Thursday, December 02, 2010

A dinosaur who reads Homer

I think I am teaching myself to be a dinosaur... that is, extinct. I read Virgil and Homer for pleasure, I teach Latin and Classical civilization courses, and I am presently embarking on a whirlwind tour of hell, courtesy of Dante.

C.S. Lewis, in his inaugural speech as Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge university, called himself a "dinosaur". What he meant by that was he considered himself to be a rare breed of man, the classically educated man, the man of letters, a true product of Western civilization as it once was. I am not a dinosaur in that sense, nor will I ever be. I am a product of "New Western civilization" whether I like it or not. I did not grow up with tales of heroes and monsters, but rather with Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Loony Tunes. In the late 1950s, C.S. Lewis already considered the world a totally different place than the world he grew up in. Nevertheless, I persist in my attempts to "repair the ruins" of a long, lost culture and civilization. But I wonder if I am like a Roman studying Cicero or Ovid while barbarians are at the gate. Am I training myself for a civilization that no longer exists or can no longer exist? There are no time machines.

Although my goals as an educator and as a student of literature, history, and philosophy are no longer considered relevant in a world steeped in ignorance, self-centredness, and apathy, my only hope is the fact that I am a Christian. Christianity is the one and only perfectly universal truth in the universe. I am not talking about "cultural or social Christianity" but Christianity itself.  Christianity is trans-temporal, trans-cultural, trans-denominational, trans-everything. Cultural or social Christianity, which can be quite a different thing, has been imported, sometimes imposed (intentionally or unintentionally) on cultures by varying military, colonial, political, and missionary efforts throughout history. When I distinguish "Christianity" as unique, I am referring to when the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly takes hold of someone, powerfully and transformatively. A Christian is someone who has become catholic in the universal sense... a follower of Christ, the God-Man---not just Christian ideas---but the person of Christ. We become part of the everlasting, eternal, and living body of Christ.

So, I may be training myself to be dinosaur-like in terms of literature and philosophy and education. As a teacher, I may become extinct... replaced by a website or a podcast or nothing at all. Although the sun is setting on Western civilization, I will not despair. Christ is my only hope. He should always be my ultimate and only hope. Perhaps the demise of Old Western civilization is, in part, a result of misplaced hope. As beautiful and true and powerful as Homer or Virgil or Dante might be, it can never save a person, much less a civilization. If we did recover the "Lost Tools of Learning" as Dorothy Sayers calls it, we will only produce "clever devils", as Lewis puts it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Unchanging God

The next sermon in the Studies in Joshua series.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

L'Abri Ideas library online

The L'Abri Fellowship has recently opened their Ideas Library to the World Wide Web. You can hear classic lectures by Francis Schaeffer and others, or you can download the current lectures from the 21st century L'Abri Fellowship lectures. The Ideas Library is worth checking out; it is topically indexed for efficient searching. Click the link below:

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Pitching your tents: Christians at the movies

When George Lucas resurrected his Star Wars movie franchise, millions of fans were ecstatic. People lined up for days in advance to see the premiere of the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace (1999). Some people donned Storm Trooper uniforms and Jedi ropes; some fans even pitched tents and lived outside movie theatres for weeks. I must admit that I cut classes at Western the day it premiered and saw the movie along with Chewbacca and Darth Maul look-a-likes. As Christians, what are we to make of all this hype? Well, movies and pitching tents causes me to recall a story in Genesis that may help us consider Christians at the movies.

In Genesis, we read about Lot “pitching his tents toward Sodom” (Gen 13:12); the next time we read about Lot (Ch. 19) he is living in Sodom, a wicked and abominable city. We find him applying skewed “righteousness” in an unrighteous situation (v.8), we discover Lot’s wife has become too attached to a worldly lifestyle (v. 26), his son-in-laws fail to take life seriously (v. 14) and his children lack a moral compass (vv.30-38). Whatever righteousness Lot had before he went to Sodom was dramatically overshadowed by the unrighteous culture he immersed himself and his family in. I use this phrase, “pitching my tents toward Sodom” to remind me to keep some distance between my family and the influence of the immoral culture we live in. As Christians, we are constantly struggling to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to steer clear of “Sodom” these days. Through television, the Internet, movies and magazines, Christians are bombarded with the influences of our society. Perhaps the most potent of these influences is Hollywood.

