Thursday, September 6, 2007

Popular Christian Literature as a Reflection of an Intellectual Crisis

Save the withering brains! The top 50 Christian bestsellers according to http://www.cbaonline.org/ as of 9/6/06 have rather interesting statistics. While these categories are mine, they still communicate the point I am trying to make.
The categories of the top 20:
Christian Living: 4 books
Popular Fiction: 5 books
Inspirational Stories: 2 books
Study Tools: 2 books
Self-Help: 2 books
Motivational/Prosperity Gospel: 1 book
Relationship Help: 2 books
Theology: 1 book
The Bible paraphrased into 96 pages (yikes...): 1 book

Seems fairly evenly distributed, but here's where it gets sad....

Book Numbers 21-50:
1 Apologetics book
1 Christian classic
1 Study Tool
1 "Beginner's Bible"

Everything else in 21-50 (that's 26 books) falls into either the categories of Christian Living, Popular Fiction, Inspirational Stories, Self-Help, Motivational/Prosperity Gospel, or Relationship Help.

A shining gem of popular Christian literature can be found on the back cover of Joyce Meyer's book, "The Battlefield of the Mind". At first, I thought that perhaps Joyce was going to take a stab at discussing worldviews and/or apologetics. Then I read this:
"Overcoming negative thoughts that come against your mind bring freedom and peace".
This claim suggests (unintentionally, but nonetheless...) that positive self-talk is the key to being a "good little Christian" as if living in a sea of blissful ignorance is the ultimate goal! Not only is this inherently dangerous, it is outright unbiblical! Statements such as this are such a reflection of the anti-intellectualism movement within the church (generally) this day in age.

It is also worth mentioning that all three study tools are the "KJV Standard Lesson Commentary" which is commonly used in children's Sunday school classes.

Are there this many brand new Christians out there? I do not believe so. I believe at issue is the presence of unchallenged Christians who are under the delusion that reason is bad and faith is good. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive to the anti-intellectual movement. Believing this false dichotomy produces spiritually stunted Christians who are nearly incapable of maturing in not only faith, but discernment and understanding as well! An army of this kind can hardly be expected to hold its own in the world while the battle goes on unencumbered by thinking, mature Christians.

Why is it that Christians are largely more interested in reading inspirational non-fiction and feel-good fiction instead of, for example, a good, meaty book on defending the Christian faith against opposing worldviews? (Hint: it is along the same lines as why channel surfing is usually preferred over being productive)

I argue that this kind of reading is the reader's TV. It dumbs you down, is easy to get through, entertains you, and makes you feel good. The only lasting benefit is that it perhaps can improve your vocabulary.

However, a meaty non-fiction book on philosophy, theology, apologetics, or even an old fiction book clothed in rich philosophical allegory, such as an Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn work will be quite the opposite.

It will challenge you, will sometimes be difficult to wade through, and is usually far from anything resembling a feel-good text. The lasting benefits include: increased brain function, improved speech and vocabulary, greater intellectual discernment, and more patience in study among various others.

Challenging reading sadly is not popular because it is not easy or fast.
This mentality has produced a crisis in Evangelical Christianity which must be remedied or counteracted.

32 comments:

Tim said...

An Educational Test

Many college graduates—perhaps a majority of them—are not educated.

What is the test?

The test in question is this: Do you read books that you cannot understand easily? Books that require to be read slowly and deliberately? Books that you know are beyond your capacity to understand fully?

If you do not, you are not educated; you do not have the temper and habit of an educated mind; you are not a student.

Do people who fail to meet that test think that they are educated?

No. Such people do not think.

Cassius Jackson Keyser, Mole Philosophy and Other Essays (1927), p. 27

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Tim:

Excellent comments you give. And what an obscure source! I have never heard of it. J.P. Moreland says much the same in Love Your God With all Your Mind: read books that are outside your discipline and over your heard.

Sarah:

You nail this issue to the wall. One minor point: you used a semicolon where a colon was needed. Check Elements of Style by Strunk and White (a modern classic) for the distinction; it subtle, but significant.

Best,
Doug

Aaron Snell said...

>Ahem< I believe, Doug, you mean it's subtle, but significant.

