Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Johnny Cash: The Life

Robert Hilburn, Johnny Cash: The Life. Little, Brown and Company, 2013. ISBN 978-0-316-194754.

I have for a very long time enjoyed Johnny Cash's music. I knew bits and pieces of his life from various sources. I guess I learned a little more about his life when I watched the movie: Walk the Line which I have watched several times. I also knew that he made many appearances at Billy Graham's crusades. I think I thought that he was an unbeliever and converted to Christ and then he served him faithfully after his conversion. Hilburn's fine book, Johnny Cash: the Life showed me that my knowledge of Johnny Cash was minimal at best, and erroneous at worst.

Robert Hilburn was music critic for the Los Angeles Times for over thirty years. He interviewed Cash throughout his long career. He was even at Cash's famous concert at Folsom Prison. Hilburn's "journey on the book began in early 2009" when he asked Lou Rubin about "how much of the Johnny Cash story had been told." Rubin told him only about 20 percent. Many of Cash's family and friends were very generous in sharing personal information about Cash, even uncomfortable information. They, like Cash, wanted the full story told. I am glad that an effort has been made to tell the full story in these pages because it shows how much Cash overcame in his life. It shows a sinner, but a sinner who had a genuine faith that was tested repeatedly. It is not always pretty, but redemption is not always clean and pure.

Hilburn concentrates on Cash's musical career and his art. Not all questions about Cash's life will be answered in this book, but many are. Johnny Cash: the Life shows a man who struggled with sin all his life. It also shows how God worked in his life and offered him grace. This is book is quite readable owing to Hilburn's long experience as a journalist. This book is highly recommended to all readers who are interested in the life of Johnny Cash.

The Challenge of Being Baptist

Bill J. Leonard, The Challenge of Being Baptist: Owning a Scandalous Past and an Uncertain Future. Baylor University, 2010. ISBN 978-1-60258-306-1

Bill J. Leonard has been a noted Baptist Historian and scholar for many years. He was head of the Religion Department at Samford University in Birmingham for several years. Before that he was a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is now Dean and Professor of Church History at the Wake Forest University Divinity School. He is the author of Baptist Questions, Baptist Answers. I read this book and it makes a good companion to this book. Leonard in The Challenge of Being Baptist asks the question is there a future for Baptists in the Twenty-first century. Leonard thinks Baptists must answer some crucial questions if they will have a future. Leonard is optimistic about the future of Baptists pointing them to their early history and key confessions. He also points out the key Baptist doctrines of Believer's baptism, the covenant community, separation of church and state, and religious freedom.

The Challenge of Being Baptist contains seven chapters. Topics explored in these chapters are Baptist's past, polity, beliefs about the Bible, eternal security, covenant community, and the future of Baptists. Leonard shows the great diversity of Baptists. This has been true from its very beginning. For example, Baptists have been both Calvinists and Arminians. I saw a Methodists in debate with Calvinist Baptists say that Baptists need to make up their mind whether they are Calvinists or Arminians. Both these traditions have been important in the history of Baptists. Leonard draws from the early confessions and history of Baptists in addressing these different topics. He also points out key questions that must be wrestled with for modern Baptists.

Bill Leonard treat his subject in an objective way. There are no example of flagrant biases in his book. He seems to be fair to many different positions. He does a good job of showing how there is a future for Baptists, but not without Baptists dealing with certain questions. Some of these questions are how will Baptists deal with multiple rebaptisms and children Baptism. How will Baptists handle hermeneutical issues in the future? What about "Once saved, always saved?" Leonard actually calls it once saved, almost saved. That chapter was one of my favorite because it pointed out the problem with transactional conversionism. I have my salvation, so I can go home. This idea goes against the covenant community and sanctification.

The Challenge of Being Baptist is a good read. It will help Baptists understand their past and give them wisdom for the future. It will help non-Baptists understand this strange group of people called Baptists. This book is highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Building the Christian Academy

Arthur F. Homes, Building the Christian Academy. Eerdmans, 2001. ISBN 0-8028-4744-7

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the church  to do with the academy? According to Arthur F. Holmes, they have a lot to do with each other. In Building the Christian Academy he shows the interaction between the church and education for over 2,000 years. Some of the key individuals described in this book are Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Lombard, John Calvin, Francis Bacon, John Henry Newman and others. The history of the Christian interaction with learning is focused on seven primary periods: Church fathers, early Middle Ahes, the High Middle ages, Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, Nineteenth and Twentieth century. Holmes finds four key emphasis throughout this history:

1. "The usefulness of liberal arts as preparation for service in both church and society."
2. "The unity of truth."
3. Contemplative (or doxological) learning."
4. The care of the soul (what we call moral and spiritual formation)."

In chapter one Holmes provides biblical examples of positive interaction between faith and learning. Moses was educated in "the learning of the Egyptians." Solomon was known for his wisdom. Daniel and three other youths were educated in the learning of the Babylonians. The Apostle Paul was knowledgeable of both the Hebrew scriptures and Greek learning. Holmes states that Christianity's "engagement in higher education began in third-century Alexandria." Clement of Alexandria thought that all truth is from God, no matter where it is found. He thought the knowledge of the Greeks was useful for the Christian life. He "wanted to bring all available learning to the service of Christ." He saw both the learning of the greeks and the scriptures as one source. He thought Christians needed both reason and revelation.

Another major thinker discussed by Holmes is St. Augustine. Augustine's life was turned around by reading one of Cicero's works. It gave him a hunger for wisdom. One sees the focus on doxological learning in Augustine's Confessions: "every good he experiences and all the truth he learns come ultimately from God and are occasions for praise." Holmes states that Cicero thought that "the goal of liberal learning was wisdom, for Augustine it is the wisdom of God." Augustine affirms his "appreciation for pagan leaning" in his work, On Christian Doctrine. He thought that secular learning could be put to Christian use. He thought all truth was ultimately from God.

The monasteries emphasized the cultivation of the soul. They also taught the liberal arts. The chapter on the monasteries and cathedral schools show how these schools emphasized the development of both the moral and intellectual virtues. The Roman writer Quintilian asserted that "morals equip learning."  This idea was affirmed by the monastic schools. Holmes states, "Moral development requires a humility that is eager to learn from whatever source, a quiet life undistracted by illicit desires or undue business. . ."

One can see the four recurring emphasis with other thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and John Henry Newman. I was a little surprised by the adding of Francis Bacon. He seems to go against main parts of this tradition of learning. The thing that bothers me about Bacon is his emphasis on "knowledge is Power." He does not seem to be from the humanist tradition. C. S. Lewis speaks of these dangers in The Abolition of Man. The other weakness of this book might be since it covers so many years, it can be a little superficial. All in all, Holmes does a service for us all in showing that Christianity has had a positive interaction with the academy for over 2,000 years. The idea that faith and learning is not compatible is a minor voice in the history of the church. It is a shame that so many Christians do not know this history.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Curious Researcher

Bruce Ballenger, The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers. Longman, 2009. Sixth edition.

A seventh edition came out in 2011.

Ballenger, in The Curious Researcher does a good job of breaking down the process of writing an academic paper into manageable steps. One of the problems when a student receives an assignment to do a research paper is that they do not understand the process of writing a research paper. That does not have to be the case with this book. Ballenger divides the process of writing the research paper into five weeks. However, one can take longer to do the paper. I like to think of the five weeks as five parts of the process.

Bruce Ballenger is a professor of English at Boise State University. He teaches courses in composition, composition theory, the essay tradition, and creative nonfiction.

The Curious Researcher contains five chapters and an introduction. In addition it includes three appendixes. The first two appendixes are guides to MLA and APA style. The third appendix is a guide to "understanding research assignments."

