The Historical Road of Philosophy’s Suicide

Here’s a lengthy quotation from Josef’s Pieper’s essay “The Philosophical Act,” which is one of the two essays in his book Leisure, The Basis of Culture:

This assault upon philosophy’s theoretical character is the historical road of philosophy’s suicide. And that assault arises from the world’s being seen more and more as mere raw material for human activity. Once the world is no longer regarded as Creation, there cannot be ‘theoria’ in the full meaning of the word. The loss of ‘theoria’ means eo ipso the loss of the freedom of philosophy: philosophy then becomes a function within society, solely practical, and it must of course justify its existence and role among the functions of society; and finally, in spite of its name, it appears as a form of work or even of ‘labour.’ Whereas my thesis…is that the essence of ‘philosophizing’ is that it transcends the world of work. It is a thesis which comprehends the assertion of the theoretical character of philosophy and its freedom; it does not, of course, in any way deny or ignore the world of work (indeed it assumes its prior and necessary existence), but it does affirm that a real philosophy is grounded in belief, that man’s real wealth consists, not in satisfying his needs, not in becoming ‘the master and owner of nature,’ but in seeing what is and the whole of what is, in seeing things not as useful or useless, serviceable or not, but simply as being. The basis of this conception of philosophy is the conviction that the greatness of man consists in his being capax universi [capable of understanding the whole of reality]. (81-82)

The same is true, I think, of all the liberal arts. Any attempt to justify the artes liberales on the basis of a utilitarian end—an end not contained within themselves—goes against their nature, and is an attempt to place them within the “world of total work,” that is, to make them artes serviles. Interestingly, Pieper thinks that we only feel the need to give such a justification when we view the world as “mere raw material for human activity” rather than as creation (81). The “historical road of philosophy’s suicide” is a road paved by a change in our social imaginary, and it leads to sophistry.

Advertisements

Being in the World: A Recovery of the Sacred?

What does it mean to be in the world as a human being rather than to observe the world as a Cartesian subject? Italian-American filmmaker Tao Ruspoli tries to answer this question in his documentary Being In The World, which features prominent philosophers Hubert Dreyfus, Charles Taylor, and others (most of them students of Dreyfus). His answer is a Heideggerian one: The film “is a celebration of human beings, and our ability, through the mastery of physical, intellectual and creative skills, to find meaning in the world around us” (film website, italics added).

The first half of the film recounts the history of the quest to create artificial intelligence (AI). Dreyfus persistently critiqued this endeavor in the 1980s, even though he was ridiculed by computer scientists. He argued that the whole project of AI rests upon a misconception of human beings, and that this misconception has its origins in the ideas of 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes, who famously wrote, “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”). Descartes’s maxim presupposes substance dualism, the position that there is a distinction between mind and body. This dualism generated a major epistemological problem (i.e., evil demon/brain in vat/The Matrix): How can I know that the representations of reality in my mind actually correspond to reality as it is? On Descartes’ view, humans are reduced to thinking subjects, detached observers who can view the external world without participating in it.

Continental philosophers—and the documentary focuses on Martin Heidegger—take Descartes to task, though, arguing that his subject-object paradigm is a bad one because it doesn’t admit subjects’ situatedness. We are neither distinct from the external world nor able to see things from a God’s-eye point of view. We are in the world, and we always understand things as finite, temporal beings. (See James K.A. Smith’s The Fall of Interpretation, in which he argues that these realities are due to our creaturehood, not to our fallenness).

Heidegger thought that we should dispose of the subject-object terminology, and speak instead of Dasein, which means “existence” or “being there.” As philosopher Frederick A. Olafson writes,

By using it as a replacement for “consciousness” and “mind,” Heidegger intended to suggest that a human being is in the world in the mode of “uncovering” and is thus disclosing other entities as well as itself. Dasein is, in other words, the “there”—or the locus—of being and thus the metaphorical place where entities “show themselves” as what they are. Instead of being sealed off within a specially designed compartment within a human being, the functions that have been misdescribed as “mental” now become the defining characteristics of human existence. (Britannica, emphasis added)

To get at this idea of “uncovering” and “disclosing,” Ruspoli interviews masters of different arts, such as Japanese carpentry, Creole cooking, and gypsy flamenco. Philosopher Taylor Carman says in the film, “What we are at bottom, much more than being thinking subjects, is that we care about something; something matters to us.” And we engage with those persons and things that we care about. We come to know things through our practical, embodied engagement with them, not through thinking. Our capacity to think is not the most central quality of our being because it is not the original way that we come to know things. Contra Descartes, like master carpenters, cooks, and musicians, we come to know things through encounter. Through encounters with things, ontological worlds—”pre-interpreted and holistically structured background[s] of meaning”—are disclosed (rather than projected onto things) (Wikipedia).

