Dr. Paul A. Lewis
Professor of Religion
- B.A., Missouri Western State College
- M.Div., Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary
- Th.M., Union Theological Seminary
- Ph.D., Duke University
I grew up on the border of a border state. My hometown is St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Pony Express began and Jesse James expired (involuntarily, I might add). This city, slightly smaller than Macon, sits on the banks of the Missouri River that marks the western border of Missouri and the eastern border of Kansas. St Joe has a history of looking both forward to the promise of the west and back to the country’s more settled heritage of the east.
Upon reflection, I wonder how that setting has subtly shaped my life. On one hand, I find that I am intellectually and religiously restless — never settled for long, always wanting to explore more. I may come by this trait genetically, too, for I am told (although I have never confirmed it myself), that I am descended from Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame. Although that story may be apocryphal, I do come by this trait somewhat honestly, I fear, since my father was a Methodist turned Southern Baptist who was pastor of an American (northern) Baptist congregation during my childhood. At the same time that I feel this restlessness, I find that I want to be connected, too, to maintain a sense of roots and identity, most importantly as one of God’s people, whose stories begin, but do not end, with those contained in the biblical records.
My restlessness is apparent in my educational history, too, for I have studied at state, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist schools and taught at Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, and Baptist institutions (I sometimes wonder whether I am very ecumenical or very confused). Baptist, Catholic, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, and Reformed thinkers (as well as a few philosophers and psychologists) have all been important conversation partners in my intellectual and religious development.
Despite the restlessness, I have put down some roots that find expression in both my understanding of Christian ethics and convictions about teaching and learning. I came to realize that knowledge of Bible and doctrine must find expression in how we live if faith is to have any substance. Christian Ethics, as I see it, is an academic discipline and therefore helps us to explore the connections between belief and behavior in hopes that that our living will become more consistent with our deepest convictions about what God is calling us to be and to do. The discipline is not just for gaining knowledge; it is also for changing lives. In doing so, we draw from the history and traditions that nurture us even as we continue to expand their horizons. Knowing who we are and where we come from make it possible for us to move into the future with integrity. Such learning requires that we develop the skills needed to improvise, to innovate faithfully.
Another word for those skills is virtues, which culminate in practical wisdom. The practically wise person can think hard and love the right things in the right way so as to act in ways that achieve as much of that good as can be achieved in the circumstances. What makes that sense of the good Christian is that we take our clues from the Jewish concept of shalom and Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom of God. From them, we learn to construe the good as all things working together in the way God intended.
Teaching and learning is therefore never purely a matter of the head (although it is necessarily that). It is also about personal transformation for the sake of service to that larger good that calls us out of ourselves.
Although Christian Ethics draws largely from the resources and insights of the Christian traditions, it does not do so exclusively, for it necessarily engages other academic disciplines, the church, popular culture (I am partial to the various incarnations of Star Trek, for example) and the voices of marginalized groups. I seek to engage in such conversations in my varied research interests in health-care ethics, in moral/character development, and in seeking to discern from the natural world hints of what is good for us.
- REL 130 Engaging the Old Testament
- REL 150 Engaging the New Testament
- REL 230 Approaches to Christian Ethics
- REL 335 Christian Ethics in America
- Special-topics courses: “Ethics of Global Development” (for Mercer on Mission); “Professions and Faiths” (Fall 2019), a class where professional ethics meets Christian and Buddhist thought.
- ELS 100. The Road to Responsibility
- ELS 400. The Responsible Life
I am currently working on a book in Christian ethics on “Faithful Innovation: A Christian Practical Wisdom.” This grows out of my interests in moral development, an interest that began as a psychology major in college, grew through work in virtue ethics in seminary and graduate school, and got a boost in working with colleagues across Mercer on what we called the Phronesis Project.
I have published one book (Wisdom Calls: the Moral Story of the Hebrew Bible) and many articles on a range of subjects.
I also edit the scholarly journal of the Polanyi Society, Tradition and Discovery. The journal publishes articles that delve into the thought and implications of Michael Polanyi, a Hungarian-born physical chemist turned philosopher of science, whose work touches a number of disciplines, including economics, theology, ethics, and aesthetics. For more, see www.polanyisociety.org
Outside of the Classroom
I participate in several professional societies and in the life of Highland Hills Baptist Church, where I currently sing in choir and team-teach a Sunday School class for adults. In the past, I have served as a deacon and facilitated a strategic-planning process. My wife, Marsha, is a certified diabetes educator and clinical dietitian who grew up in Brazil and teaches as an adjunct here. Our son has turned into a responsible adult who can’t escape the world of education, so he works in Student Life at a university in South Carolina. In the spare time I occasionally find, I enjoy walking, listening to jazz (and wanting to learn to play jazz guitar), reading science fiction and mysteries, going to Mercer basketball and football games, watching Formula 1, sports car, and Indy Car races on TV, and attending the Petit Lemans sports car race at Road Atlanta (and wanting to be reincarnated as a race driver).