Over at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, I had the opportunity to review Philip Rolnick’s Origins: God, Evolution, and the Question of the Cosmos? Evolution continues to be a point of contention between not only some corners of Christianity and science, but between Christians as well. Rolnick seeks to provide a solution to this ongoing debate. You can see my review at the online journal of JBTS.
When it comes to breathing, we just don’t think about it, whether it be regarding the act of breathing or the essence of breathing. It’s basic to who we are, thus we rarely take the time to appreciate its complexity and beauty. Likewise, the consumption of music is as natural to us as breathing. We are surrounded by music – it saturates the airwaves and occupies space on electronic devices and bookshelves (if you have CDs, LPs, cassettes, etc.). Music is so easily accessible today that it’s something we take for granted – we get annoyed when the radio plays songs we don’t like, we can easily access our favorite album and listen to it as much as we want, and we can purchase and discard music on a whim. Like breathing, we rarely take the time to appreciate music’s complexity and beauty, and thus fail to appreciate music as it is.
Perhaps what I’ve shared is more of a reflection of me than of people in general. Regardless, it’s a slumber in which I often find myself. I have been involved in music for thirty years as a drummer – it is such a part of me that I often take music for granted. This is particularly the case when it comes to the music that I listen to. I indulge in listening to music at my convenience and impulse, and just as quickly brush it away as distracting noise and an annoyance. Music, often times, is just a convenience to enjoy as I would a good movie or book.
However, just as Hume awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumber”, so did Shearwater’s Pale Kings awake me today from my most recent bout of consumeristic apathy toward music. As I was driving to work, Pale Kings filled my ears when I was struck by how the music – not the lyrics – expressed and communicated how I am feeling today and this past week. I can’t really put it in words – but the chord structure; the instrumentation; the tension between a slow lyrical rhythm and an active, moving instrumental rhythm—the song in its entirety said something that I could not – and cannot – verbalize. If someone were to ask, “How are you today?” I can point to Pale Kings and say, “This!”
The nature of music is a matter that has captured and occupied the imaginations of thinkers and musicians of ages past and present. There is something to it that is more than just its notes, melody, chorus, and lyrics. Music can capture our emotions and express our deepest longings in ways that words cannot. Music can sweep us up in into exhilaration or drag us down into despair. With the music-saturated culture, I think we often we fail to appreciate this power of music.
What I say here is not meant to downplay or reduce the power of the spoken word. That is further from the truth. God has spoken to us through his Word, and his Truth is communicated through word. What we say and express carries much weight. But, Scripture also illustrates the limited nature of human communication. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul states: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV). To be clear, this passage refers to our prayers to God, particularly as we live in a fallen world as we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). So, Paul isn’t speaking specifically to the limited nature of our language; however, I do believe that we can infer from Paul that there are times when experience the inadequacy of language.
There are times in prayer where words fail to do justice to what we want to express, and all that we can do is groan. Amazingly, and mercifully, the Holy Spirit knows our heart helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us. Broadening out our perspective, we experience the limited nature of words when we try to express the depth of love we have for our spouse, or when we are so angry that we can only growl and huff about, or when we are overcome with gratitude that we can only weep. The spoken and written word is a vital and necessary aspect of our communication – it is the primary means by which we communicate with one another and (more importantly) how God communicates to us. However, just as we are finite, so is our language in its ability to fully express the depths of our heart.
In light of our language’s finite nature, God has given us the ability to create music to be able to express our thoughts and feelings in ways that words cannot. Granted, I believe that there are other reasons why God has given us musical ability, but what’s germane to this post is the idea that God has given us music as a form of communication and expression that helps to carry our words farther than they can on their own. The music we listen to, then, does more than entertain us or serve to satisfy our consumeristic desires. Rather, it carries with it the ability to express the myriad of emotions and thoughts that swirl below the surface of our spoken word.
There is so much more to say here, but I’ve gone long enough. So allow me to summarize further thoughts: How beautiful, then, when the spoken word and music are perfectly wedded that points us to who God is and what he has done in Christ (for me, the one of the best examples is Andrew Peterson’s So Long, Moses)! Further, what a great responsibility we have in ensuring that our music accurately reflects the intent and message of the spoken word (i.e. the lyrics of our hymns, praise songs, etc.); if there is dissonance between the two, then the impact of the song’s message can be diminished. Finally, what a beautiful mystery music is! Think about it, God has created us – and the world – such that we can string together notes and rhythms in such a way that the very depths of our being is moved to respond. Music is so much more than the sound waves vibrating our eardrums—it is the means by which we can communicate and express ourselves more richly and fully.
