Recovering the Path of Wisdom

“He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.” —Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring 

“Wisdom teaches men every good way, but she does not teach every good way in the same way. Whatever men or angels know is a mere drop of her inexhaustible fountain, and she has scattered her treasures throughout the whole world in various ways. And as her ways are manifold, so are the different ways she teaches. We must not so admire one of her ways of working that we disgrace her in another, but let us rather adore all her ways as best fits their place and degree.” —Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity

ARISTOTLE, THE GREATEST OF ANCIENT PHILOSOPHERS, began the greatest of his works, The Metaphysics, with the deceptively simple remark, “All men by nature desire to know.” Amidst all the deep desires of our hearts, the loves and longings that draw us forth from inertia into action, none is more pervasive, all-encompassing, and universally human than this thirst for knowledge. And not just any knowledge: the ancient Christian Fathers, the medieval scholastics, and the Protestant masters all joined in teaching that beneath and beyond the apparently manifold quests for knowledge—linguistic, scientific, artistic, religious, philosophical—that drive men to discovery lies a singular object: the Word made flesh. As Peter Escalante and Joseph Minich wrote for us last fall in their inspiring essay, “Philosophy as a Way of Life”: “Jesus is the desire of the nations, and thus also the desire of the ancient philosophers (Ecc. 3:11). If the ancient philosophers, for all their greatness, groped about in the dark as the bastards of the gods, the sunlight in which believers walk is the message of Israel, and of the Son of David, that man is the son of the one God.”

This unified yet pluriform search for knowledge of the world as a whole, the source of its being, and man’s role in it was what both the ancients and their Christian successors called wisdom. It is a word we rarely use today, and when we do, it is usually in a worn-down and fragmentary sense (which still offers some glimpse of the original meaning)—something like, the hard-won practical grasp, gained by age and experience, of how to live well, people being what they are and the world being what it is. It should not surprise us that we seem only able to speak of “wisdom” in this more practical vein, for that is the only space that has been left for it after the fragmentation of knowledge that characterized the modern era. Desiring “clear and distinct ideas” that would enable man to master reality rather than being always humbled by its hidden depths, modern man shattered the search for wisdom into broken shards—subjects and disciplines, convictions and presuppositions. 

Christians in the late modern world cling doggedly to the shards that are left to them: theology if they can, the dethroned queen of the sciences, or perhaps bare Scripture, or (perhaps most often) mere Bible-ism. The nice thing about shards is they’re sharp, and clear, and work pretty well as weapons, but good luck building anything with them. 

Dale Stenberg explains what it means to seek after wisdom.

Too many Christian young people are burnt out on trying to build their lives on these shards of knowledge. They yearn for the more holistic wisdom that is their birthright—the lost inheritance of our Christian past—and that is their Adamic calling. To quote again from “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” “what is given new birth [for Christians] is our living as free pilgrims and royal sons who seek, via imitation, to grow into the form of God’s wisdom, to mirror it and radiate it outward in love into the world of our lives.”

This is our mission at the Davenant Institute, which we have been pursuing these last five years by conversation and publication, by retrieving lost riches from our Protestant forefathers and by providing platforms for gifted teachers in the Church today. Around this quest for wisdom has grown up a rich community of fellow-travelers and a rich harvest of resources for building up pastors, teachers, public servants, and Christian disciples in all walks of life. 

This summer, this mission enters an exciting new chapter by God’s grace as Michael and Lynette Hughes and their family move to Davenant House, our beautiful property in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, to begin a full-time residential ministry of leading young people into Protestant wisdom. There they will coordinate student ministry to college and seminary students around the region, host weekend retreats and book discussions, network with local pastors and churches, and supervise summer programs, including the 2019 Protestant Wisdom Summer Program

Meanwhile, the Davenant Institute, with its new headquarters in Leesburg, VA near our nation’s capital, will be organizing more programs and events to help equip young Christian leaders and aspiring statesmen with the tools they need to more effectively pursue justice. We will also continue publishing essential resources for Christian wisdom, mining riches from the past such as Richard Hooker’s majestic Laws and reflecting critically on our present in publications like our Davenant Digests.

June 30this the end of our fiscal year and we are in the midst of making hard decisions about what we can and cannot commit to in the year ahead, with myriad exciting opportunities before us but always limited resources. We are also aiming to give the Hugheses the strongest start we possibly can on their ministry work at Davenant House, which they will be renovating over the summer to increase student capacity in advance of our 4thAnnual Protestant Wisdom Summer Program. 

Whether you are able to give or not, please remember us in your prayers—myself, our Vice-president and Treasurer, our indefatigable Board of Directors, the Hugheses, our new Editor-in-Chief, Onsi Kamel, and the whole team of assistant staff and volunteers that have enabled us to achieve so much for the glory of God and the good of His Church.

With gratitude for your gifts and prayers,

     Brad Littlejohn, President