Friday, July 27, 2018

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books, Karen Swallow Prior

Firstly, I want to thank Dr. Prior for the privilege of reading an advance copy of this her new book. If it is even secondarily offered as an invitation to read many of these great books, then it succeeds wildly. I kept reflecting on what sort of phrase I could use to describe this book. Finally, it came to me and it never left: this book is a meditation on the virtues. Calling it a meditation on the virtues sounds kind of heavy, and it obscures a certain friendly and unobtrusive tone that this work possesses. Although we've never met personally, I felt like I was talking to Karen about these books, or that I was a student in one of her classes.

The premise of this work seems to be that in reading the great books and in contemplating their characters, we learn a little more about ourselves, and what it means to be human. If this is the principal goal of the work, it succeeds beyond what I suppose the author imagines, based upon the few notes of self-assessment she provides. Given this premise, the book contributes to a Christian anthropology, and will be of benefit to any Christian.

I was moved nearly to the point of tears in a couple of places in this book. That is no small feat for a book about books. I suppose we might attribute it to the skill of the authors discussed therein, and the greatness of their stories, but I think it also fair to say that Dr. Prior has put her heart into this book. It's not difficult for the reader to notice.

I don't know the first thing about literary criticism, but it was not a hindrance to my understanding of this work. It is both readable and comprehensible for anyone. The prose wasn't irritating or clunky at all. As I said, it reads like a conversation. I still don't know what I think about endnotes, but in a book like this, they're better than footnotes.

My least favorite part of the book was in the chapter on the virtue of diligence. I suppose I have to note my personal antipathy for Pilgrim's Progress, but the writing here seem to lose focus on the virtue, in favor of reflections on John Bunyan himself. In addition, not all the likely readers of this book would share the theological outlook of Bunyan, and so they might not sympathize with him as the author intends. Still, if that's the only thing that bothered or confused me in a book of nearly 240 pages, some good work has been done.

Finally, the good folks at Brazos Press deserve praise for publishing this book. It will be right and just if this book makes a ton of money. Dear friends, head on over to to pre-order this book right now! (I reserve the right to blather on about this more later.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Religion Is A Crutch," They Said

You haven't practiced much religion, have you? Why would I use a crutch that weighs a ton? A mobility device is supposed to help. I have some experience here, as you may or may not know. [But it provides meaning, doesn't it?--ed.] Sure, but it's not intelligible from outside itself. Religion--let's just say "Christianity" to save time--doesn't help to live this life at all. What the truth revealed in Jesus Christ will do is transform how you see ordinary things.

Two guys walking and talking. Picture this, now.

"I can't believe it, but he said that horrible accident was the best thing that's ever happened to him!"

"Well, he got religion, so."

"Yeah. He's nuts. Still, I've never seen him so happy."

Now, I ask you, what changed? The experiences and things in the world didn't. The people didn't change, at least by normal appearances. The man's relationship to the things in his life changed.

Christianity says that suffering can be good. Christianity says that death isn't the worst thing that could happen to you. Is the world painful and tragic? Yes, almost always. This is why that "evangelical" atheism won't go anywhere. Everybody knows the world is often tragic and painful. If there's nothing but this, life really isn't worth it. The existentialists figured this out, eventually to their detriment, in many cases. I agree with them.

You can't make meaning out of life. You just can't. But if Someone comes and explains everything to you, that's different. If the Author of the Great Story comes to you and says, "I know it looks bad, but trust Me, it's worth it!" then OK, I'm in.

That's why Christianity truly exists only in personal encounter. The great edifice of Western civilization is crumbling because the people no longer acknowledge the Person whose entry into the world breathed life into our collective lungs. He's there, but we're not talking to Him. He is everlasting; we are not. We live, we die. I'm not trying to make it in this world; I'm living for the next. If I succeed in living "on Earth, as it is in Heaven," that really blazes a trail, though.