Thursday, March 17, 2011

12 Books You Need In Your Library

If you are interested in any of my recommendations for growing the Christian intellect, here is a short list of books that I have found useful.

1. The Bible--in various translations...or original languages if you can (North American christians are in severe need of Biblical literacy. We should know the Word of God more than we know the Thursday night tv schedule.)

Helps For Studying the Bible

2. Bible Study That Works, by David L. Thompson
3. Living By the Book, by Howard G. Hindricks and William D. Hindricks

Helps For Thinking

4. Habits of the Mind, James W. Sire
5. The Art of Thinking, Ernest Dimnet

Helps For Apologetics/Theology

6. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
7. Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton
8. The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer
9. 3 Vol. Systematic Theology, Thomas Oden (These three volumes have now been condensed into one volume under the title: Classic Christianity)

Helps For Church History

11. The Story of Christianity Vol. 1 & 2, Justo L. Gonzalez

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to Expand Your Mind While Not Floating Off Into Outer Space

 In the last post, I quickly realized that I was rapidly losing space in which to discuss the original reason for bringing up the topic. Perhaps part one did not scratch your particular itch (and for that matter, perhaps this one will not either), but, in any case, all I can do is write about the things that occur to me. Incidentally, feel free to leave comments below: questions, concerns, future topics of discussion, etc.

Now, back to where I was originally trying to take the discussion of the two types of knowing.  The simple fact is that the intellect--the life of the mind--involves more that just reading and writing and listening to lectures. It involves anything that makes a person think in a conscious way. Plato said that, "A life unexamined is not worth living." There are ways to examine one's life...not all of them involve books.

I say this as someone who is a struggling bibliophile. However, I think it is important for us to realize that many of the things we do, see, experience in life contribute to our knowledge and experience. So, if you are reading the 23rd Psalm, you could run to the commentaries to learn the deeper meanings of the text...or you could run to the pasture and spend some time with sheep. Both are beneficial and both types of learning should be held in balance in the Christian life. How often, though, do we examine our experiential knowledge? Do we reflect on our day and what we have learned? Do we write down the lessons we feel that God is teaching us?

The reason I bring this up is that some people think that being a Christian "intellectual" means someone who has read every book out there and is in 7 Bible studies a week but is otherwise a useless member of society and the "real world." However, look at the apostle Paul--a brilliant intellect in the Kingdom. Paul studied, to be sure, but he also reflected on what God was doing in his life and ministry. He drew on his life experiences to build powerful metaphors and illustrations in his letters. He traveled, prayed, debated, preached, and wrote.

Let us not become poor students of the world around us and the experiences to which God directs us. Experiential knowledge is an important part of the Christian mind. For a clear example of this, read Psalm 73 and notice what happens in verse 17.  Then, if you don't have one, find something you can call a journal and start knowing your own life in a deeper and richer way.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Two Types of Knowing And Why You Need Both

One of the dangers of focusing a blog on the "Christian Intellect" is that people will assume that I am, in some way, spurring people to  "ivory tower" scholasticism or a new generation of monks. That is to misunderstand what I mean by intellect.

There are two types of knowledge: 

1. Cerebral knowledge--typically learned through secondary sources like books. This is where we know things like philosophy, theoretic structures, history outside of our life time, etc. 

2. Experiential knowledge. For instance, you may read a book that informs you that many people think chocolate tastes delicious, and, therefore at some level, you know that chocolate is sweet (or bitter depending on how it's made) and wonderful. However, it is a different type of knowing to actually go to the store, buy a Lindt or Godiva chocolate bar (I mean...if you've never eaten chocolate before, you may as well go big) and eat it for yourself.

This understanding of knowledge is consistent with Biblical Christianity. " You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder" (James 2:19). There is a difference between knowing facts about Jesus the Messiah, the Father, the Holy Spirit, or even the Church and between experiencing them in a real way for ourselves.

 The problem, as I see it, is that many Christians have a hard time balancing the two types of knowing. At many points, certain traditions have emphasized one to the neglect of the other. Orthodoxy ("Right belief") takes precedence over Orthopraxy ("Right practice"), or vice versa. While this is not the place for a discussion on the balance between faith and deeds per se, there is a certain strong link between the two ideas.

What I am talking about is what theologians and philosophers call "epistomology"--the study of belief/knowledge. What is knowledge? How do we acquire knowledge? These are the questions of epistomology. Everyone has their own theory of epistomology whether they use that terminology or not, or whether they have thought about it in explicit terms or not. We all have some idea of the subject.

 I am particularly interested in the importance of the balance of study and experience.  Let me use a concrete example from my own struggles in this area. It is easy to read the Bible, secondary literature, or even listen to sermons on the subject of loving neighbor through helping the poor. I can know all kind of verses on the subject. I can know theories and statistics. I can even know what other people are doing in this area and how it is working or failing for them. However, I know love of neighbor at a deeper level when I actually do it for myself. This fact has led many churches to scrap the emphasis on study in favor of mobilizing their people to acts of service. 

You may have heard someone say at some point: "We don't need another sermon on...we just need to get out there and do it." There is some truth in that, but by and large the church in America is not overly academic or overly studied. The danger I see in this over-reaction is that people receive a new epistomology from the Church that emphasizes action to the detriment of learning and reflection. It is the equivalent of going into a medical school and saying, "The important thing about medicine is that you get in there and treat patients, operate, prescribe medications, etc. So quit studying this stuff and just get in that hospital and start working."

How many of us would want to be patients in that place? Some of my doctor friends could tell you, that after years in the field of medicine, they still have to study the secondary literature and go to conferences. 

Both careful study of the Bible and reflective engagement with the world are important for our knowledge of life in Christ. We need to have careful balance in this area. In part two, I will reflect on how study can illuminate experience and vice versa, but in the mean time it may be helpful for us all to reflect on an area in which we need to learn better balance between study and experience.