Tag Archives: DIY Seminary

Fool’s Talk and my DIY Seminary

“As the early church boasted rightly, the message of Jesus is both simple enough for a child to paddle in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in.”  — Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk

So I am a few months in to my DIY seminary project, and delighted to report that I have found several books on my list available for download from the library.  I’ve listened to The Great Divorce while driving, Fool’s Talk while doing dishes, A Reason For God while folding clothes, and Hillbilly Elegy while chopping vegetables.  Having a collection of brilliant men to listen to while scrubbing pots can turn Cinderella into a sorta-scholar faster than you can say “can somebody please send me a maid for Christmas.”

Now, it’s a little bit impossible for a visual learner like myself to fully absorb a complex book like Os Guinness’s while multi-tasking, and I’ll freely admit it’s not the same as sitting in on a philosophy class, but I gotta think it’s better than binge-watching reruns on Netflix.  It has stoked in me a greater desire to really delve in — to take the class, argue with the professor, write the essays.  But if, like me, you are a) strapped for cash, b) short on time, and c) already overcommitted, I offer this encouragement: all the great thoughts that have ever been thunk have probably been written down somewhere in a book that you can find, free, at a library.  In fact, such notably brilliant people as Abraham Lincoln, Jack London, and Ray Bradbury were mostly self-educated folks who wore out their library cards.  I’m with Paul:  “Bring the books!” II Timothy 4:13, KMV (Kate Morgan Version)

I couldn’t do justice to a full book review of Fool’s Talk without getting an actual paper copy and skimming it over again, but I’ll say enough to whet your appetite if you’re into apologetics.  First, this is not a book about winning arguments, improving your evangelistic technique, or how Charles Darwin ruined American schools.  This is, instead, a brilliant challenge to think well, to think comprehensively, and to consider the myriad ways a Christian worldview shapes how we interact with the world.  It is much more important to love than to win.

I find Guinness to be warm, winsome, and deep, his logic masterful, and his unpacking of competing worldviews incisive.  Guinness is 76 years old, and avoided writing a book about apologetics until 2015 because he promised God he’d do apologetics before he ever dared write about it.  He’s written a long list of other books, which I can’t wait to dive into.  But buyer beware; he’s wicked smart.  I listened to Fool’s Talk at a slightly reduced speed to give my little brain time to process his train of thought.  That helped, but there were times I had to rewind and pay better attention.

My big takeaway from Fool’s Talk is similar to the point of my whole DIY seminary project:  if Christianity is true, it is absolutely comprehensive.  It must impact every decision I make, every habit I acquire, and every action I perform.  It must be big enough to contain every smaller truth and to answer every possible objection.  Therefore, it is grand enough to encompass every great thought of every philosopher, historian, poet, scientist, and theologian of all time, and it would take countless lifetimes to begin to scratch the surface.  I simply don’t have “world enough and time” to fritter if it’s a goal to love the Lord with all my mind.

Thank God for the library.

A couple interesting resources you might like to listen to if you enjoy apologetics:

A Few Reasons to Read A Reason for God

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antobodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.” –Timothy Keller

Presumably a real grad school doesn’t assign books based on what’s available… at this exact moment… for free… in audio format.  But that’s exactly my scientific approach and I’m going with it.  First up in my DIY Seminary plan, then, was Timothy Keller’s Reason for God, because yeah, it came out like a decade ago and I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Don’t judge, yo.

Keller’s book is clear, calm, and rational but also eloquent. I’m sure hearing it read aloud by the man himself influenced my view, but his famously deadpan delivery has a way of making his most impassioned viewpoints seem inevitable.  He’s able to take a heated issue and let the air out slowly before it blows, as when he discusses the Christian view of hell.  You can imagine the blustery critic slowly lowering his rock just before the stoning commenced.

I’d say Reason for God is sure to be a classic apologetic if it weren’t so rooted in our times. But then again, the ideas Keller counters have had a way of popping up repeatedly over the centuries, so maybe it will still speak to the culture in 100 years.  Jesus merely a good person but not really divine?  That idea goes back at least as far as Arius (AD 250-336).  Science has displaced religion as the ultimate truth?  Back to the Enlightenment (which, ironically, was strongly influenced by a good many Christians, for example, Francis Bacon.)  So maybe in our nothing-new-under-the-sun world, each succeeding apologist just puts new wrapping paper on what’s essentially the same set of ideas.

