On Choosing Books: Reading from the Other Side

stack_of_booksIt’s that time of year again when I have to submit book requests to our campus bookstore for the upcoming semester (technically, it is past time, but the bookstore is always gracious to those of us who miss the initial deadline). For many of my classes, I have developed a standard list of books that I revisit every couple of years to see if there are any better ones. However, each of the last few semesters, I have taught at least one class that is new to my teaching repertoire. This fall it will be Selected Issues in Life and Death—basically a class dealing with various cultural issues of life and death, such as abortion, euthanasia, and human genetic engineering.

When selecting books for this class, I have decided to do something a little different. I have chosen a significant text edited by someone with whom I ardently disagree on these issues. My goal is to have students interact with and engage the best thinkers on the other side of the debate.

I generally survey fellow ethics colleagues at other seminaries before choosing books for new classes just to see if I am missing a key text. While interacting with my PhD mentor on my selection of texts for this class, I mentioned the book I planned to use from the other side of the debate and told him the names of some of the contributors. His response was priceless. He said, “I really like the names you’ve listed for your purposes. [Author X] is scary. Thus a good read.”

For most of my academic career, I have heard Dr. Paige Patterson (president of my seminary) say that students need to know the arguments of the best thinkers who disagree with our positions. My approach to this in the past has been to bring in their works and read/present selections to the students in class. This is the first time I have made a concerted effort to ask my students to buy and read something so diametrically opposed to a Christian perspective on an ethical issue.

By the end of this class, my students will understand the arguments of those who want to promote abortion at any cost, euthanize the weak and poor, and produce designer babies. With appropriate guidance from their professor, I hope they will also be able to critique and combat those arguments.

Far too often Christians find themselves wrapped in their bubble of Christian books and Christian arguments hearing tales of what people on the outside believe. I want my students to read firsthand what people outside our Christian bubble think. That is the only way we can truly know how to engage the culture.

The task will not be easy, but it should be a fun ride. As one of my former professors used to say, “Strap on your helmets, boys, we’re going to war.”

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For those of you wanting to know, the book I chose is Bioethics: An Anthology edited by Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer. Singer is famous for believing that humans have no right to life until at least 6–12 months in age (but possibly as late as 3 years). At the same time, he believes we could control the population by euthanizing all the elderly and infirm. And his is not the most extreme view in the book.

3 comments

  1. I believe the “Christian bubble” extends into other areas as well. I think it is so important for children to interact with secular groups of children while they are young. As they are exposed to other belief systems, they come home talking about them and Christian parents have the prime opportunity to show the differences between our faith and other thinking systems.

    I cherish the times our boys came home from school shocked at hearing what others believed or didn’t believe. Those times provided much discussion and Bible teaching around our kitchen table, den or in the car. It is so comforting to know that as they venture off to college or on trips away from us that they have created their own personal standards and their friends know what those standards are.

    The other benefit of getting outside the “Christian bubble” is that we can be “salt and light” to a dark world that might not otherwise get the personal attention of the Christian community. I’ll never forget asking a group of children to write down the name of a non-Christian for whom they could pray. This particular group of kids couldn’t list any because they only participated in activities within the Christian community.

    We, as Christians, do need to have an understanding of what others believe so that we can study scripture and have a firm basis to be able to speak about it to them!

    Kudos to you!

  2. It is difficult to believe someone can even entertain those thoughts but I know how wicked my own heart is and I have a personal relationship with the Lord. Why we expect the lost world to think anything different than the opposite of the God’s Word shouldn’t be a surprise. But I am still surprised. Glad you are taking the curtain away from what the world is thinking so that your students can be critical thinkers and you are there to shed light on it. Even though it does scare me, it’s all for the wrong reasons.

  3. I remember Patterson telling prospective students if they took his theology class they would read liberal and neo-orthodox theologians so they could hear those arguments from the sources. He would then say, “Then we’ll take each argument and look at why that dog won’t hunt.” 🙂

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