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Getting Medieval with C.S. Lewis

Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Review Forum Introduction

[Editor’s note: The following is the introductory post for a book review forum we’re hosting on Dr. Chris Armstrong’s Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians. Here’s our lineup of reviewers in the forum:

If the questions raised in these reviews intrigue you, join us at the study center on Tuesday, September 13, 7 pm, when Chris Armstrong himself will join us for a talk entitled “Getting Medieval with C S Lewis: Spiritual Wisdom from a Forgotten Age.”]


Chris R. Armstrong, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians
Forum Introduction

Why turn to the medievals? Why would anyone be drawn to a time that popular culture portrays as one of backwardness, oppression, academic nitpicking (ever heard the joke about angels dancing on the head of a pin?), the Black Death, etc.—a time commonly known as the “Dark Ages”? Why look to the medievals for guidance in Christian discipleship today?

Though each of these characterizations of the Middle Ages is more caricature than portrait, each also has some historical basis. Does it seem strange to you that people would be drawn to the Middle Ages, looking . Consider the many forms medievalism has taken in the last few hundred years:

  • The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic revival in architecture
  • The gothic turn in fiction, around the same time
  • The Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements in Victorian England
  • The social, cultural, and political criticism of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin
  • Medieval modernism’s reaction against the sterile abstractions of avant-garde art
  • The immersion in and reflection of medieval literature in the work of the Inklings

Although each of these impulses to turn to the Middle Ages seeks some particular goodness, truth, or beauty in that past age, the source of each impulse comes from perceived deficiencies of modernity—it’s a reaction against elements of contemporary society and culture. And in each case, I’d argue, the perceived contemporary problem is one of fragmentation; the solution sought in the middle ages is one of wholeness, unity, coherence. The poet W. H. Auden remarked on the value of medieval poetry for contemporary life:

There has been no time since its own when the literature of the Middle Ages could appeal to readers as greatly as it can today, when the dualism inaugurated by Luther, Machiavelli, and Descartes has brought us to the end of our tether and we know that either we must discover a unity which can repair the fissures that separate the individual from society, feeling from intellect, and conscience from both, or we shall surely die by spiritual despair and physical annihilation.

Auden points to particular fragmentations wrought by the Enlightenment and Reformation as the wound that the balm of medieval poetry can soothe, if not heal. Since 1949, when Auden wrote those words in an introduction to an anthology of medieval poetry, the Enlightenment and Reformation have been identified as the source of problems as diverse as the fragmentation of ethical discourse (for example, in Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue) secularization (in Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation), our greatly diminished attention spans (in Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head), and now also, in Chris Armstrong’s Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians, many of the problems faced by the contemporary church.

Armstrong’s book, then, is not so much a novel argument for a return to a forgotten past as it is the latest in a long tradition of turning back to the medievals in order to remember, restore, and renew forms of life forgotten, shattered, or left moribund by the Enlightenment and the Reformation. Armstrong’s argument reflects his awareness of his participation in this tradition, because he’s not only turning directly back to medieval thinkers, but rather turning to C. S. Lewis and letting Lewis’s medievalism serve as his guide. To use an analogy borrowed from Lewis’s most-beloved medieval poet, Lewis himself serves as Virgil to Armstrong’s Dante.

In the aforementioned introduction, Auden goes on to warn:

We must not, however, be nostalgic. Luther and Descartes, to whatever brink of disaster we may have allowed them to push us, stand, like the angels about Eden, barring the way back from an unintelligible dualism to any simple one-to-one relation. That way lies, not the Earthly Paradise, but a totalitarian hell.

How much can we restore the discarded image of the medieval world without indulging such temptations? Is it dangerous to demand of the past that it serve present needs, as Armstrong implies in the early pages of his book? To what degree can turning to the medievals help us meet present challenges and solve the problems we face, as Christians and as a church, in a society so deeply shaped by the fragmentations of the Enlightenment and Reformation? These are the questions the three respondents in our forum ask of Armstrong’s book.

