Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amusing Ourselves to Death

In the mid-twentieth century, two authors wrote dystopian visions of how civilization might come to be ruled by tyranny, but their visions were quite different.  George Orwell wrote 1984--a vision in which people are ruled by omnipresent governmental surveillance, manipulation, and ever-increasing regulation. In short, the vision of 1984 is a tyranny of control. In contrast to this, 17 years earlier Aldous Huxley had written Brave New World.  Huxley cast a different vision of tyranny. In Huxley's vision, civilization dies a slow-motion death through a culture of passivity, amusement, and thrill-seeking.  In short, the vision of Brave New World is a tyranny of distraction. In the forward to his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasts these two visions:
We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. 
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. 
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. 
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
While both of these books offer compelling warnings, I fear that Huxley's vision is more accurate in our culture. Distractions assault us ferociously from every direction. Self-control, restraint, temperance, and self-denial are no longer seen as a virtues. Instead, we give advice like "follow your heart" and "do what makes you happy." Our culture's battle-cry is "YOLO!" (you only live once). If we are to be faithful to Christ, we must be vigilant to stand against the tide of distractions that would wash us away in a sea of irrelevance. We must cultivate the ability to think deeply about important subjects and the virtue of sacrificially working hard. As Jesus said, we must "deny ourselves and take up our cross daily" (Luke 9:23). We must stand against the idea that happiness should be our ultimate goal, and instead embrace the truth that happiness is a byproduct of a life well-lived.  (For an excellent treatment of this, see the book by Moreland and Issler, The Lost Virtue of Happiness).

Huxley himself argued that our culture was headed towards his vision of a tyranny of distraction. In October of 1949, a few months after the release of George Orwell's masterpiece, he received a fascinating letter from Aldous Huxley. In this letter, Huxley briefly compares their novels and then proceeds to explain why he believes that his own, earlier work to be a more realistic prediction.  The letter is below:
Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell, 
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four. 
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest. 
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects. 
Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds. 
Thank you once again for the book. 
Yours sincerely, 
Aldous Huxley 
Source: Letters of Aldous Huxley; Image: George Orwell (via) & Aldous Huxley (via)

Trivia: In 1917, long before he wrote this letter, Aldous Huxley briefly taught Orwell French at Eton.

HT:  Letters of Note

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Mural & The Maker by Natalie Falls

I'm privileged to call Aaron and Natalie Falls my friends. I've watched their faithfulness as God drastically changed their vision for their future by entrusting to them the gift of a son with Down's syndrome. Natalie has a gift at painting emotional pictures with words, and her journey as a mother and a follower of Jesus is something we can all learn from. Natalie writes,
Elias' life and all the things I am learning through him is no mistake. There was no mistake when his extra chromosome was strategically placed by the Creator of the universe. There was no chance or fluke that a younger woman—me—would carry a boy like Elias. Everything was carefully planned and artistically woven together in my belly when God created my son.
Although today might be difficult, and I feel like there is nothing more than what's in front of me, I remember that there is a bigger picture. There is a painting, a mural that only covers a corner of the wall. How thankful I am that I am not the one with the paintbrush. I am not the one painting the strokes of color that make up my life with Elias. Some parts of the painting seem a little awkward and hard to understand, but I trust the Maker. I ask Him to help me find beauty in what I don't understand...
Natalie Falls just released her new book, The Mural & The Maker. You can download a free copy or order a print version at  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why I (Still) Cannot Accept the Ice-Bucket Challenge

In my previous post I detailed why I cannot accept the ice-bucket challenge. Since then, I've received a lot of feedback. As of writing this, my original post has over 1.5 million hits, which is a lot considering normally about 3 people read my blog (and 2 of those people are my mom and my wife). There's a few common responses I've received from a number of different people, and I wanted to take a moment to respond to each of these.

"An embyro is not a baby."