“Life is made most meaningful when you respond to meanings that are independent of you,” suggests philosopher Iain Thomson. Whereas much of our modern society is predicated upon a Cartesian metaphysic through which we conceive of everything as an object within a system to be optimized, the philosophers in Ruspoli’s film call us to a different way, one by which we might be able to recover a sense of the sacred. The saints of this new way are the skilled—those who have an “authentic” relationship with the world as opposed to those who live in a mode of existence whereby the world is seen to be  the “chief storehouse of the standing energy reserve” (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”). For Heidegger, this latter mode is potentially dangerous because it threatens to eclipse the possibility of other ways of revealing the world.

On the whole, Being In The World is an informative, moderately entertaining documentary. Ruspoli is trying to communicate Heidegger’s ideas to people who wouldn’t read Heidegger. We can commend him and the philosophers in his film for giving an account of what it means to be human that is closer to the Christian account than Descartes’s. True, they are trying to discover the sacred within the “immanent frame,” to use Charles Taylor’s phrase—that is, they are looking for ultimate significance within creation—but they are looking. And that’s what interests me.

“Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Augustine, Confessions, Book I).

Theological Theology: Remembering John Webster

I just learned that theologian John Webster died yesterday, and am saddened.

Webster was one of the wisest theologians of our day, and he taught me a lot about the nature, method, and task of theology through his writings. I wrote him two weeks ago to express my gratitude for his work, as well as my surprise that he studied literature as an undergraduate (like I did) instead of philosophy—the de facto subject of undergraduate study for theologians. He replied with a kind note, wishing me the best in my upcoming studies in seminary and telling me that he was currently rereading Camus.

j20webster201_black20and20white.png

John Bainbridge Webster (1955-2016)

Camus once wrote, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” In a way, Webster had such an existence in theological circles, carrying out his task with a clear sense of the freedom (and responsibility) he had to follow the revelation that God has given in Jesus Christ. In his chapter in Shaping a Theological Mind (ed. Darren Marks), Webster writes,

[When I began my theological studies,] Christian doctrine was chiefly taught through an analysis of problems, particularly the problems faced by those who felt acutely responsible to do their theology under the bleak searchlights of what were taken to be normative modern intellectual developments…What I had stumbled into was something which I could have learned from Barth or many other theologians at the very beginning: the need to do dogmatics, and to do so with good humor, diligently and a determination not to be troubled about having to swim against the stream, but rather to work away steadily at the given task as responsibly as possible. (“Discovering Dogmatics,” 129-132, italics original)

In his book Holiness, he expounds upon this idea, writing,

Theology is an office in the Church…The particular task of theology is to attest to the truth of the gospel in the wake of Christ’s own self-revelation…[T]he proper end of theology…is the edification of the saints. (2-4)

He continues,

Such an understanding of theology enjoys rather little contemporary prestige, and is commonly judged to be naive, assertive, authoritarian, above all, closed. A good deal of contemporary systematic or dogmatic theology tends, by contrast, to be conversational or comparativist in approach…Both [approaches] believe that only by resisting the confessional and the positive can Christian theology secure opportunities to make a contribution to the public realm. By contrast, the kind of theology attempted here is less sanguine about the prospects for such exchanges…its work is focused upon a quite restricted range of texts (the biblical canon) as they have been read and struggled with in the complex though unified reality which we call the tradition of the Church…The intensity of this kind of theology is not the internally directed energy of an achieved, separated world of ideas, but that of a way of thinking which might be called eschatological—always, that is, emerging from its own dissolution and reconstitution by the presence of the holy God. (4-5)

Webster’s attempt to do “theological theology”—theology that is an exercise of holy reason carried out coram Deo for the edification of the saints and the sanctification of God’s name—was almost unimaginable in academic theology when he began his career, and is now, thanks in part to him, both imaginable and attempted by a number of younger theologians. Through his work, he undoubtedly will continue to inspire those who follow in his wake.

I was reading Athanasius’s On the Incarnation before I learned of Webster’s death, and I read this passage:

For one who sees a snake trampled down, especially if he knows its former ferocity, no longer doubts that it is dead and completely weakened, unless he is perverted in mind and does not have even his bodily senses sound. For who, seeing a lion being played with by children, does not know that it is either dead or has lost all its power? Just as it is possible for the eye to see that these things are true, so when death is played with and despised by those believing in Christ, let no one any longer doubt, nor be unbelieving, that death has been destroyed by Christ and its corruption dissolved and brought to an end. (80)

His death is a shock to me, but I, with the apostle Paul, ask, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). The death of death in the death of Christ was the victory of God. And this death was a victory because of the resurrection. The one whom Webster did his theology in the presence of is the same one before whom Webster now stands—the one who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant….Enter into the joy of your master”—and waits with for the resurrection that is to come (Matt. 25:21).

Requiescat in pace, John Webster.

Can These Bones Live?

I just finished reading Robert Jenson’s new book, A Theology in Outline: Can These Bones Live? (Oxford University Press, 2016). The book has its origins in a series of lectures that Jenson gave in the spring of 2008 to undergraduate students at Princeton University in a religious studies course.jenson

Jenson follows a standard sequence of topics in Christian theology: God, Trinity, creation, humanity, sin, salvation, and church. As Adam Eitel—the one who transcribed and edited Jenson’s lectures—writes in the introduction, “The course’s leitmotiv and organizing principle was somewhat less traditional. As the title suggests, the course framed the whole of Christian theology as a response to to the question posed to Ezekiel: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ (Ezekiel 37:3)” (2).

The metaphor refers to two matters: First, can “the story the God lives with his people…continue?…[Second,] is the Christian faith itself a pile of dead and dried up bones? Is Christian theology dead?” (2). Jenson doesn’t answer these questions directly until the last chapter, but, as to be expected, the answer is yes. He writes,

Christian theology and the practices of the church must relearn how to display the church’s or the faith’s own interior plausibility—not drawing on anything outside of itself—as was done in the centuries before Constantine…In my judgment, theology responds best [to the challenge of Modernity] by trusting in the gospel’s own interior rationality [as Karl Barth did]…One point guard in the endeavor might be Wolfhart Pannenberg, who has elaborated an entire system of metaphysics…on the principle that traditional metaphysics draws its vision of what is from what has been, whereas a distinctly Christian metaphysics must draw its vision from what will be. (113-115, italics original)

Jenson’s book in short (115 pages), making it a good introduction to his theology, but it’s not just bones; there’s meat. He presents other provocative ideas like the one above: three, triune dramatic personae in the Old Testament (49-50); personal identity before essential identity (67);  Edwardsian view of original sin vs. Augustinian view (76-77); and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s view of atonement (85-87). Most significantly, it’s an edifying read. Jenson reminds one of God’s promise to make bones live, which he has done and continues to do through the Word made flesh—Jesus Christ.

Holiness by John Webster, Pt. 1

In his book Holiness, John Webster offers a “trinitarian dogmatics of holiness” from a Reformed-Barthian perspective (1). His piece of Christian theology is dogmatic because it begins with the self-revelation of God in Christ as attested to in the Holy Scripture. It is trinitarian because the self-revealing Holy One exists as Father, Son, and Spirit in our midst, making holiness a relational concept. We encounter the triune God in his works or not at all (9). A trinitarian dogmatic account “does not think of divine holiness in abstraction from the sanctifying acts of God pro nobis, nor of human sanctity in isolation from election, salvation and the work of the sanctifying Spirit” (5).

Webster organizes his discussion of holiness into four parts: the holiness of theology, the holiness of God, the holiness of the Church, and the holiness of the Christian.

In this post, I want to consider his first part. Speaking of the holiness of theology, Webster urges readers to remember two requirements for thinking Christianly. First, “theological thinking about holiness is itself an exercise of holiness” (8). The task of theology can only be carried out properly within the process of sanctification. Our intellectual faculty of reason must be “put to death and made alive by the terrifying and merciful presence of the holy God” (9). Second, if we are to speak truly about God’s holiness we must follow the true God, who has revealed himself to us as Father, Son, and Spirit. The object of theology establishes the method of theology.

Keeping these requirements in mind, Webster begins to speak of God’s holiness by noting that it is a relational concept. The three primary themes of his book—God, Church, and Christian—cannot be is0lated from each other because “the holiness of God is a holiness which directs itself to God’s creatures as fellowship-creating holiness. God the thrice Holy One is the Holy One in our midst” (9). Webster attempt to offer a positive definition of holiness, as opposed to a negative one, e.g., holiness as being set apart from.

He begins to think on the holiness of theology by making a lengthy proposition:

A Christian theology of holiness is an exercise of holy reason; it has its context and its content in the revelatory presence of the Holy Trinity which is set forth in Holy Scripture; it is a venture undertaken in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit; it is an exercise in the fellowship of the saints, serving the confession of the holy people of God; it is a work in which holiness is perfected in the fear of God; and its end is the sanctifying of God’s holy name. (9-10)

Good theology is always an exercise of holy reason because “good Christian theology can only happen if it is rooted in the reconciliation of reason by the sanctifying presence of God” (10). Naked reason—a neutral place from which to begin theological work—does not exist.

What struck me was the second part of Webster’s proposition: Using Barth’s formula, he claims that “revelation is reconciliation” (13). He quotes Barth, who says, “Reconciliation is not a truth which revelation makes known to us; reconciliation is the truth of God Himself who grants Himself freely to us in His revelation” (13). “[K]nowledge of God in his revelation,” writes Webster, “is no mere cognitive affair: it is to know God and therefore to love and fear the God who appoints us to fellowship with himself. Revelation is thus not simply the bridging of a noetic divide (though it includes that), but is reconciliation, salvation, and fellowship” (14, italics original). The takeaway is that “Christian theology is enclosed by, and does its work within, the sphere of the revelatory presence of the holy God” (14). Theology does not summon God; God summons theology, placing it under both judgment and sanctification. “As holy reason at work, Christian theology can never escape from the sober realization that we talk in the terrifying presence of the God from whom we cannot flee (Ps. 139.7)” (15). The revelatory presence of the holy God is the context of all theological reasoning.

His presence is also forms the content of our discourse. “Because it is bound to its object—to God as holy, self-revealing subject—theological reason does not produce its content from its own resources. Holy reason is not a poetic but a receptive enterprise” (16, italics original). Theology is not a nominal enterprise, an attempt to shape or figure “the divine reality by the names which it gives to that reality” (16). It is “nothing other than an attempt to repeat the name which God gives to himself as he manifests himself with sovereign mercy: ‘I am the Lord, your Holy One’ (Isa. 43.15)” (16-17).

Holy reason avoids nominalism by encountering the revelatory presence of God as he proclaims himself through Holy Scripture. Webster writes, “God’s communicative presence is encountered through Scripture as the Holy One speaks his Word, for Holy Scripture is that creaturely instrument inspired and appointed by God to serve God’s self-presentation” (17-18). The implication for theology, which complements biblical exegesis, is that it is subordinate to exegesis; “holy reason is exegetical reason” (18). A phenomenology of “the holy,” such as Tillich’s, will contribute little to constructive Christian dogmatics. The proper starting place of theology is the concrete realization of God in Jesus Christ. God expounds his being to us in his history of creation and reconciliation (19). The authoritative canon provides the norm for holy reason, as well as the limit. “Truthful though and speech follow the given order of reality” (19); Scripture forms reason’s act and, being sufficient, limits reason’s knowledge.

Having given an account of holy reason, Webster then depicts its operation. First, “the primary act of holy reason is prayer for the assistance of the Holy Spirit” (21, italics original). He quotes Barth at length:

The first and basic act of theological work is prayer…[T]heological work does not merely begin with prayer and is not merely accompanied by it; in its totality it is peculiar and characteristic of theology that it can be performed only in the act of prayer.” (Barth, Evangelical Theology, p. 160)

Proper dogmatics are, to use Helmut Thielicke’s phrase, “prayed dogmatics.”

Next, “the setting of holy reason is the fellowship of the saints” (21, italics original). The true theologian stands within the holy catholic church, and his or her “particular ministry is to help in the edification of the Church, building up the Church’s common life and so serving the confession of the gospel. Theology does this, very simply, by giving an account of the substance of the gospel as that to which all speech, thought and action in the Church must conform” (26).

Like every other ministry, theology hears from and stands under the Word of God. It is carried out coram Deo and is perfected in the fear of God. The self-revealing God cannot be approached by a neutral observer and cannot be mastered as an object of study. As Webster writes, “God’s holiness means that theology stands under the prohibition: ‘Do not come near’ (Ex. 3.5)” (28). Yet theology also stands under the promise: “Who has made man’s mouth…Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Ex. 4.11-12 qtd. Webster 28). The task of theology is not to be silent before “the holy.” The task of theology is to speak in the fear of the Holy One after Deus dixit.

Last, the telos of holy reason is the “sanctifying of God’s holy name” (29). Following Jonathan Edwards, Webster writes, “The sanctifying or hallowing of the holy name of God is…the basic end of all the works of the fellowship of the saints” (29). Even as a frail, fallible, and human science, theology “can serve the Holy One and the congregation which gathers around him” (30). With fear and trembling, the theologian carries out his or her task with the hopeful resolve of the psalmist, who writes, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever” (Ps. 145.21).

Canon Revisited: A Review

Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. Crossway, 2013, 368pp. $21.72

Do Christians have intellectually sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament? This is the question that Michael Kruger, professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte, NC), attempts to answer in Canon Revisited.

Kruger makes it clear from the beginning that he is not attempting to prove to skeptics that the Scriptures are inspired by God (if that is even possible to prove), but rather he is attempting to answer the de jure objection, the objection that the Christian belief in the canon is not intellectually justifiable (even if it happens to be true).

[I]t is the de jure objection that has created the deeper epistemological crisis for Christians today [as opposed to de facto objection, the objection that the Scriptures are not from God]. The culture of postmodernity in our Western world already gives us reason to doubt the basis for virtually every belief we hold—particularly religious ones. Any claim to actually know that one’s religious beliefs are true is regarded as a violation of the rules of intellectual integrity (295, author’s emphasis).

Kruger, after summarizing and critiquing several community-determined and historically-determined models of canonicity, presents the book’s main focus: a self-authenticating model of canonicity. For Kruger and all other Christians who hold to biblical inerrancy, knowledge of which books belong in the canon must be determined by the canon itself. The canon must be self-authenticating.

A self-authenticating model, which is self-supporting and self-correcting, is necessary, Kruger argues, because ultimate authority (the Bible) cannot be validated by any outside criteria e.g. church’s reception, apostolicity, etc. If it is, then it is not actually ultimate—whatever criteria validates it is. “[T]he canon guides, controls, and determines how it is authenticated” (289).

Kruger builds his model by showing how God has created the proper epistemic environment in which belief in the canon can be reliably formed. It includes three components:

  • Providential exposure – Christians can only know the books which God has providentially allowed to survive. This component answers the question of what we should think of potentially lost apostolic letters.
  • Attributes of canonicity – divine qualities (beauty, efficacy, and harmony), corporate reception, and apostolic origins
  • Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit – necessary to overcome the noetic effects of sin, the effects on our thinking, so that we can see the truth of these attributes and believe that these books are from God

After building the framework of the self-authenticating model, Kruger spends the rest of the book developing it and addressing potential “defeaters” of the model, which include no basis for orthodoxy, divergent and contradictory theologies of the books, pseudonymous authors, and disagreement and dissent in the canon recognition process.

In my opinion, Kruger sufficiently addresses all of these defeaters. He cites heavily from secular opponents (the bibliography is 50 pages long), and he is not acerbic in his replies to their views, which seems to be the common tone in academia today.

Canon Revisited is a refreshing, thorough read that provides a solid foundation for Christians’ belief in the canon amidst the howling, though empty, claims of much of modern biblical scholarship. Kruger attempts and, I believe, succeeds in “destroy[ing] arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

While it was one of the more scholarly books that I have read, which made for slow reading at times, the copious footnotes helped me to understand the model presented and appreciate Kruger’s commitment to the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of the Bible.

Canon Revisited is important because in it Kruger shows how the decisive issue in canonical studies in one’s ontology of canon. “[E]veryone brings a canonical theology to the table whether they recognize it or not” (294). Above all, it is important because it shows how Christians have intellectually sufficient grounds for claiming that they know which books belong in the New Testament.

Kruger’s self-authenticating model is not new, though.

Although this volume has attempted to offer a detailed answer to [Ernest] Best’s concern [“No one has come up with a satisfactory solution as to how we determine which books should be in the canon”], it has not done so by offering something new. Indeed, it has done so by turning to something very old. It turns out that the solution to the problem of canon has not been lacking—it has actually been there the whole time. Jesus himself declared it: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27 qtd. 295).

