People often assume—wrongly—that the Bible presents a single view of God and the world. In Understanding Wisdom Literature, David Penchansky shows how the Hebrew Bible’s wisdom books, Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, speak differently from covenant-centered writings such as Genesis, Deuteronomy and Isaiah.
Graduation season has arrived, and commencement speakers everywhere are praising the virtues of education. I have often been a commencement speaker, but lately I have begun to wonder if knowledge should come with a warning label on it: “Caution: contents are volatile and may cause burns.”
One of the most recognizable pieces of religious architecture in the world is the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, the most significant place of worship of the Sikhs. The upper part of this ornate rectangular marble structure is covered in gold. I saw the gleaming temple early in the morning, before sunrise, when it was bathed in soft artificial light.
We live in an age of great conflicts and petty hopes. Take first our hopes. In the book The Real American Dream, Andrew Delbanco traced the history of the scope of American dreams—from the “holy God” of the Puritan founders, to the “great nation” of the 19th-century patriots, to the “satisfied self” of many today.
“Speak truth to power.” The phrase resonates with the biblical prophets and the courage it takes to challenge those preoccupied with maintaining their power at the expense of truth. The phrase rings true in Robert Mugabe’s rule over Zimbabwe, or in the stonewalling silence of a church in the wake of a sexual abuse crisis.Yet in American culture, and especially in mainline Protestantism, the phrase has become hackneyed. Pastors invoke the phrase in sermons; seminary professors use it in classroom lectures; groups organize around it. One person even suggested that the phrase is the very heart of the pastoral vocation. Is it really?
If you were extremely wealthy, you could try to see everything. You could hop into a car and zoom across the United States, stopping in major cities and seeing the famous sites. You could pay a cabbie to wait for you while you hurried to the top of the Empire State Building for a quick look.
What is the point of pursuing wisdom? Well, to become wise. That is, wisdom is its own end, or its own reward. This sort of answer may suffice for philosophers (those who are “lovers of wisdom”), but James has other ideas. There are at least two respects in which James and other Christians might think differently about wisdom.