How am I doing in Curmudgeonry? :)

Sarah Scott said...

Tim,
I like that! It is one I have written down and intend to hold on to.

Dr. Groothuis,
Thank you! The semi-colon is now a full-fledged colon.

Tom Gilson said...

Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind was a good illustration of this point, Sarah. It's been used in my church, so I've seen some of its content. Like others of its type, it centers much of its message around 2 Corinthians 10:1-6, "taking every thought captive"--meaning specifically, taking every negative, un-faith-full thought within our own minds captive to the obedience of Christ.

I'm not sure this is necessarily wrong as a secondary application of that passage. It's surely wrong to present it as the primary meaning, though. The passage in context is about "destroying strongholds and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God." It's about theological and philosophical battle, with a goal of conquest (which wouldn't resonate well with your "Indoctrination Into Relativism" prof, now, would it? ;) ).

I'm a strategist for a major mission organization. In the United States, I see three areas where we most need to penetrate: the urban family, the growing immigrant population, and perhaps more than either of those, the mind of America.

Philip Jenkins wrote recently in Books and Culture of reconversion. American Christians need a reconversion to a Christian mind. I'm not so much distressed with the Dawkinses and the Harrises and the Dan Browns, as I am with the fact that they have been so successful, saying things that are so easily countered. Their latest books should have all been laughed out of Barnes and Noble. But the general culture doesn't know this. And the church isn't explaining it, because the church isn't awake enough to know!

I don't begrudge the reading of good Christian fiction for a moment. It's as important to the mind as apologetics is, I think. And there are some really top-notch Christian growth authors: Henry Cloud, Dallas Willard, and others. But man, there are a lot of people out there writing the same self-help book over and over again--different titles, different illustrations, but the same book...

And the publishers put up with it. You and I know why they do. (We need a reconversion.)

Jon said...

Excellent post. I know not everyone likes to read actually stimulating books (or read period). However, the church should challenge those who do read to do as you say (and challenge those who do not read to begin the discipline). I, for one, find no basis for anti-intellectualism in the Bible.

To be fair, anti-intellectualism is pervasive throughout our culture; it is not just in evangelical churches. Thank you, TV: You think for us!

righteousness first said...

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to disagree with you. I personally think that as Evangelical Christians we ought to keep reading books by fundamentalist presses such as Zondervan, IVP, and to some degree Baker, which are by nature not intellectual.

It separates us from them. That was what my brother, who studied Duke Divinity School, told me. He said that all the fundamentalist presses were "anti-intellectual" because they failed to dialogue with the so-called intellectualism. I responded that I would rather be an evangelical than an intellectual, because we operate in two different planes. We believe in the Bible and they believe in rationalism, and rationalism is only useful when it supports our agenda.

Sarah Scott said...

Righteousness first:
I respect what you are saying, however you could perhaps look at the ministry of Paul to realize that he was an intellectual of the highest caliber. While he obviously evangelized, he did so while having a range in intellect which reached everyone from the least educated person to the highest educated people. He did not "Bible bang", so to speak, to those whose philosophies created barren land for the seeds to fall. He plowed the ground with intellect.

Sarah Scott said...

Tom,
That is good to know, coming from a mission stragegist! Thanks

Jon,
Largely true! Although I would argue (politely) that the world is more generally "non-intellectual" and the church is largely anti-intellectual. The difference being one is passive and one is active.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Righteousness First is confused. IVP, Zondervan, and Baker publish many intellectual books (as well as others), including several of my own.

There is noting nonChristian about being an intellectual if your thinking is done to the glory of God and according to a Christian worldview. We should not be willing to give the "intellectual world" over to pagans.

Tim said...

Doug,

Thanks for your kind words. You are a wonderful encourager, and that is a very special thing to have in a friend.

I ran across Keyser while ransacking the Vanderbilt library for reading material when I was a grad student. It was love at first sight -- not because I agreed with every one of his opinions, but because I could tell immediately that this was a kindred mind, that he saw some of the same truths and deplored some of the same pervasive falsehoods and popular fallacies that I did. Over the years I've collected a few of his books.

Want a guest post on your blog featuring some of his best, most curmudgeonly quotations?

righteousness first said...