In the introduction Ballenger introduces the reader to the five week plan and the overall structure of the book. In week one the researcher is determining a topic; developing background knowledge; and narrowing the topic. In week two the researcher is coming up with a plan for his research; developing search terms; locating sources. In week three the researcher is taking notes and citing sources. Ballenger makes some good points about writing throughout the process. In the next chapter Ballenger provides instruction on writing that first draft. The last week is for revising the draft.

The Curious Researcher does a good job in providing the steps of writing a research paper. Ballengar writes in clear prose. He also provides personal examples to make it more interesting. In addition, he provides tips on searching databases and search engines. This is a helpful book for the researcher.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

C. S. Lewis's Defense of Western Literacy

Bruce L. Edwards, Jr., A Rhetoric of Reading: C. S. Lewis's Defense of Western Literacy. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1986.

Edwards includes a quote from Nehemiah in the early pages of the book: "They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. . . . (8:8)." This is a good definition of Lewis's goal for criticism--to help the reader to understand the text at hand. Edwards in A Rhetoric of Reading: C. S. Lewis's Defense of Western Literacy seeks to bring Lewis into conversation with modern literary criticism. He argues that Lewis can help us to develop a more sane approach to literary criticism. Edwards gives reasons for Lewis being an excellent guide in the reading of literary texts: "Lewis viewed the critics task to be that of clearing away debris from the reader's line of sight, allowing him to read the written text as free as possible of chronological or cultural motes beams." Edward's book shows Lewis to be an excellent guide. In some sense he takes the good points of different types of literary criticism and synthesizes them in a workable format that helps the reader to encounter the other in texts.

Edwards describes three contemporary models of literary criticism in chapter one: New Criticism, Reader-Response, and Deconstructionism. Edwards does a good job in making these theories understandable. In chapter two he discusses Lewis's "epistemology and the integrity of the text." He shows how Lewis's epistemology "informed" his view on the "reading/writing process." In this chapter Edwards argues that Lewis defended the integrity of the text and its intended meaning. In chapter three he speaks of "authorial intention, and in chapter four he analyses Lewis's An Experiment in Criticism. In the last chapter he develops a synthesis of Lewis's eclectic approach. Edwards concludes that Lewis provides us with a "balanced approach to discourse and to literature which takes into account these grammatical, philological, and sociological dimensions." Lewis's approach keeps in balance the relationships between the reader, writer, text, and world.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50th Anniversary of C. S. Lewis's Death

Today marks fifty years since the death of C. S. Lewis, John F. Kennedy, and Aldous Huxley. John F. Kennedy has been in the news a lot lately. Many people remember where they were when Kennedy died. Lewis probably died with very little noticed. Who would have thought that he would have had the kind of impact he has had in the lives of millions of people the last fifty years. See the link below for three articles on Lewis's legacy.

My first exposure to Lewis was during my third year in college. It was during the Christmas break. I had checked out the Chronicles of Narnia to read over the break. It was my first adventure into the world of Narnia. It was like I was physically transported to Narnia. It was breathtaking. I went on the read most of Lewis writings after the Chronicles of Narnia. Then a few years later I went to read many of Lewis's works again. Then I did it a third time.

Lewis has had a great impact on my life. He helped introduce me to the great works of Western Civilization. he helped me to see the importance of tradition. He showed me how faith and reason are friends. He showed me the important riches that can be gained from classic literature. He also helped me develop a Christian world-view. My exposure to Lewis changed my life forever.

I will now share some quotes from two of my favorite pieces by Lewis: "Learning in Wartime," and The Abolition of Man.

"A university is a society for the pursuit of learning."

"If you attempted . . . to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity (because of a war) you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. . . If you don't read good books, you will read bad ones. If you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally."

"A man may have to die for our country, but no man must, in any exclusive sense live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself."

"I mean the pursuit of knowledge and beauty, in a sense, for their own sake, but in a sense which does not exclude their being for God's sake. An appetite for these things exist in the human mind, and God makes no appetite in vain. We can therefore pursue knowledge as such, and beauty as such, in the sure confidence we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so."

"If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now--not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground--would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy must be answered.

And The Abolition of Man:

"The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts."

"Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought."

"Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism."

"The operation of the Green Book and its kind is to produce men without chests. ... And all the time--such is the tragi-comedy of our situation--we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. . . We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1980.

The god tells Orual that she must "die before she dies because there is no chance after." Multiple times in the book Orual says, "holy places are dark places." At the end of the book Orual says, "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer." Fox at the end says that his philosophy "was as thin as water." Oh no! I referred to that popular question, what does the fox say?

Some say that C. S. Lewis liked his book, Till We Have Faces, the best of all his books. Some think it is his best book. It was first published in 1956. It was the last novel he wrote. he wrote expository works after Till We Have Faces. His wife, Joy, was still alive when he wrote it and critiqued the early part as he began writing it.

In Till We Have Faces Lewis reshapes the original myth of Cupid and Psyche. One of the things he changes in it is that Orual does not see Psyche's castle. Why did he change this? Maybe, he thought that is one of the challenges of being a Christian. A Christian has supernatural beliefs that can be seen by the physical eye. Orual and the Fox thought Psyche was crazy because they did not believe that her castle was real.

What is Till We Faces about? One of the main themes is that in part one Orual makes a case against the gods. She writes this in a book. Another theme asks the question, why are the gods silent? A third theme is the relationship between the pagan myths and Christianity. A last theme is the relationship between faith and reason.

That Hideous Strength could be considered as illustrating the Abolition of Man. Is there another book that Till we Have Faces illustrate? It seems that it illustrates The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis. For example, Orual demonstrates a possessive love similar to the mother in The Great Divorce. Psyche exhibits an unselfish love. Friendship love is seen in the relationship between Bardia and Orual.

Orual in the book finds out she is Ungit, the god who destroys. Her love destroys the lives of other. A big part of the book is that Orual is ugly, so she veils herself. The ironic thing is that she becomes ugly on the inside. She complains at the gods for her ugliness and taking Psyche away. She feels she has been mistreated. There seems to be some similarities with the book of Job because she says at the end that the god is the answer. It is interesting that she cannot be answered till she finds who she really is and finds her one true self. She must die before she dies.

One interesting contrast is the old priest with the new priest. Another is the old god and the new god. Orual asks a woman why she worships the old god instead of the new god, she tells Orual because the old god comforts her. In addition, the fox says that his philosophy was as "thin as water." This means that reason is not enough. There must be bloody sacrifices. "Dark places are holy places." True religion contains mystery.

Till We Have Faces is a mature work by Lewis. By this I mean it comes at the end of his life and is well developed. Orual is a well-developed character. It is interesting how this woman is such a strong character. It is also interesting how Lewis ties reason and faith, Christianity and Myth together in this great work. It is another work of Lewis that requires multiple readings.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Intellectual Freedom and the Evangelical Library

