Reason and Worldviews by Owen Anderson

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First, I must begin with a warning:  Do not attempt to read Reason and Worldviews with decaf or weak coffee.  Make it stronger than usual.  Avoid distractions.  Don’t confuse this book for a morning devotional.

Reason and Worldviews is by Owen Anderson, assistant professor of Integrative Studies at Arizona State University.  It is published by University Press of America.  It bears the very descriptive subtitle Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics.  

Often my book reviews are tied to some experience I have had in my life.  In this case, I read a couple of essays around the years 2008 and 2009 that rekindled my interest in my first experiences in confronting Calvinistic or Reformed theology.  On the one hand, there were those many Bible flipping evenings where I was reading Boettner, Pink, Steele and Thomas, and others and looking up the proof texts for Calvinistic soteriology or views of salvation.  But prior to those experiences and subsequent to them as well were explorations into the Calvinistic worldview.

It was first introduced to me with the German word Weltanschauung.  That mouthful was explained as meaning a world and life view or a comprehensive view of all things from a particular viewpoint.  God grabbed me by the mind and did not let me go.  I had the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, but the life of the mind was pretty mushy, vague, and vulnerable.  A Fifth Column of Presbyterian and Reformed warriors, including Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, Gordon Clark, Francis Nigel Lee, H. Van Reissen, and Phillip Edgecombe Hughes sidetracked me and forever changed my way of thinking.

That was the 1970’s and it was, to repeat myself, the years 2007 and 2008 when I re-engaged with the thinking that had created this initial effect.  There were men, like those mentioned above, who were not exactly the public intellectuals because most of the world–both secular and religious–either did not know they existed or they ignored them.  But they reached a remnant of thinkers, and like a stone tossed in a pond, the ripple effect spread out widely.

I had the opportunity to give a series of talks in Newport Newes, Virginia and later in Alaska in 2008.  My series in Virginia was titled “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers During the Wilderness Years,” and in Alaska, my topic was “Dutch Worldview Thinkers.”  I loved the subject (if I may call it that) and have continued to read on the various influential Reformed theologians and philosophers who have grappled with the issues of modern thought.

When I first saw the title and subtitle of Reason and Worldviews, I was sold on the book.  Being a more specialized monograph, it bears a high, but not prohibited price.  So, it took me a while to get the book, and this past few weeks, I have been reading it.

The word “Apologetics,” which appears in the subtitle, is a rather broad word within Christian thought.  I have and have read dozens of books on apologetics, which is the field of defending the Christian faith.  Many books focus on the range of arguments Christians confront in the classroom, in conversations, and in our culture.  Hence, such books teach provide us foundations for believing the Bible, answering objections, and dealing with stumbling blocks to the faith.

This book, however, is dealing with much more difficult issues.  Christian theology has not merely brushed up against the field of philosophy, but has confronted and, we might say to some degree, converted it.  Or at least, it has taken thought captive–as Paul admonishes us to do in II Corinthians 10:5.  For many years, Princeton Theological Seminary was the center of Christian philosophical thought as well as theological thought.  Harvard had caved;  Harvard Divinity School hired Ralph Waldo Emerson to teach whatever it was that he believed.  Yale had waffled.  Princeton stood as the bulwark of Christian thought.

Truth doesn’t change, but the way we present the truth changes.  We teach our young children truths, but we expand and adapt these truths to fit their minds and lives as they grow up.  The issues confronting Princeton changed through the years, and sad to admit, but Princeton changed as well.  That is another story, but as long as the Hodges and later Benjamin Warfield occupied key positions, Princeton was a ruling force.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield is the key Christian theologian/philosopher in this study.  He wrote on a wide range of theological topics, although many have lamented that he never compiled all of his thinking into a systematic theology.  To some degree, this has been remedied by Fred G. Zaspel’s book The Theology of B. B. Warfield.

In Anderson’s study, Warfield is examined for his approach to the issue of how we know God, how we interpret revelation of God, and to what degree man is excusable or inexcusable from life experiences.

Warfield had a beloved friend and fellow theologian across the pond named Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper was a key figure in the theological and political world of the Netherlands.  He was invited by Warfield to give the Stone Lectures for the year 1898.  Those lectures were published and have been reprinted many times under the title Lectures on Calvinism. While Warfield and Kuyper could walk arm in arm on many issues, they had different approaches to apologetics and how unbelievers were to be confronted and held accountable.

 

In time, a young Dutchman and immigrant to America, attempted to bring the differences of Warfield and Kuyper together.  His name was Cornelius Van Til, and he is well known in Calvinistic circles for presuppositional apologetics.  For many, Van Til has provided the definitive and last word on apologetics and how the unbeliever thinks and/or suppresses the truth.  At the same time, in good old Calvinistic fashion, some fellow believers rank Van Til’s thinking somewhere below that of Joel Osteen.

Others have grappled with these issues as well.  Two of the big names in Christian philosophy in our day are Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga.  Plantiga has promoted the position that Christian belief in God is warranted belief.  In other words, we Christians are just a bunch of simple minded crazies. (Okay, well some of us are, but not all.)

Each variety of thought–Warfield’s, Kuyper’s, Van Til’s, and Plantiga’s–has attempted to deal with some difficult issues, and each has its limitations.  As a way of bridging some of the gaps here, Anderson proposes that we seriously examine the much neglected idea of Natural Theology.  In his conclusion, he brings us back to Warfield who was, in many ways, closer to the answers found in Natural Theology, than some of the others.