Movies impact our culture in a way no other medium has before. With drama and realism, movies present a made-for-film world where God’s reality—His decrees, His design, and His plan—often have no bearing. As a result, social values—the cultural blueprint for how we interact with each other and with God—are being created, shaped and solidified through the magic of movie-making. Our children, our churches, the next generation of citizens, the people we are trying to reach with the gospel, are all being influenced by movies. So we can’t stick our heads in the sand and hope it all goes away; Hollywood is not going away. And, well, there is nothing blatantly wrong about Christians enjoying popcorn and a movie. So how are Christians to respond to movies?

Christians need to become “film literate”—we need to be able to recognize, understand and speak to the filmmaker’s message. The challenge is the subtlety of the message. Filmmakers aren’t literally standing behind a pulpit or on a soapbox preaching their values or their version of the world, but they are saying something, and they are saying it with millions of dollars, heaps of glitz and pizazz, and great soundtracks. Not all films present non-Christian worldviews; arguably, some great films are very consistent with the moral laws of God’s created universe. There are, however, many films that directly or indirectly oppose God’s creation. Sometimes the movies desensitize us to sin, making evil tolerable or even palatable. Sometimes films uphold a right belief, but teach wrong applications of that belief. We need to be able to identify what these films are impressing upon us as viewers. This means, when choosing movies to watch for yourself or your family, you need to do more than count how many expletives or explosions there are. It is not the violence, per se, but the values presented that make the largest impact on viewers. Movies labelled as “family”, for example, may not have a single swear word or a single act of violence, but they may teach a lesson that children who disobey their parents are doing the right thing, or that the end justifies the means, or that romance is the key to happiness in life… Be prepared to discuss with your family the values presented in the films, and contrast them to the true values of God’s way.

If you are in doubt about whether a movie is OK to watch, then just don’t bother watching it. If you are viewing a movie and feel your “tents are pitched too close to Sodom,” leave the theatre or turn off the DVD. The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell of these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Where are you pitching your tents?

Useful aids for movie viewers: Roger’s Video website provides an online parent guide, and Plugged In (Focus on the Family) provides an excellent Christian guide, with reviews and commentary on new released DVDs and movies still at the theatres. Use these resources to make wise decisions and to be aware of the message being conveyed through this powerful medium.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Christian Movie-making… an oxymoron?

The Apostle Paul went to Mars Hill, the philosophical and religious centre of Athens and he spoke to the people gathered there in the manner of the day; he referenced their gods, their poetry, and their way of thinking. The Apostles also spoke in marketplaces and at religious centres—the places where people gathered. If we are going to continue the missionary work of proclaiming the gospel to the culture we live in, we ought to go where they are gathering and speak to them in a manner they understand. Since we live in a visual culture, Christians need to speak to the world in a voice they can see and hear. This means that gifted and talented Christians need to enter the world of movie-making.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), over one billion movie tickets were sold in Canada/US during 2009. MPAA also reports that 67% of the population of Canada/US are movie-goers. Movie theatres are where the people are gathering; movies are the media they are listening to and watching. Given the fact that our culture is being powerfully shaped by false worldviews presented in films, Christians need to provide a counter worldview, a worldview grounded in the truth of God’s created universe.

Since film is a very realistic medium, it lends itself very well to the Christian gospel message. Christianity is no abstract, pie-in-the-sky, philosophical religion. It is a real, gritty, dirt-under-the-finger-nails faith. It impacts the lives of real people living in a real world. Film can clearly and powerfully show how the gospel transforms people’s lives where they are—in a real, gritty, dirt-under-the-finger-nails world. Because of this realism, visual media can be a scary realm for Christians. It pulls us out of our Christian comfort-zone of “stained glass windows” and “polished-wood pews.” But Christianity speaks to the whole world, to its beauty and its ugliness. So Christians need to use the advantage God has given them as film-makers to visually and accurately depict the world as it really is. This includes human suffering, but also human value and meaning; the influence of evil is part of our world, but so are the power of providence and the role of grace. Hollywood rarely portrays the world as it actually is; this is because Hollywood isn’t interested in beauty, goodness or truth—it is interested in box office receipts and the bottom line.

God has blessed many Christians with the gifts, talents and technical skills to make good movies. Lately, some very interesting Christian-themed and Christian-made movies have appeared—albeit briefly—in theatres around the world. Granted, there have also been some embarrassing and poorly made films as well. Like all things done in the name of Christ, it should be done with excellence. This excellence should be seen in both the message and medium; in other words, Christians should not only present a right message, but also preserve and perfect the “art” of film-making, which includes subtlety, beauty, goodness and truth. Some would argue that we should not compete with the world on their turf; but the truth is it’s not their turf. The entire world is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This world is His turf. If God is calling you to make movies in His name, then go and make a great movie.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Piper on C.S. Lewis

In John Piper's signature style of speaking honestly, humbly and personally, Piper delivers a power message on learning from the heart and mind of C.S. Lewis.

