Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In the Throes of Finals for Three More Days

The blog will resume on Saturday.

Friends and readers, I am sorry to have fallen off in blogging this last week. I was swallowed by a fish called Hebrew last week. I was spat from its mouth just yesterday, but was immediately re-swallowed by several other predators of the waters, namely, Hermeneutics, Greek, and Ancient & Medieval Philosophy. These fishes inform me that I should be back to land by Friday night, at which point I will commence much celebration and waving of hands.

And then I will prepare to preach on Sunday! phew. Can't wait to do it.

Anyway, the tone of this blog is usually more personally distant, but I want to let you all know that I hope you will meet me back here beginning next week for many more curious, strange, and perhaps interesting blogs. I will pick back up the pen, and will not drop it for many months to come. Do retain your readership, faithful reader, for I will return, and then we will return to our dialogue, and all will be well, and fish's mouths (and preying professors) will close. Then, happiness will reign, and my eyes will no longer be bloodshot.

Thanks, owen ds.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fathers Who Discipline and What it Begets

A few days ago I talked about the need for fathers who discipline their boys. I want to highlight that quality for one more day, because I think that this point is perhaps the most significant of all I’ve covered. After all, the fundamental problem of a boy is his sin nature. He must be corrected, lest he perish forever. Now, someone could counter that he must have love, and I can’t quarrel with that. But my point is this: boys desperately need discipline. They simply have to learn that they are accountable. They cannot do as they like. They cannot live as they like. They must conform to right standards, and this will always involve a certain breaking of the will. Not a brutal or total breaking, mind you, but rather one that disciplines and restores.

In my life, I can think of several men I know who did not have fathers to discipline them and who were greatly affected by this absence of a discipliner. This is not to say that they learned no concept of discipline, for they did, from their mother. But you can see the inadequacy of this training in them. Boys who live without the fear of disobeying dad simply are less concerned with obedience, because they didn’t have to be growing up. When raising boys by herself, Mom is never able to give the attention to discipline her boys need. She is busy with a thousand things. In addition, the task of discipline was providentially given to two parents, not one, because this balances out the emotional stress involved with bringing justice. It’s a taxing thing to discipline children as they need, and it’s done best when shared by two. Mom will grow emotionally tired when she is the only one disciplining her children. Her son, more than her daughter, will abuse this. He generally has the stronger will, and he also will generally possess greater size and strength as he matures.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

What Dads Mean to Their Sons: The Discipliner

Dads give sons a hero to emulate, a protector to depend upon, and an authority to answer to. The third aspect I’ve chosen to spotlight is this: discipline.

The discipliner. Boys are naturally grubby little buggers. They get into stuff, they destroy things, they take things apart, they hit each other, they ridicule girls, and so on. They compete with one another and cheat at it. They resolve disputes with bloody noses. They overstep their bounds aggressively, and do so repeatedly. From birth, boys are fun. They are also bad.

Which makes the fact that the natural family includes a built-in discipliner a marvel. How nuanced and excellent is the design of the natural family. Fathers are both disposed to discipline and well suited for it. They need not read books to know that they must correct their charges. When they see their boy mistreating his sister, something flames up inside them, and controlled but firm discipline ensues. When one son cheats another at basketball, and the cheated party breaks out in tears, dad feels a natural surge to right this wrong. When his son smart-talks his mother who just worked for hours to clean the house, Dad understands the injustice of this exchange, and takes action to rectify it. He teaches his son that there are boundaries in life. Not simply this, but transgression of those boundaries involves not simply Mom’s displeasure, but Dad’s hickory switch.

I recall hearing pastor John Piper talking in an interview of his role as father of his four boys. It was an aside in a conversation on his published material, but it was priceless. “It is my duty,” he said, “When my boys talk back to their mother, to say “You do NOT talk to your mother that way.” You could see the emotion in him. It was not overheated anger. It was righteous rebuke. You could see in his clenched jaw his conviction. There must be this in a father. He is to lavish love on his son, play with him, knock him around, play catch with him, but he is to bring sure and swift discipline when wrong is done in his home.

