Monday, November 20, 2017

Biblical Hermeneutics

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views edited by Stanley E. Porter & Beth M. Stovell. IVP Academic, 2012. 224 pages. ISBN: 9780830839636

Biblical Hermeneutics: Five Views is a look at five different views of Biblical Hermeneutics: The historical-critical/grammatical view by Craig L. Blomber; the literary/postmodern view by F. Scott Spencer; the philosophical/theological view by Merold Westphal; the redemptive-historical view by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.; and the Canonical view by Robert W. Wall. Because of my interest in the philosophical/theological view of hermeneutics, I will discuss that view.

First, a general overiew of what it is and is not. First, it is not only about interpreting the Bible. It includes interpretation of literary criticism, theology, and law. Second, it is more than interpreting texts. Third, it is not a method for interpreting texts. Gadamer says it is that the "hermeneutical phenomenon is basically not a problem of method at all." Gadamer and philosophical hermeneutics explores what people actually do when they interpret.

The hermeneutical circle is a part of philosophical hermeneutics. The idea is that "when we interpret texts we presuppose and bring with us an idea of the whole that guides our reading of the parts." Another aspect of the hermeneutical circle is that our view of the author shapes our interpretation of the text and vice versa.  Mainly for Gadamer, Heidegger and Ricoeur, the hermenuetical circle is a "matter of presuppositions in general and does not focus on the whole part-relations." Understanding is "relative to the presuppositions of the interpreter." In other words, we do not come to a text with a blank slate. We interpret through our beliefs, culture, and historical situation. Basically, we interpret from a tradition, either consciously or unconsciously. Gadamer attempted to rehabilitate the use of prejudices, basically meaning to pre-judge. The basic idea is that we come to the text with certain ideas that we will revise as we engage the text.

It is falsely thought that philosophical hermeneutics kills the author. This controversy basically concerns "the degree to which the author determines the meaning of the text." Does the author owns the meaning of the text? There is romantic hermeneutics which argues that the interpreter's job is to recover the "author's inner experience." The second view, which is similar, is to reproduce the meaning of the author. Philsophical hermeneutics thinks the interpreter reproduces and produces the meaning of the text. Gadamer asserts, "Every age has to understand a transmitted text in its own way, for the text belongs to the whole tradition whose content interests the age in which it seeks to understand itself. The real meaning of a text, as it speaks to the interpreter, does not depend on the contingencies of the author and his original audience. It is certainly not identical with them, for it is always co-determined also by the historical situation of the interpreter. . . . Not just occasionally but always, the meaning of a text goes beyond its author. That is why understanding is not merely a reproductive but always a productive activity as well . . . It is to say that we understand in a different way, if we understand at all." It seems this view does justice to the author, reader, and interpretive act. Westphal notes that E. D. Hirsch Jr. "is so eager to make the author sovereign that in quoting Gadamer he completely leaves out the 'merely' and the 'as well.' He then complains that that for Gadamer the interpreter can ignore the text and attribute to it any meaning that may be desired. I expect more responsible reading from my undergraduates." Jacques Derida says the original meaning acts as a  "guardrail." The text does not just mean anything.  Westphal calls this the double hermenutic. The first hermeneutic asks what the text meant to its original audience. The second hermeneutic asks, "What is God saying to us here and now through these words of scripture?" The first concerns exegesis and the second interpretation. Westphal says what Hirsch fails to see is "that a text is both determinate and indeterminate. It places limits on interpretation, to be sure, but it also remains open to different meanings in different contexts unanticipated by the author." In other words, there are limits to what meanings is placed on a text. A text cannot mean anything.

There are specific strengths to the Philosophical/theological hermeneutics. First, it takes seriously the author and the interpreter. Second, it accepts the historical distance between the text and the interpreter. Third, the theological reading follows the Church Fathers and the medievalists view that scripture should form us and transform us. It is more than requiring information or knowledge of a text. Fourth, it takes seriously the historically situated situation of the reader. It is only through our beliefs, values, and traditions that we can interpret the text. The text does not explain itself. It must be interpreted. I find these strengths true to what I know about the act of reading. A possible weakness might not putting enough attention on the author. A second possible weakness is that it looks like relativism to certain believers. However, it seems to be to be a middle way between relativeness and absoluteness. Only God can see with a God-eyes-view. As long as we are earth we see only partially and dimly. We cannot have absolute certainty. We walk by faith and not by sight. This view seems to take serious the biblical view of human beings. There is a God, but we are not Him. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Author, the Reader, and the Text

The Author, the Reader, and the Text
John E. Shaffett

            Many people assume that reading is a static, not a dynamic process. They assume that the author begins with certain ideas in his head that he puts on paper. The reader, through reading, receives the author’s ideas into his own head. A compatible assumption with this idea is that the text contains only one meaning or interpretation. Another idea is that the author determines the meaning of the text. There are problems with these assumptions. First, Marxist criticism argues that in the writing of literature, writers have “responded to the social and economic conditions of cultural life” (Wilhout, 91). This indicates that both the reader and writer are situated in particular historical conditions which determine the reading and the writing of a text. Second, Lynch shows how the analogical imagination incorporates a four-fold level of biblical exegesis. The implication is that there are multiple meanings in a literary work. Third, Freudian criticism argues that there are particular problems with the romantic imagination. This criticism suggests that reading is a dynamic process.
In regards to Freudian criticism, Jacobs asserts, “But Freud attacks the imagination at the one place it cannot defend: within the mind itself. The imagination does not act with autonomy, but rather is motivated--as all human behavior is motivated--by the need to resolve internal tension and conflict” (Jacobs, 105). Freud’s critique is in response to the romantic view of the imagination espoused by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He viewed “inspiration” as an “energy inherent in the poet’s own mind” (Jacobs, 99). This idea argues against external influence on the imagination. Freud concluded that the “writer of fiction projects his own conflicts into story, objectifies them by casting them into the character and event” (Jacobs, 101). Freud’s conclusion shows the idea that an author in the writing process simply his communicating conscious ideas he has in his head.
Marxist critics have used Freud’s “theories of internal struggle to explain how we bourgeois readers suppress our class allegiances and thereby enable ourselves to pretend  that our canons, our ways of reading, our interpretations possess a ‘natural’ or inherent authority” (Jacobs, 95). This is an important insight. Reading is just a natural process that the reader is not aware of the complexities of the reading act. The text is not a static thing that the reader just sees what is there. The reader, like the author, brings their own internal struggles to the literary work. Just like the author, they are projecting themselves into the work. The reader is bringing her own thoughts to the work which influences how she interprets the work.
Lynch asserts, “For I am convinced that according to its terms [four-fold level of biblical exegesis] it is undoubtedly true that there are four levels of insight, the literal, the moral, allegorical, and analogical, but that, even more importantly, there is also only one, and that the literal, which has been brought to complete illumination by the minds marching through all its possibilities, by marching through a finite, according to the whole thesis of this book” (Lynch, 207). Lynch argues in his book argues that the analogical imagination brings together the one and the many. This is illustrated in a drama when the plot of the drama is “deepened by the insights proceeding from other and deeper levels of action” (Lynch, 207). Jacobs and Lynch provides insights on how reading is a dynamic action.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

