When my teenage son agreed to read and discuss a book together I landed on a book I had not previously known about: William Ringenberg’s Letters to Young Scholars, the second edition of which came out last year. I knew Ringenberg, the retired but long-time professor of history at Taylor University, from CFH circles and had met him once, but never got to know his writing. A veteran of Christian Higher Education, Ringenberg’s Letters is based on what he has offered intro-level students throughout the years in his course on Christian Thought at Taylor. This is a book I wish I had read when I was my son’s age.
At face value, the topics Ringenberg covers are standard fare in Christian theology: The human condition, Divine redemption, conversion, belief, etc. But what makes this book unique and exceedingly refreshing is the wisdom Ringenberg offers up about navigating the intellectual morass in which Christian young people often find themselves. But rather than resorting to the typical answers of evangelical populism (apologetics, theological repetition, simplistic proof-texts), Ringenberg instructs readers in the art of reflection and the reality that intellectual formation does not consist in a frantic search for answers — despite the urgency that often plagues young thinkers — but rather consists in a more mystical, though prolonged, path.
Rather than seeking to resolve the natural intellectual tensions he knows his readers are experiencing, Ringerberg provides principles that will help young thinkers make sense of the world, the evangelical subculture they are swimming in, and the swirling questions in their own heads. In so doing, he heads off the common cultural pitfalls within evangelicalism that thoughtful insiders will inevitably encounter along the journey of faith. This comes in the form of principles for navigating controversy and dealing with common inducers of cognitive dissonance, intellectual anxiety and theological tension. Letters is logically structured but not systematic. It is faith-affirming but not doctrinaire. It is full of conviction but balanced and objective. You can find the 48 topics covered in the book here.
Thinking back to the angst of my younger days, I am not sure I would have resonated with Ringenberg’s approach as much as I do now. But if I could go back and give my adolescent self a reading list, Letters to Young Scholars would be near the top.