Monday, March 31, 2014

Amazing Grace: God's Pursuit, Our Response

Timothy George, Amazing Grace: God's Pursuit, Our Response. Crossway, 2011. Second edition. 152 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4335-1548-4

Timothy George is the founding dean of Samford's University Beeson Divinity School. He teaches theology and church history. He serves as executive editor of Christianity Today. He has written over twenty books. One of my favorite books by Timothy George is Theology of the Reformers. It is one of the best books I have read on the Reformers' theology. I have talked a couple times with George is person, and have always found him to be a gracious person. I have the greatest respect for him.

Amazing Grace was originally published as the 2001 Doctrine Study for the Southern Baptist Convention. I read it several years ago and enjoyed it. I find George to present the "Doctrines of Grace" or Calvinism in a balance way. The topic of Calvinism is now even more heated in the Southern Baptist Convention now than when this book was first published. I am glad that George has published a second edition. George notes there are only slight changes in the new edition. One of the changes is the title. The original title was "God's Initiative--Our Response." The new title refers to one of the most popular hymns, "Amazing Grace" which was penned by John Newton, a former slave trader. George notes, "Grace is the great theme of the Bible from first to last. Sola gratia, by grace alone," is the most fundamental affirmation of the Reformation and of all true evangelical Christianity." George's book emphasizes the grace of God, but it also includes human response. He shows how both is affirmed in Scripture.

Amazing Grace is divided into six chapters. Some of the titles are "Our Gracious God," "The Providence of Mystery," "Saved by Grace," "A Graceful Theology," "Grace and the Great Commission," and "Living by Grace." In the chapter on providence, George provides "lessons from providence." Some of these are: "God is the sovereign Lord of history;" we can often see the hand of providence "only in retrospect;" God works in "suffering and tragedy" to bring about His glory; "God's grace is sufficient when the answer is no;" the cross is the place where grace and providence meet."

George presents a different acronym to replace TULIP in his chapter on salvation. The acronym is ROSES.
R-Radical Depravity
O-Overcoming Grace
S-Sovereign Election
E-Eternal Life
S-Singular Redemption

George thinks total depravity is not "the best way to express" the pervasiveness of sin. It imples there is nothing good in mankind. He thinks irresistible grace is "misleading because it seems to suggest that sinners come to God in a mechanical, impersonal way . . ." In contrast, the Bible teaches both "human free agency and moral responsibility." Unconditional election can also be viewed incorrectly. For it  "suggests that God's election to salvation does not involve a genuine human response. . ." He also disagrees with double predestination. George states that "no lost sinner who ever comes before the judgment bar of God will be able to blame his eternal condemnation on the fact that he was not elected." The chapter also looks at others aspects of the two acronyms.

Chapter five discusses objections that Calvinism undermines evangelism and missions. George disagrees with this contention by providing two examples who were committed to both Calvinism and evangelism: William Carey and Charles Spurgeon. The last chapter discusses how the whole Christian life is lived by grace. George tells the reader why grace is so amazing: "It is undeserved;" "It's Unexpected;" and "it's inexplicable." In other words, there is nothing we can do to earn it. George argues how God's sovereignty and human response can be reconciled is a mystery. The last part of this chapter George describes the "marks of a gracious Christian." These marks are "a grateful heart," "a humble countenance," "a forgiving spirit," "a life of love," "a passion for souls."

Amazing Grace is a well-written book which shows that salvation is by the grace of God. We did not do anything to earn such a great salvation. It is a gift. Georhe likes the acronym GRACE--God's Riches at Christ's Expense. It is through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that our sins can be forgiven and we can be reconciled with God.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Beyond Integration? Inter/Disciplinary Possibilities for the Future of Christian Higher Education

Beyond Integration? Inter/Disciplinary Possibilities for the Future of Christian Higher Education edited by Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and David L. Riggs. Abilene Christian University Press, 2012. 208 pages. ISBN 978-0-89112-317-0

