Contemporary Social Ethics: Syllabus

This is the course syllabus for Contemporary Social Ethics. You can also access some of the instructor’s notes and overheads.

SOC 111: Contemporary Social Ethics

Fall 1996; Instructor: Randy Alcorn; Multnomah Bible College

Course Description:

An investigation of the biblical foundation for a system of ethics and its application to specific situations. Alternative ethical systems will be evaluated along with a number of contemporary social issues.

Course Objectives:

1. Overall objective: To help fulfill the school’s mission of producing biblically competent, culturally aware, maturing servants of Christ, whose Spirit-enabled love for God, his Word and people shapes their lives into a transforming force in the church and the world.

2. To familiarize students with the basic ethical systems, both nonchristian and Christian. Students should be able to articulate these systems in the classroom and identify them in life situations.

3. To enable students to develop an informed and more biblical ethical system by which to operate. This will develop largely by attempting to apply biblical precepts, principles and examples to a variety of contemporary ethical dilemmas. The students’ skills in doing this will be exemplified in classroom participation and written exercises.

4. To familiarize students with the most critical ethical issues facing the church and society, so they will be equipped to take and defend a biblical position both in the Christian community and the secular arena. Students’ proficiency in this will be demonstrated in class discussions, papers, and presentations, but the ultimate test will be outside of the classroom, in the student’s daily life.

5. To challenge students to address these issues not in an abstract or impersonal sense, but to practically apply them in specific compassionate Christ-centered actions.

6. To equip and motivate students toward a lifetime of communicating ethical values to their families, churches, communities and other spheres of influence.

Required Texts:

Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989).

Randy Alcorn, ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1992, 94 ed.).

Randy Alcorn, Is Rescuing Right? (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).

instructor’s Other Ethics-Related Books:

The following are supplementary resources only, for those motivated to do extra study, or who are doing their research paper in one of these areas. Beyond the reading necessary for the research paper, and the reading assignments reflected in this syllabus and included in the class notes, no collateral reading is required in this course.

The instructor’s best-selling novel Deadline (Multnomah/Questar, 1994) integrates into a contemporary mystery story-line some of the central moral issues of this class, raising biomedical ethics questions and contrasting subjective political correctness with the eternal foundations of truth. His novel Dominion (Multnomah/Questar, August ‘96) explores themes of racial conflict, injustice and reconciliation. In addition to the texts, his other ethics-related books include Christians in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution (Multnomah, 1985); Money, Possessions and Eternity (Tyndale House, 1989); and Sexual Temptation (InterVarsity Press, 1988).

Course Requirements:

1. Reading Interaction Reports

Each reading assignment should be dealt with in a one page (front and back) response consisting of

1) Points of Agreement, indicating what you found most valid and insightful; 2) Points of Disagreement and/or Questions, indicating what you take issue with and/or have questions concerning. Be specific and concise. When reading covers more than one chapter, the report should reflect interaction with each chapter. When more chapters are covered, size of responses per chapter will be reduced.

Value: 120 points total, maximum 10 points each; twelve assignments, single lowest score dropped. Time required: 60 minutes reading, 20 minutes per report (sometimes less, sometimes more); 17 hours total for semester. This time will also serve as preparation for quizzes.

2. Quizzes on Reading

Most classes will begin with five minute quizzes covering assigned reading. The assigned reading and report are the only preparation. (On a few announced occasions, quizzes may also cover lectures or videos.) Quizzes are the only tests given in this course. There will be no midterm or final exam.

Value: 80 points, 10 each; ten quizzes, two lowest scores dropped; Time required: None beyond doing assigned reading and report covered above.

3. Moral Issue Position Paper

Each student will write a research paper on an ethical issue, for which he or she will sign up near the beginning of the course. (Due dates will vary with the subject, and are indicated on sign-up sheet.) No more than three students will work on the same topic-sign up for preferred subjects is on an availability basis. Papers will be done independently, while presentations on the same subject matter (see Course Requirement #4) will be done as a group.

The paper should be typed (if computer printed, it should be near letter-quality), double-spaced, at least eight pages, endnoted, with citations from at least five different sources. It should finish with an annotated bibliography, containing at least three of the cited sources. An annotated bibliography consists of full bibliographic information followed by a short paragraph summarizing and/or reviewing the book or article. For an example of an annotated bibliography see Alcorn, Christians in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1985), p. 309-15.

The main body of the paper should be broken down clearly into five parts (the approximate length of each part is suggested below, assuming a ten page paper):

1) an introduction with true-to-life illustrations showing the complexity and relevance of the issue (one page, worth ten points); 2) a summary of varying viewpoints on the issue (one page, ten points); 3) a careful treatment of biblical passages that have bearing on the issue, including biblical commands, principles and examples (five pages, fifty points-this is the heart of the paper); 4) a conclusion that clearly expresses the student’s viewpoint on the issue (one page, ten points); 5) a practical application section showing the reader how the moral truths might be applied or embodied in the Christian life (two pages, twenty points). This should include specific action steps the reader can take to influence others’ thinking, social policies, pending legislation, etc. (See the instructor’s paper “Euthanasia: Mercy or Murder?” as an example of introducing an issue with true-to-life illustrations, using Scripture, formulating a conclusion and making application. For examples of specific action steps, see Appendix C, “Fifty Ways to Help Unborn Babies and Their Mothers,” in ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments.)

