In his new book Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely About Right and Wrong (Crossway Books, 2007), Ryan Snuffer, along with co-author Norman Geisler, examines the treacherous landscape of Christian ethics. With such diverse opinions and disagreements within the Church, Snuffer and Geisler approach a wide variety of subjects with a solidly biblical foundation.
Recently, RELEVANT was able to discuss the book with Mr. Snuffer and gain new insights into his perspective of the conversation within the Church about the ethical issues of our day.
Tell us a little bit about your background, testimony, education and ministry experience.
I am a 33-year-old follower of Christ. In ministry, I have been a youth pastor, associate pastor, high-school Bible teacher and speaker. I have avoided the senior pastorate role because I want to avoid being too influenced by the politics of church. I also teach philosophy at a small university in West Virginia.
I grew up in a very conservative church and a somewhat conservative home. As a teenager, I rebelled against all that, spent my time in the party scene, nearly flunked out of college and started over in a Christian fundamentalist college. While there, I began to see many inconsistencies in conservative churches in both doctrine and practice. I began researching issues, some of which show up in Love Your Neighbor, and found that conservatives were not always right. I also found that there is much more room in the body of Christ for open dialogue and discussion than some Christian leaders want us to think.
What was your inspiration to write Love Your Neighbor?
I was working on my doctorate while teaching high school in Charlotte, N.C. I wanted to teach ethics, but could not find an appropriate text. The only books I could find seemed to approach ethics by beginning with the Ten Commandments and then finding a way to fit all the issues into a far right Republican agenda.
I thought that it was more important to teach people to think, rather than tell them what to think. My goal was not to convince people of a political platform or even a specific interpretation of the Bible.
I wrote the earliest edition of the book while I was teaching the material. I then approached Norm Geisler about co-authoring this project with me. I felt that he would provide sound ideas and scholarship, while I would try to connect the material with a popular audience.
What prompted you to include the subject of civil disobedience? It is not a common topic of discussion within Christian circles.
This topic appeared in Dr. Geisler’s Christian Ethics, last published in 1989 with Baker. I felt that it was relevant to society today on a number of levels. For instance, if a Christian is drafted to fight in a war that he believes is unjust, would it be sin for him to not go? Or would it be a sin for him to go, even though his conscience would condemn him?
Do you see this issue becoming more and more important in the years ahead?
I hope not. I do not like the thought of the kind of society that would prompt conscientious Christians to openly disobey the authority of government. I do see it as a possibility.
You also address economic injustice. Especially in the United States, money is a very private matter and a sensitive topic within the Church. Do you think the Church in our country has done a good job in response to how we handle our wealth and our response to helping the poor?
I’ve actually heard Christians say that the poor will always be with us; therefore, the fact that there is poverty in our society should not be a big concern. I’ve heard others criticize welfare on the grounds that the Church should be taking care of the poor. I think this is a fair criticism; however, what if the Church isn’t helping? What if the best the Church can do to help is still not enough? These are all questions I don’t have answers for, but hopefully through the book, we can work toward finding them.
The subject of wealth, taxes and generosity has become a political discussion. How does the Church overcome partisan lines and still remain true to the response we should have as followers of Christ?
I’m not sure. If you figure this one out, let me know. In short, this is a spiritual problem that pastors should deal with. If we truly love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves or our own family members, we would do more to help them. Bottom line. And we should not help people just to get them to join our churches or convert them to Christianity.
We should give people clothes because they need clothes. We should give them food because they need food. We should help them because we love them. God will bring people into His fold as He sees fit. It is great if we end up with opportunities to share the Gospel, but this is not the only reason for helping the poor.
Does the Christian have a responsibility to respond to poverty around the world? Or should it be only local?
We are all called to help in different ways. For most of us, there are many local opportunities. These are usually the easiest to get involved in because they affect our communities directly. I think that story of the Good Samaritan provides a good model for the kind of concern we should have for people that are different than we are, or people who live in a different part of the world.
There is increasing media exposure of environmental problems through books like An Inconvenient Truth (and the accompanying film) and events like Live Earth. Do you think the Church has responded well to the problem?
Overall the Church has responded poorly to this issue. Although there is likely a bit of truth and fiction on each side of this debate, I believe that the quick answers provided by many in church leadership are way off the mark of truth. The fact is, the Bible provides many principles that support a pro-ecology position.
Do you see a movement within mainstream Christianity to go “green” happening in the near future?
I see it already happening on a subsurface level. An increasing number of people my age and younger are thinking about it. Unfortunately, many of the older folks are slower to respond to this crisis. Last summer I spoke at the International Society for Christian Apologetics in a workshop. I presented “A Biblical Approach to Ecology.” After presenting what I believe to be a biblical position, I was hammered with questions about how unpractical it is to be pro-ecology. One man even mentioned that the world is going to come to an end soon anyway, so it is a waste of time to concern ourselves with such issues.
In light of the United States’ involvement in Iraq, do you think the Church has responded to the conflict biblically?
I think that Christians are guilty of appealing to the Old Testament too often when it comes to defending this war. Likewise, these same Christians do not want to apply the teachings of Christ to this war. On the other hand, some Christians actually see this war as unbiblical and inconsistent with just war theory.
Are we more apt to support a war because the sitting president is a born-again Christian? Do you think the Church’s support for the war would be different if Bill Clinton were the Commander in Chief?
Probably, especially those on the far right. We would all like to think that our current president prayed long and hard about his decision to fight this war. I suppose that only he and God knows whether this really happened. I hope it did.
Do you think the Church is hypocritical in its support of a violent war where so many lives are lost?
I think that there can be such a thing as justifying the loss of life as long as the war is just, and fought justly. However, many see this war as unjust; therefore, any loss of life is unjust. Others see the war as just, but that poor decisions have been made, resulting in the tragic loss of innocent life. And just to get something off my chest—I hate the phrase “collateral damage.” It is a cold and heartless way to describe the innocent casualties of any war.
Do you foresee a revised book where more timely issues will be raised?
Yes. In fact, once I reviewed the finished product in my hand for the first time, I wanted to kick myself for not including the issue of racism. I went ahead and posted a little something on racism on my website, www.questionreality.org. I hope that Crossway will want to do a revision in a few years, by which time I expect the ethical landscape to have changed in our culture once again.
Thank you for your time and insight. Looking forward, what are some of those ethical issues you foresee as being important in the years ahead?
The medical ethical issues will continue to change. As new technology is developed, there will be more controversial issues that arise. I also anticipate that ecological issues will become even more urgent. Although more evangelicals are beginning to see global warming and related issues as a real threat, there are still many Christians that refuse to think this one through. War is an evolving issue in the sense that wars are being fought differently than they were in the past, with the potential for greater loss of human life. Technology will affect this area as well.