Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Life of the Mind

Cliiford Williams, The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective. Baker Academic, 2002. ISBN 080102336x

"Our danger has not been too much thinking, but not enough."
                                                                          Nathan Hatch

Clifford Williams in The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective presents a book-length essay on why thinking is important to the life of the Christian. He states that Christians are faced with a dilemma in regards to the life of the mind: "Christians have mixed feelings about purely intellectual pursuits. On the one hand, many believe that thinking and learning can enrich faith and devotion.... Other Christians, however, are suspicious of too much thinking and learning and even more so of a life devoted to them. Those who hold this opinion are convinced not only that thinking and learning are useless to faith and devotion but that they are likely to undermine faith and devotion. To these Christians, being a thinker does not comport well with being a Christian" (9).

Why do Christians side with two different camps in regards to the life of the mind? Why do some Christians see the life of the mind as beneficial to the Christian faith and other Christians see it as a danger to the Christian faith? I have to admit in much of my association in churches the view that sees intellectual life as a danger to the faith has been exhibited more than seeing it as a strength? The encouragement for intellectual life has come more from reading books than from activity in church. This is strange since many of the great saints of the faith have been great intellectuals:  the apostle Paul, Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, C. S. Lewis and others. Why do Christians see faith and reason opposed to one another?

I would like to relate my experience with two of these thinkers: Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. First, some of the things I have learned from Thomas Aquinas. I have learned from the example of Thomas Aquinas that both the life of the mind and the devotional life can be cultivated in the same person. Second, I have learned that faith and reason are not only compatible, but can enrich each other. Third, I have learned that both the world and the body is good because it is created from God.

Recently, I have felt the need to deepen my spiritual life. I have chosen Saint Augustine as my guide to help me to cultivate a deeper spiritual life. I have been reading him for some months now and have found him to be an excellent companion in seeking to cultivate, a deeper, spiritual life. He has shown me both the need to know my self and God. I need to be alone and quiet before God. I need to allow Him to speak to me in a still, small voice. Saint Augustine was a sinner who struggled with sin as I am. He had a great thirst for God as evident in his Confessions which portrays his quest for God. He was a pastor who sought to follow God in a very busy life. He can show me how to follow God in an active life.

As has been shown in these two examples, faith and reason do not necessarily conflict. Faith can enhance reason and reason can enhance faith. We can pursue God in an active life or a solitary life. There are many models in the Christian tradition that can help us live a deeper, spiritual and intellectual life.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Student's Calling

"The Student's Calling" by Leland Ryken in Liberal Arts for the Christian Life edited by Jeffry C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken, Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

Ryken says, "the time has come to revive an idea that once seemed natural: the student's life as a Christian calling. By calling I mean vocation--the occupation of being a student" (15). Have you ever thought that being a student is a calling? I have and it has made a big difference. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis' lecture on learning called "Learning in our Time." Lewis presents good ideas on how being a student or a scholar is a calling.

What kind of education should those pursuing learning as a calling seek? Leland thinks that some methods of education will not work for this student. T. S. Eliot said, "We must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem" (15).

First, Ryken asks the question, "What is Education For? Have you asked this question? What was your answer? Ryken states that a Christian student's calling "is the same as it is for a Christian in any situation of life. Its central focus is the individual's relationship with God. Loving and serving God should be the foundation for everything else you do at college" (16). You do not want to graduate from college with intellectual skills and knowledge, but still be a baby or infant in Christ. You need to grow in all areas while in college. John Milton said, "The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him" (16). In other words, we need to do as Saint Peter said, "grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ." We are either going forward in our walk with Christ or we are going backwards. There is no standing still. God is more concerned with the person you are becoming that the career you will choose. Our goal should be growth towards Christian maturity. Jesus said, what does it matter if we gain the world, but lose our soul. This requires soul care.

A second point made by Ryken in his lecture "is that all of life is God's" (17). There is no dividing our lives by sacred and secular. God is over it all. A related theme is that all truth is God's truth no matter where it is found. Calvin said this in the Institutes of the Christian Religion and others have stated it too. Ryken observes, "the integration of every academic discipline with the Christian faith is an essential part of the Christian's calling" (18). I think in some sense, every Christian is called to be a Christian theologians. We need to know what we believe.

The author believes there is a strong relationship with the idea that all of life belongs to God and the idea of liberal arts education. He believes that liberal arts education is a "comprehensive" education. Ryken notes, "Fit for everything: that has always been the goal of liberal arts education, as distinct from vocational training in a specific field. Milton's definition is even more famous. He defined 'a complete and generous education' as one that 'fits man to perform . . . all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war" (18-19). That definition is hard to beat. Mortimer Adler might say that a liberal arts education prepares one to use leisure wisely. It might be added that a liberal arts education not only helps one live life, but to live it well.