The Role of Philosophy for the Seminarian: Part III of my Interview with Dr. Cabal

***You can view my previous posts on this interview here: Part I, Part II ***

In Part III, Ted Cabal, PhD discusses the value of studying philosophy has for the seminary student.

So, in essence, it seems like as Christians we tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to philosophy?

Dr. Cabal: I think so.  I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.

That is certainly correct, and it’s one reason, even though I’m embarrassed and ashamed of my early views of how I ridiculed philosophy, I am not ashamed nor unhappy that my earliest years in the faith were spent immersed in Scripture.  And, in one sense, I’m grateful that most of my early years were spent memorizing and studying the Bible text and learning bible languages, more than they were spent doing anything else, and for that I’m grateful.  So, I would argue that the seminary student should make sure they never fall in love with philosophy more than the Bible.  If you feel that happening, you got a problem.

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On the Nature of Philosophy: An Interview with Dr. Cabal: Part I

This an interview I did with Dr. Ted Cabal, Professor of Christian Apologetics at SBTS, back in 2007 on the the place of philosophy in the life of the believer. Because the question of philosophy’s value is still asked today, this 10-year old interview still has value today.  I believe the study of philosophy coincides with the study of theology as the two disciplines have spilled over into each other (intentionally or not) throughout history, thus to understand philosophy can help the believer to understand certain aspects of theology, why certain theologians avoided or reworked particular doctrines, etc.  Continue reading

An Interview with Dan DeWitt: The Value of Fiction in Teaching and Some Tips

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

Front Cover – The Owlings Book II

In the final installment of a three-part series, Dan DeWitt – author of The Owlings: A Worldview Novella and The Owlings Book II – shares his thoughts on the value of fiction in teaching, as well as some tips for those who aspire to writing purposeful fiction.

How can fiction be used to serve propositional books?

Let’s say I were to say to my wife propositionally how I care for her as opposed to writing a poem. The poem can awaken emotions, it touches on the imagination, it’s going to be more meaningful, although substantively it’s not going to say anything differently. This is how I see the difference between fictional writings and propositional writings. Propositional truth is really important, which is why I wrote a discussion guide for The Owlings. But writings like poetry awaken the imagination.

What I think Lewis did in Narnia was…in Michael Ward’s Narnia Code, Ward proposes a theory that Lewis hid a Medieval cosmology into the Narnia stories. Each book dealt with a specific planet within the Medieval perspective. I think he built a compelling case, but I think if he is right, then Lewis did this in a very powerful way. You read the story and say, “What he’s saying is really about our world.” He’s talking about Narnia. Aslan tells Lucy, “You will come to know me in your world by a different name.” But there’s a sense in which you have that epiphany where you go, “Wow! This is true about reality. This isn’t just true in the story, but this is something true in our world.”

In what way can Christians improve upon this genre?

As a very young author in this genre, I don’t want to speak on this with hubris. I don’t think I’m necessarily changing a negative trend. I would say that I go to the Christian fiction section and all I tend to see is Amish romance. Nothing necessarily against this genre, but I do think N. D. Wilson and Andrew Peterson are great examples of ways that you kind of write fiction in a really powerful way.

I will tie this back to a question that I was asked last week in my C. S. Lewis class. Someone asked if there was going to be another C. S. Lewis, or is there another C. S. Lewis? If there is, they are not teaching at a Christian school. The power of Lewis was that he was a professor of philosophy early in his career, and later in Medieval/Renaissance literature. He brought all that to bear on his stories. If the problem in Christian fiction is going to be corrected, it’s going to be done by someone who is well-versed in literature. It’s not going to be someone who is a Bible college professor like me, but someone who is outside of Christian circles professionally. C. S. Lewis said, “Do we need more books about Christianity? We need books about other topics written by Christians.” So a Christian is bringing their worldview to bear on a particular topic. [Today, though,] I agree that the Christian fiction section feels like the Hallmark section instead of something like the literature section in a used bookstore that contains books by Austin and other greats.

Based upon your experience and what you are doing, if there are those out there who want to write fiction, what are some tips that you wish you knew before hand or those that you have used that are helpful?

