Wrestling with questions in my faith has consistently led to growth. I have lots of questions about Christianity and how it works. Typically these questions float around subconsciously in my mind and I may randomly stumble across an answer in a book, sermon or lecture. Sometimes I write the question down and seek it out intentionally. However the explanation or knowledge is discovered, I still am a Christian who does not know everything but is curious about many things.
It is a flaw to think that if you are a Christian you should have no questions or need for seeking knowledge. Similarly, I have lots of questions about teaching English and being a writer. I am full of “theory” about what it means to teach students how to write, but the practical application of those ideas takes work and effort. If I do not understand something about writing, I do research. I read Steven Pinkner, William Zinsser and Paul Silva to understand how to fix problems with syntax, sentence structure and clarity. Often times I must force myself to try to face the hard questions about writing so I can grow as a writer or a teacher.
I do research as a Christian. Unpacking issues by listening to online lectures and interviews about Christianity is very helpful for my faith. Sermons or lectures by thinkers are great background noise for working around my house or the commute. About a year ago I posted “5 Sermons That Have Shaped My Life” as a blog entry. Sermons appeal more to my personal life. I wanted to post some Youtube videos and lectures that appeal more the intellectual side to the faith. These talks appeal more to how the Christian faith functions as a belief system.
Below are 5 lectures by a variety of Christians: a pastor, a theologian, a philosopher, a literature professor and a journalist.
1. Tim Keller and Martin Bashir “Q and A: Reason for God? Belief in an age of Skepticism”
Here’s a discussion between Tim Keller and two journalists addressing some objections to Christianity. It seems that they have organized this interview by asking Keller the questions he answers in his book “A Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.” The book goes into much more depth about these questions and provides footnotes for the sources Keller quotes. This video is especially interesting because Martin Bashir and David Einsenbach (the two interviewers) are not Christians. Martin Bashir really presses him to be specific with his answers, which makes for a great discussion.
Keller’s book (or this video) should be required reading for anyone who wants to be a critic of the Christian faith. It is very common to see caricatures of what Christians believe. When I teach argumentation to my class, I always stress (nearly to an annoying level) that if they are going to make an argument for or against something, they need to research their opposition. Do not paint the opposition out to be a bad person by using stereotypes and strictly negative press. Avoid the straw man fallacy! I ask anyone who wants to be a critic of Christian beliefs to check out Keller’s book to avoid misrepresenting what the faith is. You don't have to become a Christian------but if you are going to "debunk" the faith, make sure you understand what Keller has to say to get an accurate picture. The book reads like a series of editorials addressing questions and Keller is a great writer.
2. James KA Smith "Culture as Liturgy"
James K.A. Smith is a nerd. A nerd is someone who is in their “element” when their favorite topic comes up. They become serious and sincere. This is why I like hearing him speak. When Smith talks about philosophy he doesn’t tell any jokes, but presents the topic as if it is crucial and urgent for you to understand why the way our modern/post-modern world understands human emotions incorrectly. In this talk “Culture as Liturgy” he goes into further detail as to how this negatively effects the church’s understanding of discipleship. He argues that the 21st century American view of human beings as only “thinking things” is an incomplete view of what a human being is. We often believe that if people know the right information, they will change into something new. This is prevalent both in the church and the university. But Smith says this view of how humans change is inaccurate.
Rather Smith argues that we are “liturgical animals” who are “what we love.” He says we are driven by our affections more than we recognize, but often attribute our actions to what we think. He says to ask someone “What do you want?” will help you define who a person is more than than “What do know?” or “What do you think?”
Smith says in this Youtube video that “the center of the human person biblically, theologically and, I think, increasingly as we are seeing psychologically is located in what the biblical tradition has called the heart. Which is this effective core of the human person, which is the seat of our passions and our desires.” Smith’s philosophy/thesis is provided answers for me after teaching a Critical Thinking class in 2013 which made me struggle with how thinking effects personal change. My textbook had very, very little information about the heart. I wrote a blog entry outlining the disadvantages of having a view of a human being as being only a "thinking thing" while ignoring other senses and factors. Smith gives a clear picture on why excluding the heart in “critical thinking” for change is a limited view of how people function.
Karen Swallow Prior explains in a very straightforward way the way literature shapes the imagination and character. The title of this talk is boring and too general (she points this out herself.) However, Prior’s talk hits on the central fictional characters that have shaped her life such as Ivan Illich and Elizabeth Bennett. Prior points out some of the problems with the way literature has been taught today and in the last 20 years (to which I totally agree).
Writing for the Atlantic Monthly and being a literature professor. That's an ideal life.
4. N.T. Wright "What Gods Do We Believe in Now? NT Wright and Gary Morson at Northwestern"
Wright points out that even though American culture seems to “banish talk of a God from public life,” we still treat certain ideas or forces like gods. Is it an accurate to say that there is “religious” culture and “secular” culture? Or are there more accurate ways to view the American culture in 2017? Wright argues that if we put “religion” and God away in the attic, as Western academic/public culture often does, other “gods” quietly pop up in their place. He suggests that war, money and sex are three “gods” that have slowly been created in a secular culture that puts religion in the closet.
Wright’s lecture is relevant because within public discourse(newspapers, television, online magazines), the university and many other places of discussion--------religion and God are often only viewed negatively and only criticized. This is the flaw of a secular public discourse, it overlooks God and often gives a condescending vibe towards religion as a topic. On the flip side, church/Christian discourse can ignore elements of the spiritual world in everyday life. The secular/sacred divide creates problems in how we face serious cultural problems. The biggest problem of all, it seems, is that a secular culture can remain religious despite attempting to rid itself of the sacred.
5. Michael Cromartie: “2014 Keynote Speech”
Cromartie has been a journalist for the Washington Post and Christianity Today. He specializes in helping the American media understand what Christianity is and the different distinctions between different sects of Christianity. His talk points out the need especially for journalists and political pundits to understand Christians and the church in detail. When the non-religious mass media (left or right) stereotypes and caricatures Christian belief, it only spreads throughout the American public and creates a negative view of religion.
As an English teacher, I find myself debunking certain myths and misinformation about Christianity in conversation with students. Like Cromartie, I would like to get the facts straight about the faith so that I’m not being stereotyped.