“Ben,” you ask, “Do you even know what you are talking about?”  Okay, I admit it.  I walked out to the pool expecting to wade, but I got thrown into the deep end–again.  Owen Anderson is not teaching basic swimming lessons.  He had to pull me out of the water several times, in fact.  But he ends each chapter with a series of questions.  On my next reading, I want to have those questions in view as I read.  And he includes a really useful glossary of terms and key people mentioned in the book.

This is not, as I said above, a morning devotional.  Nor is it a fast, once through and then shelve, book.  Who needs it then?  First, people like my son Nick and many others I know who study philosophy, but who have a theological grounding.  Second, pastors and teachers who need to branch out beyond their sermon helps.  Third, Christians who have been given the blessings and gifts of the enjoying the life of themind.  Fourth, me.

I deeply love Warfield, Kuyper, and Van Til.  I suspect that the more read of Plantiga, the more I will love him.  But this is more than just hero worship (of which I am often guilty).  There is the great concept of “Glorifying God and Enjoying Him Forever.”  Forever doesn’t begin when we arrive in heaven.  Enjoying God–even to the extent that it means examing the heights and depths of philosophy and theology–begins now.

 

Boethius’ Consolation and Gibb’s How to be Unlucky

How to be Unlucky is by Joshua Gibbs and is published by The Circe Institute.  List price is $15.99, but Circe Institute has it discounted to $10.99.

Part of the story of this book begins with the unexpected and still largely unnoticed revival, renaissance, and reformation of classical Christian education.  As a renewed movement, it has been going on for some 25 years and is still in its infancy.  Many teachers, parents, pastors, and scholars have gotten into the movement and have had to play catch-up for a decade or two.  It is not a monolithic movement, nor is it confined to one branch or denomination of Christianity.

At this juncture in history, there are adults whose education was in classical Christian schools.  Overall, the results are astounding and impressive, but not everyone with a diploma from a CCE school is a walking compendium of Latin, logic, and rhetoric.  Even with the best of training, donkeys don’t win the Kentucky Derby.  Even if I had had the same instructors as Michael Phelps, I still would probably not be much past my faltering efforts at dog paddling.  Gifts and abilities differ.  So do schools.  So do teachers. And certainly, so do students.

From my impression from the book, Joshua Gibbs would not have been nominated for “Most Likely to Succeed” by his teachers.  I suspect he was subjected to that age-old saw of teachers, “He is smart enough, but he just doesn’t apply himself.”  (Or as we say where I live, “He just doesn’t apply hisself.”)  That’s okay because the B and C students are and should be the prime focus of teachers.  Let’s face it:  “A” students learn and excel under even the worst instruction, teaching, and curriculum.  It takes some real teaching to reach other students, but then again, sometimes we don’t. Then life and career and other matters step in and the gist of the lessons from school finally take root.

Joshua Gibbs describes himself as a less than stellar student who then became a teacher.  But it was in his fifth year of teaching that he had a “conversion experience.”  I don’t mean that he became a Christian at that point, but rather that he became a real student and thus started becoming a real teacher.  He was instructing a Medieval class on The Consolation of Philosophy  by Boethius.  I know something of what happened to him.

There is, first of all, the experience of reading a book, particularly a classic.  Quite frankly, sometimes classics leave us feeling good for having read them, but somewhat lost as to what the what big deal was.  “It’s a great classic because other people have said so,” is my occasional reaction, without my actually using those words in a classroom.

Then there is the experience of teaching a book, particularly a classic.  Here the teacher gets better at the nuts and bolts of the book.  You learn, instruct about, and test over characters, plot, setting, background, the author, and other aspects of the book.  There is a gnawing sense of guilt in all of this.  I approve of making students learn the basic story line and the names of key figures in the work. I am all for memorization of facts and mastery of details.  And the driven students make “A”s on those tests, proving we are good teachers.  But is the heart of Hamlet the list of characters or the rise and fall plot found in a tragedy, or recognition of key quotes?

At some point, hopefully, the teacher falls in love with the book.  At some point, he or she gets captured by the text, gets carried away, experiences some sort of ecstasy, enters Narnia, gets lost in the cosmos, undergoes a transformation, or whatever phrase might describe it.  It will more likely happen to the students if the teacher has had such an experience, but that is not an absolute.

This is the point where the teacher or reader has not just read, taught, studied, or written about the book, but has actually bought, embraced, identified with the book.  It will not be the same for every work, for I don’t think someone could sustain the emotional intensity.

But this is what happened to Joshua Gibbs during year five of teaching and when he finally entered in to the world of Boethius the author, Boethius the character, Lady Philosophy, and God who rules over all.

Personal testimony time:  Never read Boethius in high school, college, graduate school, on my own, or in my first 20 plus years of teaching.  Had barely heard of it.  Then one year when I was teaching Medieval Humanities, I invited my well-read friend Matt Smallwood to come talk about the book to my class.  Matt forgot his notes and he rambled.  I followed his talks, but was also using the free time to focus on something else.  The class was not assigned the book, but my son Nick may have read it.  I made some notes and promised myself that I would read the book, but didn’t.

Four years later when Medieval Humanities cycled around again, we read the book together in class.  I enjoyed it and think the class did as well.  Then after another four year cycle, the next group read through it.  For some reason, the class just didn’t seem to connect to the book.  Blame the teacher, if needed.  But I never reached a personal point where Consolation became one of my books.  It was never like Faulkner, Homer, Dostoevsky, or others among my favorites.

Back to Gibbs:  He writes, “By the time I finished Consolation for the first time, I understood that every great work of literature could be used as instruction in virtue.”  This doesn’t mean tacking on morals or lessons to the stories, but rather fleshing out the issues, examining the heart challenges, and exploring the human condition in the books we read.