Reason for God isn’t so much a new argument as a very carefully constructed presentation of familiar arguments, one small layer added atop the last until it was quite a pile of convincing thoughts. I’d love to be a fly on the wall if a book club full of agnostics read it together.  And that’s kind of what reading it allows you to do.  Keller frequently quotes and discusses many of the Manhattan intellectuals he runs into, delving into their misgivings about faith and speaking to the issues on their lips.

Reading sharp apologetic books has a way of forcing us to think through our faith critically and address our own lurking doubts honestly.  Over a lifetime, each book adds a new layer of understanding, equipping us to share with confidence not only what we believe, but why.

One quibble.  I hate abridged books.  When I borrowed the audio version from the library, I didn’t see any indication that I was getting a shortened version.  Oh, it’s there, buried in the fine print.  Grrr.  Flipping through a paper copy of my husband’s, I started to see things that looked unfamiliar.  Had I fallen asleep?  Not been paying attention?  Nope.  Thank you, Reader’s Digest version.  Sheesh.

Photo via VisualHunt

DIY Degrees: 18 Books for a Year of Thinking Christianly

If wishes were horses, beggars could go to Denver Seminary.  Alas, my horsiest wishes have not given me a wallet of fat cash to go back to school at the moment, but if I could, I would love to take classes on Christ and culture, philosophy, apologetics, and theology.  I’d take classes on Christianity and the arts, poetry, worldview, the Inklings.  In point of fact, I have listened to master’s level classes while I do the dishes, free classes provided by Gordon Conwell or lectures on Youtube.  Ryan Reeves has posted a wealth of material, entire courses on Lewis and Tolkien, Reformation history, and historical theology, enough intellectual stimulation to make the chores fly.  But as I watch my husband buckle down and tackle a Ph.D., I’m amazed at his tenacity, his focus.  Without the accountability, I’d never make myself read the challenging stuff, the brain-stretchers.

Why not?  Why can’t I make a decision, flip a switch, go to the library?  Well, I know me.  I know how I battle laziness and perpetual distraction.  I know how deadlines and threats motivate me in a way lofty dreams never seem to do.  But I also know that it’s silly on some level, childish, really, to wait to fork over vast sums of money to study books that are available largely for free.

One of the great wonders of the internet is the availability of other people’s must-read, must-see, must-do bucket lists.  You can hop on Goodreads and find out what your mentors want to read.  You can peek at Tim Challies’s book reading resolutions, the syllabus of any class at any school.  What a treasure!  A Do-It-Yourself degree!  Well, maybe not quite.  But a good place to start.

Here’s my thought:  even though I never quite accomplish all the things I hope to do, all of the goal-setting and dreaming has a way of changing me.  It’s like those prayers that God never answers in the way I want — the act of praying still changes my heart.  Thinking through what I want to read, what I want to learn, has a way of raising my sights.  Even if I get through only half of what I hope to do, that’s still a lot more progress than I’d make watching Gilmore Girl re-runs on Netflix.

As Challies has pointed out, lots of fantastic books (usually current bestsellers and classics) are available in audio format, and I can usually find a good audio book to download from my local library.  While I was thinking through my Thinking Christianly gotta-read list, I chose the first one I found available for download to start with.  I’m halfway through Tim Keller’s Reason for God, taking it up whenever I’m in the car or scrubbing pots.  I doubt very many of my theologically-heavy books will be possible to find that way, but the good news is that most of my just-for-fun books are.  That means I can listen to novels while I sort laundry and save the seminary stuff for actual feet-up-in-the-evening paper book reading or morning quiet times.

So here’s the beginning of my list — we’ll call it Year One.  I’ll aim for about a book and a half per month.  I’ll never finish!  But that’s no reason not to start.  I tried to balance old and new, exciting and daunting, theological (by which I mean theology in the academic sense — what do I really believe about the person of God) and cultural.

  1. Reason for God, Tim Keller
  2. Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon
  3. Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves
  4. Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson
  5. How Should We Then Live?, Francis Schaeffer
  6. Let the Nations be Glad, John Piper
  7. Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr
  8. Christ and Culture Revisited, D. A. Carson
  9. This Day, Wendell Berry
  10. Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  11. Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers
  12. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis
  13. Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness
  14. The Only Wise God, William Lane Craig
  15. Wisdom and Wonder, Abraham Kuyper
  16. Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
  17. Valley of Vision
  18. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance

What’s on your list?

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