Last month, I had dinner with Tom and the rest of the Faculty Ministry Leadership Team in Columbus, Ohio. At Graeter’s (the best ice cream in the world!), they surprised with several gifts to thank me for my time as Associate Director of ESN. Among these were several books, including Alan Jacobs’ A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love.
Jacobs, an English professor at Wheaton College and author of some very good books, raises an interesting question in A Theology of Reading. Jesus, among many others, teaches quite clearly that the key mark of the Christian life is love. Jacobs opens the book by quoting Jesus quoting the Hebrew scriptures:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-39)
Further, these commands aren’t limited to the “religious” sphere (whatever that might mean). The “law of love” demands that our whole life be characterized by love, in not only our “personal life” (again, whatever that might mean) but also in our working lives. Jacobs refers to Kierkegaard and the theologian Richard Rolle on this point, but he could have just as easily cited Abraham Kuyper’s famous statement:
Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’
Jacobs connects the law of love and the command to love in all areas of life with his own vocation as a scholar of literature, a teacher and interpreter of texts. He asks,
What would interpretation governed by the law of love look like? (10)
This idea — literary interpretation guided by love — originated with Augustine. For me, as a writer and would-be literary scholar, this question strikes me right where I live. I suspect the same idea, though, applies to other disciplines. For example, Cal DeWitt’s talk from the 2007 Faculty Conference — “How to Be Busy, Productive, and Happy” — is filled with his love for God’s creation, science, and scholarship.
As I continue to read A Theology of Reading, I’ll share additional thoughts. In the meantime, some questions for discussion:
- Is your academic work governed by the “law of love”?
- What does love look like in an academic context?
- Are you suspicious of the idea of love as an academic principle? Why or why not?
By the way, on The Atlantic‘s website, you can read an email exchange between Jacobs and political scientist Alan Wolfe on Christian literary interpretation from October 2000, shortly before before A Theology of Reading was published.