Jacob L. Goodson
I am pleased to present this special issue on philosophy and theology to the Society of Scriptural Reasoning, as well as our broader readership. This special issue offers readers five different sections, all of which relate, in some way or another, to questions relating to the field of philosophical theology. When I take a step back from this issue, I perceive how these essays address significant and timely topics concerning the connections and inter-relations between biblical hermeneutics, modern logic, philosophy of religion, Qur’ānic exegesis, the role of Scripture in the modern world, and theological reasoning.
The first section offers a preview of the forthcoming book, Signs and Wonders: American Philosophers Read Scripture, which is now under contract with Lexington Books and expected to be published in 2017. Willie Young gives a comprehensive analysis concerning the role of Scripture within the transcendentalist philosophy of Henry David Thoreau. Bill Elkins examines the “echoes of Scripture” within Josiah Royce’s philosophy of absolute pragmatism, and this examination enables Elkins to compare and contrast Royce’s philosophy from Charles Peirce’s and William James’s. Ann Duncan demonstrates what a moral interpretation of the Gospels looks like within the life and writings of Jane Addams. Neither Addams nor Thoreau is considered part of the “official” canon of Western philosophy, but they certainly have established their place in the canon of American philosophy. It turns out that, for both Addams and Thoreau, Scripture plays a significant—if not always explicit—role within their thinking.
In November 2013, the Scriptural Reasoning Academic Network experimented with a text study session where some participants represented the views of a particular philosopher while other participants simply represented their own religious selves/traditions. Ann Duncan hosted us at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, which turned out to be a most delightful setting for this philosophical experiment with the practice of Scriptural Reasoning! In one study group, Ann represented Jane Addams’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount while I represented George Santayana’s interpretation of the same passage. In another study group, Willie Young (Endicott College) represented Thoreau’s interpretation of the first chapter of Joel. For the third group, Peter Dula (Eastern Mennonite University) represented Stanley Cavell’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13, while Bill Elkins (Drew University) spoke on behalf of Josiah Royce and his community-centered interpretation of the same Pauline passage. I believe that this kind of experiment, with the practice of Scriptural Reasoning (SR), offers one way to extend SR into the discipline of philosophy, where scholars—who may or may not have a religious identification—find a role to play for studying the traditionally sacred texts of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
The second section of this special issue on philosophy and theology offers two significant contributions to the field of philosophical theology: Ozgur Koca’s “Said Nursi’s Analysis on the Exegetical Significance of the Divine Names Mentioned in the Qur’an” and Hanoch Ben-Pazi’s “The Meaning of Scriptures in the Thought of Emmanuel Lévinas.” Koca’s essay contributes to the field of philosophical theology as it relates to Islamic theological reasoning, and Ben-Pazi’s essay contributes to the field of philosophical theology in relation to the theological reasoning of rabbinic Judaism. The essays also contribute to scholarship on Emmanuel Lévinas and Said Nursi, and the JSR certainly invites further submissions on Lévinas’s Talmudic thinking and Nursi’s Qur’anic thinking.
For the third section, we publish the papers given at the Scriptural Reasoning session of the American Academy of Religion meeting, which occurred in San Diego in November 2014. The first three essays—written by Molly Farneth, Mark James, Randi Rashkover—critically engage with Nicholas Adams’s new interpretation of G.W.F. Hegel’s logic and philosophical theology found in his book entitled Eclipse of Grace: Divine and Human Action in Hegel (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013). We also publish Adams’s response to the three critical engagements with his book. For readers interested in the background to Adams’s thinking, or perhaps exploring Adams’s writing career, see another issue published by the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning (“Public Debate and Scriptural Reasoning,” vol. 10, no. 2 [December 2011]), which provides critical engagements with Adams’s first book entitled Habermas and Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2006).
In section 3, we offer two essays on the role of theology within the modern university: Jacob Goodson’s “The State of the Secular University” and Matthew Vaughan’s “Educational Definitions for Scriptural Reasoning.” First, I explain and evaluate four different theories pertaining to theology’s place within the modern secular university: David Ford’s, Stanley Hauerwas’s, Mike Higton’s, and John Milbank’s. Ford and Higton, of course, remain active members within the Society of Scriptural Reasoning; Hauerwas and Milbank continue to have their own followings within the disciplines of Christian theology and theological ethics. I distinguish the work of these four theologians in terms of humility vs. hubris, hopefulness vs. hopelessness; in my conclusion, I report on the ways in which these four theories helped (or hindered) me while teaching at the College of William & Mary. Second, Matthew Vaughan constructs a pedagogically driven theory of Scriptural Reasoning and suggests ways in which SR impacts religious and theological education in the 21st century. This essay comes from a chapter in Vaughan’s dissertation, which he successfully defended at Union Theological Seminary in the early part of 2015. Vaughan’s pedagogical re-descriptions and uses of David Ford’s and Peter Ochs’s work stretches the practice of SR into classrooms and curriculums in ways not yet achieved by others within the Society of Scriptural Reasoning.