I realize that this post can imply a sort of dualism between music and the spoken word. In fact, there are those who place more emphasis on one over the other. What I am trying to communicate is that music plays an important role in how we communicate – a role we tend to neglect or take for granted. I believe the spoken word has primacy over music—it is the means by which we communicate (for this is how God created us!) and it is the means by which God has communicated to us. Further, God has created us such that we are able to rely upon and function through spoken communication; it is not so inadequate that we are left confused and unable to act. Far from it! If spoken communication were this inadequate, then I’d be writing this post in vain! What I am trying to say is that there are limits to the spoken word; it is at these limits where music can carry spoken word to its intended end.
As I close, I can’t help but fear that some will interpret this post as saying something other than intend. That is, I feel that no matter how hard I try, I’m not clearly or sufficiently communicating what’s on my mind. Perhaps I need a song to couple my message… 😉
It was some time in the fall of 2002 (I think?) that my wife and I found out we were having a baby girl. I was excited as I’d always wanted a little girl—a daddy’s girl. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wanted a little girl, but it didn’t matter. We were having a baby girl and I was excited! When our little bundle of joy (Maddi) arrived in the spring of 2003, I was smitten right away. In fact, she had me wrapped around her little finger from day one. I would have bought her a pony if she had the ability to ask for one.
Two years later, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second child. I wanted to know what we were having—I needed to prepare myself mentally in case we were having a boy. You see, I’m a person of habit and of a one-track mind. By this point, I was used to raising a girl and felt comfortable in my role. If we had a boy…well, that made me nervous. Do you change your approach in relating with a boy? Would it be a challenge to raise a girl and a boy—a sort of disjointed approach? (Note, these are questions from a still fairly young parent.) But…we decided to be surprised (well, my wife wanted to be surprised at the get-go, I eventually came around to wanting to be surprised). I knew that whatever the sex of our baby I was going to love it with all of my heart, but the uncertainty made me nervous.
Our anticipation for the arrival of baby #2 would finally be met in the summer of 2005. As I paced the delivery room that one hot summer day, I became nervous. Raising a child is a significant responsibility—raising two is that much more. Am I going to live up to this responsibility? Also…the question of “What if it’s a boy?” popped into mind again. (Silly question…I know.) My questions quickly vanished, though, with the birth of …girl #2! Our sweet Libby was ushered into the world with great joy. First thought after announcing her name was that I have another girl! And, to be honest, the follow up thought was, “I have two weddings to pay for!”
As I said before, I’m a creature of habit, so it should be no surprise that two years later, Angie and I were expecting our third child. Again, we were going to be surprised on the baby’s gender (despite my best efforts to have the nurse tell me the gender). Though I had a few more years of parenting under my belt, I was still a little nervous about the baby’s gender. This time, though, my concerns were more practical in nature. For instance, we had quite a bit of girls’ clothing—how easy would it be to just hand them down and not buy new clothes for a boy? 😉
What differed this time around, though, were the comments I received. There were those who, upon finding out we were pregnant again, would say, “I bet you’re hoping for that boy!” Or, “Wow! Two girls?! I bet you want a boy now!” I wasn’t sure how to answer these questions; I was happy with whatever the Lord blessed us with. But, I rather liked being a dad of girls. I know the motives behind the questions were good-natured and well-intended, but I didn’t really see why it was necessary that a dad “had to have” a son. The small rebel in me wanted to have another girl just to go against the perceived notion that a dad had to have a son—as if one is less of a father if he didn’t have one to carry on the family name, to do “guy stuff” with, etc.
Well, baby #3 arrived in the summer of 2007, and Angie and I were three-for-three. We had our little Emma! I was a dad of all girls, and man! I was proud! As soon as I announced Emma’s name, I thought, “I’m a dad of another girl!” And, in full disclosure, I literally followed up that thought with another, “I have three weddings to pay for.” Weddings aside, though, I basked in the joy of having another daddy’s girl—something only a dad of girls can understand.
So, what is the moral of the story? Is it to say that I (like all dads of only girls) am in a more privileged position than other dads? Is it to set myself apart from other dads? Or, is it to rebel against some perceived notion of real fatherhood? No, no, and no. Rather, my point in writing this post is to share that being a dad of only girls is a great joy.
