Monthly Archives: July 2008

England Update – 2

I wish this update would be entirely good news; but alas, my wish will have to remain a wish.  We heard today that one of the possible scholarships/grants we sought after will not be awarded.  While on the surface this is bad news; on deeper levels (ones that I cannot rightly disclose), it ultimately proves itself to be “okay” news–or, “we understand” news.  We want to extend our deepest thanks to those of you who have prayed for us in this regard.  Your thoughts and prayers are far more valuable to us than any monetary award can bestow.  

The superficiality of this can be disheartening, but we will not let it become so.  We know that this closed opportunity is not the end of the world, nor will we view it remotely as such.  It’s simply a bump in the road.  We will press on as before and we will remain hopeful for what is ahead–both near and distant.  We will also continue to keep everyone updated on our journeys toward England, and we will certainly detail our progress during our time in England.  Again, we cannot thank you enough for your support and encouragement–all of you who give us such things are invaluable to us.

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Update: Lest there be any confusion, the above comments were not meant to suggest: “we’re not going to England this year.”  We are still aiming for our original arrival date, which is some time early September.  Us not receiving the grant simply means we will need to be (wisely) creative and remain hopeful for what God has in store.

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Kyle Fedler review (1)

A few days, while visiting one of my favorite stores (i.e., Half Price Books), I stumbled across this promising little work on Christian ethics by Kyle D. Fedler.  I glanced through it quickly at the store and thought it to be a good purchase–especially because it contains a chapter on “The Ethics of Paul” the apostle, which is becoming a growing interest in my studies of Paul.  That same night, after buying the book and before going to bed, I read through the first chapter and was initially impressed with the content.  Because of this, I thought it best to have this book to be the first to kick off the category for reviews.  I’ll do the Preface and Chapter 1 in this post.  

Preface (ix-xi)
Fedler 
eases some of the initial reluctance that readers might have in wading through a text on ethics–let alone Christian ethics–by promising to be their guide and conversation partner.  (He picks up on this theme in Chapter 1 as well–see below).  He promises this for the simple fact that ethical discourse can sometimes be confusing and disheartening for many who are unfamiliar with the territory.  For Fedler, one of the leading contributors to the confusion–and sometimes the debate–is the lack of recognition for the larger framework within which ethical discourse takes place.  Part of Fedler’s goal is to confront this larger framework, realize its importance, and address the subsequent questions in light of this framework.  

Chapter 1: Exploring Christian Ethics (3-13)
Fedler picks up the imagery of serving as a guide through the journey of ethical investigations.  His goal in this endeavor is to equip the traveler with the knowledge and language associated with such investigations so that they are better able to express what they have learned and internalized.  This is the fundamental distinction between knowing something and knowing about something.  “Knowing about something” is nothing more than a practice of regurgitation of what was momentarily learned. To adapt slightly Einstein’s sentiments on education: “knowledge” is that which remains once everything that has been learned has been forgotten.[1]  In other words, true knowledge is part and parcel to who we are, and it manifests itself in how we live–i.e., it is our second nature.  (Fedler, however, does not develop the argument to this extent).

The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus once said: “The beginning of a right education is the examination of terms”; and it is in this light that Fedler proceeds.  He begins rather broadly by considering the “types of ethical distinctions” (5) maintained by scholars.  The big three are: descriptive, prescriptive (or, normative), and metaethic.  The first deals with determining the various paradigms by which people live, act, behave, etc (5-6).  Fedler makes it clear that this category is not concerned with the issue of “ought”.  The second category is the one that addresses the issue of “ought”, which appears to be predicated on an understanding of descriptive ethics (6).  (This is Fedler’s primary concern in this book).  The third and final category distinction deals with the issue of abstract semantics (6).  In other words, metaethics is concerned with how abstract terms/notions like “ought,” “good,” “bad,” etc are defined and used in ethical discourse.  

With prescriptive (or, normative) ethics being the key focus for Fedler, further categories and terms are identified and nuanced that will become crucial for his presentation.  The areas of “decisionist ethics” and “virtue ethics” are presented as “closely related aspects of normative ethics”; and it is to these two areas that Fedler seeks to “maintain a balance” (6; cf. 8).  The notion that a balance is to be sought suggests an inherent disjunction between the two areas.  More on this anon.  “Decisionist ethics” is concerned with what one must do in a given situation–a situation that is labeled a “moral perplexity” (6).  On the other hand, “virtue ethics” is concerned with how one lives or acts in everyday situations, and this “how” is predicated on one’s understanding of the model, ideal, or “good life” (7).  The key concern here is not just related to how one responds to the difficult moral perplexities of life; there is also the concern with how one responds to the basic and even mundane happenings of life (7-8).  

