Some friends and I are beginning to plan a multi-day seminar on Christian humanism to be given to a group of scholar-teachers from across the country next spring. As we consider themes that might prove both interesting and helpful to such a group, I’ve framed some elements (still well short of an outline) as follows:
Nascent learning outcomes
Definitions: What, simply defined, is Christian humanism (hereafter, “CH”)?
Scriptural warrants: What are some key scriptural foundations of CH?
Doctrinal warrants: In what key Christian doctrines has CH been grounded?
Chronological scope, depth in the tradition: How has CH been present and active in all periods of Christian history?
Patristic roots and forms: How were the Church Fathers Christian humanists?
Medieval roots and forms: How were the scholastics and renaissance thinkers Christian humanists?
Reformation roots and forms: How were the Reformers Christian humanists?
20th century: CH as a tradition reclaimed during times of crisis: What social circumstances and intellectual contexts led WW II – era thinkers to attempt to reclaim facets of CH for their time? Are there parallels between the crisis of that era (to which some thinkers responded by looking to re-excavate CH) and our own moment of multifaceted crisis?
21st century: Application today: If CH is appropriately considered as a “crisis philosophy” that has something to say to our moment, then do we need to recapture CH today – particularly in contemporary North American culture?
For many years I’ve attended – and sometimes spoken at – the Acton Institute’s annual four-day June meeting, “Acton University.” The 2022 meeting will happen June 20-23 both in-person in Grand Rapids and online. I’ll be giving a talk there titled “Christian foundations of science & technology innovation: A story in ten facts.” Here it is:
I’d like to start our reflection together with a question about finding Christian vocation in this tremendously important sector of modern work: science and technology.
Christians today are often told that we must bridge the so-called “sacred-secular divide” by finding divine purpose and mission in our daily work. And that sounds good in theory. It certainly has good support in both Scripture and tradition—from the Apostle Paul to Gregory the Great to Martin Luther and beyond. But where it often runs aground is in our actual experience.
Because, truthfully, our modern work contexts, and even the nature of the work we do in those contexts, seems to many of us—for many reasons—about as secular as can be.
So here’s the vocation question: How can we discover Christian vocation in fields of work that Luther could not have even imagined—let alone the Apostle Paul? In particular, how can modern people of faith experience work in the scientific laboratory or the high-tech firm as Christian mission?
We all know medieval people were ignorant, gullible bumpkins who didn’t even understand the gospel message of grace, right? After all, they believed in a flat earth, salvation by works, and a monastic life completely shut off from culture and society. Uh . . . no.
C S Lewis’s demon Screwtape, writing about how much he just LOVES “historicism”
Today I begin posting from the “Tradition chapter” of Getting Medieval with C S Lewis – or as I’m now less flippantly inclined to call it: Medieval Wisdom: An exploration with C S Lewis.
Though this is not the opening of the chapter, I’d like to start with Lewis’s take on the “presenting problem” when the church begins talking about tradition in the 20th (and now 21st) century:
Lewis states the modern problem
The situation we find ourselves in, where we would even have to defend tradition as a good thing in the Christian church, dates back to Lewis’s day and beyond. In his famous lecture to the Cambridge University audience assembled to witness his installation as the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at that university, Lewis described his own mid-20th-century European setting as one of cultural darkness and amnesia, and himself as a kind of dinosaur—one of the few left in that dark age of wars and rumors of wars. He described himself as a specimen who still spoke the native language of the old Christian Western tradition as a native, and who could thus be a precious resource for a society and a culture that had drifted far from its moorings in the Great Tradition of Christianized Greek thought.
Lewis found this change diabolical, and he made this clear by putting it in the mouth of the senior demon in his Screwtape Letters: “Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so.” The infernal realm had accomplished this, Screwtape continued, by making “the Historical Point of View” into a scholarly dogma. Continue reading →
How and why did Christianity explode on the African continent in the 20th century? The following is an interview I did with the late Dr. Ogbu Kalu of McCormick Seminary for Christian History & Biography’s “African Apostles” issue:
Anatomy of an Explosion It’s an indelible image: the white missionary venturing into deepset Africa. But the real story is what happened when African converts relayed the gospel message in their own words. an interview with Dr. Ogbu Kalu
Taking a close look at the explosion of Christianity in twentieth-century Africa, we meet a remarkable group of colonial-era (roughly 1890 to World War II) apostles who were born, grew up, and ministered in sub-Saharan Africa. We have been inspired and challenged by their stories. We hope you will be, too.
While the story of Christianity’s spread in Africa is nothing less than awesome, it is also nothing more than the work of God, who always uses the foolish things of a sin-scarred world as the building material for his body.
Western missions in colonial Africa proceeded by slow, painful steps. The missionaries’ best efforts were often hindered by cultural misunderstandings, economic abuses, political agendas, and racist presuppositions. While missionaries were picking their tortuous way through the colonial period, indigenous African evangelists and teachers exploded onto the scene like dynamite. Yes, they worked on the same confused, conflicted landscape as the missionaries. Nonetheless, something happened when the gospel was proclaimed under African sponsorship. It revolutionized the continent. Continue reading →
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