John E. Shaffett
English 151
Prof. Grier
Persuasive Essay
22 Nov 2013
Intellectual Freedom and the Evangelical College Library
            Can intellectual freedom exist at an evangelical college? Many people think it cannot. The reason they believe it is incompatible is that the secular concept of intellectual freedom is absolutist and in conflict with Christian commitments.  Most evangelicals are conservative in their theological beliefs. They believe the Bible should be interpreted literally. Evangelicals are often considered fundamentalist and intolerable of other beliefs. For example, most evangelicals oppose pornography, homosexuality, and other practices believed to be sinful. Should materials endorsing these practices be censored in the library?
            Donald G. Davis, Jr., argues for “few limitations (if any)” in his article, “Intellectual Freedom and Evangelical Faith.” Davis believes that intellectual freedom can coexist with evangelical faith because of two theological beliefs: sovereignty of God and “all truth is God’s truth.” Since God is sovereign, we can trust in His providence that He will watch over the truth to guarantee that it is ultimately successful. Since all truth is God’s truth, Christians can find truth even in non-Christian writings.
            A big advocate for unlimited intellectual freedom is the American Library Association. This professional organization of librarians has produced many documents to guide library users against the threats of censorship. One of these documents, the “ALA Library Bill of Rights,” lists different policies that should guide the library in defending intellectual freedom. ALA opposes all form of censorship.
            Another position would seek to place severe restrictions on collections. This position opposes collecting materials considered un-Christian or dangerous. For example, it would not want materials that encourage the practice of the occult. Therefore, it might oppose the Harry Potter books because many conservative Christians believe these books encourage the occult. This position would be represented by the Religious Right. The RR would not want libraries to collect materials that contain vulgar language, sexual material, or pornography. These conservative Christians would want to protect the users of the collection. This view believes that a Christian institution should not collect material that would oppose its Christian beliefs and moral values. This type of library might allow purchasing some materials the institution thought was false for the purpose of refuting it.
            Jessica L. Cooper in her article, “Intellectual Freedom and Censorship in the Library,” defends intellectual freedom. However, she recognizes some limitations to intellectual freedom. For example, she states that individuals under eighteen are “legally considered children.” There are certain laws restricting the freedoms of minors. She lists such examples as using alcohol, tobacco products, and voting. Also, children are under the supervision of parents who may restrict their freedoms. She also thinks it would be helpful for librarians to acquire knowledge of the concerns of parents and other groups who seek to censor materials while doing what they can to uphold intellectual freedom. What about college students? Should any restrictions be placed on materials accessible to college students? These two positions would disagree here. Davis and groups like ALA would not want to put any restrictions on materials available to college students. The other group would argue for restrictions. Does the acceptance of restrictions on children imply that restrictions can be placed on other groups?
            There is much to like in Davis’s arguments. He is an evangelical Christian who spent most of his academic life serving as a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas at Austin. His belief in the sovereignty and providence of God to govern the world is accepted by this writer. Davis’s point about all truth is God’s truth is also accepted by this writer. However, the idea that accepting these two beliefs requires Christians to accept the secular concept of intellectual freedom does not follow.
            This writer sympathizes with the concern to nurture young people in the Christian faith. He also takes seriously the words of Jesus about causing one of these little ones to fall. It does seem that there are not only individual rights, but also rights for the community. There are also laws to protect children. Some materials would not be appropriate for some age groups.
            A middle position can be taken that will include the strengths of these two positions and eliminate their weaknesses. James R. Johnson argues for a middle position in his article, “A Christian Approach to Intellectual Freedom in Libraries.” Johnson disagrees with the idea of unlimited freedom. He thinks the biblical idea of freedom endorses the search for truth. Johnson believes that truth is an absolute, but intellectual freedom is not. Intellectual freedom is subordinate to truth. In addition, Johnson thinks the idea of unlimited freedom developed from the enlightenment and that it emphasizes individual rights to the detriment of the community.  Johnson’s view would allow for intellectual freedom to pursue truth, but not unlimited freedom.

            There are at least three positions on the relationship between intellectual freedom and the evangelical faith. The first position, endorsed by Donald Davis and the American Library Association is that both unlimited intellectual freedom and the Christian conservative beliefs can co-exist. Davis believes in the compatibility of unlimited intellectual freedom and the evangelical faith because of the sovereignty of God and the idea that all truth is God’s truth. The second view would put the most restrictions on the collection.  It sees the library as an arm of the institution and the need to nurture the students in the Christian faith. The third view would probably be endorsed by many conservative Christian colleges. This view disputes the idea of unlimited freedom but believes that intellectual freedom is necessary for the pursuit of truth. It would also endorse some restrictions on the collection because of the beliefs of the college. This position would not want these restrictions to be too numerous or unnecessary.  The writer of this essay affirms this middle position. He believes it is supported by a Christian world view. There must be enough freedom to pursue truth.

Monday, November 18, 2013

C. S. Lewis on Education Part 3

Myth and the Imagination
Before his conversion, Lewis was divided into two selves: one that was committed to reason and a materialist view of life. The other self was in love with myth. He had difficulty in reconciling these two aspects of his life. Though Lewis loved myth, he did not believe it was true, “even if they were beautiful,” “breathed through silver” (Jacobs, 143). Lewis believed myth was only fantasy; not real. However, he thought myth and story were important for the development of the learner. Lewis’s view of myth was a hindrance to his coming to faith in Christ. Two of his friends, Tolkien and Dyson, helped him to see Christianity as a True Myth. After his conversion, Lewis was able to integrate his reason and his imagination. He believed that imagination connects us with reality. Lewis observed, “It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely… What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is)… myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsula world of thought with that vast reality we really belong to” (Lewis, Myth Became Fact, 265). Lewis believed reason to be the “organ of truth” and imagination the “organ of meaning.”
“The importance of myth to education,” Hudson observes, “ is inseparably linked to Lewis’s understanding of the overarching importance of story” (Hudson). In An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis asks, “What then is the good of---what is even the defense for---occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person?” (137). Lewis answered that myth enhances our vision. It helps us to become more than we are. It expands our sight. Lewis wrote:
“My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough… Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality… But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and I am never more myself than when I do” (140-141).

The Abolition of Man
Lewis’s philosophy of education is clearly articulated in The Abolition of Man. This book was a response to a grammar book for children. Lewis attacked this book because it taught that truth and values are subjective. Lewis called this book the Green Book because he did not want to humiliate its authors. Lewis believed that the education encouraged in the Green Book would lead to the abolition of humans. It would create “men without chests.” What did Lewis mean by this idea? He was referring to the training of the emotions. Unlike the authors of the Green Book, Lewis believed truth and values to be objective. Trained emotions will help the student to affirm the good and to reject evil. The training of the chest was taught by both Plato and Aristotle. Lewis wrote, “The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which are really pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful” (Lewis, Abolition, 16).
 Lewis quoted Plato approvingly:
The well-nurtured youth is one … who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from the earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this is before he is of an age to reason; so that when reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hand in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her” (Lewis, Abolition, 16-17).
A true education affirms the objectivity of truth and values. It helps the student to affirm the truth, the good in his own heart. Not only must the mind be developed, but the will and the emotions too must be properly trained to such an extent that they delight in truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis states, “The head rules the belly through the chest… of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiment” (Lewis, Abolition, 24-25). Without the training of the chest, we will be caught in the flood of the passions. Without ultimate truth and values, we have no guidance for decision making. Without objective truth and values, there is no meaning to our existence (Hudson).
Lewis thought the teaching of relativism would lead to destruction. Much of modern education ridicules the idea of ultimate truth and values. Instead, they teach all values are culturally bound. There are no universal standards to guide us. As the book of Judges describes, each is to do what is right in his own eyes.
Lewis referred to objective values and truth as the Tao. Other people refer to it as the natural law or eternal law. He believed the Tao was universal, present in all cultures. He also thought there was no standard for judging between right and wrong without the Tao. Lewis wrote, “Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else” (Lewis, Abolition, 48). In addition, Lewis noted, “without the Tao, and the values it promotes, society must jettison it completely and create its own system” (Hudson). Lewis believed this would lead to a few people controlling the rest of the population.
The Aims of Education

What should be the aims of education according to Lewis? Lewis thought of education in hierarchical terms. At the highest level was learning; the next level was education and at the lowest level was training.  He believed that the chief business of the student was learning. He thought learning was the search for knowledge for its own sake. Lewis also believed education was at a level below learning. He did not think learning and education were the same thing. Education was something done within a institution and was directed by that institution. Training was at the lowest level. Vocational training, Lewis wrote, “aims at not making a good man but a good banker, a good electrician … or a good surgeon.” Lewis definitely thought we have a need for these people and the services they provide. But the problem, as he saw it, is that learning will suffer in the emphasis on training. “If education,” observed Lewis, is beaten by training, civilization dies [for] the lesson of history [is that] civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost” (Lewis, quoted by Dunn). Lewis noted that the aim of education was for humans to grow in their humanity. This required the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis thought the aim of education was truth. Lewis did not think Christian scholars should make the search for truth to come out to edifying conclusions. In other words, he did not think they should doctor the truth. Lewis quoted Bacon affirmatively where he says that we are not to “offer the unclean sacrifice of a lie” to the author of truth. Lewis also accepted and argued for the objectivity of truth and values. He argued for this brilliantly in The Abolition of Man. Lewis believed learning and teaching was a Christian calling. At first, Lewis saw a conflict between the life of reason and the life of imagination. After his conversion, he reconciled them. An example of this reconciliation is The Chronicles of Narnia. He created a new world that agreed with the great truths of Christianity. Liberal Arts education can be renewed today, if like Lewis, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.

