I met Greg Ganssle thirty-seven years ago. I was a senior in college and Greg was a young Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU) staff member. We were on the North Myrtle Beach summer project. Greg was the kind and patient (!) discipler for eight of us guys.
Greg has a long-standing interest in philosophy so he eventually got his PhD from Syracuse. He teaches at Talbot School of Theology. Greg writes both scholarly and popular books. His latest, Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations frames this interview.
Moore: Is your goal in this book to demonstrate that the Christian claims are true, or have you staked out different territory?
Ganssle: David, I am not trying to show that Christianity is true. I think most people think something like the following: “I am pretty sure Christianity is false, and I am glad.” I am trying to get at the second part of the claim. I want people to see that, if they think about what they care most about, they will see that they want the Christian story to be true.
Moore: It is all too rare to find Christians who do a good job of shrewdly sneaking up on you with their creative and clever arguments. For me, the writings of Augustine, Pascal, Newbigin, Chesterton, and Lewis are examples worth following. Tim Keller is a good modern-day example, but he is always invoked in this regard, which makes me believe the landscape of the “creative and clever” is far from glutted. Why is there a dearth of this kind of approach to Christian persuasion?
Ganssle: This is a good question. I think many times we speak and write as if the most important thing is convincing someone of the truth of our position. Thus, we tend to focus on arguments and evidence. What we often fail to see is that people are often not persuaded by our presentations. We don’t pay enough attention to identifying the things that constitute a person’s real objections to the gospel.
Moore: I’m sure you know some happy non-Christians. They have meaningful work, good relationships, and are content. My next-door neighbor is like this. How does your book help us address folks like those?
Ganssle: I make the distinction between local meaning and global meaning. On an atheistic view of reality, there is no global meaning. The universe does not care if you are fulfilled. The fact that there is no global meaning, however, does not mean that the atheist cannot find local meaning. Many of our family or friends find real meaning in the people they love, the work they do, and the things they care about.
Moore: Let’s assume the trinity is the correct view of God. Do Christians have an advantage over Jews and Muslims in articulating the beauty and coherence of what they believe?
Ganssle: I do discuss this in the book. One advantage is that on the distinctly Christian picture of God, relationships are part of God’s very nature. God is his own community, so to speak. The fact that our relationships are so fundamental to our lives, then, makes sense. It reflects one aspect of the deepest reality.
Moore: You have some wonderful things to say about goodness and beauty. Why does it seem that many are not so interested in such things. And to be frank, beauty is not high on the list of many so-called Evangelical Christians in America. Why the lack of interest?
Ganssle: There is a long historical answer to this question. With the rise of the Enlightenment, the discussion about God has centered on truth. Believers have entered this conversation and aimed to articulate a compelling case for the truth of Christianity. In the middle ages, truth was linked to goodness and beauty as the “transcendentals.” These were grounded in the very nature of God. I think believers today are recovering a thicker vision of both goodness and beauty, and this trend will solidify our witness to unbelievers as well as our own delight in God and the world he has made.
Moore: What are a few things you would like your readers to take away from your book?
Ganssle: For those who are not yet believers, I would hope they would be prompted to think deeply on their deepest desires and how the Christian story provides a solid base for these. For those who are believers, I hope they gain a deeper appreciation of their own faith. In addition, I hope they become more adept at holding forth the gospel as a vision of life that is intrinsically attractive.
I’ve read several books on Benjamin Franklin, but this is the first on his sister.
Lepore brings all the things we have to expect from her writing, especially the telling detail.
Yes, it’s true. Women in the eighteenth century were discouraged from reading history. What’s the point? History reading is for those who serve in political and educational leadership. Since women couldn’t do those sorts of things in colonial America, what’s the point in them reading history? For a Christian this crass utilitarian notion of learning history is at odds with a faith that is historical in nature.
There are many wonderful insights in this wonderfully conceived book.
My latest interview on Patheos:
My general rule that so far holds up is this: Take the total number of pages of a book and divide by two. If my marginal notes exceed that number, then the book, though I may have some serious disagreements with it, was worth reading.
In this case, Wood’s little book on the American Revolution is 166 pages long. My markings came in at over 150. This was an extremely worthwhile read.
