Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: Luke Timothy Johnson; Grace Texts; New Orleans Restaurant Recs

I don't even know what I mean when I say that this week felt "weird." I can't point to anything in particular; it's just that feeling where somehow the rhythm of things seems "off" somehow. I did the usual faculty things, and even some less usual ones. Luke Timothy Johnson, one of the great contemporary Catholic New Testament scholars, a professor at Emory, spoke at Loyola on the topic of "What Is Christianity And Why Is It Important?" I don't think I have ever heard him speak before, although he came up to me as soon as he was done speaking, asking where we knew each other from, which could mean that I was wrong about that. He is the primary collaborator of William Kurz, S.J., the New Testament scholar I did most of my New Testament work with while I was at Marquette. They were students at Yale together, and so I had heard stories of him in that context, as well as reading things like their award-winning collaboration, The Future of Catholic Biblical Scholarship: A Constructive Conversation. Tuesday night's public lecture was largely on the communal/ethical/political implications of the Creed, as an outgrowth of his book The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why it Matters, which I glanced through at Marquette after hearing Meg tell me that she had read it in her Introduction to Theology course.

The talk was something of a apologia for the idea of a creed, in an indirect way, although I think it's a pretty silly person who publicly puts forward the idea that subscribing to a statement of believe is tantamount to the intellectual suicide of that red herring called "Blind Faith." Pretty much every group – political, ideological, philosphical, spiritual – has an implied creed in the list of things you have to believe to be part of the group. "Liberals" and "conservatives" may not put out a formal statement of belief, but at least the virtual existence of such lists are inherent in any coherent group. Christianity may have the "religious" words like "creed" or "dogma" or even "heresy," but I make a point of having students notice that these concepts are inherent in any political orientation as well as religious ones.

My class on The Experience of Grace finished up work in the Western secular theories of human nature that we are examining, with Wednesday's conversation on Darwinian theories of human nature, a lot of talk on the attractions and problems of a biological reductionism of what is human (particularly as regards the mind/soul/spirit/whatchyamacallit), and on to some discussion of possible syntheses of points we saw among Plato, Aristotle, the Jewish/Christian biblical perspective, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, and these Darwinian variations. We are now moving on to two week's conversation on Charles Taylor's examination of our Modern/Post-Modern context in The Ethics of Authenticity. This will be my first time through that, too, so I'm curious to see what I learn with these students. I heard Taylor speak at the 2009 AAR meeting in Montreal, and found him engaging, and I've read a number of reviews of his major work of the other year, A Secular Age, but this will be my first full-on engagement with him.

The students have also begun to start considering their research papers for the class, where I am asking them to engage a full text on their own on some point of the theology of grace. I've shot down a number of requests that sounded like they wouldn't be sufficiently theological or would end up being too "surface-y," and after considering some of these, am glad that I'm staying with text-based projects, which gives me a reasonable assurance of knowing that that with which the students are engaged has some serious content on grace to offer, whether or not the students themselves manage to engage it as best they possibly can. The list I offered was fairly concise, as it wasn't particularly easy for me to think of good, accessible texts that I thought had a lot to offer on this most subtle of topics, but the students have made some good additions, and so right now I've got people looking at:
Paul of Tarsus, Major Letters: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians.
Augustine, The Confessions, Books 1-9
Desiderius Erasmus, On The Freedom of the Will; Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will (selections)
Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Flannery O'Connor, (a variety of possible texts)
All of those I find rather exciting in that vicarious way I get when I see students or friends or family about to read some favourite book, or to watch some favourite film, of mine for the first time. I have one Nicaraguan student – one of my very best from my Jesus Christ class last semester, who signed up for this course of mine along with his equally-sharp girlfriend who had also been in that previous class – who gave me a fabulously ambitious and learned proposal for trying to do something in the free market/economic order of this sort. So he's going to dive into namesake Michael Novak's The Catholic Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism, which should be an experience, too.

So, in the midst of such coolness, I still can't see why I say what I say about the rhythm of the week feeling off, but there you go. That aside, Mom and Aunt Pat arrived this evening for their six-day exploration of the city. I'm taking them out for contemporary Creole food at my local Upperline Restaurant tomorrow night, which is supposed to be one of the city's best. I haven't yet tried it, myself, just because I knew they had lost their lead chef right when I arrived, and so I decided to wait a bit and see how the Yelp! reviews went for a time, while I prioritized exploring other places. The recent reviews look just as good, so this'll be interesting.

Today I asked my first, very large, Catholicism course (who were all taking their first exam) to list for me at the end of their exams any particularly favourite restaurant recommendations they wanted to give me, since I had me Mum visiting. The question just about caused a riot in the middle of class, with everyone calming down after a burst of laughter when I ruefully observed that I should never have asked a room full of Yats about food and restaurant recommendations. I could publish a guidebook with the fevered notes on their exams and the whispered instructions I received after class.
Tags: books, catholicism, christianity, church and state, class-catholicism, class-grace, grace and freedom/nature, loyola, new orleans, philosophical, restaurants, students, theological notebook

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