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.