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By In Books, Culture

The Not So Clean Sea Breeze of the Centuries

There is a glorious reformation happening right now in education called Classical and Christian Education. As a teacher in a Classical and Christian school, I am thankful to be a part of this important work. But at the same time, I see temptations that the movement is prone to. One of those dangers is what I would call reverse chronological snobbery. C.S. Lewis (whom I will talk about in a moment) coined the term chronological snobbery and he used it to talk about the fallacious argument which claims that something from an earlier time (e.g. philosophy, literature, etc) is inherently worse than that of the present, simply because it is from the past. There is also an inverse version of this fallacy (some would call it by the same name) which would claim that something from the past (e.g. philosophy, literature, etc) is inherently better than that of the present, simple because it is from the past. Both claims are incredibly dangerous but it is this second error that is particularly tempting to Classical and Christian schools. This error is tempting because the movement has purposefully shifted its gaze back to the past and is trying to bring the best of the past forward. The difficulty lies then in recovering the best of the past without bringing the worst along with it.

In a wonderful essay by C.S. Lewis “On Reading Old Books,” he argues that we need to read old books because they can help us correct mistakes in the thinking of the modern era. We can see things more clearly in older thinkers because they are further away from us. One of the difficulties of our age is that we live in it. It is like we are standing in a forest and trying to see which parts of the forest are good and which parts are dead and dying. Inside the forest, we can see individual trees but it is almost impossible to see large sections of the forest. But if we were out of the forest and looking at it from a distance, it becomes much easier. Distance gives us perspective.

At one point in the essay, Lewis offers a poetic argument for reading these old works: “The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”[1] This is a wonderful and persuasive image that he employs but it is incredibly easy to overemphasize the palliative nature of these old works. The sea breeze of the centuries is not always so clean.

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By In Books, Podcast

Episode 18: The Blessing Life

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Uri Brito interviews Dr. Gerrit Dawson.

Dr. Dawson is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, LA and the author of The Blessing Life: A Journey into Unexpected Joy, IVP Press. In this interview, KC host, Uri Brito, engages Dr. Dawson on the biblical definition of blessing rescuing it from its misuse in evangelical discourse.

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By In Books

What is a Just War?-Book Review

People talk about just war all the time, but rarely is it defined or described. What is a just war? Was Iraq a just war? What about World War II? How does one conduct a just war in the age of terrorism?  Does Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek mean we can never kill? Over the next several weeks I am going to do a series on just war. We will look at just war criteria for going to war and waging a war, the idea of justice and whether or not peace is an automatic indicator that a society is just. We will also consider the connection between Scripture and natural law when discussing just war, historical examples of the just war tradition, pacificism, and many other topics.

When I began studying just war I needed to get my bearings. Everything I knew about war came from talking heads. I investigated book options and found this gem; War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just War Perspective. I bought this book hoping for two things: First, I would get a basic understanding of just war theory.  Second, I would get a lot of footnotes that pointed me to other sources.  This book delivered on both counts. There are other books that will give you more depth on specific issues connected to just war theory.  But if you have never studied just war theory, Charles and Demy’s book is a great place to start.

The authors divide their book into six different sections Just War Tradition and the: Philosopher, Historian, Statesman, Theologian, Combatant, and Individual. They use a question and answer format to describe what just war is, what it is not, some questions that still need to be answered, and the history of just war. They rely heavily on Augustine, Aquinas, Grotius, Vitoria, and Suarez. (I hadn’t heard of the last three either.) They also use a lot of O’Donovan and a current just war writer named James Turner Johnson. They address terrorism, nuclear war, humanitarian intervention, the UN, post war development of countries, non-lethal weapons, “turn the other cheek,” does war violate the command to not kill, did Jesus change our approach to war, is just war only a Christian idea or it can it be found in non-Christian sources, Bonhoeffer’s attempt on Hitler’s life, Ghandi’s pacifism, C.S. Lewis’ writings on war, supreme emergency, the early church on war, including Roland Bainton’s pacifistic reading of the church fathers, criteria for going to war, criteria within a war, private military contractors, ethical development of weapons, Romans 13, etc. The value of this book is how much ground it covers. You will not get an in depth chapter length discussion of each facet of just war theory, but you will get the basic ideas on it. It is an excellent introduction to just war thought, though I doubt any reader will agree with all.

The questions and answers in various sections overlap with questions and answers in other sections thus there is some repetition.  Also, there are areas that I would like more precision and discussion, such as what makes an authority legitimate, but the sources cited should provide answers. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand how Christians and others have defined just war.

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By In Books, Culture, Theology

The Benedict Onion

Don’t get me wrong. I love onions. You can ask my wife. So when I suggest that the Benedict Option is really just an onion I am not saying that it was a terrible book. I am saying that I like it a lot. But I came away from the book wondering: where are the meat and potatoes?

