Tag Archives: education

C S Lewis and his homeboy Boethius – part II


From a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolat...

From a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolation: Miniatures of Boethius teaching and in prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is the second looking at Lewis’s foremost medieval model for the task of calling church and society back to traditional wisdom: Boethius. It is from the draft “Tradition chapter” of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis. The first may be found here.

Lewis valued Boethius highly as a historian and traditioner, bringing the light of one age’s wisdom out into the darkness of another’s depravity and forgetfulness. He referred to Boethius as “that divine popularizer,”[1] which indicates the “translative” function served by public intellectuals. To speak intelligibly to a diverse company, “patrician and plebian, bourgeoisie and proletariat, rich and poor, educated and semi-educated, specialist and nonspecialist,” the public intellectual must use a language they all understand—the vernacular. Aside from the Consolation, the work of Boethius that most shaped the Middle Ages was his labor translating the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, which he read in their original language, into the vernacular of his day, Latin. And Lewis of course both was master of many languages and could “translate” the most complex philosophical ideas not just into clear radio addresses for the masses, but into the imaginative, concrete world of children’s books.

It is hard to think of an apter description, in fact, of C. S. Lewis. As much as did Boethius, Lewis wanted to stand in the gap of cataclysmic cultural loss, to bring “the tradition” back to the people. He told his Cambridge audience, “I myself belong far more to that Old Western order than to yours. . . . Continue reading

Education for the heart: A “Lewisian” reflection from former Christianity Today editor-in-chief David Neff


education heartOne of my favorite pedagogues these days is James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College. In his series-in-progress entitled Cultural Liturgies, he argues that human beings are not primarily thinking animals but must be regarded instead as “desiring animals.” Head knowledge, especially head knowledge gained from an instructor who is “teaching to the test,” is aimed at the wrong part of the moral anatomy to make good citizens. We need a pedagogy that “aims below the head,” says Smith, in order to help students rightly order their loves and desires.

. . .

The kind of close reading advocated by Lewis meets what I believe is an innate desire for self-transcendence. “We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own,” Lewis writes. He compares close reading with love, with moral action, and even with the fundamental act of learning. “In love we escape from our self into one another …. [E]very act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other person’s place .”

Thanks, David Neff, for your reflection on education today. You (and C. S. Lewis and James K. A. Smith) hit the nail on the head.

Continue reading

Theology for workers in the pews


Other 100,000 Hours image from InTrust article

This is the second half of a two-part article that appeared in the Winter and Spring 2013 issues of InTrust magazine. Both parts, with full graphic treatment, appear here. This half focuses on what seminaries and churches can do to help heal the divide between faith and work in many Christians’ lives today.

Theology for Workers in the Pews

In the last issue of InTrust, Chris R. Armstrong wrote that churches are good at helping people find meaning on Sunday morning, but during the “other 100,000 hours”—the lifetime that people spend earning their daily bread — pastors often have little to contribute. This is unfortunate, because when people labor, it’s possible for them to be co-laborers with Christ who both build up the world, helping it flourish, and also grow in grace, learning new disciplines.

Read the full article at www.intrust.org/work.

In this companion article, Armstrong describes how schools and organizations are making connections between faith and work. In some cases, organizations are helping business leaders to think ethically and theologically. In other cases, they’re helping clergy to engage more intelligently with business leaders in congregations.

Let’s take as given that work matters—it matters to God, and it is most people’s primary arena of discipleship. And let’s agree that the primary role of seminaries and theological schools is to form pastors and scholars who teach and lead people in discipleship. Therefore, it makes sense that theological education should serve a vital role in making the connection between faith and work.

Yet most theological schools are not doing this well. Continue reading

Most American men, both in and out of work, are in DEEP trouble. Why, and what can we do about it?


KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt is no good to talk about “theology of work” and “faith-work integration” as if these topics somehow floated above the economic realities in which we live. Nobody has to remind us that those realities are pretty grim right now. But we can’t very well address them effectively with the resources of the church–or any other resources–unless we understand what’s going on in our economy.

Does this mean we need to be trained economists as well as pastors, seminarians, theology professors, engaged laypeople? Not at all. A chaplain or pastor can minister effectively in a hospital room without a medical degree. But it sure helps if said pastor has some idea of what challenges a patient might face within today’s medical system; what the patient’s prognosis is and what that will mean for their quality of life; and so forth. Just so with those Christians who today want to address work through eyes of faith.

This is one thing I respect highly about the Kern Family Foundation’s current grant-making activities in evangelical seminaries across the country: the foundation will not let seminaries get away with a surface-y, pietistic approach that majors on our individual gifts and vocations while ignoring economic realities. Indeed, the foundation and its seminary partners are now working toward a set of faith-informed “economic wisdom maxims” that are securely grounded in economic realities. I can imagine few more helpful enterprises in moving forward the faith-work conversation today.

Apropos all this, friend Collin Hansen, Editorial Director over at the Gospel Coalition, brought the following article to my attention. This piece by Jonathan Rauch in the top policy magazine The National Journal is sobering, to say the least. But the first step in solving a problem is knowing you have one. And right now, America has a very big one. Continue reading

Let’s get medieval on our education


IN WESTBOURNE AVENUE -  HULL

Image by summonedbyfells via Flickr

Speaking of Dorothy Sayers, thanks to friend Marc Cortez over at Scientia et Sapientia for this reminder of a piece of Sayers’s writing that has become more read in recent years than perhaps anything else she wrote besides her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery stories:

Today marks Dorothy Sayers‘ 118th birthday (June 13, 1893). Writer, theologian, poet, essayist, and playwright, Sayers did it all. And, she did it amazingly well.