2016-17 Events Preview & Annual Theme: The Dynamics of Difference

With the start of the fall semester coming up in just a few weeks, we’re excited to announce our annual theme for the 2016-17 academic year: The Dynamics of Difference. Here’s Program Director Andrew Hansen, explaining the rationale and scope of this year’s theme:

American society is deeply divided. We’re more politically divided than in any time in our recent past, and the current election cycle is exposing how divided we are even within our current political parties. On a daily basis, we’re confronted with reports of violence and counter-violence, in places like Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, and right here in the Twin Cities, that expose the deep racial, political, and cultural differences within our society.

And as the recent events in France, Syria, Iraq, and Germany make clear, violence arising from difference isn’t unique to the American situation. For better and worse, globalization puts me side-by-side (or, more often, tweet-by-tweet) with people from around the world who often have very different beliefs and cultures than my own. The possibilities for misunderstanding and conflict arising from difference seem more pronounced today in our pluralized world than ever before.

Must differences lead to conflicts resolved only through violence? Are there ways of understanding difference and reconciling conflicts that can help us chart a better path in a globalized world? How do the Christian faith and the “ministry of reconciliation” that the Apostle Paul says is given to Christians address these deep fractures that exist in our world?

These are the sorts of questions we’ll ask this coming academic year as we pursue an annual theme on “The Dynamics of Difference.” We’ll examine differences of many kinds: economic, historical, racial, cultural, religious, social, intellectual, to name just a few.

We’ll be hosting many different conversations related to this theme. The specific topics and forms of these conversations will vary, but here’s a preview of what’s coming up this academic year:

Fall Events

In September we’ll host a conversation with Dr. Chris Armstrong of Wheaton, author of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians. We’ll consider how recovering a very different kind of Christianity—from the Middle Ages—can help us identify our own cultural blindspots.

Also in September, we’ll be hosting Dr. John Inazu, author of the excellent recent book Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference, which our director Bryan Bademan will be reviewing on our blog soon.

At the end of September, we’re throwing a party! Join us on September 30 for All Things, a fall benefit event at which we’ll be unveiling a new vision for the future of our organization—one based around our belief that in Christ, all things hold together. We’ll have delicious hors d’oeuvres, live music from Sara Groves, and compelling speakers like Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In October and November, we’ll host a lecture on biblical foundations for conflict resolution and reconciliation, a talk by Jeff Van Duzer on why business matters to God, and a couple Luther-related events, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. And that’s just our fall semester! Check our fall events page for the latest announcements about our upcoming events.

Fall Reading Groups

Registration for our fall reading groups is now open! Here are a few of the books we’re planning to host reading groups on this fall:

This Year’s Holmer and Anderson Lectures

This year, our Holmer and Anderson Lectures will both take place in the spring. We’re excited to announce that this year’s Holmer Lecture—our 21st annual—will be given by Yale theologian Miroslav Volf. That lecture will discuss themes from his 2015 book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. Volf will seek a way forward in a religiously divided world—a way that makes room for vibrant, convicted religious belief while rejecting violence as a means to resolve those differences.

This year’s V. Elving Anderson Lecture in Science & Religion—the fourth annual Anderson Lecture—will be given by Dr. Charmaine Royal, Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and Genome Sciences & Policy at Duke University. Dr. Royal’s work is wide-ranging and fascinating—truly interdisciplinary—exploring, according to her faculty page, the intersections of “ethical, psychosocial, and societal issues in genetics and genomics, primarily issues at the intersection of genetics/genomics and concepts of ‘race,’ ancestry, and ethnicity.”

Join Us!

For the latest information about our events, read this blog (you can subscribe with RSS), sign up for our email list, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

If you’re interested in a reading group, check our reading group page, where we’ll soon be posting registration information.

We hope you can join us for what’s going to be an excellent year!

