In Case You Missed It

Dr. Ivan Spencer recently posted about Dante’s Divine Comedy at Jamie Dew’s blog. Dr. Spencer writes:

Through the halls of time, you will not find a more haunting, surreal, and exhilarating vision than Dante’s Divine Comedy. The poem’s eerie and dreamy account retells the epic journey of Dante Alighieri though hell, purgatory, and heaven. His after-worldview, written over 700 years ago, unceasingly intrigues and inspires readers and artists today. My favorite artistic renditions flow from the brush of Salvador Dali and William Blake. Each produced 100 paintings, one for each canto, a legacy of this enduring classic. The work merits reading and study from a variety of disciplines, including theology, philosophy, cultural history, literary criticism, and aesthetics.


Brad Hambrick shared a post on his blog discussing a new letter writing tradition for his boys.

With my boys at the ages of 11 and 9, I am realizing that the years of influence that I have with them in our home are coming to an end much sooner than I would like (sigh). This is not the introduction for a blog post of regret, but one of intentionality.


For several years I have made it a discipline to write my wife at least 3 letters per year. This is a time to regularly reflect over our marriage, my level of engagement, and how the hopes-dreams-fears of life have changed over the last few months.


Recently, wife said, “You should write the boys letters too.” She’s right. I guess I never realized they know how to read now. We have taken lots of trips together. If you look over the review of each trip, you will be able to tell I put thought into their spiritual and character development on each trip.


But I realized I was counting on their memories to carry the content of those conversations into the future. Let’s be honest, kids remember events (i.e., flying on an air plane, riding down a water fall, rock climbing, etc…) more than conversations. Letters help compensate for that memory difference.


Dr. Bruce Ashford recently shared the top 25 (or so) books for a young theologian to own (and read). Dr. Ashford writes:

If ever in history there were a non-event, this is it: my top 25 (or so) books for a young theologian to own (and read). A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me his list of twenty-five books and it “got me to thinkin.” So here’s my list, but before I give the list, allow me to make several comments.


First, I’ve focused this list mainly on Christian doctrine and systematic theology, and certain other types of books that relate closely to those tasks. I’ve left out numerous wonderful books that fall in other categories (pastoral theology, biblical studies, etc.).


Second, this list includes quite a few books with which I disagree vigorously. A theologian’s library should contain more than a few books written by theologians outside of our “theological family,” so that he can come to the theological roundtable, listening and speaking in an informed and compelling manner.


Third, this list encourages the young theologian not to be a chronological snob (by limiting his reading to recent publications), but instead to read the old books, slowly, patiently, receptively.


Fourth, I’d like to hear your thoughts about what you would have included that I left out, and maybe what I included that you would have left out. I started out aiming to provide 25 recommendations, but ended up exceeding my own limit.


Ryan Higginbottom shared the following post on his blog earlier this week: “Read Like a Reader“.

Shortly after I became a Christian, wise friends put good books in my hands.


I was in college, and these volumes of theology and practical Christianity lived next to my textbooks. When reading for class, I paid attention to every detail, stuffing my brain to capacity. I read these new books the same way.


For me, reading was a way to learn and prepare. Books were an academic tool, nothing more.


At the Intersect Project website, Dr. David Jones reccommended 7 books on faith and economics. Dr. Jones writes:

Want to learn more about how faith intersects with everyday topics like money, wealth, poverty and economics? You can check out my new book Every Good Thing. In addition, you should add these seven books to your summer reading list.

Plato’s Republic, American Democracy, and Donald Trump

By: Dr. Ivan Spencer

From ancient times to the present, anarchy turns people to stern leaders who will restore order, peace, and prosperity. Democracies naturally create instabilities that invite tyranny.

Whatever your opinion of Trump’s rise to popularity, this phenomenon commands attention and provokes a response. How could someone with his traits and history persuade teeming masses of Americans? Plato explained this 2,400 years ago in his magnum opus, The Republic. Plato explored the three basic forms of rule and their aberrations. The central issue in the work concerns what a just person will be like by finding out what a just state is like. If a just state embraces a republic, ruled by a wise council, so a just person embraces reasoning and intellect over his base drives and emotions. Unfortunately, the rarity of just people and just states reminds us of our desperation, our longing for justice.

