MARS HILL AUDIO Journal
Guests on Volume 145: David I. Smith, on Christian teaching as a set of practices that accords with Christian content; Bruce Hindmarsh, on the rise of the conversion narrative in early Evangelicalism; Jason Baxter, on the psychological subtlety in Dante’s Divine Comedy; John Fea, on the entanglement of American evangelicals and politics; Laurie Gagne, on the spiritual longing of French philosopher Simone Weil; and Matthew O'Donovan, on singing Renaissance polyphony with Stile Antico.
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David I. Smith, on Christian teaching as practices and not just content
“If you start from a paradigm where the main meat of being Christian is getting doctrine straight — and I don’t mean to belittle that in anything I say here; that’s an important and worthy task — but if that’s 95 percent of what we’re writing about and therefore presumably thinking about, then it becomes very difficult to think about how faith relates to teaching in any other way than trying to find opportunities in our teaching to explain our doctrines.”
Language professor, David I. Smith, talks about how Christian education must involve more than correct doctrine. Because methods of teaching are often taken for granted or assumed to be neutral, many fail to reflect on the ways in which the form of teaching (its pedagogy) can contradict or reinforce Christian doctrine. For Smith, “Christian practices” are not just habits applied to worship or personal devotion, but must be incorporated into all of lived experience, which includes teaching and learning. Christian pedagogy is a way of Christian practice, which requires careful attention to how teachers use their bodies in space and time as well as to how they direct their students to inhabit a shared environment. In the words of David Smith, “I think of it as the rooting of teaching and learning in creation. It’s not just about the contents of my mind, it’s about the contours of the reality around me.”
Bruce Hindmarsh, on the rise of the conversion narrative in early evangelicalism
“[Writing one’s own conversion narrative] requires something of a modern consciousness for it to be a truly popular genre for people to feel free to write about themselves without it being an offense against modesty.”
In this conversation, church historian Bruce Hindmarsh discusses the rise of the personal conversion narrative that occurred during the spread of early Evangelicalism in England. Hindmarsh observes how the development of the conversion testimony as the preferred “text” coincides with the flourishing of the modern period and a modern understanding of the individual. Hindmarsh also talks about how early Evangelicals navigated church life and church unity within a church culture that placed so much emphasis on the experience of God’s presence.
Jason Baxter, on the psychological subtlety in Dante’s Divine Comedy
“I think Dante would have been heartbroken to know that we get more excited about his mud pit fights in Inferno than we do about his glorious divine dance of Paradiso.”
Humanities professor, Jason Baxter, discusses the great psychological subtlety in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Throughout the Comedy, Dante provides us a with a vision of hell in which sin is truly sickening and of paradise in which the Body of Christ finally sees the strength of its members as truly indispensable. Through his book, A Beginner’s Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Baxter introduces us to more than “an exciting adventure story” so that we might begin to participate in the soul’s awakening to and pursuit of Divine beauty.
John Fea, on the historical and theological factors that explain the support Evangelicals demonstrated for the election of Donald Trump
“You see this entanglement of Evangelicals and American politics all the way back to the coming of the American Revolution, so it’s not as if there was this kind of pure, undefiled type of Evangelicalism that was not influenced by politics.”
— John Fea
Historian John Fea talks about the murky waters of American Evangelicalism and its long history of rallying behind strong leaders. From the beginnings of the American Revolution up until Donald Trump, Evangelicals (and American protestants in general) have been attracted to power, often for the sake of sustaining the ideal of the American nation as a Christian nation. Fea discusses the current ambiguity surrounding the term “Evangelical” when used to describe voting polls in recent past elections. He also discusses the prominent role that fear has played in the relationship between Evangelicals and political life.
Laurie Gagne, on the spiritual longing of Simone Weil
“She said the true purpose of school studies was to cultivate a kind of attention that ultimately is necessary to encounter God. She said ultimately attention is the essence of prayer.”
Laurie Gagne discusses the writings and thought of French philosopher Simone Weil. Weil died in 1943 in England at the age of 34 from a combination of malnourishment and tuberculosis. Because of her political idealism and great sympathy for the suffering of others, Weil contributed to her own death by self-rationing her food in order to suffer along with her fellow Frenchmen during German’s occupation of France. Weil was one of the great mystics of the twentieth century and, though agnostic for much of her life, earnestly sought after beauty and contemplative prayer. In this interview, Laurie Gagne describes how Weil’s conversion to Christianity revolved around her experience of the Eucharist, the witness of an Englishman, and a poem by George Herbert.
Matthew O'Donovan, on singing Renaissance polyphony
“I think, also, what the sixteenth century saw with the advent of printing was a marked increase in the degree to which educated people could sing this music in their own homes, or sing similar things in their own homes, as they bought sets of part books and that sort of thing. I think we would be surprised by the degree to which musical literacy was an expected part of a solid education in the sixteenth century.”
— Matthew O’Donovan
Professional singer and Director of Lower Chapel Music at Eaton College, Matthew O'Donovan, discusses the challenges of performing Renaissance polyphony — originally intended for a liturgical context — in a modern-day concert setting. As a founding member of the choral ensemble, Stile Antico, Matthew O’Donovan has sung much of the sixteenth century choral repertoir. In this conversation, he talks about the harmonic and structural capacities of the choral music of the Renaissance (as well as the vocal proficiency demanded of its performers).