The Syriac Side of Things

Marginalia Review of Books just published an interview with Sebastian Brock, who was one of the main architects for the “rediscovery” of Syriac Christianity in Anglophone scholarship since the late 1960s.  His interviewer, T. Michael Law, is himself an Oxford-trained expert in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), just as Dr. Brock himself started his academic career fifty years ago.  Although in places the discussion turns to in-house matters among academics, many parts of the interview will intrigue those interested in Middle Eastern Christianity, such as the differences in the canon of the New Testament between Syriac and Greek or Latin Christians.  The interview may be listened to here (unfortunately, I cannot find a transcript for those who prefer their media read rather than heard).

Readers interested in late antiquity and the rise of Christianity may also be interested in the interview with Peter Brown on the same site, in which he discusses his recent book, Through the Eye of a Needle (part 1, part 2).  In the process he has some characteristically provocative suggestions regarding the shape of Christianity in a period of flux.

Resources for Continuing Christian Education

(This was part of a comment on another blog, but I thought I would also post it here in its own right.)

For reading resources, I enjoy the advice of C. S. Lewis that one should read two old books for every new, and I can highly recommend Irenaeus’ Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (only relatively recently reintroduced to the West from an Armenian version). Augustine’s Confessions challenges many people in useful ways, as does the Imitatio Christi by Thomas a Kempis, although the latter’s monastic orientation needs to be “translated” for laypeople. The seventeenth century produced at least two spiritual classics, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. I read C. S. Lewis’s own Mere Christianity with profit, even though his arguments about marriage strike most contemporaries as peculiar to his generation; I know that John Stott and, I think, N. T. Wright have written more recent attempts in the same direction, of which I have heard good things, but about which I cannot comment from experience. These are all books which challenge the young in the faith to learn more, and provide a basic framework for that learning.

But even so, I suspect that many if not most Christians will learn their Christian faith primarily by other means. Continued use of the sacraments is instructive, and sermons should be, as well as simply what Bonhoeffer termed “life together” in a local congregation, with all its embodied specific challenges and opportunities. “Doing something,” whether serving the needs of the broader society or being helpful around the church, is important for most people to learn. Close mentorship was critical for me, and I suspect helpful for many; I have heard that the practice of “spiritual direction” is increasing. And, of course, contemplation has its place. So there are many ways for people to learn more, and perhaps most importantly they need simply to be instructed that the Christian life is one of continually learning more.