I think Dreher is on to a lot of really good stuff in this book. For example, his call to leave the public school system is wonderful. Yes, Christians should get out and get out fast. I also like how he gets the big issues (Homosexual marriage, the LGBT agenda, etc) and he presses his readers to see how society has turned against Christians. We are in a war and if you don’t see the red dot aimed at you then you need to look in the mirror more often.

Society has run so far from the truth that even little daily things that I do are now extremely counter-cultural. For example, my four year old daughter will tell me that I can’t wear dresses because I am a man. And I say yes, that is correct. She says women wear dresses and I say yes, good. Such simple truth that is apparently so radical. Gosh, I feel edgy. Or another example is all the godly Christian wedding ceremonies that are happening in our country. Each one is a fire shot at larger society. Each one is a bold statement that we do not agree with the intoleristas and that we will resist their confusion tooth and nail.

These kinds of black and white issues offer great clarity to Christians. Just yesterday I saw a Christian on Twitter explain why he is sending his young daughter to a public school: he wants her to experience racial diversity. What a lame reason to send a child into a lion’s den. If you are sending your child to a public school for the reason of diversity then you are inviting the gender bender bologna in and you are part of the problem.

Dreher is good at explaining and warning about the problems. His book is solid on that.

The area where he is weak is his solution, which we have to admit is everything. If you can see a problem but you don’t have a real solution then you aren’t really helping much. It’s like a doctor that tells us that we have a brain tumor and then he writes us a prescription for some vitamins.

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By In Books, Politics

Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World

To make the Christian faith plausible to the secular mind, we either have to (1) de-mystify their Scriptures or (2) re-enchant their cosmos. In addition to the later apologetic being more truthful, it’s also more beautiful. In his new book Recapturing the Wonder (available here), Mike Cosper has written a truly beautiful book—one able to re-enchant the world of even the most jaded modern. Drawing on the work of Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, Dallas Willard, and Thomas Merton, Cosper shows that there is indeed a path—paved in ancient practices—to transcendence in an age of materialism and consumerism. As a High School teacher, I’ll certainly be using the content of the book in classes for years to come. The book is especially apropos for college students. Were I organizing a reading scheme for a CCO/InterVarsity/RUF leadership team, Recapturing the Wonder would be at the top of my list this semester. To whet your appetite, below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Ours is an age where our sense of spiritual possibility, transcendence, and the presence of God has been drained out. What’s left is a spiritual desert, and Christians face the temptation to accept the dryness of that desert as the only possible world. We have enough conviction and faith to be able to call ourselves believers, but we’re compelled to look for ways to live out a Christian life without transcendence and without the active presence of God, practicing what Dallas Willard once called ‘biblical deism’—a strange bastardization of Christianity that acts as though, once the Bible was written, God left us to sort things out for ourselves.”

“Technology has given us the sense that everything within the universe can be made to appear to our senses and harnessed for our purposes. It may be meaningless, but it can be comprehended and mastered. This mastery, though, is a bit of an illusion as well. The accumulated body of scientific knowledge can tell us all about the canvas, oils, and minerals that combine to make a work of art, but they cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

“We hunger for that kind of know-how, for a relationship with Scripture that leads to something deeper than head knowledge. We long for wonder, and we long for communion with God, but we’re so afraid of getting something wrong that we either avoid Scripture altogether or treat it as a cold, dead abstraction, unable to connect it to real life.”

“In a disenchanted world, we have our own overarching narrative, and its cornerstone is progress—a sense that the world is moving from disorder to order, that humanity is improving not just biologically and evolutionarily but morally, intellectually, and spiritually.”

“The power of habit is in the way it tunes our body and soul to anticipate a return to the rhythm. We’re primed for it, and when we’re starved of it, we’ll feel pangs of hunger.”

“Regular is a word that needs some redemption in our modern usage. We’re so used to superlatives that we tend to be dismissive and suspect of the ordinary. We don’t want regular; we want super-sized awesomeness. But regular is a good word, and it’s important to embrace it in two senses here. Regular means ordinary. But regular also refers to time. We need solitude to be regular in the sense that it’s repeated— a rhythm we return to as Jesus did.”

“Consuming is about possession, and consuming something uses it up. The end goal of a fast food meal is a pile of empty wrappers. The end goal of most consumer products is obsolescence. We are not meant to dwell with cars, smartphones, and running shoes—not for long, anyway. These things are meant to be used up, and once used up, disposed of or recycled into something new.”