When Christianity Goes Wrong

When Christianity Goes Wrong
John E. Shaffett

            Clarence Walhout in his essay, “Marxist Criticism,” suggests that Christian literary criticism can benefit from Marxist criticism. He shows areas that Christianity and Marxism share common ground, and areas where differences exist. Walhout asserts, “There are many areas of common concern to be found among Marxists and Christians, but there are fundamental differences as well at the level of their foundational beliefs about the nature and meaning of history and social life. The conflict between Marxism and Christianity is a conflict between two belief systems. Although they share many common concerns in the practice of literary criticism, specific literary judgments will diverge according to the differences in the basic beliefs that govern their practices” (90). Some Christians believe that since Marxists are atheists and Christians are theists that there is nothing either group shares in common. However, this essay will argue that there are certain things Christians can learn from Marxists that will be beneficial to them. It will look at three different areas where Marxist criticisms can benefit Christian thinking: politics, education, and literary criticism.
Marxists have contributed important insights about ideologies and how they operate in a social system. Terry Eagleton provides a “representative” definition of ideology in his Marxism and Literary Criticism: “Ideology is not in the first place a set of doctrines; it signifies the way men live out their roles in class-society, the values, ideas, and images which tie them to their social function and so prevent them from a true knowledge of society as a whole” (Walhout, 86). This definition brings out the Marxist idea that “reality determines consciousness, instead of the other way around. It is in social practices that you can discover particular ideologies. According to Marxists, “societies throughout history have developed economic systems of production that work to the advantage of some and to the disadvantage of others, and they have built on these systems elaborate forms of social life that serve both to carry out the economic systems and to justify those systems in the eyes of those societies. The superstructural forms of social life serve to legitimate the infrastructure on which they are based” (Walhout, 85). Marxist criticism might help Christians uncover ideologies that are supporting oppression. For example, Christians might evaluate how economic policies affect the poor? Christians might compare Marxist criticism with statements made by the Old Testament prophets. These prophets denounced religious leaders because of the way they oppressed the poor, the widow, and the stranger. Why is that the majority of Black evangelicals voted for Hillary Clinton and why did the majority of white evangelicals vote for Donald Trump? Why do a majority of Americans condemn athletes because they kneel for the national anthem to protest injustices against Black Americans? Why were so many Christians silent about Donald Trump’s abuse of women, calling Mexicans rapists, making fun of disabled reporters, and encouraging violence against opponents? How can Christian conservatives say character matter and be largely silent about the abuses of Donald Trump? It does seem that Marxist criticism can help Christians see how their culture legitimates oppression.
Christian education can become ineffective because of closing out the voices of others. For example, some Christian Colleges only allow Christians to attend their school. Often, both faculty and students come from the same conservative position. One professor said he would not send his child to a Christian college because the restraint of freedom of inquiry and thought and a lack of diversity. Is is really education when there are not multiple views being aired? The Marxist emphasis on dialogue could be helpful to the Christian college. Marxists states how “discourse is the dialectical struggle between authority and freedom” (Walhout, 81). The power of authority is the power of tradition. Tradition is evident in authoritative language used by parents, teachers, religious leaders, and others. This tradition “establishes the order and continuity that historical experience requires” (81). However, historical experience needs change and growth too. Authoritative discourse can be associated with monological speech; in contrast, “internally persuasive discourse is dialogical. In order to grow, we need to maintain a stance of openness to dialogue” (Walhout, 81). This indicates that for education to be dynamic, there must be multiple voices in the conversation. There needs to be freedom of inquiry and thought for true education to take place. It seems that monological education is not true education.
Literary Criticism
Marxist literary criticism can benefit Christian literary criticism in many ways. First, it can provide an example of a dynamic, developing tradition of literary criticism. Walhout notes, “Marxist literary criticism is a developing and dynamic movement. It takes seriously its basis in Marx’s philosophy but it is also vitally engaged in issues that concern contemporary literary theory and criticism generally” (Walhout, 79). Christian literary criticism need to be in the public arena engaging “contemporary literary theory and criticism.” Marxist criticism also provides an alternative to formalist models of literary criticism because of its emphasis on “social and historical criticism.” The ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin continues to be influential and can be helpful in developing a Christian literary criticism. Bakhtin’s major theme is “human discourse and its deep embeddedness in the history of culture” (Walhout, 80). The thought of Bakhtin “can remind us that Christian discourse , like all discourse, is historical and contextual” (81-82). William Lynch seems to emphasize how human discourse is situated in the historical and finite. In writing about tragedy, Lynch asserts, “My own conclusion is that the achievement of tragedy has always occurred when the dramatic text has allowed itself to move through human time to the very last point of human finitude and helplessness” (94). This describes a dynamic process of historical change. On his discussion of comedy, he states, “the imagination, to get anywhere, must course through the actual phases or stages or ‘mysteries’ of the life of man” (Lynch, 127). Lynch is saying that the imagination is embedded in the historical changes of human life. Other points made by Bakhtin that would be helpful for Christian literary criticism is the need for participation in the dialogue of literary criticism; form and content cannot be understood separate from each other; discourse is always involved in an “interplay of languages [that] relativise one another” (Walhout, 82-83). In other words, Christian literary criticism must not cut itself off from the dialogues that are taking place in society. Second, it takes more than content to make a great literary work. Anthony Esolen in his interview provides an example of right and wrong ways to approach literature. It is important that the critic approaches literature with a receptive, humble spirit. He also thinks that having a humorous imagination is important to a literary critic. Last, he states the importance of the critic having certain virtues like humility, charity, and teachability.

            Marxists and Christians share fundamental differences in their core beliefs. In regards to literary criticism, “specific literary judgments will diverge according to the differences in the basic beliefs that govern their practices.” Marxist literary criticism, however, have many strengths that will benefit Christian literary criticism. In addition, Marxist teachings on ideology can help Christians locate particular ideologies they hold which supports oppression. Finally, the emphasis on dialogue and engaging modern literary criticism will benefit both Christian education and Christian literary criticism.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Once Saved, Always Saved

Once Saved, Always Saved
John E. Shaffett

            William Lynch asserts, “Magical or instantaneous methods of getting at God are marked by a hatred and fear of human time and the full human process” (Lynch, 77). To further clarify, he states, “because of this hatred of time they wish to use but a single, special moment of it, one that by some strange, inexplicable ‘trick’ will lead them to full glory” (Lynch, 77). Some evangelicals believe in the idea of once saved, always saved. They believe in an instantaneous new birth when they believe in Christ, and they believe at this moment they are completely saved. In addition, they believe that the only reason that they are not immediately lifted into glory is that they can save others. This belief seems to indicate magical thinking and a hatred of time. In contrast, Ignatius Loyola and his spiritual exercises presents a completely different relationship to time. Lynch states, “An analysis of his method will show in detail that, as a seeker of God, he is completely devoted to the time process and completely to its definite actuality, no matter what it is at each particular moment” (Lynch, 78). Loyola’s Catholic theology teaches that the journey of the soul to God is through time and the particular. The last part of the essay will apply the two views to literary criticism.
            Lynch states that there are “basically two contrary and hostile positions now held by the contemporary imagination regarding time” (Lynch, 50). One position thinks of time as something individuals need to escape from because it does not lead to “insight, beauty, God, peace, nor to anything else” (50). One can see how time is related to the body, the particular, and the finite. To get to the eternal, God, one must leave time or the body. The alternative view thinks of time as “nothing but ourselves, as we move without pause through all the phases and stages of our lives” (Lynch, 51). One view focuses on escaping time to reach the eternal; in contrast, the other view reaches the eternal through the temporal. These two views are related to the once saved, always saved doctrine and Loyola’s spiritual exercises. The once saved, always saved doctrine emphasizes a one time experience where the person is completely saved. There are no stages to go through. It does not seem to accept the gradual process of salvation. For example, physically, humans go through different stages of development: birth, childhood, youth, young adult, middle adult, old age, and death. The once saved, always saved doctrine does not see the believer going through these stages spiritually, but being completely saved in an immediate experience. In contrast, Loyola’s exercises and Catholic theology presents salvation as a life-long process in which believers go through various stages on their journey to God.

