Worth Reading - 5/13

1. Oxford's influential Inklings, from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

During the hectic middle decades of the 20th century, from the end of the Great Depression through the Second World War and into the 1950s, a small circle of intellectuals gathered weekly in and around the University of Oxford to drink, smoke, quip, cavil, read aloud their works in progress, and endure or enjoy with as much grace as they could muster the sometimes blistering critiques that followed. This erudite club included writers and painters, philologists and physicians, historians and theologians, soldiers and actors. They called themselves, with typical self-effacing humor, the Inklings.

The novelist John Wain, a member of the group who achieved notoriety in midcentury as one of England’s “angry young men,” remembers the Inklings as “a circle of instigators, almost of incendiaries, meeting to urge one another on in the task of redirecting the whole current of contemporary art and life.” Yet the name Inklings, as J.R.R. Tolkien recalled it, was little more than “a pleasantly ingenious pun … suggesting people with vague or half-formed intimations and ideas plus those who dabble in ink.”

The donnish dreaminess thus hinted at tells us something important about this curious band: Its members saw themselves as no more than a loose association of rumpled intellectuals, and this modest self-image is a large part of their charm. But history would record, however modest their pretensions, that their ideas did not remain half-formed nor their inkblots mere dabblings. Their polyvalent talents — amounting to genius in some cases — won out.
Overall, Christianity is in decline and an 8% decline in seven years is fairly sharp. And the percentage of unaffiliated grew from 16.1% to 22.8%.

But what those stats fail to capture by themselves is the more complicated (and perhaps encouraging) picture underneath, Ed Stetzer wrote about at Christianity Today.

Evangelicals actually grew in terms of raw numbers and saw a modest increase in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as such. Using denominational identifiers, evangelicals declined less than a percent in seven years, but were the only major Christian group to see more join the ranks than leave.

So, as you should be able to tell, the hot takes fail to get the full and more accurate picture. But, they get attention and page views, which often drives news coverage in a social media world. The response to the data demonstrates the ascension of “clickbait Christianity.”

3. How the term 'Ethics' has evolved. A post at Canon and Culture from SEBTS professor, and my mentor, Daniel Heimbach:

These days, the term “ethics” is employed in a range of ways that is often confusing and can be totally incompatible. In part this occurs because people hold different views on moral authority, valuing and criticism. But there is another reason, and that is because many do in fact understand the meaning of the term less clearly than imagined since what “ethics” means has changed over time. How one uses the term is much affected by what one reads, and those familiar with literature referring to “ethics” from one age are influenced to think it means something different from those more influenced by literature referring to “ethics” from other ages. The linguistic reality is that the term “ethics” is now employed to cover far more than when Aristotle wrote on “ethics” to instruct his son Nicomachus, or even when William Wilberforce sought to reform what he called British “manners.” And Christians know that while the Bible contains God’s moral revelation, the biblical text uses phrases like “paths of righteousness” or “ways of the LORD”—not the term “ethics”—when referring to it. This paper will examine how what “ethics” means in moral discourse has grown and changed over time and will argue that differences dividing teachers of Christian ethics often comes from employing what “ethics” meant at some earlier time in history and then assuming others now using the same term must be addressing the same thing when they may not be doing so at all.

Human beings have been concerned with right and wrong and with worthy living since before recorded history. But our word ethics originated with three Greek words, ēthikos (characteristic, customary, habitual), ēthos (character, custom, habit, habitat), and ethos (custom, habit, habitat), that came to be linked with this ancient interest. What these words meant changed over time even among the Greeks, and after the term ethics was adopted by English speakers what it meant continued to evolve so that it covers more now than it did earlier.
In 1962, The Christian Century published C. S. Lewis’s answer to the question, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” Lewis responded with ten titles, ranging from Virgil’s Aeneid to James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson and from George Herbert’s The Temple to Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy. C. S. Lewis’s List brings together experts on each of the ten books to discuss their significance for Lewis’s life and work, illuminating his own writing through those he most admired.