Ancient Greece versus Ancient Rome: Which one is preferable?
Mary Beard’s book on Roman History is terrific. SPQR is the famous Roman catchphrase Senatus Populus Que Romanus or The Senate and People of Rome. If you know anything about Mary Beard (perhaps via BBC specials) you know this Cambridge professor is as feisty as she is brilliant. Her writing is magnificent. She knows how to tell the stories of ancient Rome in a way that are accessible and entertaining.
Some who are able to spin a good yarn are not careful with the details. Beard goes no further than the evidence will allow for telling this story. In other words, she does not traffic in speculation or try to fill in details we would love to have, but simply do not.
She does include details that make the story interesting throughout, but these are details we can be pretty confident of. For example, did you know that ancient Rome had one million inhabitants and that no city would have that many people until the nineteenth century?
Ancient Roman history is extremely relevant to the hurly-burly of twenty-first century America.
I will be interviewing Professor Karen Swallow Prior next month, but this is a terrific interview on what great books can do for us:
Quite a bit, it turns out.
The second century was a time when Christianity was challenged by many philosophies and religions. Because of this volatility, Michael Kruger, in his wonderfully conceived overview of the second century, convincingly shows that it has much to say to our own situation today.
Kruger’s book fits a huge need as the second century has been largely ignored.
Among other things, this was the time when key defenders of the Christian faith arose to give articulate and persuasive arguments.
Kruger’s book also does a terrific job of showing that the canon was largely determined far in advance of Nicea.
Kruger is thorough without being pedantic. He is a skillful scholar who knows how to write clearly.
I interviewed Joe Loconte on his terrific book. You can find it here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/10/03/tolkien-lewis-loconte/
Now the book has been made into a documentary. Wonderful to see!
When I used to teach at a Christian, high school, I put the following equation on the blackboard during the first day of class. I called it “The Tragic Equation of American Christianity.” It does not just hold true for high school students!
In big, bold letters I wrote A+B+C+D=E.
I told the students that each letter represented a word. At first, they were quiet and reluctant to guess. I helped them with A which stands for anger. For B or boredom, a student guessed correctly. When that happened, the proverbial dam broke. These students definitely resonated with my equation.
The rest of equation looks like this: Anger+Boredom+Cynicism+Disillusionment=Empty
I’ve been spending some focused time as of late pondering why so many Christians resonate with this equation. I regularly have conversations with Christians who candidly admit to things like disillusionment and boredom. For the most extreme, we have the new moniker of Dones, those who are “done” identifying with a church, yet still self-consciously holding on to Christian beliefs.
I had lunch with a friend last week where we talked a bit about why many church attenders simply want some inspiration for their week, but are apathetic about engaging with God’s Word and uninterested in His mission. Among other things, these folks don’t appreciate how much they are missing out. It is a great joy to see your feeble, fallen self used by God for His glory.
I interact with many Christians who have little curiosity about growing in their understanding of the Christian faith. There’s really no need because they are not involved in ministries that require resources beyond their natural abilities. They are plenty capable of living their lives in their own strength, or so it seems for now.
Most reflections later…
In a conversation with my wife this morning, she made me wonder whether McCain’s death may have a bigger effect than his life. It made me think of Samson in Judges 16:23-30, esp. v. 30.
23 Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.”
24 When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying,
“Our god has delivered our enemy
into our hands,
the one who laid waste our land
and multiplied our slain.”
25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.
When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
BRILLIANT DESCRIPTION, TROUBLING PRESCRIPTION
I’ve read two of Seel’s other books. He is an insightful thinker and clear writer. He has much to offer.
I looked forward to reading The New Copernicans. I’m sorry to say it is not a book I can recommend. Here’s a few reasons why:
*The New Copernicans (roughly the millennial generation) are the ones that the church must now listen to. Though I resonate with some of the concerns The New Copernicans (hereafter TNC) have with American evangelicalism, I have my disagreements as well…at least with the stereotyped view of them that Seel offers.
The problem is that TNC have much to learn from other aged believers in the church as well. Seel says that older Christians may help TNC love the church again, but that is about the only positive contribution that is mentioned.
*Every age sees things others don’t, but they also miss critical matters. Seel seems to think the former is all that is relevant with TNC.
*When Seel speaks of TNC he speaks in broad or monolithic categories. Some millennials are in fact very interested in doctrinal fidelity and the Bible being upheld, things that Seel never entertains as possibilities. We are simply told in sweeping generalities that TNC are characterized by things such as a desire for experiences and are critical towards those who judge others.
*The old error that description does not equal prescription is an error that Seel seems to fall into throughout his book. Seel offers terrific descriptions of our cultural change and what TNC desire, but never questions whether they are wrong.
*I was hoping Seel would offer exemplars of an older generation who seem to be sensitive to TNC while maintaining a commitment to orthodoxy. Instead, folks like Rachel Held Evans, Peter Enns, and Frank Schaeffer are featured. I wonder how Seel would rate Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright (he does approvingly quote him), and Eugene Peterson, to name a few.
As one who has read most of the conversation partners Seel holds up (Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith, and Lesslie Newbigin), I am sad to say that The New Copernicans was not the book I was hoping for.