Books and Associations

Sean Lucas has written a thought-provoking piece over on Reformation 21 about a person’s opinions in relation to his collection of books. I’d like to interact with this a bit. On the one hand, he definitely has a good point in saying that an eclectic library does not tell you what kinds of opinions a person has. I have plenty of heretical books on my shelf. I even have the Koran and the sacred books of Hinduism (though I don’t have the Vedas). He gave some good examples of books he had on his shelf that don’t even remotely express his opinions on various doctrines. However, what I’d like to point out is that his argument has limits. Let me demonstrate with, firstly, an absurd example, followed by an example closer to home.

Let’s say a Reformed seminary, calling itself Reformed, had the following as its exclusive reading list: the Koran, the Mishnah, the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, I Ching, the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Upanishads. That’s all the students were required to read. Would this raise any questions in the minds of outsiders as to how Reformed such a seminary would be? Would it be prima facie evidence that at least someone at the seminary was very interested in non-Christian religions? Sean has certainly listed some ways in which circumstantial evidence can be done very badly indeed. But does this mean that all circumstantial evidence is useless? See Eileen’s very sensible comments on this issue (and don’t miss her additional comment in the comments section).

The next point I wish to bring up here is the logical question of personal versus corporate issues. I don’t know for sure, but it seems like Sean is aiming his comments at Wes White’s reading list comparisons of various seminaries. If Sean is not aiming his comments at those posts, I will happily retract my guess here. But is there a difference between the reading library of an individual versus a seminary’s required reading list that is intended to teach students about the Reformed faith? Is it unreasonable to suppose that a seminary’s complete list is in large part an indication of what they think defines the Reformed faith? This is circumstantial evidence, of course. The question is whether it is a good example or a bad example. What do the readers think?

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32 Comments

  1. Wes White said,

    December 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I don’t think that the post was aimed at my posts because many people could write about what books are in a pastor’s library without any reference to my posts.

  2. December 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    For what it’s worth, I read it as a critique of Wes’s posts. I had the same thought you’ve laid out here Lane. The general library of an individual (particularly a historical theological scholar) is different from the reading list of a seminary.

  3. Phil Derksen said,

    December 16, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    SL: “In the same way, it is a bit distressing to hear that some folks–well-meaning PRESBYTERS and fearful congregants–are judging ministers and ministerial candidates (or even whole seminaries) by the books they read.”

    If not pastor White, who is possibly being referred to here?

  4. David said,

    December 16, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Why does it matter at all if Lucas has someone roses post in mind? What meaningful difference does it make?

  5. paigebritton said,

    December 16, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    SL: Even more, someone (not me) had “thoughtfully” arranged the books and decided that D. L. Moody biographies should sit in the biblical studies section, that Aquinas was really a Puritan, and that the general theology books could be arranged with no rhyme or reason alphabetically.

    Uh oh! Guess he missed the lecture on the art and science of dusting one’s own theological library.

    Lane or Wes, is there a link possible to Wes’s lists? To my knowledge I have not seen these, although I remember there was recently a reading list from Covenant shared on the Warfield List, which SML is also involved in. Don’t know if Wes was the impetus there, or if others were just similarly curious. But this may have been what Sean Lucas was thinking of.

    I would hesitate to make a judgment call about a seminary’s assigned lists without some knowledge of what purpose the books were being put to. If there were more titles that raised my eyebrows than not, I’d certainly want to sit down with the profs who assigned them and find out their reasons (before attending, supporting, or critiquing the institution).

    Come to think of it, Lane, I’m not sure that there’s a strict division here between “individual” and “corporate” bookshelves and reading lists: because (despite implicit corporate approval) behind the seminary reading lists are individual professors with reasons.

  6. Wes White said,

    December 16, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    The major problem I have with inductive reasoning is that it is not deductive.

    David, I’m sure that context does not matter all.

  7. Wes White said,

    December 16, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    The reading list posted on the Warfield list probably came from my web site. A reading list published by the bookstore at Covenant Theological Seminary was published at my site.

    http://www.weswhite.net/2010/11/covenant-theological-seminarys-reading-list/

    I also posted a follow-up, the reading list of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia.:

    http://www.weswhite.net/2010/11/reading-list-for-westminster-seminary-in-philadelphia/

    The Covenant Seminary list led to a lengthy discussion.

