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.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Walker Percy's Rhetoric of Time, Apocalypse, and the Modern Predicament Part 2

Haddox thinks that Percy uses two strategies to bring his characters to the point of decision. The first "involves embracing a sacramental understanding of the world, in which what had seemed irredeemably dreary appears in its true light as a splendid, gratuitous gift, charged, in Hopinsesque fashion with the glory of God (132)." One does see this often in Percy writings. The idea of experiencing the transcendent in the ordinary. It is pure gift, an act of God's grace. He says that a second strategy is a concern with apocalypse. This is also evident in Percy's writings. Percy often shows that in a major trauma individuals experience God's grace. It seems these two strategies can work against each other.

Percy in his essay, "The Message in the Bottle," develops Kierkegaard's distinction between a "genius" and an "apostle" and applies it to the messenger of the Gospel:

"Faith comes from God, but it also comes by hearing. It is a piece of news and there is a newsbearer. But why should we believe the newsbearer, the apostle? Must the apostle first prove his case to the scientist in the seminar room? No, because, this would mean that God and the apostle must wait in the porter's lodge while the learned upstairs settle the matter. . . .

How then may we recognize the divine authority of the apostle? What, in other words, are the credentials of the newsbearer? The credential of the apostle is simply the gravity of the message: 'I am called by God; do with me what you will, scourge me, persecute me, but my last words are first; I am called by God and I make you eternally responsible for what you do against me.' . . . What if a man receives the commission to bring news across the seas to the castaway and does so in perfect sobriety and with good faith and perseverance to the point of martyrdom? And what if the news the newsbearer bears is the very news the castaway has been waiting for, news of where he came from and who he is and what he must do, and what if the newsbearer brought with the means by which the castaway may do what he must do? Well then, the castaway will, by the grace of God, believe him (146, 147, 149)." Quoted in Haddox, p. 146.

One sees this idea from his essay in much of Percy's fiction writing. Everyday knowledge and the revelation of God is not the same. A person sees his need and he is willing to believe the message. However, it is only by the grace of God he can believe. Belief is a gift of God.

Haddox analyses many of the novels written by Percy. I will concentrate on his analysis of The Lost in the Cosmos. He asserts that in this work, "Percy provides the most concise and in many respects most entertaining summation of his thought" (148). Haddox focuses on "A Space Odyssey." The two different strategies are seen in these two fictional pieces at the end of the work. Haddox notes, "Whereas Percy's protagonists often longed for an apocalypse that either did not come or arrived with a whimper, here the theoretician proposes the real thing-- a nuclear holocaust that leaves only a few survivors and their descendants on the earth--as a test of whether Percy's theories of the self, language, and redemption would still operate in the most extreme conditions imaginable. Predictably, the theories are verified--not even a literal end of the world, as opposed to a metaphorical one, can transfigure recalcitrant human nature" (148).  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Walker Percy's Rhetoric of Time, Apocalypse, and the Modern Predicament

Thomas F. Haddix, "Walker Percy's Rhetoric of Time, Apocalypse, and the Modern Predicament," in Hard Sayings: the Rhetoric of Christian Orthodoxy in Late Modern Fiction. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University, 2013, 125-160.

Thomas F. Haddix in  Hard Sayings analyzes the works of Flannery O'Connor, Muriel Spark, John Updike, Walker Percy, Mary Gordon, and Marilynne Robinson. The book is about these writers relationship to "Christian Orthodoxy." This post will focus on what he says in his chapter on Percy.

Haddix says of Percy: "Among avowedly Christian writers of merit in the late twentieth century, Walker Percy is distinguished not only by his novelistic achievement but also by the range and sophistication of his intellectual interests" (125). This is quite true. Percy was an excellent writer and thinker. His knowledge of various subjects was quite immense. He was truly interested in the "truth of things."

