Reflection on Scholastic Theology

Rather than simply having you report on the developments in medieval scholastic theology, I would like you to show me you understand it by doing some of it yourself. Consider this scenario:

After the service one Sunday, someone approaches you. He has heard that you are in seminary and assumes you are learning answers to tough questions of the Christian faith. He tells you he is a 2004 college graduate who majored in the sciences. As part of his general education requirements he took a course in geology. Near the end of his time in college he became interested in "the Christian religion" (that's what he calls it) and started attending church last summer. He was warming up to the message of a loving God who has a good plan for his life and for the world, but then two things happened that set him way back and have left him troubled. First, the tsunami struck on December 26. It seemed to confirm all his old convictions about the world and call into question all he had heard about God and the world from Christians. Second, as he listened in church and read Christian websites, he noticed either silence from Christians about the problem or explanations that he found shallow and scientifically naive.

"Can you help me?" he asks. "I just don't know what to think about a God who structures the world this way. And the answers I'm getting are pushing me further and further away. Last week I read someone claim that it is the doing of the devil. But the world just wouldn't support life without a molten core. You just can't take one thing away from the complex of geological systems and have the rest of it work the same way. It's like taking the axles out of your car! Everyone has been telling me about 'God's good creation.' But now you guys all seem to be hedging and ducking the problem. Do you have an answer or not? How am I supposed to think about the world?"

Aren't you glad you're in seminary?

It is obvious that you will have to think carefully through your answer, because he is a sympathetic but skeptical listener who has thought through the implications of what he has heard so far and has become stumped. You wonder how you, a nonspecialist, will ever be able to respond in a way that grows his confidence in the Christian tradition. Then you think about the way scholastic theology wrestled with similar questions and problems, some of the materials it used to do so, and some of the conclusions it reached.

Write an "article" for a "question" using the same structure of thought as you find in Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. Your goal is to meet and overcome this person's objection in a way the person will find persuasive. Begin as follows:

Objection 1. It would seem that the natural structure of the earth contradicts the goodness of its Creator. For....

I am not looking for geology! Nor am I demanding a convincing answer, since that is not the focus of this course (though it would be a plus). I am looking for evidence that (a) you understand the practices, goals, and materials of scholastic theology, (b) you understand its conclusions, and (c) you appreciate how its lessons could be extended to the needs of our own setting. Raise all the objections you like, but answer every one. The more perceptive and truly "scholastic" your objections, uses of authorities, and responses, the better.

What I would really like is for you to gain the discipline of being able to work as these theologians did, even if you don't really like to think this way or have many opportunities to do so. Do you think this scenario is contrived? It happens every day, but in the minds of congregants and readers who rarely voice their objections. Instead, they just quietly check out, if not with their feet than at least with their mind.

You can bring in material from lectures, Evans, or elsewhere if it helps you. You can also include bracketed citations or allusions to the course materials as you did in your last assignment, as asides to me rather than incorporated into your article. For inspiration, you may want to go online and look at the Summa IQ49A2; it is treating a related (but not identical) problem.

I wonder: When your article is finished, could you use it to write a good sermon?

Please keep your work 3-4 pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers. Remember, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

(Back to Schedule)