For many years now I have read works, studied
worldviews, and written curriculum to teach the concepts of Christian
worldview literary criticism.
These studies have led me to the doorways of some important
secular and religious thinkers who have all participated in what
Mortimer Adler calls the Great Conversation. The Great Conversation is the ‘conversation’
through literature that has progressed through the western intellectual
tradition, transcending author life spans, cultures, continents,
and even language barriers. Each
author in the strand is found to be influencing the next.
The Christian presupposition is that this conversation
paints a picture of Man in all his God-reflected glory, or in
all of his shame. Each literary movement represents the greatest
thinkers of the time, whether Christian or secular. The job of the Christian literature teacher
is to expose the underlying suppositions of those great thinkers
and hold them up to the light of biblical truth, exposing truth
and untruth. The practice of this type of literary criticism
provides the young students with important skills he/she will
be able to employ for the rest of their reading lives.
And, more importantly, it will open to them the possibility
of participating in the Great Conversation themselves, impacting
their world for the glory of God.
In the lengthy history of the western Great
Conversation there have been many thinkers who stand apart from the
rest. Their power to think
insights and profound influences have made their lives and ideas a
powerful record of man’s attempt to explain the inexplicable completely apart
from a Creator God. In a world where so
many blindly grope through life dealing with circumstances and reactions, unaware
of the search for purpose and meaning - these thinkers have shaken the very
foundations of their societies in their search for answers. In their quest for a prime reality they seek
to know ‘how should we then live?’
These powerful thinkers have not always been
philosophers. World-changing ideas
arise from the minds of mathematicians,
astronomers, scientists, naturalists, artists, musicians, doctors, theologians,
poets, political leaders, and religious leaders who have demonstrated a
resolution to rebel against accepted
standards or ideals. They desired
‘another’ or ‘different’ answer to the oldest questions of life; “Why am I
here?” “How did I get here?” “Is there a God?” and “What is the purpose of
life?” A man like Socrates, a wise man by the world’s standards, was one
such individual. He forced the students
of his Thoughtery
to question the foundations of their own prime reality, what we might call
Values Clarification today. Borrowing as
he did from the Delphic Oracle,
Socrates’ motto was "Know thyself." Use your reason! Think! Find answers
for yourself. Above all, examine your
life for "the unexamined life
is not worth living." As
Christians, we proclaim, “Know Christ”, the absolute opposite!
In every one of us
there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow
wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other,
an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence.
Socrates, Greek philosopher. Quoted
in Plato’s, Phaedrus.
As shown in the above quote, great secular thinkers
have often stumbled upon biblical truths.
Although their understanding of these truths proves to be limited, it
does not discount their worth in the Great Conversation. As Christian thinkers, students must first be
challenged to discover biblical truths in the confines of the Bible itself
before they are able to apply these truths, like a plastic overlay, to other
literary works. Teaching these skills, and opening minds to the Great Conversation in the
light of biblical truth is the purpose of my ministry.
My own presuppositions are naturally the basis and
hub for my literary studies. As I
approach a literary work I seek to uncover the author’s underlying assumptions. Did he/she believe in God? Did he/she accept or even know of
Creation? Who was the intended audience
and what was the culture like that this work was addressed to? What seems to be the purpose of this
piece? Has the author uncovered biblical
truths or is he/she seeking to challenge my
underlying assumptions - values clarification?
Literary criticism demands a careful study of the form and style of the
work. Is it a narrative? Is it a recorded history? Is it prescriptive? Does it reflect pagan, renaissance, or
reformation ideals? My own worldview, my
basic assumptions of truth, will affect the manner in which I approach,
understand, and teach any specific piece of literature.
I presuppose Special Creation: a literal seven-day
period as recorded in Genesis, ex nihilo.
I presuppose a purpose for men and women: that they were created in the
image of God to glorify Him, that they broke fellowship when they disobeyed and
have been reconciled again through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I presuppose a purpose for all historical
events: from Creation to the birth of Christ, and from Christ’s sacrifice to
His Return. I assume all of history
prior to the birth of Christ as preparation to receive Him, and all of history
since His death as preparation for His return.
My underlying assumption includes moral absolutes as found in the Bible,
which are unchangeable throughout all of human history. These timeless truths provide answers to all
of the basic life questions.
My ministry provides essential literature studies
for students grades seven through 12.
Beginning with the standard concentric theory of learning, I teach what
is closest to the student first, their national literature, and then move away
in proximity to provide what I consider to be essential. For the study of each category of literature
there are highly divergent opinions as to what should be included in a survey
class. Choosing to place import on works
not normally included in text anthologies places me in the difficult position
of producing my own materials. Many
Christian publishers offer texts for the study of literature but none will
present it in the light of the Great Conversation. Many of these texts will offer excellent
overviews of romanticism or realism but none will present it as Christian
principles turned inside out and upside down, and none will reveal the chilling
rebellious road from Theism to postmodernism (in American literature).
and all it has taken away from western civilization is the prime example of
depravity and moral decline from attempts to remove the Bible from our
culture. All moral progress of Adam’s race comes directly from the Bible. It is the dividing line between chaos and
real civilization. To ignore the
great western thinkers who have shaped our culture is foolish. The only reason we can possibly give for the
impact these men made is that they gave men an excuse to be what they truly
are. They glorified rebellious men as
intellectuals, introducing elaborate arguments to explain away simple truths,
pandering to the lusts of unregenerate men, with promises of clear consciences
and relative morality.
The obvious failure of the last 200 years of secular
thought opens doors of opportunity for students to witness to a dying lost
world. But like Paul on Mars Hill they
must first know their audience so they know how to address issues that are
relevant in an intelligent, understandable way.
I teach that the Bible is the dividing line between civilization and
Chaos. My goal is to change lives: to convince young people that they can
understand their world by standing back and looking at the big picture of the
Great Conversation: to equip them to make an intelligent difference in their