C. S. Lewis on Education Part 2

 Reading Old Books
Another reason for a liberal arts education is to avoid modern errors. The only way to counteract these errors is to read books, especially old books.  Lewis emphasized throughout his life the necessity of reading old books. “Jack was a voracious reader from his early childhood” (Hudson). Joe Walsh, college historian at Magdalen referred to Lewis as the “best-read man I ever met, almost too well read” (Heck, 18). According to Lewis’ diary, in his early years of teaching, he read a book every two days. The number of books he read was not only enormous; the “scope” of his reading was vast. Lewis read poetry, prose, philosophy, novels, drama, opera and history (Hudson).
“Lewis believed that reading great books (especially old ones) was the foundation for any meaningful learning and human growth” (Hudson). Lewis thought the learner should go to the original sources instead of the commentator. This was not a popular idea at his time. Lewis stated that “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavors as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful” (Lewis, “Reading Old Books,” 200). If the reader has to choose between reading a new book and an old book, Lewis thought he should read the old book. He thought that reading the old books helps to correct modern errors. Lewis thought each historical period had its own blind spots. “None of us,” Lewis says, “can fully escape that blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books” (Lewis, “Reading Old Books,” 202). Lewis encouraged people to read an old book after each time they read a new book (Reading Old, 201-202).
An additional reason to read old books is because it “confirms” what Lewis calls “Mere Christianity.” The reading of old books on Christian doctrine helps the reader to see what is essential to the Faith and what is not. Lewis was an active participant in what has been called the “Great Conversation.” He thought to be truly educated; an individual must join this conversation. This is similar to the idea of Mortimer Adler, founder of the Great Books movement. The great conversation is a dialogue between writers of different centuries on the Great Ideas. James V. Schall has stated that a college student who didn’t study Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas while in college, did not receive an education.
Lewis thought it was not only important to read the great books of Western Civilization, but to read them again and again. Some of his favorite authors were Milton, Dante, George McDonald, Virgil and other great authors of antiquity. He believed that the rereading of books was one of the marks of a literary person. Lewis, in An Experiment in Criticism, distinguishes the literary person from the non-literary person
            The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a
            conclusive argument against reading a work. We have all known women who            remembered a novel so dimly that they had to stand half an hour in the library skimming        through it before they were certain they had once read it. But the moment they became    certain, they rejected it immediately. It was for them dead, like a burnt-out match,             an old rail-way ticket or yesterday’s paper; they had already used it. Those who read great            works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty or thirty times during the           course of their life (2).

A great book is a book that requires more than one reading. Every time a great book is read, the reader gets something new out of it. For example, I have read large portions of The Summa Theologica multiple times over the last twenty years. I still feel I have not been able to get to the bottom of it. I do think I understand it a little better each time I read it. “For Lewis, reading, reading well, reading great books and rereading them again and again, was the first step in the life of a true learner” (Hudson).
A second characteristic of a true learner is a grasp of history. “The educated man,” Lewis noted, “habitually almost without noticing it, sees the present as something that grows out of a long perspective of centuries” (Lewis, Reading Old Books, 241). Lewis thought it was important for the learner to have a solid knowledge of history. This would help him to see the errors of his own period. Each period had its own particular errors. Since we cannot know the future, the only available comparison with the present is the past. Lewis states, “A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age” (58-59).

C. S. Lewis on Education

Education and a Free Society
There is an interesting conversation that takes place between Peter, Susan, and the professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have gone to live with an old professor because of World War II. One day while they were playing hide and seek, Lucy stumbled upon a wardrobe and hid in it. While moving to the back of the wardrobe, she discovered a whole new world. She has adventures in this new world, Narnia, and comes back and excitedly tells the others about it. The others thought she was pretending and later after much arguing, check out Lucy’s wardrobe and find it to be an ordinary wardrobe. Lucy is miserable and tries to forget about the whole experience. Not many days later, they are playing hide and seek, Lucy reluctantly hides in the wardrobe again. This time she is followed by Edmund and they both enter Narnia. Lucy is excited when she finds Edmund in Narnia, and now she thinks the others will have to believe her. Then Edmund still influenced by the Witch’s Turkish delight does an awful thing. He tells the others he was just pretending with Lucy that her Narnia was real. Peter and Susan are very upset and thought Lucy might be losing her mind. So they decided to discuss the whole matter with the professor. The professor asked them a series of Socratic questions. He wanted to know in the past who were more truthful, Lucy or Edmund. Peter tells him, “that’s the funny thing about it, sir, up till now, I have said Lucy every time…” Then the professor asked Susan what she thought. She told him she would say the same as Peter, but she adds:
“but this couldn’t be true-all this about the wood and the Faun. That is more than I know, said the professor, and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed. We were afraid it mightn’t be lying said Susan, we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy. Madness, you mean? Said the Professor quite coolly.”

He told her that she could put that out of her mind.
The Professor said,  “one has only to look at her and talk to her and see that she is not mad.”
 “But then, said Susan, and stopped.” He then muttered,
“Half to himself, logic. Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities:  Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 46-48).
 In another section, the professor tells the children that it is all in Plato you know. Then he says, what do they teach them at these schools anyway? This excerpt is used to illustrate C.S. Lewis’ concerns about modern education. This paper will try to discover what C.S. Lewis can teach us about education and a free society.
Liberal Arts Education
            Lewis received an excellent liberal arts education both under the guidance of Kirkpatrick and as a student of Oxford. Joel Heck notes that “the entire Oxford education was based upon the medieval liberal arts curriculum” (Heck, Irrigating Deserts, 31). Lewis received three Firsts at Oxford: the first in Greek and Latin texts; the second in ancient history and classical philosophy; and the third in English language and literature. Lewis, therefore,  was well versed in a liberal arts education and well qualified to provide a liberal arts education to his students (Heck, 31).
            According to Heck, Lewis thought “the purpose of education … [was] to develop the character through developing the mind” (Heck, 32). Lewis believed the development of the mind was accomplished through a liberal arts education. In the Discarded Image, Lewis wrote about the world-view of the Medieval period. He stated that a liberal arts education was emphasized during this period and he affirmed this prioritizing of the liberal arts. Lewis also affirmed learning as an end in itself. “Lewis valued,” writes Heck, “knowledge as an end in itself­–knowing for the sake of knowing, learning for the sake of learning, knowledge that as of yet had no practical value was most practical of all. A literary kind of reader who receives a text rather than uses a text will likely be one who values learning for its own sake” (Heck, 35).
            Students attending college are usually more concerned about what degree will help them make lots of money, rather than the degree that will help them live well. Liberal Arts education is more about making a good life. Lewis believed it to be different from job training and vocational education. Liberal education is more about acquiring skills that will help you to keep on learning the rest of your life. It is about engaging the great ideas: truth, justice, beauty and others. It teaches us how to think, read, speak, and think critically. It teaches us how to be human. Liberal arts education is about the search for truth through the use of reason.  
            In addition, the liberal arts are thought of as the arts of freedom. Historically, this was thought as the arts for free men, not slaves. The liberal arts are chosen not out of necessity, but for the sake of the “good life.”  Lewis observes that liberal comes from the Latin, liber, which means free. A liberal arts education makes one free. He noted that “it changes the student from an unregenerate little bundle of appetites into the good man and the good citizen” (Gregory Dunn, “C.S. Lewis on Liberal Arts Education). When our actions are guided by reason, we are most human-like. When our actions are controlled by our appetites, we are more like animals. A liberal arts education should help us to rule ourselves. It also helps us to exercise our duties, both publicly and privately (Dunn, C.S. Lewis).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Seven Virtues: Theological and Moral

Jean Donovan, The Seven Virtues: An Introduction to Catholic Life. New York: Crossroad, 2007. 157 pages. ISBN 978-0-8245-2452-4.

