Journey Through Gutenberg

by Jonathan Carraher


Jonathan Carraher graduated from Gutenberg College in 2006. As his time permits, he helps lead discussions at Gutenberg and encourages a new generation of students to think seriously and deeply about what they are reading.

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Incoming freshmen are a mixed bag. Some come to Gutenberg already embracing the tutors and the philosophical and theological positions they hold. Others, though, don’t know the tutors from Adam, and they see the tutors’ philosophical and theological positions merely as something established and therefore something to fight against with predictably puerile zeal. I was one of these latter sort. Three things won me over to being a full-fledged supporter of Gutenberg.

The first thing that won me over to Gutenberg was the character of the tutors. The student/tutor relationship (the teachers at Gutenberg are called tutors) is a complicated one. In many ways the student is like an apprentice, and the tutor is a master. Typically, masters are demonstrably masters from the craftsmanship evident in their work, and an apprentice is willing to submit to a master because of his or her work. But what is the work of Gutenberg’s tutors whereby we can recognize them as masters? It is their laudable character at work in the academic setting. In four years of discussions I came to see different characteristics stand out in each tutor. In Jack, I came to see a thinker whose humility and imagination continually serve a commitment to the truth of the biblical perspective. In David, I came to see a person of profound patience tempered by an equally profound understanding of human nature. In Ron, I came to see a thinker of prudence and caution with equal parts generosity and a willingness to endure fools. In Wes, I came to see a man with a deep concern for the healing the gospel can give to the afflictions of the zeitgeist. In Chris and Charlie, I came to see brilliant men red-blooded over the crux of the issue in philosophy and science (and it is exactly the crux of these issues that our culture so often avoids). If space were permitted, I could go on to say similar things about all the tutors at Gutenberg. Yet the point I wish to make is this: my resistance to Gutenberg gave way to a commitment to what Gutenberg is about largely because of the characters of these men.

The second thing that won me over to Gutenberg was my coming to understand its basic philosophical perspective. If one wanted to understand a Gutenbergian philosophy—if I may be allowed the term—one would not go wrong by wrestling with the work of Søren Kierkegaard, Michael Polanyi, or Thomas Reid. However, I only came to understand what the heart of Gutenberg was about while reading a little-known Canadian philosopher named Bernard Lonergan. Granted, here is not the place for an in-depth treatment of philosophy, but let it suffice to say that for Gutenberg a commitment and openness to the truth is of central importance. What matters firstly is not knowing what is true, but rather having a commitment to knowing what is true, for if one does not have such a commitment, one will not do the arduous work of learning what is true! Learning is a self-correcting process. We can know what is true in science and exegesis, history and daily living, yet underlying our knowing the truth is our commitment to the notion of truth. And lastly, knowing is a process that leads us to the doorstep of decision. What are we going to do with what we know to be true? A commitment to learning the truth of Jesus and living in light of what one has learned is the heart of Gutenberg’s “existentialism.” Personally, I was not a big fan of “existentialisms,” but, in time, Gutenberg’s position made sense to me.

The third thing that won me over to Gutenberg was its practical vision for Christian unity in an age of wheat and tares. This vision follows upon what I have already said about Gutenberg’s basic philosophical perspective. Learning is a self-correcting process. Underlying this process is our openness and commitment to the true and the good (or inversely our aversion to the same). God is the fullness of all truth and goodness; thus a commitment to the true and the good, if it is authentic, involves an openness to God himself. However, the rubber really meets the road when we come to terms with the truth and goodness of the God revealed in Jesus Christ as witnessed to by the Scriptures. This plays into a practical vision for Christian unity in the following way. What is important for our unity is not firstly particular exegetical conclusions about what the Bible says, but rather our mutual commitment to what the Bible says. Jack has revised his understanding of Paul’s letter to the Romans several times over the last twenty years, yet it is his commitment to understanding what Paul is getting at that gives continuity to this self-correcting process of learning. Gutenberg seeks not a unity of creed, but rather a unity of methodology. If we encourage one another, it is to live into our discipleship to Christ—learning from him what is true and acting in accord with such knowledge. This vision for Christian unity won me over because it gave me the space to think things through and even disagree; yet, perhaps most importantly, it allowed and continues to allow for a realistic time frame for dialogue and persuasion. It can take years or decades to think things through or even understand positions with which we at first disagree; those at Gutenberg understand this.

Gutenberg’s tutors, their basic philosophy, and their vision for a unity of protesting Christians are a few of the elements that make up the ethos of Gutenberg, and they are what, in time, won me over to a way of thinking that is indicative of Gutenberg. It is amazing the sort of grief know-it-all undergraduates like me put the tutors through. But they respond with patience, long-suffering, and kindness. When we come with some fashionable or antiquated idea up our nose, they hash it out with us in high spirits, for God is in control. And if I disagree with their understanding of Christianity on some point, they are in for the long, long conversation to try and reach a mutual understanding. These are teachers worthy of approbation and personal admiration, and I am honored to have been taught by them. I hope Gutenberg will be around for a long time, so that more like me can come to our senses.

Copyright March 2009 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

Jonathan Carraher