Kieran Quinlan writes, " Walker Percy is one of the few contemporary novelists who has made a difference in the lives of many of his readers" (125, n.1). There is much evidence that proves this point. Much of the literature on Walker Percy mentions how Percy made a difference in their lives. Many noted that he pointed them to Christian faith. The interesting thing is Percy is liked by both believers and Non-believers. There is something in his writing that resonates with many people.

Haddix agrees with Lawler in seeing Percy as a postmodern thinker. Haddix notes, "In Percy's view, Enlightenment promises of liberation cannot succeed, because consciousness and language, the very things that most distinguish human beings as species, remain inexplicable if viewed through the frames of positivist science and utilitarian philosophy. Consciousness and facility with linguistic signs are the only things that allow humans to place themselves in the world, yet there very existence is absurd, an unaccountable 'leftover.' Scientists can explain distant phenomena in the universe more fully than they can explain the most mundane daily experiences (Lost 1), and their failure to legitimate experiences as such leads both to a preoccupation with the self and to impoverishment of daily life" (128). In other words, the human being finds himself an alien in the world. He does not fit in the world. because of this he either turns to transcendence or imminence. There is a third option. He can turn to God.

Percy's first rhetorical principle "is to assume that his readers will find their own experiences 'certified' in such a description, no matter who or where in modernity they may be" (128). The Percy reader will see themselves in Percy's description of the modern predicament. They will feel they are alienated, unable to place themselves in the world.

Haddix thinks Percy is successful "in persuading readers that they share a general predicament of boredom and meaningless in the twentieth century (and this particular claim has been seconded by many non-Christian writers) (130). He does not think Percy is as successful in "persuading readers that conversion is the only effective remedy" (130). I have mentioned this is something Percy does indirectly. There is a difference between preaching and writing a novel.

Haddix suggests that some of Percy's readers are unhappy with his lack of "closure" in his novels. Haddix notes, "With the exception of The Second Coming (1980), Percy's novels tend to end with their plots resolved but with their characters left nonetheless in a state ambiguity--in some cases, possibly having converted or on the cusp of a conversion to Christianity (as in The Moviegoer and Lancelot), but without decisive clues that would confirm such a judgement, and with an overarching sense of irony that even had such an event taken place, life goes on (131)." I find this insight quite remarkable. It agrees with Percy's idea that we are wayfarers on earth. We never achieve absolute certainty. We walk by faith, not by sight. This idea would contrast with some Evangelicals who say Jesus is the answer to every problem. Just believe in Christ and all your troubles will go away. What do you do after you believe in Christ? Percy would probable ask, How do you get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon?

Haddix continues: "It is understandable that such ambiguity would frustrate both Christian readers who want a clearer affirmation of Christian dogmas and all ordinary readers who seek the pleasures of closure. Yet Percy's endings in fact represent both the predicament he diagnoses and the necessity of accepting temporary change. The only genuine closure in human life is death, and novels traditionally impart their sense of meaning in human life through their selection of an end that retrospectively determines this meaning--either death or something that functions as its structural equivalent, such as marriage" (131). This is an interesting insight since marriage is important in many of Percy's novel. Percy often implies that we come to God through loving others. In many ways, Percy's novels are a search for community as observed by John Desmond.

In addition, "Until the moment of death, the story remains open: even those who have become Christians may fall away, and even the most confirmed atheist may come to believe. The greatest difficulty for Percy's wayfarers is not merely to accept Christianity--or at least the necessity of something like it, since Percy is more explicit about this in some novels than in others--but to continue to live in the ordinary, dreary world after having arrived at this knowledge" (132). This is a great evaluation of Percy's lack of closure. I do not think Percy was completely happy with a lack of closure. It seemed to bother him when readers did not understand what he was doing in the novel. Percy was often caught in the dilemma of producing art and delivering a message. He sought to do both.

Friday, September 6, 2013

John of Salisbury: A Christian Humanist

John of Salisbury; translated by Daniel D. McGarry. The Metalogicon: A Twelfth Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Book, 2009.

