A Civil Dialogue

I just read a review of God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins by Thomas Crean, a Dominican Catholic. What really stood out to me was the reviewer’s intellectual honesty – followed by the friendly exchange in the Comments section.

Here’s a taste, from James E. Egolf:

“I liked the frank, honest, and polite exchange. There are people with serious religious religious convictions who are knowledgeable about advanced physics, astronomy, geology, etc. There are folks who are atheists who are kind, compassionate, and honest. I agree with both gentlemen in their comments.”

It’s a model worthy of our following, amongst those of faith and no faith, and of course among those of differing faiths. I’ll write more about this later.

Having had my fill recently of political and religious expediency, historical ignorance, and poor logic – if not downright dishonesty – in this year’s presidential race, the comments left by Bagpipe Player, P. Boire, and the rest served to curb the cynicism I had recently begun to feel. There is definitely a lot of good out there; it just takes perseverance on our part, and a little gem like this comes along. 🙂

Many thanks to those mentioned – you really made my evening.

(P.S. Here’s a review of an earlier version of Crean’s book.

On a related note, just today I was reading an interview with Thomas D. Williams, who is a theology professor in Rome, Vatican analyst for CBS News, and author of Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists About God – which came out just today, actually. Williams takes on Dawkins and his peers, including Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens.

After reading the reviews, interview, and comments, I plan on reading both books eventually.)

Some More Thoughts on Reading…and Writing

One of my favorite evangelical intellectuals (though he might object to such a title) is Albert Mohler. It has been my experience, as I’ve listened to his excellent podcast and read some of the things he’s written, is that he’s as committed to the truth as he is insightful. Our doctrinal differences aside, we share many values, which in turn makes his commentary so valuable to me. I can honestly say that in our modern culture of spin and wishy-washiness, I truly admire Dr. Mohler.

One instance of how I’ve benefited from his ministry is a blog entry that he wrote that I’d read before, and found again tonight, called, “Some Thoughts on the Reading of Books” (the title of my post is a homage (/ə ˈhɒmɪdʒ/) to his). It’s a great complement to my post of a few days ago. Below is an excerpt, followed by my comments.

A few initial suggestions:

1. Maintain regular reading projects. I strategize my reading in six main categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature. I have some project from each of these categories going at all times. I collect and gather books for each project, and read them over a determined period of time. This helps to discipline my reading, and also keeps me working across several disciplines.

I’m still in the organizing stage of this, but I can see how it will be beneficial. Ever since reading a post by a friend of mine, “Expanding literary horizons,” I’ve wanted to read a broader range of literature (in sense 5, not just sense 2), and to do so in a more organized fashion. Here’s a partial example: I’m concurrently reading a lot of LDS books, particularly those dealing with the Book of Mormon; a few fantasy books; one book of historical fiction; and I continue my long-held practice of enjoying the occasional short story or five. But two experiences in particular make me feel like I should read more biography. One was my reading last summer of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute‘s book on Wilhelm Röpke, which was much more engaging and entertaining – even motivating – than I had expected. It even birthed an interest in me in economics, “which thing I had never supposed.” (Note: the book on Röpke is part of a series entitled “The Library of Modern Thinkers” by ISI – I plan on reading each of these titles, and recommend them to you.) The second was a comment that I read (or heard?) from one of my long-time role models, Dr. Robert L. Millet of Brigham Young University, in which he related his experience of reading the biography of Billy Graham and finding it tremendously inspiring (I apologize if I’m putting words in Bro. Millet’s mouth – I admit to having a faulty memory, and hope to be nothing but faithful to his actual statement). Scripture is the most powerful literature for helping us become more Christ-like; and, while on a different level, biography and other literature can certainly help us do the same.

2. Work through major sections of Scripture. I am just completing an expository series, preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans. I have preached and taught several books of the Bible in recent years, and I plan my reading to stay ahead. I am turning next to Matthew, so I am gathering and reading ahead — not yet planning specific messages, but reading to gain as much as possible from worthy works on the first gospel. I am constantly reading works in biblical theology as well as exegetical studies.

My current calling as gospel doctrine teacher is quite motivating in this way. In another post, I’ll list some non-internet resources for studying the BM. (Dr. Mohler might take umbrage at my applying his post to the BM, but no offense is meant, of course. At the same time, I absolutely stand by my position that the Book of Mormon is a divinely inspired, historical record that contains the fullness of the gospel; it is a true book and is unique in its powerful witness of the divinity, mission, Atonement, grace, and doctrine of Christ, and is needed in the world more each day.)

3. Read all the titles written by some authors. Choose carefully here, but identify some authors whose books demand your attention. Read all they have written and watch their minds at work and their thought in development. No author can complete his thoughts in one book, no matter how large.

