The Shoulders of Giants

I’m generally seen as a reader. I’m one of those annoying people who actually likes to sometimes sit down and read a book cover to cover. But dear reader, I have a confession to make; I do not read nearly as  much as I believe I should. I have been recently picking my way through 3 books in addition to my Bible reading, and in many cases I am left, well, humbled. The writers of these books are brilliant, and even where I disagree, I have a sneaking suspicion that the arguments and ideas underlying what these people say are far more nuanced and well thought than my critiques of them.

The reason I think I know this is simple, I am reading books that are generally time tested. People have (in some cases) found these books useful for years, and by slowly and carefully reading them, I am learning why. Dostoyevsky’s understanding of the human condition is far more searing than I had believed (and more current than most would want to admit), and Calvin’s philosophical rigour is far stronger than many of the present debates surrounding the theology that bears his name. I disagree with them, but I am richer for the time with them.

These people are “giants” in their respective fields, and many say that we in the present stand on the shoulders of giants to see the world as we see it now. That is true, we have been brought to our present understanding by these great thinkers and writers (as well as many others), but I worry that my formerly (and even presently) superficial reading of each is somehow stunting my ability to see the world we have as their legacy. I can honestly feel the temptation to skim what I’m reading, or to judge them when they disagree, because they often question my own understanding. I keep wanting to take shortcuts.

To truly stand on the shoulders of giants, it seems, my own understanding has a lot of climbing to do.



2 thoughts on “The Shoulders of Giants

  1. Steve,

    I have found this to be very true in my own readings as well. Some of the books which I have walked away from with the impression that I “really got it,” I come back across years later to find that I really didn’t understand half of what the author was trying to say!

    I am trying to cultivate in myself a stronger sense of intellectual humility, a challenging task indeed!

  2. Olivier Wacker says:


    what Torq and you wrote make a lot of sense to me. Could it even be that some of the people whose theology we do not like today may have thought more and even prayed more about it then we care to admit? Could it be that if we listened attentively to them we might realize that there may be truth in their thinking as well? Just some thoughts after having read both of your thoughts.

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