John Piper is open about some of Lewis's theological errors; but, Piper is equally open about the contributions and richness offered by C.S. Lewis and his writings. There has been so much vehement criticism from certain quarters of the evangelical church focused on C.S. Lewis. A couple of years ago, I made a humble defense of Jack, but it must be acknowledged that some of the beliefs he held were simply wrong. Piper addresses this, explaining the right reasons we should come to Lewis, and the wrong reasons we shouldn't. Coming to Lewis for the right reasons is right. He has much to offer Christendom and the world, especially in the 21st century. Click for Piper's lecture: "Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul"

Thanks to my brother from Bradford Academy for drawing this lecture to my attention!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Marshall McLuhan on the Global Village

In the days before Twitter, email, Facebook, MySpace, texting, blogging, Google, the Internet... Marshall McLuhan describes the new world "created by instant electronic information"---a "global village".
"Today, the instantaneous world of electric information media involves all of us, all at once. Ours is a brand new world of all-at-onceness. Time, in a sense, has ceased and space has vanished. Like primitives, we now live in a global village of our own making, a simultaneous happening. The global village is not created by the motor car or even by the airplane. It is created by instant electronic information movement. The global village is at once as wide as the planet and as small as the little town where everybody is maliciously engaged in poking his nose into everybody else’s business. The global village is a world in which you don’t necessarily have harmony; you have extreme concern with every else’s business and much involvement in everybody else’s life. It’s a sort of Ann Landers column written larger. And it doesn’t necessarily mean harmony and peace and quiet, but it does mean huge involvement in everybody else’s affairs. And so, the global village is as big as a planet and as small as the village post office.

"We now share too much about each other to be strangers to each other. For example, in the age of the information explosion, all the walls go out between age-groups, between family groups, national groups, between economies. The walls all go out. People suddenly have to adjust themselves to this new proximity, this new interrelationship, and merely to tell them that this has happened isn’t very helpful. What they need to know is, if it is happening, what does it mean to me?"
“McLuhan on McLuhanism,” WNDT Educational Broadcasting Network, 1966

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Opera and "Symbolic Pleasures"

Opera isn’t realistic. Mortally wounded people “die” while singing a ten minute aria and gesturing dramatically over the entire stage. Huge, portly women are considered dainty and fair by many (often equally portly) love-struck suitors. Villains “sneak up” on victims while dramatically belting out songs and making all kinds of racket… noticed by no one except the audience. The “phoney” style of opera has no equal in any other theatrical medium. But, the point is good opera isn’t supposed to be realistic. It is symbolic. The renowned musicologist, Aaron Copland, writes, “One must be willing to allow that symbolic things mirror realities and sometimes provide greater esthetic pleasure than the merely realistic. The opera house is a good place in which to find these symbolic pleasures.” Not all opera is good opera or truly symbolic. As one opera aficionado recently pointed out to me, some opera is merely vehicles for narcissistic soloists seeking self-glorification. What I am interested in is good opera, symbolic opera, opera that offers the audience “symbolic pleasures”.

So good opera, then, is “real” but not realistic---real in that it attempts to mirror the full essence of “reality” by means of symbolism. In truth, no art is ever fully realistic; all art is symbolic on some level. Good opera---as an art form---simply embraces symbolism wholeheartedly. So the key to enjoying good opera is to realize that it attempts to function as “total art” surrounded by symbolism. Opera is “total art” because it capitalizes on all of its resources as an art form; at its disposal, opera has music, vocals, lyrics, costumes, sets, dance, acting, gestures and props to convey meaning. But “total” also in the way that it does not strive for realism nor does it expend much of its resources on believability; rather, nearly all aspects of the performance can be used in expounding meaning.

This recent epiphany came to me a couple of weeks ago when I attended the opera. Not an actual opera, per se, but a digital broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera to a Famous Players movie theatre. The broadcast was from a live performance---happening in real time---of Hamlet by the French composer Thomas.
Watching opera, especially in the 21st century, seems like an odd way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Even with the 21st century technological innovations such as HD broadcasting and surround sound, reclining seats and lightly buttered popcorn, watching opera in a movie theatre seems even more unusual. But, in fact, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience. Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have found myself there if it wasn’t for a former student and friend who invited me. He has been my musical mentor over the past two years as I slowly make a serious foray into the marvellous world of music. What he is helping me discover is that opera is not odd at all; rather, opera is, in many ways, the pinnacle of art.