The boy who does not have this figure in his life misses the corrective built-in by God for his benefit. Sure, his mother will discipline him. But it will not be the same as that provided by a father. Women simply not are as intimidating as a father. They can be intimidating, but they are not naturally so given to intimidation and “presence” as is a dad. Anyone who has ever experienced the rising anger of their father knows this. Mom can spank too, but it’s different. Dad is to be feared when we do wrong. He represents the Just One who rules over us with perfect discernment, and who is to be feared above all else. Boys who do not have this representation will not have this sense of fear. They learn over time, as they grow larger and stronger and tougher than Mom, that they can disobey her. Chores don’t have to be done. Curfews don’t have to be observed. Rules can be broken. Not so with the boy whose father is his hero, his strength, his discipliner.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What a Dad Means to a Son: The Strong One

Dads provide heroism in a tangible way for their sons. But that is not all they offer their boys.

The strong one. There is tremendous comfort for the boy who has a strong father. He knows that he is safe no matter what. He learns as he grows that this is not as true as he thought, but he still grasps an important truth: he has a protector. He thus learns security. He learns trust. He can sleep well at night. His father is attuned to his welfare, and enters the room at night when it seems certain that this is the night that the monsters will prevail. When there is an unexplainable noise downstairs at night, dad is off the couch. The boy watches this, and learns that his father is strong.

There is much good in this. As opposed to the boy without a father, the boy learns that he is not alone in the world. There is one by his side who is powerful and can troubleshoot the difficulties of life. Strength, after all, is not limited to physical strength, but emotional. Many, many strong women exist, but the first picture of strength a boy is to receive is that from his father. When times grow hard for the family, or the church, the boy watches his father. He sees his father react with character and fortitude, and thus subconsciously develops similar instincts. Mom is strong too, but she cries. Dad does not cry. He is not worried. He will stand strong, and good will prevail.

The boy with a father learns, then, to believe in strength and security. The boy without a father, however, struggles to learn this lesson. In fact, he is not afforded the pleasure of seeing another work out the virtue of strength. He is forced to forge this quality for himself, and from a premature age. When taunted in the playground, there is no resort other than his own strength. There is no father to turn to and seek help from. He must grit his teeth and find his own force. He is weak, and vulnerable, and if he survives will likely grow hard and angry. Fathers provide a security and comfort no fist can give. In doing so, they represent, however imperfectly, the security and strength that truly never fail: the sovereign power of God. Those without a father miss the opportunity to learn experientially the necessity of relying upon God’s mighty hand to protect and guide. They are not introduced to this figure from birth, as Providence intended them to be.

Monday, November 14, 2005

What A Dad Means to a Boy: the Hero

I just started a series on what the natural family means to a boy. First, let’s look at what having a dad means to his son. There are four components that came to mind in thinking over how having a dad affects a son. Here’s the first.

The hero. Having a father means a son has a ready-made hero. To a son, a dad is endlessly amazing. When young, the boy is ¼ his dad's size. Dad can chop wood, he can drive a car, he can throw a football far. More than fathers know, I suspect, boys find their dads heroic. There is something right in this. As the philosopher Anselm noted centuries ago, there is a homing device planted in our brains that directs us to the existence of something beyond us. We see ourselves, and we see the existence of those who are bigger or stronger or smarter than us, and we realize that there must be something even greater than impressive humanity. Aquinas also picked up on this, theorizing that the existence of qualities, or degrees of good, better, and best, points us to see that there is something transcendent and great out there. Our fathers are the first representation of God to us. They are the first to fit into the “hero” category eventually filled by God.

One can spot boys who do have heroes, or fathers, and those who not. The boy with a heroic dad has a sparkle in his eye. He has one to emulate, one to adore, one to be involved with. This is part of the beauty of the "heroic father" role. Far from the heroes the boy sees on tv, who amaze him, but who are so far away as to be almost imaginary, dad is right there. He’s the hero who lives with you, and plays with you, and loves you. By contrast, the boy who lives without a heroic dad misses out, and you can see it in him. He goes to Little League practice, and he sees dads who love their sons, and inside himself, he weeps. He has heroes, too, but they are far off. This lack of a role model will profoundly affect him as he matures, for he will have learned the opposite lesson of the boy with a loving dad. For him, heroes exist only on tv. Far from a living, breathing being, the hero is far off, and the boy is alone.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New Series: the Value of the Natural Family

I recently concluded a series on edification which I hope you enjoyed. Before I jump into my next series of blogs, I want to quickly say that I appreciated the comments of Al and Meghan who followed the edification discussion closely. Al, my childhood pastor from Maine, noted that an eye to edification includes attention to how our choices affect others. I was writing from a slightly different perspective, but that’s an important point.

