A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

This current blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to some of the Christian classics in such fields as theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Hopefully a very brief introduction to these important Christian texts will motivate today’s believers, as St. Augustine was called to in his dramatic conversion to Christianity, to “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.

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This week‘s book Pensées is by Blaise Pascal and is considered both a theological and philosophical masterwork. It was intended to be Pascal’s apologetics magnum opus until illness prevented him from finishing it.

Why Is This Author Notable?

Frenchman Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was one of the founding fathers of the scientific revolution in the seventeenth century. A true Renaissance man, Pascal was as a mathematician, physicist, logician, inventor, and an intuitive Christian thinker and apologist. For more about him and his accomplishments, see my article, “Christian Thinkers 101: A Crash Course on Blaise Pascal.”

What Is This Book About? 

Pascal had been preparing a book on Christian apologetics when he died prematurely at 39 years old of something akin to stomach cancer. His unfinished apologetics work (consisting mainly of a series of organized notes, outlines, and fragments) was first published in 1670 under the French title Pensées (pronounced “pon-sayz” and roughly translated “thoughts”). While Pensées is more of an outline or a series of short comments and essays than a complete book, it remains a very popular text in philosophy and in Christian theology and apologetics. 

To get a taste of Pascal’s content in the Pensées consider this aphorism on the level of human diversion in life:

“Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”1

Pensées is divided into four broad sections:

  1. Section 1 contains comments and essays on various philosophical and theological topics, with classifications and titles provided by Pascal himself;
  2. Section 2 also covers many individual philosophical and theological topics, but these classifications and titles were provided by an early translator of the Pensées;
  3. Section 3 is entitled “Miracles” and contains three of Pascal’s essays on issues relating to the topic of the miraculous and its connection to Christianity; and
  4. Section 4 contains various fragments written by Pascal but not found in the first copy of Pensées.

Some of the topics addressed in this work are critical in understanding Pascal’s religious life experiences and his thinking about faith. For example, Pensées includes an entry entitled “The Memorial” that describes the details of Pascal’s dramatic conversion to Christianity. The topic for which Pascal is best known is also addressed under the entry “The Wager” where he reasons about the prudential wisdom of betting on God.

Why Is This Book Worth Reading?

While consisting only of many individual comments and essays, the Pensées is widely considered a philosophical and theological classic. Even though it was written almost 350 years ago, the content of Pensées is so compelling it remains a perennial bestseller. One can only wonder of the apologetics brilliance of the book had Pascal been given the time to complete it.

Blaise Pascal was a unique Christian thinker who provided a penetrating and provocative analysis of Christianity’s broader world and life view. Reading and studying Pascal’s unfinished apologetics masterpiece constantly challenges and inspires me. I regularly read from the Pensées in my apologetics and devotional studies.

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 133/169, 17.

Subjects: Books, Christian Literature, Reading

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About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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