Grant to Ask New Questions on the Problem of Suffering

How does one address, and think about, suffering in a way that goes beyond academic engagement to practical theology? Ian DeWeese-Boyd, associate professor of philosophy & education, hopes to find out. DeWeese-Boyd is part of a team with two other scholars who have been awarded a $14,260 grant from the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame for the formation of discussion groups that will focus on such analytic theology. The grant will help DeWeese-Boyd, Patrick Smith of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and Rev. James Arcadi, adjunct instructor of the Great Conversations course at Gordon, explore how contemporary approaches to the problem of suffering might address the existential and pastoral dimensions of this problem. They expect to form the group in the fall of 2014 and bring Eleonore Stump and Oliver Crisp as guest speakers. Here’s the team’s abstract:

“In addressing the problem of human suffering, analytic philosophers have traditionally been accused of doing little to comfort those actually enduing suffering. However, recent work on the problem of evil has begun to recognize the existential limits of responses to the problem of evil that focus exclusively on the reasons justifying God’s allowance of evil.  This new line of thinking holds that to respond fully to the problem of human suffering, we must expand beyond typical limits to address deeper questions than merely, ‘How can God allow this to exist?’ Eleonore Stump and Marilyn Adams suggest that responses to the problem of suffering must offer alternate routes to consolation for those suffering the heartbreak and horrors of this world. Stump focuses on how the biblical narrative provides what she calls second-personal knowledge of God. Adams focuses on how the person and work of Christ provides a redemptive identification with humans that engulfs the experience of horror. Both approaches offer substantial material for thinking about how to console suffering Christians.

“We will form a Cluster Group of seminary theologians (who specifically train those who minister to the suffering) and philosophers trying to connect theoretical discussions to the concrete struggles of those in their communities. We aim to bring these rich discussions of analytic theology to those who can benefit practically in their encounters with suffering. For this reason, we also hope to include the voices of those directly ministering to the suffering (e.g., local clergy, campus counselors, hospice workers) as we consider the pastoral significance of these contemporary analytic theodicies.  We will engage these discussions with consideration of the nature of God’s self-revelation in, through, and in spite of human suffering. We plan to discuss our epistemic access to God through Scripture, Christ, and the Sacraments as means of knowing God in the face of experiential counter-arguments. In this way, we hope to highlight the personal and practical significance of analytic theology.”

Christian Scholars Address Ethics Crises

Whether there’s a new cultural crises in ethics or such crises have simply become more public through the information age, the need to address them is real. At this year’s interdisciplinary  Christian Scholars Conference in June and around the theme, “Crises in Ethics: Theology, Business, Law and the Liberal and Fine Arts,” two Gordon professors travelled to Nashville to present papers on panel discussions.

Joining two other bible scholars on a panel called, “Old Testament Theology of Prayer,” Elaine Phillips, professor of biblical studies and Christian ministries, discussed, “The Prayer of the Upright:  Confession, Petition, Accusation, and Intercession in Wisdom Literature.” There are several studies on prayer in the Psalms or on select prayers within the Old Testament, but little in the way of a comprehensive exploration of the theology of prayer in all the Old Testament.  Her session was the second in a three-year project to examine the theology of prayer in the various sections of the Old Testament with the intent of providing the groundwork for a canonical Old Testament theology of prayer. 

Across campus, Jonathan P. Gerber, assistant professor of psychology, discussed the recent number of high-profile lapses in research ethics, where many of these cases emerged due to new analytic techniques for detecting and managing fraud, techniques which are broadly applicable to other empirical disciplines. Gerber’s peer-reviewed panel discussed the impact of recent cases of social psychological ethics, the techniques used to uncover fraud, the role of Christian institutions in maintaining research integrity, and the application of these techniques to other disciplines.

Specifically, Gerber addressed the fraud of Diederik Stapel and whether it led to calls to revise research practices in psychology.  Gerber’s paper—entitled, “Did Stapel’s research fraud lead to knowledge distortion or reputation reduction?”—provided the preliminary results of a 60 year meta-analysis of social comparison research, including over 600 research papers. Gerber said, “The effect sizes in Stapel’s work were not significantly different to other researcher’s findings, suggesting that knowledge about social comparison has not suffered from Stapel’s misconduct, even though the field’s reputation has. It appears that, sometimes, you can fake too well.”