Though I don’t have a son, I’ve been able to do those activities typically relegated to dad-son activities. My girls enjoy (granted, up to a point) LSU sports. I’ve taken my girls fishing, golf ball hunting, and fossil finding. My girls have participated in volleyball and basketball. All three of my daughters have played with my old Hot Wheels, many times choosing my Hot Wheels over playing with their dolls and dollhouse. They have spent countless hours building with Legos. Further, they have shown interest in studying history, math, art, baking (hopefully philosophy and theology J )…. I want them to discover what interests them so that they can utilize their gifts given by God.
In short, being a dad of only girls does not limit what I can do with them. I’m not relegated to playing dolls and house (though I have done that). Being a dad of only girls means just that – I am a dad…of girls. I don’t stop being who I am. I don’t have to suspend my interests because they are “boy” interests. Instead, I share my interests with them because it is through those opportunities that they can learn what they like or dislike. Further, by experiencing activities typically relegated to guys, my girls won’t be wandering into a foreign land once they begin dating (*sigh* I don’t want to think about that) and eventually get married. Football, baseball, basketball, fishing, etc. won’t be a foreign language to them; they’ll be able to hold their own.
Being a dad of girls does not mean you have to change who you are. Let your girls know you, in part, through your interests and activities. You are not “missing out” if you don’t have a son. Instead, you have gained a gift that only be obtained by having a daughter. You gain a new perspective on what it means to be a man (for instance, the moment you have a daughter, you quickly foster your instinct to protect). You also have one more reason to strive to be a better man—you want to be a better man for your wife; when you gain a daughter, you want to be a better man that much more.
Lastly, though you don’t have to change who you are, you find that you change nonetheless. I’ve often shared how Angie has made me into a better man; she has a knack for challenging me in areas of my life that need strengthening. Daughters have a similar effect. Indeed, my wife and daughters have a keen sense of seeing me for who I am—encouraging me when I need it and challenging me when I need to grow. I have far to grow—I fail more often than not, but I do know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would not be who I am today if it were not for my wife and my three daughters.
If you’re into philosophy or philosophy-esque topics, you may have seen Bill Nye’s recent videos on “Big Think”. Dan DeWitt’s recent blog post alerted me to a video (posted about a month ago) in which Nye seeks to answer the question “Does science have all the answers or should we do philosophy?” In the short video, Nye’s answer betrays a misunderstanding of what philosophy is and the types of questions philosophy seeks to answer. His examples and illustrations are but caricatures of philosophy as a discipline and actually hurt, rather than aid, his argument. Olivia Goldhilll critiques Nye’s response over at Quartz in her post titled “Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?” Goldhill provides a succinct response to every claim Nye makes in order to demonstrate that today’s intellectual superstars betray an inexplicable misconception of the very discipline that gave birth to modern science.
While it is understandable that the general public has misunderstandings of philosophy, it’s another matter when some of the public intellectuals of our time display the same misconceptions. Nye’s view of philosophy reflects that of other scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking and of the New Atheists: Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. For these thinkers, only science provides the means by which we discover and know truth. That is, not only does science help us understand how the world works, it also informs us on ethical issues like abortion and explains why we exhibit empathy and love towards others (see Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape). In short, science is built upon fact, while philosophy focuses upon mere speculative questions that cannot be empirically verified. Science alone can discover truth.
How did we get here? Though philosophy and science were inseparable for many centuries, modern science has (to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris) “flown the perch” built by philosophy. The reasons for philosophy’s precipitous fall from “the mother of all disciplines” are varied and too many to summarize here; let it suffice that as modern science progressed and out knowledge of the world expanded, philosophy (and theology) began to be viewed as unnecessary, as relics of a time gone by, or as incapable of discovering truth. Instead, confidence in the scientific method and its track record led many to jettison philosophy in favor of science as the bar of truth.
Philosophy is not an innocent victim in this seismic paradigm shift. Some of philosophy’s heavy hitters have fed the growing ambivalence toward their own discipline. Nietzsche declared philosophy as faulty to its core; philosophers’ assertions are just “assumptions” and “virtuous noise.” William James, the great pragmatist, favorably quotes the old proverb “Philosophy bakes no break” in Lecture I of Pragmatism. Bertrand Russell asserted that philosophy does not bring about definite knowledge; instead, the “residue of science” is left to philosophy. Karl Popper relegated professional philosophy to “idealistic naval gazing.” Finally, Richard Rorty claimed that we are no longer in an age where philosophy is a constructive discipline aimed at determining truth. Though not all philosophers have had a skeptical or negative view toward philosophy, what is illustrated in this paragraph is the shift away from the classical view of philosophy that was prevalent for centuries.
