Introduction to the Road to Character

In the Garden of the Pastors

I haven’t done book notes on my blog for a while. This might be a good book to take some notes on.

The ideas that David Brooks has been working on has caught the attention of pastors. In anticipation of the book, and possibly because of developments in his own religious life he’s been speaking and writing more specifically about the development of character. He’s always worked a theme of moral character and society but recently he’s been getting more specific and his comments more precise and helpful.

He describes himself as someone who worked hard on résumé virtues but as he was more successful than he could have imagined his attention shifted to eulogy virtues.

“I started out as a writer, fresh out of college, thinking that if I could make my living at it – write for an airline magazine – I’d be happy,” says Brooks over coffee in downtown Washington, DC; at 53, he is ageing into the amiably fogeyish appearance he has cultivated since his youth. “I’ve far exceeded my expectations. But then you learn the elemental truth that every college student should know: career success doesn’t make you happy.” In midlife, it struck him that he’d spent too much time cultivating what he calls “the résumé virtues” – racking up impressive accomplishments – and too little on “the eulogy virtues”, the character strengths for which we’d like to be remembered.

The book appears to be the fruit of some of this.

Adam I and II

He opens the introduction (in the audiobook Brooks reads his own introduction) with the observation of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in The Lonely Man of Faith observing that Genesis 1 speaks of Adam I, the career oriented, ambitious side of our nature. Adam II we find in Genesis 2, the internal Adam who wants to embody certain moral qualities. I’ve never read Soloveitchik but its an interesting idea and rather than worry about squaring it with Genesis it’s best to just go with it. He runs through this early in his talk at Redeemer.

the Plan of the Book

These virtues can’t simply be taught in an abstract way or an intellectual way, we absorb and grow it in a different way. His plan is to tell stories of people who have grown the eulogy virtues in hopes that the reader might catch some of what they have grown.

What Kind of Book is This? 

Is this a “self-help” book? I think it is of sorts. The goal of the book is to help the reader develop character by absorbing the stories of people of character. The stories he hopes will shed light on these people and help the reader do some reflection on their own moral character. As we go we’ll see how this goes.

Recognizing Adam II

For someone familiar with the Christian New Testament we can’t hear “Adam II” and not of course think of Christ, “the second Adam” and much of how Brooks describes “Adam II” rings true of Christ. I suspect this will continue on through the book.

“I’m Really Into Dualisms”

Brooks is very good here and the introduction is super clear and helpful. In the speech I linked to above at 15;40 he quips about himself “I’m really into dualisms”. This is fundamental in understanding the Introduction and I suspect it will hold true in the book. It is Brooks’ capacity to work dualisms that helps us see the contrasts. Look at how he works dualisms here to illuminate:

  • Résumé virtues vs. eulogy virtues
  • Adam I vs. Adam II
  • outer majestic Adam vs. inner humble Adam
  • straightforward utilitarian logic vs non-economic moral logic (give to receive)

He just keeps drilling down on these dualisms. They are not always opposed to each other, sometimes in tension with each other, sometimes (the speech above) reason vs. passion, both/and etc.

It will likely also be in the dualism that things will break down. Dualisms are nice because the give us a sense of clarity, but they can sometimes distort other complex dynamics or more diverse choices.

Preacher Takeaway

There’s gold in the intro. This stuff will preach. At some point we’re going to have to figure out exactly where this book fits into the Christian life and specifically in the missionary pastor’s strategic view of our present context. More to come.


About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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3 Responses to Introduction to the Road to Character

  1. Pingback: Chapter 1: The Shift in “The Road to Character” |

  2. Pingback: The Road to Character, Chapter 3, The Eisenhowers plus Sin and Moderation |

  3. Madi Forbes says:

    You are amazing at capturing the essence of the book. This was a pleasure to read

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