How to be Unlucky is not a commentary to be used for lecture bullet points on Boethius.  It does explain a lot about the book, the author’s plight (in prison awaiting execution), and the issues he was grappling with.  But it is an examination of how Gibbs used passages to think through his own life, to apply the issues to his students’ experiences, and how to see God and virtue in the midst of life in a fallen world.

I hope that when I teach Consolation of Philosophy again, I have the good sense to read this book alongside Boethius.  But How to be Unlucky can be read as a stand-alone book with or without reading Boethius simultaneously.  It is a delightful look at two lives–that of Boethius from the late Roman period and that of Joshua Gibbs in our own time.

 

The Christian Mind

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A post like this must, by the law of the jungle, begin with the famous quote by Harry Blamires.  He began his book The Christian Mind with the words, “There is no longer a Christian mind.”  But that book was originally published in 1963–over 50 years ago.  I am not totally convinced of how true it was in 1963, but am convinced that there is a Christian mind today.

Without trying to miss the point that Blamires was making, he was writing in a time where C. S. Lewis (his friend), J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Dawson, Gordon Clark, Carl F. H. Henry, Herman Dooyeweerd, Flannery O’Connor, Arthur Holmes, R. J. Rushdoony, Stanley Jaki, Jaroslav Pelikan, H. R. Rookmaaker, H. Van Reisen, and many others were not only still living, but were writing books or in some cases preparing intellectually for the great works they would later write.

These were not just men (and women, in the case of O’Connor) who were brainy teachers in Bible colleges or intellectually leaning pastors.  Christian thought was and is part of a tidal wave.  None of this is designed to call for a mental rest break or assume we have captured all or even much of the academic high ground.  But finding top-heavy Christian books, journals, and monographs is not an impossible chore today.  Being able to keep up with it all is impossible.

I remember back around the mid-1980s, I was teaching a course on American literature for a local college.  I asked a Christian thinker about good books on American literature or literature in general from a Christian perspective.  He told me that there wasn’t any.  (Again, this was pre-internet days and I think there was more stuff out there that neither he nor I were aware of.)  Now, I have shelves of books about American literature and American thought from Christian or theological perspectives.  Some of it is light and fluffy, but much of it is deep and weighty.  Some books are overtly Christian, while others are written with some Christian underpinnings or beliefs of the writers that are not openly displayed.

If there are several shelves of books on literature from Christian perspectives, they are walls full of books on history from the same.  Name about any field of academic thought, and there can be found Christians who are plowing up the ground and cultivating those areas for Christ.  Not all of the theological perspectives are the same, nor is the orthodoxy of the thinkers identical.  Marilynne Robinson’s idea of Reformed theology gives me the heebie-jeebies, but she is writing fiction and essays from a Christian perspective.  Roy Clouser’s views on origins is revolting to me, but his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality is a block buster.

I work in the thinking business.  I am a teacher of history, literature, government, and theology in a classical Christian school.  On the one hand, I am not a heavy weight, but I do try to work out and lift the barbells of the best Christian thinkers around.  I am constantly amazed at what Jesus Christ is doing in our time to reclaim the MIND as well as the rest of the earth in His active role as King of Kings.

In this post, I will merely highlight three books–two new ones and one overlooked one–that will challenge the intellect as well as minister to the heart.

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The first book is Our Secular Age: Ten Years of Reading and Applying Charles Taylor, edited by Collin Hansen and published by The Gospel Coalition.

If The Gospel Coalition had never published this book, I would still be heavily indebted to them for the many fine articles, blogs, and authors who contribute to their ministry.  I am sure that if I looked long enough, I could find some (or many) points to dispute, but that contentious spirit does not serve me well, nor does it usually serve the greater Christian community well.

This book is a great contribution to Christian thought.  But it is, in one sense, just a group of guys all pointing–excitedly–to a Catholic Christian philosopher, named Charles Taylor, and his monumental book titled Our Secular Age.

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Occasionally, I do something brilliant.  When it happens, it is sometimes an accident.  Some years ago, a local bookstore had some library copies of books for sale for $3 a piece.  Most were of no interest.  There was a fat book among them titled Our Secular Age.  It sounded somewhat interesting, so I went home and looked it up.  That evening, I had to take my son Nicholas (then in high school) to a party.  On the way, I stopped and grabbed the book for three bucks (hardback with mylar covering the dust jacket and in like new condition).

Several years later, I began hearing more and more about the book.  Meanwhile, Nick was at college and was reading Sources of the Self by the same Charles Taylor.  I slowly began connecting the dots. Then James K. A. Smith published a book titled How Not to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.  Then Nick graduated college and began some overdue leisure reading, which included Our Secular Age.

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As is often the case, I am ten or more years behind everyone else on important books and issues.  But I am working on catching up so I won’t be eleven or more behind.  So I graciously received and have now read this new collection of essays on Taylor’s book.  Working backward, I will likely read Smith’s book and then cautiously begin scaling Mount Taylor.

