Wednesday, August 15, 2007

UPDATED - One strand of the 20th century web or Why you should read Dr. Peter Jones' booksNOTE: Below is an edited version of a post which originally went up in November 2005. I've reposted this in an edited form because I've become aware of a "must read" book that needs to be added to this reading sequence. See the section marked NEW below for that book and why I think it's important.


In my last post I indicated the usefulness of reading the works of Dr. Peter R. Jones. In fairness to the reader I should mention that I'm a personal friend of Dr. Jones and also serve on the board of CWIPP, the ministry which provides a support structure for Dr. Jones' work. Thus I am not a neutral recommender but rather a enthusiastic supporter. But as I hope you'll find below, it's for good reason.

In my years of knowing Dr. Jones and ministering among different groups of people I've been asked with some frequency, "Why should I read what Dr. Jones writes?" At some point I get weary of repeating myself and so this post is an attempt to answer that question in a rather full form.

The reason why Peter Jones is an important current author to read begins with thinkers who ministered beginning in the latter half of the 19th century. As David Naugle has ably documented in Worldview: The History of a Concept (well worth the read on its own merits) worldview thinking while necessarily present since the beginning of time became more conscious from 1850 onwards. One of the seminal thinkers in developing worldview thinking was Abraham Kuyper. If the reader is to fully appreciate reading Dr. Jones' work your first stop on a literary trail must be Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism. This will introduce you to the concept of Christianity as total system of thought which touches every aspect of personal life and culture.

To understand where Dr. Jones fits into the picture we must move on from Kuyper to J. Gresham Machen. Machen's Christianity and Liberalism reads in the words of one of my deacons, "like it was written yesterday" though it hails from 1923. Machen, in the same stream of theological worldview thinking as Kuyper, prophetically (in the forthtelling sense of telling the truth as it is in foreboding terms) announced that Liberal Christianity was not simply an attempt to modernize Christianity (as it's proponents stated). In reality Liberal Chrisitanity - in Machen's words- was/is an entirely different religion akin to paganism. Dr. Jones' work is essentially the continuation of Machen's prophetic ministry but in more detail and covering other religious traditions in addition to Liberal Christianity. Machen wrote in a time when there appeared to be only two players on the world religious field, Christianity and Liberal Christianity. In our time a better metaphor would be that we have religious alphabet soup (see the previous 4 posts for how this metaphor works out).

But before we begin thinking about why Dr. Jones is important to read today we have stop at one more spot on a strand of the 20th century web of thinkers. Kuyper ministered into the beginning of the 20th century while Machen ministered in the 1920's-40's primarily. Dr. Jones took his PhD in the early 70's and didn't begin to write material about the resurgence of paganism until mid 1990's. In the years between Machen and Jones, Francis Schaeffer ministered ably through the work of L'abri. Most importantly for our thinking in this post is Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? (the link is to a recently released DVD set which is very reasonably priced. You can also find the book of the same name here.) If you've never had the privilege of reading this book or watching the film production, do yourself a favor and get it for Christmas. Schaeffer reviews simply and helpfully the history of the world relating historical events, religion, and the arts in a high quality production shot in fabulous locations. Most importantly Schaeffer stood (he produced How Should We Then Live in 1977 and died in 1984) in the prophetic tradition of Machen. Some details are important for helping the reader see why Schaeffer is an important figure.

Near the end of How Should We Then Live Schaeffer - after reviewing the worldviews which have existed in the world from the beginning - gives his opinion as to where he thinks things will head in the 80's and beyond. Prophetically he predicted that religion in the West having rejected rationality and the Christian worldview would begin to move eastern in its religious thinking. This as it turns out was an accurate prediction. The alphabet religious soup with interfaith services, Jewbu's (that is a person who is both Jewish and Buddhist at the same time, see this link for more details) and Liberal Christians emphasizing not only a lack of miracles (the issue in Machen's day) but also overtly pagan forms of spirituality (i.e. labyrinths, centered prayer, etc.) is a product of the West going East religiously.

NEW: One more work should be read before moving on to Peter Jones' works. That book is titled The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition. It is by James Herrick, a rhetoric professor at Hope College in Holland, MI. The reason this book is a "must read" is that it fills in why and how Schaeffer's prediction comes true. If Schaeffer is the history of the last 2500 years of thinking, Herrick is an intense view of only spirituality for the last 500. This is one of my top books of all time.

Now we can talk about where Dr. Jones fits on this strand of the 20th century (and now 21st century) web of thinkers. Summarizing the above we could simply say Kuyper developed Christian worldview thinking while Machen observed the jettisoning of it in Liberal Christianity. Surveying the history of religious thought and the particular thought forms the 20th century produced, Schaeffer predicted that the outcome of what Machen observed would be that the West would become Eastern in its religious thinking. What Scheffer predicted Dr. Jones documents as actually occurring in our present culture.

It would be useful - as I've hinted at above - to read the works cited above from Kuyper, Machen, and Schaeffer (in that order!) before reading Dr. Jones' books. This is not required but it will help you get a sense of the theological and worldview environment which preceded our current alphabet soup. If you take up my exhortation to read Dr. Jones, the place to begin is with his little book Gospel Truth, Pagan Lies. (all of the books I'm going to mention are available from the online store at the CWIPP website) This may seem simplistic at first but will help lay the foundation for what else you may read. Next I would read Spirit Wars. This book documents the rise of the pagan worldview in the West. Then you'll be ready for Capturing the Pagan Mind. This work is less documentation of the rise of a new movement and more helping you relate what you've learned thus far to how to believe and practice your faith as well as equip you for the massive task of evangelizing pagans. Hasn't everyone and everyone's friend read the Da Vinci Code? Dr. Jones' latest work - co-written with James Garlow - responds to the worldview claims of Dan Brown's influential book. If you are seeking to talk to a friend about the true Christ who's been influenced by the Da Vinci code, this would be a useful read.

Well as I advertised at the outset, I'm not a dispassionate observer. One of the reasons I serve on the board of CWIPP is because the work which Dr. Jones is doing is absolutely crucial in equipping the church to answer thoughtfully a growing paganism in our midst. Tolle legge! (for those who don't know at least little Latin, that translates "take up and read")