Monday, December 12, 2005

Brief reflections on blogging and reading

One of the things that I learnt from John Frame, in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (DKG) (see post: some books) is that ontology precedes epistemology. That is, what we know precedes how we know. We know things - many things, before we get round to reflecting on our process of knowing. One might think, Frame argues, that we should be clear about the methods that we do use or should use in acquiring knowledge before we embark on knowing. After all, how can we be sure we're not using faulty methods if we don't set them out clearly beforehand? The knowledge we have may be seriously skewed since we may be using the wrong methods of getting it? So LET'S GET OUR METHODS STRAIGHT FIRST!!!!!!! (note the increasing fervour) Wrong - contends Frame - "Contrary to our intellectualist prejudices, the practice of something generally precedes its definition" We know many things before we rationalise about the process of knowing.

Well, the point of this post is not to indulge in lengthy philosophical reflections. I have appended a paragaph from DKG if you're interested. Rather, Frame's point was brought to mind as I reflected a little over this thing called blogging which I have recently embarked upon. But rather than reflect excessively at this stage over the nature and purpose of blogging, perhaps it is better to go straight into blogging, do some, and reflect as I go along.

Which leads me, rather haphazardly, to me saying that at this stage I have no great scheme, or plan of 18 themes that I wish to develop in this blog. I therefore at this stage throw out some random reflections, and see where they end up.

I hope at some stage to write some posts on the books which I have said have been influential to me at different times of my life, and some of the lessons I have learnt from them. Books are incredibly important, for many reasons, but two thoughts are brought to mind at this point:

1) John Piper has a chapter in Brothers, We Are not Professionals entitled "Brothers, Fight for Your Life" What is it about? Books. He begins:

"I agree with Martyn Lloyd-Jones that the fight to find time to read is a fight for one's life. 'Let your wife or anyone else take messages for you, and inform the people who are telephoning that you are not available. One literally has to fight for one's life in this sense.'"

Why so? Because of the sheer, desperate need to feed our own souls. Piper is writing particularly for pastors, who face the danger of being drained, becoming dry, as they prepare messages, give, serve, serve, serve:

"For your own soul and for the life of your church, fight for time to feed your soul with rich reading. Almost all the forces in our culture are trivializing. If you want to stay alive to what is great and glorious and beautiful and eternal, you will have to fight for time to look through the eyes of others who were in touch with God."

This is not just for pastors.

2) Secondly, I am reminded by some comments by Don Carson, in his brief reflection on 2 Timothy 3 (For the love of God volume 1) In the light of the sin and dangers of the last days (NB = which "range from Christ's ascension to his return) (vv.1-7), how should we live?

"First, we must resolve to follow the best mentors (3:10-11). These are the people whose lives reflect the Gospel, and who have been tested by hardship and protected by God. In a world of many pop idols, not least in the field of religion, we must become intentional about choosing the best mentors, or by default we shall probably choose poor ones."

Carson has more to say on this theme in Basics for Believers, chapter 4, "Emulate Worthy Christian Leaders".

It may not be easy to find mature Christians to act as examples and mentors to us. (cf. post by Dan Bowen and comments by Mark Heath here) And books are in many ways poor substitutes. But the books we read can have a profound influence on our thinking and our living. And so we must choose carefully who to read; to choose carefully which books and authors we should allow to mentor us.

It is good to read widely, to read a variety, even to read books that are profoundly unhelpful (with caveats - I hope to post some thoughts on this at a later date). But we must select carefully those books which will mentor us, which will quench our thirst when we are dry, which will refresh us when we are drained, which will challenge us when we are complacent. And of course, it is to God's Word we must turn to first and most frequently. But we must also select with wisdom those things we read that will expound and preach and apply and wield God's Word to us.


As promised, I append a longer quote from John Frame:

"One could argue that the doctrine of the knowledge of God ought to be a student's first introduction to systematic theology. After all, it seems that one must know what knowing is before one goes about the business of knowing specific things. One must know what theology is before one can do theology. Right? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, there is certainly much virtue in the idea of discussing epistemology toward the beginning of a student's theological course of study, since it does provide him with concepts and methods that will enrich the rest of his study. On the other hand, the lack of philosophical, linguistic, and catechetical background of many seminary students makes me wonder if first-year students are ready to tackle an area of study as difficult as this can be. And more seriously, there is a sense in which students are not ready to define "theology" until they have done it, just as they are not ready to define "knowledge" until they have done some knowing. Contrary to our intellectualist prejudices, the practice of something generally precedes its definition. (People were writing poetry and thinking logically long before Aristotle defined poetry and formulated a logic.) Can you do theology without knowing what theology is? Of course, just as you can tell time without having a definition of "time," just as you can walk or eat or breathe without being able to give precise definitions of those activities. And sometimes we must do something before we can define it. It is scarcely conceivable that anyone could define "seeing" without ever having seen anything. And if a blind man were able, through reading in braille dictionaries, to define sight, imagine how much deeper his understanding of it would be after his sight were restored. A student is not ready, in my view, to appreciate definitions of "theology" or of the "knowledge of God" unless he has already done some ` theology and unless he already knows God!"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Some books

I went through my bookshelves last night to locate some of the books which have been particularly influential at various times in my life. Here they are!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Taking the plunge, but for what purpose?

I hardly know at this stage where this blog is going to go. I feel it must have some purpose, something to contribute, yet at this stage I am not clear what. I suspect that for a few months, it will consist of rather sporadic, somewhat random entries, until I find my feet and have a clearer sense of direction. In that respect it is not unlike beginning to submerge oneself in a new literature, dipping one's toe into a new realm of enquiry, not quite sure where one is going to be taken.

At this stage, my idea is to use this blog to comment on things I have read; readings that have stimulated my mind in all kinds of directions. I shall be attempting to think and write as a Christian, but not only on areas which would be called 'religious'. Better put, since all of life is religious, :) I will be seeking to bring a Christian mind to bear on everything I possibly can!!

My particular areas of interests lie in things like geography and history, in theology and Biblical interpretation, in birdwatching and sport, in Spain, and more besides.

It is a rather strange to think that these random thoughts will be posted on a blog that could be read by anyone, or, more likely, no-one! Doubtless they will be lost in the virtual ether! But I am (potentially) publishing my thoughts to the world! What a scary thought. And yet, my innermost thoughts and feelings are already known. "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:13)