What is the future of Christian Higher Education? The dominant view has been the Neo-Calvinist Reformed view of the integration of faith and learning. Is it now time to move beyond this view? Douglas Jacobson and Rhonda Jacobson in 2004 sought to broaden the relationship between Christian Faith and Learning by focusing on other views besides the reformed view in their edited book, Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation. I was expecting Beyond Integration to be doing the same thing. However, this book seems more focused on thinking of other ways to relate Faith and learning than just integration. You might say they are looking at strategies for a more holistic way of looking at faith and learning. In the introduction the editors state, "The purpose of this volume is to draw together a number of prominent voices who are beginning to reflect upon the nature of Christian scholarship as it may exist beyond the influence of the integration model." This volume is a mixed bag. The authors do not necessarily agree with each other. For example, James A. K. Smith and Timothy Larsen seem to be stating opposing views. This seems true for the essays by Edward Davis and John W. Wright also.

Beyond Integration is divided into eight chapters. The disciplines discussed are philosophy, political science, sociology, English, history, psychology, science, biblical studies and theology. Some of the authors are James K. A. Smith, David Lyle Jeffrey, Timothy Larsen, and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. I enjoyed some of the essays more than others. Some of my favorite essays was "Beyond Integration: Re-Narrating Christian Scholarship in Postmodernity" by James K. A. Smith, "Healing Democracy's Discontent: The Christian Contribution to Contemporary Politics" by Jeanne Heffernan Schindler, "Evangelicals, the Academy, and the Discipline of History" by Timothy Larsen, and "Five Uneasy Questions: Or, Will Success Spoil Christian Psychologists?" by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and Jade Avellis. I liked the others, but these were my favorite.

James K. A. Smith in his essay argues for a "beyond integration and after worldview" perspective. He critiques worldview thinking and the problems with it. He thinks Christian education has been wrong to see Christian education as mainly the "dissemination and communication of ideas rather than the formation of a peculiar people." He thinks this implies a dualistic type of thinking. He stresses that "scholars are affective animals, too." In other words, we are more than minds. He thinks we need to build education on the philosophical anthropology of the complete person. In addition, he thinks we are formed by Christian practices, especially the liturgy. He wants to tie in Christian worship with Christian learning.

Jeanne Heffernan Schindler argues that Christian learning must be "informed by faith." In addition, she argues for the unity of truth: "Anything true, by no matter whom it is said, is from the Holy Spirit." She thinks "The unity of truth lends dignity to the investigation of the whole of reality, sacred and mundane, as each bears the stamp of God's creative love." She quotes from Cardinal Newman: "All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful, all that is beneficient, be it great or small, be it perfect or fragmentary, natural as well as supernatural, moral as well as material, comes from Him." This quote provides a foundation from which Christian education can be built. The creation is good. WE are doing His work by studying and rejoicing in it.

Timothy Larsen discusses different types of scholarship followed by evangelical historians. He argues that those who see providence in history and those who do not marks a divide. He states that those who believe that God is providentially at work in history, but see that lies outside the realm of historical  scholarship are accused of selling out to the academy. He identifies himself as one who writes "academic history using methodological naturalism." He charges that this is not "pandering to the academy." He thinks there is a difference in being a prophet and a historian. On the other hand, secular historians accuse people like himself of having distorted history by bring their faith perspective into it. He thinks that though "these charges are unfair, they likely do reflect the fact that these critics are sensing that integration is really happening--that the faith of the evangelical historians does inform their work." Larsen thinks that evangelical historians can be faithful Christians in their scholarship and produce excellent scholarship. He does not think this integration is a fixed point. He notes, "it should be recognized that the integration of faith and learning is an aspiration rather than a fixed template that can be inherited."

Beyond Integration should provide some stimulating ideas on how to relate Christian faith and scholarship. These ideas should advance the conversation of Christian faith and learning. I think the relationship between Christian faith and learning will continue to be a hot topic in the academy. Both students and professors should find useful information on how to integrate their faith with their scholarship.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Letters to a Young Calvinist

James K. A. Smith, Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition. Brazos Press, 2010. 134 pages. ISBN 978-1-58743-294-1

I will interact with both this book and a review I read online.

