“If the Arts were to be consigned to oblivion, it would be sadder than if the sun were taken from the world.”

 – Philipp Melanchthon –


The best Christian thinking has always placed a high value on the Arts, and the study of philosophy, literature, logic, history, languages, and the like. Such studies open our eyes to more fully understand the human condition. They teach us to critically approach the ideologies of our time, to hold counsel with those who have gone before us, to know and appreciate beauty, to understand the evil which has followed humankind throughout its long history, to live ethically, and to do so many other various and wonderful things. In short, the Arts provide us a framework for understanding the creation and our place in it.

No wonder Martin Luther desired “that there be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible,” urging “young people to study poetry and rhetoric.” The reason is clear: “I see that by these studies, as by no other means,” he writes, “people are wonderfully fitted for grasping sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and effectively.” The Arts teach us how to think. And so we see Melanchthon is right to say the Arts’ demise would be sadder than the extinguishing of the sun; as the sun illuminates our world, so too the Arts illuminate our minds. Without them, we sit in darkness.

You can understand, therefore, that I was disgusted when I learned yesterday that the University of Regina (my alma mater) is, in its great wisdom, driving the Faculty of Arts into the ground. In particular, the English department has faced numerous cuts over the past four years, and the word is out that they should prepare for even greater cuts in the future. Professors are retiring and no funds are being alloted to replace them. Whatever “fat” there was in the department was trimmed long ago, and now the department is being forced to consider cutting core classes to fit the budget. Things look bleak.

Catch up on the story at the following links. And then, contact the UofR to let them know you disapprove of further, debilitating cuts to the Arts (especially English). I suggest sending your letter of discontent directly to President Vianne Timmons:

“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”The Carillon

“Profs, students at U of R brace for possible cuts”The Leader-Post

“Talk is cheap”The Carillon

Note: Draw attention to the crisis with a Facebook-ready “cover image” of the “Realize: Reading and writing don’t matter” banner by clicking here.

What does it mean to “love the Lord our God with all our minds”? That’s the question that sits behind the most recent (July/August 2012) issue of The Canadian Lutheran. This issue features articles on being thinking Christians, on the spirituality of ordinary life, and on apologetics. As usual, I try to set the stage for the issue in my Table Talk column.

My column this time is entitled “By the renewing of your mind,” and you can get a taste of it below:

Sometimes as Christians we assume we’ve learned all we need to know. We’ve done our time in Sunday school and Confirmation, and now we’re finished. We’ve “graduated,” as it were. But the fact is, when we stop trying to understand more about our faith, we inevitably begin to forget even the basic things we once knew. We stop looking daily into God’s Word. We stop spending time in prayer. Bit by bit, we let the cares of this world choke out the seed of faith. And though we may spend our entire lives in the Church, we suddenly find ourselves in need of the same criticism: by this time we really ought to be teachers of the faith; instead, we need a refresher on the very basics of Christianity…

As we seek a deeper knowledge of Him, we will find that the false teachers of this world become less appealing: we will learn to “discern good from evil,” as the Holy Spirit renews our minds. Then the central tenet of our faith will rise up in our mind’s eye: a cross standing high on a hill above every lie. We will learn to see the world with Christ as its focus, with Christ as the Answer to its every question, and with Christ as the only Salvation for its sin-stained brokenness. We shall see Truth. And the Truth shall set us free.

Check out the article here. Or, if you’d rather read the whole issue, download the July/August issue pdf here.

In other news, a certain fiancée of mine worked on the cover art for this one. Chances are she’ll read this: so let me say this: I love you, dear heart, and I thank you for the help you give me on many things, including the art work and column-refinement you helped me with on this issue. But mostly, just thank you for you.

Are you a humanist? ‘Cause I sure am. But before you start sending me nasty messages about my being a godless atheist, let me assure that what I mean by the word probably isn’t what you think I mean. To be sure, most people today use the word humanist in a very anti-religious sense. In its secular (and most common) meaning, the word denotes the rejection of supernaturalism and faith as adequate grounds for living life. But it’s in the older renaissance sense of the term that I call myself a humanist: namely, as The Christian Humanist Podcast puts it, as “someone who studies the humanities.” I believe strongly in the value of liberal arts education and the importance of critical engagement with literature, philosophy, and the myriad other things that make up our cultural world.