John of Salisbury lived from 1115-1180. He studied with some of the leading intellectuals of his time. He was an assistant to Thomas Becket, a friend of Pope Hadrian IV, and served as bishop of Chartres. One can tell from reading The Metalogican that John lived a very active life. It is amazing how he found time to study, teach, and write. John wrote this book in 1159. The title basically means of behalf of logical studies. John of Salisbury seeks in this book to defend the study of the liberal arts. This book is basically a manual on pursuing the liberal studies.

The Metalogicon is divided into four parts and a prologue.The first part explains the reason for the work.   In addition, the translator provides a good introduction to the work.John writes this work because some individuals in the church are discouraging liberal studies. Anti-intellectualism in the church is nothing new.  In part one John discusses "The Trivium and Grammar." In this part he responds to attacks by Cornificius against Trivium. In parts two through four he discusses different elements of logic: general observation, Aristotle's Categories, and truth.

John of Salisbury was from Wessex, England. He studied under Peter Abelard and was a friend of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He was a learner who lived an active life. He had a heart for liberal studies. He was a true Christian Humanist. Two things stand out in this work. First, John was conversant with both pagan and Christian knowledge. When he quotes from writers like Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, he does't try to justify drawing from pagan sources. He truly believed all truth comes from God whatever the source. Second, he filtered all knowledge through a Christian world-view. John of Salisbury is an excellent model to follow today.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Research tutorials

The Harness library at Vermont Tech has some excellent tutorials on doing research. See the link below.

