@Jimmy_Sellers, @Jolene_Laughlin, @Sean_Oesch, @Dave_Kenny Often I feel that you guys leave me behind as you are amazing scholars. My posts usually consist of interpretation of various Scriptural issues. I had asked Amy Ewing-Orr this question but I think my question was buried between other posts so I didn’t get a reply. My question is this: How is it that you are so well read? If I don’t go to seminary or Oxford, how does one get a good array of scholarly writing? How do you find what books to read and how do you keep up so well? I can barely run along side even the posts that contain an attachment. I’m not asking this in a self-deprecating manner but truly want to expand my horizons and would love to know what basics to read. For example, I love CS Lewis and find his books so thought provoking. So how does one find engaging books or articles that help keep them abreast with the array of subjects in an up to date and informative manner?
I think the only piece of advice I could give is similar to something Vince Vitale told us at RZIM training - keep a constant record of information you learn on various topics. It can be a set of Word files on your computer or Google Docs that stay open on the topics you are currently studying. But somehow keep a record of what you learn and where it came from. And every once and a while condense that information down and store it away - maybe even replace old information if you have found better.
That way, you do not lose what you have already learned and can review it / use it as need be - it also encourages you to keep studying on the topic. Very good advice from Dr. Vitale.
What a fantastic question. I have plenty of follow up questions to hone in a bit, but I will run with a couple of your specific asks and share some of the things that have helped me over the last few years. Please keep in mind that I am only trained at the undergraduate level, so there are plenty of folks with much more insightful things to say about this… Here are some of the things that I have picked up along the way:
a) you used the word scholarly. I want to make sure that this is what you meant. Scholarly writing is quite academic… I love it, but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. So… C. S. Lewis would be an example of an author who writes at the ‘popular’ level rather than the scholarly level. He intentionally keeps his writing at an accessible level to the mass population. His thoughts are incredibly deep and challenge scholars and non scholars alike, but his writing level is intended for the majority of readers. N. T. Wright is an example of an author who is halfway between popular and academic.
b) The most efficient way to stay up to speed on current writing and thinking at the scholarly level is to subscribe to an academic theological journal. Journal articles (often less than 30 pages) are a lot easier to keep up with than 400 page text books! I would recommend http://www.galaxie.com/journals as an excellent bank of journals
(largely evangelical). you could find one that you like and want to follow.
c) Book reports or responses written by scholars are a fabulous way to determine if you want to read something or not. If there aren’t any book reports written on the book in question (google scholar will help you locate), then it hasn’t caught the attention of the academic world…
d) Other peoples bibliographies are the best place to see what everyone else is reading
e) perhaps you would consider registering for some online, part time courses that will require you to do some reading? That’s how I got into reading… I hated reading in high school… I was a math and science guy!
f) Here is a super shortcut… Zondervan publishes a “four views on _________________” series… this will put you right in the thick of things and give you access to very good scholarship. Your local theological library will have these books. http://www.zondervan.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=four+views
g) Rest assured, I have not read as much as you likely think I have For instance, I have read a handful of John Walton’s books, not all of them, but enough to know what he specializes in and to confidently recommend him
Regarding your desire to expand your horizons and looking for basics to read… it really does depend what area of study is interesting you… then recommendations could be made… I’ll bet if you peruse the “four views” book series for titles and topics, you’ll uncover what topics interest you the most. Given that this is an apologetics forum… I suspect there are plenty of folks with recommendations here… McDowell’s second edition to Evidence that Demands a Verdict is a real winner… anything that Norman Geisler writes is outstanding (he usually writes at the academic level). Recently, I have been reading Plantinga… but that’s tough stuff…
For commentaries on books of the Bible… this site is pretty helpful: https://www.bestcommentaries.com/
These are all ‘old school’ methods that I’ve been sharing… @Sean_Oesch can likely share some of his online research techniques given his specialty in computer science… and for interests sake… Sean really is as bright as he seems… I met him in person at the RZIM Academy in Atlanta this year (an experience that I would recommend for anyone!)
One word of warning if you intend to expand your scholarly reading… as your reading increases, so will your ambiguity… expanded horizons often mean less ‘certain’ horizons… so if you are comfortable living with ambiguity, then dig in!