  8. Phil Derksen said,

    December 16, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Can one of the pastors here tell me if it is normal for a seminary to include titles in a reading list such as these that are mainly just “foils”, or are they intended to be works that contain things that by and large students are supposed to agreeably imbibe?

  9. paigebritton said,

    December 16, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks, Wes.

  10. paigebritton said,

    December 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Phil –
    (Not that I am answering your question — )
    Does “a seminary” make reading lists? It’s really a question about professors, isn’t it? And probably some have chosen foils, and some have not. I’d think it would depend on the course topic and the teacher’s style and intentions, unless the sem had a stated goal one way or the other.

  11. Wes White said,

    December 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I do think it is entirely common to use books for foils.

    I also think it is entirely common for those who have an unhealthy love for romance novels to have lots of romance novels.

  12. Lee said,

    December 17, 2010 at 2:12 am

    I have to say that I think Sean Lucas is just wrong. First, Lane is correct that required reading lists at a seminary is different from a pastor’s shelves. Second, I do not think that Rev. Lucas is even right about the pastor’s shelves as I do not think he got the full force of the parallel.
    Instead of using his own bookshelf as an example he needs to make the example fit. Rev. Lucas admitted to having NT Wright, but also “lots of Calvin” among other Reformed and orthodox authors. Go back and follow Rev. White’s link to the Covenant Seminary list. Where is the lots of Calvin? Now the example Rev. Lucas should have used is if you walked into a pastor’s study and you saw NT Wright and no reformers at all, could you then logically conclude that the pastor was reformed? If he then claimed to be reformed could you trust it?

  13. David said,

    December 17, 2010 at 6:16 am

    I am sure that context does matter. I am also sure that speculation does not, which seems to be the foundation of most of the comments.

  14. paigebritton said,

    December 17, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Lee –
    Go back and follow Rev. White’s link to the Covenant Seminary list. Where is the lots of Calvin?

    I’m noticing that the Westminster list offers a more challenging standard of sources overall, many of them primary. They are also (apparently) more concerned with systematic theology as a discipline at WTS than Covenant Sem.

    This does not mean that Covenant by contrast neglects Reformed teachings; they have just chosen to offer them in different packaging — NT Wright aside, they are mostly working with contemporary writers who have tried faithfully to communicate orthodoxy to contemporary readers.

    Perhaps the two sems have different expectations in terms of the scholarly abilities/calling of pastors? But the reality is, pastoral candidates do differ in their abilities and calling as scholars.

  15. Cris D. said,

    December 17, 2010 at 7:42 am

    So, no one ever picked up on this from the Covenant Seminary courses list:

    Acts & Paul course…distinct from Pastoral Epistles/General Epistles (& Rev). Is that at least a passing nod to non-Pauline authorship of the Pastorals? Why would those 13 chapters be segregated from a course on Paul? Hmmm.

  16. Jeff Cagle said,

    December 17, 2010 at 7:50 am

    I have sympathy with Lee here. A seminary reading list is not a bookshelf (which might contain gifts, mistakes, objects of curiosity, technical references, one’s spouse’s books, etc.).

    Still, I do wonder how the list was compiled and whether it is fully representative. In some ways, I think the faculty list is at least as important as the reading list.

    Also: one notes that “Scripture” is an always assumed but never-listed reading material for a class. For my Judges-Esther class, we pretty much read the Scripture; I don’t recall any outside reading, unless it were an intro like Dillard. And that class was particularly excellent.

    And it might well be that the Confession is similar for any given class. If I were teaching Systematics I, I would very likely have students comparing things to the Confession here and there, and yet not list that as a “reading.”

  17. Wes White said,

    December 17, 2010 at 8:58 am

    The point here is not really Covenant Seminary’s reading list or Westminster’s reading list. I put up the lists just to get people’s reactions and start a discussion, not knowing myself where the discussion would go.

    The problem I have with the article is the idea that you cannot judge a minister or seminary by the books they read or recommend. Quite frankly, I think that is ludicrous. Paige wrote:

    “This does not mean that Covenant by contrast neglects Reformed teachings; they have just chosen to offer them in different packaging — NT Wright aside, they are mostly working with contemporary writers who have tried faithfully to communicate orthodoxy to contemporary readers.”

    This is inductive reasoning. Whether I agree is immaterial. The point is that we all do it, and it is a necessary part of life.

    If you go into a minister’s office and find a large shelf full of charismatic books, that tells you something. What it tells you will be determined by other factors. But it is an important observation nonetheless.

