Blamires: Lost Art of Christian Thinking

Harry Blamires. 2005. The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Orig Pub 1963) Vancouver: Regent College Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loneliness is not having anyone who speaks your language. Christian intellectuals (13-14) are probably lonelier than garden variety intellectuals because in addition to being considered eccentric, they may be accused of having a six-foot invisible rabbit for a friend.[1] What do you do when you see the world in technicolor and those around you see only black and white?

Introduction

In his book, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? Harry Blamires writes:

To this Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God… There is nothing in our experience, however trivial, worldly, or even evil, which cannot be thought about Christianly…The purpose of this book is not to judge [people], whatever their religious position, but to clarify a problem by defining states of mind.” (44-45, 144)

In my own writing, I describe this idea by saying that God is my denominator, the measure by which all things are measured. My own Christian frame of reference has been a source of complaint within my family so I have learned to translate my own thoughts into secular concepts. Blamires (70) observes:

“…the modern Christian, a schizophrenic type who hops in and out of his Christian mentality as the topic of conversation changes from the Bible to the day’s newspaper, or the field of action changes from Christian stewardship to commercial advertising, or the environment changes from the vestry to the office.”

The hardest translation in my experience is explaining why gave up a six-figure income working as an economist to go to seminary—instead of referring to my call from God I need to find some excuse like “I wanted to give back”or “I wanted to have more fixable work hours”or some other such silliness. Sadly, my sacrifice in attending seminary has often marked me as a kind of village idiot even with my ordination committee.

Background and Organization

Harry Blamires (1916−2017) graduated from Oxford University, where his tutor was C. S. Lewis, and he was an Anglican theologian, literary critic, and novelist.[2]He writes in eight chapters divided into two parts:

PART ONE: The Lack of a Christian Mind

  1. The Surrender to Secularism
  2. Thinking Christianly and Thinking Secularly

PART TWO: The Marks of the Christian Mind

  1. Its Supernatural Orientation
  2. Its Awareness of Evil
  3. Its Conception of Truth
  4. Its Acceptance of Authority
  5. Its Concern for the Person
  6. Its Sacramental Cast (v)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by a postscript.

Let me say a few words about each part.

The Lack of a Christian Mind

Blamires (3,15) believes that modern Christians have conceded the mind to secular thinking in what could be described as the triumph of romanticism. He writes:

“Christianity is emasculated of its intellectual relevance. It remains a vehicle of spirituality and morel guidance at the individual level perhaps; at the communal level it is little more than an expression of sentimentalized togetherness. The mental secularization of Christians means that nowadays (1963) we meet only as worshipping beings and as moral beings, not as thinking beings.” (16)

Writing as he does in the early 1963s, Blamires is commenting primarily on a modern problem of intellectual irrelevance because Billy Graham was still drawing crowds and hosting television interviews well into the 1970s. Still, one wonders whether the Christian intellectual suffers any worse than intellectuals more generally (19) as modernism started to give up the ghost already in the 1950s with severe criticism of the scientific method that started in the immediate aftermath of the World War II.

Blamires’ illustration of the Anglican church’s problem in selecting bishops highlights the problem that even within the church secular values dominated thinking. Unlike the Orthodox church that promotes bishops only from within the ranks of its monks, Anglican bishops are expected to be good administrators—thoroughly worldly individuals (54-59). It is hard to argue with his logic here as church administrators are often the most talented, but also the most cynical and manipulative of people. Blamires concludes:

“Since we refuse to think Christianly even about the office of bishop, it is scarcely surprising that we lose the habit of thinking Christianly about secular matters.” (59)

Blamires is even careful to distinguish Christian thinking from scholarly thinking (51).

The Marks of the Christian Mind

In this second part Blamires inventories areas where the Christian mind differs most dramatically from secular thinking, starting with metaphysics—the physical world is not all there is. 

Supernatural

Because God created heaven and earth, he must stand apart from them. He is eternal; we are not. It sounds quaint to talk about the supernatural only because so many people cannot think beyond the natural world (67).

Good and Evil

If God is good, then the antithesis of good is evil, another topic that moderns typically avoid. Denying evil or discounting it, however, gives it space to grow. Blamires goes on to show how it is considered sophisticated to discount sin in its portrayal in the media (96). He notes that “flowers grow best in manured soil” (97), as we have seen in recent years. He writes:

“Immoral literature is literature which recommends immoral behavior. If a play or a novel wins sympathy for adulterers, sodomites, dope addicts, or nymphomaniacs in the sense of making the audience or the reader feel that such people are right to indulge their vices and aberrations, then it is immoral.” (98-99)

His comments appear dated today as the film industry insists on checking all the boxes above in practically every film.

Truth

The idea of objective truth is grounded in faith in God (108). Measured against the eternal judgment of God, other truths lack appeal or pertinence. Blamires observes: “You cannot construct truth at all; you can only discover it.” (112) His anchoring in the modern era and rationality is clearly evident when he writes:

“Two opinions are rarely better than one. If A thinks rationally on a given matter and B thinks irrationally on the same matter, then neither A nor the world in general will benefit from having A’s view adulterated with B’s.” (113)

In this regard, Blamires seems to equate rationality with Christian thought.

Authority

If the Christian loves and respects God, God’s authority is obviously recognized. But what if the world around us rejects all forms of authority? Does God then become our buddy? Blamires obsevers that: “distaste for authority is unparalleled in history.” (132-133) The respect for the authority of God allows the Christian to in turn respect other authorities—parents, teachers, preachers, police, and government officials—in ways that are hard for secular people to emulate.

