Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life edited by Jeffry C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken. Wheaton, IL.: Crossway, 2012. 318 pages. ISBN 978-1-4335-2394-6

Publishers information:

"For over fifty years, Leland Ryken has championed and modeled a Christian liberal arts education. His scholarship and commitment to integrating faith with learning in the classroom have influenced thousands of students who have sat under his winsome teaching. Published in honor of Professor Ryken and presented on the occasion of his retirement from Wheaton College, this compilation carries on his legacy of applying Christian liberal arts education to all areas of life."

I have read many of Ryken's books over the years. I have enjoyed all of them I have read. He combines a commitment to Christian orthodoxy,the life of the mind, and the creative imagination. Liberal Arts showcases some of the leading evangelical thinkers of our time including Jeffry C. Davis, Roger Lundin, Wayne Martindale, Duane Litfin, Alan Jacobs, and others. The book is divided into five parts: Introduction to liberal arts, theological foundations, "habits and virtues," different disciplines of the liberal arts college, and the purpose of the Christian libertal arts. The five parts are book-ended by a lecture by Leland Ryken called "The Student's Calling" at the beginning, and the last chapter of the book is by Ryken's son, Philip, the current president of Wheaton College.

I enjoyed reading Ryken's lecture on the vocation of the student. One of the questions the student must ask is "what is education fro?". A second point is that "all of life is God's. There is no division of life into sacred and secular" (17). In other words, education is a holy pursuit. We can glorify God through our education. Ryken argues in this lecture that "learning, in whatever form, is the student's calling" (21). He also notes, "your liberal arts education is a foundation that is worthy of your best effort" (20). One could say that a Liberal Arts education lays the foundation for the Christian life. It provides the tools and forms the character to be equipped to fulfill all of God's callings in one's life.

Chapter one of the book defines Christian Liberal Arts education. The author notes that at a Christian liberal arts college or university, the mission of the school is "gospel-infused instruction, by professors who genuinely profess Christ as central to a proper understanding of their subjects, and the formation of your whole being for the complete journey of life" (32).  Chapter two connects book learning with the liberal arts. A brief history of Christian colleges is narrated in chapter three. Roger Lundin analyses the relationship of "liberal arts education and the doctrine of humanity in the next chapter. He asserts two truths: Everything created by God is good and humans are fallen. A Christian education will emphasize both these parts. It will also help us to find a meaning and purpose to life. Lundin thinks that "a Christian liberal arts education grounds us in the truths of the Christian faith even as it orients to the world that lies all before us"(79).

Greenman in chapter five describes what "faithful learning looks like." He cites Blamires, The Christian Mind: "a mind trained, informed, and equipped to handle data of secular controversy within a frame of reference that is constructed of Christian presuppositions' (83). In other words, we will look at the world through the lenses of faith.

Section three describes the "habits and virtues" that are to be cultivated in the student. Chapter eight describes Dorothy Sayer's "Tools of Learning." These lost tools are grammar, rhetoric, and logic. It is the tools every person needs to study any discipline in depth. A big part of a liberal arts education is learning how to learn. It is not necessarily what education can do for me, but what it can do to me. Arthur Holmes writes of the goals of a liberal arts education:

"Liberal learning concerns itself with truth and beauty and goodness, which have intrinsic worth to people considered as persons rather than as workers or in whatever function alone. . . . Liberal learning therefore takes the long-range view and concentrates on what shapes a person's understanding and values  rather than what they can use" (121).

There are many more excellent essays in this book. Some of my favorites are: "The Humanities as indulgence or necessity?";  "social media and the loss of embodied communication;" and "learning for a lifetime." There is also a good essay on "personal formation and the understanding heart." This essay draws insight from St. Augustine about the importance of "ordering our loves." Augustine teaches that "the things we love make us into the people we become" (270). This implies that education should help us to develop the right kind of desires and love.

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life shows us many applications of the liberal arts through the thinking of several professors from various disciplines. It shows how a Christian Liberal Arts education can prepare us to fulfill God's calling in our life. It is highly recommended.

Monday, April 28, 2014

On the Shoulders of Hobbits

Louis Markos, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012. 234 pages. ISBN 978-0-8024-4319-9.