Effective symbolism requires conventions, and opera is an art form that is thoroughly immersed in conventions. To fully enjoy opera, then, I need to become literate in operatic conventions. In other words, to fully imbibe the pleasures of “total art” and “symbolism,” I will need to learn how to listen, to see and to think---operatically. As I continue to learn from my former-student-now-teacher and friend, I look forward to greater “symbolic pleasures.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why we educate...

"They [universities] are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining a livelihood. Their object is not to make skilful lawyers or physicians, but capable and cultivated human beings… Education makes a man a more intelligent shoemaker, but not by teaching him how to make shoes."
– John Stuart Mills discussing the purpose of universities when becoming the rector of St. Andrews University in 1867
(Quote liftted from New Saint Andrews College)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Joshua 3: Holy God, Faithful God

Holiness matters... God's holiness, and our holiness. In Joshua 3, I examine the Holiness of God as represented by the "Ark of the Covenant of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth" (Jos 3:13). Because He is a Holy God, He can be wholly trusted. Because He is a Holy God, we need to be a holy people. And, because He is a merciful and good God, we can become a holy people---not by the imperfect process of blood sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark, but by the perfect process of Christ's blood shed for us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Joshua 2: Faith in the City

Last Sunday, I preached the second message of a series on the book of Joshua. Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho, is perhaps one of the most remarkable Old Testament persons of faith. She is noted for her faith in the famous Hebrews "chapter of faith" and she is compared to Abraham in the book of James. She is also prominent in the genealogies of both King David and Jesus Christ.

In a pagan city opposed to God, while embroiled in a licentious lifestyle, it is truly remarkable that she acted so courageously on her faith in a relatively "unknown" and "foriegn" God. She heard about God, who He is, what He has done and what He promises to do. Consequently, she became not only a "hearer of God's word", but also an "effectual doer". What made her a woman of faith? Why did she choose to be on the Lord's side?

What can we learn from Rahab to teach us how to live out our faith here and now; how can we, like Rahab, not only believe what God says, but also act on what God says?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stewardship: Money Matters

During adult Christian Education at my church, I am running a four-part series on Stewardship. The term is often used in reference to managing our monetary resources. The series, however, will not directly address financial stewardship, but rather focuses on stewardship of our gifts and talents, the environment, the church, and the family. My hope is to encourage a broader application of the concept of stewardship; everything is the Lord’s, not just our pocket books.

In spite of the fact that this series I am teaching doesn’t address financial stewardship, I still believe managing our money is an important issue. The New Testament has a great deal to say about money and how we handle it, so it is an area that deserves attention.

Recently I read a book by Dave Ramsey---the well-known American financial guru---and I was encouraged to pay closer attention to my own financial stewardship. In his book, Ramsey addresses the area of financial literacy. Most Canadians are told how to manage their money by banks, businesses and credit card companies… Ironically, these institutions profit most from their patrons’s financial ignorance. The unified message from all these businesses is that credit, mortgages, car loans, student loans, buy-now-pay-latter schemes are all par for the course. Ramsey questions this assumed wisdom. It is not wisdom; rather, it is money-makers doing profitable business.

As a Christian, I thought I was being pious by disregarding financial issues, believing that spiritual matters are more important. Ramsey helped me realise that I have an obligation to manage properly the financial resources God provides.

Dave Ramsey's book is called The Total Money Makeover. This book was highly recommended by my brother and now I highly recommend it to you. Ramsey’s style is accessible, humorous, Christian, and highly practical. This is no hokey, pyramid-scheme, make-the-author-rich-by-duping-the-reader kind of book. It is a not-so-common sense book that makes a lot of sense!

Check it out if you would like to learn how to manage your money for your profit not the bank’s!

On a somewhat related note (and for a laugh), watch Steve Martin’s SNL mock infomercial, “Don’t buy stuff you cannot afford

Monday, February 22, 2010

Joshua 1: Fighting Our Fears

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9 (NASB)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

So political...

I recently gave my Classical civilization students a test on Greek philosophy; one of the questions asked, “What does Aristotle mean by the statement, ‘Man by nature is a political animal’”? Answers varied from humans are “aggressive,” “animalistic,” and “survival of the fittest,” to humans are “conniving” and “deceptive”… Thanks to Darwin, democracy, and Spirit of the West, words like “animal” and “political” have far-reaching connotations these days!

