I always have reading and research projects either in progress or brewing in my head. Half (or more) of what I dream up, as you can probably imagine, I never get around to. Generally speaking, though, I’ve got four things either going or percolating in my brain right now. My systematics course in the fall raised a lot of questions for me about Reformed theology. The Campbells, Scott, and Stone were all Presbyterians. My questions are these: How did that leave its mark on them and how did they consciously (or unconsciously) transmit their Reformed framework to the generations that came afterward? How have the structures of Reformed thought left their mark on us in terms of how we read Scripture, how we understand the Lord’s Supper and sacramental theology more generally, and how we understand worship? I’m trying to brush up on Reformed liturgics and (to a lesser extent) systematics, so as to get a better handle on this.
Secondly, since last year I’ve been doing research on John T. Lewis in anticipation of a possible M.Div. thesis. Lewis, the patriarch of the Churches of Christ in Birmingham, AL, interests me on a number of levels: as an example of John Mark Hicks’ “Tennessee Tradition,” as an example of an alternative way of thinking about the institutional issues of the 1950s, and as an example of Stanley Hauerwas’ dictum that we come to understand the Scriptures through the lives of the saints. We in the Churches of Christ forget about people like Lewis at our peril.
Thirdly, philosophy. A few years ago it became clear to me that there is an unavoidable connection between philosophy and theology. Yeah, I know, it’s late to be recognizing that (do I get any grace by referring to Socrates’ recommendation in The Republic that the study of philosophy be delayed until one’s thirties?). So I’ve been playing catch up. I was 18 when I slept through an Intro to Philosophy course during winter term of my freshman year of college. So…let’s just say that my foundation is not very strong. John Mark Hicks made me read large quantities of Locke and Kant in Historical Theology. An eye-opening experience. On my own, beginning in graduate school, I read most of Plato’s major dialogues, as well as Hobbes’ Leviathan. Last summer, I read Diogenes Allen’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, which has been very helpful in giving me an overview of other periods. With this help, I was able to work through Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, albeit by reading many of the early chapters twice. I’d like to work up to being able to read and profit from some larger works: MacIntyre’s later works (Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry), Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, and John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. These are probably all a few years down the road, but one can dream.
Fourthly, science. My interest in science has always outpaced my capabilities. A nasty experience with math (beginning as far back as middle school and climaxing with the diagnosis of a learning disability in college) pretty much disqualified me from going much further than high school biology, although I’ve always been intrigued by astronomy. Because of this, I’ve mostly limited myself to occasional readings in the history of science (most recently, Owen Gingerich’s The Book Nobody Read, a history of the afterlife of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium). Beyond this, I pretty much try to stay out of creation/evolution debates knowing that I’m out of my depth. I’ve decided that I can no longer use this as an excuse. To that end, I have a small stack of books dealing with science and religion issues that I’d like to work through later, perhaps over the summer. I’m very intrigued by Conor Cunningham’s just-released Darwin’s Pious Idea, which seems to be set to have a real impact. Like the books mentioned in the previous paragraph, I’ll probably have to do quite a bit of pre-reading before I can tackle it, though. I’ll keep you posted…
What are the motivations for these projects? First, they bring together quite a few of my concerns: history and identity of the Churches of Christ, sacramental theology, and the intellectual defense of Christianity (not quite apologetics, but I am interested in understanding the issues attendant to the debates surrounding the New Atheism and the advance of secularism in the West). There’s also the personal need to be broadly read outside of history and theology (the areas that I have most lived in since college). That’s a really narrow description of several complex factors, I realize. In future posts, I’ll try to go into more detail.