Three Balancing PrinciplesArticle / Produced by TOW Project
For Alexander Hill, “the foundation of Christian ethics in business is the changeless character of God.” The commands or principles that humans should follow are defined by the character of God. Note that although Hill starts with God’s character, his method is not considered a form of character-based ethics, as will be described a little later. This is because when it comes to determining how humans should act, Hill’s method is to develop rules and principles. Rules and principles are the hallmarks of the command approach to ethics.
The most common recurring descriptions of God’s character in the Bible are holiness, justice and love. Our laws, rules and practices should bring about holiness, justice and love. Hill maintains that Christian ethics requires that all three principles be taken into account all the time. Each, like a leg on a three-legged stool, balances the other two. Overemphasizing the importance of one at the expense of the others always leads to a distortion in ethical thinking. For example, an overemphasis on holiness can easily lead to rules that require Christians to withdraw from the world into a kind of impotent isolationism. An overemphasis on justice can easily produce excessively harsh penalties for breaking the rules. An overemphasis on love can sometimes lead to vagueness and lack of accountability.
Hill’s approach would seem to provide for a better balance than those that just focus on a single principle. It does provide some help to explore both personal and social ethical dimensions. However, the concepts of love, justice and holiness still need explaining by referring to other principles. The hope of reducing the vast mass of rules to a few master principles remains once again unfulfilled.