Sarah:

I appreciate your email, but I'm not sure I agree. I've heard the arguments about Paul being an intellectual (he spoke "Lycian", Acts 17, he studied under Gamaliel, etc.)--but I'm not sure if I buy those arguments. Frankly Paul's Greek is pretty bad, and when I read Paul I don't get the sense that his writing is as intellectual as Dost., Kant, or even Camus. To me, saying Paul is a great intellectual because of scattered references is like saying he's a great architect becuase he visited temples, stadiums, etc... In the end, though, I don't think it matters
whether Paul was an intellectual. Surely some biblical authors were, though, while others were great athletes and cooks.

Maybe you're right Dr. G., but it seems like Christian intellectualism is a thing of the past. In looking over the recent college rankings, the highest conservative school, Wheaton, was only like #50. The other 49 schools with higher SAT scores seem to be where most intellectual action takes place. Further, most were Christian schools at one point, but as they became intellectual they became less conservative. Sure there are a few conservatives who got PhD's at Harvard and Yale, but I'd say that the pedigree is pretty rare at Evangelical/Fundamentalist institutions. We seem to have different values: holistic formation, different publishers, journals, and eschew the non-Christian intelligensia in my opinion.

It seems that fighting this hopeless battle is about as important as fighting the battle to make sure Christians can beat eggs the best, shuffle a deck fastest, or be the best bikini model. Those are all good things to be best at, but I'm not sure it's super-duper important.

Sarah Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah Scott said...

Righteousness First,
If you are learned in Classical Greek, then yes, most of the New Testament seems to have poor grammar. However, the COMMON form of Greek the vast majority of people (including Paul) spoke was Koine Greek. Letters were not written in Classical, but in Koine. Paul's Koine was absolutely stellar and grammatically correct.

Also, I do not believe that achieving high grades is equivalent to posessing intellect. I would agrue that the two do not depend on each other, though usually related. True intellectual genius involves high intelligence, true, but also immense wisdom and critical thinking. Academic pedigree helps, but is not everything. Friend, I agree that an intellectual unable to explain themselves to anyone is not very useful. However, I would say that true intellectualism "stands on the shoulders of giants" to see farther, as Sir Isaac Newton would say, then stoops to help others up. It is far from a hopeless battle. Please do not belittle it to card playing, and especially not bikini modeling.

righteousness first said...

I suppose it's fine then that we disagree on what constitutes intellectualism. The way you define Christian intellectualism is how I would define evangelism or pastoral teaching; to me, intellectualism involves scholarship at the so-called elite level. I just don't see many Christians who do that: Volf and Plantiga are the only two names who come to mind. I would say that I agree with you that there probably are a few Christian intellectuals who didn't score a 1500 on the SAT's or didn't get a PhD at Harvard who teach at some Ivy League school. I don't the professors at these places.

I just think as Christians we shouldn't say we're intellectual because we don't care to operate in that sphere. My brother went to Duke for his master's, which is sort of "second-tier" school and no longer believes in inerrancy. Inerrancy is matter of faith, not intellectualism (contra this article by Moreland). Intellectualism made him liberal.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be the one to say it, but biblical proof-texting and its attendant slavish literalism, which is so evidently one of your core assumptions (yours, and most of the posters on this blog), is anti-intellectual.

- Rodney, from Fuller Seminary

Tim said...

Rodney,

This is a classic example of a drive-by criticism -- all aspersion and no premises.

One needs to go five posts down on this blog, to the post on biblical illiteracy, to find a quotation from Scripture. I realize that this point of view might be unpopular at Fuller, but a non-literal reading of 2 Timothy 3:15 isn't going to cut much ice on this blog, where readers remain unpersuaded that ιερα γραμματα refers to the latest outpourings from Deepak Chopra, Nancey Murphy, Brian McLaren, or Rodney Clapp.

In my opinion, a distressingly high percentage of what goes on at Fuller represents the sort of pseudo-intellectualism that gives serious scholarship a bad name. That includes shallow and uninformed criticism of views one has not taken the time to understand properly.

righteousness first said...

