Life-Long Learners 20.0

Twentieth in an expert series on must-read books.

September 21 st 2012
Life-Long Learners 19.0 Life-Long Learners 21.0 (~Oct. 26)


Comment remains one of my favourite journals, publishing thoughtful pieces on a wide variety of subjects, often asking how best to think as Christians and what practices emerge from our reflections about God's redemptive work in the world. Readers care about a lot of stuff, and want to learn how to live in these times fruitfully and faithfully.

Of course, as a bookseller, it is a joy to talk about books that might be of interest to this exact sort of engaged, open-minded, and discerning reader. Here are a few choice titles that Comment readers might enjoy.

Herman Dooyeweerd

Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy: Collected Works Series A—Volume 5/1

Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy: Collected Works Series A—Volume 5/1 by Herman Dooyeweerd (Paideia Press, 2012)

Many who have served as the core leaders for Cardus, especially in its earlier days as the Work Research Foundation, were animated by serious philosophical work they did in previous decades, inspired by a quirky, obscure, and yet remarkably generative Dutch philosopher, Professor Herman Dooyeweerd. Dooyeweerd visited Ontario a few years before his death in 1977, and to this day, some of those taken with his dense thinking have been busy translating his prodigious volume of work. With a grant from the Kuyper Foundation in the Netherlands, as well as funding from the Free University of Amsterdam, we are seeing long-awaited fruit from places such as the Dooyeweerd Centre for Christian Philosophy at Redeemer University College. This book is the first of a trilogy on Scholasticism, among many that will be in "Series A" which will include major works of Dooyeweerd. (Other series, B, C, D, will eventually include smaller works, collections of essays, reflections on Dooyeweerd by others, and thematic selections.) So here we have one in a set which is part of series A. A fitting complex publishing schema, perhaps, for such a detailed philosopher.

Dooyeweerd, you should know, exposed how the modern experience of dualism—sacred versus secular, as we say—developed, over a long and complex series of philosophical accommodations, from the body versus soul dualisms of the early centuries of the Christian era. These, he takes great pains to show, are directly related to the influential legacy of the form versus matter dichotomy of Plato and his precursors. These is a reason Cardus is still seen as a pioneering effort—developing a uniquely Christian mindset about faithful practices for the marketplace and all spheres of public life, mixing spirituality and economics, faith and city planning!—and that is because (among other things) the Greek philosophers despised the human body and denigrated daily work. It is no wonder, standing in the line of such anti-Biblical ideas, our culture has had a mixed view and distorted experience of our lives in God's material world. So Dooyeweerdians, like other cultural critics with long-standing philosophical traditions, insist that we study the Greeks.

This first volume of the three-volume work first appeared in 1949 in Holland and has been translated here by Ray Togtmann, the late Robert Knudsen, and Daniel Strauss. Al Wolters edited all the Greek quotations—itself an nearly immeasurable task. These scholars have done important work here and it will remind many of the earliest days of our movement, when Dutch blue-collar workers and farmers gathered to study the pre-Socratics, when "bunglers and visionaries" dared to dream of new social initiatives for Canada and beyond, inspired by the detailed thinking of Dooyeweerd and his brother-in-law, Vollehnoven. Thanks to Kerry Hollingsworth for his work bringing these heavy 375 pages to us (at such an affordable price.) Talk about a "transcendental" critique! This encompassing and penetrating work demonstrates how the great philosopher understood the deepest motivation and direction-giving ground motives of the seminal Greeks, up to and including Plato.

Order from Hearts & Minds Books

A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good

A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good edited by David Gushee (Chalice Press, 2012)

Just off the presses, this is another contribution to the development of an evangelical public perspective that is something other than the religious right, and somewhat different than the older social gospel orientation of the mainline denominational perspective sometimes called the Christian left. Although many of us find dissatisfaction with this basic, ubiquitous framework—left versus right, conservative versus liberal—it has shaped the public imagination. For those who realize some of the weakness of the religious right (especially in its American version, from its days under Jerry Falwell and its hardball political manifestations now in the Tea Party movement) there has been a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. Rather than a right-wing Christian movement, younger evangelicals have tended to embrace a left-wing perspective. From friends in the so-calle "Red Letter Movement," to Sojourners, to the "new monastics," there have been helpful and passionate reminders of the call to serve the poor, work on ways to bring peace to conflict, and a strong emphasis on creation care. But is a progressive Christian vision, even if evangelical, adequate? Are they offering serious policy proposals that have wise and prudent practical edges, or is it mostly moral grandstanding, good rhetoric but not much on-the-ground policy? Is "we are not the Christian right" really an adequate basis for the common good?

