Would you like to help your student became a real Renaissance man or woman? Then literature professor Steven Hake has some ideas you won’t want to miss. Find out more on today’s Home School Heartbeat.
Mike Farris: I’m joined today by Dr. Steven Hake. He’s a literature professor and chairman of the Classical Liberal Arts department here at Patrick Henry College. Steven, welcome to the program.
Steven: Glad to be here, Mike!
Mike: You’re working on a project that you call a Christian Renaissance. Can you tell us a bit about that? To start with, what is a Renaissance?
Steven: A Renaissance—the word means “rebirth.” It's a rebirth or a renewal or a reformation or a revival. It can also mean return or recovery, regaining something that's valuable or precious that's been lost.
Mike: Well, that's what a Renaissance is. Now, what would be a Christian Renaissance?
Steven: In the West, we've lost faith in God. We've wandered from Him. Over the last two or three hundred years, the really big books—the seminal books, the books that have shaped our world—were written by radical unbelievers, by men like Marx and Freud and Nietzsche and Derrida. We're really living in their world today. We've got to go back several hundred years before we can find books of comparable stature, of comparable influence and importance, written by believers.
And my hope is that we can encourage young people—challenge them to write the big books, the seminal books, the important books of the 21st century. The novels, the films, the works of art that will bring us back to God.
Mike: Steven, when most people talk about the Renaissance, they mean the historical Renaissance that took place in the 1500s. How is your idea of a Christian Renaissance similar to that one?
Steven: That Renaissance represented, as we all know, a great flowering of art and writing. Shakespeare wrote during that time, and Da Vinci, and Michelangelo.
Some of these works of art were profoundly influenced by the Gospel and by Christianity. But some were not. I'm hoping that young people, encouraging young people to prepare themselves to compose the great music, to write the great books, to recover truth and goodness and beauty in works of art.
Mike: The logical follow-up question is, how would the historical Renaissance differ from the one you have in mind?
Steven: I said that some of those works of art were inspired by a profoundly Christian worldview. But certainly not all of them. In some important ways, the Renaissance, the historical Renaissance of the 16th century, led us away from God. It led to the Enlightenment, and to the world in which we're now living—a world first of Deism, and Naturalism, and Nihilism—the world that's all around us today.
A Christian Renaissance, like the Reformation, which happened at more or less the same time, brought about a revival of deep commitment to God. And this would be our hope in a Christian Renaissance today: a revival of understanding of the Gospel, but also of deep learning, of great art and music.
Mike: If young people are going to begin this process, they need to have some background education. Are there any books that you would recommend that they read?
Steven: Yes. There are two classic books and two contemporary books that I would highly recommend. And it's good to read both classic and contemporary, to read the best of the old but also the best of the new.
The first would be The City of God. This is of course a classic book. Augustine's world in the 4th century was crumbling all around him. The Roman Empire that had lasted for hundreds of years was literally crumbling; it was being crushed by invaders from the north. And yet Augustine found strength in his God to sound a trumpet call that we are still hearing today. In fact, Os Guinness has called our moment today “an Augustine moment.”
And this is really what a Christian Renaissance is all about. Augustine knew God very well. He knew the Scriptures very well. But he also knew Roman culture very well indeed, and he spoke very effectively into that crumbling world for God.
A second book (and this is a contemporary book) is called Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. And in this book, he says it's not enough for us to simply critique or consume culture as believers. He's calling us to create culture, to be active culturally, to (in a sense) take the offensive, in deeply biblical and beautiful ways.
A third book (we're back to the classic category) would be Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the great Russian writer. In the 19th century, there has been what was called the Marx-Dostoyevsky duel. And Dostoyevsky could see very clearly what was happening in Russia at the time. There were radicals, as indeed he was one of these radicals as a young man—in fact, he was imprisoned for it. He came to faith in prison.
And the middle-aged Dostoyevsky looked back on those young radicals, and he could see their strengths, but he could also see their huge problems. These were of course the proto-Bolsheviks that led eventually to the Communist takeover in the 20th century.
And so Dostoyevsky really, in this novel ... you can see him struggling for the soul of a nation, in ways very, very similar to what's going on today. And this would also be profoundly relevant to a Christian renaissance. We're really struggling for the soul of a nation.
A final book, and this is (we're back to the contemporary category) Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat. He's a New York Times columnist and a believer; a good example of a man that's prominently placed in our world today, our secular world, and yet has a strong Christian faith.
He says, “The problem in America today is not too much religion, or even rampant secularism, but the fact that American Christianity has become heretical. It's become debased.” A Christian Renaissance must be first of all and profoundly Christian. We must recover a robust and true biblical faith.
Mike: Steven, your idea of a Renaissance is more than just reading books. You also talk about getting outdoors and having adventures. Why is that important?
Steven: You know, we're called to of course love God and love each other. We're called as families to work together, to learn together, to relax together. Life is not simply about being entertained, or simply studying. But we get our hands dirty. We work together. We work outdoors sometimes.
We are called to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind—to love God in a balanced way. And so it's important that sometime we drop everything and have an adventure. Get outside and sail or kayak. These are all important—and they're balanced.
The early Christians outlived, out-thought, and out-died the pagan world around them. And that's one big reason why they triumphed over that world. They had sharp minds, but they also had hearts that loved God and their neighbors—and even fit bodies.
Mike: Steven, I know that we've talked about your desire to have young people directly in fellowship with you in a camp environment, to help foster this idea of a Christian Renaissance. Please tell us about that.
Steven: Yeah. I've been praying for a Christian Renaissance for more than ten years. And I've felt recently a strong call from God to put feet on those prayers—to actually do some things, some concrete things, about this.
And one big one is these Christian Renaissance camps. In July of this year, I'm inviting young people to our home to actually wrestle with great books, to engage in deep discussion. To share with them the idea of not just the Renaissance but a Christian Renaissance.
And so we'd have fireside chats in the evening in addition to discussion of books in the daytime. And we'd talk about prayer, and bible study, and what does it mean to follow Christ, and what does balance look like in the Christian life?
Mike: What would you say to homeschoolers who want to introduce their children to good books and the great outdoors? I know some may come to your camps, but there are many others that won't be able to do that. How can those families make this a part of their homeschool programs?
Steven: In many ways, homeschooling is ideally suited to this kind of thing, to this kind of balance. You know, the idea of loving God, loving each other day by day, of working together as a family, of relaxing together as well as studying and learning together.
We're called to love God with our heart, soul, strength and mind—really called to discipleship, a life-on-life discipleship. And this is what homeschooling does so well. It's the “with him” principle, that Christ was with His disciples, almost like his family.
Maybe your child, one of your children, is physically gifted. He might be a gifted auto mechanic. You should challenge that child that he's also got to love God with his mind. He should also read; he can't simply say, “I'm an auto mechanic, I don't read books.” At least as a Christian, that's really not an option.
On the other hand, you might have a child that's an avid reader, that loves languages or art or music and writing. I would say encourage that child! Let him run with those gifts— him or her. Our culture places very little emphasis on the mind, on learning. We've lost these things; in losing God, we've lost goodness and truth and beauty.
But this young man must also love God with his strength (or young woman), must also love and serve. And so that could take many forms: physical labor, walking. He might not be an Olympic athlete, but again, we're after balance, well-rounded people that love God in all of these ways.
Mike: Steven, the classical term for what you're describing is the Renaissance man. Maybe we need to upgrade that (or downgrade that) to the modern tongue. I prefer “the Renaissance man”—women of course are included in the term “mankind.” And with that anti-political-correctness, I’m Mike Farris.