Empty Sets?

Are empty sets sensible? Mathematics, I suppose, doesn’t have to make sense as a sort of ontic category as far as I can tell. But I still wonder if empty sets are not a silly idea… is it not like a club that has never had any members and never will? This excludes the originator of the club.

What do my math oriented acquaintances think?

Being Enslaved to “Freedom”

As some may know Alyssa and I just moved to the UK. To Canterbury, specifically, which is where The Church of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury resides. Practically every corner turned in the city confronts the individual with the long history of England either by way of simply walking the cobblestone paths, or bucking up next to the rather overwhelming Canterbury Cathedral. The spires can be seen from nearly any part of the city and certainly makes for great scenery. I could go on, but I will leave the posts concerning Alyssa’s and my adventure to her. Her articulation of those subjects are much more defined than mine would be!

Instead, I wanted to draw out, to delineate really, some thoughts that have been brewing for a few days. The thoughts were brought about through reading Philip Goodchild’s recent book Theology of Money. A further catalyst would be the strange housing situation we have found ourselves in. I won’t bother you with the aesthetic details (though, here we encountered problems). The real difficulty has been our downstairs neighbor, a young, loud, and promiscuous female of quite salty character (from what I can gather). Alyssa and I have generally had great, quiet, and orderly neighbors. This is a first for us, being in such strange territory.

Last night I settled in next to the window to read some of Goodchild’s book. Around 1 in the morning I was interrupted with the loud howling of several inebriated people. Several incidents proceeded after this one, but the actions that occurred last night (which I will not detail for reasons of decency) really brought to the forefront some of the implicit issues Goodchild hammers home.

I find myself often thinking about issues of common good, ultimate concern, and supposed universal appeals to foundational issues in justice and the “good”. Despite what chatty television-hosts and witty, rhetorical bloggers may write there really isn’t an easy answer to the question of where one can pin-point the proper foundation to these issues. Perhaps the most appeal is put toward “freedom” or “individuality,” as if these terms, these oscillating and nebulous signifiers, really have a stable or definite meaning. Democracy is the safe-guard of freedom, and the credit that guarantees the political significance of the individual (as long as said individual is within the common boundary of a majority that discerns what is “good” for all). Of course, there is the easy criticism that truth is not what a majority makes! Or would we want to unearth a pre-Socratic notion that “might makes right” (though we would not be the first to resurrect the idea…)?

More can be said about democracy and it’s failure, its absurdity as an actualizable political ideal (questions of will come up, and questions of autonomy of will and thought; the public will of the people is dictatorship. Moreover, in the clash of opinions found in liberal democracy the ground upon which decision is made is not through the articulation of truth as truth, but through the articulation of truth through competition and advertisement; only that which is appealing will win, and that which has universalizable appeal comes down to wealth-building) , but those will have to be dissected later, even though they run right up against my main point.

What I find most pointed and interesting in this moment is the conception of freedom that our culture (Western culture) has become so enamored with. “Freedom” doesn’t usually mean too much, though it’s appeal is rather ubiquitous. As Goodchild suggests it usually refers to freedom from (negative freedom, as opposed to a Thomistic account) “public representations of divine command or sacred good”; “to determine one’s will through entering into contracts in the marketplace”; and “to master a portion of nature or dispose of one’s property as one pleases.”

This is all well and good, but as Goodchild goes on to point out, “Lacking public representations or manifestations of a common good, free and open debate must necessarily settle on such individual freedom as its lowest common denominator.” This can open up all sorts of manipulation, allowing the tool of governance to appeal to such common good for the use of force or defense in emergency.

When a person appeals to freedom they usually don’t think of freedom in quite the same way, or rather they wouldn’t word it in such a fashion. But, basically, there is a “universal appeal to the immediate interests” of property and negative and some positive freedoms. Such desires are utopian, ultimately, because as Goodchild points out a public representation of truth and justice are only found through manipulation and persuasion. Then, “freedom of expression is dependent on the constraint on others to be persuaded.” There can’t be ultimate or universal freedom because someone is always constrained in some way; ultimate, universalizable freedom is an illusion, an “impossible ideal born of representation and abstraction, projections of an idealized condition in which humanity cannot survive or flourish.”