Among the admittedly few authors who fit in this category for me are these (I’m sure that at some point I’ll write posts discussing them individually):

C. S. Lewis – especially his space trilogy and Till We Have Faces. I recommend reading the books themselves before reading anything about them, including book descriptions; such material could very well spoil them for you. These works’ contributions to making me a better person have been significant, and will continue, I expect – which I’ll blog about another time.

Neal A. Maxwell – His Collected Works is a must-have for the serious disciple of Christ. (Not incidentally, in 2006 BYU’s Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, or ISPART, was renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship in honor of the deceased apostle.)

Robert Millet – I mentioned him above. Probably the most prolific LDS author today, he was Manager of Outreach and Interfaith Relations for Church Public Affairs the last I heard, which makes his writings particularly relevant to us right now. Some of his latest works include Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate, with Gerald R. McDermott, published by Brazos Press; Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical, with Gregory C. V. Johnson (whom I also greatly admire. This work is a sort of follow-up to Robinson and Blomberg’s How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation; Blomberg also provides the Foreword to Bridging…), from Monkfish Publishing; The Vision of Mormonism: Pressing the Boundaries of Christianity, published by Paragon House; the controversial (among some evangelicals) A Different Jesus?: The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, by well-known evangelical publisher Eerdmans; and a reprint of his Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, co-written with Joseph Fielding McConkie and Brent L. Top, from Deseret Book, which was difficult to find and expensive for years.

Peter Kreeft – I consider him to be the Catholic Neal A. Maxwell (as far as his insightfulness, commitment to the truth, and amazing power of expression, mind you; not in terms of apostolic calling). His books and other writings and his lectures have been at least as beneficial in my life as those of any other person outside the (LDS) Church. He is unabashedly Catholic, for which dedication I commend him. It’s thanks to him that I came to view the Catholic Church not as some leftover from centuries ago (I’m ashamed to admit that I once thought along those lines), but rather as a vibrant, dynamic force with an intellectual, philosophical, moral history worthy of the attention and respect of us Latter-day Saints. Dr. Kreeft’s books How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis and Ecumenical Jihad: Ecumenism and the Culture War, and the lectures that they are based on, offer poignant counsel in fighting for the culture of Christ. His Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings is proving to be not only a great way to understand LOTR, but also “an engaging introduction to philosophy,” as the description of the book claims. Some LDS may find getting past Kreeft’s pro-Catholic stance difficult in places, but there’s no question in my mind that it’s worth the time and effort. Listen to his lectures, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Yes, these ↑ are some of my heroes.

4. Get some big sets and read them through. Yes, invest in the works of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and others. Set a project for yourself to read through the entire set, and give yourself time. You will be surprised how far you will get in less time than you think.

A few sets come to mind: Journal of Discourses, (which a friend gave me years ago after he got them on CD-ROM!); BYU’s series of Annual Book of Mormon Symposia books, which, in superb bit of news, are evidently being reprinted; and again Elder Maxwell’s Collected Works. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley are also highly recommended, though I haven’t made it that far yet.

5. Allow yourself some fun reading, and learn how to enjoy reading by reading enjoyable books. I like books across the fields of literature, but I really love to read historical biographies and historical works in general. In addition, I really enjoy quality fiction and worthy works of literature. As a boy, I probably discovered my love for reading in these categories of books. I allow some time each day, when possible, to such reading. It doesn’t have to be much. Stay in touch with the thrill.

Amen to that. I’ll post some other time on my own tastes in the areas of the classics and contemporary fiction…

6. Write in your books; mark them up and make them yours. Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled. [Make an exception here for those rare antiquarian books that are treasured for their antiquity. Mark not thy pen on the ancient page, and highlight not upon the manuscript.] Invent your own system or borrow from another, but learn to have a conversation with the book, pen in hand.

I am a huge advocate of making a book your own by writing in it (with a few exceptions). It may be impossible to get the most out of your books without doing so.

I would write more for this post, but I must go read. More later. For now: Tolle! Lege

I consider Dr. Mohler’s engagement in both reading and writing praisewrothy. I read some time ago – I’m don’t recall where – that parents often focus on helping their children become good readers to the neglect of developing their writing skills – a mistake I plan on avoiding when I become a parent. Furthermore, one of my favorite teachers of all time said something about himself that I have found to be true for me. To paraphrase, “If I really want to learn something, I have to write about it.” Just as there’s no substitute for (the benefits of) reading, there’s no substitute for expressing oneself in writing. Or, to state it another way: It has truthfully been said that he who can read but doesn’t is little better off than he who cannot read; the same principle applies to the art of writing.

The blogosphere is a wonderful thing: it provides a forum to those of us who need to improve our writing and think we have something worth saying, and makes those writings available to others (hopefully for better and not for worse, overall). At the same time, it’s a little scary how long a post can get, almost without the author’s realizing it…

Any suggestions, further resources, or comments?