Viewed through the lens of Plato’s timeless political analysis, this moment in American politics fits into a recurring pattern of political regression that he predicts. How so? He recognizes three basic forms of human organization. Rule by one is usually tyranny. Rule by a few is aristocracy, or if corrupt, oligarchy. Rule by all is democracy, or if corrupt, anarchy. These forms often intermingle and cause corruption. A republic, the highest form of government, rules with wisdom through an aristocracy of highly trained, disciplined, and vetted leaders. Plato explains the regression that occurs when a republic descends through inferior forms: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, anarchy, and finally, tyranny. While this analysis isn’t precisely true in every scenario, the general pattern rings true. I’ll skip timocracy (rule by military honor) because it isn’t relevant. Plato understood that some steps might be skipped on the way down to tyranny.

And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?[1]

When virtuous leaders of a republic begin to seek wealth, an oligarchy (or plutocracy) emerges. As concentrated wealth becomes the central power in a society, the wealthy overpower not only the poorer classes, but also each other. When an oligarchy obtains most of the money, the best place to get more money is from overthrowing another oligarch. The oligarchs shrink in number, and the poor get poorer. Eventually, there are so many poor people that they decide to band together to overthrow the super-rich oligarchs. In case you are wondering, this isn’t Marxism. Plato observed and explained class struggle 2,200 years before Marx. Make of that what you will. Many of Marx’s ideas are not original.

When the poor overthrow the rich, they determine to make everyone equal. They establish a new kind of government: democracy. Let all be equal. Let each person rule. Democracy emerged in ancient Greece, though not on a scale, depth, or level of sophistication close to America. Democratic peoples promote two things: freedom and equality. The quest for these values can excite the population to extreme levels of freedom leading to instability. When a society teeters on the edge anarchy, drunk with excessive freedom, anarchy comes in shades. It isn’t just mayhem gone viral, but begins when angry people think and feel that there isn’t any rationale to the system and all is a sham. Signs of chaos arise in various quarters: behavior, crime, economics, etc. Thus the rational order of society begins to unravel, whether locally, nationally, or globally. When fear takes over, people huddle because there’s too much risk. Want and need set in. People clamor for a return to order. Finally, in desperation the people welcome a harsh and overpowering leader who determines to forcefully restore order. People applaud this leader who seems heroic, tenacious, and courageous to set things right. Order creates security, and security can bring prosperity as people openly risk their self, money, and time by investing in their society. At first, the leader enforces order, but eventually turns tyrannical toward all the people. Accustomed to dealing with people brutishly, the leader expands those brutal powers in like fashion upon all. Tyranny emerges. Tyranny? It comes in a hundred flavors, and the pages of history running back five thousand years give countless examples. The French Revolution endures as one of the most infamous.

Consider the perceptions of the upset masses at this moment. Many feel that we are either in semi-anarchical state or teetering on the edge of anarchy just a slip away. Take your pick. Will that slip occur due to ISIS, or uncontrolled illegal immigration, or racial rioting, or economic turmoil caused by countless factors including $10T in new debt in the past seven years, or the Mid East, or rampant identity theft, or cyber attacks, or a hopelessly flawed tax system, or a rusting infrastructure, or a train-wrecked healthcare system, or a dwindling military, or burdensome bureaucratic regulations, or a bankrupt entitlement system of lies, or a refugee crises of epic proportions, or rogue nuclear states, or an incredibly expensive and failed education system? All of these and more keep Americans awake and they fear impending doom. No alarm intended. Maybe we face no open anarchy yet, but many feel it looms. In our fast-paced world, tragedy can come quickly, and we remind ourselves of this yearly on September 11.

Commonplace voices daily echo that anger drives people to Trump. One might say the same for Sanders. Is Trump the tyrant many dread? Perhaps it is someone else? That’s your call. Choose, but know and understand why the underclasses now support leaders with the tenacity and will to extinguish many impending disasters. Not choosing risks the worst. If the conditions driving us toward anarchy worsen, another leader will arise who is more aggressive. Leaders gain mass support with a ferocious image. Voices of moderation be cursed. Whatever you believe, know that from ancient times to the present, democratic societies experience times of great volatility that can lapse into tyranny. Times may change, but collective human nature remains unchanged.