C. S. Lewis wrote a letter to a child about how to write for children – that would be a good place to start. [See also “On Three Ways of Writing for Children“]The think I wish that I had done more of and that I want to do more of now is to read more award-winning children’s literature. I think that would improve my writing. When writing the first and second books of The Owlings I picked up best-sellers in the age-frame that I’m writing for, and I would read either the entire book or just sections of it to see what the author is doing. I would say read a lot of children’s literature. Or, if you’re wanting to write fiction in another genre, then read more in that area. So, read a lot in your area and read books about writing. Doug Wilson’s book Wordsmithy is an appetizer.

Another thing I would mention is that there are two different approaches. One, you could wait until you perfect the genre, perfect your craft, perfect your storytelling, before you publish. I think if you did that you would probably die before you published. So, the other route is the route I’ve taken is to just write. The downside is that you might get some harsh criticism, but I would rather try it and fail rather than not try it. So, I’ll tell people to read books in the genre, books on writing, and then try it whether it’s on a blog, you’re self-publishing, or other routes. I’m self-publishing; I work with a literary agent and he told me that the children’s market is almost impossible to get into and that he didn’t want to represent me. I thought that I could sit around for the next ten years waiting for someone to give me a contract, or I can just do it. I’ve never pitched my idea to a publisher. If in time someone’s interested, then great. If not, it’s okay.

What I find valuable in what DeWitt shares is that the writing of fiction is a good thing for Christians to pursue. As I stated in the previous post, Scripture is full of examples where story is used to teach. Christians can, and should, strive to produce quality, purposeful fiction. There’s something to stories that grab the audience’s heart, making the path to their mind an easier road to travel. If we aim to proclaim the Gospel and to teach truth – then the use of story is a most excellent vehicle.

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If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links:

An Interview with Dan DeWitt: The Role of Fiction in Teaching

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

Front Cover – The Owlings Book II

In yesterday’s post, DeWitt shared with us what writers influenced his work on The Owlings. In today’s post – the second installment of a three-part series – DeWitt discusses the role of fiction in teaching.

What role does fiction play as a vehicle for teaching in your novellas?

I’m very new to writing fiction, so I make no claims to being an expert. I’m an amateur. What Andrew Peterson is doing [today] is way up on the list – I think he’s great. What I’m doing is even different from what Andrew Peterson has done – it’s not nearly as good. It’s different in that I’m trying to be a bit more explicit, and so…I think G. K. Chesterton did this a bit.

If you were to have a scale with Tolkien on the far end with rich symbolism and not nearly as explicit; C. S. Lewis might be somewhere in the middle; and Chesterton would write a novel and it would be very explicit with the worldview principles he was trying to teach. I have very specific things I want to teach on, and fiction allows me to tell a story that I think someone can be interested in and want to know what happens – something my kids would be interested in. But, then I turn to teach a very specific principle.

Regarding the power of story, I’ll give a quick example. Several years after James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door, Sire wrote Naming the Elephant in which he critiques The Universe Next Door. And one of the elements is that he talks about the power of story to communicate worldview. Now, the newer editions of The Universe Next Door have an updated definition of “worldview.” I think Sire has come to realize the power of story. Through reading Sire, it’s helped me to realize that if we only teach propositionally, we’re going to miss this postmodern generation.

So, my goal in The Owlings – to go back to Sire – is to teach his seven questions he lists at the end of each chapter. (I say that there is an eighth question, because he always asks whether the worldview in question lines up with how one lives.) I want to find a way to deal with these eight questions and find a way to teach them to kids through story. The first book dealt with metaphysics – nature is not all there is. The second book deals with epistemology – specifically scientism: “Is science the only way to know things?” And so, the next book is going to deal with the question, “What does it mean to be human?” You see that I’m following Sire’s questions, but in total I am writing five stories dealing with these questions.

The theme that sticks out in this post is that fiction can be purposeful. That is, fiction is not necessarily a genre for mere entertainment. Narrative can be a powerful vehicle through which important truths are communicated. The encounter between the prophet Nathan and King David (2 Samuel 12: 1-15) comes to mind here. After David’s affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, the prophet Nathan approached the king to confront David with his grave sin. Rather than accusing David of his sin, Nathan begins with a parable – a fictitious story that aims to instruct. Nathan was able to drive home his point in a powerful way. Nathan’s parable engaged David’s mind, emotions, and imagination such that when Nathan connected the story to David’s sin, David confesses (2 Sam. 12:13) “I have sinned against the Lord.” This is not to take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit in David’s heart; indeed, the work of the Spirit is necessary and vital!

