While seeing is believing, being is best. Being who you are is a lifetime’s work. This has been in the forefront of my mind this past month, as each week I’ve been turning out reading lists on natural law, how to think like an economist, and how to think and talk about politics. I’ve been thinking about seeing, believing, and being, because this week I want to suggest some readings on Christian anthropology.
On other topics, I’ve tried to suggest books that can help you see the world in a different way and, through that new way of seeing, examine or reexamine what you believe. Proposing a reading list to do this with Christian anthropology is more difficult because, since you are already a created person, you have firsthand knowledge of anthropology. It is also difficult because, whether or not you are a Christian, Christ Himself has made clear that it is ultimately outside of any person’s power: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).
This is a particularly thorny instance of the complaint that books don’t work. We buy or borrow a cookbook thinking it will make us masters of the art of French cooking, but even cooking every recipe does not magically turn us into gourmet chefs. Books are often misunderstood as knowledge made matter and packaged between two covers. They are nothing of the sort.
Books are not knowledge but a way of knowing. They are conversation partners which spur on, but are not a substitute for, reflection. Books only fail us when we confuse seeing for being and expect books to do the difficult work of thinking, doing, and living for us.
With this in mind, I can think of no texts better to facilitate our thinking about, and living, our lives as Christians than the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. They are to be commended for their antiquity, universality, and authority throughout the Christian world. Catechisms from various Christian traditions, although differing in the order of presentation, are built upon them. They are concise while touching on all the various aspects of the Christian understanding of the human person. All are unparalleled in stimulating meditation, steadfastly refusing to remain on the page without prompting reflection on our own lives.
The Apostle’s Creed gives an account of salvation history, from creation to the final judgment and resurrection. It tells us that God is our Father and creator – our Lord, redeemer, and judge. It tells us the ways in which He is with us today, and our eternal destiny is with Him. It gives us a way of thinking about our human experience as the product and center of divine providence.
The Ten Commandments summarize the natural law. They help us discern the source of our burdened conscience in sin, serve as a standard of justice, and instruct us in our duties to God and neighbor.
The Lord’s Prayer gives us a model for our desires. It asks God to work in history and within us to bring about His will, preserve us, extend forgiveness, and deliver us from temptation and all evil.
Their words are more than these summaries can contain.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that faith comes from what is heard (10:17). Perhaps here is the solution to our initial problem. If we want to change and grow – to be in a different way – we need to get away from conflating our beliefs and our opinions with ourselves. That distance, the space necessary to get away from our own preconceptions, can come from books and texts. By giving our attention to the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, we deepen and grow in our own knowledge of ourselves and, little by little, become the people God has created us to be.
Take and read!
(Photo credit: Public domain.)