Guests on Volume 76: D. H. Williams on the Church’s rootedness in its Tradition, why some Protestants remain suspicious, and on the excluding character of Christian conversion; Catherine Edwards Sanders on the spiritual hunger behind the rise of modern witchcraft; Ted Prescott on changing images of beauty and the human figure in twentieth century art; Martin X. Moleski on the life, times, and remarkable insights of Michael Polanyi; Stephen Prickett on George MacDonald and the tasks of imagination; and Barrett Fisher on the relative artistic assets of film and literature.
Professor D. H. Williams, author of Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, discusses the early church and its understanding of how belief and practice relate to each other in the life of faith. The early church taught that if one believes rightly, one will do rightly, says Williams. Because it understood right belief as essential to right living, it spent time immersing new converts in, and teaching them about, the Scriptures and the traditions of the Church. The catechesis taught converts the vocabulary of the culture to which they were new-comers, while also instructing their assumptions about what constitutes the Good and the Beautiful. Although instruction such as this does not occur in many evangelical Protestant churches today, Williams states, a longing for it is evident “in Protestant hearts.”
Journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders spent a year traveling the country, interviewing Wiccans and pagans in order to write Wicca’s Charms: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality. Sanders discusses her findings and explains why Wicca is popular with American teenagers. Many are drawn to it because they long to be deliberate about spirituality but also wish to craft their own way of practicing spirituality. Wicca, because it has no orthodoxy, allows them to do just that. Sanders notes that the increased interest in pagan spirituality should not be surprising; America’s culture has “tilled the soil” for it, she says.
Sculptor and critic Ted Prescott discusses twentieth-century American art, how the human figure has been portrayed in art historically, and the book and gallery show titled A Broken Beauty. The book, which Prescott edited and to which he contributed, studies in print the themes the show attends to in images; the latter comprises the work of fifteen artists, all of whom present alternatives to the depictions of beauty and the body that have dominated different ages. In the Classical period (as in modern advertising), Prescott explains, bodies are shown as perfect forms that deny the reality of mortality and the Fall. In the twentieth century, however, art depicts the human figure as distorted and dismembered. Prescott and the others involved in the Broken Beauty project acknowledge mortality and the Fall in their work, but illustrate beauty in the midst of suffering, loss, and brokenness.
Professor Martin X. Moleski explains why Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) left his career in science to become a philosopher; Moleski is co-author of Michael Polanyi: Scientist and Philosopher. Polanyi was trained and worked as a scientist and physical chemist until he realized the totalitarian regimes of Europe were basing their destructive and dehumanizing view of humanity on a faulty definition of knowledge. Polanyi knew the definition was inadequate; he became a philosopher in order to study why. He dedicated himself, notes Moleski, to explicating a system of personal knowledge that considers the body important and attends to what knowing the world through the body entails. He also espoused the dignity of the person, the love of truth, and — among other goods — justice.
Professor Stephen Prickett, author of Victorian Fantasy, discusses the Scottish culture that formed writer George MacDonald (1824-1905). Scotland, says Prickett, is “a country that's always punched above its weight in world history” when it comes to the influence it has had through its writers and philosophers. It is known for its practical spirit, but also has a mystical tendency. MacDonald, author of many books including Lilith and Phantastes, embodied both sides of the nation’s split-personality: he studied science and chemistry in school yet also had visions of his grandfather — years after the man’s death — walking along the road. Prickett notes that Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) influenced MacDonald greatly, which explains in part why MacDonald believed the imagination a necessary faculty for knowing the world.
Professor and film critic Barrett Fisher notes that literature and film provide very different experiences for the imagination. In honor of the cinematic re-telling of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Fisher discusses what is involved in linking the two experiences when making a movie based on a book. He explains that many tensions are at work when people undertake an adaptation. For instance, some of the concerns that may have troubled the makers of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” include how to remain faithful to the original and how to maintain both the allegorical plot and the meaning behind the allegory. Fisher most admires those representations that respect the original material without adhering to it slavishly.
Professor D. H. Williams discusses his book Evangelicals and Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church and the argument he makes therein. Up until the modern period, Williams states, the Trinitarian, Christological, and Scriptural teachings and doctrines of the Patristics were the recognized foundation of Christian identity. When members of the church talked of faith, they called these things to mind. Now, however, when Christians refer to faith, most picture first an experiential encounter with God. Williams notes that the early church excluded from its community those who would not affirm the doctrines it affirmed; in this, he says, it was unlike both much of the church since the modern period, and other communities of the Greco-Roman world.