I read regularly The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Harry Potter series. These books can be read for pure pleasure. These books, however, can also be read to cultivate virtue. Louis Markos, Professor of English at Houston Baptist University, shows how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis can cultivate both the moral and theological virtues in the reader. Markos has published other books including From Achilles to Christ: Why Christian Should Read the Pagan Classics, Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World, and Restoring Beauty: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C. S. Lewis. Markos both teaches courses on Lewis and Tolkien and lectures widely. I attended a conference at the University of Mobile where he was main speaker. The theme of his lectures were Lewis's Abolition of Man. 

I enjoyed reading this book because it covered two of my favorite authors and the importance of the moral imagination for cultivating virtue. On the Shoulders of Hobbits is to address the lack of moral examples of living a virtuous life. He notes, "Throughout most of the history of mankind, children have been taught good and evil, virtue and vice, honor and shame through the medium of stories: proverbs, parables, myths, legends, allegories, fables, etc." (11). This is sorely lacking in our modern world. Many people no longer know the Bible but many of the classic stories that teaches the virtues. Markos states that the stories of the past served two functions" both "entertainment and instruction of the children" (12). They also serve this purpose for adults. Lewis and Tolkien have also produced stories that serve the purposes of delighting and educating the reader.

On the Shoulders of Hobbits is divided into four parts: the road, classical virtues, theological virtues, and evil. The author's main focus is on Tolkien's tales of Middle-earth with a brief glimpse of Narnia at the end of the chapter. Each chapter focuses on a single virtue. He shows how this theme is illustrated in Tolkien and he further develops it by analyzing a passage in the Chronicles of Narnia. This book is intended for the general reader. The author clarifies his purpose: "I will not be offering in this book a Christian or an allegorical or a symbolic reading of The Lord of Rings or The Chronicles. . . . Rather, I will mine them for insights into virtue as I would a rich vein of silver or gold. . . . I will be choosing, then, episodes that most effectively illustrate the particular theme being explored in that chapter. . . " (17-18). I think both Lewis and Tolkien would approve. We must always remember that these books were meant mainly as stories to be enjoyed.

Part one of this book looks at life as a journey or a "road." The author notes, "The Lord of the Rings, like all the great romances of the Middle Ages, is essentially a quest narrative" (24). This means that Tolkien's characters go on a journey and are changed by this journey. They are not the same people at the end of the journey as they were at the start. It is also a story of both good and evil. It shows both good characters and evil characters. These early chapters show that we must have a purpose for our life. We must know where we come from and where we are going. Chapter four shows how to deal with our mortality.

Part two describes the moral or classical virtues: fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence. There is a chapter for each of these virtues. Markos notes, "In the first section of this book, I concentrated on the Road and our status as pilgrims on that Road. In the two sections that follow , I will shift my focus to the virtues such pilgrims must possess if they are to endure the dangers along the way and carry out their calling to the proper end" (64). The chapter on fortitude argues that "only those who possess fortitude can bear to have their desired mortified for a higher cause" (67). In other words, fortitude will help us to pursue the right even when we do not feel like doing it. This is shown in the scene when Frodo approaches Mount Doom. Markos states that "true temperance (or self-control) manifests itself neither in gluttony nor asceticism, neither in hot prodigality nor a dry Puritanism" (75-76). A big part of The Lord of Rings is humor and joy. This is not a picture of sour-faced Christianity. Markos in describing wisdom (prudence) notes, "it is wisdom that allows us to sift and judge information properly. But part of that judging includes discerning which information we should accept and act upon" (88). In other words, there are many voices calling for our attention. Not all of them are good. The author notes that one day Christ will judge the world: "Christ will set all things right to true justice" (98).

The third part discusses friendship and the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. I am glad Markos put friendship with the theological virtues. It just seemed fitting and friendship is a big part of The Lord of the Rings. Lewis spoke of friendship in The Four Loves. It is a book I have read multiple times. I think friends are helpful to us in cultivating virtue. The author writes about faith: "the faithful are called to trust in the promises of old and to believe that the time and place of their birth was no accident. For faith sees not only that history is meaningful, that it is going someplace. . . " (122). While faith is "a transcendent vision;" hope is about "an imminent expectation" (124). Faith and hope are like to sides of a coin. The last part of the book discusses the problem of evil. It speaks of the different temptations that will lead us from God's path.

