Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: "The Christian Mind" by Harry Blamires

The past couple of months I have been reading and writing on the subject of being a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ toward the necessity of having, keeping and nurturing the biblical worldview in contemporary culture. Reading various authors has introduced me to Harry Blamires, who in 1963 wrote “The Christian Mind,” a book that has for many been the vehicle of significant contributions in the conversation on the study of culture and worldviews. Here I endeavor to present the theme of the book, a description of major divisions with a brief summary of chapter contents, an outline of content with quotes, a few observations and criticism from reading, followed by a list of principles or insights gained from reading and finally, will close with a set of questions raised for further thought and/or discussion.
What could a 47 year-old book possibly contribute to our present situation? The central theme of Blamires’ book is that the Christian mind does not exist as does the modern mind or the scientific mind (“a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes”). What he means is that “no Christian mind plays fruitfully, as a coherent and recognizable influence, upon our social, political, or cultural life.”
The book is divided into two major parts: “The Lack of a Christian Mind,” wherein the deficiencies of the Christian mind is explained and explored; and, “Marks of the Christian Mind,” which contains six chapters illustrating what the Christian mind really is, or at least, what it should be. The first part of the book is subdivided into two chapters where the author defines and demonstrates the surrender of the Christian mind to secularism and how “thinking Christianly is not the same as thinking about Christian matters.” The six chapters of the second part discuss unique features of the Christian mind: “Its Supernatural Orientation” (cultivating the eternal perspective); “Its Awareness of Evil” (The World, The Flesh, and the Devil); “Its Conception of Truth” (how Christian doctrine testifies to a reality beyond our finite order); “Its Acceptance of Authority” (man either bows his head or turns his back); “Its Concern For the Person” (Christian thought is incarnational); and finally, “Its Sacremental Cast” (life’s positive richness is derived from the supernatural).
CONTENT OUTLINE WITH QUOTES (in separate document, 7 pages)
Concerning the lack of “living dialogue,” (p. 6) and the lack of comparable analysis (p. 8) since 1963 (the date of publication of this book), the pendulum was already swinging the other way during his own time with contributions of thinkers and writers such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. More recently, we’ve seen the impact of other thinkers such as Francis Schaeffer (“Death and the Pollution of Man” may have been influenced by Blamires’ book), Os Guinness, Chuck Coleson, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few. The advent of the blog has since provided fertile ground for “living dialogue.”

Harry Blamires is very quotable, and finding a short passage of worth is a task. This is to his credit; however, reading the book proved to be a bit of an exercise not because of the temporal gap since the date of publishing, and not because of the cultural or ecclesiastical gap (the author is English and Anglican), but because of the meandering nature and verbosity of the author—he often fails to complete his thoughts or points. For example, the second chapter of the second half (“Its Awareness of Evil”) he discusses the influence of the World and the Flesh, but there is no discussion whatsoever on The Devil and the Christian mind—not even a mention of personality, work or influence. Also, the thrust of his premise seemed to rely more heavily on the logical fallacies than the truths of the statements themselves: “there is no longer a Christian mind.” How can there be a book as this without one? Finally, the last three chapters, which could have been the strongest, seemed to be a demonstration of the very weakness the author was writing against; that is, either the author fell prey to the nature of his thesis, or he merely ran out of steam—perhaps both.

1. The Christian mind need not succumb to secular thinking.
2. Today’s Christian is too centered on affection (feelings) to engage in healthy dialogue so we compromise.
a. “One of the reasons why we have no tradition of Christian thinking about contemporary affairs is that we have been thus taught to view with disfavour any earnest attachment to ideas and ideals such as would bring the heat of theoretical controversy into the arena of practical life.” (p. 21)
b. We’ve adopted a change a vocabulary that undermines Christian thought: for example, “evil” and “sin” are now “mistakes.” (p. 26)
3. “Your beliefs, as a Christian, are not yours in the sense that you have rights over them, either to tamper with them or throw them away.” (p. 40)
4. A thinker is a prophet, for both challenge presuppositions and prejudices; disturb complacency; obstruct pragmatism; question foundations, aims, motives and purposes of those who don’t investigate. A thinker is unattractive to the world. (p. 50)
5. Everything is sacred so we need not altering our understanding and change our theology to accommodate secular thinking (p. 69ff). Bring them “up” to the biblical worldview, don’t compromise by taking it “down.”
6. If we neglect to engage the world by bringing forward the Christian worldview, then we are responsible for the neglect and indifference the world shows to the biblical worldview. (p. 78)
7. Truth is a person, not a thing; objective; one does not make truth, but resides in truth. (p. 113). Don’t ask me what I believe, ask me what is true. (p. 121)
8. The Church cannot be destroyed because the world had its chance and did it’s best and worst at Calvary. (p. 152-153)
9. It is not the task of The Church to get in touch with technologies but with getting in touch with men, women and children. (p. 171)