The hostile view to time seems to be also hostile to the temporal, the body, and this world. This thinking affects the way this believer practices moral criticism. For example, some evangelicals want to read only “pure literature.” The type of literature that does not have the messiness of sin in it. Instead, it is geared to having the character make a one-time decision of faith. James Vanden Bosch asserts, “There is also the potential irony of the moral or theological critic keenly alert for blasphemy or heresy in literature but willing to view third-rate ‘Christian” literature, hymns, and essays as acceptable. And there is the odd irony of Christian critics who know, intellectually and doctrinally, that ours is a corrupt and corrupting culture , but who don’t like literature to take a prophetic stance against our materialism, our higher consumerism, our debased taste, our vulgarity” (64). Bosch’s description identifies a good portion of the popular Christian literature consumed by evangelicals. A second point is that these same believers believe there must be a moral or message in the literature. They do not understand Flannery O’Connor’s point that the whole work is the message. In contrast, the Jesuit view would affirm the humanness in literature. It would not argue that “pure literature” is great literature.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Christians and the Imagination

There is an art series being produced by an artist at my school. It is called the Glory of God Collection. The collection contains some beautiful paintings. The artist of the collection is an excellent artist. Eventually, the artist plans to add commentary on the paintings to tell viewers what they mean. The idea of adding commentary to the paintings puzzles me. Why does the artist think he needs to interpret the paintings for the people? Recently, I heard a musician explain her lyrics on NPR. The host asked her what was her intended meaning for one of her songs? She was reluctant to tell the host because she thought that different people would interpret her music differently. A third example of our topic is how some Christians want to interpret everything in the Bible literally. This essay will try to engage these experiences by interacting with this week’s readings.
            The first reading came from William Lynch’s Christ and Apollo. The first characteristic of the imagination is its connection to the particular. Lynch asserts, “No matter what form the vision takes, however, or what its final goal--whether that be beauty, or insight, or peace, or tranquility, or God--the heart, substance, and center of the human imagination, as of human life, must lie in the particular and limited image or thing” (Lynch, 11). You must start below to get to the above. This is an example of the descent and the ascent. The path to the truth for the imagination is through images. Lynch tells of some wrong ways to get to the universal through the particular. Two of these ways are barely touching it to “produce the mystical vision” (16). Another is to touch lightly the particular to get to the self; to create particular feelings in the self. Lynch’s own position “pictures the imagination as following a narrow, direct path through the finite” (21). This is a description of the descent of the imagination which “also shoots up into insight” (21). Lynch asks how the literal and transcendent can be brought into harmony. His answer is that the reader should “discover symbols . . . [that] can make the imagination rise indeed, and keep all the tang and density of that actuality into which the imagination descends” (30). A good example of this would be Augustine’s principles of interpretation. He believed that Scripture had both literal and figurative meanings.
            The second reading was “Formalist and Archetypal Criticism” by Leland Ryken. He states that formalist theory “seeks to define the distinctive knowledge that literature and the arts express” (Ryken, 3). Is it scientific, historical, or some other truth? We might call it poetic truth. Formalist critics argue that literature “does not primarily convey ideas or scientific facts but instead embodies the very quality of human experience. Literature does not tell us about reality but recreated by various techniques of concretion” (4). Literature shows us through particular images. This is similar to what Anthony Esolen describes in his interview with Ken Myers. Esolen described how ironies time, power, and love characterizes the Christian faith and the Bible. First, time is not neutral. The particularity of time intersects with divine providence. The author of time can work in all kinds of turns and surprises. Another irony of Scripture is the irony of power. The incarnate Son of God comes as a servant and he suffers crucifixion at the hands of men, but it is through the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension that people are redeemed. The incarnation of the Son of God is a particular example of the intersection of the temporal and the eternal. Lynch notes, “St. Paul seems to attribute the ascension of Christ into heaven causally to His descent into the earth, and generally we ourselves will be stressing the great fact of Christology, that Christ moved down into all the realities of man to get to His father” (23). Christ comes down to redeem creation and rises for their justification. In addition, the incarnation shows both temporal man and eternal God existing in the same being. Third, is the irony of love. The continual witness of Scriptures is that God is love. He comes to earth not as a ruler, but as an innocent baby. God is unlike the Greek gods and Allah because He love his creation and He wants them to love Him in return.

            Each of these readings provides possible ways to engage our three examples. First, is the example of the artist who adds commentary to his paintings. Is this a good thing or is this a bad thing? Ryken states that the “Christian tradition has long held that truth comes to us in the image as well as the concept” (13). We could say that the image is the painting and the commentary is the concept. It seems we have two expressions here. One is the painting and the other is the commentary. It seems best to keep these expressions separate. Second, the musician’s words seem to answer our first example too. She says that people come away with different interpretations from her music. It seems adding commentary to the painting is forcing its view on the viewer. The last example is the experience of Christian believers forcing a literal interpretation on all parts of the Bible. Augustine instructs us not to interpret the literal figuratively and not to interpret the figurative literally. In addition, he seems to argue that the same passage can have both a literal and figurative meaning. It would be good to remember that Ryken stated that the Bible communicates through images and concepts. We must not confuse the two. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Christian Hermeneutical Reading

A Christian Hermeneutical Reading
John E. Shaffett

            Hermeneutical thinking was changed in the twentieth-century because of the failure of Romantic Hermeneutics (Lundin, Hermeneutics, 157). Romantic hermeneutics argued that to interpret a book, “we are facing a creative projection of truth that has arisen from within another human being. In understanding that creation, we cannot rely on our membership in a community or tradition to mediate its unique truth to us” (Lundin, 155). Basically, we need the “see the world” through the author’s eyes. Much of this theory was influenced by Rene Descartes who believed that to get “at the truth of things” required the thinker to set “aside all of his preconceptions about God, the world, and the self” (Lundin,158). This Cartesian tradition would be challenged by Martin Heidegger. He questioned Descartes’ claim “about our ability to cast aside our pre-understanding as we search for knowledge” (Lundin, 159).  He asserted that there was “no such thing as direct, unmediated perception. All of our judgements of things are informed by prior conceptions we hold” (Lundin, 159). This is the famous hermeneutical circle. Stanley Fish argued, “the text is accessible only through their interpretations of it, which determine what they see in the text” (Walhout, 274). In other words, the text is not separate from the reader’s personal beliefs. He does not see what is plainly there. The reader cannot understand or interpret without using his pre-understanding. Therefore, there is no escaping the fact that the reader is interpreting from some tradition. Since everyone reads or interprets from prejudices, according to Gadamer, what is the Christian reader to do? The reader should test their interpretation by the written text. Gadamer thought of understanding as a “form of dialogue in which the horizon of our prejudices is fused with that of the text we are reading or the individual with whom we are conversing, as we both attend to the object or truth in question” (162). For example, the author has certain ideas about a particular subject that he puts in a book. The reader has certain ideas and beliefs about the subject already. The reading of the book is a dynamic interaction between the reader and the book, a fusion of understanding. Different readers might draw different conclusions from the same book. What are the implications of the changes brought about by Heidegger and his followers for a Christian Hermeneutical reading?

            One implication is that there are more than “one legitimate way to read a text” (Lundin, 165).  Saint Augustine is an example of a person who practiced Christian hermeneutical reading. He thought that rival interpretations of a text could be true. Second, he believed there could be multiple meanings in a text. Augustine’s criteria required that each interpretation of Scripture should cultivate love of God and love of neighbor. He taught that certain virtues contributed to good interpretation and practicing charity in reading could develop particular virtues. For example, in his steps to wisdom, he names virtues like fear, piety, knowledge, and so on. Walhout thinks a Christian hermeneutical theory would seek to “discover what kind of critical practice advances shalom” (Walhout, 290). Shalom is human flourishing. A Christian hermeneutical theory would “recognize the role of the Christian virtues in critical orthopraxis” (290). For example, what does it mean to interpret a text with charity and justice? The work of Gadamer and others in his tradition can help Christians develop a Christian hermeneutic of reading from their own Christian tradition.