First, I've received responses from people who have been critical of my stance and argued that a fertilized embryo is merely a collection of cells--nothing remotely like a baby or child. To these people, I'd like to ask, at what point does human life begin? Greg Koukl simplifies the issue of abortion (and by extension embryonic stem cell research), saying this:
I want to simplify what some people think is a difficult issue: abortion. There is only one question that needs to be answered to resolve the moral question of abortion. That question is: what is it? What is the unborn? Abortion entails destroying and discarding something that is alive. Whether it’s right or not to do that depends entirely on the answer to only one question: what is it?
If abortion does not take the life of an innocent human being, then no justification for abortion is necessary. You don’t have to talk about choice, privacy, and your personal financial circumstances. If it doesn’t take an innocent human being’s life, just have the abortion.
However, if it does take the life of an innocent human being, then none of those justifications normally given for abortion are adequate. We do not take the lives of innocent human beings simply because they are in the way, or because we have a choice, or because we have privacy with our doctor, or any of those other reasons.
This simplifies the issue immensely. First, you figure out what is it that dies in an abortion. Then, you will have the answer to the moral question. Yes, it is that simple.
Some people may not be convinced that human life begins at conception as I am. But I think that most would concede that it's at least possible that it does. And if there's even a sliver of a chance that life begins at conception, then destroying it is evil.

Imagine this. We're about to destroy a building. It's an old, worthless building, and it needs to be demolished to make way for a new scientific research facility. It's set up for demolition with explosive charges. But then one of the workers says that they thought they heard a baby crying inside the building. There's only a chance that there's a life in there, and if we delay the demolition, then it will delay construction, and important scientific research will be delayed. Do we demolish the building anyway? No! Of course not! We do whatever we can to save the possible human life in that building. Why? Because human life is precious.  So for me, the possibility of my donation funding research fueled by dead children is unacceptable. Unless the ALS Association can guarantee that they won’t subsidize embryonic stem cell research with my donation, then I’m going to look for other places to make a difference.

"It's not like an embryo can feel pain!"

Second, I've heard from people who've said that maybe an embryo is a human life, but even so it's okay to destroy it because it doesn't have feeling or consciousness, and much good can be done by it's destruction. To these people, I'd like to ask what is it that makes human life valuable? Some would say that life is only valuable to the extent that it can be experienced. For example, Peter Singer, the Princeton University bioethics professor, has argued that abortions may be acceptable even after babies are born. He argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood (which he defines as "rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"), and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living" but rather, he says "Sometimes it is not wrong at all." But (almost) all sane people have innate moral knowledge that murdering an innocent baby is wrong. Period.

Ultimately, this line of thinking reduces to the argument that it is the quality of a person's life that determines the value of a person's life. But if that were true, then we could justify all sorts of murder! We can imagine scenarios in which people are temporarily in a coma, or paralyzed so that they cannot feel pain or experience consciousness. Surely we would not think it okay to discard these lives!

This line of thought is not a new idea. In fact, a form of this idea gained traction and popularity after emerging in the 1870s as Social Darwinism. This utilitarian ethic roots the value of human life in how an individual human can benefit humanity as a whole. It holds that the Darwinian concept of "survival of the fittest" can be applied to societal structures so that we weed out weak humans while promoting the survival of strong humans, thus bettering humanity and society. This concept ultimately paved the path which the Nazi's used to justify the holocaust, claiming they were weeding out society's weak elements.

By contrast, the Christian perspective is that human life is valuable because we are each created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6). We each reflect and represent God to a degree, and so humans have distinctive value and worth among God's creation.  And so each human life is precious and valuable, not based upon how much of life it experiences or the quality of a person's life or its contribution to humanity, but rather human life is intrinsically valuable because our very nature (albeit corrupted by sin) reflects the majesty of our Creator.

"Why not participate in the ice-bucket challenge and send your donation elsewhere?"

Many people have pointed out that there are many commendable pro-life organizations doing great work for ALS that I could direct my donation to.  So, they ask, why don't I just accept the challenge, and then send my donation to one of these organizations? Let me try to answer this.

