After passing two relatively aimless years at Penn State I finally got serious about my studies as well as choosing a major. I had always enjoyed studying religion and history so I decided to major in religion. This led me to some philosophy of religion classes which gave me an appetite to learn more philosophy. I ended up taking enough credits to earn a minor in philosophy, though my understanding of the content in those classes was woefully inadequate.
Since then I’ve always liked the idea of reading philosophy. This idea tends to spike around the month of May. I work in campus ministry and school has ended. With the students heading home for the summer, I am much less busy. I have a bit more time to dive into some heavier reading. Usually I identify some philosopher whose work I think could be beneficial to read – Kierkegaard, Nietzsche – and give it a shot.
Then I fail. Not always, but with so many other books I would rather read, my infatuation with being an amateur philosopher usually dissipates by Memorial Day.
That said, I do think it can be helpful for pastors, especially those of us who work on college campuses, to have a basic grasp of the big philosophical ideas. A few books have really helped me here. What is best about these books is that they present the story of philosophy as a history. So you are getting in touch with these big ideas, but the feel of reading a book like this is more like reading history (or even a novel, if that’s your cup of tea) then actually reading philosophy.
Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy – I picked this up years ago at a used bookstore and I recall it being a good introduction.
Frederick Copleston’s History of Philosophy – This is a nine volume series that is fantastic. I’ve only read the first five volumes, so my May endeavor into philosophy this year will be volume 6 (KAHN…I meant KANT!!!).
Apart from a grasp of the big philosophical ideas from the history of philosophy, there are lots of authors out there who are writing philosophical books with great depth that I believe every pastor should read. Rather than summarizing ideas that only other philosophers care about, these sorts of books provide a lens for our world that helps us see cultural trends and ideas clearly. Two of my favorites are Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue.
Its May, so why not join me in trying your hand at some philosophy?