Rodney:

Tim is correct, and I think he speaks for all fundamentalists. Just because Fuller prof's are more respected, they are liberal. We take a bold fundamentalist stance and reject any criticism of our beliefs. We hold to inerrancy and none of your pseudo-intellectualism.

I agree with Tim's approach, too. You need to be rejected outright. We reject Fuller's prof's, PTS prof's, and all other liberal scholars. They may have Harvard PhD's, but they have never examined our position seriously.

The Bible says it's inerrant (because it is God-breathed) and that is enough. All claims otherwise were refuted by B. B. Warfield.

Excellent rebuke Tim!

Sadly, Rodney is yet another example of intellectualism. He's studied at a "more-credible" environment than our Evangelical schools and wants to engage in the broader dialogue with academia rather than simply placing one's absolute trust in the Scriptures. I, too, reject intellectualism and all its wiles.

Singing Owl said...

Read my very unintellectual post to find out about my K Mart experience. I linked to you. Thanks for this straightforward post.

Anonymous said...

Yikes, I make one short comment, and everyone jumps on the anti-Fuller bandwagon...

Tim,
I don't take issue with this blog's (and Const. Curmudgeon's, et. al.) use of Scripture to back up its arguments. Obviously, if you're a conservative Christian you hold the Bible in the highest regard as a source for God's wisdom and truth. I'm just not comfortable with the way Scripture is being used. It isn't some magical book of sayings or a compendium of proverbs that can be wrenched out of their context and applied to any given argument. Its writings are profoundly conditioned by the time, place and, let's not forget, intended genres, of their authors. Much as I disagree with Righteousness First (although I must admit, I appreciated the backhanded compliments), he's on the right track when he aligns your positions with fundamentalism and anti-intellectualism.

Perhaps you would be better off calling what you're trying to do here "critical thinking", "sharp-mindedness" or "meditation" rather than "intellectual"? The latter's connotations are really too broad for the attitudes and assumptions on display here. You're right, I am a "pseudo-intellectual" who doesn't know all that much and who argues poorly. But at least I'm willing to be recognized for what I am.

-Rodney

Tim said...

Rodney,

Actually, I think you simply haven't made your case and that it is, in fact, indefensible. The people who comment here -- and you did characterize us more or less en bloc -- come from different perspectives. RF, for example, has a distinctive sort of fundamentalist perspective; Doug Groothuis has the perspective of a Christian academic with an earned Ph. D. from a secular school who teaches at a seminary; Sarah has the perspective of a thinking young Christian college student attending (apparently) a secular school; I have a different perspective from any of these. We doubtless have various disagreements among us. RF, for example, is down on Duke because his brother went there and lost some of his convictions, whereas I would be down on particular faculty members at Duke (not all of them) because their scholarship does not meet high standards. RF thinks they're too intellectual; I think they're not intellectual enough. But despite our differences, we see some of the same truths, and Sarah has in a number of her posts given them an articulate expression. That's why we comment here.

You bundled us together and suggested that we exhibit a propensity for the sort of "proof-texting" and "slavish literalism" that are "anti-intellectual." But one size doesn't fit all. And the proof-texting claim just looks silly. Yes, sure, the books of the Bible were written at particular times and places. The inference from this to the conclusion that Sarah's use of them is in some invidious sense "proof-texting" is, however, not the outcome of any conspicuous line of argument.

I can't help wondering whether you're confusing liberalism -- theological and perhaps political as well -- with intellectualism in its most general (and not necessarily pejorative) sense.

righteousness first said...

Rodney:

This is precisely what my brother (who went to Duke) tells me. Conservativism and intellectualism do not match because we are not in the same dialogue. I'm comfortable with saying that I believe in the inerrant word and that's enough. To prove this, one could ask how many so-called elite universities read famous evangelism/apologetics books by Moreland and Groothuis in secular elite universities. There's your answer. We try to promote the Kingdom of God and they promote intellectualism. Let us not confuse ourselve that we are actually engaged in the task; it's only a surreptitious attempt at vainglorious pride to say that we actually dialogue with so-called intellectuals. I just scanned the last five years of the AAR magazine and the JBL magazine and how many fundamentalists (who believe in the innerrant word) are published? Zilch!