This is the second time I have read Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition by James K. A. Smith. I enjoyed the first reading and I enjoyed the second reading. James K. A. Smith identifies himself as Reformed, Catholic, and Pentecostal. I like how he integrates these three different traditions of Christianity into his works. This book is in some sense autobiographical. Smith notes how he first was introduced to the Reformed faith when he was working in an Assemblies of God church in Los Angeles. He and his wife were directors of the college ministry at a local Assembly of God church. He describes how the reformed faith added depth to his Christian faith. He also exhibited some of the dangers of the Reformed faith. The primary one was religious pride. Smith desires to mentor young people who are interested are new to the Reformed faith through this little book.

Tim Challies makes some good points in his review of this book. First he shows how this book is written to "the new, young, restless, Reformed movement." Lots of people are concerned about this new movement. It has been prominent among Southern Baptists.  Some of its key leaders are Albert Mohler, John Piper, and others. Challies says of Smith's book, "Written in the form of letters from a mentor to a young man who is investigating Reformed theology, the book offers a winsome 125-page introduction to the tradition and to the way it works out in real life." Smith comments on his book, "So these letters don't offer an apologetic defense of Calvinism, trying to defend it against all comers; rather, I envision the addresse of these letters as someone who has already become interested in this tradition and is looking for a guide into unfamiliar territory."

One of the things I think Smith is doing is to lead the reader beyond the five points of Calvinism to the larger Reformed faith. He does this by systematically showing him the different elements of the Reformed faith. First, he warns the reader of religious pride. One seems to see that these letters are written specifically to this group of young, restless, and reformed young people. Many of the things mentioned by Smith seems to be seeking to correct inadequacies of this movement. One problem is its complete focus on the five points of Calvinism. He shows how the Reformed faith is broader than these five points. He shows how it is a life and world view. He does this by pointing to the Reformed perspective of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Glorification world-view. God is not mainly interested in redeeming individual souls, but all creation.

Smith first begins by speaking on what unites him with his reader, and that is "the doctrines of Grace." I like the title of letter 4: "Grace all the way down." He states that "Reformed theology is all about grace." Salvation is completely and totally the work of God. One of St. Augustine's favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 4:7: "What do you have that you did not receive?" Smith states that the answer is nothing. Throughout this book Smith identifies himself with the thought of Saint Augustine. In another letter, he calls Augustine the "patron Saint of the Reformers." He makes some important points how the reformers saw themselves as Catholic: "This means that the Reformers did not simply see themselves as leaping back to the first century, or naively retrieving some sort of 'pure' biblical perspective in contrast to tradition. While, of course, they would emphasize sola Scriptura, that did not mean for them a rejection of 'tradition.'

In addition, Smith beliefs the Reformed faith is catholic because it is incarnational. They take seriously Jesus' words that He would lead His church into all truth. This is why the Reformed faith accepts tradition. They believe God has been working through the church since the first century. They also believe that the Church is Christ's body on earth. They also believe in the goodness of creation and the body.

The reformed faith is also confessional. It accepts both creeds and confessions. Creeds refers to early church documents like the Apostle's Creed. Confessions refers to documents of beliefs created during the reformation era. Some of the prominent ones are the Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Belgic confession. Smith notes, "Now none of the traditions or denominations that describes themselves as 'confessional' would ever see the creeds or confessions as on par with Scripture, nor would they ever claim they are infallible." Instead, they "serve Scripture." "Confessional" church think of the creeds and confessions as "gifts" to the church.