A Christ-Centered Education

Dean Brackley, "Higher Standards" in A Jesuit Education Reader edited by George W. Traub. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008.

I have been reading A Jesuit Education Reader for a few weeks now and enjoying it. I read this essay this morning and I thought I might share some of its ideas. The author is talking about Jesuit/Catholic Education, but it can be applied to all Christian Education. Basically, the author states that we should pursue excellence in all areas: academic, spiritual, and moral. It is a shame that we usually have one without the others. We usually have a emphasis on academics or the spiritual life, not both. Why not pursue all three? Visiting Spring Hill College, we were told that Jesuits believed in Holistic education: educating the mind, soul, and the body.

First, the Christian college/university "should strive to understand the real world" (190). Ignacio Ellacuria, a Jesuit educator who was murdered in El Salvador "used to insist that reality is the primary object of study" (190). Jesuits believe that we cannot promote the faith or serve the faith without promoting justice for all. This has been a weakness from some evangelicals who believe you can separate preaching the gospel from working for social justice. Students should not graduate from college with little knowledge of the poor, the oppressed, homelessness, and their country's frequent wars. Many Americans are quite ignorant of "vital political issues;" not being able to distinguish between accurate news and fake news.

Second, the Christian college should "focus on the big questions" (190). Wisdom, not information, is the goal of education. Of course, we need to study "obscure insects and obscure authors and master the periodical table of elements" (190). But let us study about the meaning of life and what give life meaning. Let us study about truth, goodness, beauty, and God. "Let the most important questions structure learning--questions about the drama of life and death, about justice, and liberation, good and evil, grace and sin. The cross is at the center of our faith. Christ says we must go outside the camp and suffer. It is at the cross that we receive a better focus for our world.

Third, the Christian college needs to "free us from bias" (190). Teachers must listen to questions students are actually asking. Students must be taught to distinguish fact from fiction. They need to know how to spot sophistry and propaganda. "How are teachers to help students unmask deception today, when war is waged on false pretenses and Fox News claims to be impartial?" Seeking truth includes of being aware of our own hidden biases and interests. "Discovering truth requires reason integrally considered--that is, rooted in experience and practice and nourished by contemplation, affectivity, and imagination" (191). Only a reason "that engages the whole person" will result in wisdom. The use of reason is not enough. Education must engage the whole person. For example, service learning that engages the student in working with the poor and the suffering is part of a holistic education. It is important for students to serve others; to learn more about their world.

Fourth, a Christian college should "help students discover their vocation in life--above all, their vocation to love and serve." Spring Hill College, for example, has a four year plan to help students discover their vocation or calling. It is set up in three parts: first year, second/third year, and final year. Life is more than a paycheck. Christians are called to make a difference in the world. Students need help in discovering why they were put on this earth. They need a purpose for living.

A fifth standard is "economic diversity" for Christian colleges. Nelson Mandela stated that schools must develop students to solve the world's problems. He asserted that their central mission was the pursuit of the truth. He, then stated, that entrance to college should not be determined by our wealth; instead, full access should be given based on the student's ability. The diversity that schools encourage should include economic diversity. Ways needs to be developed that how much money a person has should not determine their access to a quality education.

A sixth standard is "truth in advertising." Christian colleges should welcome people from other faith, including people with no faith. Of course, our schools must be places where our faith studied, debated, and passed on. We should beware if our students are graduating with a first-rate education and a kindergarten faith. On the other hand, we should be ashamed if our schools do not provide a first-rate academic experience.

Lastly, Christian college should "speak to the wider world" (193). The American University in El Salvador calls this the "social projection." This term means that the "university communicates, or projects, social criticism and constructive proposals beyond the campus into the wider society" (193). John Paul II asserted, [Catholic Colleges must] "demonstrate the courage to express the uncomfortable truths, truths that may clash with public opinion but that are also necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society" (194). Christians must proclaim the gospel in word and deed.

Christian colleges have a high calling. They must pursue academic, spiritual, and moral excellence. They must not sacrifice the life of the mind by indoctrinating students, instead of educating them. They must provide opportunities for the students to develop both morally and spiritually as they mature intellectually. Christian colleges need to offer a holistic education. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Reading with Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, translated by J.F. Shaw.

Reading with Saint Augustine
John E. Shaffett

            Saint Augustine’s On Christian Teaching provides rules to help the reader to interpret Scripture. These rules can be used to develop a Christian theory of reading the Scriptures and other literature. Some of these guidelines are: the difference between things and signs; the rule of love; the seven steps to wisdom; diversity of interpretations; diversity of meanings; and distinguishing between literal and figurative interpretations. This essay will demonstrate the usefulness of these guidelines for developing a Christian theory of reading.
            Augustine believes it is important to distinguish between things and signs. He states, “All instruction is either about things or about signs; but things are learnt by means of signs” (8). Augustine teaches that some things are signs also. For example, smoke is a sign of fire. Second, some things are for use and some things are for enjoyment. Augustine asserts, “There are some things, then, which are to be enjoyed, others which are to be used, others still which enjoy and use. Those things which are objects of enjoyment make us happy. Those things which are objects of use assist, and (so to speak) support us in our efforts after happiness, so that we can attain the things that make us happy and rest in them” (8). Augustine is saying it is important to distinguish ends from means. The only thing to enjoy is what is able to make the reader happy. The only thing that can make him happy is God, and all other things is to be used to help him in his journey to God. He argues, “The true objects of enjoyment, then, are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are at the same time the Trinity” (9). What are these things that will help the reader in his journey to God? They are the steps to wisdom.
            There are seven steps to wisdom: First, fear of God; second, piety; third, knowledge; fourth, fortitude; fifth, love of others; sixth, purification; seventh, wisdom. The man who fears God will seek “diligently in Holy Scripture for a knowledge of His will” (53). This fear will make us aware “of our mortality and of death that is before us;” and the judgement that awaits us after death. This fear will make the reader pious before God and motivate his pious listening to God. The reader will be humble and meek and will not rebel when the Scriptures speak of his sins. The student will through the knowledge of Scripture learn about his sin and the need for repentance. He will learn that God’s will is for him to love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. This will require both resolution and fortitude in living out God’s command. To love as he ought, his heart will need to be purified. In addition, his eyes will need to be purified to see God. Once he reaches this step, he will be ready to make the ascent to wisdom. The seven steps to wisdom show that a Christian theory of reading will emphasize spiritual transformation, not just intellectual knowledge.
A second important guideline for a Christian theory of reading is distinguishing between literal and figurative interpretations. A literal passage should not be interpreted figuratively, and a figurative passage should not be interpreted literally. How will the reader know when to interpret a passage literally? Augustine answers, “Whatever there is in the word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or soundness of doctrine; you may set down as figurative” (58). Augustine tells the reader if a passage of scripture interpreted literally cannot pass the rule of faith test or the rule of love test, it must be interpreted figuratively. For Augustine argues, “Now Scripture enjoins nothing except charity, and condemns nothing except lust” (58-59). Augustine’s hermeneutics is a hermeneutics of love because he asserts, “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception” (22). The Scriptures are to be interpreted with charity and it is to cultivate love of God and neighbor. How does one interpret the Scriptures with charity? The interpreter of Scripture or some other book interprets charitably when he pays attention to what the author is saying. He works hard in seeking to hear what the author is saying. The reader reads with humility and a teachable spirit. He seeks to understand before making a critical judgement of the text. A Christian theory of reading will develop a hermeneutics of charity.
Augustine’s final guideline to be considered in this essay is that there can be multiple interpretations and multiple senses in a passage of Scripture. First, Augustine affirms that various interpretations of the same passage can be true. He asserts, “When, again, not some one interpretation, but two or more interpretations are put upon the same words of Scripture, even though the meaning the writer intended remain undiscovered, there is no danger if it can be shown from other passages of Scripture that any of the interpretations put on the words is in harmony with the truth” (67). Second, Augustine affirms there can be multiple meanings in the same passage of Scripture. He argues, “For, what more liberal and more fruitful provision could God have made in regard to the Sacred Scriptures than that at the same words might be understood in several senses, all of which are sanctioned by the concurring testimony of other passages equally divine?” (67) A Christian theory of reading will allow for multiple interpretations and multiple meanings as long as they are supported by the work.
Augustine’s On Christian Teaching provides guidelines for developing a Christian theory of reading. First, it will emphasize that reading should be used for spiritual transformation, not just intellectual knowledge. Second, it will distinguish between literal and figurative interpretations. Third, it will cultivate a love for God and neighbor. Last, it will accept multiple interpretations and multiple meanings if they are supported by the text. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Saint Augustine, Harry Potter, and Gadamer

