Friday, November 21, 2014

The Elements of Library Research

Mary W. George, The Elements of Library Research: What Every Student Needs to Know. Princeton University Press, 2008.

The Elements of Library Research aims to provide the tools that every college student needs to do college level research. It is intended for the undergraduate student but would be helpful to other groups. The author says her "intended audience includes novice researchers in any rigorous academic setting" (xii). I believe she is right but I think even experienced researchers can retool their toolbox or learn new skills that will be helpful.

When Mary George wrote this book she was acting head of reference and senior reference librarian at Princeton University Library. She has several years of experience helping students and faculty to do research.

The Elements of Library Research does a good job in presenting the key elements of the process of the research. It show how to determine a topic to finishing the research project. She does a great job of showing the reader how to interact with sources. George not only describes the process of research, she also describes the "logic" of the process. George's book "focuses entirely on basic concepts, strategies, tools, and tactics for research." In addition, the author draws on decades of experience of her own personal research. She has taught a range of groups to do research from college freshman to doctoral students.

The author provides a chart of the research process and describes each step:

Motivation or assignment--Topic Selection--Imagination--Research Questions--Research Plan--Reference Works & Databases--Sources--Evaluation--Insight--Thesis--Argument & Outline--Drafting & Revising

The reader will find this book as an excellent tool on the process of research. It is reader friendly, even a high school student could understand it. The author writes well and the book is a quick read. The book is divided into five chapters:

1. Introduction to Research as Inquiry
The author argues that "library research is a form of structured inquiry with specific tools, rules, and techniques" (1). A big part of this research is our interaction with sources.

2. From Research Assignment to Research Plan.
George does a good job of defining the concepts she uses in this text. In chapter two she gives a basic map that the book will follow.

3. Strategy and Tools for Discovery
In this chapter she discusses different search strategies for finding the sources you need.

4. The Fine Art of Finding Sources
This chapter provides additional strategies for finding sources.

5. Insight, Evaluation, Argument, and Beyond.
This is a very helpful chapter. It shows different ways of interacting with resources. In addition, it describes the process of getting insight from the sources. Thirdly, it teaches how to evaluate sources. Last it distinguishes between an outline and an argument.

The Elements of Library Research is a well-written manual on the research process. It provides many tips on improving one's research. It also provides a road-map that can guide the research of the reader. This book is recommended for those who want to improve their research or if the reader struggles with the research process.   

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.

I have wanted to read Brave New World for several years. I had read books that discussed similar themes: C.S. Lewis's Abolition of Man, George Orwell's 1984, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. So when one of the members of our book club recommended that we read it, I was glad.

In Brave New World Aldous Huxley presents us with a future Utopia "in which humans are processed, conditioned, regimented, and drugged into social conformity." The story is set in a future London and focuses on the "misadventures" of Bernard Marx. Bernard is unhappy with his life in this society, so he takes his girlfriend, Lenina, to visit an Indian Reservation in the American Southwest. The Brave New World allows certain unfit individuals to live in uncivilized societies. This is quite ironic since in the Brave New World does not affirm the sanctity of life. One could say it is a culture of death. It could be related to Walker Percy's Thanatos Syndrome. 

While visiting this Indian reservation Bernard and Lenina comes in contact with John and his mother. In conversations with John finds out that John's mother is from the Brave New World and was accidentally left on this reservation years ago. Bernard and Lenina will bring the "savage" and his mother back with them to the Brave New World. The savage is what the occupants of the Brave New World call John. At the beginning the society is enamored with this savage from the uncivilized world. Later they see that he is a danger to their society and must be exiled with his two friends, Bernard and Helmholtz.

Huxley does a good job of contrasting these two societies through the interaction of John with the Brave New World. Based on what his mother told him this is the greatest world possible. He is greatly excited when Bernard told him that he would take him to this utopian society. The savage is quickly disillusioned by this new world. A particularly strong reaction is the death of his mother which the culture tries to sanitize. The savage is horrified how this society looks at death.

The title, Brave New World, comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Shakespeare is a central element of this novel. The works of Shakespeare was one of the few books that John owned. He basically learned to read from it. He reads it like a devout Christian reads his Bible. He notices that the world of Shakespeare and the Brave New World are in open conflict. This is because the worldview of Shakespeare is Christian Humanism. Christian humanism affirms the sanctity of life. The world Shakespeare provides for human flourishing. The Brave New World works against human flourishing. Maybe, Huxley's Brave New World is a warning to our culture if it continues in its current path.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Long Faithfulness

Scott Mcnight, A Long Faithfulness. Patheos Books, 2013. 79 pages. ISBN 978-1-62921-469-6.

