Christianity, Philosophy
Comments 2

Living Books

I have had a slow start with the blog for 2009.  There are a number of interesting writers lined up for you this year–I would give you names but I am sure I would leave out someone.

May peace and good health be yours during this year.  If you have topics or ideas you would like to see someone discuss on this blog or in the journal, please don’t hesitate to contact me at  Hopefully, very soon we will have all conference information out for you.  The conference will be June 10-13, 2009.  Many thanks to all of you for your continued support and encouragement.  Now to living books:

Living Books

When we look at the feeding episode (the crowd that followed and wanted more and its desire to have a king who would feed it), we are reminded of Frederic Engels’ program that people need bread, not ideas.  With Marx, the revolution promised to provide not only bread but also cake for all.  But the Bible’s directive is the opposite, as found in Jesus’ words.  People need bread in the immediate emergency.  But for lasting provisions in the hardships of life, they need ideas and living words about the truth of the universe.  They need answers to the pressing questions of life. Udo Middelmann

Like so many other topics, since I have been studying the philosophy and pedagogy of Charlotte Mason, I have pondered the idea of living books.  It seems to me that this topic like so many of Mason’s ideas has layers of meaning coming from her years of work and study in education.  Unpacking these layers of meaning can be difficult because frequently a well-seasoned educator has many concepts and thoughts buried in a phrase like living books.  This is why it is important to research and study the work of an educator/philosopher like Mason.  In this blog I want to give some preliminary thoughts to what the phrase might mean.  There are many ideas that can be conveyed about living books and I am sure you have thought of some that will not occur to me.  To begin, let’s have a look at what the word living might mean.

From the online Free Dictionary by Farlex one can find the following:

liv·ing  (lvng)
1. Possessing life: famous living painters; transplanted living tissue.
2. In active function or use: a living language.
3. Of persons who are alive: events within living memory.
4. Relating to the routine conduct or maintenance of life: improved living conditions in the city.
5. Full of life, interest, or vitality: made history a living subject.
6. True to life; realistic: the living image of her mother.
7. Informal Used as an intensive: beat the living hell out of his opponent in the boxing match.

As I read these various definitions of the word living, I find a number of them I think I can relate to living books.  Let’s begin with the first one:  possessing life.  Living books have a life of their own.  In fact, the second definition comes into play here:  in active function or use.  Because living books have a life of their own they provide a kind of spiritual energy that feeds the mind thereby being “in active function.”  Somehow, it seems to me that a living book is not only “full of life” but also “true to life.”  In fact, sometimes the simplicity of the true to life book or realistic book that provides truth in simplicity can be the most engaging.  In any case, looking at this definition, one can easily see what “living” books are and how we might define them.  But I think there is more to understand about living books.

Looking back at the quote that I put at the outset of this article, consider what Middelmann says:  With Marx, the revolution promised to provide not only bread but also cake for all.  But the Bible’s directive is the opposite, as found in Jesus’ words.  People need bread in the immediate emergency.  But for lasting provisions in the hardships of life, they need ideas and living words about the truth of the universe.  They need answers to the pressing questions of life. Udo Middelmann (pp 51-52)

I have written before in various articles and blogs that when we view life from a matterial (meaning life is only of matter) perspective then what Marx had to offer should have been sufficient.  In fact, the cake should have been really good.  But, it has not worked out that way.  Before we criticize Marx too badly, we need to realize that capitalism cannot meet our needs either, particularly uncontrolled, immoral capitalism–that which we are presently seeing come to full bloom in our own democracy.  Why?  We have bought image, greed or to use Middelmann’s word we must have our own “cake.”  The cake in capitalism can be the American dream:  have it all–image, house, cars, boats, the good life.  But we are learning that life is not sustained by things or matter.  In fact, these dreams of cars, a house at the beach can leave us empty.  No, we cannot live by bread alone; we must also have nourishment for the spirit.  We are matterial beings but equally important, we are spiritual beings, which, requires living ideas found in living books.  Cake, no matter if it comes from communism or capitalism does not satisfy.  It provides no spiritual nourishment.  We need spiritual nourishment provided by living ideas from living books to “answer . . . the pressing questions of life.”

