“Bisogna saper leggere”: “You must know how to read.”

JLukacsA few week’s ago, “The Federalist” in its weekend edition (what they call their “longreads” feature) linked to this powerful essay by ninety-four year old professor, historian, and author John Lukacs.

In “Surrounded by Books” Lukacs writes about the influence books and reading had on him from his childhood in Budapest, Hungary and subsequently throughout his life in the United States. He refers to the modern age as the “Age of Books,” and I tend to agree with him.

But he also writes with pain about the decline of books and reading – and words and writing. But he writes with hope, ending his essay with these closing thoughts – good food for the mind on this Thursday night:

What Cicero was supposed to have said 2,000 years ago (“All I want is a book and a garden”) and a literate Englishman 200 years ago (“A study full of books is worth more than a purse full of money”) were statements from a long-faded past. But it was not until the end of the 20th century that the disappearance of large numbers of readers finally led to drastic changes in the publishing of all kinds of reading matter, very much including books. The massive influence of pictures and images had already preceded that (the movies). But the death of the Age of Books, and of newspapers and magazines, was, indeed, television, followed by the Internet. Already by the early 1990’s, many weeklies, magazines, journals, and quarterlies ceased to exist. Entire large and traditional publishing houses went out of business. Others cut their staffs to minimums. Bookstores began to disappear. In most schools there still was a minority of good students. Even they read very little.

All of these transformations may suggest one momentous change: the declining effect of words. “In the beginning was the Word”—and at the end of an age? The incredible spread and availability of communications holds little promise, because communications are only instruments of transmissions. Meanwhile, a great and deep consequence of the declining human respect for, and therefore the function of, words is the increasing evidence of the weakening of attention, seen in more and more spheres of life.

Still, history is unpredictable. God writes straight with crooked lines. And things are never quite as bad (or as good) as they seem. Books will always exist. Jefferson’s category of the educated minority, on whose existence the prospects of civilized mankind depend, is no longer enough. To educated we need to add interested. The very impulse of human attention depends on human interest, a quality often involved with humility, with our capacity of seeing beyond ourselves. This awareness sometimes issues from reading.

In 1955, Harold Nicolson wrote, “I am confident that in coming generations the proportion of uninteresting people will be much diminished, whereas the proportion of interesting people will increase.” In 1950, the great English bibliophile Holbrook Jackson (borrowing from Aldous Huxley) declared, “the proper study of mankind is books.” I am uncertain about the first of these statements, but not about the second. Now consider that Jacob Burckhardt and Johan Huizinga, two of the greatest historians of the Age of Books, wrote their most famous histories less for professional academic historians than for what in their lifetime could still be regarded as an educated and interested public. And when on occasion someone asked Burckhardt how best to study history, the great man answered in three words: “Bisogna saper leggere.”

“You must know how to read.”

Published in: on December 14, 2017 at 10:52 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Death of Scholarship – Commentary

This powerful article on the current state of scholarship in the major universities and colleges of the U.S. appeared in the online version of Commentary magazine on Nov.13, 2017.

In it, author Warren Treadgold speaks forthrightly about how the left in America has taken control of the academic world and with its “progressive” ideology removed not merely the voice of conservative thinking (and any contrary thinking) but also the opportunity for conservatives to speak. They have done so by killing any true scholarship.

While the author’s point has broad application in the academic world, it also has narrower application for those of us who are Christians and function in the academic world. But it also has implications for all Christians and their voice in the “public square.”

Below are a few segments from Treadgold’s piece; find the rest at the link above.

Leftist professors have no such inhibitions. In their opinion, there can be no legitimate reason for scholarship except to pursue “the concerns of the present” and conduct “a search for new meaning and a rigorous testing of old bromides.” The works of Shakespeare or any other great men are of no use except to illustrate currently fashionable ideology. Moreover, since the only point of scholarship is to advance ideology, questions of accuracy are irrelevant. In combating racism, sexism, classism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, elitism, and other evils, the genuine study of literature, political science, philosophy, history, art, and religion is quite incidental. Scholarship done for nonideological purposes, perhaps especially if it faithfully represents the past in its own terms, can only serve to reinforce an unjust society and culture.

