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.”