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November 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 31

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The Impact of Great Books on My Life


By Jerry Hopkins, Ph.D.



Phrasing is important, particularly in regards to expressing our faith and life convictions. Great philosophers, teachers, and educators have all approached the subject of life and how we live it. Sometimes the approach is considered by asking questions or using figurative individuals that become a symbol for all, such as Socrates and his philosophy; Don Quixote’s philosophical jousting; Ralph Waldo Emerson’s literary work; Chuck Colson’s radical life change; J. C. Bach’s music; and BooksJesus Christ and His challenge to life and living.


I want to begin with Socrates because, many years ago, the great thinker and master teacher challenged me through the words and example of another great teacher in my life, Professor Kerney Adams of Eastern Kentucky University, where I was a sophomore history student searching for truth and intellectual treasures. He quoted Socrates’ bold declaration that has continued to shape my thinking and writing: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In this simple statement, this great philosopher profoundly illustrates a fundamental experience for all of us — grappling with the really big questions as we journey through life and relationships. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What does life mean? How can one live a significant life? What will my legacy be? Do any of these life issues really matter?


In my reading for Professor Adams and for other courses that I have taught, I have drawn from the Holocaust survivor and author Victor E. Frankl’s work Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he described a life well-lived as being simply and ultimately about love, being loved, and loving through the best and worst of times. Frankl wrote:


For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.


Could anyone under any other circumstances proclaim such truth so profoundly?


A fascination with Don Quixote also dates from those early college years. I have an ornate wooden carving of Don Quixote that I brought back from a long-ago trip to Spain that reminds me of this knight errant’s jousting with the idea that he represents — dream the impossible dream. Don Quixote saw things other people did not and was often thought to be a madman rather than just a dreamer. This is one of the reasons that he has challenged me and still motivates me. Don Quixote possessed the gift of seeing past what is to what could be and even to attaining one’s dream. A favorite quote from Don Quixote should be in all our thinking and manifest in our living: “Sanity may be madness, but maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.” Sanity, reality, and college studies drove me to seek the best, the wisest, and the worthiest of ventures.


One of the greatest revolutionaries in the lineage of His Savior and Lord, the great Apostle Paul, gave us life’s three essentials — faith, hope, and love. In this great statement to the Corinthians, Paul was not speaking as a foolish, hopeless romantic. He was speaking as a revolutionary, understanding that a life well-lived is committed to and commissioned by these three core values — faith, hope, and love — with the greatest being love. It is not a romantic love. It is a love that radically transforms one’s own life and the life of each person it touches because it is a love rooted and grounded in the Eternal God who revealed Himself as the One Self-Giving Love. It is a transforming love because it refuses to settle for what is because it imagines what could be, determined to stay with it until that reality becomes true. This is how so many have helped me and how I wish to live my life: a love powered by the Supernatural, Sovereign God in Jesus Christ’s Spirit. In these trying times, I want to challenge each of you who read these words to seek such determined faith, hope, and love.


Dr. Jerry Hopkins is a history professor at East Texas Baptist University and a freelance columnist living in Marshall, TX. Contact him at


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