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COURSE TITLE: Facing the Darkness: Evil as Experience and Challenge
CREDIT WEIGHT AND WEEKLY TIME DISTRIBUTION: credits 3(hrs lect 3 - hrs sem 0 - hrs lab 0)
COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course will address the experience of evil in our world by examining the biblical literature about evil and its relation to the central biblical confession of a good creation. How did biblical authors respond to the experience of evil in their day? How did their responses relate to the cultural climate of their times? The course will then survey prominent theological and philosophical options for thinking about evil today. Finally it will struggle to articulate a faithfully Christian response to the reality of evil in our time.

Prerequisites: THEO 250
  • Wright, N. T.  Evil and the Justice of God. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.
  • Billings, J. Todd. Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015.
  • Oord, Thomas Jay. The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.
  • Harrelson, Walter J., ed. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible: The New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003. (Recommended)
  • Northey, Margot, Joel N Lohr, and Bradford A Anderson. Making Sense: A Student’s Guide to Research and Writing [in] Religious Studies. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2015. (On reserve in the library)
Preparedness and Participation10%
Reflection assignment 15%
Reflection assignment 25%
Book Review 115%
Book Review 215%
Major Essay (1500 words)30%
Final Exam20%
  • To locate the problem of evil within a matrix of fundamental questions, founding narratives or myths, and embodied cultural practices. 
  • To explore the typical answers given to the experience of evil, by believers and non-believers, and the theological questions they provoke.
  • To invite students to shape their own thinking and questions about the problem of evil in light of biblical traditions and the theologies to which they give rise.
  • To provoke students to take the problem of evil seriously as a challenge in their areas of study and vocation, and to engage in transforming praxis in its light.
COURSE OUTLINE:The Experience of Evil
  • Supplemental reading for this section: Ricoeur, Paul. “Evil, a Challenge to Philosophy and Theology.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 53, no. 3 (1985): 635–48.
  • Faith, doubt, and evil 
    • “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero”  [Sept 6, 8]
    • “The New Problem of Evil”  [Sept 13, 15]
    • Reading: Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), ch. 1.
  • Is creation to blame? Evil and origins
    • Story [Sept 20  (Note: there is no class Sept 22)]
      • Reading: Gaiser, Frederick J. “Paul Ricoeur’s Myths of Evil in Biblical Perspective.” Word and World 19.4 (Fall 1999): 389–400.
    • Science [Sept 27, 29]
      • Reading: Wood, John R. “An Ecological Perspective on the Role of Death in Creation.” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 68.2 (June 2016): 74–86.
    • Theology [Oct 4, 6]
      • Reading: Oord, Thomas Jay. The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2015.
  • Is God to blame? Evil and God
    • Theodicy [Oct 11, 13]
      • Reading: Schuurman, Henry. “Theodicy,” Dictionary of Ethics, Theology, and Society. London: Routledge, 1997: 816–19. Dostoyevski, Fyodor. “Rebellion”. The Brothers Karamazon. Translated by Constance Garnett. New York: 1912.
    • Protest [Oct 18, 20]
      • Reading: Middleton, J. Richard. “Why the ‘Greater Good’ Isn’t a Defense: Classical Theodicy in Light of the Biblical Genre of Lament.” Koinonia 9.1&2 (1997): 81–113.
    • Lament [Oct 25, 27]
      • Reading: J. Todd Billings, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling With Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015 
  • Are humans to blame? Evil and humanity [Nov 1, 3]
    • Reading: Becker, Ernest. “The Second Great Step in Human Evolution,” and “Death and Denial.” The Ernest Becker Reader. Ed. Daniel Liechty. Seattle: Univ of Washington Press, 2005: 130–134; 140–144; 201–217.
Responding to the challenge of evil
  • Supplemental reading for this section: Martin, Stephen W. “Reconciliation: The Theological Challenge.” Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif (2010): 238–56.
  • Introduction: “The parable of the old man and the young” [Nov 8 (Note: there is no class Nov 10]
  • God’s action in Israel [Nov 15]
    • Reading: Wright ch. 2.
  • God’s action in Jesus [Nov 17]
    • Reading: Wright ch. 3.
  • God’s action in the Church [Nov 22, 24]
    • Reading: Wright ch. 4.
  • The church’s action in the world [Nov 29, Dec 1]
    • Reading: Wright ch. 5.
  • Conclusion [Dec 6, 8] 
    • Reading: Volf, Miroslav. “The Final Reconciliation: Reflections on a Social Dimension of the Eschatological Transition.” Modern Theology 16.1 (2000): 91–113.

Required texts, assignments, and grade distributions may vary from one offering of this course to the next. Please consult the course instructor for up to date details.

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