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Religion & Philosophy

Glittering Vices

Author: Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung
Brazos Press
Posted on: Oct 6, 2009

cover of Glittering VicesIn Glittering Vices, Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung carefully parses the meanings and attractions of the seven deadly sins. Historically and biblically informed, her explorations lead readers to meditate on personal participation in these sins. She doesn’t forget to provide a way out of these meditations. If the first part of each chapter describing one of the sins—envy, vainglory, sloth, avarice, anger, gluttony and lust—is a mirror, then the end of each chapter is a window on the other side of which is Christ, armed with the power to transform even the deadliest of vices into virtues.

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Harvard for Homeschoolers?

Author: Katelyn Beaty, Class of 2006
Books and Culture
Posted on: Sep 1, 2009

When did conservative Christians become odd, fascinating creatures to bring under the journalistic lens? The friendly poking and prodding predated God’s Harvard (Harcourt, 2007), religion writer Hanna Rosin’s dispatch from an 18-month visit to Patrick Henry College, but her account certainly exemplifies the genre.

If God’s Harvard was a portrait of Patrick Henry in words, then Jona Frank’s Right: Portraits from the Evangelical Ivy League—published last fall, when the presidential election campaign was still in full swing—should serve as a companion volume, a portrait in, well, portraits.


A cheery Happy 500th Birthday to a non-dour Reformer: John Calvin

Author: Nathan Bierma, Minds co-editor
Posted on: Jul 10, 2009

The problem with turning 500 is that you start to sound old. John Calvin, who was born 500 years ago today, will be remembered by many today as a dour old codger who loved to talk about sin and depravity, someone who was always in a bad mood. It’s true that Calvin had his grumpy moments—although I probably would too if I suffered from constant intestinal disorders and a battery of other chronic ailments, as Calvin did. And it’s true that Calvin spared few words when talking about the severity of our condition as a result of sin—though I don’t think Paul or Augustine were much less blunt about our depravity. (The less said about the nasty names Calvin called the Pope, meanwhile, the better.)

I’ve been learning lately that Calvin actually lived, thought, and wrote with a palpable pastoral heart and a vivid vision of God’s goodness and grace—and that without this part of the picture of who Calvin was, all you get is a caricature.

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The Prism of Calvin’s Political Legacy in the United States

Author: James D. Bratt, Professor of History
Posted on: Jul 7, 2009

The writers of the American Constitution were guided by the theology of Calvin and the philosophy of Hobbes.

On the contrary, they were resolute secularists who cared neither for nor about the doctrine of predestination.

The American polity grew organically from roots planted by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621 and continued to manifest that Reformed original in spirit and shape at least until the 1960s.

On the contrary, the separation of church and state, mandated for the federal government in the First Amendment and fully realized on the state level fifty years later, was unthinkable in any Calvinist setting.

The spirit of the Puritans held sway across the American nineteenth century, as attested to by a score of foreign visitors and pioneer church historians.

On the contrary, Calvinism was unfit for the self-determining citizens of a free republic; appropriately, the youth of the United States is identified as the Methodist Age in American church history, and its industrial maturity with Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish immigration that instantiated in practice the pluralism that the founders had mandated in theory.

That all of these mutually contradictory statements are more or less true is one index of the paradoxical nature of American society. It also illustrates how challenging it can be to trace the influence of a religious tradition like Calvinism across the many twists and turns and new departures of so vast and variegated a land as the United States. Part of our response must be to take care in measurement, for sometimes the “less” in the characterization “more or less true” can be quite “less” indeed.

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Why Believe in the Self? Western and Eastern Explorations of Self, No-Self, and the Divine

Author: Kai-man Kwan, Visiting Professor of Philosophy

Posted on: Jun 22, 2009

Kwan Kai Man, chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University, was a visiting professor in the philosophy department at Calvin College in the spring of 2009. He gave this presentation at Calvin on April 30, 2009. It was co-sponsored by the department of philosophy, the Nagel Institute, and the Asian Studies program at Calvin.

Nothing seems more certain to us than the fact that we exist, i.e., our selves exist. The father of modem philosophy, Descartes, makes the existence of the self (I think therefore I am—cogito) the foundation of his philosophy. Many philosophers are really self-enthusiasts. For example, J. B. Pratt says: “We know that the self is, and we know what it is by observing what it does. And this we know because every theory of the inner life which fails to recognize a knower and actor does violence to the facts of experience.” H. D. Lewis also asserts that “the self, far from being a mysterious reality behind the scenes, is in fact what we know best. But we know it in a very special way in the very fact of being it and having the experiences we do have, including the activities we initiate.” However, in fact there is a great controversy among philosophers and other scholars about the reality of the self. In the Western academy, especially among analytic philosophers of mind or cognitive scientists, the voice of the naturalists who want to deconstruct the illusion of self seems to be the dominant one. While the scholars working in the areas of Continental philosophy, comparative literature, and cultural studies are usually at odds with the analytic philosophers, on this topic they seem to be of one mind, celebrating with the postmodern gurus like Foucault about the death of Self (or the death of the author, death of humanism and so on). Of course it is already anticipated by Nietzsche in 1887: “There is no ‘being’ doing, effecting, becoming. ‘The doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed- the deed is everything ... our entire science still lies under the misleading influence of language and has not disposed of that little changeling, the ‘subject.’ ”

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