I fear that you are undermining the mission of the church. The buck needs to stop somewhere and you should just trust in the hope-providing message of the Bible. That was enough for Paul.

In any case, intellectualism is a trivial pursuit when we have the pure milk of the word. Let's just defend it and make disciples as Tim, Sara, Dr. Groothuis, and myself try to do.

righteousness first said...

Tim:

Actually I would agree with him about proof-texting. I think that this is our approach and we need not be ashamed of it.

Rodney:

I appreciate your humility, though. None of us are intellectuals: none of us graduated from some top school with a PhD none of us publish in "serious" journals either. We all just believe that the Word is the ultimate rule.

Sarah Scott said...

Tim,
Thank you for your response to Rodney! As always, I greatly appreciate your expertise, intellect, and encouragement.

RF,
I disagree, while simultaneously hating to continue this. But, this cannot be overlooked. Dr. Groothuis and Tim who I am sure is a PhD are both extremely gifted intellectuals. While you and I may have no such claim, they deserve the respect and recognition of being effective, intellectual, warriors for Christ.

righteousness first said...

Here's my point. I looked up intelligentsia on Dictionary.com and it said "intellectuals considered as a group or class, esp. as a cultural, social, or political elite" and "Intellectuals who form an artistic, social, or political vanguard or elite."

I don't thing that they are unintelligent, ineffective, inarticulate, uneducated--far from it!!! Rather, I would say that we are not part of the so-called elite claque of Ivy towers. What goes on there is unchristian and we have a different dialogue with a different audience.

Given my definition, I have no intention of disrespect against them or evangelicalism. I'm just trying to snuff out what I believe are pernicious forms of liberalism in the church; and saying that we ought to be intellectual (or that we are) is like saying that we should be or deny inerrancy, like Fuller.

Perhaps the main issue is that I am misunderstanding what constitutes the intelligentsia in liberal America. That's probably the case as you pointed out Sara.

Anonymous said...

Tim,

Point taken, and internalized: I did lump a bunch of disparate viewpoints together in my last post, and for that I apologize. That argument wasn't very relevant anyway.

Strangely, your arguments have pushed me into an unlikely alliance with Righteousness First. He sees clearly that the movement called "Intellectualism" is far different from what you advocate. "Intellectuals" roam the halls of elite universities and public policy centers. They drive the culture, and, yes, they tend to be more liberal. How did they secure such an estimable position? Did they unfairly usurp power from religious conservatives? I think they just made better arguments, and were smarter. That isn't to say their conclusions are always spot on.

Sure, there is a general sense of the word "intellectual", something akin to liberal-mindedness, but I would be careful in using it to describe what you're doing, because the word evokes the connotations I just mentioned and can cause some people to become confused and dismayed (case in point: RF). It seems like you and Sarah are more interested in encouraging Christians to develop a more thoughtful faith, which is great. But let's make sure we're projecting what we're really about.

- Rodney

Tim said...

Rodney,

Apology accepted. However, we seem to be fated not to agree on the wider set of issues! But perhaps this is just a matter of differences in the uses of the term "intellectual."

If by "intellectual" one means someone who is fully supported at an elite (Ivy League?) university or a well-funded policy center, there are relatively few conservative intellectuals. Having, however, seen the arguments of people who meet this set of criteria, I have to say -- contrary to the characterization you gave -- that a surprisingly high percentage of these intellectuals are not very intelligent and do not make good arguments. They perpetuate their own kind, however, by social mechanisms, a sort of institutional inertia. And this is perhaps part of the explanation for their inability to see the paucity of their own arguments. Within the halls of academe, their reasoning is rarely or never challenged.

If, on the other hand, by "intellectual" one means someone who has a Ph. D. from a respectable institution in a recognized scholarly field and teaches graduate courses at a secular research university, publishes articles in (perhaps inter alia) leading journals, publishes scholarly monographs with respectable presses, reviews both articles and book manuscripts for leading journals and presses, and is invited to give talks and participate in symposia at top schools and meetings of the national professional organization, then the scope of "intellectual" is somewhat wider and you would find that there is not quite so much ideological uniformity as under the previous definition. Arguably, people who meet most or all of these criteria are not anti-intellectuals in any invidious sense of that term, whether they are employed by Harvard or not.