Rather, what 2 Samuel 12:1-15 illustrates is that truth can be communicated through different means, and some times story can be more effective and powerful than just communicating propositionally. In the final installment of our three-part series, Dan DeWitt discusses the value of fiction in teaching, as well as some tips for Christians who aspire to write fiction purposefully.

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If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links:

An Interview with Dan DeWitt: The Influence of the Inklings

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

Front Cover – The Owlings Book II

In the first installment of a three-part series, Dan DeWitt shares with me what writers have influenced his work on The Owlings – both in his style and in his approach.

What drew you to the Inklings as an influence on your work with The Owlings?

During the early stages of my doctoral studies I signed up for a community reading group on The Screwtape Letters. I read The Screwtape Letters (rather, I re-read it as I had read it in my younger days) and thought about it, and showed up at the study, but nobody else was there. It was just me. I had the Signature Series of C. S. Lewis, so I read some of his other works. I realized while sitting there that I didn’t really know C. S. Lewis. I had loved the idea of C. S. Lewis, and I loved that everybody around me loved C. S. Lewis – it’s like you saying that you love John Calvin but may have never read his writings.

So, I began reading as much of C. S. Lewis as I had time in my doctoral studies. It was my leisurely escape. And so, I was exposed to his powerful ability to teach you without feeling like you’re necessarily being taught. That’s what first drew me to C. S. Lewis. And then I learned about G. K. Chesterton’s influence on him, and so I began reading Chesterton. I read a little bit of George MacDonald because of MacDonald’s influence on Lewis. Then I was introduced to Dorothy Sayers, and through that Tolkien. I was familiar with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, but I didn’t know about his children’s stories that he wrote for his children – his Father Christmas Letters that he wrote every year for his kids. And so I stepped into this world.

What I hope I did, and what I encourage my students to do, is – say you hear a great sermon. Don’t just listen to the content of the sermon, but to think about the method – to learn from the methodology of the preacher. What is he doing besides his content? I learned from the Inklings’ content, but I slowly adopted their methodology, although far from where they were with it. That, though, is what drew me to the Inklings.

I have small children, and I thought, “How do I expose them to the authors that I love?” And not just these authors, but also a way of looking at the world that I think is rich in truth and also in imagination. So, I got the idea to write a children’s story, specifically after I watched a video with Richard Dawkins where he talked about writing a children’s story himself – The Magic of Reality – a book for pre-teens and early teens. In this book he calls people who teach their children about the Bible “those stupid people.” This kind of made me mad. So I thought, “What if I wrote a children’s book? How do I present these dead British authors to my children?” So, that’s where an idea of an owl as the symbol of wisdom, and then I thought, “What if I have talking owls?” And that’s how the Inklings became The Owlings.

In my review of The Owlings: A Worldview Novella, I noted the evident influence of C. S. Lewis on DeWitt’s writing:

As I stated in my previous post, The Owlings is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, particularly his Chronicles of Narnia, in that throughout the book, Josiah encounters talking owls. Where this book departs from Lewis’ Narnia series is that it lacks the adventure and action of battles, travel between worlds, and mysterious lands and castles. But such aspects would not fit with the dilemma in which Josiah finds himself. Rather than facing evil cronies of the White Witch, our young friend encounters reality of a harsh world (losing his home to eminent domain) and of competing worldviews. It is the seemingly mundane, every-day life issues where one finds the greatest tension and the impetus behind Josiah’s transformation.

What DeWitt finds in the classic works of Lewis is the use of imagination and creativity to convey significant truths that impact everyone’s life. In the second installment of this three-part series, Dan DeWitt shares with us the role fiction plays in teaching. In the meantime, visit Dan’s website at Theolatte.com, and order The Owlings Book II!

An Interview With Dan DeWitt – Author of “The Owlings”

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

Front Cover – The Owlings Book II

In early 2015, I reviewed Dan DeWitt’s novella titled The Owlings. DeWitt’s novella is a foray into children’s fiction, but with a special twist. Here is what I said a year ago:

DeWitt, Dean of Boyce College, approaches the philosophical and theological concept of worldview in a manner reminiscent of C. S. Lewis – through the medium of narrative. The primary way to communicate philosophical ideas in Western philosophy is through monographs, treatises, journal articles, and other forms generally preserved for academic and professional realms. Such avenues, though effective for the student and professional philosopher, have inevitably isolated philosophy from the general public. If one seeks to communicate philosophical concepts beyond the walls of academia, narrative literature has the potential to make philosophy more palatable and easier to understand for those uninterested in or unable to pursue philosophical study.

