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Chair in Christian Social Ethics

What is Christian Social Ethics?

The discipline of Christian social ethics was born in the western Christian world in the late nineteenth century. It emerged in response to the grave and visible gap between the typical vision and ministries of Christian churches and the social problems occasioned by mass industrialisation and urbanisation. While the churches were focusing on evangelism, personal morality, and institutional growth, social changes were rendering such an approach not just irrelevant but manifestly cruel in its apparent indifference to suffering neighbours. 

While economic issues initiated the birth of the field and continue to be important, Christian social ethics addresses all kinds of social moral issues as they arise. For example, throughout its history this discipline has devoted considerable effort to rejecting and limiting the resort to violence. Christian social ethicists were among those who took the lead in rejecting pervasive white racism in the United States, leading and supporting the US Civil Rights Movement, and helped to shape the decisive turn against the death penalty in Europe, Canada, and many US states. 

In view of the problems created by modern industrial capitalism, as well as the increasingly visible Communist and Socialist critiques not just of industrial capitalism but of its Christian apologists, innovative college and seminary leaders began reconfiguring their theology and ethics courses to integrate a social-ethics component. Searching questions began to be asked about the meaning of Jesus Christ for society and not just for individual salvation and personal morality. The result, when in full flower, came to be called 'Social Christianity', and later was crystallised as the 'Social Gospel', pursuing a theology of the Kingdom of God taking form in this world, not just the next. This is the matrix from which contemporary Christian social ethics has emerged. 

Eventually, social-justice-oriented Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox scholars and leaders converged into a broader social-ethics guild, first in the West and eventually around the world. Today these leaders meet in such settings as the Societas Ethica (EU), the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics (UK), the Society of Christian Ethics (NA), and the American Academy of Religion.

On the whole, Christian social ethics affects what preachers preach and teach, what moral witness church leaders offer to governments at every level, and how Christians think and act on every relevant moral issue today – including global migration, religious freedoms, human rights, LGBT rights, torture, environmental care, bioethical concerns, racism, and so on. The discipline is, or should be, an integral part of each and every academic institute for theological education.

Introducing VU-IBTS Chair in Christian Social Ethics

In March 2021 David Gushee was appointed as Professor of Christian Social Ethics by the Executive Board of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) with IBTS. 

Christian ethics has long held a central place in the research agenda of IBTS and David Gushee’s appointment will significantly reinvigorate this work both in the academic and public spheres. The appointment exemplifies the creative nature of the collaborative partnership between the VU and IBTS. 

The new chair is part of the faculty department of Beliefs and Practices at the VU and focuses on PhD student supervision. Besides his work as a new professor in Amsterdam, Gushee continues his work for Mercer University, Atlanta (GA). 

In a press release marking the appointment of David Gushee, VU professor and dean of the faculty Ruard Ganzevoort said, 'Not only does Gushee’s work display our core values in combining academic excellence, societal relevance, and spiritual commitment, he also embodies our deeply valued partnership with the International Baptist Theological Study Centre.'

About David Gushee

David P. Gushee (1962; PhD, Union Theological Seminary in New York) served as an assistant professor for Christian Ethics at SBTS (Louisville, KT) from 1993–1996, before taking up various consecutive academic posts in moral philosophy at Union University (Jackson, TN). In 2007 he moved to Mercer University in order to serve as its Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics.

Gushee has written and/or edited 26 books and over 150 book chapters, journal articles and reviews, in addition to many opinion contributions to the popular press. Some of his most notable books are, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust (1994, based on PhD-thesis), The Sacredness of Human Life (2013), Changing Our Mind (2014, 2017) and After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity (2020).

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Background/motivation for the chair

Following the relocation of IBTS from Prague to Amsterdam in 2014 as a collaborative partner of VU-FRT a central component of IBTS strategy has been to further develop as a centre for academic research in areas of practical theology.

Given IBTS’s strong academic heritage, broad cultural-geographical grounding and well-established ethos and practice in reconciliation, human rights and religious freedoms, the VU Faculty of Religion and Theology (VU-FRT) saw an opportunity to develop fruitful collaboration with the IBTS Centre as an international partner. Christian social ethicists routinely discover that almost every social-ethics problem presents itself today in both local and global manifestations, and certainly does not “belong” to Christians alone. Thus, the situating of Christian ethics research in a university like the VU-FRT is a perfect fit – a school with historic Christian roots, along with a multicultural and multifaith current reality, is exactly right as a context for academic excellence and innovation. Thus, the collaboration works both ways. In particular, it offers the VU-FRT the potential for significant development of research and for the training of PhD students in Christian social ethics.

Activities of the Chair

The establishing of the Chair in Christian Social Ethics and David Gushee’s appointment with IBTS is opening up a range of opportunities for research, learning and conversation right across Europe in key areas of concern in contemporary society. The aim is to connect academics, policymakers, churches and practitioners, including, for example, NGOs, faith-based organisations, religious leaders, research specialists, and so on. The goal of all projects will be to advance social justice and the building of a more humane, just, and compassionate world – which is very much in line with the core values of the Vrije Universiteit and IBTS.

IBTS is thus pleased to offer opportunities for the training and supervision of doctoral candidates in social ethics from around the world.  

Conference: The Heart of Christian Ethics

Are you someone who cares about making good choices as a Christian?

Does your occupation require you to think through challenging life issues?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ then the IBTS ethics conference is for you.

Under the title The Heart of Christian Ethics and will be exploring the themes of the Sacredness of Life, Justice, Forgiveness, Truth and Love.
(4-6 May 2022, Amsterdam)

Ethics is for everyone!

So we want this conference to be a shared intercultural learning experience open to all. The invitation to join is for pastors, leaders, students, researchers, academics and those from, for example, the fields of politics, journalism, social work, development and education. Prof. David Gushee will be our theologian in residence for the conference.

We will be hearing stories of the lived experience of Christians dealing with themes like justice and truth. We will also hear from students and researchers and together we will do some serious theological reflection to better understand the impact of culture and context on our ethical thinking. Most importantly we will work together to help one another live ethically as disciples of Jesus.