I like to find books that have short chapters that I can read devotionally. Donovan's The Seven Virtues was a perfect fit. It also discusses a subject that is important to me-the virtues and Christian life. The virtues discussed in this book are the moral and theological virtues and one added virtue-community. Donovan's uses the teaching of the virtues to introduce the reader to the Catholic life.

Jean Donovan is an Assistant professor of Theology at Duquesne University.

The book is divided into three parts including an introduction. In the introduction the author states that the Christian life begins with an experience of God. This book is intended to provide a theology for the Christian life. Donovan defines theology as "a way to describe who we are and why we live the way we do" (13). Part one describes the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. In each of the chapters Donovan describes the virtue discussed in the chapter and describes the lives of people who demonstrate the virtue in their life. The last part of the chapter analyses the virtue and shows how it applies to the Christian life. The author states that faith is "supernatural;" and it is a choice. Faith is also rational. Faith "does not violate human reason" (36). The chapter on faith describes the Christian life as a journey. Faith is not a one-time decision, but a life-long journey. It is a choice that is made everyday.

Faith puts us in relationship with God. Hope shows how we are to live our life. Hope helps us to persevere in difficult times. Hope is what keeps us going when we want to give up. The scriptures teach us that God is love and we are to love as God loves. Faith, hope, and love are the supernatural virtues.

In part two Donovan describes the natural virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. The author defines prudence as "right reason in action" (80). It is wisdom on how to act in a given situation. This wisdom is connected to a love of truth and the responsibility for everyone to seek it. In the chapter on justice he distinguishes between different types of justice. Christians are obligated to seek the good of the other. He describes how so many lives are "bent toward self-destruction" (103). Temperance calls us to live a life free from materialism. It also requires us to order our affections and desires. We must manage ourselves. Temperance also points to our bodily life as a Christian. The author writes, "Temperance is self-discipline. Our ability to focus both body and mind means that we can craft a life that is intentional and purposefully Christian" (113). Self-discipline is not an end; it is a means to communion with God and others. Courage is another word for fortitude. It is the ability to persevere. It is the ability to be faithful in all our relationships.

The last part discusses the virtue of community. Donovan states that the "goal of the virtuous life is communion, with God" (127) and with others. It allows us to live our lives in harmony with others and the world. Community is "central" to living the Christian life. There are no lone ranger Christians. We need each other.

Using the virtues to introduce the Catholic life is a good ideas. The teaching of the virtues has been prominent in Catholic circles. It has much to offer to Protestants. Many Protestants are now joining Catholics in the importance of cultivating the virtues in the Christian life. The Seven Virtues shows how the moral and theological virtues can be cultivated in the Christian life,

Monday, November 11, 2013

Patricia Polacco

One of my favorite children's writers is Patricia Polacco. She has written and illustrated more than 90 children picture books. Her grandparents were immigrants to America from Russia. She has written a recent book that tells their story, The Blessing Cup. Polacco did not begin writing until she was forty. She has overcome obstacles because she suffers from dyslexia and other related learning difficulties.

Polacco's tells wonderful stories of family, tradition, and virtue. Her wonderful stories are matched with beautiful watercolor drawings. She has a very distinctive style. I enjoy reading her stories over and over and reading them to kids.

She recently was interviewed on NPR. See the link below for access to the interview.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Christian Civility

Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Intervarsity Press, 1992.
There is a new revised and expanded published edition published by IVP in 2010-ISBN 9780830833092
My review is based on the original edition because that was the only copy readily available.

Mouw's Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World is probably more relevant today than when it was first published. Why is this true? This is a good question to ponder. Mouw argues for a convicted civility. This means a civility that is based on convictions. There are two extremes when it comes to Christian civility. Those with strong convictions who lack civility. On the other hand, there are those who are civil but lack convictions. Mouw in this arguing for a middle position: strong convictions with Christian civility. He makes the argument from the scriptures themselves. The scriptures teach that we should have strong convictions, but that we are to practice compassion and civility. For example, the Bible teaches that we should show hospitality to everyone. Paul says if possible,we are to pursue peace with everyone.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters. In chapter one, Mouw explains what is "convicted civility." Mouw writes: "Civility is public politeness. It means that we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners toward people who are different from us" (12). In chapter two Mouw states what "convicted civility" is not. For one thing, it is not relativism. The author notes, "Christian civility does not mean refusing to make judgments about what is good and true" (20-21). Christian civility does not mean all views are true or that it does not matter what one believes. Chapters three through five shows how to become civil. In these chapters Mouw argues that Christians are to be active in the public arena and it it right that they make their views known, but they must do it with civility. In chapter five he discusses the importance of civil speech. The next chapter discusses certain virtues needed for Christian civility: empathy, curiosity, teachableness, and others.

Chapter six through eight discusses important areas where people differ: pluralism, sex, and other religions. On pluralism, Mouw argues that diversity is part of God's design. We are to honor the image of God in others. Even those we do not like, we must affirm God's image in them. Homosexuality is a hot issue in our culture. We must be sure to affirm the person even if we disagree with the lifestyle. The chapter on other religions distinguishes between dialogue and evangelism. Mouw believes we should practice both.

Chapter nine shows how Christian leaders can practice civility to those they lead. Chapter eleven asks if hell must be dropped if we are going to be civil? Mouw distinguishes between a literal hell and metaphors on describing hell.Chapter twelve analyses the idea of triumphalism among Christians. This is an important topic. Christians too often demonstrate a triumphant spirit to the world. We need to show more humility in how we relate to the world. Mouw states, "Learning civility is learning to imitate God's patient dealings with his rebellious creatures" (146). The last chapter describes how God is a patient God. Mouw distinguishes between two types of Christian: those who expect God to act immediately and those who accept that God has his own time and does not always act right away. He gives the example of creation science where some see God creating the earth in six single days and those who see God creating the world over a long period of time.

Mouw's Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World is a much-needed book. I am glad he revised it and expanded it in 2010. It is more needed today than when it was first published in 1992. Christians can lead the world to becoming civil by practicing Christian civility. Both strong convictions and Christian civility is taught by Scriptures. There is a lot of wisdom in that saying, Christians do not need to be offensive; the scriptures are offensive enough.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Platonic Myths

Josef Pieper, Platonic Myths. Introduction by James V. Schall; translated by Dan Farrelly. St. Augustine's Press, 2011.

What did Plato think about the myths that he created in his works? Did he believe they contain truth? Why did he ban the poets form the Republic? These and other questions are answered in Pieper's Platonic Myths. Pieper makes a strong argument that the myths in Plato's works actually contain the truth. He also shows how faith and reason are compatible. He does this by showing there "is no inherent incompatibility between the teachings of philosophy and the teachings of eschatological mythology."