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION OR FURTHER STUDY (page numbers refer only to the section read and does not imply any answer is provided by author):
1. The author’s introductory note presents a definition for “the modern mind” and “the scientific mind,” as “a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes,” then states the Christian mind does not exist when posited against this definition. How can there be a comparison or contrast of minds if one does not exist? Since the Christian mind must exist, how did the author decide that “the modern mind” and “the scientific mind” should be the standard of comparison? Why not the reverse? He answers this question thusly: “Except over a very narrow field of thinking, chiefly touching questions of strictly personal conduct, we Christians in the modern world accept, for the purpose of mental activity, a frame of reference constructed by the secular mind and a set of criteria reflecting secular evaluations. There is no Christian mind; there is no shared field of discourse in which we can move at ease as thinking Christians by trodden ways and past established landmarks.” (p. 4) In other words, the Christian has allowed the world to dictate how he or she thinks. Since the Church and the world have nothing in common, the Christian has been deceived to stray off the narrow old paths and into the broad and beaten way.

2. Blamires writes, “Is there in the first rank of anti-totalitarian imaginative literature a work which shows man as the child of God?” (p. 13) Is he building his premise on the logical fallacy, “there is no Christian mind,” or “there is no Christian dialogue”; or, he is simply unaware of others who are thinking, speaking and contributing? He seems to be more familiar with the works of Orwell, Camus, Shaw, Becket and others—is he simply not looking, or is there a noticeable absence of literature and thinkers who write them?
3. The Christian is not required to think through the filters provided by the world. Bertrand Russell is quoted to have said “Loyalty is always evil.” (p. 23) yet the First Commandment is to love God with all heart, mind, soul and strength. When did Russell become so great as to change what God has said? What response does Proverbs 20:6 make to Russell?
4. How does a change in vocabulary undermine Christian thought? How does such a change lead to silence, and why is this dangerous?
5. How does advertising undermine Christian contentment (p. 29)? Are there Christians on the boards of these companies? In what ways would a Christian board think “Christianly” through its advertising?
6. What is the difference between “there is no longer a Christian mind,” and “there is no longer any need for Christian thinking?” Why didn’t the author use the second as his premise for the book? What do you make of this statement: “we are not thinking Christianly about secular activities?”
7. How does Christian thinking address injustice, poverty and unemployment? How has Welfare (for example) supplanted the need for Christian input in these areas?
8. How does thinking Christianly affect the way we approach ethical situations?
9. The author summarizes in this statement, how a Christian mind “thinks in terms of heaven and hell, of the universe as a battlefield between the forces of good and evil” (p. 86) and the teachings of the Church. How does this statement demonstrate that the author is thinking secularly about theology? What non-Christian presuppositions does he reflect? Does thinking about places such as heaven and hell make the difference about how one sees the world or is there something greater? What comments can be made concerning the missing discussion on “The Devil” in his chapter on “The Awareness of Evil?”
10. The author writes, “truth is supernaturally grounded: it is not manufactured within nature” (p. 106). How is this true in light of the natural revelation as described in Psalm 19 and Romans 1 (to name a few)?
11. How do people from different outlooks and beliefs and mixing conflicting views arrive at truth? Is truth a consensus, constructed or discovered (p. 112)?
12. Compare and contrast intellectualism and faith (p. 123).
13. When the world crashes and burns, why will The Church survive (p. 152 – 155)?
14. How does theological truth remedy the technological dehumanization of man (p. 159-160)?
15. What examples can you give as to how has man stopped serving God and started serving machine (p. 163)?

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