Friday, February 21, 2014

What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has Rome to do with Christians? What has pagan thought to do with Christian thought?

The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on what it means to be an Educated Human Being, edited by Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington, Del. : ISI books, 2009.

I became a Christian when I was eighteen years old. I was not raised in a church or on Christian teaching. I was not familiar with the Bible. As a teenager I became involved with the wrong crowd and would eventually drop out of school in ninth grade. I grew up in a single parent home and was often alone. When I was eighteen my mother remarried and moved to Kentwood, Louisiana. My family decided to attend the First Baptist Church in Kentwood. It would be the only time my whole family would attend the church for a long time. However, I would return the next Sunday  and receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Not long after making this commitment to Jesus Christ I would begin college. Early on I experienced a conflict in what I was learning in Church and what I was learning in the university. They seemed to be opposed to each other. When in church I had to wear the hat of faith; while in the university I had to wear the hat of faith. I seemed to be a double-minded man unstable in all his ways. I spent many years reading and studying how to bring these two worlds together. It is interesting that after many years I was able to integrate these two worlds. It was not till years later I came upon two sources that would have been helpful in this journey. The first one was C. S. Lewis' essay "Learning in War-time." The other source is this book: The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on what it Means to be an Educated Human Being. What this book shows through primary sources is that Christians have been integrating their Christian faith with learning for two thousand years. It also shows the common themes in Christian education and Greek and Roman societies.

The Great Tradition excerpts works from many of the greatest authors of the Western Tradition: Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Plutarch, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Erasmus, John Milton, C. S. Lewis and many others. One finds many common themes in these works: the importance of both developing the intellect and character. It also emphasizes a liberal arts education. The Christian authors find much good in the works of pagan authors. Much that can be integrated with a Christian world-view.

I was quite amazed by this anthology of readings of how many Christians have successfully integrated pagan thought with their Christian faith. They believed that all truth came from God. They also believed faith and reason were compatible. In addition, they believed virtues must be developed to be properly educated. They also taught that education was a life-long pursuit.

Gamble says about this anthology: "More than two hundred years ago, the utilitarians disconnected themselves from liberal education and the Great Tradition, redefining and redirecting the 'useful' away from that which forms the 'complete man,' and toward that which primarily promotes man's material well being. . . . The Great Tradition, in contrast, anchored in the classical and Christian humanism of liberal education, has taken the broader view that what is useful is that which helps men and women to flourish in nonmaterial ways as well--in other words, that which helps them to be happy. Indeed, what the Great Tradition has meant by the words 'humanism,' 'liberal,' and 'education' will emerge from the full context--spanning a breathtaking twenty-four centuries--of the remarkably intelligible, unified, and coherent conversation that unfolds in these pages" xvi-xvii). I can think of no better guide to show us what it means to be an educated human being.

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