Seminar

Ph.D. Seminar Descriptions

Fall 2010

D95 Doctoral Seminar: Philosophical Theology: The Apologetics of Despair (Prof. Lee Hardy, Calvin College)

Christian apologetics is usually divided into two classes: positive and negative. Positive apologetics is the project of demonstrating basic truths of the Christian faith from the self-evident truths of reason or publicly accessible historical facts; negative apologetics is the humbler enterprise of disarming intellectual objections to the Christian faith. The one tries to show that it is irrational not to believe; the other that it is not irrational to believe. The kind of apologetics that will serve as the centerpiece of this course–the "apologetics of despair"–falls somewhere in between these two categories. It is an attempt to push the assumptions of the secular worldview until that worldview becomes existentially untenable, to trace out the logic of atheism to its bitter and presumably unacceptable conclusions, thereby creating a new openness to the hope of the Gospel. Thus conceived, this apologetic strategy resembles a "reductio ad absurdum" argument, which is effective only if certain intuitions are present that would lead one to reject the conclusion of the argument and therefore deny its (or one of its) premises. In this course we will examine the pursuit of the apologetics of despair in the works of Blaise Pascal and Soren Kierkegaard; we will also study the influence of this apologetic strategy on the early Christian existential anthropology of Martin Heidegger. At the conclusion of the course we will consider what the classical tradition has to say about despair, consulting the work of Thomas Aquinas.

Spring 2010

996 The Theology of Work and Vocation. Spring 2010. Prof. Lee Hardy

In the Reformed tradition, the idea of vocation plays a central role in understanding and assessing the shape a Christian life is to take. This course will be devoted to understanding this idea. The course will begin with a review of the basic western attitudes towards work as expressed in the works of the Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Bruno, Marx and Freud, among others. In the course of this review, I shall develop an interpretive schema based on the opening lines of Calvin’s Institutes. There Calvin points to the reciprocal relation between our self understanding and our understanding of God. In the western tradition generally we find this to be the case: human kind understood as a combination of a higher, divine-like, element and a lower, animal-like, element. The divine-like element–be it a spark or an image–is what makes humans human. From this formal ontological schema follows the injunction: enhance the divine element, suppress the animalic. Different ways of life then follow from the content plugged into the divine place-holder. If the distinguishing feature of the divine is immortality (as held in the Homeric worldview) then the best kind of human life will be set on achieving immortality. Since humans must in fact die, the immortality achieved will be a matter of living on in the memory of future generations through the accomplishment of some great deed in the public realm. Hence the best way of life for a human being is one of honor-seeking. Other ideals will emerge as the divine is conceived as a matter of knowing (The Philosopher) or creating (The Artist).

Against this background, the course will then focus on the development of the protestant theology of vocation, beginning with Luther’s reaction to the monastic ideal by way of his station-based concept of vocation, and then exploring the Reformed gift-based concept in Calvin and English Calvinism. In this part of the course I will attempt to develop a coherent and comprehensive theology of vocation, beginning with the general calling of all believers to follow Christ and then interpreting particular callings as gift-and-station based responses to that one call. I will then deal with the synchronic issue of vocational integration and the diachronic issue of vocational change over the span of a life. Concluding this section I will turn to post-Vatican II Catholic theology of vocation, which, in its emphasis on the "vocation of the laity," bears a remarkable resemblance to typically Reformed themes.

The third and final part of the course will be devoted to various recent critiques of the Reformed idea of vocation: the Weber Thesis (Max Weber); a feminist critique (Dorothy Sollee); and – for lack of a better term – the "irrelevance" critique (Ellul, Hauerwas, and Badcock).

993, 994, 995 The Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Spring 2010. Prof. John Cooper

A study of selected readings from Summa Theologica on revelation and reason, God’s nature and relation to the world, human nature, nature and grace, sin and salvation, natural law and the virtues, and our eternal destiny.

993 History of Christianity: Jonathan Edwards. Spring 2010. Prof. George Marsden

This doctoral seminar will be a study of Jonathan Edwards, including his life, his thought, his theology, his historical setting, and his significance both as a historical figure and as a theological guide. Some attention will be given to his background, especially in New England and his legacy in later American history. The course will be based on readings and discussions of both primary and secondary sources. Participation in the course implies a commitment to conscientiously do the daily readings (which will be essential for the discussions) and you should not sign up for the course if you cannot commit to that discipline. There may also be brief written assignments on weekly readings. The basic written requirements will be one short paper and one major paper.

947 Theology of the Holy Spirit. Spring 2010. Prof. John Bolt

Examines the doctrine of the Holy Spirit biblically, historically, and systematically, with special attention to contemporary developments in Pentecostal and mainline spirituality and theology, and the relation between Christology and pneumatology.