In the last part of the book, Smith summarizes the Christian world view of the Reformed faith. I like the title of letter 20: "Far as the curse is found." This title implies that God plans to redeem all areas affected by the fall. He notes how Kupper is critical of Luther's starting point: "Luther's starting-point was the special soteriological principle of a justifying faith; while Calvin's [starting point], extending far wider, lay in the general cosmological principle of the sovereignty of God. The implication is that God is interested in more than just redeeming souls. He wants to redeem all creation. He thinks that in "redemption God reaffirms the goodness of creation." One can see if you start with redemption instead of creation, one can focus only on saving individual souls instead of the bigger picture. This bigger picture also provides a place for the development of Christian humanism.

Tim Challies in his review feels that in the larger dimensions of the reformed faith Smith will lose his readers. The young, restless, and reformed are with him on the five points of Calvinism, but not the broader emphasis of the Reformed faith. He states that "many who consider themselves Reformed today are explicitly non-confessional, meaning that they do not adhere to any of the catechisms or confessions that have been long been Reformed hallmarks." I must ask are they truly reformed if they do not accept the Reformed confessions. It might be better to say they are Calvinists. In addition, Challies thinks Smith support of an "egalitarian understanding of gender roles." Challies identifies himself with this group saying that he agrees with alot of what Smith says, I assume the doctrines of grace, but he also disagrees with a lot of what Smith says, I assume the broader emphasis of the reformed faith.  He thinks that the best parts of the book are the earlier parts of the book. He feels it gets weaker as it goes along. This seems to be based on his own presuppositions which I think he shares with the "young, restless, and reformed" movement. He does say, that if you are "paedo-baptist, if you are confessional, if you are covental, and/or if you are egalitarian, you'll probably agree with more of it." I think Challies is correct on this matter. I identify with this latter group and think the emphasis on the broader aspects of the Reformed faith as the best part of the book.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Vocation of the Christian Scholar Pt. 2

Richard T. Hughes, The Vocation of the Christian Scholar: How the Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind. Revised ed. Eerdmans, 2005.

Hughes lays the groundwork for The Vocation of the Christian scholar in chapter one. He begins the chapter by asking the question, "Can Christian Faith sustain the life of the mind?" This reminds one of the question by Tertullian, an early christian teacher, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" What does faith has to do with reason? Hughes first defines what he means by the life of the mind. He list four key characteristics of the life of the mind.

The first attribute of the life of the mind is a "rigorous and disciplined search for truth" (2). He thinks this implies that humans are finite, not gods. We have certain "human limitations." We must search for truth because we do not know all things. These human limitations also show that "our intellectual vision is clouded, our perception limited, and our understanding flawed." This implies that we will never arrive to complete understanding.

The second attribute follows from our human limitations. While on our journey for truth, "the life of the mind entails genuine conversation with a diversity of perspectives and worldviews that are different from our own" (2). It always surprised me in discussing some text in a book group that someone sees something in a text that I did not see. C. S. Lewis remarked that his eyes were not enough. He would see with the eyes of others too.

The third attribute of the life of the mind "involves critical thinking as we seek to analyze and assess the worldviews and perspectives of others" (2). In other words, we need to know what we believe if we are going to evaluate the views of others. We need to have a "place to stand, a point of reference from which we can evaluate what we have studied." For the Christian believer, the Christian faith is our place to stand. In some sense, every Christian needs to be a theologian. How else will we be able to evaluate the beliefs and views of other belief systems.

Included in this critical thinking is also the idea that critical thinking "demands a point of reference that can be critiqued even as it seeks to critique" (3). We must be open to the idea that we may be wrong. Our interpretations may be incorrect. We need to be open to the views of others.

The final attribute of the life of the mind "involves intellectual creativity." We do this when we "seek to make connections between a variety of categories, when we think new thoughts, when we develop new insights, and when we create new and fresh ways of understanding old material" (3). It is interesting how when we apply the Bible to real life it seems to make the Bible to come alive. IN addition, when we retrieve past ideas and apply them to new situations, these old ideas seem to be new ideas.

