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.
Source:  http://cbmw.org/men/manhood/men-as-providers/

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.