Musings on “Thinking Christianly”

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Yesterday I reviewed a bookTo Think Christianly. In some ways, it is a peculiar phrase, and someone asked about the origins of this language. The question prompted me to muse on the phrase, and the significance it has had for me. At the outset, I need to offer the caveat that I write these reflections as a committed follower of Christ, which you probably already guessed.

  1. The phrase seems most associated with Harry Blamires, author of The Christian Mind: How Should A Christian Think? Blamires was a mentee of C. S. Lewis, once headed an English department, and wrote literary criticism (including a book on James Joyce’s Ulysses), theology, and novels.
  2. When I hear the phrase “thinking Christianly,” it suggests to me the bringing of Christian belief and practice to bear on whatever I am thinking about.
  3. The idea that undergirds “thinking Christianly” was probably best articulated by Abraham Kuyper when he said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
  4. Christ is central both as sovereign and servant. Christian thinking both strives to think and act in all things as Christ would, and yet does so humbly, conscious from whom we learn, and how much we’ve yet to learn.
  5. Thinking Christianly is done in light of the great story we find ourselves a part of–the story of creation and what it means to be human as part of a larger world entrusted to our care, how human rebellion has changed everything and explains “what’s wrong with the world?,” how Christ’s incarnate saving work addresses the human dilemma, and toward what end history is moving.
  6. Thinking Christianly recognizes no difference between sacred and secular, and touches every human endeavor from food production to waste management systems, from microbiology to cosmology.
  7. Thinking Christianly is dynamic rather than static. It is not “Christian thought” etched in stone. It moves forward with ever new questions rather than once and for answers.
  8. Contrary to the popular image of the solitary scholar, thinking Christianly is both individual and communal. Great ideas may emerge in the wilderness but are tested and refined in diverse communities.
  9. Thinking Christianly is thinking. “Thinking” is probably a topic unto itself. At very least, can we agree that thinking is a process of reasoning, moving from premises to conclusions, assessing the arguments that support a proposal, using logic and intuition to understand our world and our place in it? It is not just turning a feeling into an assertion that cannot be questioned, but must be accepted.
  10. It takes work to think Christianly. From ongoing reading of the scriptures, our sourcebook for the great story, to building up a base of understanding about the questions we are considering, to wrestling through the relation between the two, this is not either instant nor easy.

Why does it matter? Thinking Christianly will not lead to a utopian society. We can frame elegant and eloquent ways of thinking about everything from gardening to politics and fail to love God or neighbor. But we will love neither God nor neighbor well without thinking Christianly. If we do not think Christianly, either we will substitute reactions and emotions for thought, or we will allow ways of thinking alien to our deepest commitments to shape our lives. Frankly, it seems that there are a lot of examples of this kind of thing. What saddens me is that none of it honors God or seeks the flourishing of others that is neighbor love. It saddens me that we miss the joy of pursuing the love of God in every human endeavor and settle for so much less. But the flip side is that to think Christianly means that everything we do, and how and why we do it, matters.

Review: A Book for Hearts & Minds

a book for hearts and minds

A Book for Hearts and MindsNed Bustard (ed.). Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2017.

Summary: A collection of essays on different academic disciplines and topics, honoring the work of Hearts and Minds Bookstore on over three decades of connecting thoughtful readers with serious books.

What better way to honor perhaps the best Christian bookstore in the country for over thirty years of service to the Christian community than a festschrift of essays featuring the likes of N. T. Wright, Gregory Wolfe, David Gushee, Calvin Seerveld, Mike Schutt, and others writing on topics and disciplines with which they are intimately acquainted and sharing their own recommendations of the books they think are best or were most formative for them on that topic. That’s just what Byron and Beth Borger, the proprietors of Hearts and Minds Bookstore have been doing, even before there was a bookstore.

The opening essay gives Byron’s own account of the store’s beginnings:

“My wife and I started a bookstore. We’re still trying to figure out how to keep it afloat, but overall it’s been a long and fun journey.

In the late seventies, I worked in campus ministry and part of what it emphasized was working with students. I worked with students at a small branch campus of Penn State, mostly engineering majors. I would invite them to think Christianly, as we say, and talk about the relationship of their faith to their sense of calling. I was always passing out books—you’re a Christian nurse, here’s something on healthcare, you’re going to be a scientist analyzing evolution, here’s a Christian philosophy on this or that—and students would say
to me, you should have a bookstore! Finally I realized they were right. Part of my passion was connecting people with resources they might use in their own spiritual development, but particularly as that related to living out their faith in the work world.”

Following this opening essay are eighteen others organized in alphabetical order from Art (Ned Bustard) to Vocation (Steve Garber). Each of the essays combine personal narrative with thoughtful insights on thinking Christianly about the topic at hand and conclude with recommendations by the authors of some of the books they think the best on the topic or most formative for them. It was really fun seeing what books N. T. Wright would recommend and almost every essay had at least one book recommendation of something I’d not read and would like to pick up. So many good books and so little time!

A few essays stood out for me. One you might not expect to find in this collection but which sparkled was Andi Ashworth’s on “Cooking” and her thoughts on food and feasting together, as well as some interesting cookbook recommendations (something to file away for gifts for my wife who has an extensive collection of cookbooks!). Working in ministry in higher education, I found G. Tyler Fischer’s essay on “Education” of interest in asking the question, “what is education?” and his proposal that “[e]ducation is the process of imparting the knowledge and skills needed to live as a full and loving member of a community.” I’m friends with Mike Schutt and have heard him mention Harold Berman’s works, but his recommendations convinced me that Berman has probably thought more deeply about the nature of law and its relationship to religion than anyone. I found myself identifying deeply with Karen Swallow Prior’s love for stories and was intrigued by the idea she gained from Milton about reading promiscuously (an interesting twist on the work promiscuous!). I appreciated the clear thinking of Michael Kucks on what it is that scientists do and how he thinks Christianly about scientific work.

I could go on, but I hope this enough to encourage you to get this book, and hopefully to buy it at Hearts and Minds Bookstore. Like at least one of the essay authors, I have never visited the store, nestled in a small town in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania. However I’ve met Byron presiding over truly impressive tables at a couple of conferences and witnessed first hand his ability to listen to someone and then recommend what he thinks are the best books that person could read related to his or her interests or questions. I’ve also ordered books from him, which always come carefully packaged, and speedily shipped. Many of you have discovered this blog on his Hearts and Minds Facebook page where he graciously permits me to post reviews. We share a love of connecting people with resources they might use to think and grow “Christianly.” I also look forward to reading his blog, BookNotes, which puts me onto worthy books I’ve missed. I ordered Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, after reading about it on BookNotes, and it was one of the finest books I’ve read in years!

This is the closest I get to contributing an essay in tribute to the important work Byron and Beth have pursued so faithfully for over thirty years. I salute Ned Bustard and Square Halo Books for putting together this delightful festschrift. And as you think about the books you would like to add to your “to be read” pile, I hope you will do what I have so often urged, and “buy them from Byron.” That would be fitting tribute, indeed!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.