It Might Have Been

“It Might Have Been”
            John Greenleaf Whittier writes: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” Why are these words the saddest words? It is because the reader has only one life to live. It is best to live life with no regrets. Life is full of hard choices. Maybe, the reader didn’t have the opportunities to achieve his dreams. When one looks back at his life, he wants to be able to say that he accomplished what he came to the earth for. It would be sad to say at the end of one’s life that he could have had a better life, but he didn’t do what was necessary to accomplish this goal. What are some of the reasons people might not have achieved their goals? Maybe, unseen circumstances blocked it. If this was caused by circumstances beyond their control, are they really responsible for not achieving their goals. Other possible reasons might be a lack of financial backing, laziness, or other priorities.
            This is a topic that John has struggled with for a long time. When he was finishing up his master’s degree in history he thought about going on to earn a doctorate in history. Another decision was should he get married? He thought he couldn’t do both things at the time. John decided to get married and look for a job teaching school. He was offered a librarian job at a private school in Louisiana. He had originally applied for an opening for a fourth grade teacher. However, the principal called him on the phone and asked him if he would be willing to work in the library instead. The reason for this was that the librarian wanted to move back into the classroom. John told the principal that he would be happy to run the library for the school.
            The interesting thing about being offered the librarian position was that he had thought about going to school to become a librarian for several years. He had worked part-time as a student worker in the library while attending the university. The private school was also willing to help pay for his tuition. John has now been working in libraries for nineteen years. However, it has remained in his heart to pursue a doctorate in some discipline. Every few years John has a desire to take this idea from the shelf and look at it again. It is hard to understand why this desire has stayed with him all these years. Did God put it there?
            While John was pursuing undergraduate studies in history, he sensed God was calling him to be a Christian scholar. He didn’t hear any voices, but he was convinced that this is what God wanted him to do with his life. This conviction has never left John. After working in Public, School, and Academic libraries, John is convinced that his calling is to work in an academic library. Working in the academy allows him to pursue the calling of a Christian scholar. The good thing about being a librarian is that the requirement is a master’s degree in library science. So even though John does not have a doctorate, he can live out his calling at the college or university level.
            Some of the ways he tries to pursue this calling is through scholarly activities. Several years ago John began to publish book reviews for library journals. A few years ago he began to present papers at academic conferences. In addition, John has published some articles in academic journals. Last summer he started to write a blog to further his scholarly activities.
            John has been teaching history courses at the Baptist College of Florida for several years. He has taught survey courses in American History and Western Civilization. Over three years ago, he started teaching the survey courses of Western Civilization online. Recently, John has been assigned to teach most of the history courses in the history major online.
            A few years ago John presented a paper at the University of Mobile. At the conference were some professors of Faulkner University at Montgomery. John happened to sit together at meals with these professors and become familiar with them. He was interested to learn that Faulkner had a master’s degree in the Great Books and was trying to create a doctoral program in the Great Books. He was excited about this idea because of his love for the Great Books. John was a participant in a Great Books group for over five years. He still has an interest in the doctorate and so it seemed a good combination. He was quite excited about the prospect of this opportunity. It seemed like the perfect time. Maybe, it was time for John to pursue the doctorate. He knew that certain obstacles would be in the way. One of these was funds. How would he finance this new degree? He had already paid off all his student loans. Did John want to create new debts? What would the school think about his pursuing a doctorate? Probably, the biggest obstacle would be his family. What would his wife and kids think about this idea?
            It didn’t take long to find out the answers to these questions. John got the school’s approval to help finance it. John’s wife and kids did not like the idea, but they were willing to let him try it for one semester. So John registered for the class and was on his way. It was an excellent first course. He enjoyed it very much and did very well. The next semester would be the summer term. John tried to get the school to pay for it, but it was rejected. So he decided he would just start back the next semester. Next semester came around and it was denied. John was told that since the school was not requiring him to earn this degree that the school would not pay for it. He was told that he should forget the idea and save the money for his family. He found out about a scholarship with the Southern Baptist foundation, but it would only pay for half the degree. John’s wife was against the idea of him continuing in the program. Since they have special needs kids and their needs will grow as they get older, she thought John needed to drop the idea until the kids were grown.
            Another obstacle is his age. He is now fifty. It would take between 5-10 years to complete the program. John will be close to retirement by that time. Is it really worth the investment of time and money that he will need to spend on doing the task? John read in a book about a professor who spent all his time at school and pursuing scholarly activity and neglecting his family. Should John’s family pay the price for his secret dream? Of course, John could continue pursuing learning on his own and participating in scholarly activities. John decided to drop the pursuit for the time being. Did he do the right thing? Will John later regret it?
            John has received many benefits from his association with faculty at Faulkner University. First, he was asked to present a paper at their annual Faith and Learning conference. He has now presented papers at this annual conference three years in a row. Second, while taking a course with Dr. Robert Woods, he began a relationship that continues to this day. Third, through Dr. Wood’s encouragement, John began a blog. Fourth, he began a discipline of getting up at 5 a. m. to study while taking a course at Faulkner which he continues to follow. John’s association with Faulkner University and some of its professors has been a blessed one.
            This essay began with a quote from John Greenleaf Whittier: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” This writer does not know the circumstances of Whittier when he wrote this line. Was he disappointed with his life? Did he know of others who were disappointed with their life? It is true that life should be lived with no regrets. Sometimes, obstacles stand in the way of achieving life-long goals. Certain priorities might not allow for a person to fulfill his or her dream. For example, John has chosen not to pursue the Ph.D because it will hurt his relationship with his wife. He believes his relationship to his wife and children are more important than earning a doctorate at this time. Is he missing out on life? Definitely not! He has the opportunity to teach and work at the library in the college environment. He has opportunities to publish and present papers at conferences. John picked a dissertation topic while enrolled at Faulkner. The topic was Walker Percy. John continues to do research on Percy and present papers on Percy at academic conferences. Though John does not feel at peace to pursue the doctorate at this time, he does feel an inner peace to pursue his studies on Walker Percy. John does not moan a might have been. He, however, rejoices in the many opportunities God has given him to pursue his life-long mission—to be a Christian scholar.