What a year this has been! Of course you don’t need me to tell you about the pandemic of politics or the politics of the pandemic! You’ve had to endure both. But I would like to share some thoughts from this year’s reading, writing, and experience.
As the year began I was putting the finishing touches on my book, The New Adam: What the Early Church Can Teach Evangelicals (and Liberals) About the Atonement. On May 31, after 5 ½ years of research and writing, I turned over my final draft to Cascade Press. I will tell you more about that book when it is published in early 2021. A day later, on my birthday (June 1), I began a blog series on Rethinking Church. That 30-essay series continued through the summer, and in the fall I revised and edited it into a little book, which will be published in early 2021 as Rethinking Church: A Guide for the Perplexed and Disillusioned (Keledei Publications).
As far as reading goes, I’ve continued my project of reading or re-reading some of the great authors of the past. Let me say a word about that project. Long ago I gave up the illusion that I (or anyone else) can keep up with all the books published in the area of theology. According to Cascade’s marketing questionnaire, “4,000 books enter the US market daily.” That is 1,460,000 a year! How many focus on religion and theology, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Given the impossibility of reading even one percent of them, I decided to be very selective. I read books I need to read for my research and writing. And as I said earlier, I read the greats. In the past year, I read or reread most of the well-known works of Immanuel Kant as well as The Kant Dictionary. I’m impressed with Kant’s critique of realism, that is, the idea that the ordered and meaningful world we know through our senses is identical to the world as it is in itself. There is no way we can know that; it’s an assumption based on the notion that our knowing powers and the world in itself are made for each other. In my thinking, confidence in this assumption requires something like the Creator of heaven and earth, that is, a universal and creative mind that embraces our minds and all things. I read some of Hegel’s works and The Hegel Dictionary. I should say, rather, I tried to read Hegel! If we agree with Hegel that everything actual is also rational, we would also be forced to agree with him that the world and its history would make perfect logical sense to the absolute Mind. What tempts me in this idea is that I believe that to God the Creator everything is transparent and clear, because God created everything. There is no obscurity. But I cannot follow Hegel in denying divine transcendence and thinking that the absolute Mind is in process of becoming self-conscious as our minds.
I read several books critiquing metaphysical materialism and advocating idealism or panpsychism, that is, the idea that every fragment of the actual world possess an element of consciousness or soul. There are lots of them out there. I am sympathetic with their critiques of materialism–Materialism makes absolutely no sense to me–but their alternative explanations trail off into fanciful speculation and reified metaphor. Since I cannot read all the original works of the great authors, I began reading the 2,200-page, two volume Great Ideas Syntopicon in the Great Books of the Western World series. I read articles on Matter, Duty, Eternity, Necessity and Contingency, Nature, Principle, One and Many, Education, Democracy, Change, Cause, Being, and others. I came across many familiar names, Plato, Parmenides, Aristotle, Aquinas, Boethius, Augustine, Locke, Spinoza, Descartes, Hume, and so many more. Also, I read Gregory Nazianzus’s oration to the First Council of Constantinople in which he resigned as Patriarch of Constantinople. I will tell you more about Gregory and his oration at a later date.
As part of my professional obligations as a faculty member on a University faculty, I read three books I would not have chosen to read otherwise. As everyone knows, the long, hot summer of 2020 effectively began on May 25 with the death of George Floyd while being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer. Exacerbated by the already tense atmosphere produced by the pandemic and the presidential campaign, cities erupted in months of protest. Every celebrity, news personality, politician, business, and educational institution felt the need to condemn racism and police misconduct. In view of the discussions, commissions, faculty deliberations, and debates in which I needed to participate as a faculty member, I read Kindi, How To Be An Antiracist, Jennings, After Whiteness, and Pluckrose and Lindsey, Cynical Theories. In a future post I will give you my analysis and theological response to these three books.