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Unpacking Human Tragedy & The Competing Responses (Christian, Stoic, & Liberal) — With C. Kavin Rowe

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In this Book Discussion episode of the Share Life podcast, I’m excited and grateful to be speaking with C. Kavin Rowe PH.D., an author, John Templeton Prize winner, Fulbright Scholar, a Lilly Faculty Fellow, Associate Dean of the Faculty, and a George Washington Ivey distinguished professor of New Testament at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina.

In February 2020, per the direction of my good friend, I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius as my first serious dive into stoicism. Wanting a systematic understanding of the stoic tradition, I stumbled across Kavin's book, One True Life: The Stoics and Early Christians as Rival Traditions. It not only gave me what I was looking for but opened up a new world to me. I quickly picked up a copy of his previously published book, World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age, before finding out he secretly (and surprisingly) published another book at the end of last year called Christianity’s Surprise: A Sure and Certain Hope.

World Upside Down by Kavin Rowe
One True Life by Kavin Rowe
Christianity's Suprise by Kavin Rowe

Discussion Highlights

In this discussion, we dive into questions regarding all three works as well as the connections between them. Here are some of the book discussion questions and highlights.

  • The value and complications of the Christian tradition, our relationship to it, and the modern movement towards revisiting it.
  • The distinctiveness of Christianity compared to the traditions it encountered, particularly the strength of Stoicism.
  • In World Upside Down, Kavin states that the book is about the “inextricable connection between an irreducibly particular way of knowing and a total way of life”. God is the “generative” source of all, Christians are, at the same time, great Roman citizens and the practical means of its indirect and peacefully driven demise. It certainly seems like a great deal of western Christianity fits the profile of the then-Roman Empire. Where can we American Christians see and learn about ourselves from the threatened Roman Empire? On the flip side, how can the early Christians inform and inspire us today?
  • There is a cost of going public with the truth, in a counter-cultural way. We’re not prepared or ready for it, and in many ways, it seems we’ve got it backward.
  • In One True Life, Kavin goes through the deliberate exercise of sketching the Christian and Stoic narratives and how those shape their way of life and then comparing these against each other in the most effective and generous way possible (as if he were an adherent to either point of view). In an America with countless and competing points of view, what can this written work model for us in the fragmented world we find ourselves in? How can the model of thoroughly codifying two opposing narratives/ways of life provide a better way forward for us to understand those that are so different than us?
  • In the modern world, we have numerous and competing agendas clamoring for what is true. Underlying many of us in America is one story about the human being, that we are free to make the choice between these choices (philosophically this is known as lowercase l liberalism - the story of the autonomous individual).
  • How does modern stoicism differ from its ancient roots?
  • To summarize and emphasize the premise of Kavin's latest book, Christianity's Surprise, I point to J.R.R. Tolkien's quote about the “Eucatastrophe”, a sudden turn of events preventing the seemingly inevitable tragedy. “The Resurrection [of Jesus] was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story — and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.” 
  • Is the fact that we are not as surprised as we ought to be due to our failure of recognizing the scope and scale of tragedy we humans are facing and the severity of which was required to rectify that tragedy? Are Christians too far removed from those events as beneficiaries of redemption that we miss “the shoulders of which we stand”?

Connect With Kavin

Listen To This Discussion

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You can also find this discussion on Stitcher, Itunes, and wherever you listen to podcasts under the name, Share Life: Systems and Stories to Live Better & Work Smarter, or by simply searching my name, Jason Scott Montoya.

Watch This Conversation

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Additional Resources from C. Kavin Rowe

Podcast - Book Discussion

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