In this sense, I join a long line of Christian humanists, including such luminaries as Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, the latter of whom’s visage graces the header on this website. Melanchthon, widely known as the author of significant sections of the Lutheran Confessions, is lesser known for his poetry and academic work on rhetoric, classical Greek literature, and education. But for Melanchthon, Luther and the numerous other humanists like them, these subjects and a thousand others are equally worthy of discussion. The world is pretty big ; so too must be the Christian understanding of it.

Two paragraphs back, I quoted The Christian Humanist Podcast. I hope you’re wondering what the heck that is, because that’s the real reason for this blog post. A couple of months back, I happened across their website, though I can’t for the life of me remember how. Their podcast (and accompanying blog) is devoted to discussing “literature, theology, philosophy and other things that human beings do well.” And that’s exactly what the podcast does: it takes up a different question each week, and discusses the ins and outs of the subject while offering a Christian appraisal of the good and bad in said subject. In the process, the hosts offer input based on their own areas of specialization – which, as the show is hosted by a medievalist, a Renaissance (and biblical) scholar, and an Americanist, generally means an overall analysis which succeeds in engaging intellectual thought on the subject from across the centuries.

If I might act like a fanboy for a few sentences here, let me just say that I absolutely love the show. I know no better place to hear such intelligent discussion of so many wide ranging topics. From dogma, to politics, to science, to literary theory, to sports, they take it all on. And they do so in a way which is, in the words of their original audio tagline, “unapologetically confessional and unabashedly intellectual.” I’m hooked. You should be too.

Currently, I’m working my way through their archives while trying to keep up with their new episodes as well. All of the episodes I’ve heard have been excellent, but I thought I’d highlight a few that new listeners might especially want to check out.

1. Episode 1: The Christian Humanist – For a fuller discussion of what it means to be a “Christian humanist,” check out this episode. It gives both a good history of Christian engagement with culture, while simultaneously explaining what the point of the Christian Humanist Podcast is.

2. Episode 20: Judas – Like the title suggests, this episode centres on the betrayer of Christ, discussing first the biblical accounts before later examining literary receptions of him over the next two millenia. It’s also an interesting episode as it highlights some of the theological differences the hosts hold. This isn’t a show with three talking heads simply parroting each other’s opinions. Real discussion of an issue often means recognizing real disagreement.

3. Episode 17: Great Books and Critical Theory – For you English major types, this one discusses the differences between the Great Books movement and Literary Theory, while highlighting the positives and negatives each approach offers the Christian interested in literature (and really, all Christians should be interested in literature if you ask me).

You can see the entire audio archive at their RSS feed here. Be sure to also check out their main site here, where you can also read the accompanying blog, with its episode notes, lectionary reading reflections, and articles on various subjects of interest to Christian humanists everywhere.

Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice by David Lyle Jeffrey & Gregory P. Maillet (IVP Academic, 2011)

Guest post by Karl Persson

Ecclesiastes tells us that “of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh;” arguably, this assertion describes the plight of most of us English students who, out of the many texts in our ever expanding discipline, must be wise in considering what books we read and how to read them. Christian literary scholars find themselves in even more of a predicament, not only having to determine what to read, but also what it means to read books as Christians. Although I haven’t yet had time to purchase let-alone read this book, I nonetheless suggest that we couldn’t do much better than turn to Drs. Gregory Maillet and David Lyle Jeffrey in our search for Christian guidance in approaching English literature, past and present.

While you may wonder how I can make such a claim before reading the book, I do have good reasons, given my experience with the authors, particularly Dr. Maillet. Throughout my undergraduate program at the University of Regina, I took a number of courses with Greg, including Shakespearean Tragedy and Comedy, the Bible and Literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and perhaps most importantly for my own career, Old English Language and Literature. Greg taught all of these classes not only as an impeccable academic, but also as a Christian genuinely interested in the well-being of his students and the ways that their lives could be enriched through the study of literature and the larger philosophical and theological matters it approaches. As his Teaching Assistant and student, I learned much from his quiet but confident faith in Christ that was evident in his approach to literature, and I also appreciated the space he made for students like me to reflect on how we might learn to think about literature and literary theory as Christians. On a more personal level, I probably would not be pursuing my current line of academic study, Old English Literature, if it weren’t for Greg’s influence; not only did he go out of his way to persuade the university administration to let him teach the rarely offered Old English literature course in which I first learned the language; but he also encouraged me to study Latin at a moment when I was uncertain about my future academic plans; both of these languages continue to be instrumental in the work that I do.