“Reading about the lives of saints, I don’t see immovable giants. Instead, I see Merton falling in love with a nurse and having an affair. I see Brennan Manning fighting a life-long battle with alcohol abuse. I see Charles Spurgeon and Martin Lloyd Jones—two of the greatest preachers in the English language—fighting lifelong battles with depression. But Merton came home to the monastery, Manning died declaring ‘all is grace,’ and Spurgeon and Jones kept preaching the gospel… Somehow, grace abounds in a world full of sorrows.”

“Follow Jesus if you must, seek the face of God if you must, but don’t be surprised if, after a while, it feels like you’ve been battling angels in the darkness. Seeking God’s face in a fallen world is not the easy life; it’s the good life.”

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By In Books, Podcast

Episode 9, What Should a Pastor Read?

What should a pastor’s reading list and library look like? Should his reading be limited to serious theological tomes and commentaries?

In this episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Pastor Uri Brito explains how our patterns and choices in reading can reflect a more Trinitarian approach that includes a broader variety of reading.

Subscribe to the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast on iTunes and Google Play.

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By In Books, Culture, Theology

How Optional Is The Benedict Option?: A Brief Review

“It may be the devil,” one Nobel laureate has opined, “or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

There is an irony, then—and a difficulty—in the title of Rod Dreher’s latest book, The Benedict Option. He paints a bleak picture of Christianity’s future in a “Post-Christian” nation, barring a radical shift in the American Church’s self-understanding. “Is the Christianity we have been living out in our families, congregations, and communities a means of deeper conversion, or,” Dreher worries, “does it function as a vaccination against taking faith with the seriousness the Gospel demands?” (12). If the latter proves true—as Dreher suggests—then at many points the way of life he presents under the auspices of “the Benedict Option” seems like the only viable alternative to cultural and ecclesial death in America. That is to say, the Benedict Option is not, strictly speaking, optional. That fact is not so much a difficulty for Dreher, though, as for his critics.

Dreher really had little choice but to orient his book to the pre-existing scheme of a “Benedict Option,” since it was the tapestry of lively and controversial discussions around the “Option” that created the demand for the book in the first place. Meanwhile, his own understanding of the Option seems never to have been confined to the historical person of St. Benedict or his rule for monastic living. He refers to Alasdair MacIntyre’s discussion of a bankrupt and decrepit Roman society, out of which St. Benedict emerged. “Saint Benedict had taken the proper measure of Rome. He acted wisely by leaving society and starting a new community whose practices would preserve the faith through the trials ahead” (18). Benedict, then, is a fitting figurehead for a Church preparing to radically adjust its way of living in the West. The life may not be optional in Dreher’s mind, but it seems safe to assume the name is. As a result, critics who fixate on the absence of Benedict or Benedictine practices from whole sections of the book will miss engaging with Dreher and his true intentions.

A Benedict Option way of life is one committed to creating and living within ‘parallel structures’ or a ‘parallel polis,’ “separate but porous societ[ies]…in which the truth can be lived in community” (93). Dreher sees these markedly Christian societies existing alongside the dominant sociopolitical order, but engendering a distinct identity among their members. “Think of teachers who make sure kids learn things they won’t get at government schools,” Dreher suggests. “Think of writers who write what they really believe and find ways to get it to the public, no matter what the cost. Think of priests and pastors who find a way to live out religious life despite condemnation and legal obstacles, and artists who don’t give a rip for official opinion. Think of young people who decide not to care about success in society’s eyes and who drop out to pursue a life of integrity, no matter what it costs them. These people who refuse to assimilate and instead build their own structures are living the Benedict Option” (95). Christians aren’t being tortured and killed in the U.S., but in a nation where many Christian University campuses aren’t distinguishable from secular ones and where church services feature Memorial Day sermons on Ascension Sunday, a little cultural antithesis might be in order.

Another reviewer points to a real ambiguity in Dreher’s thinking at this point: are “Christians called to sustain communities of faithful witness within a powerful but hostile Empire for decades and centuries to come, or are we called to establish havens of order and virtue in the chaotic ruins of a collapsed civilization until we can rebuild strong cultural and political institutions?” The answer, I think, is two-fold. If, on the one hand, the exact nature of this option is at times ambiguous, it may be due to the fact that the option encompasses the whole of life. In that sense, it is not easy to wrap one’s mind (or a few clever sentences chapters books around). In that sense, too, it is not, strictly speaking, optional. At one point, Dreher shares this snippet from a conversation about the B.O.: “People are like, ‘This Benedict Option thing, it’s just being Christian, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes!…But people won’t do it unless you call it something different. It’s just the church being what the church is supposed to be, but if you give it a name, that makes people care” (142). If, then, ‘Benedict Option’ is simply code for orthodox Christianity, one might expect it to adapt (without compromise, of course) to every new age, as the Church has always done. (more…)

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