My books are talking to each other. Some of you suspected I was a little crazy–now you know! Seriously, have you ever had the experience of reading a couple works that either directly, or via your own thoughts, were in a conversation with each other?
I am currently reading Rodney Stark’s Victory of Reason and Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason (reviews in the next couple weeks). Stark argues that medieval Christianity in fact was responsible for the rise of universities, the scientific enterprise, European capitalism, and human rights–all before either the Reformation or the Renaissance. Stark contends that Christianity, among all the religions, has an openness to reason that is reflected in the development of doctrine over time–that belief is not etched in stone but evolves over time responding to different social situations. This openness to reason and progress in Stark’s mind accounts for this remarkable development of civilization during the supposed “Dark” Ages.
Worthen is addressing a very different period–the post World War II period up to the present and the neo-evangelical movement led by Carl F H Henry, Billy Graham and others that sought to maintain doctrinal ties with late 19th-early 20th century fundamentalism while promoting an intellectual and social engagement with the broader American culture. I am only part way into the book but it appears that Worthen is exploring the fault lines that develop in this movement as the tension between its view of biblical inerrancy and authority and its attempt to articulate a reasonable faith become apparent.
The interesting conversation for me is around the differing perceptions of Christianity’s engagement with reason at different points–at some times, a friend, at others, an enemy or at least a bugbear. I’m considering several questions as I read: is Stark’s account of faith and reason in early Christian history accurate? is Worthen’s of American neo-evangelicalism? is there a difference in the ways Christians engage society dependent on whether authority resides in the “magisterium” or in an inerrant or trustworthy scripture personally interpreted by a priesthood of all believers? When does orthodoxy foster creative engagement with the world and when does it stifle it?
While the authors (at least as far as I’ve read) don’t engage each other, their shared discussion of authority, faith, and reason and their differing perspectives provoke hard and good thinking. That, it seems to me, is one of the important reasons for reading good and significant books.
Years ago, Robert Hutchins of the University of Chicago and Great Books fame wrote an article (available as a free .pdf here) on The Great Conversation. His contention is that the Great Books explore perennially great ideas and that over time, the different writers are engaged in a conversation with each other regarding these ideas. By reading, we get to join in.
When have you found your books talking to each other? And how have you been changed by that conversation?