Boiling it Down

Boiling it Down

Greetings friends,

In Russell’s post introducing the Ask an Atheist (or Christian) series Howie posed the following:

What group (denomination, organization, etc.), person, book, podcast, and/or video would you pick that comes closest to describing your own way of seeing reality?

I replied that the most influential non-biblical text in my life is The Call, by Os Guinness.  It is.  I gave my last annotated copy to a dear friend who was struggling with faith.  I have another copy.  I’ll read it again and write more, probably different notes in the margins.  That book is probably why I’m here.  I’m 42 years old and I still ask, “what should I be when I grow up?”  The thesis of that book:  be and do what you are.  I think that my life calling may be to reach out to the skeptical in my generation and to reach in to my precious brothers and sisters in faith so that we don’t lose compassion or leave others behind.

But, despite sharing a part of my bliss with Howie, did I answer the question well?  I tend to be less thorough in my answers than Russell.  Did that book come closest to my own way of seeing reality, or did this?

Durants Lessons of History


Meet the Durants.  Then, if you can spare 5 hours in aggregate (I listened for the third time in 6 months in the car), listen to  this summary of their life work.  Although I prefer hardback books with a pen in my hand, this is one experience where listening is superior.  In the edition linked above, you’ll hear the delightful voices of Will and Ariel interviewed at the end of every chapter.

I bought the Story of Civilization in a yard sale for a dollar a book.  It was on the top shelf, waiting for retirement.  I’m not waiting any more.  I just finished volume 2 and will begin volume 3 after an interlude with Sean Carroll.

Why does this work represent my way of seeing reality most closely?  Probably because I am remediating a liberal arts education.  My education in STEM and subsequent teaching career required reams of technical reading with little time for arts and history.  That’s not true.  I had the same amount of time that I have now – – 24 hours a day with an average of 6 off for sleep.  My priorities on how to spend that time were different.  That’s true.

I’ll discuss science to the best of my capability and honestly, my capability is higher than the average blog reader or writer in that space.  Russell’s capacity in that domain surpasses mine.  But there is more.  That’s my argument.  There are different kinds of evidence that should be considered in the search for truth.  The integrated experience of billions over thousands of years seems a good place to start.  I’m making the 11 volume journey with the Durants.  If you’d like to meet them and understand how I think (it is plastic) then the digest above in Lessons is a great place to start.

Would other readers care to answer Howie’s question?  It was a good one.



photo credit:  SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


  1. That is an awesome question, and I may have to look into some of those books. I am a Nazarene by denomination, this was carefully chosen on my part and while I dont think denomination is necessarily make or break, I appreciate this denomination in how it teaches scripture as it is, it presents it all, not just the love and fluffy parts. As a whole they support missions and local ministry in a big way.

    As for books, I try to read mostly (like 95%?) The Bible. But I love Francis Chan books, especially “Crazy Love”. He does a great job reinforcing that Jesus needs to be at the center of everything a believer says and does. Seems obvious, but we forget that sometimes.

    I hope others comment too! Would be curious to read other responses (:

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for visiting. I’ve visited your blog and I’ve been praying for you on your journey. I haven’t read Crazy Love yet, but I’m familiar with Francis Chan through reputation and several YouTube videos. I thought that I would share one with our readers:

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the Durants. I’ve got the entire series on a bookshelf in our garage, and one day I hope to actually finish reading them. Along with all the other books I’ve picked up at the local used books sale and will probably never get to.

    Personally, there are two books that I consider to be central to (and consonant with) my worldview. The first is an odd one coming from a self-proclaimed atheist: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. More than any other book I read while still working as a minister, that one spoke to my own thoughts about what it means/meant to be a Christian and, ironically, had a large part to play in sending me off down my own non-Christian road–not because it turned me off of the faith, but because it showed me a commitment to Truth that transcended confessional ties. All “discipleship” exacts a price; any commitment that doesn’t really isn’t a commitment at all. It also taught me that following Jesus and the love he expressed for others isn’t really about “rules” or “creeds,” but about the people to whom one is called to show that love. Which can be shown, I think, whether one is a Christian or not. In other words, following Jesus isn’t an exclusively Christian path.

    Then, there is a wonderful little manifesto by George Monbiot, called The Age of Consent. A lot of what he suggests in his book might easily be derided as naive and overly idealistic, but it speaks to a reality dear to my heart, which is the idea that we are all, everyone on this planet, a part of a greater whole, and ought to act accordingly. It also encourages the reader to use his or her limited life wisely, and to reexamine the priorities which push us to pile up wealth to secure our own well-being while giving little thought to the well-being of others, which, at the end of the day, we ought to think of as our own.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hello Toad – –
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful answer and your presence here.

      Bonhoeffer pierced me. He gave his live to stand up to Hitler when the church writ large failed in Germany. I’ll put Monbiot’s book on the list. I don’t consider a call to love naive, or perhaps I could better say that if it is, I’ll be counted amongst the fools.

