The Aberdeen Approach to Theological Ethics and Practical Theology
Theological Ethics and Practical Theology in Aberdeen have developed a unique perspective which brings together practical theology and combines it creatively with moral theology in a way that is academically rigorous and practically transformative. 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. We understand our discipline to begin and end with inquiries focused on practices.
My own central interests are in moral and practical theology, by which I mean that I find theology most interesting when it is done in relation to the concrete questions of daily life. Why moral and practical theology? Since 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. I am constantly asking how the reading of scripture is influenced by, and influences, our reading of culture.
In sum, I am engaged in clarifying how the tradition of Christian faith and moral thinking reshapes Christian understandings of practical and moral questions. I am asking questions that lie on roughly 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 the organization of the content of Christian ethics
I see such questions as aspects of the theological work of inquiry into how the work of the Holy 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
- what resources are available in the exegetical tradition for meeting these sorts of inquiries
- how do theological exegesis and moral/practical theology interrelate
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, linguistic violence
- 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
Disability: Living into the Diversity of the Body of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021).
Wondrously Wounded: Theology, Disability, and the Body of Christ (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2019). (For a summary video see 1. For video responses, see 2. For Syndicate Symposium, see 3. For reviews, see 4, 5, 6, 7)
The Therapy of the Christian Body: A Theological Exposition of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Volume 2, with Bernd Wannenwetsch, forward by Douglas Campbell (Eugene: Cascade, 2018). (For a review, see 1.)
The Malady of the Christian Body: A Theological Exposition of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Volume 1, with Bernd Wannenwetsch, forward by Stanley Hauerwas. (Eugene: Cascade, 2016). (For reviews see 1, 2.)
Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas, with Stanley Hauerwas, ed. Kevin Hargaden (London: Continuum, 2016). (For reviews see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)
Captive to Christ, Open to the World: On Doing Christian Ethics in Public, ed. Kenneth Oakes (Eugene: Cascade, 2014). (For reviews see 1, 2.)
Christian Ethics in a Technological Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) Overview of the book. (For reviews click the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.)
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 especially the special issue of the Journal of Religion Disability and Health devoted to the book: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
Theology, Disability and Sport: Social Justice Perspectives, with Nick J. Watson and Kevin Hargaden (London: Routledge, 2018).
A Graceful Embrace: Theological Reflections on Adopting Children, with John Swinton (Leiden: Brill, 2018).
The Freedom of a Christian Ethicist: The Future of a Reformation Legacy, with Michael Mawson (London: Continuum, 2015).
Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader, with John Swinton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).
Evoking Lament: A Theological Discussion, with Eva Harasta (London: T&T Clark, 2009).
Theology, Disability and the New Genetics: Why Science Needs the Church, with John Swinton (London: T&T Clark, 2007).
Ethical Thinking at the Crossroads of European Reasoning, with Parush R. Parushev and Ovidiu Creangă (Prague: International Baptist Theological Society, 2007).
Selected Essays and Articles
“Prayer and the Teaching of Christian Ethics: Socratic Dialogue with God?” Studies in Christian Ethics 33, no. 1 (2020), 40-54.
“Seeing through the Data Shadow: Living the Communion of the Saints in a Surveillance Society,” Surveillance and Society 16, no. 4 (2018), 533-45.
“On Becoming Creatures: Being Called to Presence in a Distracted World,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 18, no. 4 (2016), 432-52.
“Parenting as Political Resistance: Disability and 'Dealing With' Late-Modern Medicine,” Review and Expositor 112, no. 3 (2015), 432–48.
“Christianity, Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts: Reflections on Morality, Vocation, and Well-Being," with Nick Watson, Journal of Religion and Society 17 (2015), 1-22.
“Globalization, Eden and the Myth of Original Markets,” Studies in Christian Ethics 28 no. 4 (2015), 402-18.
“Bonhoeffer and the Bible in Christian Ethics: Psalm 119, the Mandates, and Ethics as a ‘Way’,” Studies in Christian Ethics 18, no. 3 (2005), 7-29.