My final comments… if my posts have left you (and others) with the feeling that you cannot contribute to the discussion, then I thank you for the feedback and will endeavor to try and be more sensitive that my posts do not ‘finish’, ‘close’ or ‘intimidate’ a conversation. Please do have the courage to contribute and push back on me… it was the faith of fisherman, informed and emboldened by the Holy Spirit that put the learned Pharisee’s, Scribes and Sadducees to shame (Acts 4).
I hope there is either a helpful point or a reason to ask another question in here somewhere! Happy hunting on your reading! Remember… the average person reads fewer than 3 books per year… so measure yourself against that!
Wow! Super helpful. thank you.
Thank you for your kind remarks and including in me such great company but I afraid that I will bring down the average. I am not sure that I can add anything to what has already been posted but I can tell you that for 20+ years I have used many of the methods that @Sean_Oesch and @Dave_Kenny have outlined. I do have an extensive digital library and I subscribe to Scribd an all you can read site, I found it useful. I would recommend some books, but it might be better for you to define a particular path of interest in your personal study. Go forth and read.
@jeffbt14, you hit the nail on the head - WOW! @Dave_Kenny, your post was MOST insightful! For one thing, I appreciate how you differentiated between scholarly and “popular” learning. I believe, by reading much of CS Lewis and NT Wright, I probably tend more to the popular but would like to experience more of the scholarly to determine if that is what turns my crank.
Also, I was awed by your thorough handling of my question. I really look forward to implementing the resources that you suggested. But again, just your in-depth reply was so encouraging and your thoughtfulness was really an example of the love of Jesus. Thanks so much!
Dave, obviously various members of Connect will exceed my competency but I can choose whether to engage or by-pass some. Again, your humility here ministered to me so much. No, please forgive me if I have ever given the slightest impression that anyone is Pharisaical. The knowledge that you, @Sean_Oesch, @Jimmy_Sellers, @Jolene_Laughlin, @Helen_Tan, to name ONLY A FEW baffles me. Maybe by implementing some of the tools you gave to me, I’ll be able to hang in there.
Again, Dave, thanks so much. Now I just need a bigger tool box!
I respect your input greatly and don’t feel that you lag behind at all. (And I am extremely grateful for your recommendation of the E-Sword ap!) I understand what you are saying, though, as I often feel frustrated by the limitations of time and finances and energy to study in depth the different topics and find answers to the questions floating around out there.
In all honesty, a lot of the material my brain has access to are primarily because of two things - and I can’t really take credit for them. 1.) I grew up with parents who were dedicated to Christ and who themselves read the Bible and studied regularly - and lived what they believed. 2.) A rigorous Christian education - I had Bible class in some form or fashion 6 days a week from Kindergarten through 12th grade, whether I wanted to or not. In addition to that - every subject we studied in school from Art to Mathematics was presented in the light of a Christian worldview.
What might appear to be “well-read” is mostly the result of years of unintentional absorption of Christian thought and doctrine. Though I was too young to really understand the enormity of what was being taught, and I didn’t come to appreciate it or fully take ownership of it until much later, I was given that exposure very early on. And I had a year of Latin and Biblical Greek in high school, as well as some instruction in presuppositional apologetics. (I truly wish I could remember more from my Greek class!)
As an adult - I have to admit that I rarely read things that don’t grab my attention and pull me in unless I have a reason. I read and focus on things I like to study, or I get sucked into reading authors whose writing styles that grab my attention - unless I’ve been challenged by someone or run into questions that I can’t answer. So for me - dialogue and verbal contact with other people has been the main catalyst to deeper study - and has also guided the content of what I study.
I guess I would have to say that engaging in thoughtful, challenging conversations with other people who think critically and challenge my perspective has been the primary key to growth. Having to study to defend an argument (in the good sense) and then articulate what I read makes me take ownership of it. These kinds of interactions don’t even have to be with non-Christians. It can be someone who doesn’t understand or disagrees with you on various aspects of doctrine. These questions and conversations always spur me into more study and deeper research, and prayer for understanding.
I would suggest to you that even leisurely reading of fiction or watching movies can further your ability to think about things in a deeper way if you focus on seeking out the underlying messages and meanings that the author has slipped in - consciously or unconsciously.