So, is philosophy useless? Has its usefulness and value been exhausted, only to be studied as a relic of intellectual history? Well, ironically, these questions are actually philosophical in nature. So, to declare philosophy as “valueless” is to make a philosophical claim, which in turn requires—if one is to support their assertion—an investigation into the nature of philosophy (in order to declare it valueless). This investigation is itself…as you’ve probably guessed already…a philosophical endeavor. Those like Nye cannot escape that which they have declared dead. As such, merely asserting that philosophy is no longer useful does not make it so. It is intellectual laziness to make such a careless claim without recourse to an investigation in, reflection upon, and support of this all-too-common view.
The question of whether philosophy is still valuable is a question asked by not only scientists, but by higher education institutions, politicians, religious institutions, and other disciplines as well. Further, the question of philosophy’s value is one that has been visited quite often throughout the centuries. And despite the questioning, philosophy has remained engrained in the fabric of life.
The act of questioning something’s work seems on the face of it a way of putting it down or silencing it. On the contrary, though, questioning philosophy’s utility is actually a one worth asking. My studies have led me to believe that most people will acknowledge that philosophy has some value today. The issue tends to be not if it has value, but how it has value. That is, how does philosophy apply to today’s day and age? One is then led to ask: What questions does philosophy answer, and what issues does it investigate? In answering these questions, one can then answer the why question: why do we study philosophy? In short, philosophy has focused upon—and continues to do so—the very nature of its enterprise. To do so is to participate in the philosophy of philosophy (known as metaphilosophy).
What we need, then, is not a haphazard dismissal of philosophy, but an investigation into the nature of philosophy. Such investigations have been done in the past by various thinkers, but today most people operate from an assumed understanding of philosophy as opposed to a well-formed and well-informed view of what philosophy is and its value to life (and all it entails) today. If we are to accept the claim that philosophy is dead, then we can only do so after the philosophical investigation into that question, thereby breathing life back into a supposedly lifeless discipline.
I have already gone too long in this post, but allow me to wrap it up by extending a call to Christians to investigate the question of philosophy’s value. Christian thinkers like Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Richard Swinburne, Eleonore Stump, Paul Moser, Paul Copan, and so many more have revived philosophy, particularly in Christian circles. While Analytic philosophers had once discarded philosophy of religion and metaphysical questions as unnecessary, these thinkers (among others) have demonstrated that not only are religious and metaphysical beliefs an integral and necessary aspect of life and study, they have established that philosophy can be a vibrant area of study and a valuable partner in the quest to understand the world in which we live.
One Christian who has done much in the area of Christian metaphilosophy is Paul K. Moser. Check out the online symposium that began with his article titled “Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United”; the symposium is housed at the website for the Evangelical Philosophical Society. The online symposium was begun in 2012 and flourished for about two years, but little has been done since. Further, little seemed was accomplished apart from academic wall-building between those of differing views regarding Moser’s claim. Moser’s work began a conversation that–in my opinion—should be continued if we as Christians are to develop a well-grounded understanding of the nature of philosophy and its value for the believer. Finally, Christian thinkers can also carry the torch into the broader intellectual arena, redeeming a discipline that was once known as “the handmaiden to theology.”
 This section is adapted from the first chapter of my dissertation, Toward a Baptist View of Metaphilosophy: An Analysis of E. Y. Mullins, John Newport, Richard Cunningham, and L. Russ Bush (2014). The quote is from Nietzshe, “On the Prejudices of Philosophers” I.5.
 Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, 155; quoted in McDonald, Toward a Baptist View of Metaphilosophy, 31.
 Popper, “How I See Philosophy,” in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, 42; quoted in McDonald, Toward a Baptist View of Metaphilosophy, 34.
 Baldwin, Contemporary Philosophy, 272; referenced in McDonald, Toward a Baptist View of Philosophy, 36.
 One only has to recall Marco Rubio’s “We need more welders and less (sic) philosophers” quote in the early stages of his presidential campaign.
 A very helpful book that discusses these questions is the 2013 book titled An Introduction to Metaphilosophy by Overgaard, Gilbert, and Burwood. This book served as the impetus behind my dissertation and continuing studies.
 This view is affirmed in Overgaard, Gilbert, and Burwood, An Introduction to Metaphilosophy, 8.
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.
If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links:
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.
If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links:
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!
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.
