Classical origins: virtues – character and education for citizenship: What is human excellence?
Patristic phase: anthropology – Incarnation, soteriology (theosis): How does God prepare us for full human flourishing?
Medieval phase: the sectors – education, sciences, arts, and healthcare: How can reason and tradition help us foster flourishing in response to God?
Early modern phase: common good – vocation, the family, the polis, the markets, and secularization: What values will guide our life together?
19th & early 20thcentury: anti-humanisms – the fruits of secularization: What are we without God? (the “abolition of man”)
The post-WW II phase: thehumanities – literature, “great books,” beauty: How can we reclaim our common humanity and train our imaginations & affections?
Epilogue: lessons for the current crisis and a closing look at inter-traditional dialogue in a postsecular age
Now we have to ask (1) do these pieces work well together? (coherent whole? logical flow? right size?), (2) would this framing serve faculty seminar participants well? and (3) what readings would support each unit?
Work continues on my book-in-progress, Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. The chapter with the working title “Passion for theology” has been kicking my butt up and down the street for a few days, but I got up at 4 this morning and the introduction finally came together. Here it is:
In the charismatic church where I came to Christ as a young man, we couldn’t wait for Sunday. Week after week we experienced such rich, life-changing ministry in worship and prayer. Night after night, the altar was jammed with eager worshippers seeking a “touch from the Lord.” And it seemed like He was always there to meet us and put his loving arms around us. After the service, we would leave the building with our hearts bursting with gratitude and joy. We even joked that it might not be safe to drive in that condition! And it didn’t take much prodding for us to evangelize, either: who wouldn’t want to share such riches?
I will always be grateful for those days, and for the divine condescension that worked among us with such power. Some folks accuse charismatics of not giving God or Christ his due. “There’s so much ‘me’ language in their songs,” they grump. And sure, our worship could become self-indulgent. But the critics just don’t “get” why charismatics use the first person so much in church. It’s because they live in constant awe that the God of Creation condescends to save and to love even them. What a God, who meets us in our brokenness and wraps his arms around us like the father with the prodigal son! The charismatic experience of God is like every love song on the radio. Try writing one of those without using the first person!
More than all of this, we loved church because we knew that we came away from it changed. Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty of imperfection in our lives. But along with the love-fest came real personal transformation: Sins confessed. Grace experienced. Old wounds healed. Broken relationships restored. Release from addictions. God not only loved us—he made us better people. We experienced not only the Beauty of his presence among us, but also the Goodness that came from the operation of his Spirit in our hearts.
But here’s the thing. As the Greek philosophers knew, humans cannot live on Beauty and Goodness alone. There is a third realm necessary for human flourishing: the realm of Truth. And in that area, I sensed that the charismatic church of my twenties was standing on thin ice. Many of our key teachings came from self-taught celebrity preachers who skewed heavily to the topical—and away from the exegetical—end of the preaching spectrum. Their messages were rousing, to be sure. They got the people standing on their feet and coming up to the altar. But by dint of stringing together out-of-context Bible verses with some homespun wisdom, these teachers took us down some garden paths: The prosperity gospel. Blame-the-victim faith healing. Demon-in-every-doorknob spiritual warfare. We fell over ourselves to get to all that wonderful Beauty and Goodness, and we left Truth in the ditch. Continue reading →
Tom Bombadil, from The Lord of the Rings. Now there's an antimodern fellow!
My forthcoming Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants will draw on a group of 20th-century British Christian imaginative writers who also happened to be scholars of the Middle Ages. G K Chesterton, C S Lewis, Charles Williams, J R R Tolkien, and Dorothy L Sayers faced the many tentacles of modernity with a sense of alarm deepening into cultural embattlement. And they sought in medieval faith and culture antidotes to modern malaises.
(A clarifying note: I use the term “Inklings” of this group, recognizing that this is a loose usage. “The Inklings” is the name adopted by the group of writers who met in C S Lewis’s rooms at Oxford to read aloud their works to each other and engage in stimulating discussions and debates. I have stretched the group to include Chesterton, who pre-dated them, and Sayers, who was a friend of Lewis’s but never attended a meeting of the all-male group. All shared Christian faith and profound similarities in cultural and literary outlook, though the group certainly represented a wide variety of opinion on any number of important topics.)
A couple of years ago, as I prepared to teach a new course titled Medieval Wisdom for Modern Ministry at Bethel, I sketched out one of those “mind maps”–a diagram with a single organizing concept at the center, surrounded by connecting lines and circles containing related concepts. The central concept was “Anti-modernism among the Inklings.” Here are the surrounding circles, in no particular order: Continue reading →
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