Several years ago, J.K. Rowling came out with the announcement that she had always saw Albus Dumbledore as gay. Of course, this would give the anti-Harry Potter people in the Conservative Christian community more ammunition to condemn the series. Why did she come out with the announcement years after the series was published? This event forced me to face the controversy about the intentions of the author. I was taught by my own Christian tradition that there was one interpretation, a literal interpretation; and that the job of the interpreter was to determine the author’s intention. So, J.K. Rowling said that she thought of Dumbledore as gay, and if I was to follow my tradition, I would agree with her. The problem I did not see Dumbledore as gay, and I had read the series at least three times. A second problem was that I thought literature could have multiple interpretations and they all could be true. For example, a literal interpretation, a moral interpretation, and a spiritual interpretation.
            In my course on scholarly writing with Dr. Stark, one of the required readings was Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics. I was glad this book was on the reading list since I was dissatisfied with the Biblical hermeneutics I had been thought. Reading this book addressed many of my questions about hermeneutics and created others. One thing he did say was that the author did not own the interpretation; in fact, once the book was published, he was on a similar level with other interpreters. This reminded me about reading Walker Percy’s interviews and the secondary literature on Percy. Interpreters often disagreed with Percy on the interpretations of his own work. Then, you have Ray Bradbury disagreeing with readers of Fahrenheit 451 that the book was about censorship. Can Saint Augustine help us solve these issues?

            Saint Augustine, in his work, On Christian Teaching, addresses many of these issues. In some sense, he both agrees and disagrees with these different positions on author’s intention. Augustine believes that a good interpretation of Scripture will lead to love. He asserts, “Whoever, then thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (22). This seems to imply that if the author’s intended meaning conflict with the love rule, the love rule will overrule it. Augustine distinguishes between signs and things. Some things are only things, but some things serve as signs. Words are signs that point to things. Augustine does think the intention of the author is important: “Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. . . . if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads” (22). Augustine seems to think that the scripture is a thing to use, not enjoy. The purpose of scripture is to lead us to God. So, he accepts multiple interpretation as long as it fulfills the purpose of leading us to God. The goal of scripture is not a correct interpretation; instead, it is a transformed life.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Christian Poetic

Longinus in his work, On the Sublime, calls for both an elevation of thought and simplicity. In this work, he presents to the reader “an art of the sublime or lofty” (1). The Oxford Color Dictionary defines sublime: “1. Of great beauty or excellence. 2. Extreme or unparalleled.”[1] Longinus states that sublimity “is a certain distinction and excellence in expression” (1). The effect of sublimity on the audience is “transport,” not persuasion. He thinks the reader can resists persuasion, “but the influences of the sublime bring power and irresistible might to bear, and reign supreme over very hearer” (1). Longinus seems to be saying that the sublime creates in us an aesthetic experience where we meet the author in elevated thought. It is a work of imagination more than a work of reason. This is accomplished by “skill in invention and due order and arrangement of matter, emerging as the hard one result not of one thing or two, but of the whole texture of the composition, whereas Sublimity flashing forth at the right moment scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt, and at once displays the power of the orator in all its plentitude” (1). The order and arrangement of the composition is one of the principles of the sublime. Longinus essay on the sublime seems to demonstrate some of the things he is arguing. For example, his epistle is organized around his five principles of elevated language: 1. Power of forming great conceptions; 2. Passion; 3. Formation of figures; 4. Noble diction; 5. Dignified and elevated composition. How might sublimity inform a Christian poetic? This essay discusses how these five principles of the sublime could inform a Christian poetic.
            The most important principle, according to Longinus, is the “elevation of the mind” (6). Our souls must be nurtured on noble thoughts. It must be free of “low and ignoble thoughts” (6). This great soul is a person of moral character who has deep thoughts. This person has intelligence and wisdom from moral teaching and long years of practice. Noble thoughts will be demonstrated in the language used by the writer. Longinus surprisingly refers to Moses, “Similarly, the legislator of the Jews, no ordinary man, having formed and expressed a worthy conception of the might of the Godhead, writes at the very beginning of his laws, ‘God said’--what? ‘Let there be light, and there was light; let there be land, and there was land” (7). The author indicates great souls by mentioning people like Moses, Homer, Plato, and Sophocles. These are people above the ordinary. These are people that had great thoughts and wrote great words. These are authors that people continue to read thousands of years later. Longinus states, “When a thing is heard repeatedly by a man of intelligence, who is well versed in literature, and its effect is not to dispose the soul to high thoughts, and it does not leave in the mind more food for reflection than the words seem to convey, but falls, if examined carefully through and through, into disesteem, it cannot rank as true sublimity because it does not survive a first hearing. For that is really great which bears a repeated examination, and which it is difficult or rather impossible to withstand, and the memory of which is strong and hard to efface. In general, consider those examples of sublimity, to be fine and genuine which please all and always” (5). Are their Christian works that meets this high standard? There are many Christian works that demonstrate these characteristics: Dante’s Divine Comedy, Spencer’s The Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and others. Examples of Modern Christian Art would be the writings of Flannery O’ Connor, Walker Percy, and William Faulkner, Graham Greene, Saul Bellows, and Wendell Berry. The author does not have to be Christian nor does the work need to address Christian themes directly to be considered Christian art. A Christian poetic will seek to emulate noble thoughts and lives, and it will transport the reader beyond their own world.
Two good models that demonstrate principles of a Christian poetic are C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It seems to fulfill all five principles of the Sublime. First, it forms conceptions of great power. Tolkien and Lewis creates uniques worlds which transports the reader to another time and place. They are works that call for repeated readings. They illustrate noble actions and noble character. Second, they illustrate “vehement and inspired passion” (5). For example, you have betrayal and the death of Aslan in The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. You have Frodo helped in fulfilling his mission by Golem’s biting off the ring and his finger. These works demonstrate the due formation of figures. For example, in The Silver Chair, Lewis gives us picture of the existence of truth, goodness, and beauty. It alludes to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Longinus states that authors should imitate and emulate “previous great poets and writers” (12). A fourth characteristic of the sublime described by  Longinus is “the choice of proper and striking words [that] attracts and enthralls the hearer” (24). Both Lewis and Tolkien through their language, diction, metaphors lift the reader out of their current context to a different world which ennobles them, delights them, and makes them wiser. The last principle of the sublime is “the arrangement of the words in a certain order” (30). This is seen by all the parts working together to produce a work of great power. The reader thinks about all the different parts of The Lord of the Rings and how they are different, but they all work together to depict a work of excellence. Longinus, On the Sublime, provides the Christian writer with five principles to help them create works of grandeur. In addition, we have Christians like Lewis and Tolkien to lead the way.