In sequels to this blog I want to pursue two ideas:  1) how the word shalom might give us further understanding about living books; 2) And, exactly what did Mason mean by “spiritual.”

Middelmann, Udo (2008).  Christianity versus fatalistic religions in the war against poverty.  Paternoster: thinking faith:  Colorado Springs, CO.

The Free Dictionary can be found at:

© 2009 by J. Carroll Smith

This entry was posted in: Christianity, Philosophy


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. rootfoodchronicles says

    I would like to comment on one of your ideas, what exactly did Mason mean by “spiritual.” Spiritual can have a broad meaning. For some, it is a New Age philosophy or that Jesus was a prophet, but for me it is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit living inside of me. What I have read of Charlotte Mason (CM), and I have not read and studied CM thoroughly yet, is that she believed that we are “made in the image of God” (Genesis 9:6). I believe that CM also stated that the bible was the most important living book. I read from her recently, “the bible…the great storehouse of spiritual truth…” School Education (p.235). These are some of the comments I have found on what she meant by “spiritual.”

    In addition, I posted a reply to the November 29, 2008 blog post, “If You Want to Build a Ship” by Laurie Bestvater. Here it is:

    Thank you for this article. I just stumbled upon it. I have been homeschooling my son this year and have been using a lot of Charlotte Mason (CM) methodology. I am so inspired and feel led by the Lord to inspire other children and parents, to take it beyond myself and my son to children who don’t know the Lord (and who do know the Lord) and CM. Your article fueled me and helped confirmed I am on the right path. What I am struggling with is how to take this methodology into the “world” and “public square” without mentioning the Lord. I love and understand the quote you incorporated:
    ‘…that God the Holy Spirit is Himself, personally, the Imparter of
knowledge, the Instructor of youth, the Inspirer of genius…every
fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or
grammar, or music was a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit,
without any thought at all as to whether the person so inspired
named himself by the name of God or recognized whence his
inspiration came (Mason,vol.2. pp 270-71) (Citation 1)’
    You continue on with:
    “Our way, this Mason way, of doing education will benefit and restore personhood to children whether we name the Name or not (would I could name Christ in every educational setting and take each child to the Source of Beauty that our education will reveal). The name of the thing, is not the thing…Truth in education and our dealings with children is still Truth, no matter what we are permitted to call it.”
    I understand this, but what about in Romans 10:17
“… So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
    I know there is a time and place to talk about Jesus and inspire one through the word of God. How can we teach science without mentioning the creator and not promote evolution as the basis for creation? How can this truth, for example, be taught to children without talking about the creator? Does the Lord not want us to be bold? Shouldn’t we trust and have faith in Him and talk about Him more openly? Perhaps I am misunderstanding the content of the article, and if I am, please forgive me and help me to clarify. I want to share with children the beauty and freedom of our creator,
God the Father, God The Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I love the CM method, and I believe it is a way to show children and families the beauty of God and that we are made in His image, but I am struggling with the idea of not mentioning the truth of who He is when the timing is appropriate. Help!

    So… if we are to potentially bring CM into a school(s) whether it be a charter school or other public entity, then how can we leave the absolute truth of God out? If I were to explain to people how great my dad is, I could not whisper about him or they would not know what I was talking about. I believe the same is so with our Father who “will never leave us nor forsake us.”

    I thank you for this blog where I can post this question and concern of mine. I need to talk this out with seasoned CMers and anyone else that has knowledge to share on this topic. I leave you with this:

    As Jesus was being tempted by satan He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Mathew 4:4)

    • Thank you for your comments. At the moment I do not have time to discuss this topic fully. I will say that you are correct in what you say. Mason’s ideas about spirituality certainly had nothing to do with New Age beliefs. Watch for another blog or two over the next several weeks and months. Carroll

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