I love questions. I ask questions all the time. Whether it’s with my best friend, or with the pastor next-door, or if we’re on a mission trip, I always have a bag full of questions. I ask questions about favorite vacations, or the time you did something you never thought you’d do, or maybe the day in your life that you would like to live over. Questions are perfect for the long hours sitting on a cement floor and wet sanding. They’re perfect for long road trips with your kids. And they help pass the time when you’re mixing bag after bag of cement and waiting for wheelbarrow to come pick it up! Questions are the avenue to get to know another person. Questions indicate interest and lead the way to conversation and laughter. Questions are the premise for going deeper. I love to ask questions. Even more than asking questions, I love listening to the response and the conversations that follow. If we don’t ask questions, we may never find the truth. How many times have I asked in the mission field, “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?” to only receive the reply, “Well, you never asked me!”
This week we read A Brief Guide to Ideas: Turning Points in the History of Human Thought by William Raeper and Linda Edwards. The book is full of scholars, intellects, philosophers, church fathers, and scientists, and it is full of questions great minds have asked for 2000 years! Even better, it is full of attempts at answers of some of the hardest questions! Though a 394-page book is clearly mistitled as Brief, the authors redeemed themselves by making each chapter no more than eight pages. For their misguidance, I shall forgive.
If I were to tell a friend about A Brief Guide to Ideas, these would be the positives:
- If ever someone walked into my office and wanted an introduction on ideas, theories, major intellectuals and scholars, or philosophies, this would be the book to hand them. It’s a virtual “spark note” edition of every major thought and person from the last 2000 years.
- From Aristotle to Augustine to Aquinas, each chapter quickly tackles a subject and the person who predominantly researched and published their thoughts on the subject.
- There is a little bit about a whole lot. The succinct chapters whet the appetite for further reading and research.
- If I were to go out on a date with an intellectual, I’d quickly flip through this book to sound much smarter than I actually am. Likewise, it would be perfect to read before interviewing for a seminary professor position.
- The glossary is fantastic. I love a book with a glossary of terms. If it were simply a glossary of philosophical and theological terms, the book would be well worth the buy.
- The book ends with a cornucopia of questions. While many of the questions are objective, asking the reader to recall factual information, at least one question for each chapter promotes further thought, wonder and discussion.
Thumbing through the aforementioned questions, why not tackle one for personal reflection:
Chapter 17: The Unconscious Mind asks, “Are dreams ‘the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind?’ Are there any dreams which have helped you, or given you an insight into yourself?” Since a high school psychology class, I have had a mild fascination with Sigmund Freud’s work. I am a day-dreamer. I stare off into space for long periods of time, lost in my thoughts, and tune out the world. When I sleep, I dream vividly. The week leading up to my first sermon, I was nervous, distraught, and could not put a single thought on paper. I struggled to form coherent thoughts. Friday night, I popped a couple of Benadryl’s to ensure a good night’s sleep. That night, I dreamed about giving the Sunday sermon. I woke up, turned to the pad of paper that permanently sits on my nightstand, and wrote out the entire sermon based on the dream. It was natural, it was conversational, it was coherent, and it was heartfelt. Turns out, I’ve given that sermon many times now all over the world. Would you believe, however, that the next time I had to give a sermon, and I knew the audience had already heard the first one, I woke up after a night’s sleep and had the same experience again? In fact, in all of my public speaking ventures, I have had a dream that has led up to the words I will say. Weird?! Perhaps I work myself up so much that the words become trapped and only come up in a relaxed, unconscious state. I’d LOVE to talk to Freud about this!
In the meantime… my mind has drifted to The Monkees! “Oh what can it mean…to a DAYDREAM BELIEVER….!”
 William Raeper & Linda Smith, A Brief Guide to Ideas: Turning Points in the History of Human Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 372.