My thought was this: If I accept the ice-bucket challenge, and mention at the end of the challenge that I'm donating to a pro-life organization, then most likely the next few people who accept my challenge may do the same--which would be great. But by the time it passes to a few people down the line, I'm guessing the pro-life message would be lost and people would be donating to the ALS Association again. In other words, the ice-bucket challenge is just as much about raising publicity as it is about raising money, and I didn't want to send publicity in the wrong direction by participating in the challenge that the ALS Association designed. What I was hoping would happen is that someone would be creative and start a different type of challenge that I could participate in (maybe dumping colored water on your head, or something entirely different--I'm not that creative). That's what I was trying to get at at the end of my previous blog entry. Also, at this point, it seems that not doing the challenge (at least for me) was a far more effective way to reach people about the serious ethical problems of embryonic stem cell research.

Just to be clear in regards to this last question, if you think about this and still decide to take the challenge and donate to a pro-life organization, then I have absolutely no judgment of you whatsoever. In my mind, this is not a black and white issue. It's a delicate balance of trying to live in this world without being of this world, and that may look different for different people.

So my encouragement is the same as before. Please think deeply about the causes you support and your reasons for supporting them. Don't jump on the bandwagon in a frenzy to belong and be part of something. Jump on the bandwagon because you've thoughtfully decided that the bandwagon is a virtuous place to be.

"What pro-life organizations can I donate towards that will benefit people with ALS?"

Many people have asked me (or told me) about alternate places to donate that will not support embryonic stem cell research. I have chosen to only publicize organizations that I have personally been able to confirm do not support embryonic stem cell research. The only medical research organization with research focused on ALS that I have seen be publicly explicit about not doing embryonic stem cell research is the John Paul II Medical Research Institute. You can make donations at their website:

One alternative worthy cause is Judson's Legacy, which focuses on a rare genetic disorder known as Krabbe disease. This organization was founded by personal friends of mine who I've watched walk through some of the darkest times I could imagine, and yet have found hope in the midst of tremendous suffering and pain.  Check out their website for more information:

"How can I be better equipped to think about these important issues?"

Finally, some people have contacted me asking how they can be better equipped to think about these important issues.  Below are some resources on pro-life issues to help you be equipped to know what you believe and why you believe it so that you can stand for life. This world needs more thoughtful, intelligent, warmhearted Christians who wear Christ attractively, so that this world sees our message as credible and true. I've listed these resources in order from beginner resources (for those who are just beginning to explore these sorts of questions), to more advanced resources (for those with deeper questions). I sincerely hope these are helpful!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why I Cannot Accept the Ice-Bucket Challenge

Recently, I've received a few "ALS ice-bucket challenges" which I cannot accept.  I don't fault any of my friends for giving me this challenge.  Thanks for thinking of me and trying to include me!  Really.  You guys are awesome, and it was really fun watching you shiver!

Amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a horrible neurodegenerative disease affecting everything from speech and swallowing to basic mobility.  I personally have friends whose parents have languished and died from this disease, and experts estimate that 30,000 Americans suffer from this disease.  It's as good a place as any to focus medical research efforts.

But I cannot accept the challenge, and I hope you'll understand why.  It's not because I'm afraid of cold water.  (Although that's true).  My concern is where the publicity and money might go.  Specifically, I'm concerned with the KIND of research that might be financed by my hypothetical promotional activity.  (For those who don't know what this is, you're supposed to dump a bucket of ice-water on your head, and video it, and then challenge others to do it.  If you don't do it, you're supposed to give $100 to the ALS Assocation, and if you do do it, you either don't have to give any money to the ALSA or you're supposed to give $10 to the ALSA, depending on the version).

The ALS Association funds a number of different types of research, and among these different types of research is embryonic stem cell research.  For those who don't know what this is, this is when scientists take a female egg and a male sperm and fertilize the egg in a lab, and then after the new life begins to form, they remove the building blocks of life--embryonic stem cells.  This is the same process that occurs when people struggle with infertility and then get in-vitro fertilization--the important difference is that instead of implanting the fertilized embryo into a mother so that it can grow into a baby, these embryos are experimented on, and then discarded.  They are created for the express purpose of destroying them for medical research.  The ALS Association website says this:
Adult stem cell research is important and should be done alongside embryonic stem cell research as both will provide valuable insights. Only through exploration of all types of stem cell research will scientists find the most efficient and effective ways to treat diseases.
UPDATE:  Since I originally posted this, the ALS Association has changed their website. Screenshots of the original, which I cited, can be found here.