A popular saying describes the Christian life as a marathon instead of a 100 yard dash. The idea that the Christian life is a long journey. You see this idea in classical works like Pilgrim's Progress which is one of my favorite books.

A question we struggle with is why do some believers walk away from the faith. Two prominent responses are that they have the freedom to turn away or they were never believers in the first place. This latter answer seems quite weak since we have known people that have shown all the signs of being a believer and have abandoned the faith. For example, I have a cousin who was a faithful Christian till several years ago he walked away from the faith. It is hard to believe that he was never a believer since he showed all the fruits of being a believer.

Another concern addressed by A Long Faithfulness by Scott Mcnight is what is called meticulous sovereignty. The author describes meticulous sovereignty: "If God determines everything (as in the meticulous sovereignty approach), then God not only permits but must determine that some young girls and boys will be abused while others will be spared, that some adults will suffer more in this life while others less" (1-2). In other words, everything that happens is determined by God, even evil. Not long ago in a sunday school class I sought to make a distinction between God allowing and God causing events. My view was shouted down. Those who disagreed with me stated that everything that happens is caused by God. I have serious problems with this view.

Mcknight has written this book as a response to the meticulous sovereignty view. The author relates his own personal experience as a Calvinist and how he struggled with the warning passages from Hebrews which led him to see that believers do abandon the faith. He believes that God gives people free will and because of this they can abandon the faith. In a sense, he is not speaking against all Calvinists but only a certain kind. He actually thinks that Classical Calvinists and Classical Arminians both believe in the necessity of perseverance. He writes: "For the classical Calvinist and the Arminian--and I know this may sound like a bundle of hooey to many--there is precious little difference when it comes to the necessity of perseverance" (68).

Chapter one describes the author's journey with Calvinism. At Trinty Evangelical Divinity School he became Grant Osborne's Teaching assistant. One of his first tasks was to work through Osborne's "extensive notes on the Calvinist-Arminian debate" (16). This would be the first step in a long journey where he became convinced "that meticulous sovereignty was defeated by the Bible itself" (17).

In chapter two he discusses the warning passages of Hebrews. Instead of concentrating on just Hebrews 6, he discusses all the warning passages (2:1-4, 3:7-4:13, 5:11-6:12, 10:19-39, 12:1-29). He asks all the passages four questions: Who is the audience? What is the sin or danger? What are they to do? What are the consequences? I liked the idea of looking at all the passages together and asking them the same questions. The author does a good job at looking at these passages exegetically.

Personally, I still believe in eternal security or the perseverance of the saints, not necessarily once saved, always saved. I believe only those who persevere to the end will be saved. The Christian life is a journey, not a one-time decision.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Books, Reading, Family and Halloween

I like to read certain books at certain times of the year. The past few years I have read Bruce Coville's The Monster's Ring to my kids. I was thinking that I would not read it to them this year. My daughter asked me if or when I was going to read it this year. I do not remember which. I had been straddling the fence on the issue and her question convinced me that I needed to read it again.

The question is why did she wanted me to read it again. She is a great reader herself and could easily read it in a couple of hours. She is the same daughter who didn't want to learn to read because she thought I would then stop reading to her. Later, I shared with my family how Jim Trelease stated in his marvelous book, The Read Aloud Handbook, how college professors read to their students. This convinced my daughter that it was okay to learn to read.

Bruce Coville's is a modern day Junior Dr. Jekll and Mr. Hyde. The main character Russell Crannaker is bullied at school. Right before he stumles into Mr. Elives' magic shop. Mr. Elives bullies him into buying a magic ring. Russell has always been interested in magic and monsters. This magic ring turns out to be more than he bargained for. The Monster's Ring is the first of the Magic Shops books. My kids enjoyed hearing all of them read to them.

Another favorite book to read in October is Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked this Way Comes. This is a great book that requires repeated reading. It tells the story of how Halloween came early one year in a small, sleepy town. It is told from the perspective of two boys, Will and Jim, about to turn fourteen. It is an excellent companion to Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. One of the major themes in this book is good vs. evil. Bradbury makes evil so real in this book you can actually feel and taste it.