[1] The Oxford Color Dictionary edited by Angie Stevenson with Julia Elliott and Richard Jones. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 701.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Knowledge is Not Owned

James V. Schall, "Knowledge is not Owned" in Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. South Bend, Indiana: ST. Augustine's Press, 2016.

I am giving my third read-through of Fr. Schall's book, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. Schall is one of my favorite authors. Last week I was reading Horace's The Art of Poetry last week. It is an essay on how to write poetry. Horace was a Roman poet who lived before Christ. In this work, he states that an author should both delight and teach. This has been my experience in reading Schall is that I am both delighted and taught.

Schall wrote an essay that I have read many times. The essay is "What a Student Owes His Teacher." This is a surprising thought to students that they owe anything to their teacher. Schall states that the student owes the teacher the "willingness to do the sometimes hard work of learning." This idea might seem strange to many people since many people think students must be entertained. It is also a shock that to learn the important things requires hard work. A significant point that Schall makes is that this is one thing the teacher cannot give the student. The student must be willing to make the effort to learn. The primary agent is learning is the student, not the teacher. The teacher serves more like a guide. Learning is not something you can pour into the top of the student's head. To learn anything, the student's intelligence must be engaged. This willingness to learn is what Schalls calls docilitas.

Schall, in speaking about the desire to learn, asserts: "As a course progresses through a semester or a year, this willingness to be taught should rouse in the student something more. He should find in his soul a conscious desire to learn, a fascination with the whole enterprise, a sense that something exists out there that he wants to know" (3). This makes me think that the most important thing that we receive from education is the feeling of the incompleteness of our education and the desire to keep on learning. I started college over thirty years ago and my desire for learning has not left me. In reality, it makes me realize all that I do not know. Even a whole lifetime is not enough time to know all that we need to know. Schall asserts, "At the end of a course, a student ought to walk away satisfied that he learned something. But he is still fully aware that much is still there to know, deeper, more profoundly" (3). This reminds me of Plato's allegory of the cave which is an allegory of learning. We must rise from things that exist to the truth of things. We must contemplate the great ideas of beauty, truth, goodness, virtue, happiness, and other great ideas. This task cannot be accomplished in our schooling; it can only begin there.

Another truth is that learning facts are not the most important thing. Do not get me wrong; facts are important. However, we will forget more than we remember. The important thing is to have the desire to learn and keep on learning. We might even say that the student needs a passion for learning. Schall also says that the student "should experience a genuine pleasure" in learning. Schall adds, "this excitement and delight are not things that a teacher can give to a student" (3). A teacher can model this eagerness for learning. In addition, the teacher can introduce the student to the world of learning. The student, however, must have this desire for learning within themselves. They need to pursue the truth with a passion. Plato even said that the student needs an eros for wisdom. Schall is a good guide for the student with an eagerness to learn.


Monday, September 18, 2017

The Utilitarian View of Reading

Leland Ryken lists eight ways to misread great literature. The third way is to “look upon the classics as ‘improving literature’ (10).” One way to consider Ryken’s point is to think of reading as a spiritual exercise to improve one’s character. It is similar to listening to a sermon, praying, or listening to a lecture. Ryken suggests “that we view the classics as a form of entertainment first of all” (10). Cicero in his essay on the value of literature provides different reasons for the value of literature. Some of these reasons are: “provides my mind with refreshment after the din of the courts; . . . soothes my ears to rest when they are wearied by angry disputes” (395); provides material for his many speeches; better than participating in riotous living; and others. The argument in Cicero’s essay and a good bit of this week’s discussion seem very utilitarian to me. A typical definition for utility is “the state of being useful or profitable.” This post will argue that utility is an insufficient goal of reading.
Is Cicero really arguing for the utilitarian view of reading? First, is Cicero really arguing for a utilitarian view of reading. It seems like he does. Many of the reasons he provides for the value of literature are legitimate. Reading both refreshes and relaxes the reader after a hard day of work (395). It does provide material for speaking and writing (395). It does provide models worth emulating (396). Lastly, it does have a “broadening and enlightening effect” (397). Cicero, however, seems to be over-arguing his point which leads me to believe that he is trying to justify the extensive amount of time spent reading books. For example, he states that reading has not prevented him from helping people (395-396). He seems to be justifying when he says “I cannot therefore, I submit, be justly rebuked or censured if the time which others spend in advancing their own personal affairs, taking holidays and attending Games, indulging in pleasures of various kinds . . . the time they spend on protracted parties and gambling and playing ball, proves in my case to have been taken up with returning over and over again to these literary pursuits” (396). This is not evidence of someone with a utilitarian view of reading. Cicero was a person who practiced the liberal arts and he saw reading as a liberal art. It was something that was an end in itself.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

To Censor or not to Censor

Plato bans the poets from the ideal state in his Republic because he believes that dramatic poetry will corrupt the morals of the people. He thinks that the poets have “a terrible power to corrupt even the best characters, with very few exceptions” (Plato 203). He provides an example to prove his point. He tells how we enjoy the free exercise of emotions in attending a dramatic performance, but we would restrain from doing this in our personal life. For example, we would admire a man acting “womanish” in a play, but in real life we would react with disgust to a man acting this way. Plato thinks that allowing our emotions a free reign in attending a dramatic performance will make it “difficult to restrain our feelings in our own” life (204).
            In some sense, Aristotle agrees that the poets could have a negative influence on morals. He thinks this applies more to comedy than tragedy and epic poetry. For example he states, comedy “is an imitation of people of a lower sort, though not in respect to every vice; rather, what is ridiculous is part of what is ugly” (Aristotle 25). In addition, he thinks the spectacle “is the component most foreign to the art and least inherent in poetry” (29). It is the least important of the different means “to draw the soul” (29). In contrast, he thinks tragedy and epic poetry can have a positive impact on the soul. He gives the following definition of tragedy: “Tragedy, then is an imitation of an action of serious stature and complete, having magnitude, in language made pleasing in distinct forms in its separate parts, imitating people acting and not using narration, accomplishing by means of pity and fear the cleansing of these states of feeling” (26). This definition provides positive characterization of tragedy. First, it dramatizes a serious action that has magnitude, beauty, and is pleasing because of its skill. Second, by means of pity and fear, it cleanses the feelings of the soul.
            It seems that both Aristotle and Plato admire the skill of Homer. Socrates tells Glaucon: “you may agree with them that Homer is the best of the poets and the first of tragedians” (204). At the least, Plato is saying that Homer is a poet of great skill. Second, he acknowledges the influence Homer has on people, even himself. Socrates asserts, “let us freely admit that if drama and poetry written for pleasure can prove to us that they have a place in a well-run society, we will gladly admit them for we know their fascination only too well ourselves” (204). Plato is saying that he would love to have the poets in the city, but because of the possibility of the corruption of morals, the poets must be banned. He does, however, leave the option of the poets defending poetry in prose “and proving that she doesn’t only give pleasure but brings lasting benefit to human life and human society” (205). This seems similar to the common argument that literature should delight and inform.
            Plato’s argument that the poets must defend themselves in prose is ironical. It reminds me of some of the comments made by Scott Cairns in his interview with Ken Myers. He acknowledges that poetry is both content and form. Cairns said that people look at words in two different ways. One way sees words as transparencies because you look through them to the ideas they present. In other words, you can describe the ideas in prose. Leland Ryken argues against this idea in his article on the classics. These ideas will look like a “collection of lifeless platitudes” (Ryken 8). He states that many of the ideas in Shakespeare's plays could have been written by a mediocre writer. C. S. Lewis thought reducing literature to its ideas “is an outrage to the thing the poet has made for us” (Ryken 9). The second perspective is that words are opaque, things in and of themselves. So, according to this second way of looking at words, the poets cannot look through their words to get to the ideas behind the words.

