Paul A. Lewis
I grew up on the border of a border state. My hometown is St. Joseph, MO, 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. Perhaps this is why I have found that Mercer's commitments to both its Baptist roots and transformative education to be such a congenial place.
My restlessness is apparent in my educational history, too, I suppose 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 find that I have put down some roots that find expression in certain convictions about teaching and learning. We learn best by drawing 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. 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 a larger good.
This posture finds expression, too, in how I think about Christian Ethics, which for me is really all about integrity. I was drawn to this area of study as 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 an academic discipline 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. Again, the discipline is not just for gaining knowledge, but also for changing lives.
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.
Christianity classes Taught:
• CHR 101 Introduction to Old Testament
• CHR 150 Introduction to New Testament
• CHR 270 Historical Theology
• CHR 330 Approaches to Christian Ethics
• CHR 335 Christian Ethics in America
• CHR 410 Brazilian Liberation Theology (part of Mercer on Mission; every other summer)
My most current area of research is in the area of pedagogy and character development, which I am doing in conjunction with the Phronesis Project, an Mercer initiative devoted to exploring character, practical reasoning, and professional formation. For more information, go to http://www2.mercer.edu/phronesis/. This work follows up on research I did on a sabbatical during the fall of 2008 on moral development among college undergraduates.
Outside of the classroom:
I participate in several professional societies and church life. My wife, Marsha, is a clinical dietitian who grew up in Brazil. Our son is in college, contemplating the major of the day. In the spare time I occasionally find, I enjoy walking, listening to jazz, 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 race at Road Atlanta.