Theological Bioethics Roundtable Update: Finding and Seeking

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Dignitas Vol. 22, No. 4 (Winter 2015)
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Each semester for the past several years the Center has hosted two Theological Bioethics Roundtable Discussions where graduate and doctoral students from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Trinity Graduate School join the Center’s research staff and discuss a recent book that engages issues of theology, ethics, and/or bioethics. This semester, the gatherings focused discussion on Oliver O’Donovan’s recent work Finding and Seeking.[1]

Finding and Seeking is the second in a projected three-volume series that explores “the foundations of ethics in theology.”[2] In a recent interview, O’Donovan was asked to describe these three volumes in ten words or less, and suggested: 1) Self, World and Time: “And now these three remain”; 2) Finding and Seeking: “faith, hope and love”; and 3) Entering into Rest: “But the greatest of these is love.”[3]

Finding and Seeking guides readers toward moral decision-making by means of the theological virtues, namely, faith, hope, and love. Each chapter unfolds lyrically, if informally. It would not be improper to call the argumentation ‘beautiful’—especially by the standards of analytic theologians! At times this can be frustrating, leaving the reader longing for a chart, an outline, or even a thesis— but O’Donovan has employed this medium as his message. O’Donovan does not provide a guidebook, but sees himself as a guide on the path. As such he does not so much provide a description of the path itself but the beauty one sees while travelling the path.

Each chapter lays out vistas of virtue but also points to pitfalls of vice. For example, in the chapter “Hope and Anticipation,” O’Donovan explores a particular “sin against time”: Anxiety, which is “a failure to allow the promise of God’s good future to illuminate the time given us now for action.”[4] In the face of anxiety, Jesus offers a call “to set the unknown future of life and action in the light of God’s promise. That is to say, it is a call to hope.”[5]

O’Donovan’s is not a bioethical study but a study of moral theology. He does not provide answers to ethical questions, much less bioethical ones. But this should not discount the book’s value to bioethics. O’Donovan does not seek answers to questions, but rather to frame these questions between creation and consummation. He offers theological definitions, taxonomies of terms that must be understood to engage the relevant questions well. In so doing, he provides avenues for thinking theologically about moral decisions. Indeed, O’Donovan has offered just the kind of book that both appeals to Bible and theology students and can guide all of us toward thinking well as we approach bioethical issues. In this volume, O’Donovan does not provide answers to questions of what Christians should think regarding such issues as life, death, and defining ‘human’ in the face of posthuman futures. Instead, he provides answers to questions of how Christians should think about such issues. Walking the path well (i.e., finding and seeking) can be more important than arriving at the ‘moral’ destination.

For the Spring Semester, we will engage two shorter works, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudito Si’, and Jean-Claude Larchet’s The Theology of Illness.[6]

Additionally, we look forward to expanding the Roundtable discussions to engage even more aspiring pastors and scholars and providing them additional opportunities to connect their theological study to the bioethical issues of our time. We are working with several of this Fall’s student participants to form an officially recognized student group and making plans to begin hosting a series of Bioethics Brown Bag lunches to discuss biblical and theological perspectives on bioethical issues.

References

[1] Oliver O’Donovan, Finding and Seeking: Ethics as Theology Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014).

[2] Oliver O’Donovan, “Five Questions with Oliver O’Donovan,” EerdWord, March 17, 2015, http://eerdword.com/2015/03/17/five-questions-with-oliver-odonovan/.

[3] Ibid. Note that in the Fall of 2014 CBHD hosted Theological Bioethics Roundtables discussing O’Donovan’s Self, World, and Time: Ethics as Theology Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013). We look forward to discussing the third volume upon its release.

[4] O’Donovan, Finding and Seeking, 173.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Pope Francis, Laudito Si’ [Encyclical Letter on the Care of our Common Home], Vatican Website, June 18, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html, and Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002).

Cite As:

Michael G. Cox, "Theological Bioethics Roundtable Update: Finding and Seeking,” Dignitas 22, no. 4 (2015): 13.