Going much further, this utopianism is certainly theological because it deals with emancipation in such a universalizable way. And this secular theology aspires “for a condition of atheism where one is finally unconditioned by God or nature.”

Because of this, I wonder if there isn’t some latent theology, a sort of idol, of the self that can be seen through the night-life of teenagers and 20 somethings. This isn’t just a United Kingdom problem. It is just as pervasive in the US; ours is secretive, though, and our progeny hide their promiscuity through the make-up of Sunday morning services. Freedom is the autonomy of the self, it is the ability to “dispose of one’s property” as he or she pleases. In a culture that finds commodification a way of life it comes naturally to view the subject as property. Freedom serves wealth, as wealth is the obvious universalizable. Wealth opens up possibility; and when our theology is defined as aspiring to be “unconditioned by God or nature” the possibilities serve the gods of pleasure.

I feel sad when I hear the promiscuous tales my neighbor regales her friends with. Not sad for myself because I need sleep, but sad for her because she serves representation, and representation (what the mind desires and articulates but is always decontextualized and therefore illusion) is a cruel mistress. Freedom only comes through direction, and direction through truth and justice, ideas that cannot be attained through freedom as understood by the majority.

God Does Not Exist.

Broaching the question of God’s existence is a large task, and one that many have done previously, and will continue to do for a long time to come. Too often it is peppered with ad hominems, straw men, and other fallacies; also too often there is an ungraciousness characterized by the usual Youtube comment section.

But, I must confess, this blog post has little to do with questions of whether theism or atheism sketch a proper view of reality (or whether certain theisms or atheisms come closer than others). Really, I want to provocatively state that God does not exist  following then with an importance nuance to the statement, showing that our use of terms and our conceptions can often be rather reductionist, and thereby lead to fruitless discussions or improper conceptions of God.

 

So, the statement: God does not exist. There, I said it.

But what does that really mean? In fact, what does it mean to say a thing exists or does not exist? And, can we create a close analogy between a mere thing, which we say “exists” and God, which can be described variously as the “fullness of existence” or “pure actuality” or some other philosophically/theologically rich  turn of phrase?

To quote from David Bentley Hart,

“the most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about the belief in God– especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side– is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among beings, who differs from all others beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact.” (The Experience of God, pp. 32-33)

In too much contemporary discourse people speak of God as if there is no conceptual difference between  ontological distinctives, between the metaphysical description of God (something that is shared between Christians, Jews, Muslims, certain Hinduisms, and certain Buddhisms) and a description of the category of gods, demi-gods, and the like. What is that famous phrase?

“I believe in neither God nor in the fairies at the bottom of my garden.”

But, here we have a brushing away of a serious topic, and the rather crude and incoherent parallel of fairies and God. Maybe fairies and Zeus, but God as an ontologically distinct being, the grounding of existence, is another thing altogether. This is precisely why arguments by some like Dawkins and Krauss and others just fail; there is an error at the outset because they are arguing against some sort of demiurgic being, not God.

But, the problem is also that many defenders of God, reduce God to some being that merely exists in the universe along with all other contingent realities. He is the Intelligent Designer, and this moniker is the premier description of who God is. But, here too often the theist fails by primarily noting God through description as merely the demiurge who has fashioned reality, not as the distinct grounding of being.

The sharp point is that many on any side of the religious divisions (whether theist, atheist, or apatheist) do not realize that God occupies a different ontological realm than all other beings, he is distinct in modality. When we speak of the existence, then, of God, we need to realize that existence carries with it certain baggage and we must to step beyond the simple use of the term and realize that there are different modalities of existence. Some things are contingent, and some things are absolute (though, that isn’t to say that some think these categories are mistaken; I disagree, obviously).