After defining the life of the mind, Hughes asks the question can Christian faith sustain the life of the mind. In other words, can the Christian faith be a help to the life of the mind. Hughes notes, "From the outset, we must admit that Christian faith will invariably stand at odds with the life of the mind if we envision that faith in terms of absolutistic principles, sterile legal codes, or moral imperatives that require from us no reflection, no creativity, and no imagination" (4). I do not think Hughes is calling for relativism. He is calling for a Christian faith that is open to the views of others. As already mentioned, we are not God, so our understanding will always be limited. In addition, our interpretations of scripture will be fallible.

I like the remark by Paul Griffits who said that "one is a Christian scholar if one understands one's work to be based upon and framed by and always in the service of one's identity as a Christian' (8). Why do we do what we do? Is it to honor Christ? Is it to bring glory to God? I believe that God created the mind and He plans for us to use it for His glory.

Monday, March 10, 2014

For Calvinism

Michael Horton, For Calvinism. Zondervan, 2011. 208 pages. ISBN 978-0-310-32465-2

I wrote an earlier review on Roger Olson's Against Calvinism. I thought it would be good to write a companion piece that showed the other side. Michael Horton, professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, seeks to defend Tulip theology in this book. He, however, changes some of the traditional presentation of this acronym. For example, he changes the "L" to particular redemption and the "I" to effectual grace. He states that For Calvinism "will focus on explaining, defending, and clarifying these five points as distinctive elements of the Calvinist doctrinal position" (15). He prefers to call the acronym "the doctrines of Grace." Though this is his main purpose, he believes that Calvinism is broader than the five points. This shows in  how he covers this broader aspect in part of the book.

Olson wrote the foreword to the book. He notes, "I have always found Mike to be a generous and yet devoted adherent of what he calls the 'doctrines of grace.' Don't get me wrong: I still strongly disagree with some of his characterizations of Arminianism and especially with the 'five point' Calvinist system he espouses. . . However, I regard Mike as one of the kindest, gentlest true Calvinist around" (9). Olson biggest disagreement with the Calvinism "espoused" by Horton is its "inconsistency."  I think what Olson means is how sometimes when Horton is defending the five point system is changing the points to mean something else. For example, in the chapter on effectual grace, he argues that the relationship between God and the human is not omni-causality. This seems to be what is implied in the concept of Irresistible grace/effectual grace. One wonders have we changed the meaning when we changed the term. It seems one needs to define these terms when using them because they can mean different things. So I agree with Olson's charge of inconsistency. Sometimes, I thought Horton was saying one thing in one part of the book and saying something else in the book.

I am quite confused by the whole Calvinism or Reformed/Arminian divide. Must one accept the five points to be a Calvinist. How is Reformed different from Calvinism. Was Jacob Arminius an Arminian or was he reformed? Is Calvinism's views of predestination the same of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas? Horton argues that "properly speaking there is no such thing as 'the Reformed faith.' There is only the Christian faith." He thinks it is "better. . . to speak of the Reformed confession of the Christian faith." He even says that predestination is not even the "heart of the Reformed faith."

Horton defends total depravity in chapter two. This is a doctrine that is accepted by many non-Calvinists. Horton states, "Calvinism teaches that human beings are basically good in their intrinsic nature, endowed with free will, beauty of body and soul, reason, and moral excellence." We are created in God's image. Reformed theology does not begin with the fall, but creation. In addition he states that Calvin "rejects the body-soul dualism that tends to identify sin with the former" (37). I do like this emphasis in Calvin's thought. The idea that both body and soul were created by God and are good.

Horton thinks the doctrine of total depravity is "misunderstood." He states, "It does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be, but that we are all guilty and corrupt to such an extent that there is no hope of pulling ourselves together, brushing ourselves off, and striving (with the help of grace) to overcome God's judgement and our won rebellion." It also means that no part of us has not been affected by the Fall.