Value: 150 points total; as broken down above, the five parts total 100 of the 150. In addition, there are 30 possible points for clarity, style and appearance. The other 20 points are for the annotated bibliography. Time required: 20 hours, approximately 12 in research and 8 in composition.

4. Classroom Presentation (of Position Paper Subject)

This presentation (maximum twenty minutes) should include a summary of the various ethical positions, citing of relevant Scripture, a clear statement of the presenter’s convictions, and a recommendation of books and resources for further study. Conciseness—cutting to the heart of the issue—will be paramount. If more than one student has written on the same subject, they will work as a team to make the presentation. Each member of the team should take approximately the same amount of time in the presentation (e.g. six minutes each if three people are in the group). The total must not exceed twenty minutes. Grades of participants within a single presentation may vary. Date of presentation will be indicated on research paper sign-up sheet. (Note: Teaching Assistant Rod Young, Box 372, is available to advise you on your presentation.)

Value: 50 points; 25 points for content, 25 points for style, delivery and creativity. Use of visuals, drama, dialogue, debate format, etc. are allowed and encouraged. Work on the position paper is the substantive preparation for the presentation. Time required to adapt to presentation form, including conferring with other students, summarizing, making notes, preparing visuals and rehearsing: 8 hours.


This is a college course, and college level quality is expected of work done by students. Proper spelling, grammar and neatness will be factors in evaluating both the reading responses and the research paper. The research paper must be typed, and it is preferred the weekly reading response papers be typed as well. (Extremely neat and legible handwritten response papers are acceptable.) At the end of the semester all course points accumulated by each student will be added together, and grades awarded according to this scale:

370-400 points = A; 330-369 points = B; 280-329 points = C; 240-279 = D; below 240 = F

Homework should not exceed an average of 1 1/2 hours per class hour, or three hours per week, or 45 total hours for the semester. Depending on skill and quality of work, approximately 35 hours of homework throughout the semester should produce an average grade, and 45 hours an A or B.

If a class is missed due to illness or other reasons, the reading interaction report should be turned in to Rod Young, dated the day turned in, with a brief explanation of why it is late. Late reading reports will result in two dropped points for each class/week late. Any report not turned in at the beginning of the day’s first class period, even if it is turned in during the break, is considered a full week late. (This is to discourage students doing late reports during class.) As advised in the student handbook, unexcused absences, beyond the two allowed, will adversely affect the student’s grade.

Missed quizzes cannot be made up. With excused absences, missed quizzes will be averaged, with unexcused absences they receive a 0. (Lowest two scores are dropped.) Midterm grades will be available to students on request as of October 23-however, many term papers and presentations are after mid-term, so these grades will be based only on reading assignments and quizzes. Students may request grade updates from Teaching Assistant Rod Young any time during the semester.

Extra Credit:

Any student wishing to earn extra credit may do so by reading the instructor’s novels Deadline or Dominion, and writing a three to five page typed paper on one of these subjects:

  • “Objective morality versus political correctness as portrayed in the novel Deadline.”
  • “Racial issues and concerns and possible solutions raised in the novel Dominion.”

A maximum of 20 extra credit points can be earned per paper.

Class Procedure:

Classes will involve a blend of lecture, interaction and guided class discussion. Students are expected to be attentive not only to the instructor but to each other. Active participation in the classroom will greatly enhance each student’s benefits from the course. Students should be aware that the instructor will sometimes argue for positions he does not believe, or argue against positions he does believe, in order to motivate and challenge students to develop and articulate their moral convictions.

This is a two hour course, with the hours back-to-back on a single day, Wednesday. Class will begin at 12:30 and end at 2:20. There will be a ten minute break somewhere in the vicinity of 1:30, following which the second class will begin. Role will be taken in both classes.

Randy Alcorn can be reached at Eternal Perspective Ministries, 39065 Pioneer Blvd., Suite 100 Sandy, OR 97055, 503-668-5200, email: 

If you wish to know more about the instructor or Eternal Perspective Ministries, or want to access a variety of information, including this syllabus, see EPM’s webpage at

Class Schedule:

(READING: Geisler = Christian Ethics: Options and Issues; PLA = ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments; IRR = Is Rescuing Right?)



Reading (Date Due)

September 4

Review syllabus; Introduction: Ethical Dilemmas


September 11

No Class-Day of Prayer


September 18

Antinomianism; Situationism; Generalism

Geisler, chpt. 1-4; Truth article

September 25

Three forms of Absolutism

Geisler, chpt. 5-7, 10

October 2

Biomedical Ethics and Birth Control

PLA, p. 29-85

October 9

Abortion: Introduction, Background (Videos)

PLA, p. 85-134

October 16

Abortion: Issues and Arguments

PLA, p. 137-207

October 23

Abortion: Biblical Issues; Arguments & Answers

PLA, p. 208-266; Rhetoric article

October 30

Racism; Comparing Ethical Systems in life situations

Race articles; Euthanasia paper

November 6


IRR, chapters 2-6

November 13

Civil Disobedience

IRR, chapters 7-11

November 20

Civil Disobedience; Capital Punishment

IRR, chpts. 12-15; Geis. 13,11

November 27

No Class-Thanksgiving Vacation


December 4

War (Pacifism versus Activism); Justifiable Homicide?

Homicide articles; Geisler, chpt. 12

December 11

Homosexuality & Gay Rights; Course wrap-up

Geisler, 14; Cons/Lib, Dunn articles

Selected notes and overheads used in class

Euthanasia paper

Information on Multnomah Bible College (MBC webpage)

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries