5 in 10: Tom Ward

Today the Brazos Fellows enjoyed class with guest instructor Dr. Tom Ward, who led us in a great discussion of how we interpret the Bible. Dr. Ward is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University, where he teaches a number of courses on ancient and medieval philosophy as well as a class on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. His research explores medieval philosophy—everything from medieval science to speculative theories about God’s existence and nature to the history of “divine ideas,” or the relation between creation and the mind of God.

In our class with Dr. Ward, we looked at the history of biblical interpretation, comparing the ways in which St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and John Calvin read the Psalms. Dr. Ward mapped how shifts in philosophy, in understandings of reality and the unity of creation–what we might call metaphysics–also changed how Christians interpreted scripture from the medieval to the early modern periods.

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Tom and I also sat down for a session of “Five Questions in Ten Minutes,” and had a great conversation about everything from the best way to start reading medieval philosophy, to the dinner guest Tom would invite from the 14th century B.C., to the children’s book he reads annually–and, most controversially, the problem with Texas BBQ. Listen to our conversation here:

Here are links to the items we talked about:

Don’t Think For Yourself: Attention, Discernment, and Community

Over at the Baylor Graduate School blog, I wrote a piece on what I learned about scholarly community during my doctoral studies at Baylor–and how these lessons have informed our work with Brazos Fellows:

In his brilliant little book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, Baylor professor Alan Jacobs takes on a commonly-held myth—the idea that our best thinking happens when we “think for ourselves.” This axiom just doesn’t match up with how thinking works. “To think independently of other human beings is impossible, and if it were possible it would be undesirable,” Jacobs concludes, “Thinking is necessarily, thoroughly, and wonderfully social.”(p. 37) Rather than trying to think for ourselves, Jacobs argues that we should consider who we should think with. We should ask: what makes a good thinking partner? What makes a community trustworthy to think with?

Head over to the Bear Tracks blog to read the rest.

Ars Memorandi

Editor: Please enjoy a guest post by one of this year’s Brazos Fellows, Savannah Anne Carman.

“What is water?” asked one of the two young fish in David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech in 2005. “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” In other words, the assumptions we imbibe from our context are often one of the greatest obstacles to clear thinking. This is the trouble Wallace’s fish runs (swims) into. How do we see what we swim in? How do we recognize our assumptions? A few weeks ago, the Brazos Fellows had a visiting instructor, Bruce Hindmarsh (professor at Regent College in Vancouver, BC) to discuss early Christian culture. Dr. Hindmarsh suggested that one way we expose our assumptions is to study the past. When we look at the Victorians, for example, we realize that they were hush-hush about sex but quick to discuss death, while our culture is the opposite. This is not to suggest that the Victorian era is an exemplar for all times, nor that sex is always and only an inappropriate topic. On the contrary, this is only to demonstrate that sometimes our sense (or lack thereof) of propriety keeps us from discussing important topics, especially death.

Death was the theme of our conversation with Dr. Hindmarsh. In our readings and his elucidation of our text from Robert Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, we were reminded of the literal close proximity of death to early Christians. In addition to facing periodic persecution, early Christians made it their practice to meet together in catacombs. This was not just a default, as if they had no other places to meet. Rather, they gathered in the catacombs for two reasons. One, early Christians held strong convictions about the dignity of the body, to the degree that they rejected the conventional practice of cremation and instead practiced inhumation, burying the entire body. They would bury individuals outside the city and underground in material that, as Dr. Hindmarsh described it, was much like honeycomb, malleable at first but quick to solidify after exposure to the right conditions. This durability made for a reliable burial site and gathering place.

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5 in 10: Dr. David Bebbington

Today the Brazos Fellows had a great treat, as we were visited by guest instructor Dr. David Bebbington. Dr. Bebbington just retired after 43 years of teaching as Professor of History at the University of Stirling in Scotland, but continues as distinguished Visiting Professor of History at Baylor University. He is widely considered the leading historical expert on the modern evangelical movement, and his 1989 book, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, continues to be one of the most influential works in religious history. This morning, Dr. Bebbington invited the fellows to consider a question of great historical and theological interest: how do evangelicals relate to the early church?

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Highlights from the Brazos Fellows Fall Retreat

This past weekend, the Brazos Fellows enjoyed a wonderful retreat at Cedarbrake Renewal Center. Our theme was “Speaking to God: Christian Life and the Habits of Prayer,” and Fr. Nicholas Krause led us in several excellent sessions on the theology and patterns of prayer. The weekend held lots of time for silence and rest (we believe that retreats should be, well, retreats!) as well as good food and conversation. Enjoy perusing these photos from our time together:

Reading Herbert with Ralph Wood

Almighty God, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls and a poet: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to dedicate all our powers to your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

So goes the collect for the feast of George Herbert, 17th c. Anglican divine and poet. Today is not Herbert’s feast day (that would be February 27), but this morning the Brazos Fellows feasted indeed, as we were joined by Dr. Ralph Wood to discuss Herbert’s poetry.

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5 in 10: Fr. Lee Nelson

This morning the fellows had the chance to discuss a great book by Baylor professor, and Brazos Fellows guest instructor, Alan Jacobs: The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography. Dr. Jacobs traces the creation and evolution of the book which centers Anglican worship, and, indeed, Anglican theology. Our discussion was led by Fr. Lee Nelson, rector of Christ Church Waco, who helped us understand the remarkable vision of English Reformer Thomas Cranmer. For Cranmer, the aim of the prayer book was that as the whole church participated in the liturgy and prayed the daily office, we would be transformed by Christ.

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