Blamires writes:

“For if the Christian faith is true, and the Christian church the authoritative vehicle of salvation in time, then it is the most urgent, inescapable need of the modern [and postmodern] world to adapt itself to the church [not the other way around]” (148) 

Obviously, it all forms of authority are questioned and ignored, then salvation is indeed an unlikely outcome of secular thinking.

Persons

Being created in the image of God confers a high regard for persons in Christian thinking that is only borrowed in secular discourse, which focuses more on material goods and mechanics (156-157). Blamires sees the secular notion of progress as imbedded in the acquisition of things (161) He writes that we are:

“… so engrossed in performing functions in contemporary society that they have neither the time nor the energy left for the business of merely being human.” (164)

He goes on to observe that: “The Christian will think in terms of persons and institutions; but modern secularism thinks in terms of units and mechanisms.” (166) Perhaps the worst of it is that no one actually forces us into this mold more than we ourselves when we get carried away with trying to provide for our families and achieving success.

Sacred

Recognizing the sacredness of God and of life go hand in hand. The loss of the idea of these things is perhaps an example of the slippery slope that we have been on in recent years. Blamires writes: “There is no doubt that commercial interests actively stimulate youthful sexuality and self-indulgence” (173) making money by corrupting our youth.

Assessment

Harry Blamires’ The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? is a thoughtful, assessible, and well-written book on the interface between Christian and modern culture before political correctness. Blamires documents that many of the problems of postmodern culture were already in view in the late modern period (1960s). While it is likely to be perceived by many as a period-piece, I found it helpful in identifying contemporary points where the Christian and secular mindsets deviate.

Footnotes

[1]This is an allusion to a movie called Harvey about a man who sees a six-foot, invisible rabbit and is committed to an insane asylum until others start seeing the rabbit for themselves. Harvey is a 1950 American comedy-drama film based on Mary Chase’s play of the same name, directed by Henry Koster, and starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_(film)).

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Blamires.

Blamires: Lost Art of Christian Thinking

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn, How to Market a BookJoanna Penn. 2017. How to Market a Book. Bath, UK: Curl Up Press.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the banes of postmodern life is that successful professionals must communicate effectively across multiple media. Communication is more important than ever because technology has made all of us more productive. If one 2017 professional can now do the work of a dozen 1960 professionals, then that professional effectively functions as a team, including the team manager. Production, marketing, and sales all need to be done by that one professional. As an economist, I faced this challenge; it has only gotten worse now that I am an author and publisher.

Introduction

Joanna Penn in her new book, How to Market a Book, advises authors on trends in marketing and sales of self-published books. She sees five non-negotiable activities for all book marketing:

  1. Make sure that your book is the best it can be…
  2. Identify your comparison books and authors.
  3. Optimize your book sales page…
  4. …use paid promotions to send readers to your book page.
  5. …set up a professional looking website and an email list sign up. (281-282)

In my experience, each of these activities can keep you busy. During the past year, for example, I spent more than six months working with different webmasters to upgrade my three websites (T2Pneuma.net, T2Pneuma.com, and StephenWHiemstra.net), which is Penn’s item 5. Meanwhile, I spent an equal amount of time moving my titles from exclusively with one printer to be jointly with another printer, Penn item 1. These two activities ostensibly prepared me to be more effective in my promotions, Penn item 4.

Who is Joanna Penn?

Penn is an interesting writer for self-publishers to pay attention to because she is one of the few authors who has succeeded in quitting her day job and living off the proceeds of her writing. Less than five percent (one in twenty) of independent authors sell a thousand books (I have sold about six hundred) which implies that even fewer authors have broken even on their book sales. Most independent authors are supported by a dhealthy or by a spouse. By her own accounts, Penn started seriously writing in 2006 and quit her job in 2011, five years later (7-9). This track record makes Penn a credible source of recommendations for how to succeed in self-publishing.

A Healthy Mindset

Part of Penn’s success arises because of a heathy mindset. She writes: “marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it.” (13) This mindset is a form of “attraction marketing” which means that you find out what people want and offer it to them.

Why is this important? Two reasons stand out.

Attraction Marketing

First, when I studied marketing in the 1970s and early 1980s, I was taught “push marketing”. Push marketing means that the firm bought advertising and pushed it out to the reading, listening, and viewing public. Attraction marketing is new and many people have not yet caught on to it. Penn has done her homework which is an important reason for her success.

The Mindset Advantage

Second, Penn mindset comes as a relief for those of us who doubt our own credibility as authors. It is one thing to write a book; it is another to believe that anyone other than your mother would want to read it. This fear of being an unworthy author is pervasive and it prevents many authors from succeeding in their marketing. Penn mindset shows that she believes in herself and does not get in a muddle in reaching out to others who will appreciate her writing.

The Book Launch Thing

Another gem arises when Penn writes that “marketing is more than a book launch” (20). While I have learned to sell books in person and online, my failure to have a great book launch has always bothered me. Penn offers an important piece of background information on this point.

 Traditional Publishers Focus on the Launch

Traditional publishers, who work with retailers to stock and toss books all the time, focus on the book launch because they have limited time and resources to devote to each book. The launch is coordinated with a media campaign and a month later they are on to another book.

For small publishers who have no retail connections, no publicity team, and no media budget cannot easily host a successful launch following this model and probably should not try. Book marketing is more of a marathon than a sprint for the small publisher because resources are tight, relationships need to be built, and learning is an ongoing necessity.

Assessment

Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book is a useful, readable, and timely book for authors who publish. I found her comments on podcasting and publishing audio books particularly insightful. Perhaps you will too.

[1] http://CurlUpPress.com. www.TheCreativePenn.com. https:/JFPenn.com. @TheCreativePenn.

Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Also see:

Penn Whispers to Professional Speakers 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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