Sometimes, stem cells are harvested as part of in-vitro fertilization as described above, and other times they are harvested as part of an abortion procedure.  For example, one clinical trial, which was supported by the ALS Association with a $500,000 grant involved "stem cells ... from the spinal cord of a single fetus electively aborted after eight weeks of gestation."  At 8 weeks, a baby has it's own unique DNA, is 2 centimeters long, has tiny fingers and toes, and a heart beat of about 160 beats per minute.

Some might argue that life does not begin at conception.  But the other options seem entirely subjective scientifically and unsupported biblically.  Some say life begins not at conception, but implantation or even birth--as if the location of the embryo should determine when it is alive.  Some say that it's when the embryo is viable, but this point is completely subjective and would mean that now life begins far sooner than it did a few years ago when we didn't have the technology to save early preterm infants.  At conception, a baby has a unique genetic code, and all of the necessary building blocks for life, and the Bible attributes the properties of personhood to us from conception (Psa 139:13-16, Job 10:8-12, Jer 1:5, Psa 51:5, Luk 1:39-44, Ex 21:22-24).

The reason this is important is because as a Christian, I believe that no human life is intrinsically worth more than another human life.  All humans are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6), and therefore are uniquely valuable and have distinctive worth.  We're not all born "equal" in the sense that we're all able to run equally fast or complete math problems equally well, but we are all equally created in the image of God, and this is where we derive our worth and value.

The problem with embryonic stem cell research is two-fold:  first, it is morally reprehensible to anyone who believes that life begins at conception.  Imagine the outrage that would happen if scientists proposed we grew infants and children for the express purpose of performing lethal experiments on them, no matter how scientifically helpful the results would be.  Secondly, if there is a breakthrough involving embryonic stem cell research, then the resulting treatment would involve mass harvesting of embryonic stem cells, and therefore mass abortions.  In short, embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of innocent human life.  And therefore, I cannot promote donations to this particular organization when it thinks that infanticide is a legitimate way to save other human beings.

Now, I don't think our response as Christians should be to just throw up our hands, check out, and not do anything.  Instead, we should lead the way in helping those who are suffering with ALS, and work towards finding medical treatments that are ethically researched.  So, I would ask anyone who is making a donation to consider donating to an ethically focused organization, like this one:  Checks can be made payable to:
John Paul II Medical Research Institute
540 E. Jefferson St.
Suite 305
Iowa City, IA 52245

Finally, as one blogger on this issue said,
This is a good time to consider the effect that social media activism is having on our culture--and ourselves as actors in it. ...I very much believe in this medium’s capacity for acting as a vehicle for good, yet I also recognize how instant-connectivity is a double-edged sword, making it much easier for a "herd mentality" to develop. Which is all fine and good when the herd is headed in the correct direction, right?  
But peer pressure blows perspective out of the water as we race to belong without first stepping back and considering each and every dimension before clicking “like” or share. How many of you stopped and investigated HOW your money would be spent before emptying the ice cube trays? Exactly. You shouldn’t feel bad about it! That’s not my point. You should feel a little weird and more than a little prone towards caution in the future. 
So don’t look at this as a call for inaction.  I’m asking you to be as active as ever and creative, too; what we’re looking for is a higher level of self-awareness the next time a Facebook buddy tags you with the best of intentions.
HT:  Matt Rooney

Friday, December 13, 2013

Augustine on the Miracle of Christmas

Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.
- Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Authentic Manhood: Men as Providers