In any case, given the advent of this new book by Drs. Maillet and Jeffrey, I wanted to share with you the impact that Greg’s faith has had on my life, not only in the hope that some of you will take the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of both these superb scholars, but also in the hope that you will be encouraged by this story of someone whose faithfulness to Christ in the academy continues to testify to the grace of God.


Karl Persson is a Doctoral Candidate working on the intersection of Biblical and Old English wisdom literature; theologically, he is interested in being a good husband to Meg, being a good father to Andrew, and working out a theological grammar that allows us to speak appropriately and well about issues concerning God, suffering, and the broader problem of evil.


Anyone who’s taken even a cursory view at the Academy recently is aware how much has changed when it comes to university. This is the era of utilitarianism, the era when students are expected to pursue “practical” degrees in accounting, engineering, and business. The days when liberal arts education was the norm, not the exception, have long since passed. [See an older post of mine entitled “Whatever happened to the liberal arts?”]

In a society that is increasingly hostile to the traditional thought-filled disciplines, Thomas H. Benton suggests a rather bold, if medieval, tactic to save the Academy as we know (knew?) it. He proposes that we bring back monastic communities. “Monasticism,” he writes, “may provide the most effective haven for higher education in the context of yet another crumbling civilization corrupted by luxuries, addicted to war, and hostile to self-examination.”

I don’t want to say too much about Benton’s article here as I’d rather you read it than my summation. I’ll only say that I think it is brilliant. So go read “Getting Medieval on Higher Education” at The Chronicle of Higher Education right now.

Today I submitted the final piece of work for my two undergrad degrees. I will not deny that it feels absolutely glorious to be done! As I was in a bit of a playful mood, and in honour of the fact that April is National Poetry Month in both the United States and Canada, I wrote the following minor parody of Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Enjoy!

Epilogue to the Academic Tales

With Apologies to Chaucer

When that April has with seas of ink
Borne witness just how little students think,
And covered every page with such a blot
That teachers search in vain for proof of thought;
When graduands have breathed a sigh of rest
For theses writ, submitted, and professed
Before committees; and curriculum
Unto the end its course has fully run;
And little first years lift a mournful cry
That study all the night with open eye —
So finals do prick them in their fear —
Then do I long to go for beer!

Mathew Block
April 28, 2010

For those of you who haven’t heard, there’s a group on Facebook entitled “I picked a major I like, and one day I’ll probably be living in a box.” At the time of this writing, it has more than 108,000 members. I’m one of them.

In some sense, this Facebook group represents a response to the increasing utilitarianism of the academy, the increasing drive towards getting degrees that lead directly to a specific career: like engineering, medicine, etc. By contrast, we are the minority who insist on getting “useless” degrees in such things as languages, literature, history, and the like.

Of course, I would argue that a liberal arts degree is far from useless (see my post “Whatever Happened to the Liberal Arts?”). And I think many members of the above-mentioned Facebook group would agree. The very title, which predicts each of our future plans as “living in a box”, is itself a playful joke about how we do not care that our degrees do not lead directly to high paying jobs. There are far more important things than money.

That all said, the average person in North America still sees two types of degrees: “useful” (ie, leading to a high-paying job) and “useless” (all others). And so it’s unsurprising that students who take “useless” degrees frequently meet blank stares and confusion when they explain what they are studying. I thought I’d share just a few of the more humorous interchanges members recall having after being asked the question: “What’s your major?”

Student: I’m studying French.
Questioner: So you’ll be French when you graduate?

Student: I’m in Religious Studies.
Questioner: So… you want to be a nun?

Student: I’m taking Archaeology.
Questioner: Like what they did in Jurassic Park?

Student: I’m in English.
Questioner: But… you already speak English. What else could you possibly learn?

Student: I’m in Linguistics.
Questioner: Cool. How many languages do you speak?
Student: Two and a half, but we don’t actually learn languages in the program; we learn about language in general.
Questioner: So what exactly does a linguistics major do?
Student: Mostly just explain to other people what linguistics is…

And one final exchange a little more related to the typical content of my blog.:

Student: I am going into theology!
Parents: Huh?
Student: I am going into theology?
Parents: How many years of college is that?
Student: Umm, it depends on how long I go for…
Parents: [Pause] What are you going to do with that?

What indeed?


[Some of the above have been slightly edited for presentational purposes.]

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