Another important character in this book is Will's father, Charles Halloway. I strongly identified with this character. He works as a janitor at the library. He is comfortable around books and could easily have been the librarian. In a time of crisis he explores the books for a way to confront the evil lurking in the shadows.

Another important theme is time. The boys are about to lose their innocence as they face pure evil. The image of the clock and time ticking away seems to be an ever-present presence. Mr. Halloway is feeling his own age. He sees his life ticking away. He is trying to make peace with the aging process and find meaning in his life. As I said, it cuts very close to home.

Both these books will provide pleasure to you in the Halloween season or any time of the year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Romantic Love versus Friendship Love

At our last book group meeting we discussed Shakespeare's Two Noble Kinsman. The major theme of the play is two cousins fall in love with the same girl which creates enmity between them. It is the old theme of romantic love versus friendship love. One wonders how romantic love or eros could separate the best of friends.

C.S. Lewis wrote about four different types of love in his book, The Four Loves. I recommend it if you have not read it before. In his book, Lewis discusses affection, friendship, eros, and charity. He calls affection need-love. It is the type of love parents have for their children and children have for their parents.

Lewis's chapter on friendship is one of the best chapters on the book. When one reads it one is reminded of the friendship of the members of the Inklings, a group that consisted of Lewis, Tolkien, and others. Lewis thinks that most people are more interested in eros than in friendship. He thinks that many modern people would not even think of friendship as love. This is not true of the people of the classical world. Lewis states, "To the Ancients, Friendship seems the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue" (57). He thinks the modern world ignores it.

Lewis describes how friendship happens: "Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.' (65) In addition, Lewis one can be friends with two or three people at most. This seems to refer to a deep intimacy.

Lewis compares how eros and friendship are different.: "Lovers seek for privacy. Friends find this solitude about them. . . whether they want it or not." Friendship love asks, "do you seek the same truth?" or "Do you care about the same truth?"

Many people want friends. They want to find ways to get friends. Lewis seems to think this is the wrong way. He thinks that the "very condition of having Friends is that we want something else besides friends" (66). He thinks friendship needs to be about something other than our friendship.

Lewis thinks that friendship may turn into eros and eros can turn into friendship. The "co-existence" of eros and friendship shows friendship is as important a love as eros.

Reading Two Noble Kinsman I wondered why the two cousins could so easily throw away their friendship between eros. We recognize that eros is a very powerful emotion. Eros seems the only kind of love Hollywood is interested in. Lewis and other classical authors thought friendship was a very important love. It was important if we were going to live the Good Life.

Another author I thought about who had something to say about friendship was Aristotle. He wrote eloquently on the subject in his ethics. Aristotle thought there were three types of friendship. He thought that in each of these there were "mutual affection." First, there is friendship based on "utility." It is based on what the person can do for me. Second, there is the friendship "based on pleasure." This concerns people's changing interest. This is similar to what Lewis said about common interests.  The third type of friendship is based on virtue or goodness. Aristotle writes, "Only the friendship of those who are good, and similar in their goodness, is perfect. For these people each alike wish good for the other qua good, and they are good in themselves. And it is those who desire the good of their friends for their friends' sake that are most truly friends, because each other loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality." This almost seem like charity love: willing the good for someone else and acting on it. Aristotle thought friendship was more than a feeling. It was also a state of being and an activity. He also thinks we were made for friends or companionship. We were not meant to be isolated individuals separated from community.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God

Evans, C. Stephen. Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1996. 154 pages.

Here is what two prominent Evangelical authors have said about this book:

"Comprehensive and compelling. . . . Seekers will find here a knowledgeable but gentle voice responding to their deepest religious questions."
                                                                      --- Merold Westphal

"One of the best popular apologetics I have seen."
                                                           --- Arthur F. Holmes

Why Believe? Reason and Mystery as Pointers to God has been a popular apologetics book for some time. I had read it several years ago and decided to pick it up again to see how it applied to my current research on Walker Percy. The idea of looking for signs that point to God is a major theme in Percy's novels. I am currently reading Walker Percy's Last Gentleman with pen in hand. It is a great book. In it, Will Barrett is waiting for a sign to tell him who he is. Another important non-fiction book by Walker Percy is Signposts in a Strange Land. This is a collection of popular non-fiction written by Percy. I like the title of this book because of the prominence it gives to sign seeking.

