God continues to raise up more and more thought-filled and thought-producing Christians. If there were in the past events we can use words like renaissance, reformation, and enlightenment to describe, there are events in our day and time where the same terms apply. Christians wage war on a variety of fronts and in myriad ways against the thought-systems of our day. Thankfully, we continue to witness Christians whose gifts, calling, and training are equipping them to hew down the forests of idolatry and unbelief in our time.
A delightful, challenging, and discussion-worthy book titled Teaching Beauty–A Vision for Music and Art in Christian Education was published this past summer. The publisher is Square Halo Books and a great place to order the book is Hearts and Minds Books. The first impression upon seeing the book is that in spite of an attractive cover, it is rather small. The 160 pages, however, are rich.
I read this book back in August and was very impressed. The bad news is that a teacher/administrator in a Christian school has to get into “school start-up” gear in August, and this book is one that really needs time, discussions among faculty, and some serious thinking to implement.
Classical Christian education has been largely driven by a desire to teach students to think. Dorothy Sayers’ oft repeated statement is that the goal of education is to teach children how to think. Also, since classical Christian education carries with it that hefty word “classical,” there is a great emphasis on reading classics. Add to that, the re-discovered benefits of Latin, logic, and rhetoric.
Beauty, or aesthetics, sometimes gets pushed back in the studies and emphases. In part, this is because beauty as such is really hard to teach. We live in an age where beauty is always under assualt. The appreciation, refinement, time, and cultural re-alignment necessary to cultivate standards of beauty are hard to achieve. Beside, what part of the ACT or SAT college entrance exams deal with beauty?
Thankfully, in my experience and the experience of Veritas Academy where I teach, we have had an excellent music program that does recognize and strive to achieve beauty in music. I am continually realizing how little I have done to supplement our music education with other studies of beauty in art and architecture. Hopefully, our literature has also been on target.
Teaching Beauty consists of a essays by a different teachers who specialize in thinking through aesthetic issues and teaching music and art to students. The book grew out of a conference that was held so that Christian teachers and administrators could turn the spotlight on the subject.
This is not a “read it once and shelve it” book. I strongly feel the need mentioned earlier to sit in a room drinking coffee and discussing this book with other teachers. After that, implementation becomes the chief priority.
Another weighty book, and this one is truly weighty in terms of both size and content, is Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick Montgomery. This collection of essays was edited by William Dembski and Thomas Schirrmacher and is published by B and H Academic.
I really like this TYPE of book. There are a number of contributions by a host of Christian writers on a wide range of topics. The common denominator is that they are all honoring the writings and thought of John Warwick Montgomery. I usually don’t read these kinds of books directly from cover to cover. Instead, I start reading the essays that appeal the most to me. I keep such books handy and pick them up again and again to either read or review particular portions. It doesn’t matter in the case of this book whether you open it to the beginning, the middle, or near the end.
However, let me suggest that many readers would enjoy the Foreword written by Paige Patterson, past President of the Southwestern Southern Baptist Seminary. Take note that this book is published by a Baptist publishing house also. Patterson relates how Montgomery’s writings helped him when he was struggling with theological issues regarding Scripture. Oh, yes, I should emphasize–Montgomery was a Lutheran. The contributors come from a wide range of theological backgrounds and include such men as J. I. Packer, Alvin Schmidt, Michael Horton, and virtually a cast of thousands.
There is a reason why all these people think so highly of Montgomery: He was a towering intellect. The range of his mind and life are all unbelievable. He makes most fictional super heroes seem small. He has 30 plus books that can be found on Goodreads. Most of us would have to live 6 to 8 lives to accomplish what he did.
Here is another reason why this book is so good: Too often we Christian readers, and maybe even more so, those of us who are Reformed, join camps and causes and enjoy the thrill of circling the wagons against enemies. There are, by the way, no shortage of real enemies. However, we then expend loads of time and energy fighting one another over different approaches to theology, or in the case of Montgomery, apologetics.
At some point in my past, I grew tired of books and lectures on apologetics that were devoted to answering, not the unbeliever, but other schools of apologetics. The intramural wars were so intense that little energy was left for combatting the unbelievers. I was, by virtue of both environment and preference, inclined to the Van Til camp. Of course, the Van Til camp was also infected by divisions.
I know that the deep and able students of apologetics, many of whom delve into the philosophical issues of epistemolgy and metaphysics, focus on obscure details and minor points of contention for good reasons. I know that the historic Van Til vs. Gordon Clark debates were not frivolous. But I don’t have the mind or thinking precision to sort out Cornelius’ and Gordon’s particulars. Besides, as Greg Bahnsen once said to me, “They are completely reconciled now.” If self-deprecatory humor exists in heaven, you can bet that Van Til, Clark, Bahnsen, Dooyeweerd, and Karl Barth enjoy lots of laughter.
Back to Montgomery: Van Til and Montgomery differed on apologetics. Consequently, Van Til’s followers and Montgomery’s followers differ. No one in my neighborhood even knows who they are…or cares. Few in my church know, and maybe some of my Facebook friends know, but most of them don’t.
At some point in the past, I began realizing that my mind is fairly good at picking out good ideas randomly–if reading a lot is random–and putting those ideas in a basket. I am not good at working out a well-defined consistent philosophy that dissects and examines esoteric differences. I am much like Delmar in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” When Everett and Pete disagree over which of them should be in charge, Delmar is called on to cast the deciding vote. He answers, “I’m with you fellers.”
So, I am with Montgomery and Van Til. Also with Gordon Clark, and R. C. Sproul and John Gerstner, and Herman Dooyeweerd and Roy Clouser, and Francis Schaeffer and Josh McDowell, and R. J. Rushdoony and Tim Keller, and C. S. Lewis, and Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and John Frame and Michael Horton.
Let them fight all they want as long as the books keep getting published and I can keep picking up good notions here and there.