We once had an art/drama class where we learned that the structure of every story ever written reflects the Ultimate story - things start out very well. Everything is good. And then something bad happens - conflict enters the scene. An anti-hero rises up against the hero and the hero has to stretch himself, learn something or make a great personal sacrifice, in order to resolve the conflict and save the day. The anti-hero is strong - sometimes appearing stronger than the hero - but things are not always what they seem, and the hero ultimately comes back to win the day, though often at great cost. Finally, the battle is won and the enemy is defeated. And then there is a happily ever after.
Every good story has conflict and growth and resolution and all that comes from the story of God and humanity. Everything written has a subtle (or not so subtle) message. Sometimes, I think that fiction has been more effective at changing society than anything else. That is what shapes our culture and I think that reading popular books and literature, allows us to “take the pulse” of society, so to speak.
I will also confess that my topics of study have been directed to no small degree by my finances - and what’s on sale or available to check out at the library. One think that I highly recommend is getting on the mailing list for Christianbook.com (just use an email address that you don’t mind getting lots of sales notifications in, because they send one almost every day). I bought a “slightly damaged” copy of “Why Suffering” by Ravi and Vince Vitale for $3.99 from their “dents and dings” sale. (And I don’t see any damage…?) I also got copies of books by G.K. Chesteron for $1.99 each and a book on Christian History for $.99.
I also found a really neat ap on my iPhone called “Libby” and it’s an online Library resource. You can borrow digital books and download them to your iPhone or iPad from libraries that you are a member of. Their academic section by Christian authors is quite small, at least in my library, but they do have some and it’s free and easy to use. (I’m sure Android has a similar ap too.)
My sister (who I am trying to get to join this forum) is a huge source of insightful discussion and frequently recommends good literature. She just gave me a book called “No More Little Women” to start reading, and I just finished “Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job” by Hugh Ross. (After he came on Connect and answered our questions - I hadn’t known much about him prior to that.)
I also highly recommend the blog “My Only Comfort” by Sam Powell. He is a reformed Pastor in California who also teaches at a seminary in Sacramento. He studies Hebrew and Greek - and he really digs into the Scriptures from the original languages when he teaches. I find his posts to be very thought provoking. He does not post regularly but all of his posts are archived and they are great to go back and read. He also gives his sermons live every week and is active on Facebook.
A few other things I really enjoy (besides RZIM lectures and dialogue) are the lectures available through the Southern Evangelical Seminary ap - especially those on textual criticism - and listening to select debates presented by the Veritas Forum at various Universities. (They have archived debates on their website and a podcast.) Those often introduce me to new authors and speakers and trigger new ideas and questions.
I will join Dave in warning you about delving into these deeper debates and the harder questions though, especially through the Veritas Forum. He said:
You will hear and be exposed to questions that are really hard, and come up against people who present very difficult arguments and thoughts that will inevitably shake you out of your comfort zone and challenge your faith. Especially if they specialize in areas that are difficult for you anyway. (Science and Philosphy tend to make my head spin - and one of the Philosphy debates on the Veritas forum was extremely difficult for me b/c the Christian philosopher was not able to bring counter-arguments and was getting pounded into the dust.) Sometimes, there just aren’t any answers - and sometimes I have to remind myself that some of the smartest scholars in the world have been debating these issues for hundreds of years without coming to a consensus or finalizing an answer. You do have to be okay with ambiguity and being able to say “God, I don’t know what the answer to this is. But I know you, and I trust that there is one.”
I am very far from a scholar or scientist - and reading at the popular level is pretty much where I’m comfortable. But I am always reminded that these most difficult questions are the ones that the young people in our churches go out to face in college every day - and so I do try to push myself to dig deeper in any way accessible to me.
Overall, I would say that surrounding yourself with people that seek deep discussion and chew on the hard questions on a regular basis will do more to advance your studies than just reading and trying to retain the millions of books available out there. Those discussions will guide your studies.
And I do want to thank you for engaging in the conversations and dialogues here. I find your questions thought provoking and your insights very helpful. Please continue to share any good lectures, books, or authors you come across!
My reading horizon has been greatly broadened by my grad work at Regent College- (Vancouver) where I have taken one summer class a year for 10 years. An example of NT Wright’s more scholarly work is The New Testament and the People of God. It is challenging reading as the first 150 pages have to do with ways of knowing and engage with many idea makers. I had students read James Hunters’ How to Change the World, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History. One thing I love about going to Regent is that you meet and read Christians outside your own tradition. I didn’t realize how localized my theology was until I interacted with both students and professors on another coast and other countries. I could go on and on, but these are a few that others didn’t mention. I too love the 4 view series and have used them with students.