On the Shoulders of Hobbits is a joy to read. I enjoyed reading about some of my favorite scenes in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia. It is helpful to see how these books can teach others about cultivating moral virtue. This book is recommended for those who are interested in these matters.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Humanist Educational Treatises

Humanist Educational Treatises edited and translated by Craig W. Kallendorf. Cambridge, MA, 2002. ISBN 0-674-00759-x.

M.D. Aeschliman, "Humanist Educational Projects." Review essay. Review of Humanist Educational Treatises edited and translated by Craig W. Kallendorf. Journal of Education. Volume 184, Number 3 (2003): 69-83.

W. J. Ong, New Catholic Encyclopedia. "Humanism." Gale, in association with The Catholic University of America, 2003. V.7, 187-193.

Humanism can be an "ambiguous" term. Many Christians associate the term, humanism, with secular atheism. Some recognize it as a movement in the Renaissance period that emphasized this world and humane letters. There is also a long tradition of what is called Christian Humanism.

This is how it is defined in the New Catholic Encyclopedia: "The term humanism has a number of more or less distinct meanings, all referring to a world view in some way centered on man rather than on the superhuman or the abstract. In its strictest sense, the word refers to a literary and intellectual movement, the 'new learning,' running from 14th century Italy through Western culture generally into the 17th century or, more vaguely, even beyond, and marked by devotion to Greek and Latin classics as the central and highest expression of human values. The term has been extended to comparable movements in the Middle Ages, notably to the 12th-century educational reform typified by the ideals of John of Salisbury (d. 1180) and to Carolingian scholarly activity centering around Alcuin" (182).

It defines Christian Humanism as "the view (and action based upon that view) that human culture and its tradition have value in in the Christian life to the extent in which they are subordinated, in some way, to Christ's teaching, to what is preeminent in the tradition of the faith and consequently in the tradition of the church" (193).

One might even say it is an emphasis on human things from a Christian world-view. It is based on God's creation and His affirmation that it is good. In addition, it affirms that humans are created in God's image. It also emphasized that this life is good and should be affirmed.

Humanist Educational Treatises were written during the period of history called the Renaissance. It includes four treatises: The Character of Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth (ca. 1402-1403), by Pier Paola Vergerio; The Study of Literature (ca. 1424), by Leonardo Bruni; The Education of Boys (1450), by Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini; and A Program of Teaching and Learning (1459), by Battista Guarino. Kallendorf has written an introduction to guide the reader in reading these four treatises. He provides information about each of the four authors and places them and their treatise in the context of their time. The author notes, "Humanist educators aimed to create a particular type of person: men and women who would be virtuous because they had read and identified with powerful examples of classical virtue; who would be prudent because they had extended their human experience into the distant past through the study of history; and would be eloquent, able to communicate virtue and prudence to others, because they had studied the most eloquent writers and speakers of the past" (vii-viii). All these authors emphasized the liberal arts and morality. They encouraged the study of Greek and Latin classics, including the Church Fathers and the Scriptures.

M. D. Aeschliman wrote a review essay of this book. The aim of his article is to define the term. humanism, and show how it means various things to different people. In addition, he critiques the humanist movement from a Christian perspective. Here are a few excerpts from his article:

After listing weaknesses of the Renaissance humanists, he notes, "Yet, the educational quest for norms and nobility' must be the perennial concern of decent educators as well as honorable citizens and dutiful parents. Synthesis of orthodox theistic religion and humanism is easy to mock, but impossible to do without if we wish to retain the very idea of the human person as rational, free, and worthy" (76). This is important because it seems to imply we cannot have the human things without the divine. We have seen in the modern world what happens when we divide the human from the divine, abortion and euthanasia.

Here is an excerpt how the Humanists drew from both faith and reason, divine and human knowledge: "It is no accident or folly that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Cicero, Seneca, Juvenal, and Vergil were so easily integrated into the Judaeo-Christian tradition over many centuries" (76). It seems to me that modern Christians can learn much from the example of the humanist how they drew from the best that Western civilization produced.