So, through semantical wrangling, it is certainly true that God does not exist, well, God does not exist in the same way that contingent realities exist. On the other hand God is the grounding of existence, or fullness of existence as well, that which upholds contingent realities upon the vertical plane of reality.

 

(Yeah, I know. The post name was a sort of bait and switch. Did you really think I was coming out of the closet as an atheist??)

 

What is the Global Center for Advanced Studies?

taylormweaver:

Could this be a way forward in a educational climate that is becoming increasingly distasteful? I hope so. Wonderful faculty, and goals that go beyond the commodification and numbering of human persons.

Originally posted on Objet petit a:

CFASbannerww Just five months ago my friends and I began organizing a new school, which took on the name,  The Global Center for Advanced Studies , (now directed by Jason Adams and me).   But why a new graduate and undergraduate school?  When something new happens it is a response to the present situation, a situation which gives birth to needs that are not available.  When you look at the culture of colleges and universities today you will immediately notice several very disturbing trends.

1- Skyrocketing tuition costs: rising 1,120% since 1978, while real income has declined.

2- Skyrocketing student loan debt: now over $1,000,000,000.

3- Skyrocketing postgraduate unemployment: 53.6% are now unemployed or underemployed.

4- Skyrocketing use of adjuncts: 75% of faculty are now low-paid and temporary.

5- Skyrocketing use of administrators: administrators now outnumber professors by 125,000.5 6- Skyrocketing pay of administrators: most are now paid between $300,000-3,000,000/yr.6.

When…

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The Struggle of Christian Ethics: Holloway Interview Part 2

Alright. I have had a bit of a hiatus, mainly due to applying to doctoral programs and the like. So, here is the second part in a series, a transcription of an interview I had with Jeph Holloway, Prof of Ethics, Theology, and Philosophy at ETBU.  In this part of the interview we talk about the basis of his work, differences in ethical models, and the problem of contemporary Christian ethics, which too often asks the wrong questions… you be the judge, though :)

Lots of good content here.

This is a picture of Dr. Holloway. He is, obviously, communicating vocally.

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T: Ok, Here’s another question, and I think it points toward where you start with the book and the central question, where you work ethics from- and I think it’s highly original. Asking this question about what God is doing about evil is usually taken down different trajectories. So, at what point did you note theodicy as particularly important in the discipline of Christian ethics?

J: Well, I think one thing that has helped me give coherence, if there is such in what I’m up to here, to my understanding of what Christian ethics is all about has been the work of N. T. Wright. Now, I’ve been slowly forming this pattern, this narrative that I’m trying to present, that God, through God’s redemptive work, is creating a people, whose lives sustained in worship, bear witness to God’s purpose for creation. I think my explanation of what God is doing about evil is itself a story. It’s a narrative. Or, it is a nutshell presentation of what I think is the narrative of the Bible. And, I have known for about the last twenty years, even before that, even when I was finishing up my own PhD studies in Christian ethics, that I was uncomfortable with what were the prevailing patterns of what I saw in the field of Christian ethics. Before N.T. Wright I will have to say Stanley Hauerwas occasioned that discomfort in my outlook.

With Hauerwas’s emphasis on a  narrative approach to Christian ethics, that it cannot be, first and foremost, “Well, alright, here’s a situation; what are the norms, standards, rules that pertain to that particular situation”, and then we operate through a deductive process and come out with some right answer to the question, “What should I do?” Hauewas helped me understand that the moral life is not reducible to the operations of the Cartesian cogito, the res cogitans, the “thinking thing” that is operative in an a-historical abstract environment. We are living people whose lives have been shaped by multiple influences that effect how we even interpret the situation we are required to act within. We live in the world in light of the world we live in. And, so, the question is “What world do we live in?” and “How do we see that world?”

Hauerwas will stress the singular importance of “vision”, “perspective”, “perception”, as fundamental to what the moral life is all about.

Source: http://wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/returntorome/files/2013/10/hauerwas.jpg

Stanley Hauerwas. Looking bad-ass, per usual.

