Making the Best of It (and a Short Story)
While we’re on the topic of Christianity and culture/how to engage those who think differently than us in a pluralistic postmodern world (and while I remain in shameless self-promotion mode), I noticed yesterday that Direction (an MB publication that describes itself as somewhere between an academic journal and a denominational magazine) has just made their Spring 2009 issue available online—an issue that contains my review of John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.
A brief story: way back when (probably in 2000 or 2001), before I ever thought seriously about going to university (much less graduate school!), I attended a series of lectures at the Evangelical Free Church in Lethbridge, AB where Prof. John Stackhouse, from Regent College in Vancouver, BC, was the guest speaker. As I recall (the memory is getting somewhat foggy!), he spoke about the need for epistemological humility and charity as Christians and about how doctrinaire certainty was not a prerequisite for honest faith (indeed, it may even be a hindrance!). I was in my mid-twenties and was beginning to honestly wrestle with what a faith that was honest and committed actually looked like. I was beginning to take on a bit more of a leadership role in the church I was a part of. I was looking for good ideas and good examples to follow.
What I remember thinking as I left those lectures was, “I want to think like that guy!” I wasn’t used to seeing people at the fronts of churches admit that there were things that they didn’t know (and that they didn’t need to pretend they knew). I wasn’t used to seeing people at the fronts of churches admit that pain and struggle and doubt were normal parts of a life of faith. This certainly isn’t to say that I grew up exposed to a bunch of blinkered dogmatists in church leadership, but there was something in the way Stackhouse spoke and explained things that I found immensely refreshing and appealing.
So, I bought a few of his books (Can God Be Trusted? is still one of my favourites—I recommend it frequently to those wondering about questions of God and evil) and continued to learn and think and grow. Eventually, at 27, I decided to go back to university. After my first year I had already decided to go to graduate school and there wasn’t much doubt about where I wanted to go. I didn’t choose Regent College exclusively because it was where Stackhouse taught, but this certainly played a significant role in my/our decision-making process.
Looking back now, it is a decision that I have no regrets about. My time spent at Regent was hugely significant both in terms of what I learned and in terms of the relationships I was able to form there. I learned a great deal from all my classes, including those taken with Prof. Stackhouse. His courses were tough as was his supervision of my thesis, but he made me a better thinker and a better writer than I would otherwise have been. Indeed, one of the skills he most ruthlessly taught us was how to review a book (one of the poorest grades I received in my entire academic career came from my first book review in my first class with Stackhouse!)! It’s funny how things turn out—how deciding to go hear a couple of lectures from John Stackhouse almost a decade ago can play a role in a long and winding path that leads to (among other things) reviewing one of his books!
Anyway, thank you for indulging me in what turned out to be a longer story than I anticipated :). And thank you, John! As I’m sure you know, your teaching and your writing have many positive effects—some of which you may never hear about. At the very least, perhaps this post can be one case where you do hear about it.
John Stackhouse blogs here, for those who are interested. If you do not have this site bookmarked or added to your reader, well… you should.