Their replacement has had destructive consequences: "And it is far from evident that their replacement in Western curricula with modern literature and audio-visual culture--whether expressive or merely utilitarian--and the ascendancy of science can safeguard the human essence that the last one hundred years of history have maimed, perverted, and destroyed in so many ways. The increasing proficiency of our means of communication seems in inverse proportion to the increasing triviality, brutality, and folly of much of what we express and communicate" (76). Is it time for a re-engagement with classical literature? I think it is. Our departure from Christian humanism has had detrimental consequences.

Humanist Educational Treatises provide much food for thought. One of the themes emphasized are the importance of educating the young. They teach the importance of cultivating the right habits early in life. Another theme is that students must have proper examples, both teachers and peers. Teachers are not only to lead by instruction, but also by example. A third theme is the importance of the liberal arts for cultivating the education of the whole person. Aeschliman notes, "every student would be well taught if he or she were in secure possession of grammar, logic, and rhetoric before beginning higher education" (77). He notes how these writers stressed "the right use of language--on both reading and writing well--and on elementary logical procedures were usually augmented by a concern for ethics" (77).

Other important themes were the importance of reading history and literature. Some of the authors defend the reading of Greek plays and poetry against those who would want to remove them for the curriculum. In addition, they give reasons for reading secular literature. Christian Humanism is rooted in the Bible, flowered in the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, and has been prominent in Twentieth Century writers like C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot. We also see the legacy of this tradition in the Christian liberal arts colleges and universities today. Reading the Humanist Educational Treatises will be beneficial to the modern reader.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Study History?

John Fea, Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. Baker Academic, 2013. 182 pages. ISBN 978-0-8010-3965-2

John Fea is the  Associate Professor of American history and chair of the history department at Messiah College. He is the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Fea in his book, Why Study History provides the reasons why everyone should study history. He also presents the nuts and bolts of the discipline of history. The book is motivated from his survey course in American history. Many of the non-history majors in the course do not really want to be there. Early in the semester he attempts to persuade these students why they should study history. This book is intended for history majors and anyone who might be interested in history.

Why Study History includes eight chapters. The author in the first chapter explains what historians do. Fea notes, "Historians are always driven by the sources--they cannot make things up--but they do have the power to shape the their narratives in a style that might be described as 'artistic' " (3). Historians uses the records of the past to create a narrative of what happened in the past. History books does not just fall from the sky. Historians use both primary and secondary sources in writing about the past, but the emphasis in on primary sources. Primary sources are directly related to an event or a first-hand source, for example, diaries, autobiographies, reports of events as they are happening. Secondary sources are sources that are not directly related to events or second-hand sources. A biography on Franklin Roosevelt written today would be a secondary source. In addition, the author says "that history is a discipline that requires interpretation, imagination, and even literary or artistic styles" (29). One might say that history is both a science and an art.

In chapter two Fea states that historians are searching for a "usable past." He means that how is the past meaningful to us today. He claims the "past reminds us who we are." Without our memory, we do not have any identity. The past is also used to teach us how we are to live today. It provides guidance for our life today by inspirational examples from the past. It also creates community. We learn about common themes that bind us together with other citizens.

Chapter three analyses how the "past is a foreign country." For example, "the past often forces us to confront characters or events that seem utterly strange to us. People in the past burned witches. People engaged in human sacrifices" (48). In other words, values we hold today might be different from the values people held in the past. This strangeness of the past cautions us from distorting the past by emphasizing too much the similarities between the past and the present. We can easily force our own views on the past and not see it for what it really was. WE must also be sympathetic in attempting to understand the past and not let our own views hinder us from understanding the past.

Chapter four discusses "providence and history." Many Christians believe they can see God's hand in the past. They think they can view the past with a God-eyes view. There is a danger here. Humans are finite and are not God. We are unable to see events just like God. This danger often distorts the interpretation of the past. Fea notes, "I can imagine that a providential history might be useful in helping a religious congregation or some other community of Christians make sense of the way that God has led them through the days, months, and years. Such a providential history would obviously be celebratory in nature and be written to encourage the faithful with the things God has done. But such providential history must always be written with a sense of humility and a commitment to the mystery of God" (82-83).

