Stuck in the Present

A RUDDERLESS PROFESSOR

Not just professors are rudderless morally. All kinds of people who do all manner of jobs are rudderless. Highlighting the moral vacuity of a professor is not meant to say the whole profession is rudderless. Hardly.

Here first is Harvard’s Louis Menand:

Reading Weinstein and Montás, you might conclude that English professors, having spent their entire lives reading and discussing works of literature, must be the wisest and most humane people on earth. Take my word for it, we are not. We are not better or worse than anyone else. I have read and taught hundreds of books, including most of the books in the Columbia Core. I teach a great-books course now. I like my job, and I think I understand many things that are important to me much better than I did when I was seventeen. But I don’t think I’m a better person.

And here is Alan Jacobs commenting on Menand’s essay:

Menand is so transparently impatient with the arguments of Montás and Weinstein that he gets similarly confused at several points in his essay. For instance, to Montás’s claim that Nietzsche is “Satan’s most acute theologian,” Menand replied that “Nietzsche wanted to free people to embrace life, not to send them to Hell. He didn’t believe in Hell. Or theology” — or, presumably, Satan. But maybe Montás believes in Satan, which would, surely, be the point.

The chief point I’m wanting to make here is simply this: There’s something rather peculiar about a scholar who proudly disavows using professional teaching and study for personal moral formation and then says, as though he’s clinching a point, that his professional teaching and study have not contributed to his personal moral formation.

 

DON’T TALK ABOUT DEATH!

“When I came to Yale, I had lunch with a senior prof. He suddenly put down his fork, looked at me bewildered & said: ‘The strangest thing about Yale is that no one here talks about the fact that they’ll die.’ 3 weeks later he died. That comment still runs on repeat in my head.”

Jennifer Banks, Sr. Editor at Yale University Press

Tweet, Oct. 5, 2020

CURIOSITY

There are bad types of curiosity. Roger Shattuck wrote about that type in Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography. Ironically, for all its brilliance, Shattuck’s book should be read selectively, if at all, as it contains things that are defiling and so not worthy of one’s full attention.

As a Christian, I believe there is a godly form of curiosity. I wrote about its importance in my latest book, Stuck in the Present: How History Frees and Forms Christians. I’m afraid too many Christians don’t see the need for developing a godly curiosity about the world, themselves, or even the God who created them. It is the curiosity that wants to engage the world, better understand history, stops to wonder why there are so many colors when no real pragmatic benefit comes from such variety, and much more.

F.H. Buckley has written a marvelous book, Curiosity and its Twelve Rules for Life. Buckley teaches at George Mason’s law school. He has wide-ranging interests, so he models what he is writing about. Buckley also has some wise warnings about dangerous forms of curiosity, but most of the book is dedicated to unpacking what healthy forms of curiosity look like.

I highly recommend this well-written and insightful book!

ENJOYING THE BIBLE

Matthew Mullins has written a terrific book. Mullins teaches English and the history of ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

The subtitle offers a better feel for what Mullins is seeking to do: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures. Mullins deftly shows how the ability to read and appreciate poetry makes one a better reader of Scripture. After all, the Bible is not all prose. There is much poetry. 

Enjoying the Bible is an extremely well-written and motivating account of how to better read the Bible. 

Those who have little understanding of how genre functions may be stretched a bit but carefully working through Enjoying the Bible will be well worth the effort.

HOW TO DETERMINE A CHURCH’S SPIRITUAL VITALITY

My good friend, Tim, asked me how I determine the spiritual vitality of a church. There are many important questions to ask, but the two below have always cut through the fog for me. They have never failed in giving me a good idea of a church’s true health.

*What does your church’s ministry of prayer look like? How does the weekly schedule show its priority? How many attend? What is prayed about? Is there a godly desperation manifest in the prayers?

*Is there an emphasis on comprehensive discipleship/Christian formation? Does it address a full-orbed list of areas like aging and apologetics, theology of work and missions, etc.?

WHAT IS MISSING IN MANY CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORES?

Below are the categories one Christian bookstore lists for the books they carry. Having been in many Christian bookstores, the example below is not unique. There are some important categories that are missing.

I imagine that they have put history, theology, and apologetics under “academics,” but see what they are saying by doing so? These areas of study are viewed as a hobby of sorts for the more cerebral Christian. They are no longer viewed as areas that all Christians must study.

  • Christian Living
  • Children’s Books
  • Family & Relationships
  • Men’s Books
  • Church
  • Devotionals
  • Women’s Books
  • Charismatic
  • Spirituality
  • Personal Growth
  • Biographies & Autobiography
  • Arts & Photography
  • Poetry
  • Teen & Young Adult
  • Gift Books
  • Academics
  • Business & Investing
  • Cooking

BEST BOOKS OF 2021

Many other books could be on this list, and I did not include the dead authors who pushed and prodded in various ways (Tolkien, Chesterton, Augustine, even Marx).

In past years I have recommended a long list of my best reads for the year. This year, I decided to recommend only four books. There are many others I could recommend, but I thought it best to reduce my favorite reads to four so as not overwhelm you with possibilities for Christmas gifts!

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy

My interview is here:

We the Fallen People: An Interview with Robert McKenzie

Why We are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment

My interview with the authors can be found here:

Why We Are Restless

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers

Wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated, and balanced in the best sense of that word. And no, the author does not present a soft and squishy God!

 

TOP TEN CHRISTMAS SONGS FOR ATHEISTS

The criteria: Songs cannot have any mention of God, Jesus,

angels, saints, or miracles. Not even in Latin.

10. White Christmas

9. Jingle Bells

8. Sleigh Ride

7. Silver Bells

6. We Wish You a Merry Christmas

5. Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

4. Santa Baby

3, Carol of the Bells

2. Winter Wonderland

1. Deck the Halls. It’s totally gorgeous. It’s unrepentantly

cheerful — jolly, one might even say — with just a hint of

that haunting spookiness that makes for the best Christmas

songs. It celebrates all the very best parts of Christmas: singing,

 playing music, decorating, dressing up, telling stories, hanging

around fires, and generally being festive with the people we love…

And it doesn’t mention God, or Jesus, or angels, or virgin births,

or magical talking animals, or redemption of guilt through blood sacrifice,

or any supernatural anything. Not even once. Heck, it doesn’t even

mention Christmas.

https://www.alternet.org/2010 + Add New Category /12/10_best_christmas_songs_for_atheists/

MICHEL FOUCAULT

This is a terrific introduction to the thought of Michel Foucault. When I say “introduction” that certainly does not mean this is an easy read. Watkin does make his extensive learning more accessible, but Foucault is not the easiest person in the world to comprehend.

I knew a bit about Foucault from other books but had not read him directly. Watkin does a good job of laying out several of the critical ideas to Foucault’s thought.

In the second half of the book the author does a stellar job of showing how the Christian faith best responds to Foucault.