            Both Aristotle and Plato saw certain vices in the poets. They both admired the skill of Homer. Plato even remarked that Homer had a certain power over them. Aristotle, however, saw the usefulness in tragedy and epic poetry. Aristotle even thought that the poets could produce wonder and that this was “the mark that is end at which the art itself aims” (62). One might even say that through pity and fear, poetry humanizes us. Plato seems to emphasize the harm that the poets could cause; while, Aristotle emphasizes how poetry benefits us. It seems Plato, like the modern sensor, says if there is anything bad in the book, get rid of it. In contrast, Aristotle says keep the book if there is any good in it. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Letter to MY Anxious Christian Friends

David P. Gushee, A Letter to my Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times, WJK, 2016, 130 pages, ISBN 978-0-664-262686

The 2016 Presidential election reveled the deep divide or polarization in our country. The presidency of Donald Trump has been a lightening rod. Many Christians feel unsettled in our changing times. Many Christians unsure how they should respond to hot button issues, such as race, police, sex, abortion, immigration and other issues. David P. Gushee is the Professor of Christian Ethics and the Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He has felt the anxiety and observed it in the Christian community. He seeks to help Christians to better understand these issues. Gushee's background is evangelical and his major intended audience seems to be white evangelicals who strongly identify with the Republican party. Gushee does not hope for "any kind of recovery of a religious or moral consensus" (16) Neither does he think that there is "hope for some kind of traditional Christian resurgence or conservative movement to 'take back America.' Our divisions are two deep, our differences too entrenched, and the raw exercise of political power by Christians to coerce adherence to values many people have abandoned would be both bad governance and bad Christian witness" (16).

A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends should be a helpful resource to hep Christians explore difficult and complicated issues. Some of the issues explored in this book are homosexuality, guns, immigration, Obamacare, climate change, abortion, and others. The author seems to explore these issues in a calm manner, guiding the reader between the polarization of the right and left. This book includes twenty letters (chapters) to begin a conversation on these issues. The author seems to be a more than capable guide to the reader through these highly relevant political and social issues. The first few chapters discusses the relationship between Christians, America, and democracy. The author believes we should not give ultimate loyalty to any political party. In his letter on the fracturing of America, he states that "large parts of our media have joined the polarization" (34). We have seen this in the reporting of Breitbart, Fox News, NY times, and other news outlets. In his letter on race, he states, "white racism became a deeply woven part of American culture" (54). In his letter on the police, he asserts that it is tough to be a black parent "afraid that your son or daughter won't make it home from a white section of town because they might be killed by a police officer" (62). He argues that the immigration issue seems to never go away. He thinks a good solution is a "type of comprehensive immigration reform that finds a way to welcome most of the eleven million who are here but also finds a way to secure our borders" (80). On his letter on guns, he believes that the "premises of our gun culture need to be challenged. The most dangerous of these is that having three hundred million guns in civilian hands makes us safer" (87). He point out a major source of the disbelief in climate change: "A sense of mission focused exclusively on the eternal salvation of human souls rather than anything much that happens here contributes to a kind of constitutional indifference to human affairs. An overall distrust of modern science, especially natural science, remains a residue of the evolution fights that have never really gone away since Darwin" (99). Other issues discussed are war, executions, education, and healthcare.

David Gushee seeks to explore these issues from a Christian perspective. Every reader will not agree with his conclusions. He seems to handle the different positions taken on these various issues.

Hymn Book for Pilgrims

Hymnbook for Pilgrims

Hugo Meynell states, “Novels, plays and poems convey insights and stimulate reflection, but by an indirect mode of operation, in which the immediate effect of the words is to evoke images, memories and feelings.”[1] This is a good way to describe the reading of literary works. Nonfiction works communicates directly. In contrast, literary works operate indirectly through images and feelings. The book of psalms was the hymnbook of the Jews. It was recited and sung in the temple. Reading the psalms invokes different feelings: joy, sorrow, celebration and anger. For example, Psalm twenty-three is read frequently at funerals. It is probably my favorite psalm. I have ready it many times over the years when I have experienced feeling low. It always encourages me. Psalm twenty-three portrays God as our shepherd. This brings to the memory the image of human shepherds and how they care for their sheep. The reader can picture the sheep lying content in the grass after eating. Another image is the sheep drinking from still waters. The reader knows that the sheep will not drink from moving waters. These are two basic needs that everyone has. The psalmist is saying that we can trust God to take care of our basic needs.
            Another human need is guidance. The psalmist says that the shepherd will guide the sheep by “quiet waters.” In addition, “He leads me on pathways of justice (78).” This has always been a comfort to me that God will lead and guide us. As a shepherd leads his sheep in the path to follow; so will God. The shepherd will also be with the sheep in difficult times. The psalmist asserts, “Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow, I fear no harm, for you are with me (79).” This is very comforting to know that God will be with us through difficult times. One of the things that many people fear is death. The psalmist encourages by telling us that we will “dwell in the house of the Lord for many long days (80).” This psalm tells us that God will be with us through all our days. We do not need to fear because God is our Shepherd, and we will not want any good thing. Psalm twenty three like all good literature provides images that gives us insight about God’s care.
            Psalm one is another psalm I have read many times overs the years. One of the biggest questions of life is how am I going to live my life? This psalm provides help in this question. We can learn from both good and bad examples. Literature often provides insight by portraying both good and bad examples to follow. In Psalm one the psalmist describes the path of the righteous and the wicked. The psalmist asserts, “Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked’s counsel, nor in the way of offenders has stood, nor in the session of the scoffers has sat” (3). This seems to portray a progression from listening to the counsel of the ungodly to scorning the way of the righteous. Instead of listening to the advice of the counsel, we are to meditate day and night on God’s word. This Word will provide direction for our life. As another Psalm says, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light to my path.” The psalmist portrays the ultimate result: the righteous will be like a “tree planted by streams of water, that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (4). The righteous will prosper all their days. The image of a tree and fruitfulness indicate the attractiveness of this way of life. The wicked, instead, are like “chaff that the wind drives away” (4). A tree is rooted and stable; chaff, however, is unstable and is blown here and there.
            Psalm seventy three is another psalm that has impacted my life. Nonfiction works tells us what is the truth; literature, in contrast, shows us the truth. This psalms helps us experience the experience of someone who questions justice in this world. He explains that his “feet had almost strayed” because he envied the wicked (252). The reason he did is because they prospered and the godly suffered. The wicked were arrogant and spoke against God, but they did not seem to suffer. This is a concern of many people: why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? One can think of Job and the tragedies he experienced. The psalmist even thought, “But in vain I have kept my heart pure” (254). How many young people who live good, moral lives and are not popular and are sometimes derided or scorned? They often question if it is worth the effort to live moral lives. The psalmist states that it was not until he entered the sanctuary did he see the truth. God had put the wicked “on slippery ground, brought them down to destruction” (255). He saw things from God’s perspective and that justice will be served in the end. This psalm teaches us that we can trust God. It teaches us that we serve a just God and the wicked will reap what they sow. This psalm promises that God will guide us with His counsel and lead us to glory. It portrays God as a rock that we can depend on.
            I could have written about many other psalms that have made an impact on my life. We can see that the book of psalms operate in the reader as good literature. It connects with us in all our different feelings: joy, sadness, anger, and others. It provides insight and perspective about living our lives as pilgrims in this world. In addition, it speaks indirectly to us through images, symbolism, and metaphors. Finally, it can be recited or sung. It is the hymn book for Christian [1] [2] pilgrims.