Chapter five discusses certain tools from Christianity in studying the past. Some of these are the image of God, "the reality of human sin," "an incarnational approach to the past," and moral reflection. The author believes that the teaching of God's image in humans and the reality of sin can be helpful in using the study of history to create "a more civil society and a more compassionate Christian faith" (107). A good point he makes in this chapter is that historians are story-tellers. Too often  students think history is only about dates.

Fea's Why Study History? provides many excellent reasons to study history. He shows that the study of history is not only for history majors. In addition, he shows how the study of history can make us more human.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Introducing the Reformed Faith

Donald K. McKim, Introducing the Reformed Faith: Biblical Revelation, Christian Tradition, Contemporary Significance. Westminster JOhn Knox Press, 2001. 261 pages. ISBN 0-664-25644-9

Donald K. McKIm is Editor of Academic and Reference Books with WEstminster John Knox Press. He has edited and written many books including Calvin's Institutes: Abridged Edition, The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology and many more. Introducing the Reformed Faith is a beginner's guide to sixteen theological doctrines: Confessing our Faith, The Scripture, Trinity, Creation, Providence, Humanity, Sin, The Person of Christ, Work of Christ, Holy Spirit, Salvation, Church, Baptism, Lord's Supper, Christian Life, and Reign of God. The purpose of this book is to "suggest ways in which a particular theological understanding--the Reformed faith--has approached a number of important Christian doctrines."

The book is divided into nineteen chapters. Besides having a chapter for each of the sixteen doctrines discussed in the book, there are chapters on "Distinctive Emphasis of the Reformed Faith," common questions about the Reformed faith, and "A Catechism of Christian Faith and Life." Each chapter has a similar organization: the Biblical foundation for the doctrine, the doctrine in Christian Tradition, and Reformed emphases, and contemporary significance of the doctrine. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection or discussion.

The author states in the introduction that this book is meant as an introduction to the Reformed faith. In other words, it is not an exhaustive look at these doctrines. McKIm says this book can be studied individually or as a group. The chapters are short enough to be read in one sitting.

One emphasis in the Reformed Faith is confessing the faith. The Reformed faith accepts the early creeds of the creeds of the Christian creeds, for example, the Nicene Creed. It also accepts major creeds of the Reformation period: Heidelberg and Westminster.  McKim says the following about the authority of the confessions: "Confessions of faith have authority. They gain their authority as expressions of Christian beliefs in a certain time and place. These beliefs are appropriate expressions of the biblical message, the claims of Jesus Christ, and what the Spirit is leading the churches to confess" (8). The creeds and confessions are important guides to what the church has believed since its beginning. The Reformed faith is ecumenical because it accepts the teachings of the church before the Reformation. The author states that "the Reformed faith expresses itself in confessions of faith." Confession of faith is not only for believers, but for the world.

In the chapter on some common questions, McKim answers certain questions people ask about the Reformed faith: "Do we have free will?," "Is there salvation outside the church?," "What is TULIP?," and others. On the chapter on the distinctive emphasis of the Reformed faith, McKim shows what the Reformed faith has in common with the Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation, and the disct emphasis of the Reformed faith. For example, the Reformed faith accepts the Catholic teachings of the trinity and the incarnation. It accepts the Protestant emphasis on Justification by faith alone and the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Some of its unique emphasis are sovereignty, election, covenant, stewardship, sin, and obedience. I like how he states that part of the "ethos" of the Reformed Tradition is "The Life of the Mind as the Service of God." The Reformed faith teaches both that creation is good, even though fallen; and that the life of the mind is a way to worship God. It also emphasizes the importance of redeeming all of creation. All of life must be seen from a Christian view-point.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Schall on Chesterton

James V. Schall, Schall on Chesterton: Timely Essays on Timeless Paradoxes. Catholic University of America Press, 2000. 267 pages. ISBN 0-8132-0963-3

It is a real treat when you have one of your favorite writers writing about one of your other favorite writers. Fr. Schall says in this book that he is using essays by Chesterton to think with Chesterton on the truth of things. Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a famous Catholic writer who lived from 1874-1936. The publisher has this to say about Chesterton: He "was a gifted journalist, essayist, biographer, poet, novelist, playwright, philosopher, debater, and defender of common sense, of Christianity, and of the Catholic faith." Reading Chesterton gives the reader a well-rounded education. Chesterton was also a major influence on the life and writings of C. S. Lewis. Two of the most influential books on Lewis's life and conversion were The Everlasting Man by Chesterton and Phantastes by George MacDonald.

