Some key points, drafted by C Armstrong, 2-25-21 in engagement with Jens Zimmermann
The following are some key points I drafted early (Feb 2021) in my exploration of the link between Christian humanism and the “faith, work, and economics” conversation, interacting with the work of Jens Zimmermann, JI Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. These themes are informing my work in that conversation at the Kern Family Foundation (Wisconsin), engaging a national network of seminaries and Christian colleges preparing future pastors (note that the book cited parenthetically as “Re-Envisioning” at a number of points below is the Zimmermann-edited volume Re-Envisioning Christian Humanism: Education and the Restoration of Humanity):
Many thanks to Scot McKnight for hosting Dave Moore’s interview with me on my new book, posted here today: at his Patheos.com blog. Patheos friend Kathleen Mulhern even featured the interview on the front page of www.patheos.com, which is “not chopped liver,” as they say–given that site’s millions of viewers monthly. It is tremendously gratifying to see folks picking this book up and engaging with it.
I also look forward to my visits to MacLaurinCSF at the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis-St Paul) and Tyndale House College & University (Toronto) this fall, and to Upper House at the University of Wisconsin, Madison next spring, to explore these themes with students. I guess I’m a real author now, what with “book tours” and all . . .
From a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolation: Miniatures of Boethius teaching and in prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This post is the second looking at Lewis’s foremost medieval model for the task of calling church and society back to traditional wisdom: Boethius. It is from the draft “Tradition chapter” of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis. The first may be found here.
Lewis valued Boethius highly as a historian and traditioner, bringing the light of one age’s wisdom out into the darkness of another’s depravity and forgetfulness. He referred to Boethius as “that divine popularizer,” which indicates the “translative” function served by public intellectuals. To speak intelligibly to a diverse company, “patrician and plebian, bourgeoisie and proletariat, rich and poor, educated and semi-educated, specialist and nonspecialist,” the public intellectual must use a language they all understand—the vernacular. Aside from the Consolation, the work of Boethius that most shaped the Middle Ages was his labor translating the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, which he read in their original language, into the vernacular of his day, Latin. And Lewis of course both was master of many languages and could “translate” the most complex philosophical ideas not just into clear radio addresses for the masses, but into the imaginative, concrete world of children’s books.
It is hard to think of an apter description, in fact, of C. S. Lewis. As much as did Boethius, Lewis wanted to stand in the gap of cataclysmic cultural loss, to bring “the tradition” back to the people. He told his Cambridge audience, “I myself belong far more to that Old Western order than to yours. . . . Continue reading →
One of my favorite pedagogues these days is James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College. In his series-in-progress entitled Cultural Liturgies, he argues that human beings are not primarily thinking animals but must be regarded instead as “desiring animals.” Head knowledge, especially head knowledge gained from an instructor who is “teaching to the test,” is aimed at the wrong part of the moral anatomy to make good citizens. We need a pedagogy that “aims below the head,” says Smith, in order to help students rightly order their loves and desires.
. . .
The kind of close reading advocated by Lewis meets what I believe is an innate desire for self-transcendence. “We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own,” Lewis writes. He compares close reading with love, with moral action, and even with the fundamental act of learning. “In love we escape from our self into one another …. [E]very act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other person’s place .”
Thanks, David Neff, for your reflection on education today. You (and C. S. Lewis and James K. A. Smith) hit the nail on the head.
This is the second half of a two-part article that appeared in the Winter and Spring 2013 issues of InTrust magazine. Both parts, with full graphic treatment, appear here. This half focuses on what seminaries and churches can do to help heal the divide between faith and work in many Christians’ lives today.
Theology for Workers in the Pews
In the last issue of InTrust, Chris R. Armstrong wrote that churches are good at helping people find meaning on Sunday morning, but during the “other 100,000 hours”—the lifetime that people spend earning their daily bread — pastors often have little to contribute. This is unfortunate, because when people labor, it’s possible for them to be co-laborers with Christ who both build up the world, helping it flourish, and also grow in grace, learning new disciplines.
In this companion article, Armstrong describes how schools and organizations are making connections between faith and work. In some cases, organizations are helping business leaders to think ethically and theologically. In other cases, they’re helping clergy to engage more intelligently with business leaders in congregations.