- Review: “The Owlings: A Worldview Novella” Part I
- Review: “The Owlings: A Worldview Novella” Part II
- Using Science Fiction to Convey Theology: Robert J. Sawyer’s Calculating God” as a Test Case
- Is There Any Value in Historical Novels?
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!
Old is often better. New is often bad. Why think the newer is truer, especially on philosophy and theology? Old books have withstood the test of time. That doesn’t mean they are true, but they are venerable. Most books are printed once or twice, go out of print, and are forgotten. And we spend so much of our time reading ephemera, this listless dust. When reading about physics, we need the latest discoveries and theories, but not so about the first principles and ultimate issues of life. As C.S. Lewis said, inspired by his friend Owen Barfield, moderns practice chronological snobbery, deeming the newest as the truest. There is no reason for it.
This the opening paragraph in Doug Groothuis’ latest post at DouglasGroothuis.com. I must confess that what first caught my eye was the phrase “old books” in the title and the banner image. (I can just image in the treasures buried in that aisle alone!) My wife can attest that I love books and any chance I get I buy books from our local used book stores. She’ll say that I have too many books, but I tend to think that I’m just getting started. 😉 There’s something to buying used books in general; it’s as if buying a used book gives it new life and purpose. More specifically, it’s as if I have the opportunity to learn from someone else who has gone before me. As such, I have an affinity toward older books (as is evidenced by my personal library) and used books stores.
Groothuis, I can imagine, is like-minded when it comes to used books. However, what he claims is something that goes deeper than one’s love of old books. Rather, what he conveys is that it behooves us to read books by theologians, philosophers, and other thinkers who have gone before us. Too often we can be caught up in the most recent and “cutting-edge” books that claim to uncover some secret to life. This approach reflects the attitude that what happened in the past is archaic, out dated, and irrelevant. Our age is identified with progress and discovery; hence, we need to be reading the most current work.
Such an attitude, however, does not fit when it comes to books that discuss life’s perennial questions. Questions of purpose, origin, meaning, etc. are questions that have occupied the minds of thinkers throughout the ages. Books written by thinkers who have reflected deeply on life’s ultimate questions do not wither with age – rather, they stand the test of time and give us a glimpse into the wisdom that has been handed down to us. Much of what we see today is just a repackaging of what others have said in the past. Just as The Preacher states in Ecclesiastes, there really is nothing new under the sun.
It behooves us to reach into the past by reading old book – those books that have stood the test of time – to see what we can learn, what we can avoid, and what we need reminded of. God often pointed the Israelites to their own history to remind them of their faithlessness and his faithfulness. The writers of the gospels appealed to the Old Testament in order to demonstrate to their audience that the life and work of Jesus Christ has been a part of God’s plan from the beginning. And Paul in Hebrews 11 reminds believers of the faith of those who have gone before us as an encouragement to remain steadfast in their walk with the Lord.
Though old books are not inspired, they do stand as a record of other believers’ struggles and victories, doubts and insight, and mistakes and principles – things that remind us that we are not alone this side of heaven. Someone has been where you are right now. Someone has been where I am right now in my own life. We have, therefore, much to learn from those who have made it through the fires of life. Neglect not the old books, but read them!
Post Script: I think a note should be added that in addition to reading old books by Christian thinkers of the past, it is beneficial to read old books by non-Christian authors as well. They struggle with many of the same questions believers struggle with. Though many non-believers do not arrive at conclusions with which we may not agree, they can touch on ideas that are in alignment with Scripture. We can learn from those who do not know the Lord. Further, any ideas that are not alignment with Scripture can serve as an encouragement to the believer to remain steadfast in God’s truth, and they can inform us on how we can reply to questions and objections to Christianity.
Thus, read widely!
Finally, take the time to read this wonderful article from BBC News titled: “A Point of View: Is There Still Any Point Collecting Books?” The author Howard Jacobson pens a wonderful piece on the allure of old books and the special place they have in his life. I felt I met a dear friend when I read this piece – he puts into words what I can’t express when it comes to old books. It would be so much fun to see his personal library…
This past semester I had the opportunity to teach Introduction to Philosophy at Boyce College. This is one of my favorite courses to teach as it deals with one of my favorite areas – metaphilosophy and the relationship between faith and reason. I also enjoy this class because I have the opportunity to discuss the distinction between science and what’s known as “scientism.” What is “scientism” and why the distinction? Well, take a look at my post at the Southern Blog titled “Science vs. Scientism: A Necessary Distinction.”