Now on to the next series: the value of the family. I want to take a brief look at the way in which each member of the family affects us. This discussion comes as America works through just what exactly the family is. The conclusions shape life on a public and private level. For my part, I’m going to examine what a father, mother, sibling(s), and extended family mean to a child. I’ll be approaching this from my own angle: that of a man. I’m not trying to take into account everything that a child would experience, but rather how the different members of the “nuclear” family affect a boy. I’m not attempting psychological work here, but rather to point out basic insights on this matter, some of which you’ve heard before, but perhaps not from this angle.

Before I jump into the series, let me give you an excerpt from a recent article that will get the conversation going. This is from Dr. Al Mohler’s commentary on how boys become men and what marks that manhood. Check out the whole article here.

“Personal maturity sufficient to be a responsible husband and father. Christians often speak of raising boys to be men. In the face of today's cultural onslaught, this is an important goal. However, it is just not enough. Biblical manhood is always defined in terms of functions, roles, and responsibilities. True masculinity is not a matter of exhibiting supposedly masculine characteristics devoid of the context of responsibility. In the Bible, a man is called to fulfill his role as husband and father. Unless granted the gift of celibacy for gospel service, the Christian boy is to aim for marriage and fatherhood. This is assuredly a counter-cultural assertion, but the role of husband and father is central to manhood. Boys must be raised to see themselves as future husbands and fathers. They must be taught what to look for in a godly wife and how to fulfill all of the responsibilities that Scripture invests in a husband and father. Marriage is unparalleled in its effect on men, as it channels their energies and directs their responsibilities to the devoted covenant of marriage and the grace-filled civilization of the family. Boys must be taught what it means to be a husband, how to respect and honor marriage, and how to earn the respect and confidence of a wife. Similarly, boys must be taught about the responsibilities of fatherhood. Christians must reverse generations of inattention by speaking directly and clearly to boys about their future responsibilities, including the care, training, education, protection, and discipline of children. They must aspire to be the kind of man a Christian woman would gladly marry and children will trust, respect, and obey.”

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Story of Southern Seminary: James Boyce

Okay, so most people who read this blog will never visit the seminary I attend, Southern Seminary. That’s admitted. It may surprise you, then, that I am posting yet another piece of content from the “History of the SBTS” website. This is the last piece I’ll post, but I do hope you’ll check out the site. Even if you never make it to Louisville, you’ll learn much about the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptists and the arresting history behind it. Go to for more. The following piece is a biographical essay of the school’s primary founder, James P. Boyce, who by his blood and sweat brought the seminary into existence.

“James P. Boyce, Southern’s first president, was born on January 11, 1827 at Charleston, South Carolina. Boyce matriculated at Brown University in 1845. He quickly became a respected student and popular peer. Soon after entering Brown, Boyce professed his faith in Christ. Soon after his conversion, he fell in love at a friend’s wedding. Just two days after meeting Lizzie Ficklen, Boyce asked her to marry him. Taken aback, Lizzie rebuffed her suitor, but only for a time. The two wed in December 1848 and together raised two daughters.

With the help of fellow Southern Baptists, Boyce brought his vision of a seminary for southerners to life. Southern Seminary opened in Greenville in 1859.

For almost thirty years, Boyce served as Southern's de facto president, although his official title was chairman of the faculty. He did not take the title of president until 1888, a year before his passing. Throughout his career, Boyce proved himself a skilled fundraiser and administrator, equally able to produce a financial miracle and quell a fractious moment. In the midst of continual hardship, Boyce devoted his time and his finances to Southern, all while he taught classes, led a Sunday School class at Broadway Baptist Church, and served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention for seven consecutive terms from 1872 to 1879, and in 1888. He also found time to write a catechism and a book, Abstract of Systematic Theology. The book was used in systematic theology classes for many years.

