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Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis Paperback – May 17, 2016
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From the Back Cover
"A wonderful introduction to our neglected Christian tradition"
"With lilting prose and sparkling insight, Armstrong draws us into the spiritual riches of medieval Christianity. He uses the insights of C. S. Lewis and other modern interpreters to shine a light on that long-past yet still remarkably relevant era. This book will serve equally well in college, seminary, and church education classrooms."
--Grant Wacker, Duke Divinity School
"Using the wisdom of C. S. Lewis as a point of entry, Armstrong unpacks the material and sacramental world of the medieval church, demonstrating why such dated material is much needed in the life of the evangelical church today. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about the evangelical church's future."
--Greg Peters, Biola University; author of The Story of Monasticism
"Armstrong's approach to introducing twenty-first-century Christians to the rich resources of medieval and monastic wisdom is ingenious. He uses C. S. Lewis to invite us into a conversation with other contemporaries who have found that this oft-neglected period of Christian history provides the kind of embodied and holistic spiritual life that is needed as a remedy for today's gnostic, individualistic, and shallow spirituality."
--Dennis Okholm, Azusa Pacific University; author of Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks
"With a searching evaluation of his own evangelical leanings and inspired by the discerning medievalism of his spiritual mentor C. S. Lewis, Chris Armstrong takes us on a delightful tour through the insights of medieval Christians that have most profited him. With Armstrong's sparkling prose, the journey never turns arcane or becomes tiresome, and it leaves us with many treasures to ponder."
--Robert B. Kruschwitz, Institute for Faith and Learning, Baylor University
"A wonderful introduction to our neglected Christian tradition for all those who feel something is missing in the modern church. It is also a real treat for fans of C. S. Lewis."
--Devin Brown, Asbury University; author of A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis
"An excellent introduction to medieval spirituality, philosophy, theology, and Christian practice."
--David Neff, former editor in chief, Christianity Today and Christian History
About the Author
Chris R. Armstrong (PhD, Duke University) is the founding director of Opus: The Art of Work, an institute on faith and vocation at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Formerly professor of church history at Bethel Seminary, he is also senior editor of Christian History.
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Top Customer Reviews
In some ways, I did now know what to expect. Perhaps a misguided 'Emergent Church' pastor gushing over prayer Labyrinths and meditation whilst just hijacking some quotes from Lewis to back up some seriously dodgy theology and dubious practices.
Instead, I was for the most part quite pleasantly surprised. The book provides a comprehensive overview of Medieval Intellectual and religious tradition, covering everything from the growth of the Universities, to the medieval notion of charity which went hand in hand with the establishment of Hospitals and institutional medical care.
On the way it challenges many deeply held myths and misconceptions about the period. The notion that Medieval people were backwards and ignorant, that science and learning were in terminal decline, that the Middle Ages were all about violence and torture- and even the notion that they believed in a 'works based gospel'.
Personally, I really go in for anything that challenges such ideas, as I firmly believe the Middle Ages has been vilified and badly misrepresented. Some of the usual suspects responsible for a lot of the misinformation today were Humanist scholars and writers of the Enlightenment era- as well as sadly some Protestant theologians.
C.S.Lewis is set up as our guide for the exploration of the time- for not only his works, but his whole worldview and mind-set was steeped in the Medieval. Lewis described himself as a 'Dinosaur' who spoke the language of classical and Medieval Learning. Well if he was a 'dinosaur' then he was a frightfully good and useful one, in the opinion of this Medievalist.
I particularly appreciated the quotations from Lewis and his fellows such as G.K.Chesterton about needing an 'intimate knowledge of the past- so set against the present' and as a foil to Chronological snobbery- to assuming that everything 'current' and 'modern' is good, and everything 'old' or 'Medieval' is bad.
More importantly, these men believed that a person could not be a proper scholar of the Middle- Ages until they thoroughly immersed themselves and 'imaginatively indwells the mind-set of the period, complete with its thoughts, feelings, circumstances and characters'. To not only be a scholar but also an 'experiencer' and ’re-enactor' of the age.
