our rational nature as moral human beings. Sadly, too many Christians today are robbed of this pleasure when they interpret true happiness as hedonism.
• In this volume, I demonstrate that the church is throwing the baby out with the bathwater when, in the name of piety, objective happiness—the biblical view of happiness—is confused for subjective happiness—a merely emotional, and thus relativistic view of happiness.

The biblical view of happiness is cultivated by living according to biblical virtues or practices, such as “justice and righteousness,” which are motivated by human flourishing. Sadly, the church as a whole has got it half right when it comes to living in the kingdom of God: biblical practices are interpreted as moral obligations for their own sake and not for the sake of human flourishing.
• In this volume, I show that God inspires us to flourish via human obedience to divine commands.

Human flourishing (Greek, eudaimonia), however, was never meant to be lived in isolation from the community of believers. Sadly, most prosperity gospel proponents hyper-focus on their own momentary prosperity at the expense of living in “right relationships” within the body of Christ.
• In this volume, I explain that with a proper morality of happiness there is no room for selfishness; rather, we look out for the good of others as well as our own. This enables us to flourish together to live life to the fullest as a community.
• When the world witnesses this kind of symbiotic flourishing, it will come banging on the doors of the church begging to come in.

The pursuit of true happiness in this life, although not perfect happiness, has been the dominant ethical view of the church throughout church history, until recently. Ironically, most modern believers dismiss the pursuit of happiness as a recent, relativistic invention.
• In this volume, I discuss how the church’s most influential theologians, particularly St. Augustine and St. Aquinas, have espoused a eudaimon lifestyle.

Eudaimonia intentionally reflects the happiness of the Godhead. Sadly, too many Christians today believe that divine commands, which make eudaimonia possible, are all voluntarist (arbitrary) commands.
• In this volume, I espouse the view that far from being arbitrary, most divine commands are “asherist commands” (to borrow a term from Ellen Charry) fixed on God’s immutably benevolent and flourishing character. Thus, when we flourish on earth we reflect the flourishing of the Holy Trinity.
• But far more than mirroring divine flourishing we are meant to be active participants in the happiness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit here on earth.

Biblical Ethics (Volumes I and II), broadly speaking, is an amalgamation and culmination of over ten years of study and research in the academic fields of Bible, theology, philosophy, ethics, psychology, and sociology. My theme in restoring a biblical view of a morality of happiness to an anemic church is similar to that of Julia Annas’ in The Morality of Happiness, whereby she retrieves happiness for classical philosophy, and Ellen T. Charry’s in God and the Art of Happiness, whereby she “recovers the historical trajectory of the Western theological discussion of happiness.” Our common denominator is that we seek to restore happiness, although my method is not as philosophical as Annas’ or as theological as Charry’s. I focus on a more exegetical approach, which happens to overlap with the disciplines of Western philosophy and theology. Ressourcement (a French word), which means a “return to the sources”—scripture, as well as to the patristic fathers and medieval theologians —is the main method I employ in this book. The purpose of this type of restoration is to aid Christians in enjoying God, creation, and self, which means, philosophically, to enjoy the “good life,” or to be empowered to live life to the fullest, as Jesus taught. This book is written for any and all Christian leaders, whether in the pastorate, seminary, or academic settings. My desire is to see the biblically deep-rooted moral principles that are substantiated in these volumes taught and lived out among the leaders of this generation, so their pupils—tomorrow’s leaders—are not stymied from flourishing by the same ethical roadblocks that have inhibited our generation’s calling and destiny to be blessed in order to be a blessing.

San Clemente, California                                                                                                             C.J.D.
October 2016

Chester Delagneau

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