Platonic Myths is ably introduced by Father Schall. The title of the introduction is "Myths that are true and truths expressed in myths." Schall thinks that almost everything Pieper writes is a "commentary on Plato." This is interesting since Pieper has also written much on Thomas Aquinas and medieveal philosophy. Schall says this about the banning of the poets from the Republic: "In the city in speech that is being built in the Republic, however, after we have seen why many poets who charm us, including Homer and Hesiod, were abolished, we find Socrates telling us that poets, now purified, could be permitted back in the city we are building, the best city. Not only do we need them; we delight in them. When all is in order, we sing as we should. Plato is not at all opposed to poetry. Indeed, the Republic itself is, at one level, a haunting poem designed to out-charm Homer at his own game" x-xi). This brings light to many readers who wonder why Plato bans the poets from the Republic.

Schall thinks Pieper effectively answers the scholars who argue that Plato "did not find anything true in myths" (xi). Pieper shows us there are two types of myth is Plato: "We do find myths that simply teach a lesson by extended example. But we also find myths, those ancient ones that are handed down from of old that purport to explain the origins of man with his relation to the gods" (xii). In other words, there are myths that are true and there are myths that contain truth in them. This is a good summary of what Pieper is explaining in this book.

Platonic Myths is a small book, containing only 62 pages of text.  The book is divided into six chapters. Chapter one defines myth and how is used in Plato. Chapter two shows how how Platonic myths act as truth. Chapter three analyses the eschatalogical myths. Human origins is discussed in chapter four. Faith and reason is discussed in chapter five. Christian revelation is compared with Platonic myths in the last chapter.

Pieper is always easy to read. He makes difficult concepts understandable and that is equally true in Platonic Myths. This book will help the reader have a better understanding of Plato's view of the truth that exists in myths.

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. New York: Random House, 1996, originally published in 1953.

Robert M. Woods, "Book Burning Without Fire or Kerosene and Why Scripture is not even Safe: A Christian Humanistic Reading of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Fahrenheit 451 was the book we discussed in our book group last week. I was surprised that I was the only member of the book group who had read the book previously, and I only read it a year ago. Most of the book was surprised by the book. They thought that the book was all about censorship or book burning. The book group thought that censorship is just one of the themes of the book. They thought two major themes of the book were technology and mass culture. In addition, the group thought the book was more relevant today than it was first written.

It is the interesting that the group did not see book burning or censorship as the primary theme of the book since this is the popular interpretation of the book. Before reading the book, I had always heard that Fahrenheit 451 is a book against censorship. It is interesting that the people stopped reading before the government began censoring the book.

The movie version of the book directed by Francois Truffaut views censorship as the primary theme of the book. For example, an important theme of the book is the alienation between Montag and his wife. This is not shown in the movie. In addition, it does not show the effect of mass culture and technology on the characters of the book. My family asked an interesting question: If people were not allowed to read, how did they learn to read?

An interesting part of the movie is that Montag's wife calls the television her family. Montag responds by saying that his books are his family. Montag's wife tells him he needs to choose between his books and his wife. Montag says it is too hard to decide.

Another interesting part of the movie is Montag wearing a robe late at night when he is reading. The robe looks like something a monk would wear. Is Montag saving books for a future generation like the monks did in their own time?

Woods in his article also disagrees with the popular misconception that sees Fahrenheit 451 "as an example of left-wing social propaganda or preaching a message of hyper-libertarianism against any and all types of censorship" (69). He seems to think that censorship is a minor theme of the book. He actually says it is a "metaphorical" part of the book. Woods thinks that the book contains many humane themes: anti-intellectualism, relational alienation, the quest for meaning and happiness, social literacy, fallenness, and a longing for authentic human community" (70).

Most of the members of the book group did not like the ending. They did not like the way Bradbury left it open on what would happen in the future. I actually like the ending. It shows how the city was destroyed and the book people are heading to the city. (The Book People are people who have memorized an important book of the past and has become that book.)   It is a message of hope that civilization can be rebuilt from the ashes through the knowledge of the great ideas of the past. I will leave the reader with a statement and a question from Woods: Burn Right! What book are You?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

What Does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?
            When the author of this essay became a Christian, he entered the world of faith. When he became a university student, he entered the world of reason. Jerusalem stands for faith, and Athens stands for Jerusalem. Tertullian, an early Christian writer, when penning this question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem”? He was implying that faith and reason were not compatible. It is ironic that Tertullian is using his training in rhetoric to argue this point. There are at least three possible responses to Tertullian’s question. Two of these responses assume that faith and reason are not compatible. One response is the Christian fideist position. This position argues that reason corrupts faith. The other position is that reason does not faith. Some members of this group argue that faith is merely superstition. The third response is a mediating position. It claims that faith and reason are compatible.
            The first position to be described is the faith alone position. An example of this position is the argument that the early church was corrupted by Greek philosophy. This position thinks that philosophy corrupts the pure faith. It believes the faith is corrupted when philosophy is added to it. In addition, it believes that all a Christian needs is faith. For example, Martin Luther called philosophy the Devil’s whore. He even called for books written by Aristotle to be burned.
            The second position to be described is the reason alone position. Many thinkers since the enlightenment think reason alone can guide society and individual lives. In addition, they argue that Christian faith is made up of myths and fables. In modern times, scientism has argued that science or the scientific method is the only way to acquire truth. Since Christian faith or belief in God is not recognized as scientific, it is thrown into the dustbin of history.
            The third position is a mediating position between the first two positions. This position claims that faith and reason are compatible. It believes faith and reason are compatible. It acknowledges that faith can corrupt faith, but this is not inevitable. It also recognizes that faith without reason can become superstitious. It believes faith and reason needs each other. For example, Psalms 19 speaks of two books of revelation, natural and supernatural. Natural revelation is discovered through human means. For example, the scientific method is a valid method to discover knowledge about the world. On the other hand, the Bible provides a divine knowledge about the things of God. It is the kind of knowledge that only comes through divine revelation. This mediating position believes that ultimately, these two books of revelation cannot conflict. The reason they cannot conflict is because they come from one source. The source for both natural and divine revelation is God. A good example of an individual who lived out this position is Thomas Aquinas.
            The three responses to Tertullian’s question were evident in the time of Aquinas. These responses for especially evident in the responses to Aristotle’s writings becoming available. One could say that Aristotle’s philosophy is natural revelation. These writings of Aristotle became available to Western Europe in the twelfth century. Some of the religious leaders voiced opposition to the writings of Aristotle. They thought they should not be studied because they would corrupt the faith of the believers. This group represents the faith alone response. Some scholars thought Aristotle should be accepted completely even when he contradicts the Christian scriptures. Some even proposed the idea of double truth; that both faith and reason can be correct even if they contradicted each other. Aquinas was representative of a middle position. He accepted both faith and reason. He believed faith and reason could not contradict one another because they came from one source. This source was God. Aquinas agreed with thinkers like St. Augustine that truth should be accepted wherever it is found.
            The reader has seen three different responses to Tertullian’s question: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Another way to state the question is what has faith to do with reason? Should the believer say that faith and reason are not compatible? Or should they say faith and reason are compatible? Throughout 2000 years of church history all three responses have been evident. It continues to be evident today. For example, the new atheists argue that only reason is needed to order society and individual lives. They say science is the only valid method to acquire truth. In addition, some even argue that religion is not only superstitious, but that it is actually dangerous.
            Christians who opt for the faith alone position are also evident today. This group thinks learning is dangerous. They fear their children’s faith will be corrupted by modern education. They want their children to read only Christian authors. They see that all truth comes from the Bible. They do not think the believer can find the truth in non-Christian authors. It seems they believe only in divine revelation. For example, any truth must come from the Bible itself. They seem to deny that is not only divine revelation, but also natural revelation. Are there truths in natural revelation that even non-believers can discover?