Several points in reference to the Gospel Coalition essays:

  1.  Collin Hansen is top notch to me.  I really loved Young, Restless, Reformed when I read it a few years back.  It excited me and helped awaken me to what is going on in the ever widening Reformed circles.
  2. Several of the contributors are known to me, including Hansen, Carl Trueman, Michael Horton, and Bruce Riley Ashford.  Those names are all in the plus column, but I also became acquainted with some other Christians, such as Brett McCracken (whose new book I now have).
  3. These essays are designed to be bridge to helping pastors, teachers, and Christian leaders become aware of and make use of Taylor’s insights.  Repeatedly, we read that Taylor’s book is dense (T. M. Luhrman), inaccessible (Tim Keller), daunting, and intimidating (Hans Boersma).  These essays provide some stepping stones for making use of Taylor.
  4. Charles Taylor is Roman Catholic, as is some other key Christian philosophers, such as Bernard Lonergan, Peter Kreeft (more teacher than philosopher), and some guy named Aquinas.  Setting the Five Solas aside (but not far away) for the moment, there has long been a practice of borrowing, lending, and paying back with interest between Catholic and Protestant thinkers.  (Where would we be without Flannery O’Connor and G. K. Chesterton?)  Much of this book is focused on filtering Taylor’s thought into Protestant categories.
  5. These essays are not “Charles Taylor for Dummies.”  Having finished the book, I find myself ready to read it again–more carefully–rather than being ready to nod intelligently when Charles Taylor’s name and ideas come up.  And believe me, his name and ideas come up often.

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The second  book I would like to call attention to (realizing that it is actually the fourth or fifth one mentioned in this post) is Faith Formation in a Secular Age by Andrew Root.  This book is published by Baker Academic.

A few years ago, I read Root’s book Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker and loved it far more than I expected to.  By that, I mean that I thought it would be biography of the earlier years of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ministry labors where he was what we often call “a youth pastor.”  It is biographical, but it was more focused on the type of ministry work he did and how we should approach youth ministry.  It also, as the subtitle notes, deals with Bonhoeffer’s two fine books Call to Discipleship and Life Together.

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I have yet to begin this new book by young Dr. Root.  But in my prelimary glances (also known as pre-reading), guess who and what he begins discussing?  You are right–Charles Taylor and Our Secular Age.  Then he discusses Bonhoeffer.  I hope to post more about this book soon when I am able to start reading it.

The third book (no, fifth or sixth) that I will mention is Truth Considered & Applied:  Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith by Stewart Kelly.  This book is published by B & H Publishing Group.

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I first noticed this book a month or so ago in a local Christian bookstore.  I thought to myself:  What a fascinating sounding new book!  Later, when I was looking it up to learn more about it, I discovered that this “new” book had been published in 2011.

It is still anxiously awaiting my attention while it sits in one of the many “to be read” stacks, but I most interested in it.  The term “postmodernism” has been tossed around quite a bit and often misunderstood or misapplied.  It is among the ideas we have to grapple with as we delve into modern ideas and terminology.

More comments on this book will appear after I get started into it.  By the way, the index shows that Taylor is referenced six times, but the book in use is Sources of the Self by Taylor.

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Charles Taylor–philosopher and key influence in many Christian circles today.

 

 

Six O’Clock A.M. Seminary Classes

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I attend an early morning seminary class on theological subjects.  It begins at 6:00 a.m.  Yes, I know that Robert Murray McCheyne, Samuel Rutherford, Jonathan Edwards, and others would have already been up for hours by that time.  And I know that George Grant has already run 65 miles, written a chapter or two of a book, and read 3 books by that time.  But I am a challenged person.  I still think of the sixth hour as the middle of the night, so this is “one large step for mankind” in my case.

There are two companions in the classes with me.  On my right sits the student who provides lots of encouragement and incentive to read.  His name is Morning Coffee. He is usually strong, black, and bitter, with me sharing only the latter attribute.  But he does wonders in terms of helping me focus.

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Really helps open my eyes and unclog my brain in the morning.

On my left, all too often is another companion.  This companion, suffering from severe ADD, ADHD, hyperactivity, and a total lack of intellectual curiosity is Callie, the dog.  Contrary to appearances, she is not even a good listener.  She just wants to play.  She has an assortment of toys that she brings to me so that I can throw them, or use them in tug-of-war.  After doing that for a few minutes, she is content to fight with wolf-like ferocity the very hand that feeds her. One would think–upon seeing her–that she would be a good listener–but she is not.  Nor is she a good student or a help, but she forces me to be awake and pay attention.

Has little love for serious theology and is often a continual distraction. Forces me to really work at concentrating.

Currently, my class begins with a study on the Minor Prophets from a book titled The Message of the Twelve: Hearing the Voice of the Minor Prophets by Richard Alan Fuhr, Jr. and Gary E. Yates.  The Minor Prophets are the twelve books at the end of the Old Testament, starting with Hosea and ending with Malachi.

I, for one, experience lots of problems with reading and understanding the Minor Prophets.  First, the common attribution of them being “minor” seems to indicate that these writings are less important than other revelations in Scripture.  Second, the writings are short, often written in poetic form, and focused on local events of the time.  The historical context is often vital to making sense of the writings.  Third, since they come last in a normal reading of the Old Testament, they often get the quick read (as in, “I am hurrying to get through”) from me.

We often remember Jonah’s story, but that is because it is different in style than most of the other prophets.  We also tend to notice a few particulars out of these writings that relate to the birth of Christ or other New Testament events.  Overall, we neglect this rich source of Bible revelation. I must admit that when I first saw this book, I only noticed the title and not the subtitle.  I thought it was going to be a study of the Apostles.  There are some fine resources on the Apostles, such a study would be inviting.  But I am glad that I am now “signed up for and sitting in” a class that will help enrich my reading of those short orations that were given to call the people of God back to God.

This work is suitable for a Bible college or seminary classroom.  This is a serious analysis of the prophets with the first portion of the book dealing with common themes and structure of the writings.  I am just now ready to begin the portion that focuses on the individual books.

I will soon be starting a reading and study of  God and Politics in Esther by Yoram Hazony and published by Cambridge University Press.  This book is a sequel of sorts to Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, also a Cambridge Publication.  (My copy of the latter book is autographed!)  I first became aware of Hazony’s writings through Paul David Robinson’s comment in a discussion group a few years back.  Robinson is a Ph.D. candidate who hails from Northern Ireland, but is studying here in the U.S.