[1]Hugo A. Maynell, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 97.  

Christians Should Read the Classics

Christians Should Read the Classics
John E. Shaffett

In Ken Myers interview with Craig Gay, both Myers and Gray asserts the importance of language, especially words. Language and words should be even more important for Christians than Non-Christians since the supreme revelation of the Christian faith is communicated through words. Despite this truth, many Christians are non-readers. Why should Christians read the classics? Leland Ryken states that a classic “modifies our very being and makes us feel . . . that we are not the same men and women we were when we began” (On Classics 1). Ryken provides different characteristics of a classic. First, it is a book that endures, that is characterized by permanence. For example, the Book of Psalms has endured for thousands of years, but it still is read with great profit. A second characteristic of a classic is that it “possesses excellence in both content and form” (Ryken 2). It is the best book of its class (genre). Homer’s works are the best Greek epics; Shakespeare’s plays are the best of the Renaissance drama; Dante’s Divine Comedy is the best or one of the best works of poetry for all time. In other words, these type of works demonstrate excellence in both what it communicates and how it communicates. Another characteristic of a classic is that it greatly affects the experience of the reader. C.S. Lewis states that great works of literature enlarges one being.

What are some of the obstacles to Christians reading the classics? Some Christians are opposed to reading great literary works because they believe that fictional works tell lies. They think only non-fiction books tell the truth. An argument can be made that great literary works are more truthful than non-fiction works. Madeleine L’Engle asserted, “the encyclopedia gives us the facts but the arts give us the truth” (Ryken 4). Ryken believes that fiction can “illuminate human experience better than facts ordinarily do” (Ryken 4). A second obstacle is that Christian readers think that “everything in a work of literature is offered for our approval” (Ryken 4). This is a reason many conservative Christians only read Christian fiction. They think they would have to read about things that they have strong feelings against. Literature, however, presents both good and bad examples. It shows what it is like to live in a fallen world; it motivates the reader to confront the great questions of life. Other obstacles to reading classics is that Christians are opposed to reading works authored by non-Christians because it does not tell the truth. On the contrary, even non-Christians can tell the truth because God is the author of all truth. Because of common grace, both believers and nonbelievers, are enabled by God to perceive truth, beauty, and goodness. The last obstacle is that some Christians do not think that old books are relevant today. Universal truths spoken by old books are still relevant today. In addition, old books keep us from being taken captive by modern culture.   

Friday, August 11, 2017

Two Essays on the University

Josef Pieper, What Does "Academic" Mean?: Two Essays on the Chances of the University Today. Translated by Dan Farrelly and introduction by James V. Schall. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine's Press, 2015. 82 pages. ISBN 978-1-58731-933-4

This short book contains two lectures that Josef Pieper presented at the University of Munster in Germany in 1950. This is the first time it has been published in English. These two essays analyzes the purpose of the university and what does the word "Academic" mean and how its meaning is related to the purpose of the university. Pieper traces the word, academic, to Plato's academy. Pieper thinks the primary thrust of the academic is theoretical, not practical. The second essay focuses on how philosophy's subject is the totality of being.

James V. Schall wrote the introduction to this book. He states that a university "is not an economic or business corporation, nor is it a political institution. It is not a church, a union, or a club. While it has relations to and dealings with all of these otherwise existing institutions of culture and public order, it is itself. It is 'set apart' lest the highest things we can know through serious reflection be neglected" (ix). Schall is saying that the university has its own purpose and that purpose is to know the truth of things. It is a place where "everything can be discussed--not just discussed, but known as true or false. We need to know the purpose of the University to know whether or not it is achieving its purpose. It does seem that the university tends to seek other things, instead, of its true purpose.

An important point of this book is the role of philosophy in the university. Pieper says that philosophy is not really a subject, it is an act. It is the act of philosophizing. Schall asserts, "philosophy means individuals in every discipline, students and thinkers, who think philosophically, who have the habit of confronting what actually is " (x). Philosophy is openness to the whole of reality. This point and this book is related to Pieper's book on leisure. There must be a place set apart from to normal business to contemplate the whole of reality.

Another point made by Pieper is that philosophy must be open to knowledge in all disciplines, even theology. In addition, he believes philosophy "exists in conversation and listening as demonstrated in Plato's dialogues. He believes that Plato's Academy is still the model for the modern university. He states that Plato's academy was a philosophical school. Based on this fact, academic means philosophical and an academic institution is a philosophical one. Philosophical means theoretical, not practical. Theoretical basically means, "an attitude towards the world which is only concerned with the fact that things reveals themselves as they are." This requires a silence, and a listening to what is.  To be "aiming at truth and nothing else is the essence of theoria" (8).

Josef Pieper has covered much ground in this short book. He helps us to remember the purpose of the university and the role of philosophy in the university. In addition, he shows us that the focus of the university should be achieving truth or knowing the truth of things and this is achieved through focusing on the theoretical.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pope Benedict XVI: Faith, Reason and the University Part 2

Outline of Pope Benedict's Lecture

  1. He reflects on his early days as a professor at the University of Bonn. 
  2. He states how the theology faculty shared with the other faculties the responsibility for the "right use of reason."
  3. The university was proud of the theology faculty, and this faculty inquired about the reasonableness of faith.
  4. He says that it is still reasonable "to raise the question of God through the use of reason."
  5. He states that violence is "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul." It is against reason and God to spread the faith through violence.
  6. God is a God of reason. There exists a "profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the Biblical understanding of faith in God."
  7. In the gospel of John, the evangelist says that God is logos which means reason and word--"A reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."
  8. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought happened because of God's providence, not chance.
  9. During the Hellenistic period, Biblical faith and the best of Greek thought were mutually enriching.
  10. It was in the late Middle Ages that Greek thought and Biblical faith was first separated by Dun Scotus and voluntarism.
  11. The pope disagrees with Muslim teaching that says God is not "bound to truth and goodness" because He is exalted beyond them. Instead, the Christian faith has always asserted that a real analogy exists between reason and God.
  12. There are three stages of Dehellenization. The first occurred with the Protestant reformers because they thought that in scholastic theology they confronted a "faith system totally conditioned by philosophy." A faith system alien to the Biblical faith. The principle of sola scriptura sought faith in a pure form as originally found in the Biblical record. Metaphysics was considered a foreign source. When Kant stated that thinking must be set aside to make room for faith, he carried the reformers program further than they probably would have wanted to go.
  13. The liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in the second stage of DeHellenization. Adolf von Harnack is its leading representative. Harnack's basic idea was to return the man Jesus to his simple message before it was layered with theology. 
  14. Another part of this stage is the synthesis made between Cartesianism and empiricism. This synthesis "presupposes the mathematical structure of matter." It is that structure that makes it possible to understand nature. In addition, it emphasizes exploiting nature for our own benefit. Third, "only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield decisive certainty."
  15. Only the kind of certainty that comes from the mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Therefore, history, psychology, sociology, and philosophy is forced to "conform to this science of canon of scientificity." Of course, this method leaves out the "question of God." If science is only this, then it leads to the reduction of men and women, "for the specific human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by science, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective."
  16. We are in the third stage of DeHellenization. Because of cultural pluralism, it is said today that the "synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was an initial inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures." The pope disagrees. He thinks that the "fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and human reason are part of the faith itself."
  17. The pope's reason for this critique of modern thought is for the purpose "of broadening our concept of reason and its application." I have always preferred Thomas Aquinas' view of reason than modern man. The pope is asserting that reason is broader than the empirically falsifiable. 
  18. Theology belongs in the university as "inquiry into the rationality of faith." Both philosophy and theology in "listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding."
  19. It is the task of the university to rediscover this breadth of reason.