To commemorate her birthday, here are some excerpts from her essay on The Lost Tools of Learning. Regardless of whether you agree with her argument that we need to return to medieval models of education (and the way this argument has been used by the classical and home schooling movements), her comments on the importance of learning to think are outstanding:

“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?”

For the rest of the quotations, see here.

Follow-up to “Don’t do this in any academic paper”: How to craft a central claim


Marc Cortez’s wise and funny piece on how not to destroy your own academic paper with wishy-washy language has obviously struck a nerve, judging from the number of hits. I thought it might be helpful to offer as a follow-up some advice on how to develop a strong, workable central claim (often called a “thesis”) for your paper.

The best thing I’ve seen on this topic is a handout from an old employer of mine, the Duke University Writing Studio. What follows is an excerpt. I love especially the list of criteria for a strong thesis: contestable, reasonable, specific, significant, and interpretive–Oh, if only my students would all read this before writing any more papers for me! Continue reading

Retired bishop calls for Christian history teaching in British schools


With the Bishop of Rochester

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, with the Bishop of Rochester

From an article in a British Christian online magazine. Though I am always suspicious when someone starts talking about “Judeo-Christian values” (there’s a lot of slipperiness in this language), I like this guy :) . Also, based on my own recent research into the origins of hospitals in the West, I have to agree with his statement (see below) that the nursing profession as we know it is Christian in origin. Finally, his examination of the origins of modern British systems of law and governance fascinate–I’ll be looking into the details of his narrative . . .

If school kids don’t learn more about Britain’s Judeo-Christian heritage we risk losing our national values, a bishop has warned.

The Rt Revd Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said: “The Judaeo-Christian tradition provides the connecting link to ‘our island story’”.

Children should know about the role of Christians in abolishing the slave trade, caring for the sick and improving working conditions, the former Bishop of Rochester said in an article for Standpoint magazine. Continue reading

Society sacralized from Rome’s fall to Charlemagne (400 – 800 A.D.)–glimpses from Bernard McGinn


Map of territorial boundaries ca. 450 AD

Image via Wikipedia

What follows are some acute observations on the Christian landscape of the early Middle Ages from Bernard McGinn, The Growth of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1994). For those interested in the monastic culture of the Middle Ages or the ins and outs of medieval spirituality, this is a wonderful text. McGinn has solidly mastered all that he writes about, and he communicates it in terms understandable to the nonspecialist reader.

The notes that follow are taken from Chapter 1, “The Making of Christendom.” Each note begins with the page number.

17        “The changes in Christian spirituality between 400 and 800 are especially significant for understanding the development of medieval Latin mysticism. No one disputes that these centuries saw the end of ancient Christianity, tied to the world of the late Roman city, and the birth of early medieval Christianity, more often than not rural and monastic in character. . . .” Continue reading

Fundamentalism since the 1970s: An in-depth article


The following is a narrative and analysis of fundamentalism since the 1970s. I wrote it for Charles Lippy and Peter Williams’s Encyclopedia of Religion in America, just published last month.

The basic argument of what follows is this: Fundamentalism in America changed after the 1970s–perhaps so much that the word “fundamentalism” is no longer appropriate for what it became. In that decade, the movement began a tectonic shift from protecting theological truths in infra-denominational fights to guarding “Christian morality” in a nation specially chosen by God.

To be sure, “correct” views of the person of Christ and his atoning work, along with vividly detailed end-time scenarios, have continued to occupy an important place in the movement, but these things are not what the “new fundamentalists” are most centrally about. No, they have seen America locked in a battle with a secularizing juggernaut, and they have rushed to take up the “arms” of pragmatic political measures and boundary-breaking religious alliances in order to gain the upper hand.

From the year 1980 on, the majority of those who took upon themselves the mantle of historic fundamentalism have sought to shore up family values, sexual mores, and biblical views of creation rather than orthodox doctrines and denominational power. And although this may look like a completely new direction compared with the emphases of fundamentalism’s formative decades (the 1920s – 1950s), I argue that it is, rather, a natural development from the earlier movement’s characteristic concerns.

These are not your mom and dad’s fundamentalists.

This is their story:

FUNDAMENTALISM: CONTEMPORARY

Chris R. Armstrong

As the decade of the 1980s opened, friends could rejoice, and opponents warn, that in the words of the historian Martin Marty, fundamentalism was now “back with a vengeance.” This time, however, the opponent was not theological liberals within the denominations, but secularizing forces within the nation. Continue reading

C S Lewis explains how to study the Middle Ages


What follows are excerpts from a letter from C S Lewis to a friend of his, in which he explains (in answer to his friend’s query) how he himself learned about the Middle Ages–and how his friend might wish to pursue that study. Because these are notes for my own use, I have at a couple of points simply inserted into the running text, in square brackets, footnotes I found useful:

The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. II

This is the letter to his nun friend, Sister Madeleva: Magdalen College, Oxford, June 7th 1934, which contains his suggested program of study of the Middle Ages. p. 140ff:

[n. 14, 140: “Sister M. Madeleva CSC (1887 – 1964), a member of the Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Cross, was a teacher of English at St Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana. While staying in Oxford during Trinity Term 1934, she attended Lewis’s lectures on medieval poetry, and had a particular interest in the lecture devoted to Boethius. Besides lending Sister Madeleva his notebooks giving details of the works mentioned in his lectures, L invited her to visit him in Magdalen. On her return to Notre Dame in 1934, Sister Madeleva was made President of St Mary’s College, a post she held until her retirement in 1961. Here numerous books include [a list follows including studies on Chaucer and the Pearl poem, indicating a continued interest in medieval studies]. . . .”]

“The [141] history of my lecture is this. After having worked for some years on my own subject (which is the medieval allegory), I found that I had accumulated a certain amount of general information which, tho far from being very recondite, was more than the ordinary student in the school could gather for himself. Continue reading