Help Us to Be Good: A Pneumatological Virtue Ethic for Churches of Christ
Date of Award
Ph.D. in Religious Studies
Department of Religious Studies
Churches of Christ (Stone-Campbell Movement) have inherited from early thinkers in the Restoration Movement and generally operate out of an ethic which can be summarized in the maxim, “Try hard to do what the Bible says.” This approach has two major flaws: self-reliance rather than reliance on the Holy Spirit, and a tendency to treat Scripture and an individual’s obedience to Scripture as ends in themselves instead of the means to an end. This ethic yields an anthropology that is at once too high and too low: too high in its assumption that we can achieve goodness without the direct aid of the Spirit and too low in its assumption that obedience is the highest good to which we are called. To this problem, I propose a two-part prescription. The first element of my proposed solution is recommendation of Alasdair MacIntyre’s recovery of Aristotelian virtue ethics. Key concepts like teleology, narrative, community, practices, and traditions help provide a more wholistic, practical, and, I argue, biblical way to think about ethics. Helpful as he is, MacIntyre presents his project in the language of philosophy, and if virtue ethics are to be accessible to Churches of Christ, they must be baptized and appear in explicitly Christian language. Providentially, Stanley Hauerwas has already done precisely this work. His theological appropriation of MacIntyre transforms teleology into eschatology, narrative to the gospel, practices to sacraments, and traditions to the church. But Hauerwas’s work, as has often been noted, tends to offer only a bare account of the Holy Spirit. The second element of my prescription is a more robust pneumatology than can be provided either by Hauerwas or by Churches of Christ but which draws on the best elements of both. Following Hauerwas’s aphoristic style, I propose a riddling methodology to explore three major themes in pneumatology: 1) the Holy Spirit as both the power/presence of God and as a person, 2) the Holy Spirit’s role in kenosis and theosis, and 3) the Holy Spirit and love. Drawing on a wide range of biblical sources, the work of theologians including Robert Jenson and Eugene Rogers, and the images and insights of patristic authors, especially Augustine I attempt to show that the Spirit is a person who helps us to become that which God is, namely, love. I conclude by suggesting that Churches of Christ replace the maxim “Try hard to do what the Bible says” and the theological ethic that it represents with maxims such as: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” “Love and do what you want.” And, the simple but profound prayer, “Help us to be good.”
Spirituality, Theology, Bible, Biblical Studies, Ethics, Philosophy, Religion, Pneumatology
Copyright 2021, author
Sandlin, Mac S., "Help Us to Be Good: A Pneumatological Virtue Ethic for Churches of Christ" (2021). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 7022.