We have steadily been reading through the works of Chesterton in our book group. What I have found in reading his works is that Chesterton has a broad Christian humanistic vision. He writes within the Great Christian Tradition. His writings tie in faith and reason, reason and imagination. One cannot get a better view of the Christian faith than Chesterton.

The publisher summarizes the content of the book: "In this book of essays, Father James V. Schall, a prolific author himself and a prominent Catholic writer, brings readers to Chesterton through a witty series of original reflections prompted by something Chesterton wrote--timely essays on timeless issues. Like Chesterton, Schall consciously leads the reader to the reality of what is, of what is true and what is at the heart of things." Schall is a gifted essayist, as was Chesterton. These essays helps the reader to think on the important things of life. How can I see life from a Christian perspective. It is written in clear prose and is intelligible to the general reader.

Schall on Chesterton includes an introduction on Chesterton and a reflection on Chesterton at the end. He makes the following observation of Chesterton: "Chesterton in fact possessed a singular intelligence in which everything, even the smallest remark, seemed to be related to Wisdom. He could not see something without seeing everything, yet he really saw the something, the particular, the variable, the unique." Schall also notes that paradox is a prominent element in the writings of Chesterton, as it is in the Bible.

This book includes over 40 essays. Some of the topics discussed: pride, tradition, the direction of the world, stars, books, dectective stories, war, babies, virtue, duty, humanism, secular things, Belloc, return of Christ, dogmas, the ten commandments, and many more. It is quite interesting how Chesterton can talk about any one thing and talk about everything. This is a book of wisdom that leads to the "truth of things." What is truth? How are we to live our life? How can we experience joy and wonder in this world? These are the types of questions answered by Schall and Chesterton.

Schall makes an interesting note about the writing of these essays: "Let me say one final thing about these essays. I almost never knew, when I sat down to write them, what I was going to write about. They usually arose from something that I just picked up and began thumbing through. I began to realize that Chesterton was simply alive with thought, that he was amazingly coherent. Once I began a line of thought that he had somehow suggested to me, it was impossible not to continue, to complete the thought in my own fashion. These essays are, in this sense, my essays, not Chesterton's. All good teachers, even ones that we have never met, lead us not to themselves, but to the truth, to what is. Chesterton never failed to do this. I realize, now that I am older, that I shall simply never have the time to read and fathom all that is in Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aqinas, Johnson, or Chesterton. It cannot be done. And yet, one has the uncanny impression with all these writers, Chesterton included, that everything that they knew and wanted us to know was somehow contained in a mere fragment of their work" (Xiii-xiv). I have never met Chesterton or Schall. I know them, however, through their books. One could not hope for better teachers than Chesterton and Schall.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis

Alister E. McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. 191 pages. ISBN 978-0-470-67279-2

The reader might wonder if we really need another book on Lewis. The books on Lewis is a publishing industry in itself. Alister McGrath and others believe that there are areas of Lewis's thought that have not been probed. The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis is a companion to McGrath's biography on Lewis. McGrath thinks that "Fifty years after Lewis's death, it is clearly appropriate to reflect further on his intellectual achievements and heritage" (2). The author notes that in his research for writing the Lewis biography he discovered that "many aspects of Lewis's thought needed detailed and careful reconsideration, especially in the light of their intellectual context" (2).

The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis is divided into eight chapters. The author states that these chapters have not been published before.  These chapters "aim to set Lewis in the greater context of the western literary and theological tradition, exploring how he appropriated and modified its narratives, ideas, and images. Lewis himself was nourished by this great tradition . . . (2-3). One can see clearly from the writings of Lewis that he was well read in the western tradition. He says of himself that he never set out to write any original thought. Some of the themes addressed in these chapters are myth, philosophy, metaphors used by Lewis, joy, reason, imagination, and Lewis as a theologian.