Let’s take as given that work matters—it matters to God, and it is most people’s primary arena of discipleship. And let’s agree that the primary role of seminaries and theological schools is to form pastors and scholars who teach and lead people in discipleship. Therefore, it makes sense that theological education should serve a vital role in making the connection between faith and work.
It is no good to talk about “theology of work” and “faith-work integration” as if these topics somehow floated above the economic realities in which we live. Nobody has to remind us that those realities are pretty grim right now. But we can’t very well address them effectively with the resources of the church–or any other resources–unless we understand what’s going on in our economy.
Does this mean we need to be trained economists as well as pastors, seminarians, theology professors, engaged laypeople? Not at all. A chaplain or pastor can minister effectively in a hospital room without a medical degree. But it sure helps if said pastor has some idea of what challenges a patient might face within today’s medical system; what the patient’s prognosis is and what that will mean for their quality of life; and so forth. Just so with those Christians who today want to address work through eyes of faith.
This is one thing I respect highly about the Kern Family Foundation’s current grant-making activities in evangelical seminaries across the country: the foundation will not let seminaries get away with a surface-y, pietistic approach that majors on our individual gifts and vocations while ignoring economic realities. Indeed, the foundation and its seminary partners are now working toward a set of faith-informed “economic wisdom maxims” that are securely grounded in economic realities. I can imagine few more helpful enterprises in moving forward the faith-work conversation today.
Apropos all this, friend Collin Hansen, Editorial Director over at the Gospel Coalition, brought the following article to my attention. This piece by Jonathan Rauch in the top policy magazine The National Journalis sobering, to say the least. But the first step in solving a problem is knowing you have one. And right now, America has a very big one. Continue reading →
Speaking of Dorothy Sayers, thanks to friend Marc Cortez over at Scientia et Sapientia for this reminder of a piece of Sayers’s writing that has become more read in recent years than perhaps anything else she wrote besides her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery stories:
Today marks Dorothy Sayers‘ 118th birthday (June 13, 1893). Writer, theologian, poet, essayist, and playwright, Sayers did it all. And, she did it amazingly well.
To commemorate her birthday, here are some excerpts from her essay on The Lost Tools of Learning. Regardless of whether you agree with her argument that we need to return to medieval models of education (and the way this argument has been used by the classical and home schooling movements), her comments on the importance of learning to think are outstanding:
“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?”
Marc Cortez’s wise and funny piece on how not to destroy your own academic paper with wishy-washy language has obviously struck a nerve, judging from the number of hits. I thought it might be helpful to offer as a follow-up some advice on how to develop a strong, workable central claim (often called a “thesis”) for your paper.
The best thing I’ve seen on this topic is a handout from an old employer of mine, the Duke University Writing Studio. What follows is an excerpt. I love especially the list of criteria for a strong thesis: contestable, reasonable, specific, significant, and interpretive–Oh, if only my students would all read this before writing any more papers for me! Continue reading →
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, with the Bishop of Rochester
From an article in a British Christian online magazine. Though I am always suspicious when someone starts talking about “Judeo-Christian values” (there’s a lot of slipperiness in this language), I like this guy 🙂 . Also, based on my own recent research into the origins of hospitals in the West, I have to agree with his statement (see below) that the nursing profession as we know it is Christian in origin. Finally, his examination of the origins of modern British systems of law and governance fascinate–I’ll be looking into the details of his narrative . . .
If school kids don’t learn more about Britain’s Judeo-Christian heritage we risk losing our national values, a bishop has warned.
Children should know about the role of Christians in abolishing the slave trade, caring for the sick and improving working conditions, the former Bishop of Rochester said in an article for Standpoint magazine. Continue reading →
What follows are some acute observations on the Christian landscape of the early Middle Ages from Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1994). For those interested in the monastic culture of the Middle Ages or the ins and outs of medieval spirituality, this is a wonderful text. McGinn has solidly mastered all that he writes about, and he communicates it in terms understandable to the nonspecialist reader.
The notes that follow are taken from Chapter 1, “The Making of Christendom.” Each note begins with the page number.
17 “The changes in Christian spirituality between 400 and 800 are especially significant for understanding the development of medieval Latin mysticism. No one disputes that these centuries saw the end of ancient Christianity, tied to the world of the late Roman city, and the birth of early medieval Christianity, more often than not rural and monastic in character. . . .” Continue reading →
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