This attitude inevitably dominates not only academic scholarship but also college teaching. In 2015, the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni denounced Republican efforts to cut funding for higher education by describing how he had been “transformed” by a marvelous course in Shakespeare he took from an outstanding teacher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the mid-1980s. He promptly heard from his old teacher, now at the University of Pennsylvania, that such courses on “dead white men” are thoroughly out of favor in English departments today. “Shakespeare,” she told Bruni, “has become Shakespeare and Film, which in my cranky opinion becomes Film, not Shakespeare.” She advised him to look at the current course offerings of Penn’s English department—“Pulp Fictions,” “Sex and the City,” “Global Feminisms,” “Comic Books and Graphic Novels,” “Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Film,” and “Literatures of Psychoanalysis.” The sort of class that Bruni loved 30 years ago is not the sort that universities now teach.

“Or-di-nar-y”: Lonely But Precious Word – M. Horton

ordinary-MHorton-2014A book I wanted to read when it first came out a few years ago is Michael Horton’s Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). Last week in a thrift store I found a clean used copy and this past week I started to read it.

Chapter 1 (“The New Radical”) is where I will start with you too, because that’s where Horton decries the trendiness of modern evangelicalism with its “Radical. Epic. Revolutionary.” (the opening words of chap.1) – that is, her excitement with all things new and “extra”-ordinary .

There are so many good points and lines in this opening chapter, but I give you these for now.

‘Ordinary’ has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, ‘My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary?’ Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, and has ordinary friends and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured, and maintained. We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works. [p.11]

A few pages later Horton expands on these thoughts:

American Christianity is a story of perpetual upheavals in churches and individual lives. Starting with the extraordinary conversion experience, our lives are motivated by a constant expectation for The Next Big Thing. We’re growing bored with the ordinary means of God’s grace, attending church week in and week out. Doctrines and disciplines that have shaped faithful Christian witness in the past are often marginalized or substituted with newer fashions or methods. The new and improved may dazzle us for the moment, but soon they have become ‘so last year.’ [p.16]

As we end another week, let’s be grateful for the ordinary Christian life God has given us. As we go through another ordinary Sunday, attending our ordinary churches, where we worship in very ordinary ways, hearing ordinary sermons on the ordinary Word of God, let us thank God for such common, regular events and experiences.

Because when you think of all this “ordinariness” in terms of God’s grace and mercy to us sinners, it’s all actually quite extraordinary.

2017 in light of “1984” (the book, that is) – G. Orwell

This past week at a quartet practice (Voices of Victory), we were discussing the current events in our country, particularly the “progressives'” attempt to erase U.S. history through the destruction of monuments and the rewriting of history books. It was then that one of our members pointed out a powerful quotation he had seen that day from George Orwell’s book 1984.

This is what he had seen posted:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

Certainly has a strikingly familiar ring to it, does it not?

There is, of course, also a biblical perspective on these times:

And because iniquity [lawlessness] shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. (Matt.24:12)

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim.3:1-5)

Which means, we are called to live in hope of the coming of our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, with eager waiting and careful watching:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:34-36)

Giving an Answer – August “Tabletalk”

The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) uses 1 Peter 3:15 as the basis for its focus on Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord.

You will remember how that text calls us to this:

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

And so the theme of this issue is “Giving an Answer.” Editor Burk Parsons introduces the theme with his article “Searching for Truth.”

The ten featured articles respond to questions often raised by questioners in the world today: Is the Bible the Word of God?, Does God Care?, Is There Only One Way of Salvation?, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?, to give you but a few.

