July 05, 2013

Review: Chivalry by Zach Hunter

Zach Hunter. Chivalry: The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World (Tyndale, 2013), 240 pp.
In Chivalry, author Zach Hunter presents ten ethical principles (the titular “code of honor”) which he hopes will result “in a code of personal justice that —if we live it out today—will transform us.”

Rather than focusing on a list of do's and don'ts, Hunter attempts to present a positive ethic based on the pursuit of virtue. He offers helpful discussions about the moral law (pp. 138-141), the necessity of a transformed life (pp. 40-41), and the insidiousness of pride (pp. 48-49). So, the book is not without its merits.

Unfortunately, though, the bad outweighs the good. I won’t nitpick (though there are several smaller issues I could address), because, unfortunately, the problems with Chivalry are deep and pervasive.

The back of the book says that the genre is “Christian Spirituality,” but, honestly, you could have fooled me. There are echoes of theological liberalism and the social gospel smattered throughout. But, as any informed, orthodox Christian knows, theological liberalism is not Christianity, and the social gospel is no gospel is at all. The positive endorsements of Donald Miller (p. 123) and Shane Claiborne (p. 66) are troubling, but the real problem goes deeper than that. Hunter seems to have imbibed the notion that Christianity is more of a way of life than a system of belief (a system of belief with ethical implications to be sure), a notion that has much more in common with theological liberalism (and its evangelical cousin, pietism) than with historic orthodoxy. Though this error is actually quite common in contemporary evangelicalism (with its cries of “No creed but Christ!” and “Christianity is a relationship not a religion!”), historically-informed believers will recognize it for what it is. To be fair, Hunter explicitly denies that Christianity is all morality and no theology (p. 102), but, given the overall tenor of the book, it is too little, too late. The gospel is almost an afterthought in this book (there is one explicit reference to the atonement on p. 76). Even when the cross is mentioned, the discussion is shallow and man-centered.

Aside from some Christian terminology and a few references to Jesus Christ (mostly as a mere example to be followed, see pp. 28, 74, 79), there is little that is distinctively Christian about Hunter’s code of honor. Unfortunately, Hunter doesn’t seem to realize this, and neither will most of the people who read this book. I’m sure that Hunter would affirm the essentials of the faith. The problem is that, rather than making them explicit, he seems to assume them. He may believe the gospel, but, if this book is any indication, practically speaking, it’s of little importance.

Chivalry seems to (unintentionally I’m sure) reinforce the notion held by many nominal believers that living the Christian life is a difficult thing that can, nevertheless, be done in one’s own strength (Hunter almost says as much on page 181). It’s not. Biblically, the Christian life is not difficult but impossible (Matthew 19:25-26). The only life that is truly Christian is the one that is lived by the grace of God through Christ by the power of the Spirit (1 Peter 1:3-5; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8; pretty much the entire New Testament). I’m sure Hunter realizes this, but he doesn’t do a good enough job of getting it across.

I’m not sure who the intended audience for this book is (believers or unbelievers?), and I think that’s part of the problem. Hunter seems to be trying to reach both (a commendable goal). But—the necessity of grace, the exclusivity of Christ, and the depth of man’s sinfulness—all these things must be made clear, both for non-Christians as well as Christians. Just giving moral principles without grounding them in the gospel is dangerous, and it is not Christianity but moralism.

This book is a prime example of what happens when you give a book deal to a young, well-meaning believer who has not been grounded in systematic and historical theology (the kind of theology you won’t find in most evangelical churches, unfortunately). Yes, the book has its good points, but they’ve all been stated better elsewhere (and without the watered-down moralism). Not recommended.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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