 

Now, that occasioned a sense of discomfort and dis-ease, and so I couldn’t necessarily explain it clearly back in the late 1980s why I wasn’t so comfortable with the prevailing approaches and models of what Christian ethics is all about.  But, understanding that narrative emphasis made certain things I was reading from N.T. Wright resonate with the task of Christian ethics. In Wright’s first volume on the NT and the People of God he will outline what he considers to be the overarching narrative of the Bible as a whole and will relate to that narrative certain basic, what he calls at that point, Worldview Questions: “Where are we?” “Who are we?” “What’s wrong?”. And, that “What’s wrong?” business really evokes the questions of theodicy.

Now, you indicated that I am doing something original; well, it’s a different approach to theodicy in general terms because theodicy usually is, from a philosophical standpoint, asking “How can you justify belief in God in a world that knows evil and suffering?” From a biblical standpoint, we don’t ask how we can justify belief in God, we begin with the affirmation that God is the good creator of a good creation. That affirmation impels us to ask, “Ok, well then, what is God doing about evil?”

Now, what I do suggest early on in the book is that there have been other voices before mine, certainly, that would approach Christian ethics in a way very very different from asking “What is right? What is wrong? What is good? What is evil? What should I do?”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example, would write in his Ethics that that very approach shows that we live in a fallen world. The quest for the knowledge of good and evil is what the serpent sought to satisfy. Ethics, as generally pursued, is done in the aftermath of the fall, rather than in a very different setting that is open to fellowship with God. The way ethics is generally done is itself pursued in a sort of resistance to God.

And, so, what I am trying to do is an effort of a particular way of advancing some of the concerns that I have seen in Hauerwas, Bonhoeffer, and as well what I think are some critical voices in contemporary biblical scholarship that want to underscore the wholeness of the Bible as an overarching story of how God is at work.

T: Ok. In the book you cut to the quick a lot of, as we just talked about, understandings of ethical questioning, such as asking the usual first question of “What do I do in this situation?” So, has this been something your students have been able to grasp? Sometimes I fear that the divide is so deep that even explaining it is seemingly impossible. I remember taking your class and definitely realizing that this is something completely different. Obviously, a lot of students have to take your class that don’t necessarily care about these essential questions…

J: I think I’m getting better at explaining why we are doing what we’re doing. I think, and hope, I am. I think I’m even better at explaining now than when you took it [I took the class in Fall 2010]! And, I think the process of writing this book certainly has helped me be more specific in that. I will tell you this, I don’t know what recalled this event to mind earlier today, but I remember, this was probably ten or eleven years ago, [laughter] there was this person in my Christian ethics class, and I was not doing it in those days in the precise ways I am doing it now. I was working towards this, and it was still not clear in my own thinking how I needed to approach everything.  But, she came to me after class one day, it was probably about 2/3rds of the way through the course, and she was just livid, angry with me because I wasn’t doing what she wanted me to do. And what she wanted me to do was for me to tell her what to do in all of these various situations and circumstances in her life. She wanted a decision-making model.

Now, the first volume, it alludes to criticisms to that approach. It insists we cannot begin there. The second volume, on which I am at work now, takes that on specifically. On the chapter on a narrative ethic it fundamentally challenges the notion that a Christian ethic can be reduced to “What should I do?” And, I have to say, I hadn’t, in the face of her anger, really been able to clarify all of these issues in my own mind, as to “why” I wasn’t doing what she wanted me to do. I do think I am better at explaining it now. And, while students this semester have the first volume out they have some outside reading that has very much to do with those questions of why we aren’t doing the “What should I do?” approach. I’m hoping that with that they will at least be acquainted with the notion that maybe there is more to this whole life of following Jesus than just, “What should I do?”

Not discounting the reality that we do make decisions, here and there. But, ya know, in this later material I will be quoting Paul Ricoeur who says that most of moral philosophy is focused on the “what” and “why.”  What are the norms and what justifies those norms. And, all too frequently moral philosophy has not asked the question of “who”.