The opening article is by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, and it answers the question “Is There a God?” Here is part of his excellent answer:

➝ 1 God the Creator is the only solution to Gottfried Leibniz’s and Martin Heidegger’s ultimate riddle: “Why is there something there, and not nothing?”

Ex nihilo nihil fit—“Nothing comes from nothing.” Let us note that nothing is not a “pre-something”; it is not “something reduced to a minimum.” Nothing is NO thing, no THING. Nothing—a concept impossible for the mind to comprehend precisely because nothing lacks “reality” in the first place. To transform Rene Descartes’; famous dictum Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) we can say, Quod cogito, non cogito de nihilo (Because I am, I cannot conceive of nothing). That leads to another Descartes-esque thought: Quod cogito, ergo non possibile Deus non est (Because I think, therefore it is impossible that God does not exist). The cosmos, my existence, and my ability to reason all depend on the fact that life did not and could not come from nothing, but requires a reasonable and reasoning origin. The contrary (time + chance = reality) is impossible. Neither time nor chance is a pre-cosmic phenomenon.

➝ 2 This God must be the biblical God, for two reasons. The first is that only such a God adequately grounds the physical coherence of the cosmos as we know it. Second, His existence is the only coherent basis, whether acknowledged or otherwise, for rational thought and communication. Consequently, the nonbeliever of necessity must draw on, borrow from, indeed intellectually steal from a biblical foundation in order to think coherently and to live sanely. Thus, the secular humanist who argues that there are no ultimates must borrow from biblical premises in order to assess anything as in itself right or wrong.

Source: Is There a God? by Sinclair Ferguson

Browse around on the Tabletalk page at the Ligonier site and benefit from the variety of articles found there on our calling to “give an answer” to those with questions around us – even the atheists and skeptics.

O, and the daily devotions this month are on the Reformers’ doctrine of the church! Tolle Lege!

The Place of Entertainment in Our Lives – M. Wittmer

TT-July-2017As already noted here this month, the July 2017 issue of Tabletalk takes for its theme “Entertainment.” The final featured article is by Dr. Michael Wittmer, who teaches systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary here in town.

In “Glorifying God and Engaging Entertainment” Wittmer answers two questions relating to the Christian’s proper use of entertainment – when to engage it and how to engage it. When he answers that first question of “when,” he points out that we may enjoy entertainment regularly. But to that he also adds this adverb: selectively.

Under that second point he has some good thoughts that I share with you today.

Besides the amount of time spent on entertainment, we must also consider its location [place in our lives]. Solomon says there is ‘a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted,’ and so on (Eccl.3:1-8). There is a time to create and a time to consume what was created. Let’s not give our most creative moments to passively consuming entertainment. I am most productive in the mornings [I can relate to that!], and I guard that time from videos, websites, and even books that don’t require my best. I try to devote my peak periods to creating content – I’m writing this sentence in the morning – rather than consuming what someone else has produced.

When are you most fresh? Protect this time, and its regular structure will supply space for your creativity to flourish. Use this time to produce things and to serve people for the glory of God and the benefit of your neighbors. Create until you run out of steam, then refresh yourself with a song, story, or other creation that someone else has produced.

isn’t that a helpful point to guide us in when to use entertainment? I don’t think I ever looked at using leisure time that way before – using it to be creative and productive instead of just using someone else’s creativity and productions. I find that insightful and instructive.

Now, about the two appeals to “common” grace in this issue in defense of the Christian’s use of entertainment: I would also like to comment on that in the near future, because grace and entertainment certainly have an intersection; it’s just not “common.”

The Internet Is Not a Library

As a librarian in an academic institution (PRC Seminary), I appreciated these brief but pointed thoughts of pastor Kevin DeYoung yesterday about the fact that the Internet is not to be viewed or treated as a library.

He takes his starting point in a new book by Tom Nichols, which is one I would like to pursue.

Below are a few paragraphs from his post. I encourage you to read the rest, especially the next paragraphs, because there he states rather bluntly how the Internet is to be viewed and used.