What does sign seeking have to do with the search for God? One major thing concerns whether God has left us any signs of his existence. Another question is whether the existence of God can be proven. Evans is a Kierkegaard scholar and does not believe that Christian faith can be proven with absolute certainty. In other words, reason cannot bring us all the way to Christian faith. I have been intrigued for a very long time on the relationship of faith and reason in coming to believe in Jesus Christ.

Evans wrote this response to one of his students committing suicide. He writes:

"I tried to help Andrew see Christian faith as a live option, but I was, to my knowledge, unsuccessful. After spring vacation I received a brief note from the dean of students, requesting a meeting. There I was informed that Andrew had taken his own life.(iX).

This experience made a great impact on the author's life. He felt he should have done more to persuade his student or shown him that Christianity was a valid choice. He was also angry at our culture for making it difficult for his student to believe. He wanted to write a book for this student and others like him. Evans notes, "I am under no illusion that religious faith is usually or even ever the result of intellectual argument alone. The roots of faith lie much deeper. Still, the sense that Christian faith is simply unacceptable to a person with an intellect who cares about truth can be a powerful barrier to faith. This book is an attempt to remove the barrier" (x).

Evans is a professor of philosophy at Baylor University. He has published many important books on Kierkegaard and other topics. This book is written for a popular audience and is easy to read. He uses stories to illustrate the chapters. He writes well and is easy to understand. In chapter one, he sets up the foundation for discussion by talking about faith. In this chapters he describes some different barriers to belief. An example of a barrier would be modern skepticism. He thinks faith is part of being human. He notes, "Each of us has a faith-dimension. None of us can avoid faith in something or someone. We must believe in something or someone because we must have something or someone to live for" (9).

In chapters four through six, Evans points to three mysteries that point to the existence of God: the universe, the moral order, and the existence of persons. He calls these pointers clues. We can deny them but if the person is serious about his religious quest, they can point him or her to God. He asks the question, what is mysterious about the universe? It did not have to exist. Why something, instead of nothing? The second clue is the "purposive order" in the universe. Why is the universe orderly? The third clue is the existence of a moral law. He discusses certain naturalistic answers that seek to explain the sense of morality away. The author states, "If God exists, nothing is more natural than that we should experience a moral ought" (46). The author believes these things make sense if God wanted to leave us signs of His presence but did not want to force us to believe.

In other chapters, Evans discusses miracles, evil, Jesus Christ and other barriers to belief in Christ. In the last chapter he discusses making a commitment to Christ. In this chapter he discusses faith and doubt, the possibility of truth, differences in religions, and making a "reasonable choice." He recognizes there is a sense of mystery when someone comes to believe in Christ. The author believes that a reasonable choice is made when "that position makes more sense than its rivals" (143).

Evans does a good job in showing why it is reasonable to believe in Christ. It is not a leap into the dark. It is a leap into the light.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief

I became a Christian when I was eighteen years. Not long after becoming a Christian I went to college. I like to think of the university as the place of reason and the church as the place of faith. I fell in love with learning while pursuing my studies at the university. I began to experience doubts about many of the things I believed. I sought through books and others assistance in wrestling with these doubts. It was a joyful journey and continues to be. I have been a Christian for over thirty years and I have struggled with doubts most of that time.

A couple of years ago two of our professors at the school I work spoke about doubt and the Christian faith in an honest and open way in chapel. I do not know if I had heard similar sermons before. It motivated me to do some research and present a paper on Faith and Doubt at a conference held at Faulkner University. I learned many things in preparing for this presentation. One of the things I learned is that we cannot will doubt away. A second thing is that doubt is part of faith. Third, doubt can be a healthy thing.

I am generally a person of reflective nature. I get great joy ruminating over things. Recently, I have been reflected how I have not been afflicted with doubts lately. It really has surprised me since I have been afflicted with doubts most of my Christian life. I am not saying that doubt does not pop up, but it is different that it once was. I am wondering why this is so. One of the conclusions I have come up with is that I have accepted that we cannot will our doubts away. A second thing is I have come to believe that we cannot have absolute certainty in regards to faith. Faith is something different.

I have been reading Kierkegaard and C. Stephen Evans lately. Both of these authors emphasize the importance of faith. They also point out that faith does not give absolute certainty. I agree with them. I do not think faith and knowledge are the same thing. I think Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin will agree with them. I accept both faith and reason. However, I believe that we walk by faith in this life and absolute certainty is not necessary.