Although some of the authors of this book may not want to see themselves necessarily as a voice of the "Christian left," it certainly has that tone and it is reasonable to see it as such. For starters, it includes well-known left-leaning authors like Sharon Harper (who works for Sojourners) and emergent, post-evangelical leader Brian McLaren. It carries a serious endorsement from liberal op-ed pundit E. J. Dionne. There are pieces about equality and gender and torture and peace-making, not the standard fare of the Moral Majority. And it is, after all, called a manifesto.

But looking more carefully, I would suggest that while this book may see itself as a socially liberal manifesto, even a prophetic one, denouncing idols and injustices, it offers excellent, mostly non-partisan reading for consideration for any person of Christian conviction who desires to think about current social issues in light of basic Biblical truths. Several of these meaty but accessible chapters offer refreshing insights and shouldn't be caricatured as tired, liberal counter-claims to the Christian right. There is some important stuff here, offered up for the church to reconsider her public voice and as a new evangelical contribution to the common good.

David Gushee, the editor, is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University. He is known by many who read Comment (including our friends at the Washington DC-based Center for Public Justice.) As a progressive, evangelical Baptist, he is not unaware of the neo-Calvinist tradition and the contributions of Cardus hero, Abraham Kuyper. But he is equally fluent in the works of Baptist forebear, Walter Rauschenbush, say, and the likes of Leslie Newbigin or Miroslov Volf. He has co-written with his friend Glen Stassen, who took over the Lewis Smedes chair at Fuller Theological Seminary (and who has a good chapter included.) Gushee co-founded the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and it is out of this NEP initiative that this book comes.

The first part of the book covers ground that is not uncommon these days—how did the evangelical church in the United States get so entangled with partisan Republican politics? How have we allowed the culture wars to shape our views, often more so than our fundamental loyalty to Christ's own Body, his Church? How have younger evangelicals, especially, grown weary of the conflict and the politicization of the gospel? What would it look like to find a thicker view of Christian discipleship in but not of the culture of consumerism and ideology?

Six different authors share their stories and reflections here, including pieces by NEP co-founder Steve Martin (on the church) and Cheryl Johns (on the "disenchanted text.") There is a moving piece by Richard Cizik who worked for years as a public-policy staffer for the National Association of Evangelicals, but was forced out of that job because of his desire to be just in his views about civil treatment of homosexuals and his outspoken concerns about climate change. He tells about being shell-shocked from the fall-out after an NPR interview, losing his job, and yet insisting that we should all be open to changing our minds about things. His story is a morality tale in many ways, a case study of the peculiar sort of politics favoured by the conservative wing of the church in recent years. He is a good man, and this is a good chapter. It reminds us of the themes of this first section: We must think more carefully and act more boldly, in ways that are faithful to the fundamental principles of God's Kingdom, even if it gets us in some hot water and causes us to experience loss and uncertainty.

The second and third parts of the book are the more significant portions, though, with readable, serious contributions to how Christian citizens might think and act in fresh ways on a handful of concerns and issues.

Part two offers expert advice on reaching out to those who are marginalized and may have specialized needs. This focus on ordinary sensitivity and advocacy in our daily comings and goings—how we care for those of other races, children, those trafficked and commodified, such as immigrants—is wonderful. A bit of reading like this may offer just the right bit of extra insight to motivate us to take greater risks in being good neighbours or to join projects to alleviate injustices or poverty.

The third part offers proposals around contemporary policy questions. There is good work here; not the final word, of course, but helpful insights about "common good" politics, and ways for Christians to think faithfully on topics such as abolishing nuclear weapons (by Tyler Wigg Stevenson of the Two Futures Project), overcoming global warming (by Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network), and standing fast against torture (penned by David Gushee who drafted the 2007 Evangelical Declaration Against Torture). It is good to see a clear commitment to reducing abortion in this section, and the chapter by Charlie Camosy of Fordham University is sure to stimulate debate as he draws on "conservative" and "liberal" narratives to make a case for common ground and cooperation.

I wished for more from many of these authors, but at just over 250 pages, the book has plenty of interesting reflections, good insights, and stimulating discussion-starters to make it ideal for any number of uses, from adult-education classes to book clubs. As Ronald Sider writes, "You need not agree with everything here to recognize this volume as a ringing summons to more faithfully follow Jesus's call to radical discipleship. This book helps us do that."


The books listed above are all available from Byron Borger's bookstore—Hearts & Minds Books.

 

Byron Borger owns, with his wife Beth, Hearts and Minds Bookstore in central Pennsylvania. He is also an associate staff member of the Coalition for Christian Outreach.

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