Recently, I've been preparing to teach a class on "Authentic Manhood."  In preparing to teach this, I came across an article by J.D. Gunter on "Men as Providers."  I thought this article was outstanding, and something young men in our culture need continually impressed upon them.  The full text is below, and the PDF is available from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Christian men are called to provide for their families. Paul uses some of the strongest language in the New Testament to warn those who do not provide: “But if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Whatever a man thinks he is “called” to, this much is clear – he is called to provide for his family. One of the most God-glorifying pictures of the gospel is when a man puts his childhood dreams to the side, steps up to the plate, gets a job, and valiantly cares for his family. This man should be honored and his work should be appreciated. 
Think like a Man 
Something about growing up and having a family changes the perspective of a man. Instead of a professional athlete, he aims for management. Instead of a multi-platinum record deal, he pursues health insurance. Instead of wanting to be a famous astronaut, he dreams of raising one. This is maturity. This is growing up. This is a man dying to self and living for another. 
One of the saddest pictures of gospel-confusion is when a man fails to pursue providing for his family because he is stuck chasing the clouds of his youth. Scripture commands men to give themselves up for their wives, just as Christ gave Himself up for the Church (Eph 5:25). When a man stubbornly refuses to get a job that will support his family or, worse still, when he obligates his wife to provide in his stead because he is entitled to “chase his dreams” or “pursue his calling,” the Bible gives us reason to doubt that man’s faith. Unbelievers intuitively know this is wrong. The conscience of the redeemed condemns it too. 
Work like a Man 
Men should be free to chase their dreams. Great companies were founded, churches planted, and institutions established by men who worked a full-time job, then spent their free-time in a garage, in front of a computer, or in a classroom. These men are heroes. They did not ask their wives or families to carry them into their dreams – they walked there themselves. They held their dreams loosely enough that they would not sacrifice their families to achieve them. 
Is it ever legitimate for a wife to work? Yes, of course. We are thankful when a wife comes alongside her husband to support him in his call to provide. However, this does not relieve him of his responsibility. He is ultimately accountable for the provision of his family; not his wife. 
When a wife helps to support the family, the husband has delegated his call to provide for the family to his wife. This role should never put undue pressure or hardship on her. When a husband pressures his wife into the workplace and away from the home for any reason, he has ceased to delegate and begun to abdicate. 
Gut Check 
How do you know if you have put undue burden on your wife and despised the God-given call to provide? Ask yourself: 
1) How would you feel if your wife unexpectedly got pregnant and you were forced to be  the only and primary breadwinner for your family? Rejoicing or regretting your spoiled plans? 
2) How do you use your time? Are you working as hard as you can to provide adequately for your family? 
3) Are you dependent upon your wife’s income to support your lifestyle or could you live more modestly and reduce the pressure on her to work? 
4) Most importantly, does she trust you as the provider of the home? 
A Call to Provide 
If your wife is willing and able to come alongside you to help you provide for your household, rejoice in that, but do not feel entitled. 
This truth is not meant to shame men who struggle to provide. On the contrary, there is tremendous honor for that man who struggles to provide. I have known men to work three meager-paying jobs to humbly support a wife and children. Men have toiled away for years working faithfully in what the world would never see as a dream job. In the face of great uncertainty, men take what jobs they can find and spend little as they feed, clothe and provide for their kids. 
Some would call this a failure. Some would say that man’s life is ill-spent. He is not chasing his dreams, he is not “called” to this grueling work, and he will never find true fulfillment in this life. 
I disagree. 
This man is not a failure. His work is not something to be ashamed of. This man is a conquering hero. His bravery is to be applauded. His tenacity is to be admired. His steadfastness is to be emulated. Here we have a warrior who will provide for his family in the face of incredible odds and overwhelming hardship. 
The working man understands that a call to marriage is a call to provide. He will not quietly stand by while his family suffers. He will not chase his childhood dreams on the backs of his wife and children. He will struggle, he will provide, and the Lord will honor him for being a picture of Christ who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-7). 
The world is confused about the intrinsic nobility of work, and some of that confusion seeps into the Church. We should know better.  Scripture commands, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). If you have a job, welcome to the ministry! You are serving the Lord. 
The businessman, the mechanic, the salesman, the lawyer, the teacher, the waiter, and the landscaper are all in direct service to Christ. On top of that, the men who hold these jobs to provide for their families are fulfilling a biblical mandate. There is honor and goodness in work. God’s glory is glimpsed each time a man brings home a paycheck. A man coming home to play with his kids after an exhausting day of work has shown us what Christlikeness is. 
Our intuition tells us something is wrong when a man does not provide for his family. Our conscience pricks us when we hear of a woman paying her husband’s way. Our hearts break when we see a man who selfishly refuses a job because it does not align with his dreams while his wife and kids suffer. We are not alone in condemning this man. Scripture condemns him too. He is worse than an unbeliever.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sane Advice for Young Students of Theology

