A fascinating new website has been started over at danherrickphilosophy.com, all of whose arguments merit careful reading. This is not to say I agree with all of his arguments – I do not, which ought to surprise no one – but his essays often provide an interesting sidelight on the issue and frequently an unusual insight. In particular, he just finished a series of four posts on how to read Scripture: (more…)
When I was a child, the town I grew up in was a small distance away from the city where my grandparents lived, and where, a bit later, my parents worked. So we frequently made the drive into the city, and I have many memories of the drive and of different parts of the large city. But since my family moved away before I learned to drive, I never navigated around the big city or the route between my hometown and the city. I paid very little attention to street names or cardinal directions from my vantage in the back seat of the car. (more…)
After the divergence of Christian denominations, important spiritual writers were located in different branches. I think of Brother Lawrence among the Roman Catholics, John Bunyan among the English non-conformists, Fyodor Dostoevsky among the Russian Orthodox, more recently C. S. Lewis among the Anglicans, and Billy Graham among American Evangelicals. But when people of another denomination read and cite with approval such a writer, members of that writer’s own denomination sometimes object to what feels like poaching. Surely, the sentiment may be expressed, that writer is “ours”; what write have “you” to appropriate him? Indeed, some Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox feel that way even about writers from before the schism. I have heard Eastern Orthodox Christians object to any “Western Christian” (Roman Catholic or Protestant) claiming Athanasius or the Cappadocians, and I have heard Roman Catholics object to members of other churches citing Aquinas or Gregory the Great. Is there any legitimacy to this objection?
The short answer is “no.”
The present is not the first time that Christians have fought over names. Already in Corinth in the middle of the first century, Christians were claiming to belong to different denominations, whether Peter’s, Paul’s, Apollos’s, or Christ’s (1 Cor 1:11-12). (It is unclear whether this last group were claiming to be mere Christians, including the others, or holier-than-thou, excluding all the others.) Among Paul’s many responses to this sorry state of affairs is the following gem:
“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter] or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Cor 3:21-23, NASB)
All those, then, who belong to Christ may rightly claim and profit from all those who have gone before. I am a late-comer to Christ, I know, but even so my heritage includes Moses and all the prophets, all the apostles, the early Christian writers, the medieval Christian writers of East and West (and of whatever language, whether Latin, Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Arabic, or any other), the early modern reformers (such as Erasmus and Luther) and mystics (such as Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross), and modern thinkers and activists (such as Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr.). We have this great shared heritage, because it is Christ’s “inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18) and we are “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Let us all, then, profit from the riches of that heritage and be prompted by it to fulfill the New Command of our Lord: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, NASB)
(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.