I have read many of Lewis's works repeatedly over the years and have read much of the secondary literature on him. The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis does a good job in placing him in the intellectual context of his time. In these essays he explains much about how many of the writings of Lewis came about and how to interpret them. For example, he shows how everything in Surprised by Joy should not be taken literally. He even shows the traditional dating of Lewis's conversion is incorrect. One might ask why this is important. It shows that it was a longer process where Lewis spent an extended time thinking things over before converting to the Christian faith.

In the chapter on "Lewis as a theologian" shows how there has been much bias against Lewis. McGrath notes, "As a young theologian, I was taught to despise Lewis; as a thinking person, I found him refreshing and energizing. As I listened to then-fashionable but now-forgotten voices faulting and dismissing him, I heard a deeper dissenting voice within me. All this may be true, I thought, but Lewis seems to have seen and grasped something that you have missed. That's why people still read him. Of course, they need to go beyond him. But as I have discovered in countless conversations since then, Lewis is the point of access for a large number of people to the serious study of theology" (164). My life resonate with these words. I first discovered Lewis one Christmas break when I was an undergraduate. I checked out the Chronicles of Narnia to read during Christmas. My life was changed forever. I went on to read other works by Lewis. I learned that it was okay for a Christian to pursue the life of the mind. I learned there was no conflict between faith and reason or reason and the imagination. I have read Lewis on and off for over twenty years and I agree with McGrath that he has something important to say.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport

Richard J. Mouw, Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport: Making Connections in Today's World. Zondervan, 2004. 141 pages. ISBN 978-0-310-23197-4

This is what the publisher says about the book:

"Let's face it, many non-Calvinists hold a less-than-positive view, sometimes due to caricatures. This friendly, conversational book helps clear up some misconceptions and distorted views. If you're not a Calvinist, here is an engaging inside look. And if you are a Calvinist, Richard Mouw shows how to live gently and respectfully with others--Christians and non-Christians--who hold different perspectives. Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport focuses not on what Calvinists believe but on how they live. From a movie scene to the author's personal experiences in Las Vegas, you are invited to travel with Mouw and see the Reformed faith in a new light. Yes, it still does travel well!"

Richard J. Mouw returned to the classroom as Professor of Faith and Public Life after serving as President of Fuller Theological Seminary (1993-2013). He originally came to Fuller as professor of Philosophy in 1985. Before coming to Fuller, he served seventeen years as a professor at Calvin College. Mouw has written many books including: Uncommon Decency :Christian Civility in an Uncivil World; Consulting the Faithful; He Shines in All that is Fair: Culture and Common Grace. In Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport Mouw asks the question: Is Calvinism still viable in the 21st century? He believes it is. He sets out in this book to correct distortions or myths that non-Calvinists have of Calvinism. One might say that he presents a kinder, gentler Calvinism. Two things one can say about Mouw is that he is respectful of other views and is willing to learn from other. These are virtues that we all should emulate.

Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport is divided into twelve chapters. The chapters are short and can be easily read in one sitting. The book has one chapter which explains the TULIP acronym. Mouw calls this chapter "Mere Calvinism." The rest of the book describes the larger Reformed faith and responds to caricatures of it.

In the chapter, "After the Election," Mouw shows how Christians are elected to serve. He argues that Christians are called to be active in the political and social arenas. He describes his own involvement in political activities in the 1960s and how it shaped his life. He also mentions the Reformed emphasis on "covenant theology" and how this teaching softens the teaching of predestination. It is interesting that in this chapter Mouw shows how he has learned from both a Catholic priest and a Jewish Rabbi how to live a Christian life. This is a common theme in the book on how Mouw is willing to learn from others. Mouw does say that "God saves us as individuals;" but He does not want "us to live our lives in isolation from a corporate involvement" (67). This is a good point made by Mouw. One of the weaknesses of Northern American evangelicalism emphasis is the emphasis on the individual. Mouw also says that "We need to find our individual callings in the context of the larger calling of the Christian community to which we belong" (67).