Hazony is a Jewish scholar and is the Provost of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and Senior Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, Political Theory, and Religion.  Because of his Jewish perspective, the insights from his books are going to be way outside the box of a southern (basically fundamentalist) Calvinistic Presbyterian.  While there is plenty need for me to be grounded more and more in what I am already convinced of, I also need the challenge and mind-and-soul expansion that comes from reading Hazony.

I noticed a few weeks back that a local church has a women’s study on the Book of Esther.  I think that is well and good, but I also recognize that we all have a hard time with Esther, apart from the fact that it is a good story.  We also struggle with how to blend or separate religion and politics.  I suspect this book will be a bombshell in the most positive sense.

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Speaking of politics and religion, I recently read a book titled The Individualist in Church & State by Frederic de Rougemont.  This book is published by Wordbridge Publishers.  I try to read everything Wordbridge publishes.  Run by e-friend (meaning we know each other via e-mails) Ruben Alvarado, a brilliant scholar himself, Wordbridge publishes a number of books on theology, politics, economics, philosophy, literature, and the connections between those fields.

I am convinced–more than ever–that now is the time for serious political reading and thought.  The last election–whatever one might think of the outcome–was the result of lots of shallowness on the surface, but lots of demographic, economic, social, cultural, and philosophical twisting and turning below the surface.  Christians were just as bumfuzzled as the rest of the nation.

Talk radio–with its few strengths and many weaknesses–cannot provide a foundation for Christian thinking about politics.  But these basic issues did not begin with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, nor with the previous Presidents Clinton and Bush and Bush.  There is a need to be more deeply grounded in the political history of Christianity.

There are many useful books from the past and about the past on these topics.  Just note that Wordbridge has also published Groen van Prinsterer’s Christian Political Action in an Age of Revolution.  The great Groen van Prinsterer was not the lone European with a vision for a Christian political order.  One of the things that astounded me about this book was the appendix that covered the life of the author.  I was not sure I had ever heard of Rougemont before reading this book, but in his day, he was an incredibly prolific author and commentator on a host of theological and political topics.

Rougemont believed that “revivalist movements spread individualism into the church, which went from there to society at large. In turn, this led to the radical separation of church and state and the consequent triumph of unbelief in and through the state.”  (From the back cover.)  The argument in the book concerns another time and set of circumstances, so this book is not a picture of modern America or Europe.  But that only adds to its worth and necessity–see C. S. Lewis’ classic essay “On the Reading of Old Books.”

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As I was thinking about The Individualists in Church and State, my mind shifted to a book I finished just today.  It is titled A Gospel Without Limits: Good News for Family, Church, Culture, Cosmos by my friend (who is more than an e-contact) P. Andrew Sandlin.  As a long time proponent, speaker, writer, and thinker for the broad concept of Christian culture, this book is yet another installment of what will hopefully, someday be a massive work on Christianity and culture by Sandlin.

The problem of individualism, or of salvation that is only a heart-changing issue, is a focus of this book.  Sandlin is building upon the works and influence of men such as Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and others who saw Kingdom building as part of the Gospel.  Christianity impacts the family, and no where is such impact more needed today than in the family.  It may be a given that the Faith impacts the church, but the broader components of changing–not just slightly brushing up against–the culture is a key area of much needed Christian involvement.

The world or cosmos is not just a failed creation action of God that He will replace with heaven.  God is redeeming us to dwell in a new (re-newed) heaven AND earth.  Future–yes, but also present, here and now.

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I must also mention that I love Andrew’s footnotes and book references.  He and I share a lot of reading updates and book suggestions.  His reading background is extensive and his knowledge of theology continually astounds me.  I read the footnotes as commendations on books he and I both have read and value and as suggested reading assignments and purchases for the future.

Here are some of the books he quotes, references, or plugs in this book:

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture.  Amen and amen.  Read and could profit from reading it another 10 times.  A blockbuster.

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied.  Read this and other Murray books years ago.  John Murray is top shelf.

Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology.  Have but have not read.  Sandlin’s quotes and use of Van Til is a not-so-subtle suggestion that we all need to be reading that Dutchman often.

Stephen C. Perks, The Christian Philosophy of Education.  Perks is a pillar of Christian thought in England.  This book is first rate.

John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life.  Andrew and I agree that anything by Frame–even his grocery list–is worth reading.

H. Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism.  Great book that should be read after Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism.

Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, For the Fame of God’s Name.  Excellent collection of essays honoring John Piper.

David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant.  Have, but have not read.  However, have read and profited from many of Wells’ books.

Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster.  This is one of a very few books by Schaeffer I don’t have.  Pity me.

Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea.  Anything written by McGrath is either something I have or want.

Carl F. H. Henry, Christian Countermoves in a Decadent Culture.  We should never forget or overlook Henry.

G. C. Berkouwer, Modern Uncertainty and Christian Faith.  I bought and read this excellent volume on Andrew’s recommendation years ago. I continue to acquire books by the great Berkouwer, yet another Dutch theologian.

There’s more!  But all this, regarding those early morning seminary classes is enough for now.

Believe It Or Not: Schaeffer Again

A Teacher’s Review of How Should We Then Live?

I first read Schaeffer’s book How Should We Then Live? in 1978.  I have read it many times since then, and have taught the book and the video series quite a few times as well.  I have lectured on Francis Schaeffer, and I have read quite a few of his books and several biographies.  While he was not a great stylist like C. S. Lewis, his writings, although not as popular today, are still worthwhile reading for serious Christians.

