By now, you’ve probably noticed that I like to talk about books.
Due to family and work schedules, I can’t read as much as I’d like to right now, yet books and reading have always been a key part of my life. One of the absolute joys of teaching national security and politics courses to graduate students and undergraduates was the opportunity it gave me to highlight authors and converse about “meaty” books. It was also my goal (and fervent hope) as a professor to provoke a passion in my students for reading and the art of critical argumentation. To help them improve their reading and arguing, I would regularly assign two books: Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, and Wayne Booth, et. al., The Craft of Research.
Adler’s book on reading has recently been getting some well-deserved press in the Reformed blogosphere. Since January, Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds has put out six posts highlighting How to Read a Book (including a summary of Adler’s stages of analytical reading). Just yesterday, Justin quoted from Peter Kreeft’s book on Socratic logic. In the excerpt, Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, sings Adler’s praises, particularly his three-part division of apprehending, judging and reasoning. I wholeheartedly agree with Justin, Tony and Peter. Adler’s work is invaluable for Christians of all stripes and sizes — whether they be students, full-time Christian workers, or lay members in a church.
At the same time, I also think that the Reformed blogosphere is giving out some very mixed messages when it comes to critical analysis and argumentation.
Here’s a post dated 11 September 2009 from the blog of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The post highlighted the recent Trinity and Gender panel discussion held at Southern Seminary, but for my purposes, I’m more interested in focusing on the very last portion –
For more information on this topic, check out these resources below:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by Bruce A. Ware
Kevin Giles’ Trinity and Subordinationism: A Review Article by Peter R. Schemm, Jr.
Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles by Bruce A. Ware
JBMW Forum: Q & A on the Trinity with Bruce A. Ware and Wayne Grudem
Please note that my concern here is NOT to debate the relative merits of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism, or jump into an in-depth fight over the work of Kevin Giles, Bruce Ware or Wayne Grudem. Rather, I want to highlight how, in this particular case, CBMW chose to “prep the ground” (so to say) in helping its readers to understand the work of someone with whom they have serious disagreement. Notice zero mediation when it comes to Bruce Ware — the reader gets straight links to a book and an article. The same goes for the Ware/Grudem Q&A. Kevin Giles’ work, however, hasn’t been granted the same courtesy. In lieu of being given direct links to Giles’ work in the original, CBMW’s blog readers are instead enjoined to read two review articles — the first of which concludes with, ” [t]he primary purpose of this article…has been to show that Giles often overstates his case and in some instances simply misrepresents the facts,” while the second ends with the assessment that “[Jesus and the Father] brings the debate between complementarians and egalitarians to an all-time low.” Again, I’m not insisting that these reviews were poorly written or sloppily argued — indeed, they were not — but what is of serious concern to me is CBMW’s apparent decision in this case to “protect” its blog readers from engaging Giles in the original, unmediated by negative reviews, and what such a example possibly demonstrates about conservative evangelicalism’s “actual” or “functional” belief about Christians and the art of critical argumentation.
I will grant the point that I don’t know the precise motivations behind the structure of the CBMW post. I will also grant that any parachurch/advocacy group has the right to base and structure its recommendations however it wishes. Nevertheless, what could a reader walk away in light of the structure of this post? First, you can’t be trusted to ask the right questions or come to the right conclusions about Kevin Giles, so we have to prepare you in a way that we don’t think is necessary should you want to read Ware or Grudem in the original. Second, perhaps it’s not a question of trust, but we’re concerned that you, our readers, aren’t spiritually or theologically mature enough to read or analyze Giles without “help”; that is, we’re concerned that without such “help,” Giles will lead you astray. Third, a CBMW reader might sense that apparently, I don’t need to be as discerning about Ware, Grudem — or for that matter, Peter Schemm or Jason Hall — as I do about Kevin Giles.
We’ve all read our Mark Noll. We all want conservative evangelicals who are intellectually robust and strong in analysis. Yet, this type of example would seem to indicate that when it comes down to the pavement level, we as conservative evangelicals may not really desire that. In academic circles, it’s very common to assign students review articles, plus any rejoinders and surrejoinders, but that’s not the case here. Kevin Giles doesn’t get to speak himself at all. His voice is only mediated through the CBMW reviewers. Moreover, CBMW’s blog readers aren’t given the opportunity to learn how to read or study Giles critically without first undergoing innoculation. The CBMW post could have offered direct links to everyone’s original work and, keeping in mind what CBMW considers to be a neo-pastoral mandate, provided study questions for its readers to think about or ponder while reading everyone’s work — Ware and Grudem’s works included.
In short, CBMW could have read Giles alongside its blog readers, rather than for them.
Coming up: Critical thinking, the designation of “dangerous” books in American evangelicalism, and why Mark Dever’s “What I read on vacation” posts were more perilous to my soul than any of the reading I ever did for my undergraduate comprehensive examinations (minor field) on witchcraft and heresy in late medieval/early modern European history.