In response to the question, “What advice would you offer to theological students and young theologians as they face a lifetime of theological work?”, John Frame gives the following 30 (!) point answer.  I think this is great advice for both aspiring theologians and anyone thinking of going into ministry.
  1. Consider that you might not really be called to theological work. James 3:1 tells us that not many of us should become teachers and that teachers will be judged more strictly. To whom much (biblical knowledge) is given, of them shall much be required.
  2. Value your relationship with Christ, your family, and the church above your career ambitions. You will influence more people by your life than by your theology. And deficiencies in your life will negate the influence of your ideas, even if those ideas are true.
  3. Remember that the fundamental work of theology is to understand the Bible, God’s Word, and apply it to the needs of people. Everything else—historical and linguistic expertise, exegetical acuteness and subtlety, knowledge of contemporary culture, and philosophical sophistication—must be subordinated to that fundamental goal. If it is not, you may be acclaimed as a historian, linguist, philosopher, or critic of culture, but you will not be a theologian.
  4. In doing the work of theology (the fundamental work, #3), you have an obligation to make a case for what you advocate. That should be obvious, but most theologians today haven’t a clue as to how to do it. Theology is an argumentative discipline, and you need to know enough about logic and persuasion to construct arguments that are valid, sound, and persuasive. In theology, it’s not enough to display knowledge of history, culture, or some other knowledge. Nor is it enough to quote people you agree with and reprobate people you don’t agree with. You actually have to make a theological case for what you say.
  5. Learn to write and speak clearly and cogently. The best theologians are able to take profound ideas and present them in simple language. Don’t try to persuade people of your expertise by writing in opaque prose.
  6. Cultivate an intense devotional life and ignore people who criticize this as pietistic. Pray without ceasing. Read the Bible, not just as an academic text. Treasure opportunities to worship in chapel services and prayer meetings, as well as on Sunday. Give attention to your “spiritual formation,” however you understand that.
  7. A theologian is essentially a preacher, though he typically deals with more arcane subjects than preachers do. But be a good preacher. Find some way to make your theology speak to the hearts of people. Find a way to present your teaching so that people hear God’s voice in it.
  8. Be generous with your resources. Spend time talking to students, prospective students, and inquirers. Give away books and articles. Don’t be tightfisted when it comes to copyrighted materials; grant copy permission to anybody who asks for it. Ministry first, money second.
  9. In criticizing other theologians, traditions, or movements, follow biblical ethics. Don’t say that somebody is a heretic unless you have a very good case. Don’t throw around terms like “another gospel.” (People who teach another gospel are under God’s curse.) Don’t destroy people’s reputations by misquoting them, quoting them out of context, or taking their words in the worst possible sense. Be gentle and gracious unless you have irrefutable reasons for being harsh.
  10. When there is a controversy, don’t get on one side right away. Do some analytical work first, on both positions. Consider these possibilities: (a) that the two parties may be looking at the same issue from different perspectives, so they don’t really contradict; (b) that both parties are overlooking something that could have brought them together; (c) that they are talking past one another because they use terms in different ways; (d) that there is a third alternative that is better than either of the opposing views and that might bring them together; (e) that their differences, though genuine, ought both to be tolerated in the church, like the differences between vegetarians and meat-eaters in Romans 14.
  11. If you get a bright idea, don’t expect everybody to get it right away. Don’t immediately start a faction to promote it. Don’t revile those who haven’t come to appreciate your thinking. Reason gently with them, recognizing that you could be wrong and arrogant to boot.
  12. Don’t be reflexively critical of everything that comes out of a different tradition. Be humble enough to consider that other traditions may have something to teach you. Be teachable before you start teaching them. Take the beam out of your own eye.
  13. Be willing to reexamine your own tradition with a critical eye. It is unreasonable to think that any single tradition has all the truth or is always right. And unless theologians develop critical perspectives on their own denominations and traditions, the reunion of the body of Christ will never take place. Don’t be one of those theologians who are known mainly for trying to make Arminians become Calvinists (or vice versa).