What Aristotle really meant is that humans are communal in nature; we are inter-dependent. Personal isolation, according to Aristotle, cannot lead to happiness or fulfilment. This social dimension to our existence necessitates an ordered and governed society. For Aristotle, “good government” should make possible and enable its citizens to pursue lives well-lived, both as individuals and as a collective society.

Now, everything is so political.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How democracy is killing education

We are post-Cold War, so it is safe to criticise the impact democratic principles have had on various aspects of our culture. I am not a Marxist, nor am I a proponent of any other form of government. To quote Winston Churchill, "democracy is the worst form of government... except all the others..." Democracy is good, but it is not a cure-all.

A few months ago, I read an essay by George Parkin Grant, where he criticized the impact of John Dewey on education. Dewey mandated a homogenization of democracy and education. His ideas laid the foundation for educational philosophy and pedagogy, ideas that have dominated public schools across the continent. George Grant, however, notes that democracy and education are incongruous. In order to provide “education for all” you must operate on a common ground, a common denominator…So, he argues, you end up with the “lowest common denominator”.

Education, however, is about challenging students to higher understanding and garnering the best results from the collective human intellect. One outcome of education is that some individuals will rise above their peers. Not everyone who makes it to “base camp” reaches the summit of Mount Everest. But such a view can be construed as educational elitism, which is not very democratic at all. On a colloquial level, teachers, students, universities and colleges, and employers, all complain about “lowered standards” and the “dumbing down” of curriculum. Articles circulate about our general lack of knowledge, our decreasing vocabulary and limited grammar knowledge, our collective stupidity, and our hubristic stubbornness in rejecting any remedy for these problems. We have “successfully” regressed to the lowest common denominator. We have brought the summit of Everest to base camp. By lowering standards and by removing obstacles, we bolster up some students while we “handicap” others… So long as everyone is either “raised” or “lowered” to the same point, then democracy and equality have prevailed.

Like the boys from Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we assume that democracy “vincit omnia”. In truth, democracy doesn’t conquer all; democracy is only as good as the people who are voting. Admittedly, democracy does work, albeit imperfectly, in the North American political landscape. Does it work in Iraq? Does is work in Afghanistan? Eventually it might. If the people rule, then the people need to know how to rule… hence, the natural pairing of democracy and education. But what has happened in North America has gone beyond “pairing”; democracy and education have been blended and education has been diluted.

The Classical Greek city-state, Athens, was the birthplace of democracy, a democracy that inevitably failed. Democracy failed for a number of reasons, many of which had nothing to do with democratic principles. For example, the experimental and innovative climate of Athens, the intellectual climate that produced democracy, was also a very unstable one. Democracy without “checks and balances” is also very unstable. Nevertheless, the “invention” of political democracy---even in its most rudimentary form in the 5th century BC---is an incredible contribution to Western civilization; but, the failure of that democracy should also be weighed. The politicking and spin-doctoring that plague our current political culture were also plaguing Athens’ political climate. At times, Athens degenerated into legalized mob rule; they democratically sentenced Socrates to death! Socrates! They voted for the foolish and flawed Sicilian campaign during the Peloponnesian war. Politically, they were unified. Naysayers were ostracised or sentenced to death. The lofty ideals that gave birth to democracy were displaced by the lowest common denominator, what they all could agree on.

To unite education and democracy on a philosophical level means the death of one or both. If Socrates---the paragon of teachers, the one who debated, asked pressing questions, challenged the status quo and sought for greater understanding---was rejected by democracy, then why would we think a democratized education could survive?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Reading Tolkien, Reading Reality...

It had been a number of weeks since I was able to read Fellowship of the Ring to my boys. When we picked it up again last night, I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to get into the story… But by the second sentence, all three of us were engrossed. We last left Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin in Tom Bombadil’s cottage… which is an unusual and seemingly digressive part in the plot and we were even mid-chapter (which is an awful place to resume a book that has collected some dust)… Nothing, however, deterred our immediate reengagement with the story.

Needless to say, I am amazed by the power of Tolkien’s writing. The story resonates with so much realism and truth. Tolkien writes like someone who has not only lived, but also as one who has thought about life and who understands it. Lord of the Rings is truly a remarkable book, probably one of the best books of all time. On my own, I am reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is an incredibly enthralling story, but it falls far short of the depth and profundity of Tolkien’s tale of hobbits and wizards.