In his chapter, "Confessions of a Traveling Calvinism," Mouw points out some of the weaknesses of Calvinism. One of these weak areas is ethics. Mouw speaking of Calvinist says, "Calvinists have certainly not stood out in the Christian community as especially pure people when it comes to the way they behave. They have frequently been intolerant, sometimes to the point of taking abusive and violent action toward people with whom they have disagreed" (114-115). He thinks that Calvinists must develop the important virtue of humility in dealing with others. They must have "a desire to learn from others." Mouw calls himself an "ecclectic Calvinist." He has needed to learn from other traditions to flesh out the beliefs of Calvinism. He sees Calvinism as a world and life view. An important emphasis in Calvinism is the Soevereignty of God. God is sovereign over every area of life. God calls us to expand His kingdom to all areas of life.

Calvinism in Las Vegas is an excellent introduction on how Calvinism is applicable to the 21st century. Mouw notes that though his Calvinism is not completely the same as the Calvinism that his grandmother brought from the Netherlands, but it is rooted in it. This is a good book to see what Calvinism looks like from the inside. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine: A Novel. William Morrow, 2006. 267 pages. ISBN978-0-380-97726-0

I recently read Bradbury's Dandelion Wine for the third time. One of the themes that stood out to me is how a young boy comes alive one summer. Another theme is the importance of memory. A third and fourth  theme are technology and community. There are more themes in the book that I will not mention.

Our book group read and discussed Dandelion Wine a couple of weeks ago. The conversation focused mainly on the importance of memory and seeing with new eyes. One can see the importance of both memory and seeing with new eyes right in the title. A dandelion is an insignificant flower that most people do not even notice. Is this symbolical of the events of our life that seem insignificant to us? The metaphor of making Dandelion wine stands for the memories we preserve for a future time. These bottled memories can be opened up again in bleak, winter months.

Dandelion Wine tells the story of a young boy named Douglas who comes alive one summer. He expects great things to happen this summer and they do. One thing he does is record two types of entries in his notebook: events that occur and reflections on these events. If we are reflecting on events can we experience them? I think both C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton said experiences are incomplete without reflecting on them. James V. Schall says there is a certain pleasure in thinking on things or what is.

There is also a sense of awe or the numinous in the book. One sees this in the book when the boys go berry-picking in the woods with their father. There is a sense that the woods are alive and something will jump out and reach them. It is almost like a spiritual presence.

There is also a sense of danger in the book. There are two examples that illustrate this. First there is the ravine. This ravine reflects the untamed or uncivilized part of life. There is also the "Lonely one."  This person goes around killing women. One does not know if this person really exists or he is only in the people's mind. After this person is killed, the boys think that they must think that he escaped so they can still be fearful of his presence.

An interesting example of community is when the generations are conversing with one another on the porch. In a sense this is informal education for the younger generation. Here is an excerpt from the scene on the porch: "What they talked of all evening long, no one remembered next day. It wasn't important to anyone what the adults talked about; it was only important that the sounds came and went over the delicate ferns that bordered the porch on three sides; it was only important that the darkness filled the town like black water being pored over the houses, and that the cigars glowed and the conversations went on . . . Sitting on the summer-night porch was so good, so easy and so reassuring that it could never be done away with. These were rituals that were right and lasting; the lighting of pipes, the pale hands that moved knitting needles . . . For at some time or other during the evening, everyone visited here. . ." What are the rituals we practice that keeps the memories alive?

Another example of memory is Colonel Freeleigh who is a link to the past. Once he dies, a big part of history dies with him. I was just telling my family yesterday that there is a whole history that lives within my grandmother. We must somehow acquire this history or it will die with her. This reminds me that part of scholarship is preserving the ideas of the past. You do not know how important this memory of the past is till you lose it.

I could talk of many other things that exist in this wonderful book by Bradbury. I could speak of how the Happiness Machine never brings happiness. I could speak how the children do not believe Mrs. Bentley was ever twelve years old. There are many other wonderful themes in this book. I recommend you get you a copy of Dandelion Wine and read it for yourself.