  14. See confessional documents in proper perspective. It is the work of theology, among other things, to rethink the doctrines of the confessions and to reform them, when necessary, by the Word of God. Do not assume that everything in the confession is forever settled.
  15. Don’t let your polemics be governed by jealousy, as when a theologian feels bound to be entirely negative toward the success of a megachurch.
  16. Don’t become known as a theologian who constantly takes potshots at other theologians or other Christians. The enemy is Satan, the world, and the flesh.
  17. Guard your sexual instincts. Stay away from Internet pornography and illicit relationships. Theologians are not immune from the sins that plague others in the church.
  18. Be active in a good church. Theologians need the means of grace as much as other believers. This is especially important when you are studying at a secular university or liberal seminary. You need the support of other believers to maintain proper theological perspective.
  19. Get your basic training at a seminary that teaches the Bible as the Word of God. Become well-grounded in the theology of Scripture before you go off (as you may, of course) to get firsthand exposure to nonbiblical thought.
  20. Come to appreciate the wisdom, even theological wisdom, of relatively uneducated Christians. Don’t be one of those theologians who always has something negative to say when a simple believer describes his walk with the Lord. Don’t look down at people from what Helmut Thielicke called “the high horse of enlightenment.” Often, simple believers know God better than you do, and you need to learn from them, as did Abraham Kuyper, for instance.
  21. Don’t be one of those theologians who get excited about every new trend in politics, culture, hermeneutics, and even theology and who think we have to reconstruct our theology to go along with each trend. Don’t think you have to be a feminist, e.g., just because everybody else is. Most of the theologies that try to be culturally savvy are unbiblical.
  22. Be suspicious of all trendiness in theology. When everybody jumps on some theological bandwagon, whether narrative, feminism, redemptive history, natural law, liturgy, liberation, postmodernism, or whatever, that’s the time to awaken your critical faculties. Don’t jump on the bandwagon unless you have done your own study. When a theological trend comes along, ask reflexively, “What’s wrong with that?” There is always something wrong. It simply is not the case that the newest is the truest. Indeed, many new movements turn out to be false steps entirely.
  23. Our system of doctoral-level education requires “original thought,” but that can be hard to do, given that the church has been studying Scripture for thousands of years. You’ll be tempted to come up with something that sounds new (possibly by writing a thesis that isn’t properly theological at all in the sense of #3 above). Well, do it; get it out of the way, and then come back to do some real theology.
  24. At the same time, don’t reject innovation simply because it is innovative. Even more, don’t reject an idea merely because it doesn’t sound like what you’re used to. Learn to distinguish the sound-look-feel of an idea from what it actually means.
  25. Be critical of arguments that turn on metaphors or extrabiblical technical terms. Don’t assume that each one has a perfectly clear meaning. Usually they do not.
  26. Learn to be skeptical of the skeptics. Unbelieving and liberal scholars are as prone to error as anybody—in fact, more so.
  27. Respect your elders. Nothing is so ill-becoming as a young theologian who despises those who have been working in the field for decades. Disagreement is fine, as long as you acknowledge the maturity and the contributions of those you disagree with. Take 1 Timothy 5:1 to heart.
  28. Young theologians often imagine themselves as the next Luther, just as little boys imagine themselves as the next Peyton Manning or Kevin Garnett. When they’re too old to play cowboys and Indians, they want to play Luther and the Pope. When the real Pope won’t play with them, they pick on somebody else and say, “You’re it.” Look: most likely God has not chosen you to be the leader of a new Reformation. If he has, don’t take the exalted title “Reformer” upon yourself. Let others decide if that is really what you are.
  29. Decide early in your career (after some experimenting) what to focus on and what not to. When considering opportunities, it’s just as important (perhaps more so) to know when to say no as to know when to say yes.
  30. Don’t lose your sense of humor. We should take God seriously, not ourselves, and certainly not theology. To lose your sense of humor is to lose your sense of proportion. And nothing is more important in theology than a sense of proportion.
HT:  Joseph Torres
    This interview can be found in the book, Speaking the Truth in Love:  The Theology of John M. Frame in the chapter, "Reflections of a Lifetime Theologian:  An Extended Interview with John M. Frame,” where Frame is interviewed by P. Andrew Sandlin.