Chapter three argues for unconditional election. He seeks to answer several questions in this section: "Does the Bible Teach election?" "Is Election Unconditional?" "Is Election Individual or Corporate?" Is Election Fair?" He looks at particular passages in Romans and Ephesians. He makes the following statement about .mis-representations of Calvinist views of election: "Pinnock stacks the deck with terms like 'omnicausality,' as if Calvinism teaches that God directly causes everything that happens, never acknowledging that Reformed theologians have always explicitly rejected this view" (65). I was surprised by this statement because I thought that is what Tulip theology taught. Irresistible grace? In other parts of the book, he states that God regenerated without us and that faith and repentance is a result of this regeneration. That sounds like omni-causality.

He lists five key points in the section on "Election and Human Responsibility." First, he thinks that the Calvinist-Arminian divide "reflects deeper differences concerning the God-world relationship, especially the relation between divine and human agency." He thinks that Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists falsely view the divine-human relationship as one piece a pie that is divided up among the two. He views it as a 'double agency.' "God wills and work as we will and work." I interpret this to mean that God is willing and working as we are willing and working. The second point is that "God cannot will or do anything inconsistent with his whole nature" (67). I was pleased to hear Horton to state this point. One often hears Calvinists saying that God can do anything, even the exact opposite of the moral law. For example, is something right just because God commands it. Many would argue that it is even if it is against the moral law. The fourth point was quite interesting. In this point, Horton states, "we must distinguish carefully the decree in eternity from its execution in history" (70). What does Horton mean by this statement. This seems to be a rebuttal of Calvinists who say that the people elected in eternity will be saved no matter what they do. Horton seems to be arguing in contrast, that a person must repent and believe in order to be part of the elect. I found this idea comforting. He states that we are "justified by faith, yet even this act of faith was graciously determined by the triune God before the creation of the world." This seems to imply that one must believe to be saved. Another important ponts he makes is that God works through secondary causes. This has bothered me when some Calvinists have basically eliminated secondary causes. God causes everything, even evil. I cannot accept the idea that God causes evil or that God predestines people to hell. The reason is because the Bible teaches that God loves the world and sent his son for the whole world. It also says that God desires that all people become Christians.Horton states, "God's decree not only determines that the act will occur, but that it will be freely done by the agent" (70). He also argues that Martin Luther stood against fatalism. He ends the chapter by stating that election is a mystery. He also states that Calvin taught that election was meant to be a comfort to the elect.

Other chapters speak of particular atonement, effectual calling and perseverance. Horton argues that effectual grace is not coercion of the human will. Horton writes, "Traditionally, Reformed theology has referred to this inward work of the Spirit through the gospel as effectual calling, not as irresistible grace. "Irresistible' suggests coercion, the sort of causal impact that is exercised when force is applied to someone or something. As we will see, Calvinism denies in explicit terms that God coerces people against their will, either toward belief or unbelief" (105). Horton is saying that people who come to Christ come willingly. He states that God's will can be resisted, that it is always resisted in the evil heart. Does this mean that God provides grace to some and not to others. Would a God of love do this? In addition, Horton states that effectual grace is "more than moral persuasion. . .; on the other hand, they deny that this work is coercive" (107).

The last three chapters of the book addresses the broader aspects of Calvinism. In chapter six he discusses "Calvinism and the Christian life." I enjoyed reading this chapter. He successfully shows how the Reformed faith connects with Christian practice. He argues against both antinomianism and legalism in this chapter. He also states that "there is no justification without sanctification; although we are justified through faith alone, that faith that clings to Christ immediately begins to bear the fruit of the Spirit" (124-125). However, our obedience is never perfect. He argues against perfectionism, the idea that we can live without sin in this life. He thinks legalism is "a serious error. Whether at the beginning, middle, or the end of the Christian life, we never bring our works to God as that which could satisfy his holiness. Rather, we cling to Christ alone through faith" (125). Horton also argues for the corporate life of the church, especially the concept of the church as people of the covenant.

Chapter seven argues against the idea that Calvinism logically entails being against evangelism and mission. He first argues against this idea by showing how the reformed faith has been evangelistic and missional throughout its history. For example, William Carey, a Calvinist Baptist was the founder of the Modern Missionary movement. In the last part of the chapter he shows how Calvinism gives confidence in spreading the gospel. He reminds the reader that God works through means. He states, "It is not God's secret predestination but the revealed gospel that is the province of the church's proclamation" (166). People come to faith through the proclamation of the gospe.