Source: https://encrypted-tbn1.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTooswcnog7LnZ_rlv1lIIkCP7gjMWLOQssVwoRXEt-ivZTlS-D

Paul Ricoeur. It would do you well to remember his name. He is an important thinker.

So, we have that question of “What should I do?” Well, here’s  another question, “Who’s asking?” And, does it matter what kinds of persons we are and how we can become the kinds of persons who can do this, or not do that. The way I try to put it in my later material–against decisionism–  is that depending on what kind of persons we are, only then are certain decisions made possible and others not even necessary.

I do not get up in the mornings, as I used to do in high school, and wonder: “What should I do? Should I go to my first period class or go out behind the tennis courts and smoke some pot.” That’s not an issue. I do not decide that. When I go to Wal-mart I do not go down the aisles thinking, “Well, should I stuff that box of macaroni cheese down my pants and see if I can get out?

For those to be issues, if we are having to make some decisions, there’s already a problem.

But, that is the prior question of “Who?” that Ricoeur wants to address.

T: I think one of the difficulties is: this flies in the face of some popular Christian reconstructions of, especially political reconstructions of what it means to be a Christian in light of some libertarian models whose anthropology seems more influenced by economic models. We are infinite individuals with finite moments of decision limited by bodied experience and therefore are called to make these calculations. And this seems to be becoming more and more popular in some Christian circles.

J: You’re right, that hits the nail on the head. And that has everything to do with why we offer a truncated, attenuated gospel that is solely focused on the isolated individual-

T: And why we don’t care about the poor; why don’t they just make the right decisions! Get a better job! Or not spend their money on certain things.

J: Right. Christian ethics has to go in this direction because we subordinate it to prevailing political paradigms. And, American civil religion has co-opted the Christian faith for separate purposes. And, so Christian ethics has had to become what you have described there.

Interview with Jeph Holloway: Contemporary Christian Ethics and the Importance of Paul

Dr. Jeph Holloway

Interviewing is loads of fun, especially if the person you are interviewing is someone as great as Dr. Jeph Holloway, prof. of Theology, Ethics, and Philosophy at East Texas Baptist University. My last blog post was a quick review of his latest book, published last April. If you are interested in ethics, theology, or philosophy at all check out the book. Link can be found on last post.

This post is the first in a series of transcriptions of the interview we did on January 22, 2014. Check it out below.

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Taylor: Could you give a quick “elevator ride” synopsis of your latest book that was published last year? If you understand what I mean by “elevator ride” synopsis…

Jeph: Sure. Yes. If I’m going up the elevator it depends on how tall the building is. But, quickly, my concern is to explore Christian ethics in a way that is first biblically informed, but because biblically informed will be something of a contrast to the way Christian ethics is so often pursued.

I understand the basic message of the bible to be addressing a question of the relationship between God who is the good creator of a good creation and the tension that is evoked with that confession. We live in a world that seems to be so different than the goodness unveiled in Genesis 1. We grapple with the questions of God’s goodness in light of personal struggle, societal conflicts, international tensions, and so on. And so we are pressed to ask the question: What is God doing about evil?

I think that the testimony of scripture in both Old and New Testaments is that God, through God’s redemptive work, is creating a people, whose lives sustained in worship, bear witness to God’s purpose for creation. I state that explicitly in the book, and the book intends to unfold that in a number of different ways, primarily in dialogue with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I believe that that sentiment, or that outlook, is canonical. And, if I had time or space in the book, and I had thought about doing it at one point, I would have shown that in the OT in the law, the prophets, the writings, and also in the gospels, in the book of Revelation, and in Paul himself.

I’m persuaded that too often whenever Christian ethics does give some engagement with scripture it does so piecemeal, with little snippets. It has an idea and has a verse that seems to purport that. I’m reluctant at having a large paradigm that I only support with a text here and there without substantive engagement in a prolonged, detailed way the biblical text.