[1] Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, trans. B. Jowett, Third Edition., vol. 3 (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1892), 272 (Book VIII).

Dr. Ivan Spencer is Professor of History and Philosophy at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and The College at Southeastern

An Invitation to Study English and Humanities at the College at Southeastern

The College at Southeastern offers a robust core curriculum which includes courses in English and the Humanities. One unique aspect of the college is its four required seminars in the History of Ideas. These seminars are capped at 15 students, and consist of reading 8-10 great books per semester, and writing 10 short papers and 2 long papers per semester. The authors covered include philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, etc.), theologians (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc.), historians (Herodotus, Thucydides), and the great literary figures (Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, etc.). As the students read these books, they learn to read for deep comprehension, and to respond to the ideas in those books Christianly and critically.

In addition to the History of Ideas seminars, Southeastern offers a further fine array of courses in the Humanities and English. The student wanting to study literature has the opportunity to take courses such in World Literature, British Literature, and American Literature. The student wanting to study the humanities in more depth may take further seminars in Theology & Culture, Philosophy & Science, History & Politics, for example. These courses and others are taught by a fine faculty, including:

John Burkett (Ph.D. candidate, Texas Christian University) is Instructor of Rhetoric and Composition and Director of the Writing Center at Southeastern. He is the author of The Rhetoric of St. Augustine of Hippo: De Doctrina Christiana and the Search for a Distinctly Christian Rhetoric (Baylor University Press); further, his dissertation critically examines Aristotle’s rhetoric. Dr. Burkett is the quintessential scholar, known both for lofty thoughts and detailed careful scholarship.

Jamie Dew (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ph.D. candidate, University of Birmingham) is Assistant Professor of History of Ideas and Philosophy and is the author of Science and Theology: An Assessment of Alister McGrath’s Critical Realist Perspective (Wipf & Stock), co-editor with Norman Geisler and Chad Meister of God and Evil (forthcoming, IVP), and co-author with Mark Foreman of How do We Know? (forthcoming, IVP). His specialties lie in philosophy of religion, the history of philosophy, and epistemology. He is currently working on a second Ph.D. (in religious epistemology) at the University of Birmingham, England. Jamie is also a senior pastor and the father of two sets of twins.

Steve Ladd (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy. Dr. Ladd’s expertise lies in the realms of logic, rhetoric, and metaphysics. He is a student favorite in our college’s History of Ideas seminars.

Ivan Spencer (Ph.D., University of Texas at Arlington) is Associate Professor of History and Philosophy and author of The Christology of Liberation Theology. His areas of specialization include the history of ideas, liberation theology, and classic literature. Dr. Spencer is a student favorite in the college’s History of Ideas seminars, and is known for roasting, grinding, and brewing his own coffee beans.

Michael Travers (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Professor of English and Senior Fellow, L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and is the author of The Devotional Experience in the Poetry of John Milton (Edwin Mellen), Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel), and co-author with Richard D. Patterson of Face to Face With God: Human Images of God in the Bible (Biblical Studies Press), and has published articles in Bibliotheca Sacra, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker), Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, and Westminster Theological Journal. Dr. Travers is known as a master teacher, a mentor to young faculty, and a fine writer.

Further, through these faculty members, Southeastern offers the following curricula in English and Humanities:

The Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies and English double major promotes an understanding of literature, trains students to think critically and write effectively, and encourages them to reflect on the central issues of the human condition-all from a Christian perspective. Core curriculum classes in composition emphasize the skills of effective research and writing. English major classes present literature from within a Christian worldview. Students will be equipped to understand culture and to communicate the gospel to others clearly and effectively.

The Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies and Humanities double major introduces students to the influential ideas of Western civilization. Students read great works of literature, history, philosophy, theology, and political theory and interact with them from a Christian perspective. Additional courses in philosophy, literature, and history prepare students for graduate work in seminary, classical studies, literature, history, law, or any other field in the liberal arts. Students may also choose to major in Christian Studies and minor in English or Humanities.

We invite you to study with our English and Humanities faculty in the B. A. programs of Southeastern. For more info visit our website ( and check out the Admissions and Academics links.