DeWitt has followed up his first novella with Book Two of The Owlings series. The story picks up with Matt and his sister Megan, leading to their eventual encounter with the beloved owls from Book 1.

To mark the recent release of The Owlings: Book 2, I had the opportunity to interview the author, Dan DeWitt back in December. The focus of our interview was threefold: 1) the writers that influenced his work on The Owlings, 2) the role of fiction in teaching, and 3) the value of fiction in teaching. The interview ends with some advice from DeWitt for aspiring writers.

In addition to marking the release of Book 2, my interview with DeWitt also serves to add to my work into the value of fiction (in particular) and literature (in general) in teaching. To gain some background on what I’ve written so far, you can check out the following posts. This can give you some context into why I asked the questions I did.

So, stay tuned! In the meantime, take the time to visit Dan DeWitt’s website – you’ll get a glimpse of his God-given creativity!

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Final Thoughts – Philosophy, Just Do It

This post concludes my interview with Dr. Mark Coppenger (SBTS) in 2007 on the role of philosophy for the believer.  Here I offered my thoughts on my interview with Dr. Coppenger; I post my thoughts from 2007 unchanged for my sentiments remain the same.  I hope to write another post soon tying together my interviews with Drs. Cabal and Coppenger.

Thoughts:

Many people view, study and even teach philosophy as if it were just a collection of thoughts and ideas from the past with no real bearing on our lives today.  Dr. Coppenger likens this to the insect trapped in amber – it’s something interesting to look at, but it’s dead and useless.  Philosophy, however, is not a passive discipline. Continuing with Dr. Coppenger’s illustration, we should “crack open the amber, fire up that insect, and fly it around the room.”  In other words, we should interact freely with philosophy, for the issues dealt with in the past are practically the same issues we deal with today.  Rather than just merely studying philosophy, we should do philosophy as we study the thoughts and ideas of the past and seek to answer today’s questions.

I’ve had the opportunity to sit in three of Dr. Coppenger’s philosophy courses in the past two years – Apologetics, Worldviews, and Ethics – and he teaches philosophy the way he learned it, by getting right into the issues and getting your hands dirty.  Every night in class, we cracked open more amber-trapped insects and flew them around them room.  Though this form of learning is quite different from that which I’m used to (straight lecture), Dr. Coppenger taught me how to look at issues and what questions to ask – he taught me how to do philosophy.  More importantly, though, I realized how lazy a thinker I’d been and how I took for granted my beliefs.  So, I encourage you, if you have the opportunity to study under Dr. Coppenger, do it.  You will be challenged and stretched, but will learn much in the end.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012

Dr. Mark Coppenger Interview: Part II

This is the second part of a three part series of an interview I did with Dr. Mark Coppenger (SBTS) in 2007 on the role of philosophy for the believer.

Danny:  I would venture to say that a small majority of Christians are called to study philosophy.  What would you say those Christians who are not called to study philosophy?  What are some things that you feel they can do to at least to be familiar with philosophy?

Dr. Coppenger:  I will first say this, that there are very few philosophers who write clearly.  You don’t have to be obscure to be a philosopher.  But, there are people who explain philosophy [clearly].  For example, the book Philosophy for Dummies by Tom Morris.  He has a Southern Baptist background and has taught at Notre Dame.   Just as I right now am listening to a book tape about basic economics during the Great Depression, and I am doing more particular studies of American painters from the Hudson Valley School, I broaden myself to see what’s out there.  People should become familiar with what’s out there and know the tools.

I think a simple course in logic is not a bad thing.  You have what’s called formal logic, which is like mathematics or geometry where you have symbols.  [And you have]  informal logic, where you go over the fallacies, where you can recognize what an ad hominem argument is, where you attack the person instead of his ideas. Where you can recognize an over-worked appeal to pity where you get the audience crying and off the issue.  A little review of those fallacies [would be beneficial].  To commit a fallacy doesn’t mean that your point is false, it just means that you got there in a cheesy way.  So, a little bit of that is good.