Fedler proceeds to delineate the basic paradigm for Christian ethical discourse–both in the ancient world and in the modern (8-12).  The paradigm has three essential parts: God, the world, and humans.  The Christian understanding of these parts defines how one behaves in an ethical manner.

With respect to God, Fedler makes a case for God being personally involved with (all of) creation on a continuing providential level (9).  Onus is therefore placed upon mankind to care for what has been given to them by God, and it is to be cared for in a way that is consistent with God’s ways.  This slides into the (brief) discussion on God’s goodness or morality.  The logic here is quite simple: if God is just, loving, good, and moral; and if mankind is made in the image of God; then mankind must reflect the same attributes as God–albeit to a lesser degree, because mankind is not God (10).  

With respect to the world, Fedler presents a condensed version of an argument that will be developed in a later chapter.  The logic here is even more simplistic than what was noted above: God is deeply concerned for all of creation–i.e., both spiritual and material aspects; mankind is created in his image, sharing his attributes; therefore, mankind is to be deeply concern for creation (11)–at least the material aspect (i.e, the earth).  This is an area that is becoming rather important in both ethical and theological circles, for the standard argument used to be: who cares what happens to this world, heaven is the ultimate destination.  Such a position simply does not stand under close scrutiny of the biblical evidence.

With respect to humans, Fedler makes a case for why the study of Christian ethics is so crucial: it is because mankind was originally “created to be in [a] harmonious relationship with God and with one another” and because mankind has “disrupted both of these relationships” through sin (11).  For Fedler, it is vital to address both sides of the dilemma simultaneously and without necessarily giving precedence to one or the other.  Much of this argument is predicated on a proper understanding of the previous two–i.e., God and the world (12).  

Points of Concern
My first concern deals with the (near) exclusive treatment of Christianity with very little regard for its Jewish heritage.  The vast majority of what Fedler promotes as “Christian” ethics is intimately associated with what could be equally labeled Jewish ethics.  Not only that, but it seems to further is (wrong) disconnection between Judaism and Christianity in the 1st century CE.  Nearly all of the people who would later be classified as “Christians” (by pagans, no less) were Jewish.  Paul did not renounce his Jewish heritage, nor did he view himself as starting a new religious movement completely devoid of all things Jewish.  In this initial chapter, Fedler seems to be implicitly advocating the position that Christianity and Christian ethics are systems in their own right; although, there are points along the way where this separation is not as pronounced.  My concern is the tone thus far, which appears to be a marginalization of the Jewish-Christian connections.  (This may be resolved later in the book–I hope).  

My second concern is the supposed disjunction between “decisionist” and “virtue” ethics.  This, to me, seems to be a distinction that emerges out of the age-old philosophical debate on “thought” and “being”.[2]  The supposed disjunction is a difficult position to maintain in light of the fact that the majority of the ancient world ascribed to the notion that a separation between one’s essence and one’s action/behavior could not exist.  It is primarily a modernist (and post-modernist, to some degree) position that these two are out of kilter and in need of balancing.  Equally, it is a modernist (and post-modernist, to some degree) position to believe that one’s actions define one’s essence.  In other words: one’s deeds, life, choices, appearance, etc define who a person is.  This logic would have been unacceptable in the ancient world in general and Jewish-Christianity in particular.  Thankfully, Fedler does not lean in this direction.  

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[1] Einstein’s comment was: “Education is that which remains, if one has forgotten everything he learned in school” (In His Own Words [2000], 222)
[2] In this regard, I highly recommend Martin Heidegger’s little (dense) book, An Introduction to Metaphysics–a book and philosopher that Fedler does not mention, which I found to be quite odd.

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Treatment of the Bible

Over on a Focus on the Family sub-site called, “Boundless Line“, there was a posting on the sanctity of the American flag and right treatment it deserves (the link provided is for that post–in case you were wondering).  All in all, it was a decent post and it certainly contained some elements worth pondering.  But then, a rather odd shift occurred with the final line:

And, speaking of etiquette and honoring things, did anybody else’s parents teach them never to place anything on top of the Bible? Just wondering.

