Justifying the Humanities (and Gordon's Concerns)

My experience, though briefer, is similar to that described by T. David Gordon in his new book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach (which is being surveyed on the HB). Since I began teaching in 1995 I’ve noticed a decline in the ability of students to read and analyze texts and a decline in their ability to communicate. A story in the NY Times takes a look at this problem (HT: Mike O’ Connor).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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4 comments

  1. I read Gordon’s book Saturday and found myself nodding in agreement about myself. I took his advice today and unplugged and spent the day reading through the Bloom’s book that he promotes in footnote 4, on page 102, and found the day to be quite enjoyable. I really enjoyed contemplating and meditating on a poem by Donne, “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness.”

    http://apilgrimsredress.blogspot.com/2009/03/hymn-to-god-my-god-in-my-sickness.html

    BTW, I look forward to your review of chapter four, especially regarding “Social Gospel/So-Called Culture War.” Although brief, I found his two-fold argument (Natural Law and Theology) to be quite insightful.

  2. Is the Bloom book he promotes, “The Closing of the American Mind”? If so I highly recommend reading it. Also he talked a little about Neil Postman whose work I find scares the bejeezes out of me (in a good way).

    I just picked up Gordon’s book and I look forward to reading it.

  3. The book is The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Robert Frost (New York: Harper Collins, 2004). He opens with an essay on how to read poetry that I found quite helpful. He also provides introductory remarks and some commentary for each author.

  4. Speaking of Allan Bloom, I remember reading a short work entitled “The Book Wars: What It Takes to be Educated in America” by James Atlas, (1990) back in the early 90’s on the decrepit state of the humanities. Bloom was featured throughout the book as the primary advocate for bringing back or retaining the classical works of literature in college English lit. and humanities courses.

    The opposing view, those of professors and department heads at some of the more liberally radical colleges and universities, denounced the classics as obsolete works of DWM’s, particularly European, largely irrelevant to modern culture. Instead, their reading lists were filled with publications that were supposedly more fitting to the times including works by American minority activists and feminists.

    A few years later Robert Bork published his controversial work “Slouching Toward Gomorrah,” in which he outlines the origins and development of Modern Liberalism and the effect it has had on our culture in general, and will continue to have in the future.

    The subject matter in these books is depressing and pessimistic, though quite accurate in their predictions for the decades since they were first published. The atmosphere surrounding the humanities had become so acerbic by the early 90’s in major universities that reading lists were pretty much worthless for educational purposes. Try carrying on a conversation with a recent graduate about Chaucer’s England and see what happens. I had an interesting conversation a few years back with a 2000 graduate who was an English Lit. major and an agnostic who said that she made up her mind about God after having studied Puritan theology and some of the sermons of Jonathon Edwards. Figure that one out!?

    So, it should come as no surprise that even those who are earnest and committed enough to enter the profession can’t preach nowadays. And even if they had somehow bypassed all of the Hip-Hop with its rancid lyrics, the self-deprecating jargon of wireless texting, and the generally boorish vernacular common among today’s youth, and managed to secure a reasonably well-rounded enough education to be able to preach well, their sermons would likely be over the heads of many contemporary congregations.

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