Socrates over said it when he said an unexamined life is not worth living.  I think a lot of unexamined things are worth living.  That doesn’t mean we commit suicide if we haven’t examined our lives.  But, I think that if you are raising your kids with a very firm conviction – this is what patriotism is, this is what kind of art should be on our wall, this is what zoning laws ought to be, this is how we should treat Shariah law if it crops up in our neighborhood – if you are teaching those things, I think there should always be a desire to walk around the issue, to be reflective.

As John Milton, I believe, said, “It is good to be promiscuous readers.”  By promiscuous, he didn’t mean reading tawdry books, but to be well read.  It turns out that a lot of philosophy in journals of opinion.  If you read New Republic, Weekly Standard, or Books and Culture, they are doing philosophical sorts of things.  If want to stand back and look at where something leads, be a reader; just be a reader.  You’ll discover as you read broadly that you’ve been breathing in philosophy and speaking philosophy.  It’s really rational, thoughtful reflection on the bigger questions of life.  It used to be that philosophers were cosmologists and they were dealing with things such as: What is the universe?  Is it earth, air, fire and water?  But, Plato really set the table.  Alfred North Whitehead said that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato.  What Plato did is, dialogue by dialogue, he put out a human concern so that, in one dialogue you talked about justice.  In other dialogues: friendship, courage, love, knowledge, art and beauty.  We’ve been wrestling with those questions ever since.  What is a just state supposed to be like?  What is it to be virtuous?  If I go into a 7-11, there’s beer in the back of the store and I know that I shouldn’t drink beer, is it more virtuous for me to struggle?  So I walk past the beer section several times and fight the urge and then get in the car?  Is that more virtuous, to fight the good fight every day?  Or, is it more virtuous to have a habit of not even going near the beer and it’s nothing to you?  Well, Aristotle would suggest that virtue is a habit.  What is praiseworthy?  What is to be sought – to be constantly fighting, or to have a more automatically thoughtful life?  Virtue, that’s an issue.  Courage, is it courage to get up and charge a machine gun [in war], or is it courageous to wait until dark and sneak around the flank?  What is courage?  So, just understand that the conversation has been going on for a millennia and it’s great to get in on it because it has to do with how you live your life.

One of the great fun things of philosophy is that its subject is everything.  If I am in organic chemistry, I’m going to be really focusing on amino acids and things like that, but in philosophy, one does everything from analyzing a presidential speech, to fighting off Richard Dawkins on atheism, to dealing at a block party whether or not [theneighborhood association] should have a green friendly lawn care service.  You do ethics, you do arts, etc.  Anything is out there.  There is philosophy of sports, philosophy of arts, etc.  It’s just great fun to have the worldview picture.

Danny:  So, it’s not something we should be afraid of.  Granted, there have been many weird philosophers out there, and in general, that’s probably what most people see and are afraid of letting their kids or themselves be exposed to.  But, being ground in God’s Word, Christians should not be afraid to go out there and get our hands dirty.

Dr. Coppenger:  It’s kind of the same as theology.  There’s a lot of scary theology and a lot of people have been messed up by theology, but there is a lot of wonderful theology in doing theology once you see how it covers and connects all kinds of stuff.  That’s a joy too.

Danny:  Is there anything else that you would like to add to those interested in studying more philosophy?

Dr. Coppenger:  It seems to me, and this is good for preaching as well, that if you are a promiscuous reader, in the good sense, then your vocabulary grows, you see things that you’ve not seen before and then you walk with people around an issue.  It’s when we become so insulated that we don’t get to test our ideas against anything else, so our mettle isn’t tested and tried in the fire.  Then we are always sort of frightened or vulnerable.  Now, we do understand that the Bible is true, we don’t have to re-establish that, so we’re not afraid that the Bible will be disproved or that we’ll lose our salvation.  But, you really want to be in there pitching thoughtfully when the ideas are flying around the room.  The more you read, the more you have illustrations, the more you see connections.  With writing, writing is re-writing.  You put an idea down and you walk away from it, then you look back and keep refining it.  Again, it’s an uncommonly stubborn attempt to think clearly, and you can watch people do it and you can join in on it.  C. S. Lewis models this beautifully.  Read how he wrestles with ideas in the book God and the Dock, where deals with the humanitarian theory of punishment.  He lines out four theories of punishment and walks around each theory, pressing and pressing each one to determine which is actually more humanitarian.  Again, a beautiful model of philosophy.

written by Danny McDonald  © 2007, 2012