I have recently wrote a piece for The Creation Project, an initiative at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I wrote this piece on Augustine's interpretation of Genesis. Thanks to TEDS for the opportunity.
The piece can be found here.
Here is a simple piece I put together, to encourage my students to read, read, read:
I thought it might be helpful to spend one class period talking about reading: what is reading, why read, what to read, when to read, etc. Here are some various thoughts on reading.
1. It is often said that the main thing which marks us as we age is the books we read. That is, the biggest factor between who you are today, and who you are in five years is what you have read in that time. This may be a bit exaggerated, but it captures a truth—we are shaped in very significant ways by what we read.
2. Some basic background: Christianity is by its nature a wordish and bookish faith. The second person of the Trinity is the Word. God creates by his Word. God calls us to faith by words. God sustains us in the faith by words. We respond to God in worship by words. You get the picture. Words are simply a part of the Christian DNA.
3. All persons are created in the image of God, and are made to know and understand God (I am bracketing the difficult cases of extreme brain damage, mental problems, etc.). While Christianity is not simply cerebral, it is not less than that. Part and parcel of the Christian faith is coming to understand God, and his ways, and his purposes. To understand God and his ways means—in part—to think. And that requires—almost always—some pretty significant dose of reading. In short, part and parcel of Christian discipleship is leaning, understanding—and this is going to mean reading and thinking. Get at it.
4. On the one hand I suggest reading indiscriminately—as C.S. Lewis described his own childhood of reading. But, as Lewis suggested in “On the Reading of Old Books,” there is wisdom in reading old books on a regular basis. Lewis suggests one old book then one contemporary book. But if that is too tough—try one old book for every three contemporary books. There is no substitute for reading old books. It simply gives you a perspective which is difficult to get otherwise.
5. Speaking of “old books” . . . you might look at the list in Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book. There are other such lists. If you try something, and it does not grab you, don’t feel bad about putting it down and picking something else up. But don’t be too easy on yourself—there is a time to push through simply so you can finish a classic you have wanted to read for a long time.
6. I would read different kinds of books: Theology, philosophy, history, novels, short stories, essays, biographies, etc. We will talk more about some of these below.
7. I would read a number of books at once. Perhaps you are the kind of person who needs to finish a book before you start the next one—fine. But allow yourself to read many books at once.
8. Theology: I would regularly be reading either a systematic theology, or a doctrinal treatise, or a classic piece of historical theology (e.g., Augustine’s City of God).
9. Novels: Novels are fun. Read them. Enjoy them. Find an author you like, and enjoy their writings . . . .
10. Have fun. Try not to lose the joy of reading. Have some authors you simply enjoy. Have a few guilty pleasures. In the 80’s to be cool we were supposed to like The Cure. But OMD was a lot more melodic and fun. Don’t worry if the hipsters don’t think an author is relevant, deep, etc. Who cares.
11. The essay: I would encourage you to read essays on some sort of regular basis. These might be from journals (First Things), or you might find an essayist/author who has published essays. These are often a bit more serious, dealing with a challenging moral, ethical issue. These take a bit more work, but that’s okay.
12. Try murder mysteries or science fiction. A lot of your life as a student is reading serious stuff. Try reading “outside” the normal academic stuff. Academics can often be boring, pretentious, pedantic, and arrogant. And often they do not write well. And often there is some wonderful material in these genres: G.K. Chesteron’s “Father Brown” mysteries are wonderful. The science fiction of Phillip K. Dick can be bizarre, but wonderful.
13. Pick up the occasional big picture “critique”/social theory/social criticism type book. Say a book trying to explain the last 500 years of Western thought (Jacques Barzun), or a classic critique of modernity like Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, or something by Eric Voegelin (who thought modernity was guilty of the gnostic heresy).
14. I would suggest subscribing to some journals: First Things, Chronicles, etc. These have great essays, book reviews, etc.
15. I would find some “non-traditional” material to read. Try getting your news from places besides CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc. Try getting your news from a broad array of sources.
Greetings folks. I have been fascinated by how many philosophers of different stripes turn to Augustine. This can be found in Descartes, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Derrida, etc. I currently am reading John Rist, Real Ethics: Reconsidering the Foundations of Morality. At one point he speaks to how one way of understanding Sartre is to see Sartre as affirming Augustine's anthropology (in a very general sense) while denying Augustine's doctrine of God. Here is what Rist writes:
Reflect on the universe proposed by Augustine without Augustine's God and we are left in the universe of Sartre, where values are constructed at random whenever 'honest' folk see the necessity, where hell is other people seen as ineluctably predatory, and where life itself seems an absurdity which can only be transcended in the ultimately hopeless or destructive pursuit of a genuinely 'free' act. (p. 43)
Rist's book is proving to be a great read.
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) is an extremely interesting figure. Bergson contended that in animal (and I would think human) development, there are two traits/emphases/characteristics which are at the heart of things: "instinct" and "intelligence." Bergson makes an interesting move. One might think that intelligence would be the key to true philosophy (if choosing between "instinct" and "intellect"). Au contraire! Rather, it is instinct which is key. Instinct, over times can/does morphe into "intuition," and it is intuition which is central to philosophy. So, as Gary Gutting summarizes: "Instinct then becomes intuition, the privileged vehicle of philosophical knowledge" (Gutting, French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, 72).
Interesting indeed. What this does is, in a sense, put intellect in its place. It does not deny the importance of intellect, but does say that intellect must be seen in relationship to other ways of coming to terms with the world. I look forward to continuing reading.
One of the things I have been doing on my research leave is read (surprise!). Currently I am reading Gary Gutting, French Philosophy in the Twentieth Century. Besides just interesting, I hope to write one day a biblical theology of knowledge. That interest has led to reading this and that, including some philosophy. A few years ago I read Husserl, which led to reading several things by Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. The current chapter in Gutting's book is on Henri Bergson. I thought the following quote was fascinating, and something of a good summary of the modern mood, and the modern notion of the self:
"for a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to develop [se murir], to develop is to go on creating oneself endlessly."
(This is from Bergson's work L'evolution creatrice, and is quoted in Gutting, 66).
And while Willard is on the mind, here is the link to a super essay, "The Unhinging of the American Mind: Derrida as Pretext." I stumbled onto this essay a little over twenty years ago, I believe. I found it very helpful. His basic argument is that universities have ceased to be institutions which are interested in passing on knowledge.
The heart of the university crisis is, in my view, the simple fact that its institutional structures and processes are no longer organized around knowledge. The life of knowledge is no longer their telos and substance. Knowledge and knowing is not what is had in view or consciously supported by them. The people in charge are in fact only very rarely thinking about knowledge. It is not what the place "is about" in the mental processes of those who determine, or think they determine, curriculum, program and personnel, what is to count as "good work" or bad, and who is to be rewarded in various ways or not.
Given recent events at various universities, Willard's basic point simply continues to be vindicated. It is a very good read.