    I remember driving home to Grand Rapids one time, and the roads looked normal to me. Then, I started seeing cars in the ditch. Then, I tapped on my breaks and noticed that I began to slip. I concluded that the roads were extremely slippery and that I was in some danger. I’m glad that I could use such circumstantial evidence because I actually came close to getting into a wreck but was able to avoid it.

    We use that sort of thinking all the time. I challenge you to think of how many times you “judge people by their books” every day. I think you will find that this is a fundamental and necessary part of human life.

  18. Eileen said,

    December 17, 2010 at 10:53 am

    For the record, I like Ref21. Sean Lucas wrote,

    “But I, for one, would not want to live in a world or a church where the thought police scanned my book shelf and told me what I could or could not read. I would not want to live in a world or a church that mirrored George Orwell’s 1984.”

    I don’t know the reason he wrote this, but it’s purely a straw man. Who would want to live in an Orwellian church, and where is the evidence that someone is trying to make us live in such a church? What is truly Orwellian, on the other hand, is the way that FV adherents and sympathizers use language. FV is full of theological Newspeak, as many able theologians have observed. Someone with more knowledge than I can judge when one crosses the boundary between nuance and Newspeak, and I think some able theologians have done that with respect to FV. I don’t think Sean Lucas really believes that he we are in any real danger of being forced to live in Orwellian churches.

    Another snippet from Sean Lucas’ post:

    “All to say, that if someone was to try to discern my theological position from the books I have read (or have on my shelf, waiting for my attention), what could they say? Theologically confused? Potentially liberal? Beautifully eclectic? Intellectually adventurous? It would be foolish to render an opinion.”

    Again, this is a straw man because no one is saying that one’s theological position should be discerned *solely* on the basis on what is on one’s bookshelf. I would be more likely to listen to his sermons or what he has written and consider the totality of the evidence. What is potentially hazardous, however, especially given Sean Lucas’ position and influence, is the use some might make of the last sentence (emphasis on “foolish”). This viewpoint might be invoked illegitimately in support of their effort to take the issues of sources of influence and associations off the table and place it out of bounds because such is “foolish.” I don’t think that is what is intended by his post, but it could be an unfortunate unintended consequence of it. Although I’ve been wandering in the intellectual wilderness for literally 40 years since I took freshman logic, I think that using the term “foolish” in his post looks a lot like poisoning the well.

    Please forgive my inability to use blockquotes. I’m writing under the influence of brain fog and can’t remember how to do that ;o)

  19. Jeff Kerr said,

    December 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Just a quick response to Cris D #15. I’m a recent Covenant grad (MDiv ’10). I can’t speak to the reasoning for including 1-2 Timothy and Titus with the General Epistles. It may have something to do with the fact that Acts and Paul is already a 4-credit class with much material to cover. But I’m not certain. I will say, however, that Pauline authorship of the Pastorals was taught and defended in that class since the letters themselves claim Pauline authorship. I’ll also mention that Petrine authorship of 2 Peter was taught and defended since the letter itself claims Petrine authorship – even though this is commonly rejected, even in some Evangelical circles.

    Hope that’s helpful.

  20. Todd said,

    December 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I seem to remember someone at WSC mentioning that to receive accreditation the curriculum of each course must have at least 1/3 reading material of a different side or perspective than what is taught. Does anyone know if this is true?

  21. Lee said,

    December 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I agree completely with Wes. People make judgments based on things like reading lists and bookshelves. Is it wrong? I don’t think so. It is making a deduction based on the evidence at hand. People do it all the time. In fact, that is why I have a heresy shelf in my bookshelves. I don’t want people to come into my office and think that Doug Wilson or NT Wright are what I believe. Nor do I want them to think that maybe they ought to read those guys. So they get their own shelf labeled heresy.

    re:#20 Todd: I don’t think that is required for accreditation, but I am not certain. If it is then that is a strong argument that accreditation should not be sought by seminaries.

    re:#13 David: I am not sure if all of this is speculation. I think that is the point under debate. Is taking a reading list required by a seminary speculating or is it proper evidence. I also think that as far as Covenant goes the list of things that ought to cause concern is as long as my arm and then some.

  22. December 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    [...] great hit from Eileen: For the record, I like Ref21. Sean Lucas [...]

  23. Cris D. said,

    December 17, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    #19 Hey Jeff. I didn’t think that was the case, I should have thrown in an emoticon or something to indicate I was being tongue-in-cheek.