For the fourth section, we provide two substantial book reviews, both of which relate to questions within Islamic theology and Qur’ānic exegesis. Shifa Amina Noor (University of Virginia) reviews Isra Yazicioglu’s Understanding the Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age (Penn St. University Press, 2013) and Thomas E. Phillips (Claremont School of Theology) reviews Scott Bridger’s Christian Exegesis of the Qur’ān: A Critical Analysis of the Apologetic Use of the Qur’ān in Select Medieval and Contemporary Arabic Texts (Pickwick Publications, 2015). The fifth section contains three shorter book reviews, and these reviews relate to questions within the areas of Jewish philosophy and Jewish theology: Alan T. Levenson (University of Oklahoma) reviews Steven Bob’s Go to Nineveh (Pickwick Publications, 2013); Murray J. Haar (Augustana University) reviews Steven Kepnes’s The Future of Jewish Theology (John Wiley and Sons, 2013); and the issue concludes with a brief review of the almost 900 page Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy, Volume 2: The Modern Era (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
How does Scriptural Reasoning help us understand the recently posted statement, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God” (Larycia Hawkins, Facebook Post, [December 10, 2015])? Some of the arguments and investigations in this special issue relate to the current controversy—stemming from these words—now taking place at the evangelical Christian institution of higher education, Wheaton College. I suggest three ways that SR speaks to the controversy at Wheaton College during this time. First, for those readers of JSR interested in this controversy at Wheaton College, I strongly recommend reading Tom Greggs’s “Peoples of the Covenants: Evangelical Theology and the Plurality of the Covenants in Scripture” (vol. 11, no. 1 [August 2012]).
In addition to Gregg’s essay from 2012, I believe that (at least) three pieces in this current issue provide tools for thinking through what right and virtuous reactions look like in relation to the statement, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God”: Koca’s “Said Nursi’s Analysis on the Exegetical Significance of the Divine Names Mentioned in the Qur’an,” Noor’s “Review of Isra Yazicioglu’s Understanding the Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age,” and Phillips’s “Review of Scott Bridger’s Christian Exegesis of the Qur’ān: A Critical Analysis of the Apologetic Use of the Qur’ān in Select Medieval and Contemporary Arabic Texts.” What would happen if the Wheaton community read Koca’s essay on Nursi, then read Nursi’s Islamic theology alongside the Christian Reformed theologian Karl Barth’s Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum: Anselm’s Proof of the Existence of God in the Context of his Theological Scheme (SCM Press Ltd., 1960)? How would Wheaton be impacted by a close study of the miracle stories in the Qur’ān, guided by Yazicioglu’s Understanding the Qur’anic Miracle Stories in the Modern Age, in relation to the miracle stories of the Gospels? Instead of shutting down conversations about the relation between “Allah” in the Qur’an and “God” in the Christian Old and New Testaments, why not take this controversial statement as an invitation to ask professors and students to engage in their own “Christian exegesis of the Qur’ān”—especially now that we have a model, which Phillips judges to be both promising and limiting, for such a practice in Bridger’s Christian Exegesis of the Qur’ān: A Critical Analysis of the Apologetic Use of the Qur’ān in Select Medieval and Contemporary Arabic Texts?
The questions raised here—and the actions, practices, and strategies that might follow from the questions—come from the implications of Matthew Vaughan’s suggestions on how SR ought to be implemented in classrooms and curriculums and my own critical reflections on what role theological reasoning can and should play in the 21st century: namely displaying humility and hopefulness in a world full of hubris and despair. (Does the decision by the Wheaton administration exhibit hopelessness and hubris or humility and hopefulness?) Therefore, I hypothesize that that this special issue on philosophy and theology comes out with the potential for immediate application and relevance (hence my earlier description that these essays address significant and timely topics).
Secondly, instead of making a hasty decision that this statement is automatically false—and, hence, falsifiable—the practice of SR reminds us that we need to return to the sacred texts that potentially ground statements such as these. The claim, “We worship the same God,” should be considered an invitation to study the Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’ān together; it does not warrant a knee-jerk reaction of placing a scholar on leave. This is an opportunity for evangelical Christians to show the media and the world what it means to be a “people of the book,” and SR provides the context and proper strategy for doing so without asking evangelical Christians to surrender their theological convictions. In accordance with the “high view” of Scripture found within their “Statement of Faith,” why has the Wheaton administration not turned to a study of Scripture before making their decisions on this issue?
Third the “reasoning” part of Scriptural Reasoning leads us to recognize that the decision made by the Wheaton administration ought to be judged as a confusion between the logical terms “contrary” and “contradiction.” The professor’s statement ought to be treated as potentially contrary to Wheaton’s “Statement of Faith” but not as absolutely contradictory to that “Statement.” A contrary claim involves clarifying a difference of degree—either further differentiating or bringing two seemingly opposite objects closer together—or raising a question of variation—again to bring further variance or less variance to the object in question. From a logical perspective, the claim under question clearly ought to be treated as contrarian and not contradictory. The decision of the Wheaton administration, however, mistreats it as an absolute contradiction, which confuses the matter and potentially blocks healthy and intelligible argumentation about the claim. Of course, explanations of G. W. F. Hegel’s logic of “pairs” bears much fruit in relation to this logical confusion, which strengthens my hypothesis that that this special issue on philosophy and theology comes out with the potential for immediate application and relevance. I hope that the reader tests out this hypothesis in their own ways, and the practice of SR—alongside with the work of the JSR—proves to be helpful in this time of confusion and controversy.
A final note: the current issue started out as a special issue on “Philosophy and Scripture” and, eventually, morphed into the broader themes of “Philosophy and Theology.” I want to direct readers to the soon-to-be-published Student Journal of Scriptural Reasoning where the Society of Scriptural Reasoning and the University of Virginia highlight undergraduate student papers pertaining to “Philosophy and Scripture.” This special issue in the Student Journal of Scriptural Reasoning demonstrates the impact of the practice of Scriptural Reasoning on the pedagogical strategies of those trained within SR and how those strategies influence the research of our students.