Dr. James Lewis, associate dean and professor of theology and ethics at the Anderson University School of Theology, has contributed his knowledge and research on ethics and African-American history to a recent publication, the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics. Published in December 2011, the Dictionary is a compilation of articles and essays that address the issue of how Scripture should impact everyday ethical issues.
With about 500 essays included, the project took more than four years to complete, according to the general editor, Dr. Joel Green, associate dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies and professor of New Testament Interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
“The Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics is unique because of its focused concern on cultivating the present conversation around the relationship between these two fields of study, Scripture and ethics, combined with the breadth of its coverage and the range of its contributors,” said Green. “It's a reference work that invites discussion within the wider church and not only one segment of the church.”
In order to cover aspects of the conversation between theologians and ethicists from all backgrounds, there are three categories addressed in the work: issues, scripture, and discourse. “One of the features of theological and ethical work with scripture today is our recognition that there is no single, right way to approach the task,” said Green. “Different traditions bring Scripture to bear on ethics in different ways. Accordingly, the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics has a series of essays that explore those approaches.”
The articles dealing with issues are those that focus on topics such as biology, economics, ecology, politics, and gender. The articles focus on the books of the Bible individually to address the moral implications held within each. Articles from the discourse category are those that speak to a certain group of people, such as feminists, Baptists, or African-Americans, like Lewis' work. The volume is organized alphabetically, like an ordinary dictionary, starting with abortion and ending with Zephaniah.
According to Lewis, other works and studies available do not have the same purpose as the Dictionary. They focus on what the Bible says, but not how to use that to help people see what is right and wrong. Or they address moral obligations of people, but do not use Scripture to support their position. This work is meant to bridge the gap between the text of the Bible and learning to apply that knowledge to contemporary society.
“The Dictionary is an attempt to speak on a level where both disciplines can learn more about the other,” said Lewis. “It tries to help people bridge the gap between academics and the church.”
Lewis' article first defines the term “African-American,” and subsequently moves into a discussion of how the Bible fits into African-American history. He includes aspects of slavery, enlightenment, and other challenges that have shaped African-American views of Christianity and the Bible.
“I try to bring clarity to a broader Christian message and break down the walls that may have formed throughout history,” said Lewis. He does so by drawing from his own background as an African-American growing up in the segregated South, his experiences as a professor of ethics and theology, his ordination as a Church of God minister, and other research he conducted for this project.
According to Green, the overall response to the Dictionary has been positive. Individuals such as Stanley Hauerwas, Ellen Davis, and Patrick Miller wrote strong endorsements of the volume, and the Dictionary has been named as the outstanding reference volume for 2012 by the Academy of Parish Clergy.
— Amanda Bray is a senior from Sacramento, Calif., majoring in communication arts and writing. Amanda is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.
The Anderson University School of Theology is the seminary of the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). Established in 1950, the seminary is fully accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The seminary offers a number of degree programs, including the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), the Master of Divinity (M.Div.), the Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.), the Master of Arts in Intercultural Service (M.A.I.S.), and the Online Master of Arts in Christian Ministry (M.A.C.M.).