    So, Jeff, tell us about the expected background, expected reading that CTS assumed or hoped you and your classmates would bring with you to CTS.

    Pretty sure that WTS used to send out recommendations to those who were accepted as students but might be lacking in some background exposure. Lawyers, engineers and Bible-College Bible majors might be advised to brush up on philosophy and apologetics prior to arriving.

    -=Cris=-
    WTS , M.Div., ’82

  24. Cris D. said,

    December 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Just one more tid-bit from an old-timer. I was Asst Manager at WTS Campus Bookstore for 3 years (worked there for all 4 years of my MDiv program).

    At WTS-PA the bookstore list was things you could purchase for class reading; we used to have a 3-level scale. Books where you were going to read most or all of the content would be “required”; then 2 further levels based on either smaller percent of the whole was assigned or it was not considered something you really ought to or need to own. Titles required for purchase would often be based on the idea that 100+ students could not all get access to reserve copies at the library, even if the library went to the trouble/expense of securing 8 or 10 copies of the same title just for that reserved shelf. Some of this required stuff circulated amongst students via informal 2nd-hand selling. Not everyone wanted to keep an anthology of contemprary RC theology, even though it was handy to purchase a copy for course work. No different than what we all did or observed in college.

    If one needs to investigate a seminary’s position or standing, there’s nothing that can shortcut the investigative, interviewing process required of interacting with persons. There’s no silver bullet. Can avoid the hard pastoral work of asking questions,listening to answers.

    Cris Dickason

  25. Jeff Kerr said,

    December 17, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    @Chris D #23. I enrolled back in the summer of 2006, so I can’t recall any specific reading expectations that were given me. I seem to recall something very vague regarding some undergraduate study in philosophy, church history, and/or Bible being useful but not mandatory. But, again, my memory isn’t especially sharp on that point.

    I think, in many ways, it was assumed that the students at Covenant (the majority of which are coming from PCA churches) were already familiar with Reformed theology and the writings of some of the most important Reformed figures. For many students (in my opinion), this was the case. For others, like myself, we were already well-versed in Reformed theology but had not read much in terms of historical theology or primary sources. For others still, neither was true of them. Recognizing these weaknesses in myself, I took an elective reading through Calvin’s Institutes with Dr. David Calhoun and another January term elective on B.B. Warfield with Dr. Carl Trueman. In hindsight, they were two of the more important classes I took at Covenant. I regret missing out on courses on the Puritans. I got some limited exposure, reading Baxter’s “The Reformed Pastor” and one or two others. I am, of course, always open to suggestions for good additions to my library. I also think I’ve rambled a good deal. Did I come anywhere close to answering your question?

  26. Wes White said,

    December 17, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Cris # 24, I don’t think anyone is going to shortcut such a process. However, I think that I can safely assume that Asbury Seminary is Wesleyan/Methodist without much interviewing. There are things that are rather obvious on their face.

    I also question whether interviews with officials of the seminary are really the best way to find out what’s really going on at a seminary.

    I used to work in a cheese factory. When we had inspectors come in, there would be no cheese on the floor. We wouldn’t mix back in any of the old cheese. We would paint everything to make it look nice. I was always amazed that people came and visited under these conditions as if these visits actually meant something. In this case, interviews with the workers and circumstantial evidence probably would have been a better indication of what was really going on in the factory than a planned visit and talking with the managers.

  27. December 17, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    I think one of the best indicators of the quality of a seminary’s curriculum is how their grads perform on the floor of presbytery when being examined for ordination.

  28. Eileen said,

    December 17, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    The conclusion of Sean Lucas’ post is:

    “We need the freedom to explore the world in which God has placed us; we need to trust our brothers are guided by Word and Spirit, confession and polity; and we need to believe that neither we nor our church is threatened by such exploration.

    Indeed, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Neither should we judge a man by his books.”

    Has someone revoked anyone’s freedom to explore the world? What does this sentence mean? I’ve been sort of out of touch lately, and I may have missed that revocation. Is this a veiled reference to Biologos or something else I’ve missed?

    Is it really true that we “need to trust” [that] our brothers are guided by Word and Spirit, confession and polity? I don’t think that was the viewpoint of the Apostle Paul and his paraphraser, the famous Berean Ronald Reagan who thought we should “Trust but Verify.” If Paul thought we should examine his own apostolic teaching against the Scripture, on what authority do we give elders in the church a pass as Sean Lucas appears to request that we do?

