Dip. Theol. (Oxford), MA, D.Phil (King's College, London)
Visiting Scholar (Friedrich Alexander Universität, Erlangen-Nürnberg; Duke Divinity School)
Practical Theology in Aberdeen has developed a unique prespective which brings together practical theology and combines it creatively with moral theology in a way that is academically rigorous and practically transformative. Our discipline begins and ends with inquiries focused on practices. Our task is to think through faith not as “belief” but as lived. Thus the primary reference of our theologizing is the lived life in all its contemporary forms.
My main interests lie in moral and practical theology, which means I find theology most interesting when it is done in relation to the concrete questions of daily life. Why moral and practical theology? Because these disciplines are rarely understood the same way by two practitioners, let me explain my approach. (Aberdeen is a rare exception to the problem of practitioners having incommensurate approaches!) The "and" is important as I understand the terms to modify and situate one another. In an English-speaking context practical theology has acquired an orientation toward the hermeneutics of contemporary culture. This orientation rightly warns moral theology against drifting to a level of abstraction that makes it appear irrelevant for the moral decisions of daily life. At the same time, moral theology serves practical theology by insisting that interpretation is not endless, but is properly circumscribed by doctrinal and confessional frameworks. My engagements with Christian doctrine and cultural hermeneutics are tied together by a third interest in the role scripture plays in God's work of generating a people with a distinctive ethos. Here my question is how the reading of scripture is influenced by, and influences, our reading of culture.
My continuing interests are in clarifying how the tradition of Christian faith and moral thinking reshapes and clarifies our understanding of practical and moral questions of public relevance. This inquiry proceeds at three levels.
1) Fundamental questions in moral and practical theology.
- the sources of the Christian ethos; how it is generated and develops
- the doctrinal location of practical theology and Christian ethics
- architectonic issues in Christian ethics
These questions might be summed up as facets of an inquiry into how the work of the Spirit renews human society and all of creation.
2) Questions about the relation of the Bible and Christian ethics
- how the hermeneutics of the Bible, culture and the self are intertwined
- how the Bible might function as a context of discovering the self-in-Christ, creation, and in Christian community
- the resources available in the exegetical tradition for meeting these sorts of inquiries
- the interrelation of theological exegesis and moral/practical theology
3) Concrete studies which seek to discover the meaning of faith in practical life.
- I am convinced that Christian ethics and practical theology too rarely venture beyond methodological considerations. If the meaning of the Christian confession is discovered in the course of trying to live it in practical contexts, then the study of practical questions is not an ancillary project of applying Christian knowledge, but the critical furnace in which it is continually reborn. Christians need to learn to theologically name cultural events we commonly think of in secular terms. For these reasons I am interested in further study on a wide range of issues, the following being a few examples. Students interested in other practical issues should not hesitate to contact me.
- interactions between cultures and traditions: emigration and population displacement, globalisation, outsourcing, imperialism/crusade
- environmental questions: energy policy, waste management policies and practices, agricultural practices
- violence at the margins: proliferation of weapons, terrorism, insurgency, prison policy
- medicine, humanity and inhumanity: mental and physical disability, practices in which the "human" is established and denied, National Health policy
- mass communication: media, publicity, advertisement, propaganda, entertainment culture
Singing the Ethos of God: On the Place of Christian Ethics in Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007)(For reviews click the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. See especially the special issue of the European Journal of Theology devoted to the book, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Ed. with J. Swinton, Theology, Disability and the New Genetics: Why Science Needs the Church (London: T&T Clark, 2007). (For a summary see 1. See especiallythe special issue of the Journal of Religion Disability and Health devoted to the book: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Ed. with E. Harasta, Evoking Lament: A Theological Discussion (London: T&T Clark, 2009)
Selected Essays and Articles
"Bonhoeffer and the Bible in Christian Ethics: Psalm 119, the Mandates, and Ethics as a 'Way'" Studies in Christian Ethics, vol. 18:3 December, 2005, pp. 7-29.
"Late Abortion and the Poverty of Liberal Discourse: A Christian Defense of 'Customary Morality'", Studies in Christian Ethics, 19:2 January 2006, pp. 153-168.
"The Form of the Matter: Heidegger, Ontology, and Christian Ethics," in The International Journal of Systematic Theology 3:3 (2001) 257-279.
"Made Strange by the Word in a Technological Age," The Bible in Transmission, Bible Society UK (Summer 2003) 7-9.
Much of my time is spent teaching graduate students, and I welcome inquries from students interested in studying Christian ethics in Aberdeen, and who are excited about being part of a vibrant community of committed and collaborative international graduate students.
A number of my students have gone on to have their doctoral work published. Here is a review of a book the book that Andrew Draper published out of his doctoral work, reviewed by Tony Campolo. Some other students whose theses have been published: Scott Prather, Tyler Atkinson, Michael Laffin and Benjamin Wall