Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Spring Semester 2008: My Kinda Study

This is a good semester at Covenant Theological Seminary.  I have four classes and three of them I enjoy immensely (I enjoy the fourth class as well, but 'immensely' would be too strong an adverb).  Christianity and Imagination focuses on creative people within the Church like Flannery O'Connor, C.S. Lewis, and Annie Dillard.  The class has also introduced me to Frederick Buechner, which is a nice bonus.

Gospels is another excellent class.  With Dr. Dan Doriani at the helm class lectures are informative, spiritually enriching and a lot of fun.  We are also reading a number of good books, Jesus and the Victory of God being chief among them.  Wright's treatment of the gospels does an excellent job of taking 1st Century Jewish history and showing how the Synoptics fit the context like a glove.  Of  course Wright has his problems, as Dr. Doriani pointed out just last night.  If you're interested read on; if not, skip the next paragraph.  

The problem, Dr. Doriani explained, was that Wright ignored the context in which the parables were written.  As an example he used the parable of the Prodigal Son.  In context Jesus is defending his association with 'tax collectors and sinners' to the Pharisees.  He uses three parables in his defense:  The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (prodigal).  The idea was that it makes sense for Jesus to seek those that are lost.  Jesus adds the portion about the elder son as an offer of himself to the Pharisees.  They were so busy being upset at the 'sinners,' who were represented by the prodigal son, that they refused to celebrate when they entered the kingdom like the elder son.  Wright doesn't really address this, spending more time showing how the parable fits his conception of 1st Century Judaism.  Frankly, it was nice to hear an intelligent critique of Wright because I myself am utterly incapable of providing one at this point in my academic career.

My other favorite class is ethics, with Prof. Anthony Bradley.  Prof. Bradley was my covenant group leader during my first year at seminary, so I was looking forward to taking a class with him after getting to know him last year.  He has not disappointed.  The book list is a little unwieldy, but there is good variety.  We still have the standard text, Biblical Christian Ethics by David C. Jones, who recently retired from the post Bradley now fills.  Then there's The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas.  This book has been a real mind bender for me.  Hauerwas thinks about ethics in an utterly different than what I'm accustomed to.  I come from the world of evidential apologetics and analytic philosophy, which makes me much more at home thinking abstractly about ethics.  Reading this different perspective has been invigorating for me.  It will take a decent amount of time to decide how much of Hauerwas I can accept.

We're also reading Thomas Sowell, who I think of as coming from a far different perspective than Hauerwas.  Then there's The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James and Stuart Rachels.  This, as I understand it, is a basic college level text in ethics.  It's alternately interesting and maddening.  Rachels has a tendency to briefly critique positions and act as though the matter is settled.  In his chapter on religion and morality he points out the difficulties raised by the Euthyphro Dilemma and acts as though they carry the day.  He does not even offer a disclaimer like, "There have been counter-arguments offered, but I believe the dilemma stands."  We're also reading Elements of Justice by David Schmidtz, but I'm not far enough into it to offer any sort of critique.

I'm enjoying this semester so much I'm even looking forward to writing research papers.  I think I've finally decided on my topic for Ethics:  The theology of aging and dignity.  This will hopefully encompass a number of aspects of aging, including whether dignity is affected by progressive diseases such as Altzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS, etc.  The biggest issue right now is that I need good resources.  I want academic level studies in medical and theological ethics on the topic.  If any of you out there in internet land have any suggestions let me know!

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