That is not by any means to say that all of these latter folks -- call them I2 intellectuals -- are terribly bright; it is certainly not to say that all or even a majority of them are conservative. But the institutional insularity of the I1 intellectuals effects greater uniformity of opinion than is found among the I2 types, who are spread out across a wider geographic area. Such, at any rate, has been my experience.

Sarah, Doug and I are interested in encouraging Christians to dig in and read difficult books, to learn things that require discipline and an extended commitment of time, to put down the fluffy self-help literature and pick up that Greek grammar or that history of science or that great but now forgotten work of apologetics -- in short, to improve their minds. And we would like to lead by example. Sure, few people will rise to the heights of scholarship. A talent on the order of F. F. Bruce, Bruce Metzger, Colin Hemer, or Martin Hengel is a rare thing. But to bring the evangelical community even to the point where they are more likely to read a book with solid content and sound reasoning -- something by Groothuis or Moreland or Craig rather than by Chopra or McLaren or James K. A. Smith -- requires that there be some people who take leadership and show people how to separate the intellectual wheat from the mind-numbing postmodern chaff. We are all, I suppose, in training for that; it is a life-long learning curve. But we do our best, where we are, with the tools and education and abilities at our disposal.

Anonymous said...

Tim,

Thank you for the thoughtful post. I do see your point about "I2" intellectuals, even though I still disagree with using that term to describe them.

I suppose for me it's a matter of relativity: that you're pushing for greater clarity and rigor of mind in the Christian world is better than nothing, especially when, as Sarah noted, most Christians are spoon-feeding themselves drivel with the books they read. However, I still find suspect the caliber of thought and scholarship you're suggesting as an alternative. Groothuis, Moreland, and Craig are only marginally better than Chopra, McLaren or Smith - and that is likely due to their stance rather than their method or particular "intellectual" giftedness. I just don't understand why these guys and others like them merit the attention they're getting here. Instead, why not suggest some of the great classics from the Western tradition, like Aquinas or Augustine? Or, something more modern like Barth or Robert Jensen? Or even some of the "postmodern" writers you disparage. Part of being a true student, a thinker, is learning from a wide range of people with widely divergent viewpoints. We as Christians shouldn't limit our studies to only those we think are right. Maybe we'll learn something new.

And that brings me to my final point: being a first-rate thinker means that you're still searching for all the answers, because even though you've found some, you know that there are more out there you haven't got. It doesn't mean you have a certificate saying that you've arrived and your search is done. That's nothing but arrogance.

-Rodney

Tim said...

Rodney,

Well, we've isolated at least one significant point of disagreement. You write:

Groothuis, Moreland, and Craig are only marginally better than Chopra, McLaren or Smith - and that is likely due to their stance rather than their method . . . .

I could not disagree more vigorously. The latter trio are doing real damage not only by their positive pronouncement but also by their method -- by their failure to define their terms, to make appropriate distinctions, to lay out their arguments and analyze the arguments of those they critique, to take a stand where the evidence warrants it. It is in no small part in the area of method that the contrast between the two groups is greatest.

I am all in favor of reading great dead authors -- Augustine and Aquinas are two great examples. I would also add a few more names of my own to that list: Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr (particularly the Dialogue with Trypho), Origen (particularly the Contra Celsum), Eusebius, Gregory the Great, and Alfred the Great (particularly the preface to his translation of the Cure Pastoralis), just for starters. I would also earnestly recommend a careful reading of some of the great Christian writers of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries: William Chillingworth, Hugo Grotius, John Tillotson, Charles Leslie, Jacques Saurin, Samuel Chandler, Thomas Sherlock, Richard Bentley, Thomas Stackhouse, Joseph Butler, George Berkeley, John Leland, Nathaniel Lardner, William Adams, George Campbell, John Douglas, Richard Watson, William Paley, Alexander Campbell, Thomas Chalmers, Archibald Alexander, B. B. Warfield, Richard Whately, Thomas Cooper, Lord Gladstone, and J. B. Lightfoot, to name just a few of the writers I have been enjoying immensely over the past year.