            Last, the middle position that accepts both faith and reason is acceptable today. They believers believe that God is the author of truth wherever it may be found. They accept that there is truth in Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. They think the writings of these authors should be studied and are compatible with the Christian faith. These believers believe that faith and reason are compatible. They think Christians can pursue the life of the mind and be faithful Christians too.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The God of Faith & Reason

Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith & Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology. Catholic University of America, 1995. ISBN: 0813208270

I recently read Sokolowski's God of Faith & Reason for the second time. It is the type of book that you can read multiple times and continue to learn from it. Sokolowski is professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is a respected philosopher of phenomenology. He applies his thinking on phenomenology to theology in this book. Sokolowski states that "phenomenology reflects on the appearance of things, but it takes such appearances as generally valid and true, as manifestations of the things presented in them. It does not begin, as so much of modern thinking does, with a skeptical bias against appearances" (ix). The theology presented in this book the author calls the theology of disclosure which "tries to bring out the structure of manifestation that is proper to Christian 'things,' and most centrally it tries to bring out the structure of disclosure proper to the Christian God, the God of faith and reason.

One of the major themes addressed in this book is the distinction between God and the world, and how this distinction will cause us to see things differently. The author urges throughout the book the compatibility of faith and reason, and the natural and theological virtues.

The book begins with a Christian understanding of God. In this chapter he analyzes Anselm's definition of God. Chapter two describes the pagan understanding of God. In chapter three he begins his theme of distinguishing between God and the world. Chapter four shows how this distinction is different from the distinctions of things within the world. In chapter five he discusses the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas and how it addresses the distinction between God and the world. Chapters six and seven deals with natural and theological virtues. Chapter eight addresses the difficulties of "reconciling" the natural and theological virtues. Chapters nine through twelve discusses God's existence, Scripture reading, "Christian experiences," and the sacraments.

The chapters are short and can easily be read in one sitting. The writing is clear, but not easy reading. I believe the content can be understood by the general educated reader. This book is well worth the effort required to understand its contents.

The Chronicles of Narnia: the Silver Chair

The Silver Chair is the fourth book in the Chronicles of Narnia. It is the story of the adventures of Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole. Eustace first appearance in Narnia was in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is Jill's first journey to Narnia. Jill and Eustace are members of a "progressive school" where bullies rule. Jill and Eustace are brought into Narnia to rescue Prince Rilian who has been captured by a green serpent and it is not known if he is dead or alive.

At this time, the Silver Chair is one of my favorites of the Narnia book. It has one of the most interesting characters in the Chronicles of Narnia-- Puddleglum, the Marshwiggle. He seems to be pessimistic about everything. However, at crucial times in their journey to rescue the prince, it is Puddleglum who helps to save the mission.

There are many spiritual truths that can be gleamed from the book. For example, when Jill first arrives in Narnia, she is dying of thirst. By a stream of water is Aslan the Lion. Jill does not know Aslan. She asks the Lion to move so she can drink. He answers no. She says she would have to find another stream. He tells her there is no other stream. This seems to refer to the water that Jesus gives and we will thirst no more. Another example is the Lady of the Green Kirtle. She deceives the Prince and even casts a magic spell on the Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum where they began to think that the world they come from does not exist. This whole story seem to allude to Plato's allegory of the cave. They have to go underground to rescue the prince. When they were overland they saw things clearly. When they went underground, their vision became cloudy.

The Silver Chair can be read as a good story. It can also be read for its deeper meanings. Another interesting symbol is that Jill must memorize four signs that will guide them on their mission. Some in our book group thought this pointed to Deuteronomy and the law. We are to memorize the law and it is to guide our paths.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment

Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty: the Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment. InterVarsity Press, 1992. Originally published in 1986. ISBN: 9780830822379

Daniel Taylor gives his reason for writing this book: "I wrote this book because I found so many people, young and old, struggling with issues of faith and doubt, the life of the mind and the life of the heart, the world of the church and the larger world of ideas. And because the struggles I saw in other were echoes of my own." Taylor is speaking of my own struggles. I became a Christian when I was eighteen in a Conservative Christian Church. Soon after becoming a Christian I went to a public university. I loved the life of the mind that I found in the university and I was committed to the faith I found in my church. I often found that my experiences in these two subcultures were opposed to one another. For over thirty years I have tried to integrate these two cultures in my life. What Taylor has to say about the reflective Christian I have found true in my own life.

Taylor's The Myth of Certainty describes two different subcultures who are convinced they have certainty about what they believe: the academic, secular world and the Christian conservative church. Taylor argues for a middle way through these two subcultures. He argues that we cannot have certainty because we are finite human beings. Taylor, however, is not a relativist. He believes that we can attain truth, just not absolute certainty. He shows how the Christian life is a life of faith and he shows how both of these subcultures are guided by faith.

The Myth of Certainty contains six chapters. Taylor writes about his intended audience: "My direct concern is for those people who, like Pascal, have been unable to attach themselves to the world's 'pleasing objects.' They have found in God, and in Jesus Christ, a proposed solution to the human dilemma to which they have made, with varying degrees of confidence, a commitment. At the same time they have been blessed and cursed with minds that never rest. They are dissatisfied with superficial answers to difficult questions, willing to defend faith, but not its misuse" (11). Reflective Christians want to bring their faith to the academy and they want to bring their faith to the church. The problem is that both subcultures do not want questions that challenge their certainties. They see only black and white answers. They do not allow for mystery and finite human knowledge. Though God's knowledge is perfect, human's knowledge is not.

Taylor describes the reflective Christian in chapter one. The reflective Christian is one who is in awe at his ability "to carry on a mental dialogue with reality" which basically means to think. It also "evokes that long tradition of people of faith who have valued and participated in the life of the mind and who have brought their God-given intelligence and imagination to bear on the society in which they have lived" (15). These people who enjoys pursuing the truth of things. Taylor also asserts that the reflection Christian is a "question asker."

Chapter two describes the relationship of the reflective Christian with the church. Taylor thinks that the church can be an ally to the life of the mind. Chapter three discusses the relationship of the reflective Christian with the academy. Taylor states that "the reflective Christian should be at home in the secular world of ideas, and in practice many are" (46). Basically, faith and reason are compatible, but the reflective Christian will run in to the secular mindset that believes it has all the answers and one of these answers is that God does not exist or is not important. Another problem is that the values of the Christian and the secular world often conflicts.

Chapters four through six analyses searching for truth and the myth of certainty, the risk of commitment, and surviving as a reflective Christian. Taylor notes that "the goal of both reason and faith" is truth. Many academics accept the fact that certainty is not achievable. However, "much secular truth-seeking will in fact violate this method even as it pretends to follow it"(78). Taylor show how knowing about the important things of life contains "too many variables, too much that is incalculable or non-rational, in short too much humaness involved" for the scientific, objective method to work "conclusively." It is the false idea that reason is the only way to knowledge.

Taylor accuses the church also of selling out to the myth of certainty. Taylor notes, "One kind of Christian apologetic claims certainty based on faith, another on a combination of faith and a rationalistic analysis of evidence. Their ultimate goal is the same: an unquestionable, undoubtable foundation on which to base all subsequent claims" (78-79). Where is the need for faith ifs we have certainty? Taylor had an important insight in regards to the relationship between certainty and doubt. He says, "Ironically, the insistence on certainty destroys its very possibility. The demand for certainty inevitably creates its opposite-- doubt. Doubt derives its greatest strength from those who fear it most"(80).

Some will see a problem between the lack of certainty and the need for a commitment. Taylor does not. He says life is full of risks, and the need for commitment. Both the Christian and non-Christian are taking risks. The risk the Christian takes is the belief that Christianity is true; the risk the non-Christian takes is the belief that is not true. Who takes the bigger risk? Taylor says three elements can help Christians in their commitment: memory, community, and perseverance. In memory, he emphasizes the importance of stories on our life. It shapes who we are. Taylor mentions how the church is a body, and we need one another. He says that the church is the place "where the burden of doubt can be shared." He defines perseverance as "carrying on in the face of obstacles, continuing in what one is doing despite unfamiliar circumstances." He interprets Hebrews 11-12 and applies it to these three concepts.