Kruger’s book reminds us that Scripture is sub specie aeternitatis (from the eternal perspective), and that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Summer Reading List for 2014

For many people, especially those in college, summer is a time marked by less busyness, more time with family and friends, and several opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. While such opportunities include internships, summer camps, and study abroad programs, they also include good books.

Here are some of the ones that I will be reading this summer:

1. Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway).

Do Christians have reliable belief in the 27 books that make up the New Testament? That is to say, do we know that we have the right books? These are some of the questions that Kruger attempts to answer as he shows why neither a community-determined model nor a historically-determined model of canonicity will work for believers. With the integrity and authority of Scripture under fire today, affirmative answers to the questions are vitally important for believers.

2. Cornelius Plantinga, Reading for Preaching: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

While Plantinga has preachers in mind, this book is not limited to preachers in its application. Plantinga writes about how reading leads one to delight, a greater appreciation of language, and cathartic experiences that result in greater sympathy for people and situations that one previously knew nothing about.

3. Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living (Harper Perennial).

While I would not recommend Ferry’s book as a  “guide to living,” I would recommend it for its narrative of Western thought. Ferry takes readers through the thought of ancient Greece up to our present day. Tim Keller, referring to books on culture, said, “If you only read one, read this one.”

4. D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

In this culture exegesis, Carson “traces the subtle but enormous shift in the way we have come to understand tolerance over recent years — from defending the rights of those who hold different beliefs to affirming all beliefs as equally valid and correct” (Amazon). This book is important for believers as we continue to uphold absolute truth that is rooted in God and revealed by Him in the Bible.

5. Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men (Basic Books).

It is easy to see from statistics and personal anecdotes that we have many, as one pastor would say, “boys who can shave” in our society today. Leonard Sax, a family physician, author, and researcher, attempts to answer why we have so many young men who don’t have much passion for real-world activities, are falling behind in school, and are, quite simply, not growing up. While Sax’s proposals must be discerned through a Christian worldview, his book seems to be important to anyone concerned with our nation’s young men.

6. J.I. Packer, Knowing God (IVP Books).

Packer’s book has been a classic for over twenty years, and it “has been an important tool to help Christians around the world discover the wonder, the glory and the joy of knowing God” (Amazon). Packer’s hope is that Christians would learn more about God so that they might know God more fully. As John Piper said, “right thinking is for deep feeling,” and Packer’s book will help the believer with both.

7. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (IVP Books).

“The Bible is the written Word of God, and it is treasured by many. But it is also an ancient book about people and cultures very different than us. Thus, while we know we should read it, many of us have a hard time understanding the Bible” (Amazon). R.C. Sproul, a well-known pastor-theologian, helps readers understand why Christians should study the Bible, how they can interpret it correctly, and what practical methods and tools they can employ in this end of knowing God more through the Scriptures.

8. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books).

With hundreds of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and other digital confidantes, we should no longer have any feelings of loneliness, right? Wrong. Turkle explains how we have made technology the “architect of our intimacies,” and how it is greatly failing us. This book goes into much greater detail than the TED talk that Turkle also gave on the subject.

9. Ronald Muller, Honor and Shame: Unlocking the Door (Xlibris).

Guilt, shame, and fear: These are the three bases that underly all worldviews.

Most Western theologians, though, only address how the Gospel takes away a person’s guilt, yet the Gospel also removes  shame and fear. Muller attempts to explain this truth, which, when understood, deepens a believer’s understanding and appreciation of the Gospel.

10. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (Harper Perennial Modern Classics).

This 20th century classic would be interesting to read alongside Turkle’s book, Alone Together. Huxley’s dystopian world is sure to challenge readers’ beliefs about the uses and ethics of technology.

11. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (Dover Publications).

This short, 72-page read is considered by many to be Conrad’s finest story. In it, Conrad describes “the narrator’s journey up the Congo River and his meeting with, and fascination by, Mr. Kurtz, a mysterious personage who dominates the unruly inhabitants of the region” (Amazon).

12. Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (Penguin Books).

“Ever since it was first performed in 1949, Death of a Salesman has been recognized as a milestone of the American theater. In the person of Willy Loman, the aging, failing salesman who makes his living riding on a smile and a shoeshine, Arthur Miller redefined the tragic hero as a man whose dreams are at once insupportably vast and dangerously insubstantial. He has given us a figure whose name has become a symbol for a kind of majestic grandiosity—and a play that compresses epic extremes of humor and anguish, promise and loss, between the four walls of an American living room” (Amazon).