How Should We Then Live is not a textbook on Western Civilization.  It supplements textbooks and interprets the flow of history.  It very much reflects the cultural concerns of the 1960s and 70s.  It presents a wide range of ideas and issues.  The approach is somewhat scattered like buckshot from a shotgun.  Great philosophers are given anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph.  The big movements in history occupy anywhere from a few to a dozen pages of text.

Schaeffer writes at points like a brilliant man with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  He references philosophy, jumps to a historical event, quotes a book, explains a work of art, mentions a piece of music, and notes several other names and events in passing.  This might all happen on the same page. Then Schaeffer returns in the book and video series to some well rehearsed messages about God speaking propositional truth, about the choices between human autonomy and Christianity, and about the direction of history with implications for the future.  To a large degree, Schaeffer recycles his themes and major points from his previous writings.

The philosopher will find Schaeffer’s treatment of philosophy both inadequate and misleading.  The historian will find his conclusions too simple.  The art critic will object to his artistic interpretations.  Fellow Christians will either object to Schaeffer’s efforts to overly involve Christians in cultural affairs or will find his prescriptions for cultural interaction lacking.  Questions arise from the text.  Was there ever a Christian consensus as dominant as Schaeffer implies?  Are we really threatened by authoritarian government or ruling elites?  Is Reason bound to lead to Non-Reason?

Object to your heart’s content.  Schaeffer makes the reader think.  Schaeffer was a teacher and preacher rather than a scholar.  He is, to borrow from Isaiah Berlin’s essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” a fox, for he knows or at least introduces, many things.

History, philosophy, ethics, law, economics, art, architecture, literature, music, sociology, psychology, and theology are not merely separate courses taught in separate buildings on a college campus.  Together, these academic disciplines are a unified whole.  They comprise different aspects of worldviews.  They unite cultures.  Granted, they are taught in those different buildings in separate classes often because there is so much to each discipline.  But Schaeffer ventures into the task of connecting the dots, uniting the disparate ideas and looking for cohesion or, if it is the case, fragmentation.  Men live by presuppositions, as he tells us in the first chapter.  And men live by contradictory presuppositions in many cases.  So, he calls upon Christians (first) and others to connect their random ideas into a coherent whole.

Schaeffer was not the first or only Christian thinker to put so many different items into one box.  Christian worldview thinking has a long history; in fact, the Bible itself is the first source for uniting the many different areas of life.  The Church Fathers built upon the Biblical foundation to address lots of cultural and philosophical issues.  Augustine, in particular, was a very powerful worldview thinking Christian.  Such works as The City of God, Confessions, and On Christian Doctrine are prime sources for the range of Augustine’s thought.

The Reformers were focused on doctrines related to salvation and church life, but they also ventured into areas of family life, politics, art, and culture.  Then in 1898, Abraham Kuyper gave his famous Stone Lectures, which became the book titled Lectures on Calvinism, which has defined Christian worldview thinking ever since then.  (I grant that lots of Christian thinkers are skipped in this 2 paragraph summary.  Christian thinkers such as Christopher Dawson, G. K. Chesterton, James Orr, and others were pushing the same God-honoring agenda.)

In the Twentieth Century, comprehensive Christian thought and application fell out of favor.  Christianity came under attack from a variety of fronts.  The response was a retreat into pietism.  Christians focused on evangelism and “spiritual matters.”  The world of culture, politics, ethics, and philosophy came to be  dominated by non-Christian systems of thought.

There were, however, Christian thinkers who kept venturing beyond the realms of Bible study and theology.  Of course, the Bible and theology were battlegrounds as well, and quite a few Christians, such as Benjamin Warfield and J. Gresham Machen,  devoted their energies to a defense of the faith. Beyond and yet linked to these theological wars were any number of 20th century ISMs that encroached upon areas of Christian interest.

Christians like Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Vollenhoven ventured into the realm of philosophy.  In the early 1960s, R. J. Rushdoony began writing scholarly works on history, politics, and education from a Christian perspective.  C. Gregg Singer wrote on American history.  Gordon Clark wrote on philosophy, education, and other topics as well.  With issues ranging from Communism to Darwinism to Existentialism, some Christian thinkers (most of whom were Reformed) felt compelled to move beyond the stained glass enclosures of the church to reclaim the world for Christ.

Neither the thinkers referred to above nor Francis Schaeffer invented the idea of Christians thinking worldviewishly.  They were merely going back to what the faithful had done for centuries and playing catch up.  So, some hefty tomes and scholarly books were written.  The reading audiences were small, but there were core groups that digested the books and ideas.

Schaeffer’s great gift was his ability to connect messages to broader audiences.  While most Christian intellectuals spoke to one another or wrote within narrow circles, Schaeffer connected to the broader evangelical community and to a generation that was young, restless, and anything, but reformed.

He actually accomplished what John Stott speaks about in his book Between Two Worlds.  The Christian, particularly the past in the case of Stott’s book, is to have one foot in the Bible and the other in the world.  Schaeffer did exactly that.

 

Schaeffer in My Classroom

Teaching Schaeffer in the classroom of a Christian school creates some problems.  First, How Should We Then Live? Is now a 40 year old book with many outdated references and concerns.  Second, Schaeffer is not as complex as many philosophers, but his terminology, such as “the mannishness of man,”  “universals and particulars,” and “non-reason” is perplexing to younger readers.  Third, his style and organization is not top notch.  Fourth, much of what he says sounds commonplace in a Christian school.  It hardly sounds earthshaking and worldview view toppling.