I was reflecting late last night on the odd twist this discussion has taken with respect to the terms "intellectual" and "anti-intellectual." Though I stand by what I said above regarding the narrow and wider use of the term "intellectual" (and it seems that this may be one of our rare areas of agreement), my principal concern in this discussion is that you seem to be concerned to label people as anti-intellectual, a term that clearly carries negative connotations, when I think that is unwarranted.

Finally, though I do think that serious students of theology must read Barth, my personal opinion is that the primary value of such reading is for an understanding of the history of 20th century theology rather than for any profound insights that Barth has to offer. He offers at times a powerful kerygma, but the epistemic weakness of his position makes him a bruised reed. Sure, if theology is our calling, let's read Barth and Brunner and Bonhoffer and Bultmann and Tillich and Marxsen. Let's go back and read Reimarus and Paulus, Schleiermacher and Strauss, Baur and Bauer. But if we are recommending reading to edify the intelligent Christian who is not a theologian, these are not good recommendations.

As for postmodernism, I paid my dues in that department when I took my doctorate in the 90s. I have read more of the postmodern literature than it would be good for anyone to read again. If you think that my comments about it arise from casual acquaintance or bewildered distaste, you are very much mistaken. I like your closing remarks framing the life of the mind as an ongoing quest; I would like them even more if the previous paragraph had not suggested that you do not have clear criteria for sorting worthy works from intellectual poison.

Tim said...

Rodney,

Two clarifications: First, that's Curæ Pastoralis, the common short name for the Liber Regulae Pastoralis. Second, I realized on re-reading what I had written that I seemed to be claiming that Bonhoffer would not be good reading for the non-theologian. That is not an impression I want to let stand: though I have disagreements with Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship is well worth reading.

Papa Giorgio said...

Out of the almost 1,800 books I have read, these are my favs. I have yet to meet someone who has read Yellow and Pink by the author of Shrek, and that’s a kids book!


1. Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions About the Christian Faith, by Norman Geisler & Peter Bocchino

2. Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air, by Francis Beckwith & Greg Koukl

3. Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas, by Daniel J. Flynn

4. The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As a Basis for Social Policy, by Thomas Sowell

5. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, by Nancy Pearcy

6. Why I Am a Christian: Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe, ed. Norman Geisler & Paul Hoffman

7. The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led To Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, by Rodney Stark

8. Legislating Morality: Is it Wise? Is it Legal? Is it Possible? by Norman Geisler & Frank Turek

9. The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis, by Robert George

10. The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, by Richard Tarnas.

11. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict: To Answer Questions Challenging Christians in the 21st Century, by Josh McDowell

12. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, by Russell Kirk

13. Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights, by Francis Beckwith

14. The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement, ed. Francis Beckwith, Carl Mosser & Paul Owen

15. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) , by Robert Spencer

16. To Everyone an Answer: The Case for the Christian Worldview, ed. Francis Beckwith, William Lane Craig & J. P. Moreland

17. Does God Believe in Atheists? by John Blanchard

18. Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing, ed. William Dembski

19. The Big Argument: Does God Exist – Twenty Four Scholars Explore How Science, Archaeology, and Philosophy Haven’t Disproved God, ed. John Ashton & Michael Westacott

20. The Death of Right and Wrong: Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values, by Tammy Bruce

21. Black Rednecks and White Liberals, by Thomas Sowell

22. The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools, by Martin Gross (tied for this spot is Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add, by Charles Sykes

23. Ten Philosophical Mistakes, by Mortimer J. Adler

24. The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayek

25. Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America, by Thomas G. West

Bonus ~ True Tolerance: Liberalism and the Necessity of Judgment, by J. Budziszewski

righteousness first said...

Tim and Papa:

Excellent Reading suggestions that are solidly conservative and evangelical for the most part. Glad to see brothers who are not of the world, but stick to conservative literature that often advocates evangelicalism.

Tim: I noticed that you mentioned a few liberals, but I could tell that you wanted to make sure you disagreed and wouldn't glean much from them. Thank you for your extremely cautious approach when playing with fire. Tillich should only be read by a person doing a PhD in theology as you hinted.