I couldn’t help but wonder: 1) is this really where the writer wanted to take this discussion; 2) is this the same silly ” ‘this’ is the ‘that’ ” logic made famous by a certain, unnamed preacher; and 3) is this really an issue at all?  Based on what I read, and based on the comments associated with the post, my answers were: 1) most likely; 2) certainly looks like it; and 3) apparently it is.  

Some of the comments given by some of the readers shaped the reasons for my concern.  But I could not pick which was more troublesome to me: 1) that people believe there is a problem with having something on top of a Bible, or that it is placed on the floor, or that it is written in or highlighted; or 2) that people have actually been taught that this is a problem, and that the one’s teaching it are ardently convinced that it is a problem.

I wonder what such people would think of my “usual”[1] Bible:

Yes, that is the universal solution (i.e., duct tape) holding my Bible together; on the back cover (2nd pic), there are scratches from when I quickly administered the “last rights” to a horsefly one night at summer camp; the stickers on the inside cover (3rd pic) are from two of my “biggest fans” while I was in Children’s Ministry; the pages in Ephesians (4th pic) came loose because the scotch tape failed, which was applied when they fell out the first time; and the writing in the margins (5th pic) is my typical practice while reading–either devotionally or for study.  

As far as “placement” goes, I cannot begin to think of how many times this Bible has ended up on the floor or tossed into a neighboring chair.  There have been several times when this Bible has been buried under other books–either on the floor or on my desk.  On the way to church, this Bible winds up in a compartment found the door panel of my wife’s Mini Cooper.  According to the logic behind some of the comments made in the post, and based on my treatment practices, I am probably one of the most irreverent, disrespectful, in-need-of-serious-repentance, and how-dare-I-call-myself-a-Christian people in the world.  

Honestly, I think it would take so much more for such criticisms to be true.    

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[1] I say “usual” because I have multiple versions that I consult for various reasons; but this one is the one–outside of the Greek NT–that gets the most airtime.  

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England Update – 1(b)

The reason for the “(b)” is because the first quasi-update is found here.  

Well, Jenn and I are coming closer to our desired departure time for England, and things are certainly looking hopeful–in spite of a couple set-backs.  Let me address the set-backs before dealing with the hopeful aspects.

As mentioned in the first quasi-update, we were waiting to hear back from Dr. Lincoln concerning a possible research grant.  Dr. Lincoln informed me the other day that the request was not granted by the powers that be; however, a possible resubmission for the grant will be pursued for next year.  This was obviously bad news for us, but we–earlier on–promised to not let it damper our spirits, which would then hinder what needs to be done.  

The second “set-back” is that we’re just a bit behind in raising the necessary funds.  While this also somewhat bad news, we remain equally positive; knowing that we will eventually get to where we need to be, even it is slightly behind schedule.  

The hopeful aspects are related to the “set-backs”–well, at least the last one.  The “just a bit behind” is really only $5k, which will cover our living expenses for short while–that is, until Jenn is “able to find gainful employment.”[1]  (The conditions of a student visa stipulate that only the spouse can work while the other is attending school).  We have been incredibly blessed by several key individuals who have committed to supporting us financially; and we have been infinitely blessed by many more who have committed to supporting us emotionally and prayerfully–both are well beyond what we could imagine, and both are certainly more than we deserve.  We thank all of you!

A second hopeful aspect comes from England.  A very kind lady has agreed to allow us to rent her house while we are in England for the duration of the PhD program.  Not only that, but she has agreed to allow us to rent it for a very reasonable price.  What is more, her house is only five minutes (walking) from the school.  (A little further away would be fine with me, as I could stand to lose a few pounds of insulation).  It is a quaint little “terraced house”[2] with a blue door, two bedrooms, and a cozy little back “garden.”[3]  She too has been a wonderful blessing to us, and we are definitely grateful for her and her generosity.  

That’s it for now, but more will come as more arrives in the days that follow.  

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[1] Props to anyone who knows the movie from where this quote comes. 
[2] A British “terraced house” is comparable to an American townhouse–though slightly smaller.
[3] A “garden” is British for “yard”.

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