When Schaeffer says that God has spoken to us through His Word and Jesus’ death on the cross is the answer to man’s ultimate problems, Christian students yawn or gaze blankly.  The revolutionary, paradigm exploding, earth shaking radicalism of such statements is the normal course of speech in a Christian setting.  I tell my students that it is like a person on a cattle ranch eating a steak dinner.

One of the greatest challenges of mastering Schaeffer’s book for my students is learning and sorting out all of the names and events covered in the book.  This book is a history of philosophy, a course in art and music appreciation, a survey of literature, an application of theology, a discussion of issues and trends of the middle to late 20th century, a political treatise, and more.

My students had a list of nearly 150 names of people and events that they had to learn.  How do you sort out Existential philosophers, Impressionist painters, Renaissance sculptors, and Reformation preachers all at once?  The answer is “slowly and carefully.”

A careful study through Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live is the best means of beginning an acquaintance with many of the essential names and terms in Western Civilization.  It is just a beginning point.  It is one that is worth reading, or watching in the case of the videos, repeatedly.

I never fail to be impressed with each viewing of Schaeffer’s work.  I question him, argue with him,  disagree with him, and applaud him with each venture.  Thank God for giving us such a man.

Image result for francis schaeffer

Stumbling Through the Book Stacks, Part 1

The problem with mixing one’s vocation with his advocation is that you never know when you are working and when you are relaxing.  Sometimes, it is a healthy ploy to avoid other work.  “I have work to do,” I say, as I head off with a book, leaving innumerable household chores to my faithful family.  Robert Frost pondered this issue with wit and whimsy in his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”  The matter goes beyond poetry and may be indicative of a mental disorder.

At any rate, I have certain books that I read because they relate to and inform what I am teaching in school.  I have other books that I read for other reasons.  Those reasons include spiritual growth, broadening of horizons, and diversions from the necessities of life. I will comment on a few on-going reading ventures.

On Politics

I regularly check the Internet sources, particularly realclearpolitics.com, for on-going political news.  As both a government teacher and citizen, I need to be more informed on current political happenings.  Right now, I am intensely interested in Senate races and am cheering Congressman Tom Cotton in his race for the U. S. Senate here in Arkansas.  But political thought involves having each foot planted in different realms.  One foot needs to be right in the middle of whatever is the currentl political storm.  There is certainly no lack of political powder to create lots of artillery fire in our time.  Political news and views feeds the political junkee in me, but then again, I am a government teacher.

The other foot of the political reader needs to be far from the current hustles and hassles.  It needs to be burrowing deeply in the roots and foundations, the philosophy, of political thought.  For that reason, Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Machievelli’s Prince, The Federalist Papers, and the speeches of Ronald Reagan all must be pored over like they were the daily news.  Of course, there are many more books besides those.

For the Christian, especially one devoted to Christian worldview thinking, political philosophy must not merely cross paths on occasion with Biblical thought, but must be rooted in it.  This goal, by the way, is a large part of the agenda of the Center for Cultural Leadership and particularly the work of P. Andrew Sandlin and Brian Mattson.

A great, but sad to say too little noticed, resource for Christian political thought is found in the work of the intellectual leadership of an amazing trio of Dutchmen.  I have praised, although not highly enough, the work of Dutch Christians in previous posts.  I have also given talks about the Dutch thinkers in such varied locations as Virginia, Alaska, south Texas, and Lewisville, Arkansas.

Guillame Groen van Prinsterer, Dutch historian and political thinker. He was every bit as aristocratic as this picture looks, but he had a love for the common man, or as the Dutch called it, the kleine luyden.

Abraham Kuyper (left), Herman Dooyeweerd (center), and a third Dutchman, D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, Dooyweerd’s brother-in-law and yet another pivotal Dutch thinker.

 

I am still learning from and gleaning insights from Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Dooyeweerd.

Here are some of my on-going readings:

Even I might concede that the title of this book, Lectures on Calvinism, is unfortunate.  It gives the impression that the book is on the soteriological 5 Points of Calvinism or some aspects of either Calvin’s Institutes or of the varied ways that Calvin’s disciples have thought through and applied his thinking.  I don’t object to those things, but this book is actually about having a Christian worldview.  The lectures were given in 1898 at Princeton Seminary by Kuyper who was both a leading theologian and a leading political leader.  For that reason, he had meetings with two of the most important men in America at that time.  He met with his friend and fellow theologian Benjamin B. Warfield, who was president of Princeton Seminary, and with President William McKinley, who was, incidentally, a Christian of Methodist persuasion.

My government class is reading the chapter on Politics from this book.  Kuyper also deals with art, science, and other areas of life.  For developing a political philosophy, the chapter on Politics is vital reading.  Kuyper will continually make reference to the three most important revolutions (changes in history) that were Christian based.  Those were the Glorious Revolution in England (1688), the American War for Independence, and the long war that the Netherlands waged against Spain during the 1500s-1600s (an 80 year battle for freedom).  In contrast to those faith and law based revots against tyranny, Kuyper shows how the French Revolution ushered in a totally different worldview.

One of the great blessings of our time is the increasing number of works by Abraham Kuyper that are being translated into English.  Currently, the Christian’s Library Press is putting out a number of Kuyper volumes with more to come.  For our purposes, I will mention the recently published Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government by Kuyper.

This book involves a bit of informed negotiating.  It consists of articles Kuyper wrote in the midst of the political battles he was waging.  It is not a how to book for moderns to find specifics in.  Rather, it is a historical primary source showing how a Christian thought through, communicated, and led other Christians in political action.  Along with Groen van Prinsterer and others, Kuyper was involved in the creation of a political party known as the Anti-Revolutionary Party.  This political party delved into the roots of the political issues of their time and built upon Reformational thinking in opposition to the non-Christian aspects of Enlightenment thought.

