How to Think in 2020

Each fall I get to read through How to Think by Alan Jacobs with a group of high school juniors.  It is an attempt to help students think about thinking, to consider why they have landed where they have landed on certain things.  We pick some of the threads back up in their senior year, though I fear much of what was read previously is forgotten.

It’s difficult to tell what students think . . . and know . . . about Our Current Moment.  It’s often difficult to tell what most adults think  . . . and know . . . about Our Current Moment, too.  Which is why I’m glad Jacobs continues to think about how we think.  In a recent blog post, “Thinking during Covidtide,” he revisits the threads of the Repugnant Cultural Other, Sunk Costs, and the necessarily communal nature of thinking.  He then pivots to a post by Rod Dreher over at The American Conservative that acts as a kind of “catalogue” of how those concepts might be working themselves out these days, particularly in Christian circles.  He then gets to his point, which is the point of so much teaching and learning if only we would remember it:

We are looking here at the consequences of decades of neglect by American churches, and what they have neglected is Christian formation. The whole point of discipleship — which is, nota bene, a word derived from discipline — is to take what Kant called the “crooked timber of humanity” and make it, if not straight, then straighter. To form it in the image of Jesus Christ. And yes, with humans this is impossible, but with a gracious God all things are possible. And it’s a good thing that with a gracious God it is possible, because He demands it of those who would follow Jesus. Bonhoeffer says, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” He doesn’t bid us demand our rights. Indeed he forbids us to. “Love is patient and kind,” his apostle tells us; “love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Christians haven’t always met that description, but there was a time when we knew that it existed, which made it harder to avoid.

We are unlikely to act well until we think well; we are unlikely to think well until our will has undergone the proper discipline; and that discipline begins with proper instruction.

And he ends with the challenge of revisiting 1 Corinthians 13.

It is a hard medicine, the call to follow the way of Jesus.  But it is a medicine with deeper healing in mind than others you might find around.  And that healing might look and feel a little different on the inside than it does on the outside, which is where we often get ourselves into trouble, find ourselves distracted or disgruntled.  But it is there, and it is good.

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