I’ll have more to say about Tom Nichols’s excellent new book The Death of Expertise in the days ahead, but for now I want to underline one important observation he makes.

Namely: “The Internet . . . is nothing like a library” (110).

In the recent conversation about who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere, I saw in at least one place that the blogosphere was likened to a great big library—a place where diverse viewpoints are housed, a place where people come to seek truth, a place where ideas are not censored and readers need discernment. Without wanting to deny these general points as they relate to Christians in the blogosphere, I believe it is a necessary part of discernment that we realize the internet (of which the Christian blogosphere is a part) is nothing like a library.

Yes, a library has many different volumes. And yes, we can go there to search for answers and acquire knowledge. But a library is a highly curated collection of knowledge. We have a Michigan State University librarian in our church. She has a master’s degree in library science. She oversees a section of materials related to European history. She is constantly reading through journals and periodicals to find the most important new books to purchase. She also gets rid of old stuff that has proven to be relatively worthless. She is also a wealth of information when people have questions about where to find the best, most important stuff. She doesn’t have an ideological grid when it comes to what goes in the library, but she does have an expertise grid. Almost all the books that get into a library like MSU’s are by people with credentials, with academic positions, or with institutional legitimacy.

Source: The Internet Is Not a Library | TGC

His comments reminded me of the coffee cup I keep on my library desk. I believe I showed you this once before, but this post gives me opportunity to do so again. 🙂

World-tilting Truth: God is Wise

If Creation is an act of unimaginable power, it is no less a work of immense wisdom. Every vast and staggeringly complex movement issues from His mind. He needs no manual, counsel, or outside authority.

…When you watch those marvelous nature specials [on TV or the Internet], you are beholding an exhibition of God’s wisdom. Though the narrator blathers on about ‘Mother Nature,’ you should know better. These are the works of God’s hands, and He made them all in wisdom (Ps.104:24).

….God has both an infinite array of facts at His command, and infinite wisdom concerning the meaning, significance, and weight of all those facts in every possible arrangement. He has that knowledge, because He created them and rules over them.

All of this is also a world-tilting truth. The current mind-set makes much of the supposed meaninglessness of ‘life, the universe, and all that.’ The common subtext of many media’s storylines is that life is meaningless in itself; that we must choose our meaning and define ourselves. But history itself has no aim, meaning, or purpose.

This truth [that God is wise and possesses perfect wisdom] demolishes that notion, insisting that we have neither the right nor ability to redefine the universe, since it is a created universe, and since every fact has a value assigned to it by the Creator. Including us. We have neither the right nor ability to assign meaning to the universe. Its Author is the one who assigns definition and meaning. At best, we discover and uncover that meaning.

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsTaken from Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011), Chapter 4 “The God Who Plans” (Kindle version).

In this chapter, Phillips is preparing the way to introduce God’s amazing salvation plan for lost sinners fallen in Adam (see my previous post on this book). He discusses three of God’s attributes – holiness, love, and wisdom – to explain how they come together in His sovereign purpose to save sinners – that’s chapter 5 – next time! The above quote is from the section where he treats the wisdom of God, especially as it relates to His work of creation.

 

Time to “Reset” (The Grace-Cure for Burnout) – David Murray

Reset-DMurray-2017A brand new title of interest to our readers is Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017). The author is David Murray, pastor of the Free Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI and professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, also in Grand Rapids, MI.

I received my review copy last Friday and over the weekend started to dig into it by reading the introduction and browsing its contents. As the publisher’s description tells us, this book confronts head on a common problem, especially among men:

“How did I get here?”

These are the words of many Christian men on the brink of burnout or in the midst of breakdown. They are exhausted, depressed, anxious, stressed, and joyless. Their time is spent doing many good things, but their pace is unsustainable— lacking the regular rest, readjustment, and recalibration they need.