The last chapter does a SWOT analysis of Calvinism: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Under strengths and weaknesses, he contrasts "intellectual boldness/Cold intellectualism." He discusses how the Reformed faith has pursued higher education and emphasized the importance of the mind. Because of their success in the intellectual arena, he thinks "Reformed Christians must always be on guard against intellectual pride and the reduction of faith to sound doctrine" (172). Other strengths and weaknesses are: "Love for Truth/Factionalism" and "Respect for Tradition/Traditionalism." In regards to opportunities and threats, he pinpoints "Revived interest in the doctrines of Grace/Replacing the church with a movement." It has been much in the media about the "New Calvinists." We also have a very popular Calvinist movement in the Southern Baptist Convention. Another area of both opportunity and threat : "A New interest in sound doctrine/A new fundamentalism." In this section he contrasts conservatism and progressivism. He emphasizes that Calvinists must not be in either camp, but faithful to the Scriptures, seeking to reform church and society on the basis of its teachings.

Horton does a good job in presenting the "doctrines of grace," in his book, For Calvinism. He does not seem to argue in a polemical way, but presents high Calvinism positively. He does not put Arminianism in a heretical framework as considers them his brothers and sisters in Christ. There does seem to be some inconsistencies in this work as already noted. He does a good job in looking at the scriptures and what they say about the doctrines discussed in this volume. There does seem to be an emphasis on proof texts, like the exegesis of Romans 9. This book is a fair presentation of what is known as Tulip theology.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

This is a link to a rendition of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" by the combined Brigham University choir.

The Vocation of the Christian Scholar

Richard T. Hughes, The Vocation of the Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind. Revised edition. Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 2005. 145 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8028-2915-3.

I read the first edition of this book a few years back. I have thought about reading the new edition since last year. It was on the reading list for the speaker at Faulkner University's recent conference on Faith and Learning. It gave me the extra push to pick up the volume and read it.

It is interesting that I like to keep books around me even when I am not reading them. I do not know when I will need to pick them up and read them. It is important to have them close at hand. I assume that is one of the reasons I became a librarian.

I finished the reading of this book at the Waffle House. Many of the books I have read is associated with the place where I read them. Does this say something about the body and place? Is the body necessary? I think so. Christ came in human flesh.

I was not disappointed in a second reading of this book. I can see a need for a third reading. It is amazing how many good books have been written the last thirty years on the relationship between the Christian faith and the life of the mind. Why is that?

Richard T. Hughes is a professor of religion at Messiah College. In The Vocation of the Christian College: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind, the author argues that not only are Christian faith and the life of the mind are compatible; but the Christian faith can actually "sustain the life of the mind." Paul Griffiths of the University of Chicago states, "one is a Christian scholar if one understand one's work to be based upon and framed by and always in the service of one's identity as a Christian" (xvii). This statement is basically fleshed out by Hughes in this book. Similarly, Madeleine L'Engle answering a student who desired to become a Christian writer said: "if she is truly and deeply a Christian, what she writes is going to be Christian, whether she mentions Jesus is not. And if she is not, in the most profound sense, Christian, then what she writes is not going to be Christian, no matter how many times she invokes the name of the LOrd" (xvii). What do you think? Christianity is not just another set of clothes one puts on. It concerns what we are at the core. Griffiths in another book I read said that Christians are not born, but made. WE are made by spiritual practices. We are shaped by what we do.

