On the week of the 11th to the 16th June, the first of the Davenant Institute’s Summer Programs of 2018 was held in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. Over five days of intense reading, study, and conversation we delved into the subject of Christian Wisdom, discovering rich seams of insight in Scripture and the Protestant tradition to relate to contemporary society, with its novel conditions, challenges, and questions. This retreat setting in spectacularly beautiful natural surroundings affords students the chance to detach themselves from their regular work and to enjoy close fellowship and deep study with others. The program was led by Davenant Institute Teaching Fellow Dr. Alastair Roberts.
At the heart of the course were a series of thought-provoking texts that we all read and discussed together: E.A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image and The Abolition of Man, Oliver O’Donovan, Begotten or Made?And The Ways of Judgment, John Ruskin, Unto This Last, Pierre-Marie Emonet, God Seen in the Mirror of the World, and Richard Hooker, Divine Law and Human Nature—Book I of Hooker’s Laws: A Modernization.
Each of these texts stimulated far-reaching conversations about the principles by which Christians can engage with our society in a perceptive, prudent, persuasive, and powerful manner. Through the discussion of these books, we explored Christian principles by which to engage with science, politics, economics, theology, human nature, Scripture, and theology more generally. We also devoted considerable time to looking closely at the biblical foundations for wisdom in texts such as Genesis 1-3 and the book of Proverbs.
The students enjoyed the time immensely with a particular appreciation for Dr. Roberts: “Alastair was amazing!” said student Eli Lake. “He is a treasure trove of wisdom and an always charitable teacher. I enjoyed our leisure times just as much as our lectures.”
As a course offering training in Christian wisdom, the Davenant Summer Program seeks to equip students to be reflective about the ways in which we engage with God, his creation, and the social and technological world. Rather than merely offering a brand of Christian ideology, the Program is aimed at developing the virtues and habits of mind and character by which students will be enabled to think and act as Christians in a changing world with confidence and insight.
The cultivation of thought in the soil of friendship and the environment of Christian fellowship is integral to the Davenant Institute’s ethos. Each day’s schedule began and ended with times of worship and prayer. Shared meals and meal preparation, a couple of afternoons spent enjoying the glorious sunshine on Lake Lanier, a dinner out in the town of Landrum, and a great many games in the later evenings gave us all the opportunity to form and grow in our friendships. Even though it was an intensive period of shared study, the week was filled with laughter and enjoyment.
The nature of the Summer Program offers groups the opportunity to develop conversations well beyond the set schedule of the course hours. As there are only a small handful of students and everyone is eating and living together for the week, each participant can enjoy extensive time outside of the course hours both with the instructor and other students, allowing students to discuss their questions and interests in various informal and relaxed contexts.
“Half a century ago, such figures existed in America: serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now. It would be worth our time to inquire why they disappeared, where they went, and whether—should such a thing be thought desirable—they might return.”