The most important thinker who built upon the foundations of Kuyper was Herman Dooyeweerd.  Dooyeweerd was a philosopher whose labors resulted in a massive construct of Christian philosophical thought.  His impact was felt in the Netherlands, but also far beyond the dykes and dunes of that country.  In the United States, Canada, Britain, South Africa, Australia, and many other lands, there have been serious and key Christian thinkers who have mined the vast quarries of Dooyeweerdian thought.  Just recently, the popular British theologian N. T. Wright commented on Dooyeweerd’s influence.

Dooyeweerd wrote and lectured quite a bit on political issues.  That fact is even more significant considering that for a part of his life, the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany.  His life and story parallels that better known story told by Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place.  Political discussion was not a free, safe, or easy topic, and Dooyeweerd had to go underground for a time to avoid arrest.  (George Grant has a fascinating lecture where he says, based on a work done by a Dutchman, that Hitler feared Abraham Kuyper even though Kuyper was long dead by the time Hitler occupied the Netherlands.)

More and more of Dooyeweerd’s vast writings are being translated and appearing in print in affordable editions.  The book called The Struggle for a Christian Politics is volume 17 of Series B of the Collected Works of Dooyeweerd.  (May my children and children’s children own the whole set.) I have only just begun reading from this book, but see already that it is a must have and must read for Christians seriously interested in political thinking and in developing a Christian worldview.

Seeing the Summit of Mt. Dooyeweerd Again

Herman Dooyeweerd at different stages in life.

I really wish that I were totally at home with reading and discussing the Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.  Among my dozen or so Dutch Calvinist heroes, he is near the top, being bested perhaps only by Abraham Kuyper.  But much of the time, I am only able to appreciate Dooyeweerd’s life and thought without being able to really interact with it.  I am a junior high and high teacher.  I don’t know much, but I point a lot.  I point at this novel, that event in history, this theologian, and that philosopher.  If my students listen and watch where I am pointing, they will be ready to move on with their learning.  Along with pointing to Melville, Homer, Kuyper, Calvin, Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Louise Cowan, Faulkner, and many others, I point to Herman Dooyeweerd.

For years, I knew little more than the name of Dooyeweerd.  But I began noticing a common denominator among the people I read and admired.  Cornelius Van Til had high praise for Dooyeweerd.  R. J. Rushdoony showed great appreciation for him and quoted him often.  Nancy Percey referenced him in her books and bibliographies.  H. R. Rookmaaker was radically changed by reading Dooyeweerd.  Others like Francis Schaeffer, Gregg Singer, Hebden Taylor, and Francis Nigel Lee mentioned, praised, quoted, and honored him.

Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company published Dooyeweerd’s New Critique many years ago. I treasure my edition of this set.

Some years back, I worked on and delivered a series of lectures on significant Calvinistic worldview thinkers.  Many roads led back to this Dutchman.  I finally pulled my copy of In the Twilight of Western Thought off the shelf and read it—twice.  I acquired copies of The Christian Idea of the State, Roots of Western Culture, and the magnum opus, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.

I bought and read books about Dooyeweerd, including Contours of a Christian Philosophy: An Introduction to Heman Dooyeweerd and The Myth of Religious Neutrality by Roy Clouser.  (Both books are outstanding.)

                                        

Dooyeweerd’s books were only available in used copies or in some very expensive reprints a few years back.  Now, Paideia Press has been publishing very affordable copies.

Below is a very great excerpt from Dooyeweerd’s New Critique.  This isn’t your normal morning devotional thought, but it is far easier to negotiate than much of Dooyeweerd’s writing.  I love it, but need to keep reading it over and thinking about it.  Thanks to Gregory Baus for finding and posting this on the Herman Dooyeweerd FaceBook Page.

” One cannot attain to true self-knowledge without true knowledge of God, which cannot be gained outside of the Divine Revelation in Christ.
At this point, many a reader who has taken the trouble to follow our argument will perhaps turn away annoyed. He will ask: Must epistemology end in a Christian sermon or in a dogmatic statement? I can only answer by means of the question as to whether the dogmatic statement with which the supposed autonomous epistemology opens, viz. the proclamation of the self-sufficiency of the human cognitive functions, has a better claim to our confidence as far as epistemology is concerned.
Our philosophy makes bold to accept the ‘stumbling block of the cross of Christ’ as the corner stone of epistemology. And thus it also accepts the cross of scandal, neglect and dogmatic rejection. In the limitation and weakness of the flesh, we grasp the absolute truth in our knowledge of God derived from His revelation, in prayer and worship. This knowledge in the full sense of the word contains the religious principle and foundation of all true knowledge… the knowledge about God in which religious self-knowledge is implied, is not primarily gained in a [theoretical] way…
It rests on our trustful acceptance of Divine revelation in the indissoluble unity of both its cosmic-immanent sense and its transcendent-religious meaning; an acceptance with our full personality and with all our heart. It means a turning of the personality, a giving of life in the full sense of the word, a restoring of the subjective perspective of our experience, enabling us to grasp reality again perspectively in the light of Truth. This does not mean a kind of mystical supernatural cognitive function, but it refers to the horizon that God made for human experience in the cosmic order created by Him. The subjective perspective has been obfuscated by sin and distorted and closed to the light of the Divine Revelation.
True self-knowledge opens our eyes to the radical corruption of fallen man, to the radical lie which has caused his spiritual death. It therefore leads to a complete surrender to Him Who is the new root of mankind, and Who overcame death through his sufferings and death on the cross. “