I read a lot of American history, but am always looking for resources to better connect events and people. Wood’s book does not disappoint.
If you are looking for a short book to better understand the American Revolution along with a helpful explanation of the immediate years leading up to the Constitution, it is hard to imagine a better book.
I came up with “Moore’s Law of Literature” about a year ago.
It is quite simple, and so far, always accurate.
Here’s how it works. I take the total number of pages a book has, so in the case of The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, we have 183. I divide this by 2 so 91.5. If the total of my marginal notes exceeds 91.5 then it is a formative book. In the case of The Last Days of Socrates I made 102 marginal notes.
Fortunately, even the modern books I’ve read this past year have all passed the test. If I went back over a lifetime of reading there would be many books that would not.
Journalist and gadfly, Rod Dreher, loves a good argument. If you read him, as I do, you know he can write and has loads of good things to offer. He pushes boundaries at times, sometimes makes incautious assertions, but you are always forced to think.
This is the second book I’ve read by Dreher. A few months back I read The Benedict Option book. How Dante Can Save Your Life was finished on a flight home late last night. There is much I liked about it.
First, kudos to the publisher for an absolutely stunning design. There’s nothing like real books!
Dreher’s book is full of well-written and insightful observations all while using Dante’s Comedy as his conversation partner.
My only major beef with the book is the Mommie Dearest kind of approach. It’s great to have honesty, but Dreher tells us far too much about the conflicts in his home. At times it felt like a Jerry Springer show in print.
Still, there is much to benefit from in reading How Dante Can Save Your Life.
Yuval Levin writes wise, thoughtful, and accessible books. His previous book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, was terrific. And as I said in its review, it is not just for “political junkies.”
The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism can stand on its own, but I would recommend reading The Great Debate as well.
The Fractured Republic is refreshing. Levin is a conservative, but that does not keep him from correcting his conservative kin, especially on fueling an expressive individualism that is just as toxic as those on the Left. Levin believes that conservatives who appreciate the importance of “mediating institutions” like families, communities, and religious groups, is where promise for a better political climate moving forward resides.
Levin rightly sees both conservatives and liberals falling prey to nostalgia, a longing for a bygone era where things were so much better than the present. Both sides need to disabuse themselves of nostalgia in order to see their way forward in making wise decisions in a culture that is different from the past.
Scholars are rarely prophets and prophets are rarely scholars. I was reminded of this in reading the much debated, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.
Rod Dreher, journalist and outspoken Christian, is decidedly on the prophetic side of the scholar-prophet spectrum. This, however, does not mean that he is incapable of helping us better understand the far-reaching and practical ramifications of something as arcane as nominalism.
We must say right out of the blocks that Dreher’s book is not a jeremiad screed to head for the hills. Rather, Dreher advocates for “exile in place.” The preposition is key. We are to cultivate faithfulness with other like-minded folks not simply to hunker down in our religious enclaves. We should form these counter-cultural communities to strengthen our capacity to engage, not escape, our world. This is a clarion call by a gifted writer to let the church be the church.
I have my disagreements with some of Dreher’s analysis and antidotes. With respect to the former, Dreher is insufficiently aware of what the Protestant Reformers meant by sola Scriptura. As Keith Mathison memorably puts it, sola Scpritura does not mean solo Scriptura. Among other things, leaning on the thesis in Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation made for a potted history. Dreher would have been greatly helped if he had availed himself of the work of either Mathison or D.H. Williams, especially his Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: a Primer of Suspicious Protestants.
As to antidotes, I don’t share Dreher’s sweeping denunciation of public schools. For the record, our two sons attended Christian schools, had a few years of homeschooling, and went to public high schools. All three have their strengths and weaknesses. Sure, public schools can be a mess. I saw incompetent teachers and weak administrators, but I also saw bogus rules, unprincipled administrators and mean teachers at the Christian school. My experience, it needs to be noted, was both as a parent and a part-time teacher.
Dreher is rightly concerned about the corrosive effects of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.” I share his concerns. I also share Dreher’s conviction that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” As many have said, the church seems the most vital (and prophetic) when it works from the margins of power. Notwithstanding its shortcomings, Dreher’s book is a good reminder of that reality.