    We “need to believe” that neither we nor our churches are threatened by such exploration? Well, OK. I *need to believe* that eating a couple of gallons of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia won’t make me fat, so I won’t worry about that, either, I guess.

    I absolutely agree that we should not judge a book on its cover. I don’t think that is the main problem in the church, however. The bigger danger is that some of the bad “books” in the church are wearing dust jackets that belong to good books and hiding behind those good dust jackets, which I think is the basic point Jude was making, among others. I’m totally in agreement that the elders of the church need to look past the cover of these “books” and look carefully and thoroughly inside them. Elders should turn every page and examine each one regularly, closely, and diligently, it seems to me.

  29. Cris D. said,

    December 17, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Jeff @ 25 – Thanks for that – not that anybody has to answer to me.

    Wes @ 26 – I wasn’t suggesting that officials of a seminary are the main folks or only ones to interview. Students and grads would be a large part of the picture. But reflect on Jeff’s observations (#25): there’s a spectrum of students in every student body, so you’ll get a mix of opinions, requiring careful sifting. I would say Jason (*27) is on the right track. And reinforces something I was trying to get at in my final line or two: Particularly in terms of ordination, we can’t afford to rely on any seminary to be the stamp of approval for office. No matter how sterling and warranted any (many) institution’s reputation, we examine and ordain men for office. An M.Div. from anywhere is not an automatic qualification for office. A man has to prove his exegetical and theological skills and knowledge and his ministerial gifts in Church and Presbytery. There can be no short cuts and no one does the hard work for Church or Presbytery. Same is true for us ruling elders: can not short cut pastoral oversight of our people, can’t avoid spending time with them and actually shepherding and walking with them.

  30. Roger du Barry said,

    December 18, 2010 at 2:12 am

    ” A man has to prove his exegetical and theological skills and knowledge and his ministerial gifts in Church and Presbytery.”

    I can assure you that very few men straight out of college have anything like suitable exegetical and preaching skills. They have been given certain tools, and now must learn to use them in the field. Three years is a very short time, and all that it can reasonably do is provide a preparation, an introduction, to the skills needed.

    Consider this: how many of the books of the Bible do you think a man can master in three years of study? Very few is the answer. Certain key books and letters will be taught, such as a couple of Gospels, Acts maybe, Romans certainly, and a few of the other letters. The OT will have been dealt with in overview, and at best some chapters of Genesis will have been studied in detail, not to mention a few key Psalms. Perhaps some of the smaller OT books will have been studied in part or whole.

    Every school will have its own approach, but none of them will be able to give a man an exhaustive knowledge of the Bible.

    Sixty-six books into three years equals? Clue: the answer is not twenty two. I have not even mentioned systematics or any other theological subject.

  31. Jeff Cagle said,

    December 18, 2010 at 10:08 am

    And here I was thinking all this time that Chris D was Chris Donato. :)

    Roger, Jason — good points.

  32. Cris D. said,

    December 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    RE #30

    I can only directly speak of OPC and CanRC churches. The perhaps sorry fact of the matter is that many men will be expected to take a pastoral position shortly after completing the M Div and getting ordained. Some will become the sole pastor with only summer internships under their belts. No one expects them to be expertly accomplished at everything all at once. But we certainly can expect them to know church history, to know their way around the Bible, to know how to embark on lifetime of preparing and delivering sermons. It will take time to find their “style” and get into the rhythm and pattern of the ministry work. But the purpose of licensure & ordination, the pastoral function, the ministry of the Candidates & Credentials committees (as we OPC call them) is to examine and guide candidates. Then Presbytery as a whole has to review and vet them. There are cases where some who are not appropriately gifted are not diverted from the pastorate to other callings or professions.

    It is best that men get to do internships or associate positions and work in mentored environments. But those options don’t exist for all. Makes it all the more compelling that ruling elders be mature and capable men.

    #31 Jeff – if it’s Chris D. it might well be Chris Donato. If it’s Cris D. it’s most likely (in this context) Cris Dickason. My folks always told me they knocked the “h” out of me when I was born. *cough* Note that my folks were adherents of the Bahai World Faith back then. They wanted to name me in the general KRIS phonetic range (based on past family names), but Christian was obviously out and Christopher is essentially the same, and even Chris (with h) was too close to Christ for mom & dad, so I’ve been CRIS.


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