IV, Zondervan, Oxford press, etc. all have their academic publications which are written on an entirely different level. For me they are much more encouraging in my faith than the “popular” reads, although more work to be sure.
As well, I agree with Dave Kenny. Once your world gets bigger, you realize that some of the things that you thought were just “how things are” may be open to some new ways to understanding.
Yes, @missyd57, I like how you put your last sentence. I realized that when I had some teaching by Hugh Ross and some of his staff and was presented with an old earth concept. Prior to that conference, I cynically rolled my eyes when someone would say that the earth was over a billion years old. I love being challenged to rethink some of my “how things are” thoughts.
@Jolene_Laughlin, understanding the lack of time in your schedule, I was most appreciative of your post. It had oodles of golden nuggets. I especially appreciated your comment from the Veritas Forum about studying if you’re comfortable to live in ambiguity. It’s a very good point.
Like you, I do like to be challenged. It’s not always immediate as I can recoil from another position until I just let it soak in and compare it to my thinking. If all we posted on Connect was what I already knew and believed, it would be just a “bless me” group.
You mentioned that I should surround myself with deep thinkers on a regular basis but I live in a rural community and no one seems interested in engaging in the Issues that we do in Connect so you are my primary study fellowship.
Jolene, thanks again for responding in such a gracious and helpful manner. There’s much to chew on - between your post and @Dave_Kenny’s. I’ll have to fill up my tub and let it all soak in!
By the way Jolene, I’m glad that you like and use e-Sword, Another site that you might appreciate regarding books is https://www.bookfinder.com/ . They show the lowest prices, including shipping, for both new books in one column and used books in another. I have got most of my books through them. Check it out. And again - thanks so very much!!
@missyd57 Do you live in Vancouver or do you take online classes there?
I live in Virginia. I go up for one or two weeks during the summer.
Regent summer classes are set up for people who have other lives- and its
worked for me. You can either audit or take for credit- a lot of work, I
can tell you.
Where do you live?
@Tim_Ramey Yeah - I apologize for the book length response! I tend to be a bit wordy and need to work on cutting that down.
I have the same problem living in a rural community with little interest in some of these abstract issues. This group, the RZIM Academy, my sisters, some college friends, and yes…Facebook have been so valuable for being involved in deeper conversations. I have been trying to think of ways to engage with people in person around here. One of the cities south of us has a bustling college culture. I’ve seriously considered going to a coffee shop down there and putting up a small sign that says “Will buy your coffee in exchange for an interview about religion” just to see what I can stir up. I haven’t acted on that yet though! LOL
The interviews that we did in the Core Module at RZIM Academy were one of my favorite things and resulted in a lot of great conversations.
I just checked out bookfinder and that’s an awesome resource as well. I’m waiting for some more Hugh Ross books to go on sale - although I have a huge pile of stuff already that I haven’t yet read. (Is book hoarding a sin?)
Thanks so much!
@missyd57 Ufortunately, I live in Louisiana. My husband loves this place, but the bugs and snakes and lizards - and the humidity and sweltering heat in the summer make me totally crazy. I’m working on getting him to agree to move to the northwest!
I’ve been tossing around the idea of getting my Master’s degree in religion or apologetics, but not sure exactly what area I’d want to pursue. And I don’t really want to do it through the local Baptist seminaries. I also can’t afford to enroll as a full-time student somewhere. I was thinking of taking one online class a semester with the occasional “on campus” visit. Summer classes sound intriguing. I’ll check into Regent has.
Thanks for the suggestion.
Oh, Jolene. I had to laugh, sorry. I don’t know if I could live in
Louisiana. I think there are some places that humans really aren’t
intended to inhabit.
Regent hasn’t been inexpensive but has been vital to my faith. And also
could do it a bit at a time.
here is another school to consider for your part time Masters studying… This is where I took my undergraduate: www.kingsdivinity.org
@missyd57 SO much this! LOL And thanks.
@Dave_Kenny Facebook indeed. Walk softly and carry a big stick. I do a lot of stalking and reading other people’s arguments. I’ve backed away from doing too much actual discussion on there, but it does make me think and send me researching things.
Thanks for the suggestion for King’s. I’ll check into it!