      We seem to have a lot in common – – I spend a lot of time in libraries. If I had to choose between my two passions, reading and running – – I’d pick the former.

      Please visit often and share. Your perspective as a minister who walked away, married to a believer, is hugely important to our efforts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One other note: it’s not a book, but I find that anything ever recorded by U2 almost perfectly mirrors my own spiritual and philosophical progression. I call it “the gospel according to U2,” and it speaks to me far more than any assortment of Christian Contemporary ever did…

        BTW, the potluck comment…pure gold. And if many Baptists were more honest, probably of near universal application. :o)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Pascal – I appreciate your thorough response to my question. I don’t think I’ll have the time to hit the 12 volume work, but I can probably choose between reading “The Call” or “The Lessons of History”. Which would you recommend more for me to try and understand your worldview better?

    Also, are you currently a member of a Christian denomination or are you non-denominational?


    1. The executive summary will detract nothing from the magnum opus. I’m only tackling the latter out of curiosity. I’m torn as to which to recommend. If you want to know my heart as a Christ-follower (what being a Christian means to me on a deep level), read “The Call”; if you’re more interested in how I hope to approach the skeptics that I love, then read “The Lessons of History.”

      I have two answers to your second question (CC may not have heard them both):

      1) I go to a Baptist church because they said I could still be a Christian
      2) I’m a Christian because of Jesus, a Baptist because of potluck

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I have heard you say both. you said the second one to me the very first time I heard from you at length. You said the first to someone else in front of me much later—or maybe it was even on the blog somewhere. I didn’t like that one as much 😉


      2. Ok, I totally see why CC loves your answer Pascal! I wish I would have thought of that one when I was a Christian. My answer was the same but much blander. 😉

        I realize now I should have worded my question differently though. What I found when I used to give a related generic answer to the denomination question when I was a Christian was that there were always follow-up questions and then I realized why they were asking what they did.

        Part of the issue is that Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarian Universalists could (and do) give the same answer that you do (well, maybe not with the potluck part 🙂 ), but all of these beliefs are probably ones that you would say stand outside the so called “acceptable realm” (unless of course you actually are a Unitarian Universalist in which case you wouldn’t have much problem with Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness worldviews).

        So my more revised answer (and one which I have on my About Me page which answers this question in the past tense) became “I attended non-denominational churches and Messianic Jewish congregations. Doctrines were very similar to but not exactly like US Northern Baptist doctrine (and the differences most people would consider minor). I called myself a ‘born-again’ Christian.”

        (by the way, the Messianic Jewish congregations fit me well because I was raised Jewish).

        Now I realize that you may not want to constrain your view too much and that is understandable, but I’m just trying to get a feel for a certain “range” of where your worldview sits. I’m ok with you leaving it the way you put it, but if you could put a little more specificity it would help me understand you better.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. All good questions require thought. You, my friend, have asked a good question. The core of my belief as a confessional Christian is that I keep my non-negotiables short. I believe in a supernatural, the inspiration of scripture, the power of fellowship with saints (other believers), and the savior. I’ve called these my four cornerstones, with Jesus being the chief. My building of faith can’t really survive without these four if I want to remain intellectually honest (and I do). Not surprisingly, these four areas are points of departure from many who do not share my beliefs. That’s absolutely okay. I want to be challenged, and I’m willing to be convinced.

          Although it only addresses one part of this discussion (science vs faith) I have found the following resource to be helpful.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Thanks for more clarification Pascal – I appreciate it. It got me thinking about if I have any non-negotiables myself and I suppose it’s a very short list – probably summed up best as love and kindness toward all fellow human beings. Of course I’m just as fallible as the next guy though.

            I watched that video. I have been familiar with Francis Collins and BioLogos for a few years now and I think it’s a great step in a better direction for Christianity in general.

            So I thought about it and I think I’ll start by reading “The Call” and if it’s a short read I’ll go ahead and read “The Lessons of History” also. I’ll get back with you probably in a few months and let you know what I thought of “The Call”.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Hi Pascal!

            I’m reading through some of these older posts to see what I missed. I started a comment to reply to the issue of science vs faith (which I was going to put right here), but J said it was waaay too long. So, you can thank her for saving you from a few thousand words as a comment on an old post. 🙂 I’ll make it a new post sometime soon.

            Can’t wait for our next breakfast!


  4. Hi Pascal,

    I finished reading “The Call” about a week ago and was waiting for the current blog exchanges to die down to comment, but realize that won’t happen for a while. I’ll just leave my thoughts here and you can reply if you ever have time.

    The book did show me a lot about the depth of your being a Christ follower. I think I noticed a distinction between being called as a disciple and also a calling that is more specific. I’ve seen you mention that you feel a specific calling to skeptics. Is that correct? What is it that gave you the sense that this was your calling? Do you also feel a calling to your profession as well? I don’t think the book mentioned anything about multiple callings.


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