Tag Archives: Charles Taylor

Whither beauty, goodness, and truth in the modern American church?


The following argues that the re-integration of the spiritual and the material/social is the deepest task of both the faith & work movement today and the Christian Study Center (CSC) movement. I wrote it in 2016, after the national meeting of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers–hosted that year at Wheaton College.

The early church, per Robert Louis Wilken, Darrel Amundsen, C S Lewis, and many others, understood truth, beauty, and goodness to be intrinsic, inarguable, and universal goods (that is, to be secured for all people, as God wants all people to have them), as had the classical world before them. And drawing on the Christian understanding of the material world as intrinsically good (which the Pagan philosophers did not share), the early Christians were also able to add to these three values a fourth, bodily health and well-being—a value so vividly supported by the Incarnate Christ’s healing activity on earth.

The church then proceeded to say (again, per Wilken) that, while these four things are intrinsically and universally good, none of them provides, of itself (nor even do all four taken together), a suitable telos for humanity—and that indeed any of them become life-destroying idols when pursued in and of themselves, without the transcendent referent: the universal call to love and serve God. (This is the burden of Augustine’s theological discussion of uti love and frui love–that is, the loving of things that are not ultimate, and the loving of the ultimate, which is God–and it is also the burden of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy.)

The early Christians responded to this transcendent referent by identifying three “theological virtues” – faith, hope, and love, which they added to the four classical (“cardinal”) virtues of prudence, courage, temperance, and justice.

The new Christian value of the good of bodily health, along with the Christianized classical values of truth, beauty, and goodness, each informed and amplified through the transcendent referent, and pursued with the help of all seven virtues, birthed in the Christian medieval West the institutions of the hospital, the university, the cathedral and liturgical art and architecture, and the ethical systems of the scholastics that would lay important foundations for modern jurisprudence.[1] This was the origin of huge swathes of the culture and the vocational arenas of today’s world.

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Five themes in Christian humanism (II)


This Mob Quad group of buildings in Merton College, Oxford was constructed in three phases and concluded in c. 1378; Wikipedia, public domain

Here is the third of the five potential “dyad topics” for the projected seminar on Christian humanism (again, WordPress can’t handle the auto-numbering in Word docs. Sigh) Continued from part I:

  1. Faith and reason
    1. Reason and the image of God in humanity
    1. The role of reason in the carrying out of the creation mandate (for human flourishing)
    1. Illumination and education in early Christian soteriological understanding
    1. The pendulum of claims for reason
      1. Tertullian vs. Clement on the value of philosophy
      1. Seminal Logos understanding
      1. Augustine, reason and its limitations; the autonomy of scientific knowledge and the critique of bad Christian scientific reasoning
      1. Anselm, “faith seeking reason” – modest claim
      1. Aquinas – moderate claim
      1. Late scholasticism – reason maximized, atrophied, and arrogant – seeking to bring all knowledge under reason’s command
      1. The nominalist critique
      1. The renaissance humanist critique
      1. The Lutheran critique: Luther against the philosophers
      1. The recovery of scholasticism under Melanchthon and the rise of Protestant scholasticism
      1. Positivist, naturalist anti-humanisms of wartime
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Why we need scholarship on flourishing


“My sister and her baby”
Joy Coffman from San Diego, CA, US
Creative Commons

A friend asked me to write a short comment for the new scholarly journal Faith & Flourishing on the question, “Why is the flourishing of the world an important subject for scholarly inquiry?” My response:

Christianity’s absorption and reinterpretation of the classical tradition, as described for example in the work of Robert Louis Wilken, included in every age—from Irenaeus to Augustine to Aquinas to the Reformers to the post-WW II resurgence described by Alan Jacobs in his Year of Our Lord: 1943—a strong commitment to flourishing. This was especially the flourishing of humans in all our dimensions (salvation = wholeness). The evergreen Christian humanism forged in that Christian-classical synthesis—which has amounted, as Jens Zimmermann has said, to a coherent Christian “philosophy of culture”—took different forms in every age but was never seriously challenged until the modern era.

By capitulating to the disenchantment of the world—and of humanity—that was insisted upon in the materialist biology of Darwin, the materialist psychology of Freud, and the materialist social teachings of Marx (among others), we have entered an age when a purely naturalistic “exclusive humanism”—one kind of “closed immanent frame”—to use two of Charles Taylor’s labels, has become convincing to many as a way of understanding humanity and human flourishing. And the church of the 20th and 21st century has no coherent answer. Having lost track of that older tradition of Christian humanism despite strong advocacy on its behalf by writers as diverse as C S Lewis, Jacques Maritain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Pope John Paul II, we have spiritualized faith beyond all recognition, removing it from the ordinary workings of the world and society.

And now we are surprised when ordinary Americans (for instance) see the truth that this denatured faith has nothing to offer to our ordinary life in the world—and they are leaving the church in droves. We must retrieve our heritage: the long and strong tradition of pro-creation, pro-material, pro-embodiment, pro-social Christian humanism grounded in the claim that the incarnation has inaugurated a new humanity. We must again, to adapt Pierre Hadot’s phrase, practice “theology as a way of life”—not as a disembodied and detached technical pursuit.

C S Lewis and “medieval morality”


The following are some thoughts on how C S Lewis will figure as a “guide” into the look and feel of the “moral fabric of the Middle Ages,” and how that fabric differs from our own. It’s basically me grinding away at the grist for this Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants book.

My argument in this chapter is not that Christianity—either in the medieval period or any other period—has taught some distinctive morality, or even that it taught that morality in a distinctive way (although it did, from the earliest years of the church, as Robert Louis Wilken persuasively argues in The Spirit of Early Christian Thought). Rather, my argument is that today, Protestants, especially evangelicals, have fallen so in love with Luther’s (Augustine’s) message of grace, and have so spiritualized their faith (I almost said Gnosticized, and sometimes I wonder) that questions of morality have receded from view. So we need to hear again from a time (the Middle Ages) when Christianity structured not only people’s worship, but also their moral lives. Continue reading