I found myself not only agreeing with, but also being inspired by such insights. I believe such an approach is vitally important to study of the Medieval (or any) time period. I am always saying 'Don't judge the past by modern standards, or expect it to measure up to it', but Lewis said it first and better.I now really want to crack open my copies of Augustine, Anselm and Boethius that are sitting on my shelf.
The only points that I did not agree with were some of the author's ideas about how to implement medieval traditions and ideas today.
After setting out the intellectual, rational and moral basis of these traditions it seemed strange for a person to favour the modern approach to select a few practices such as lighting candles and centred prayer as 'worship aids', or the worst extremes of the Charismatic movement with its flair for all things ecstatic and frankly weird.
I am very suspicious of such practices as Lectio Devina being incorporated into church practice today. I can understand medieval monks repeating passages from scripture to commit them to memory when they did not have their own copies- but we should not seek after mystical experiences, and particularly those which involve altered states of consciousness.
Nor did I agree that the 'Charismatic movements' of America in the twentieth century represented some kind of Golden Age, or point of reference that we should use medieval mystical practices to return to.
I don't think rolling around in laughing hysterics or imitating animals as we see television videos of people doing at places like the notorious Toronto Airport Church is doing the church any good and somehow, I don't think Medieval people would approve
. Would it not be better instead to learn something from the Medieval approach to Reason- which was not seen as the enemy of faith, but the defining aspect of God's creation of men, or social responsibility?
Mr Armstong certainly has a point about the importance of discipline, and the over-emphasis on 'immediatism' in our own time. I'm all for not dismissing anything Medieval as bad and unchristian, but I would be mindful about incorporating everything the author recommends into Christian life. Let us instead follow the advice of the Medieval, and use our reason and discernment rather than leaving our brains at the proverbial church door.
I would recommend for anyone who is a fan of C.S.Lewis, and interested in the Intellectual Milieu of the middle Ages. I would also recommend to anyone interested Medieval History who does not understand it, and still believes some of the misconceptions and Hollywood version. It will totally change your thinking.
I requested an E-book version of this book from Brazos Press via Netgalley for review, and purchased the audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own
With C. S. Lewis, a self-described medieval in a modernist body, as our guide, Armstrong brings us back to a period of church history filled with many a misconception in today’s popular culture. Not only are inaccurate myths exposed but Armstrong uses several key Christian thinkers and topics to give the reader suggestions as to how to engage culture today with timeless truths and harmony of thought that our medieval friends subscribed to in an era of Christianity that many believe to be an alleged dark age of thought and reason. What deeply resonated for me was Armstrong’s critique—not of the medieval world, but of the current one, in which he astutely points out that we may well find the antidote of many of modernity’s ills in the past. In his own words, we find ourselves in a world filled with people with do not know “who we are either morally or metaphysically.” In an era of hyper individualism it is necessary to go back and look at times where “community” was less of a buzzword and more of a reality, necessity, and value.
Armstrong’s playful yet articulate language and deep exploration help us explore multiple facets and categories of faith from this era. Subjects such as but not limited to theology, philosophy, Christian spirituality, and mercy and justice are covered. Along with this, Armstrong makes important mention of how the medievals understood the natural world not as disproving faith, which seems to be the binary that is forced upon us today, but as God’s “second book”, which further anchors the truths of the Christian faith.
This book is written in an articulate yet accessible way that would be useful in or outside of the classroom, in a church library, and perhaps more importantly in a general library. In our current age of brash disagreement, it is refreshing to read something that seeks to in an academic tradition be critical of its area of discourse and to also highlight positives of an era or subject of study. In education we are taught to be critical thinkers, which is vital, yet along with it which seems to happen not as often: humble and generous thinkers, too.
This book is a powerful reminder that in any and every age God is at work in profound and powerful ways. Logical positivism, the belief that progress is naturally the only way we move forward when we move forward through time is fraught with its own set of issues. It’s hard not to sound a bit hypocritical when we judge history’s ills sitting in a century that already early on has had so much bloodshed and conflict. May we learn to not only be a judge of history but a student of it. If we care about the future of evangelicalism, those of us who are evangelicals need to become better students of our past. We need to give our people both roots and wings, and this book does precisely that.