And, so, since Ephesians is only 6 chapters you think “Well, that’s manageable!”  I selected Ephesians as something of the primary frame of reference for exploring these themes. I think Ephesians remarkably puts on display an emphasis that Christian ethics has to begin with what God is doing. So, a theocentric ethic. But what God is doing is what he is doing through Christ, a redemptive ethic. And what God is doing through Christ is not simply granting salvation from this world into the next world for the individual believer , but God through Christ is creating a people whose entire existence is reshaped, redirected, repatterned for God’s purposes in the context of worship where we can then be the kind of people who can exhibit to the world what God intended for creation from the beginning and where God will ultimately take all things.

Now that’s, that’s it in a nutshell. I hope that’s precise and concise enough.

But, what I do want to do with that, also, is to highlight the distinctiveness of this understanding of Christian ethics by way of contrast with other perspectives on the moral life. And so, for example, in the first major chapter, a theocentric ethic, I begin by asking first not “What should I do?” but, “What’s God doing?”. I draw comparison with Immanuel Kant who very intentionally, deliberately sought to drive a wedge between religion in general, Christianity in particular, and the moral life. He was seeking to establish the foundations of morality independent from any theological frame of reference.  Paul’s not doing that. Paul will be very particular in his insistence that the life he seeks to present in his letters is grounded in the character and identity and purposes of God. And so we cannot sever theology from ethics in Paul.

But, that’s just one example of my concern to present what I think is a Christian ethics by way of contrast with other models that so predominate in our culture.

T: I would say that was spot on. Great. It was a long elevator ride too!

Really tall building.

J: Well, there are some buildings that go up, ya know, 70 or 80 floors. If we were in New York we would still be on the elevator.

T: Kind of deviating from the book, but still staying in its realm, why did you first become interested in the study of Paul and did this lead organically to writing on ethics rather than, say, doing work specifically in sociology and foregoing, like some do, the ethical dimension?

J: Well, though there would be some among southern Baptists who might doubt this, I have always, since I became a Christian, been something of a Biblicist. My concern has been to understand what it is we find in scripture. To be frank that is part of why I am at somewhat of a distance from some circles in the southern Baptist convention. That I am willing to do that kind of work that seeks substantive engagement with scripture wherever it might go, even if it doesn’t conform to prevailing patterns of normalcy in some denominations. That’s my intent, that’s my own hunger, to understand what it is that we find in the Bible.

I took my first course in Christian ethics back in 1981 or 82 and became convinced that this discipline is where all the various disciplines in theological studies find their coherence. Asking, ok, we’re studying the bible, church history, theology, philosophy of religion and all that kind of stuff; but, where does it go? And how is this to shape the lives of God’s people in this world? And, so I believe that Christian ethics as a discipline has the concern to bring focus to any of a number of theological pursuits.

In my course of study I took a course on Ethics and the Letters of Paul. Ever since I had became a Christian and started reading the Bible I found Paul intriguing. That course further deepened my interest in and hunger to understand what Paul was up to. And I think, stepping back from it, for this primary reason Paul is the first one in the NT, the first of the writers of what we find in the NT, who is doing what I think Christian ethics needs to be doing: asking, “What does life within the sphere of the Gospel look like?”

And, exploring that, detailing that, writing about that within the context of real life issues in the early Christian communities that he primarily sought to establish, whether at Corinth or the churches of Galatia, or Philippi, or the churches in and around Ephesus.  Paul is the first one whose writings we have in the NT that is seeking to take the story of Christ, the Cross, Resurrection,  the fulfillment of the incorporation of the gentiles into the people of Israel through Christ, all of that and exploring, “All right, what does life look like for us?” And, “what is our calling in this world in light of how we understand God to be at work?”

So, I consider the letters of Paul to be fundamentally pastoral in that respect.  And, I think, that’s a basic reason why I’ve been so intrigued by the letters of Paul all this time. And, it’s been with me for the last 30 plus years, in teaching courses on ethics in the letters of Paul, on writing my dissertation on ethics and the letters of Paul. Then when Dr. Harris [Dean of School of Religion at ETBU] asked, “Well, we’re going to be starting a graduate program at ETBU; what course would you like to teach?”  It was, “Well, duh! Ethics in the Letters of Paul!”