But there is good news: God has graciously provided a way for men to reset their lives to a more sustainable pace. Drawing on personal experiences—and time spent counseling other men in the midst of burnout—David Murray offers weary men hope for the future, helping them identify the warning signs of burnout and offering practical strategies for developing patterns that are necessary for living a grace-paced life and reaching the finish line with their joy intact.

The Table of contents reveal the specific ways in which Murray addresses the issue of burnout (and you will immediately sense how practical this book is):

Introduction

Repair Bay 1: Reality Check
Repair Bay 2: Review
Repair Bay 3: Rest
Repair Bay 4: Re-Create
Repair Bay 5: Relax
Repair Bay 6: Rethink
Repair Bay 7: Reduce
Repair Bay 8: Refuel
Repair Bay 9: Relate
Repair Bay 10: Resurrection

Want a taste of what Murray says is the “grace-cure” for the press and stress of life? Listen to these words from the introduction, where the author points to five “deficits of grace” that cause us to burnout. The first two are a lack of motivating grace and a lack of moderating grace. He brings the two together in this paragraph:

Without motivating grace, we just rest in Christ. Without moderating grace, we just run and run – until we run out. We need the first grace to fire us up when we’re dangerously cold; we need the second to cool us down when we’re dangerously hot. The first gets us out of bed; the second gets us to bed on time. The first recognizes Christ’s fair demands upon us; the second receives Christ’s full provision for us. The first says, ‘Present your bodies a living sacrifice’; the second says, ‘Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.’ The first overcomes the resistance of the ‘flesh’; the second respects the limitations of our humanity. The first speeds us up; the second slows us down. The first says, ‘My son, give me your hands’; the second says, ‘My son, give me your heart.’ (p.13).

Sound like something you would like to read and review for the Standard Bearer? If so, let me know.

And if you simply want to read it, the Seminary library has a copy and the Seminary bookstore has a few for sale. I know I will be reading it all the way through this year. I believe the author’s message is one I need – and I don’t think I am alone.

Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year

Back on February 22, 2017 this informative article appeared at The Federalist website. Written by senior contributor Jennifer Doverspike, the article is a call to read entire books in addition to all the short reading we do on the Internet and elsewhere.

While it is easy to keep quoting statistics on the decline of reading and lamenting its demise, we have to keep encouraging ourselves and our children to read books. So take this article that way too. Find the positive inspiration from what this writer says to read an entire book this year. And while you are at it anyway, read more of the same!

Here are her opening points:

I encounter this meme a lot on social media: “Surprising Book Facts!” It begins with the disturbing statistic that 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives and ends with saying reading one hour a day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in seven years.

Needless to say, there are some major difficulties with this graphic. You can even say the proliferation of this meme demonstrates why we should turn away from silly shares on Facebook and instead read a real book once in a while.

Misleading statistics aside, reading has indeed declined in the last few decades. The Pew Foundation reports that as of March 2015, 73 percent of Americans read a book at least partly in the previous 12 months, a figure lower than the 79 percent reported in 2011 but statistically in line with more recent years. This reading can be in any format—print, electronic, or audio.

Comparing to past decades, that number has dropped. Gallup polls from 1978 reported 88 percent of Americans had read a book at least partly in the past year. The numbers were 81 percent from a 1990 poll, and 85 percent from a 2001 poll.

But Doverspike also adds these thoughts to point us in the right direction:

In “Life Together,” World War II-era theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented the common practice of reading daily devotional passages from the Bible without context and advocated a consecutive reading of biblical books, thereby allowing the reader to “become a part of what once took place for our salvation” and “forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, [passing] through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land.”

Immersive, slow, deep reading not only retrains your brain to read again, but assists in “empathy, transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence.” Many studies and articles on this subject focus on the benefits of print books versus e-readers, as opposed to Internet scrolling versus novel reading, but the common theme of limiting distractions remains the same.

Source: Why You Should Absolutely Read A Whole Book This Year