Ron Highfield, a religion professor at Pepperdine University, thinks that even among people who believe in God, there is a suspicion that he might notRon Highfield, a religion professor at Pepperdine University, thinks that even among people who believe in God, there is a suspicion that he might not always have their best interests at heart. Although they might be reluctant to admit it, they think that God might come between them and being truly happy, and so they hold him at arm’s length. There is a deep, and at times unacknowledged, fear that God will make them do things they don’t want to do, like become a missionary in some godforsaken corner of the world.
Highfield has written God, Freedom & Human Dignity to calm those fears and give us a more accurate depiction of God than we are likely to get from quotes we see on the Internet, much popular Christian literature, and indeed, some churches. In part one, he tells the story of how we came to have such a “me-centered” self as our cultural default. He draws on the work of philosophers Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre to show that our modern understanding of the self roots human dignity and freedom internally: in the self and its autonomy. If we understand our dignity and freedom to be rooted within, then we will inevitably see God as a threat to our true fulfillment. Even if we acknowledge God, we treat him as a sort of superhuman vending machine that we can attempt to cajole into doing our bidding. He is the means to another end, rather than an end in himself.
In part two, Highfield looks at the “God-centered” self, and shows that “the view of God, freedom and dignity brought to life in Jesus Christ addresses the pain and paradox of the human condition and secures the hope that we will experience our true greatness and inherit our promised glory” (113). He argues that dignity is not something that humans inherently possess, but instead is something that is conferred on us by the fact that we are loved. This love is not human love—which can decrease or ultimately cease—but God’s eternal, unchanging love. Likewise, freedom is not the ability to do what we like whenever we like, because not all of our momentary desires arise from our true selves. Rather, freedom is “the power to live as we were created to live and to be what we were meant to be” (183). Freedom has a goal beyond mere autonomy, and if freedom is not exercised toward that goal, it is not true freedom. Again: “Even if circumstances permit us to act for our self-realization, that is, to do what we want, we are not genuinely free in those acts unless we want the right thing. You cannot be free in willing evil because the desire for evil keeps us from realizing our true selves” (189).
This is a powerful book, and it strikes at the heart of why the very thought of God in our modern world leaves so many people cold—even some people who believe in God. When I first started the book, I thought the central question Highfield was responding to—”Is God a threat to my happiness?”—was strange. Nobody really asks that question, do they? I still think that most people do not ask that question in so many words, but I do think that in many people there is a vague uneasiness that God might not want for me what I want for me. This is an excellent book for anyone who struggles with that kind of uneasiness.
On the other hand, I think there is another issue in how our “me-centered” selves think about God that Highfield did not address. It is the sense that God is not “other” at all: he wants me to be happy the way I define “happy,” i.e., by giving me whatever my me-centered self wants. This book addresses well the concerns of those who might see an all-powerful God as a threat, but what about those who have such little awe for God that they have domesticated him? It isn’t fair for me to ask Highfield to address a different set of questions in an already strong book, but I do think that this would be fertile ground for a different book.
Note: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book. ...more
David T. Koyzis, who teaches political science at Redeemer University College in Ontario, has written an extremely helpful book for Christians who seeDavid T. Koyzis, who teaches political science at Redeemer University College in Ontario, has written an extremely helpful book for Christians who seek to understand the contemporary political climate. He begins by looking at the nature of ideologies, saying that they tend to locate sources of evil and salvation within the created order, and are therefore idolatrous from a Christian perspective. He then devotes a chapter each to five different ideologies: liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, democracy and socialism. He closes the book with three "what next" chapters: First, there is a chapter on Christians rejecting the monisms of the ideologies and affirming social pluriformity. Second, he includes a chapter that looks at two nonideological Christian alternatives: subsidiarity, which is commonly associated with Catholic social teaching, and sphere-sovereignty (or differentiated responsibility), which is commonly associated with Dutch Reformed thinking. Koyzis does a good job at explaining both, and expresses a preference for the latter. Finally, there is a chapter looking at the state's role in fostering justice.
There are two reasons why I would recommend this book: first, Koyzis is familiar with a wide range of ideas in the history of political thought. He is able to explain the history of the concept of ideology, as well as the histories of the various ideologies themselves. That ability to give context is invaluable in a culture that rarely gets beyond sound bites and slogans. Second, I appreciated that it is written from a Christian perspective. Of course, not all Christians will agree with everything Koyzis writes, but the fact that he writes as a Christian enables him to step back from the ideologies and evaluate them based on how they understand God's created world. A lot of political analysis is simply the adherent of one ideology critiquing some other ideology. Koyzis is able to critique them all from his standpoint as a Christian, and I found that very valuable....more
I read a few of Schaeffer's books when I was in high school and college, and he was one of the first people I read who got me interested in intellectuI read a few of Schaeffer's books when I was in high school and college, and he was one of the first people I read who got me interested in intellectual history.
Re-reading these books several years later (plus several others I had never read before), I was disappointed at times with the simplistic nature of his arguments. He certainly knew how to paint with a broad brush. Even if his thought tended generally in a good direction, he seemed unfair in some of the details.
Nevertheless, the love and concern that he had for the baby boomer generation, specifically those people who came to stay with him at L'Abri, shines through....more