On Thinking Christianly (Part VII) 

Choose your teachers well... 

Thinking Christianly starts in Scripture, but even the Bible says not to stop there, that we need teachers to guide us through it. We need to choose them well.

Some are false teachers, completely distorting the truth. Our best protection is not to rely solely on anyone's judgment but to check things for ourselves in Scripture. It also helps to listen to many teachers, for they provide checks and balances on each other's teaching.

Other teachers, while not necessarily teaching falsehood, simply do not challenge us to "grow up in all things." We can do better. I'm not speaking now of our pastors or Bible study leaders, whom God uses to give direction and encouragement fitted right to our own situations. I'm speaking of the missed opportunity if we do not study from others who have thought very deeply and very well. I'm speaking of great Christian writers, in other words.

Reading a book is an investment of time, and I wish I could say all Christian books were worthy of it. There are three primary reasons I read books, other than for work-related purposes. One is simply for pleasure. I'm a big fan of mystery novels, and I wish Dorothy L. Sayers had written about three times as many as she did!

One of my reasons for reading will be the topic for a later day on this website.

The third is to learn and to stretch my mind with great thinking.

My favorite such author is C.S. Lewis, whose great skill was to present complex matters with wit, clarity, and a very gentlemanly humility. There is no better introduction to thinking Christianly than Mere Christianity. Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man, and his essays have all influenced me tremendously. The Screwtape Letters slides a lorry-load of Christian wisdom into a humorous package. (He has also given me hours of simple enjoyment through the Narnia series, the space trilogy, and the mysterious but engaging Till We Have Faces.)

Other greats include G.K. Chesterton, who if anything surpasses even Lewis for wit and clarity. Dorothy L. Sayers, a contemporary and friend of Lewis's, wrote much more than fiction; for example, "The Lost Tools of Learning." Francis Schaeffer did more to bring Christian worldview thinking to the church's attention than perhaps anyone else in the late 20th century. All of these writers, by the way, prove that reading to learn can also be reading for pleasure.

Current writers who stretch me include Ravi Zacharias, Josh McDowell, and J.P. Moreland. It was Moreland, in a lecture I attended in 1988, who emphasized the importance of philosophy. He quoted John Wesley as saying he would not consider a man ready to preach who could not state the metaphysical difference between "substance" and "accident"--and why it was important. (Hint: it has to do with distinctions between Protestant and Catholic views of Communion/the Eucharist.) Do we expect that kind of intellectual depth our preachers today? Should we?

Christianity and the Nature of Science was the first book by Moreland that I read. Through sound and patient reasoning, he shatters the conception that scientific knowledge is necessarily of a higher order than other forms of knowledge, and shows the shaky foundation evolutionary science stands on.

Both Moreland and Lewis encourage reading "old books"--the classics of philosophy, theology, and general literature. You don't have to read Aristotle and Aquinas on your own; you can "hire" a cheap teacher even for that. I wish I could claim I've most of what they recommend--but I'm still working on it!

If you want to take their advice, a great guide is How to Read a Book by Adler and Van Doren, which includes a bibliography of classics. (Some comic supposedly said he was going to write a sequel and call it How to Read Two Books. But I can't find it on Amazon...)

And yes, I'm still enjoying my mystery novels. I've run out of Dorothy Sayers' list, but there's still Ngaio Marsh and P.D. James....

(Other entries in this series may be found under the Thinking Christianly blog category.) 

Posted: Thu - April 21, 2005 at 11:28 AM           |

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