Because I see in Paul that model of what I think Christian ethics needs to be, I find him to be a premier resource of what I hope to offer in terms of Christian ethics needs to be. 

Review of: The Poetics of Grace: Christian Ethics as Theodicy

The amazing book on Christian ethics by Jeph Holloway.

This blog has a LOT of purposes, which perhaps contributes to its downfall. Nonetheless, I have to include a plug for one of my former professor’s book which came out last April. If you care in the least about subjects in the realm of theology, philosophy, ethics, or ecclesiology you should pick up the book. It is not that expensive, especially if you want an electronic copy.

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Holloway’s book on ethics centers squarely around theodicy. Now, I know what you may be thinking: theodicy is, primarily, a philosophical topic taken up by, usually, apologists (though, it seems most often the hard work is done by those scholars like Van Inwagen and then disseminated by rank-and-file apologists). After all, considering the existence of deity in the face of seemingly insurmountable natural and moral evil is becoming a rather stark task, one that the Christian should rightly confront and not shy away from.

Holloway, however, is not particularly concerned with discussing theodicy as some sort of difficulty in the face of God’s reality; rather, he starts by pointing out, quite rightly, that despite the insistence that Augustine (the bishop usually associated with the origination of the term) is concerned with proving God (and the goodness of God) existed in light of evil, the notion is just contextually naive. Augustine was concerned instead “as a pastor to instruct members of the faith community–the church– as to the nature of evil and God’s response to it. (3)”. This is the starting point for Holloway, and what he seeks to do as well. No defense of belief in God (others have done this, and this is not the point or scope of the volume) as would be assumed by the reliance on theodicy.

God is doing something about Evil. That is the assumption, and God doing something about evil (theodicy, God’s justice in the presence of evil) is the foundation for the ethic to be explored in this volume (and subsequent volumes to hopefully be released within the next year or so). Primarily, Holloway echoes often the following phrase throughout the book: God, in God’s redemptive work, is creating a people whose lives, sustained in worship, bear witness to God’s purpose for creation. In this phrase Holloway packs several themes that he finds intimately detailed within Ephesians, characteristics that are crucial for properly doing Christian ethics. Thus, Holloway sees Christian ethics as needing to be theocentric, redemptive, ecclesial, liturgical, and eschatological, and he explores these themes in conversation with partners as diverse as Nietzsche and Niebuhr, MacIntyre and Gustafson, and virtually everyone else on the spectrum of ideas. In this respect, the name-dropping can be sometimes overwhelming; nonetheless, the resources are invaluable to the argument. This is truly an interdisciplinary volume, marrying quite rightly philosophy, theology, ethics, and biblical studies. The use, more explicitly, of scripture and biblical studies is a much needed corrective to those like Hauerwas who often seem to know the Ethica Nicomachea a bit more thoroughly than the New Testament.

Truly the importance of theodicy is convincingly applied as a starting point for a Christian ethic, especially one indebted to a view of scripture as a grand narrative, as is becoming more popular in light of Wright, Hauerwas, Long, and others. Turning the term on its head and asking the question, “What is God doing about evil?” rather than “How can God and evil coexist?” is not only more contextually interesting, it also helps to marry theology and ethics (too often separated in modern theology) and put a certain amount of burden on the Christian. God is redeeming the world, in this understanding, through his people, and God is a deity of work, and thus calls for his people to worship through their work to redeem.

If one is looking for a usual book on ethics, one that posits various questions or situations and employs a decisionistic enterprise then you had better look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for a volume that delves into scripture (primarily Ephesians, as the theme of the book is centered around it), sifts through recent ethical theory and philosophical inquiry, and challenges the theologian and lay Christian then you should certainly pick up the volume. It is excellently written, rather than excruciatingly dry, and unusually convincing in argument.

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If you are interested in checking out the book click here

 

Look for a forthcoming interview with Dr. Holloway concerning the book, Christian ethics, philosophy, and Pauline theology. Oh, and maybe jazz.

 

Thanks for reading!