The last three chapters have clarified the norms of Christian living. Essentially, these say Christians must live like Jesus and cooperate in his redemptive act. But a large question remains: Is this practicable, or is it a wonderful but impracticable ideal?
Some argue that taking Christian morality too seriously is likely to have bad psychological and social consequences. Others say Christian morality should be taken literally but without rigorism; perfection is a very high ideal, and it is imperfection but no sin to fall short.
Classical moral theology was anxious to avoid rigorism. That concern is understandable and reasonable; it complements concern for conformity with moral norms. Norms which cannot be fulfilled by all or nearly all are likely to discourage many from even trying to live up to them. Yet Christian life is for all; thus, it seems to follow that its standards cannot be too high. The present chapter addresses these matters.
The modes of Christian response make real moral demands which can be fulfilled. Rigorism is avoided because the modes of Christian response become exigent only gradually as one carries out one’s personal vocation. As the requirements of Christian life become clear, it also becomes clear that the alternative to a life of holiness oriented by hope is a worldly existence which inevitably falls short of human dignity.