In the last chapter Taylor describes his own struggle to survive as a reflective Christian: "I have learned to live with the rise and fall of the thoughts and feelings of faith, to co-exist with honest doubt, to accept tension and paradox without clinging to it as an excuse for inaction. I have learned to be a minority without seeking to be an adversary. I am trying to do what people of faith have always done-- respond to revelation by my own best lights, struggle to understand all that can be understood and have reverence for the rest, act beyond my certain knowledge in the faith that such action is blessed. 'Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief' " (145).

The Myth of Certainty shows that there is a way to both be committed to the life of the mind and the Christian faith. It shows how to be a reflective Christian. It will help the reflective Christian to know that he is not alone. This book is easy to read and is recommended to Christians who struggle with the relationship between the church and the academy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

In Search of Self: Life, Death & Walker Percy

Jerome Taylor, In Search of Self: Life, Death & Walker Percy. Cowley, 1986.

Taylor's In Search of the Self looks at the quest for self-hood through the writings of Percy and Kierkegaard. Percy wrote of this book which was published a few years before his death. Percy writes, "Quite brilliant, both in its unerring dead aim on my characters, but also in his treatment of Kierkegaard. Jay Taylor makes him more accessible than any writer in memory."

Taylor does an excellent job of comparing the works of Kierkegaard and Percy. Kierkegaard is a hard writer to understand, but Taylor makes him understandable. He illustrates many of Kierkegaard's ideas by illustrations from the characters in Percy's novels.

In chapter one Taylor discusses Existentialism and the self. Kierkegaard is considered the father of modern existentialism. He claims that "Percy is a modern-day seer who sees and tells what he sees in contemporary life" (4). He asserts that these things Percy sees Kierkegaard also saw. So it is helpful in comparing the writings of the two authors. Taylor notes, "Kierkegaard and Percy believe that we are in danger of becoming mass men and women" (4). Percy thought the central task in our life is to become an individual.

Taylor describes Kierkegaard's stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. These stages are prominent in the novels of Percy. These are basically three ways of existing. Taylor explains his thesis: "The essential purpose of this study is to show one perceptive modern novelist's view of what new and recovered life is like, and of what is required of the person if he or she would it. What Percy describes as the final position of the protagonists is certainly what Kierkegaard would have called religious faith or 'selfhood before God,' even though Percy's characters seem not necessarily to have conscious awareness of God" (9).

In chapter two Taylor analyses the ascetic and transcendent sphere in Kierkegaard and Percy's thought. Both emphasize that life is outer-directed instead of inner directed. Kierkegaard helped Percy to see the shortcomings of science.
The flow of the book is that Taylor discusses certain ideas of Kierkegaard and then fleshes these ideas out in Percy's novels in the next chapter. Some of the key ideas from these chapters: The beginning of selfhood begins with personal choice. A true choice is to act for his own self. Accepting despair is a path to the true self. "A human," says Kierkegaard, "is neither a beast nor an angel, but a wayfarer on the move to the only relationship that can enable the individual to live: the relationship to God" (88). Kierkegaard states, "religious existence is a way of living, not a matter of believing the right things" (126). Despair is the link to both the ethical and religious sphere. Despair is the condition that all is not well with oneself. Despair leads to the search. This search is an inner call to find oneself. Kierkegaard thinks that suffering is the primary characteristic of religious existence.

Taylor's Search for the Self is a good read. It shows the similarities of of both Percy and Kierkegaard's thought. It shows how many of Kierkegaard's ideas are fleshed out in Percy's novels.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Making Sense of the Bible

Marshall D. Johnson, Making Sense of the Bible: Literary Type as an Approach to Understanding. Eerdmans, 2002.

Johnson's Making Sense of the Bible is a good introduction to the Bible and it various literary types. He makes it understandable for a broad audience. He introduces this book by showing how the Bible is used in contradictory ways: "No book in the Western world has evoked more diverse responses than the perennial bestseller, the Bible. It is appealed to as a prime authority by evangelists, nominal Christians, militias, politicians, and social reformers-- not to mention the large number of organized Christian denominations and branches of Judaism-- and we wonder at the variety of interpretations given it and the conflicting claims made on its behalf" (1). People often forget that the Bible is an ancient book and read it like today's newspaper. This is a welcome volume that explains the literary types in the Bible and how to interpret them.

Marshall D. Johnson is now retired from Fortress Press. He has been active in teaching and publishing in the area of Biblical studies for several years. He has also authored The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies.

Making Sense of the Bible is divided into ten chapters. In the introductory chapter, Johnson describes the different types of literature included in the Bible. Chapter two discusses the "Wisdom literature." Some of the books discussed in this chapter are Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James. Johnson says the Wisdom books are "personal rather than national, existential rather than historical, experiential rather than revealed" and so on.

Chapter three discusses Psalms as the "Worship Book of the Temple." He also looks at Christian Hymns and liturgies in the Bible. Chapter four discusses the historical literature and chapter five describes the prophetic books. Chapter six discusses the legal literature and chapter seven discusses apocalyptic literature. Chapters eight analyses the letters, and chapter nine the gospels. The chapter on the gospels is the largest chapter in the book. In chapter ten Jonson concludes by saying: "The Bible can begin to make sense when we appreciate the variety of literature it contains and the spectrum of interests on the part of the individuals and groups that produced it" (141).

Johnson has done a good job in explaining the different types of literature found in the Bible. Understanding the types of literature found in the Bible will help the reader to interpret. Making Sense of the Bible is an important reminder that the Bible is an ancient book that the reader must not assume that they can read like the morning newspaper. Complementary books to this one are Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible for all its Worth, and Leland Ryken's Words of Delight: a Literary Introducton to the Bible. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross

G. K. Chesterton, The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton VII, with introduction and notes by Iain T. Benson. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.

Ralph C. Wood, "Tyrannical Tolerance and Ferocious Hospitality: The Ball of the Cross," in Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God. Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2011.

Chesterton wrote in his book Heretics: Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely pervading persecutions. . . .

The Ball and the Cross would be considered a fantasy novel. The two main characters are Turnbull and MacIan. Turnbull is an English atheist who has slandered the Virgin Mary. MacIan is a Scots Catholic who takes offense at this slander. He breaks the front window of Turnbull's newspaper shop and challenges Turnbull to a duel. The major plot is that everyone around them wants to stop them from having this duel.

G. K. Chesterton states that "Modern toleration is really a tyranny" (125). Woods in his chapter analysis of Chesterton's book contrasts toleration with hospitality. Other comments by Chesterton on tolerance: "It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must discuss it (125). Chesterton also said that tolerance was a virtue for the "man with no convictions." Christianity, according to Chesterton, "was intolerable because it was intolerant."

Wood describing The Ball and the Cross says: that this novel "recounts the attempt of two vehement foes--one Christian, the other atheist--to undertake  . . . an engagement" (132). Wood explains that Christian hospitality engages the other: "On the one hand, it must engage opponents so genuinely that they not only recognize themselves in our representation of their most basic convictions, but also that we ourselves must be susceptible of conversion to their faith. On the other hand, we are also called to demonstrate the case for Christianity so persuasively, in both act and argument, that we help create the possibility of their conversion as well" (132). This is something tolerance cannot do. It does not engage its opponent.

There are many things to like about Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross. One of the things I liked was that it seems a simple story, but that is deceiving. It can be read at many levels. As mentioned earlier, it is considered a fantasy. Second, it shows how God's transcendence can be experienced in the ordinary. Third, it shows how people with opposing beliefs can respect each other and engage each other's beliefs.