Banner image for "Integration of Science & Faith," a conference on Saturday, April 18 at Constant Free Church

Integrating Science and Faith:
Recommended Reading from John Walton and Keith B. Miller

Integrating Science & Faith

Science and faith. Many people feel that these subjects don’t blend well. Some public intellectuals loudly proclaim that modern scientific discoveries have disproven the God of the Bible. They are ready to sweep Christianity into the dust bin of history. Even some Christians wonder whether they can really trust the Bible. How can scriptures written thousands of years ago possibly be relevant in our modern scientific world?

Other Christians harbor deep suspicions of the scientific community. They know that God’s word is reliable and true. Yet people of faith sometimes feel that their way of life is under attack from the relentless advance of the scientific enterprise. They don’t feel that scientists can be trusted. Everyone makes mistakes, after all, don’t they? How can scientists really claim to know how old the earth is, or how our universe came to be? If you have ever asked yourself questions like these, then these lectures are for you.

The Integration of Science and Faith Seminar featured Dr. John Walton of Wheaton and Dr. Keith Miller of Kansas State. It was hosted by Constance Free Church in partnership with MacLaurinCSF and took place on Saturday, April 18, 2015. The video recordings of the lectures are available on our YouTube channel; the audio is available for download on Soundcloud:

Recommended Reading

We asked our speakers, as well as other science-minded Christian friends, for their recommendations of the best books on science and faith. We then divided the books into several categories, so you can choose according to your areas of interest.

Most of these books don’t fall neatly into any one category, however—they’re rich works that engage science, theology, and Biblical studies in significant ways. So, for instance, although the books in the “Science” category were written by scientists, they’re very strong on the “faith” side as well.

Books by Our Speakers

  • Keith B. Miller (editor), Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology & the Origins Debate
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve: Genesis 2-3 & the Human Origins Debate
  • John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture & Biblical Authority

Introductory Books

  • Francis S. Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
  • Francis S. Collins (editor), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith
  • Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design
  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues

Scripture

  • C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, & Theological Commentary
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology & the Origins Debate
  • John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve: Genesis 2-3 & the Human Origins Debate
  • John Walton & D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture & Biblical Authority
  • N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues

Science

  • Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?
  • Deborah B. Haarsma & Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design
  • Keith B. Miller (editor), Perspectives on an Evolving Creation
  • Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, & Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

History

  • Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists
  • Ronald L. Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail & Other Myths about Science & Religion
  • Davis A. Young & Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks, & Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth

Theology

  • Francis S. Collins (editor), Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith
  • Darrel R. Falk, Coming to Peace with Science: Bridging the Worlds Between Faith & Biology
  • John F. Haught, Deeper than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution
  • John F. Haught, Science & Faith: A New Introduction
  • Alister McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, & How We Make Sense of Things
  • John Polkinghorne, Faith, Science, & Understanding
  • John Polkinghorne, Science & Providence: God’s Interaction with the World
  • John Polkinghorne (editor), The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis

Other Useful Resources

Katharine Hayhoe on climate change and the Christian faith

Introducing Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, Our Third Annual Anderson Lecturer

Update: Media from Katharine Hayhoe’s visit are now available! Here are the audio and video recordings. Visit our YouTube channel and our Soundcloud page for more media.

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, will give our third annual V. Elving Anderson Lecture in Science and Religion on Thursday, April 21. Dr. Hayhoe holds degrees in physics and astronomy from the University of Toronto and in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois. Dr. Hayhoe is the daughter of missionaries; her husband Andrew Farley is an evangelical pastor.

As a climate scientist with a faculty appointment in a political science department, Dr. Hayhoe is both an exceptional scientist and also “perhaps the best communicator on climate change,” according to Professor John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas. Because of her unique combination of faith, her scientific understanding, and her gifts in teaching and communication, Dr. Hayhoe has been featured widely in the media—including film, television, and online venues. Here are some of the articles, interviews, and talks that will give you a good sense of Dr. Hayhoe as a scientist and as a Christian:

Portrait of Dr. Katharine Hayhoe on a farm

General Overviews

Film and Television

Interviews

Other Media and Resources

Join us next week for what will be a rich, fascinating lecture and discussion. We’ll be hosting a reception after the event at our study center, and we hope you’ll join us there to continue the conversation.