Have you ever gone to a movie based upon the title only to discover the title doesn’t quite match what you thought you would be seeing? Have you ever picked up a novel based on the cover design only to discover the story exceeded your anticipation? Have you ever been intrigued with ideas, where they come from, how they might be connected, what they mean and where they might take you? A Brief Guide to Ideas by William Raeper and Linda Edwards is a little like the answers you might give to the questions I have posed. In short form, the answers are yes, yes and yes.
When I first ordered the book I thought the subject matter would be about something else. I have had my “head” and thinking clearly in the realm of “place,” environment, and contextualization. I wanted to locate my ideas there. Perhaps I thought it would be along the lines of reading Margaret Wheatley. Whatever I thought this book would be about, it was not. Surprisingly the book exceeded the expectations I had for its content. It is not that I was “wowed,” rather I clearly sensed the appropriate timing of this book in our reading list for this time. When you have looked at different topics and subject matters as vastly and as deeply as we have over the last two years, this is a book that gives you a chance to gain a birds eye view, one that gives you distance from intense scrutiny.
This is a book about questions. Every chapter begins with at least one and more likely more in the opening paragraphs. If you wonder where ideas come from, the authors suggest that they arise from within the area of philosophy. It has been many, many years since I was in an introductory philosophy course. When I was I frankly did not enjoy it all that much. I just couldn’t keep the ideas straight in a logical sequence. Now many years later, it seems I realize how intricately connected ideas are with our early philosophers. We are reminded that philosophy is “not ‘what you know’, but ‘how you think.’ The point of philosophy is to frame the right questions, not to find the right answers.” For too many years I have thought I had to have the right answers. What I need to today is perhaps fewer right answers and a great deal more skill in asking the right questions. To do so means the ability to discern and listen, to see and make connections, to compliment logic with intuition.
Looking at the pages of my book where I write notes that I hope to read later I had a few of my own questions as I perused the writing. Hopefully they will lead to asking the right questions. The authors write, “In order to develop a Christian theology, the Church Fathers had to turn to Greek philosophy to provide a philosophical language and framework within which they could explore their ideas.” The question I have is: What do we turn to today? The early church was turning to Greek philosophy to help them determine and answer their questions concerning God and creation and how could Jesus be both God and man? What are the questions that need answering today? I wonder if the answer to that might depend upon whom you ask.
With such a vast overview of topics, the authors move through more ideas than Carter has pills. There is something here for everybody. In fact that is the strength of the book. It is true to its name by being brief. And by being brief this is a book I will keep on my shelf to pick up when I need a reminder or a quick introduction to a philosophical or religious concept.
There is also something else I realized in this book. In the challenge to be brief I wonder how one remains objective and does not infer bias. I am in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church-USA (not to be confused with the Presbyterian Church-America or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, etc.). The Presbyterian Church is rooted in Reformed Theology. So you might be surprised to know this has been a shift for me; one that I will hold with an open hand. For many reasons I am finding a generous outworking in theological praxis. However the authors’ treatment of both key Reformation figures, in particular Calvin was hindered by their briefness. To refer to ‘limited atonement’ as a doctrine in which Christ did not die for everyone but only for a certain number of the ‘elect’ and the doctrine of ‘predestiniation’ as a grimmer doctrine than purgatory might have stretched things just a bit, at least in how it is presented within my denominational experience. They opened a can and the contents seem to have spilled out, several sentences failed to provide adequate explanation. That is one of the challenges when so much is covered within just a few pages.
One other thing I discovered in reading this week. I am a radical feminist. “’Radical’ feminists wish to find a new understanding of what it means to be a woman, and a totally new way of living for women in our world.” I would also add that my radicalness extends to men as well, for they too need a new way of living in the world.
In a book filled with questions, my favorite question the authors’ asked is simply this: Have you ever had to change your way of thinking? The answer to this question is yes, yes I have! And that is a very good thing.
 “More (fill in the blank) than Carter’s has pills” is a saying that refers to Carter’s Liver Pills, a supplement given to supply iron dating back more than 50 years. Here’s a YouTube video link. Accessed 4/16/15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v2WRcfu5Yg.
 Raeper and Edwards, 212.
 Ibid., 299.
 Ibid., 191.