At the heart of Tolkien’s insightfulness is undoubtedly the fact that he is writing from a Christian perspective. He understands the world the way it actually is. Last year I also read Albert Camus’s existentialist novel L’Etrange: in many ways, Camus is attempting to capture the world authentically, dispensing with romantic ideals and unfounded optimism; however, I was unable to relate to the protagonist. Camus’s story, despite being incredibly captivating, fails to depict the real world; rather, it depicts his philosophical beliefs. Lord of the Rings, it could be said, does the same; the only difference is that Tolkien’s philosophical outlook is more consistent with reality.

In the chapters we read together last night, Frodo humbly aspires to be courageous and to lead his merry band of Shire-folk; he does this out of necessity and he often falls short… So, he still needs help, sometimes help from his friends and always help from the Divine, who although remains unnamed, is present in the story. At one point in the story, while in the Barrow-downs, Frodo musters courage to protect his friends from a Barrow-Wight. He resists the temptation to use the ring to disappear and run away, saving himself; instead, he stays and risks his life to save others. He also has the humility to cry out for Tom’s help; miraculously, Tom answers the call and rescues the hobbits from the Barrow-Wight. Frodo’s courage is growing, but he hasn’t arrived yet; before he has the courage to battle his foes, he must first have the courage to overcome his own fears and temptations. How true for us all! All the events of these two chapters paint a beautiful picture of life in this world, albeit not a perfect picture. Frodo’s actions were like a keyhole of light in a dark room; minuscule yes, but in a dark room, a key hole of light is a very beautiful thing indeed. This is the world I live in. This is reality.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christianity and the Classics

For a few years I have been teaching a course that examines Classical civilization, from the Mycenaeans to the Romans. The course explores the Greco-Roman world from a number of interconnected perspectives: Mythology, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Art, Architecture, Archaeology, History, and Geography. I am by trade, a teacher of English literature; taking on a course like “Classical civilization” has required me to do a considerable amount of research. I am still learning new things, even after four years of studying the subject for instructional purposes. They say that a student can learn more by teaching; so, as a teacher of Classical civilization, I have indeed learned a great deal. The most surprising thing I have learned is that studying Greco-Roman world has given fresh insight to my understanding of New Testament Christianity. Tertullian once postulated, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” In other words, what does Christianity have to do with Classical thinking? The rhetorical answer is "nothing". But such an austere view ignores the big picture: Jesus came to the Greco-Roman world, the New Testament is written in the language of the Greco-Roman world, the Apostle Paul ministered to the Greco-Roman world, and the church sprung up in the Greco-Roman world. These are significant factors to consider. In his book, 5 Cities that Ruled the World, Douglas Wilson suggests that---by God’s design---“a certain amount of cross-pollination” occurred between Hebrew thinking and Classical thinking in the forming of Christianity in the first century (81). He qualifies this notion, of course, stating that New Testament Christianity is no syncretism between the God of Abraham and the gods of the Greeks… Citing Romans 11, however, he compares the Kingdom to an olive tree: God grafted Greek gentiles into the Hebraic trunk; the result is a “new kind of olive” (80). The more I study the Classics, the more I realise how much Greco-Roman flavouring has been added to the hearty stew of Christianity. Whatever ingredients God uses for His recipe does not diminish the fact that He is still the chef par excellence!

Wilson, Douglas. 5 Cities That Ruled the World Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Messy Reader...

It is now 2010, and I am reviewing my reading list from 2009. My plan was to read Schaeffer from March 2009 to March 2010... Alas, I have fallen short of my plan to learn at the feet of this spiritual giant.

Here is my list of Schaeffer readings:

- True Spirituality
- Mark of the Christian
- Escape from Reason
- Art and the Bible
- (Biography) Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (by Colin Duriez)

What else have I been reading?

- This Momentary Marriage by John Piper
- Mindset by Carol Dweck
- L'Etrange by Albert Camus
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
- The Iliad by Homer (finally finished!)
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Jack's Life by Douglas Greshem

What have I started but haven't finished (yet)...?

- The Aeneid by Virgil
- Art for God's Sake by Philip Ryken
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
- Christian Lover by Michael Haykin
- Five Cities that Ruled the World by Douglas Wilson
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (with Laurie)
- Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (with the boys)

This last bit, the bit about "books I have started but not finished"... that's the "Messy Reader" bit. I think I have a sickness. This morning I starting reading Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Perhaps the eighth habit might be, read one book at a time and finish it! For the record, I am enjoying all the books I am currently reading.