An important concept for Hughes and this book is paradox. I thought often of Chesterton every time he mentioned paradox. Hughes writes, "For the plain fact is, those of us who are both Christians and scholars will inevitably live in the midst of a deep and inescapable paradox" (xvii). What does this mean? We live in two worlds: the world of Christian faith and the world of the academy. Do the two ever meet? Hughes explains: "As Christians, we are committed to a highly particularistic tradition. Yet, as scholars, we are committed to a radical search for truth that simultaneously embraces particularity and ambiguity, knowing and not knowing, affirmation and investigation. We are called to honor our Christian faith, but we are also called to take seriously the diversity of perspectives that abound in the modern academy. It is not our job to trum those perspectives with our Christian convictions. Instead, we are called to engage those perspectives, really engage them, and bring them into dialogue with the Christian faith" (xvii-xviii). This quote seems to say that the church and the academy are at loggerheads with one another. Is Christian scholar an oxymoron? Can one be a faithful Christian and a faithful scholar? We will see what Hughes has to say in the next post.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reading Macbeth with Homeschoolers

I lead a homeschooling group in discussing Macbeth yesterday. The group invites me annually to lead them in discussing one of Shakespeare's plays. I guess the word has got out that I love Shakespeare. Two of my kids are participants in this group. I was surprised how they were able to read, engage, and discuss the text. It proved to me that young people are more capable of reading and discussing great texts than we think. We can coach young people to develop the arts of learning: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. These are the skills of reading, speaking, listening, and conversation.

One thing that stood out in our discussion was an early line: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." What does this mean? One of the things that makes a text great is that it call for multiple interpretations. One thing I think this is saying is the distortion of standards in the world. What is considered good is actually evil. What is considered evil is actually good. Another interpretation is that the witches are stirring the pot. They are corrupting lives. They are tempting Macbeth to evil. Macbeth seems similar to the Garden of Eden where the serpent tempted Adam and Eve that they will be gods. Macbeth is tempted to become king. He uses horrible means to become king. Our society, however, thinks that the ends justify the means. Machiavelli would be an honorable statesmen in our society.

Another important scene is when Lady Macbeth calls on evil:

"Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood;/Stop up th' access and passage to remorse...

Come to my woman's breasts/and take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers,/Whatever in your sightless substances/You wait on nature's mischief. Come thick night,/And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/ That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,/Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark/To cry "Hold, hold!"

What does this passage mean? Macbeth after planning on killing the king has second thoughts. Lady Macbeth calls on evil to help her play the man's role and do the killing herself. Later on we find Lady Macbeth washing her hands continuously, but she can never wash the blood off. She is tortured by her venomous deed.

Macbeth when faced with the consequences of his evil actions cries out:

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and tomorrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day/To the last syllable of recorded time,/And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing."

This is my favorite passage in the whole play. What is life? Does it have meaning? Is there an author? or is life meaningless with no ultimate purpose?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mortimer Adler, Plato, and Conversational Learning

The Great Books Honor College has produced an excellent discussion on conversational learning.
See the link below.

The conversation is based on two readings: Mortimer J. Adler's How to Speak, How to Listen and Plato's Republic. I do not know if the group read the whole of Adler's book or just parts. I think they read Book VII in Plato's Republic. The moderator, Dr. Redwing, does a great job in leading the discussion. The participants of this seminar do a great job in wrestling with the texts. This discussion is a great example on how to lead and participate in conversational learning.

Adler speaks of conversational learning in chapter thirteen of his book. He states that there are three types of teaching: didactic, Socratic, and coaching. The participants discuss these different types of teaching extensively in the discussion. They ask the question, when should Socratic teaching be done and how should it be done? It seems that didactic teaching should be done in the beginning to learn the grammar of the discipline. Coach is used to help the student develop the arts of learning. "The Socratic method of teaching is by asking and by discussion--facilitates the kind of learning that is an enlargement of the understanding and basic ideas and values" (168). The seminar requires Socratic teaching.

Adler makes some good points in this chapter. One of my favorite is : "I also know that the seminar kind of teaching and learning makes the most fruitful contribution to the continued growth of the mind" (168). I agree with Adler on this point. The seminar type of learning through using the Socratic method of questioning and answering provides the best means of continuing learning as an adult. Philosophy, literature and theology provides some of the best disciplines for pursuing this kind of learning.