Boyce’s talent as an executive fostered much competition for his abilities. In 1868, the South Carolina Railway Company sought Boyce for its presidency, a position that promised a ten thousand dollar salary. Though this offer was extraordinarily attractive, Boyce declined it. Numerous colleges and universities also sought Boyce’s administrative gifts. In 1874, Boyce’s alma mater, Brown University, requested that he become its president, but he refused. He was thoroughly convinced that nothing he could do was more crucial to the gospel than his devoted service to the seminary. He had set his hand to the plow. Until death, he would not turn from his life’s work.

Boyce labored long in Louisville until illness drove him to seek recovery in Europe in 1888. Though his heart lifted in a visit to Charles Spurgeon, his health did not improve. Southern’s first president passed away on December 28, 1888. His legacy lives on to this day.”

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Not All History is Boring: Southern Seminary

Over the past fifteen months, I’ve had the privilege of working on an overview history of the seminary I attend, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, the seminary was founded in 1859. It’s one of the oldest seminaries in the world and has quite an interesting story behind it. Founded in doctrinal conservatism, the school sagged into liberalism in the twentieth century. The original vision of the school’s founders was only recently restored. In the 1980s and 90s Southern Baptist conservatives fought and defeated denominational liberalism and guided the seminaries, once nurseries for heresy, back to biblical fidelity.

The site is found here: Click on “The History of the SBTS” to see the content I authored. I’m sharing all this both because it’s a fun site and because, well, I wrote most of it. With the archivist here, Jason Fowler, we culled together writing and photographs that we think tell eloquently the story of Southern Seminary. I would encourage Consumed readers to check out the site for themselves and thus learn about the seminary.

Here’s a paragraph from the overview: “Southern encountered its first major controversy in 1879, when professor Crawford Howell Toy came under fire for his views. Toy was brilliant. He completed the seminary course in one year and pursued advanced studies in Berlin for additional years. He became Southern's fifth professor in 1869. Toy initially professed firm belief in biblical truth, declaring in his inaugural address that without the Bible, man is “on a boundless ocean, wrapped in darkness.” (1) But Toy embraced Darwinian evolution and naturalistic "higher criticism" of the Old Testament. He became convinced that Scripture contained error, science trumped Scripture's plain meaning, and conscience was the test of truth. The orthodoxy Toy claimed stood in stark contrast to the false interpretations he believed.”

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Conclusion to the Edification Series: Find Truth

Having covered extensively the effects of a “poison-pill” thinking on our own spirituality, I turn now to the way that this affects our daily lives. This blog brings us back to the question that started this whole deal: what is edifying? Here’s the wrap-up blog on this matter. Here are some principles to consider.

1) Be careful. If you know something makes you struggle, be careful about engaging it. I hesitate to say never engage it, because I believe in spiritual growth and victory over temptation. I am of course fully aware that certain things are reprehensible. Thinking of sexuality, because it's splattered everywhere, Christians should not view pornography. We should fast-forward sex scenes in movies. We should be very careful about art books and galleries and such things. Our eyes don’t simply view things. They take pictures of them, and those pictures stay in our minds, and come back to us. So be careful about what you engage. I would also say that I’ve dealt in this brief paragraph with sexual temptation, but Christians will need to apply this to countless temptations: stealing, swearing, cheating, violence, drugs, lawlessness, and the like. Know your weaknesses, and be careful about what you engage. And don’t worry about looking like a moralistic stick-up; far more important than man’s acceptance is God’s praise.

2) Find truth. Once you've developed a careful mindset, go out and engage with your world and find the goodness in it. Think of the world as if God has planted little Easter eggs of truth all over the place and then bidden you to find them. Go get 'em. Find what is true and good and beautiful in blues music, in artistical sculptures, in literary tomes. Find truth in Christian content, and find it in secular content. Find it in books on leadership, and find it in football games. Find it in Time, Relevant, and the New Yorker. Find it in John Piper, Mark Dever, and Nietzche. Find it in a devotional book, and find it in a fashion magazine. Find it in the Luther movie, and find it in The Thin Red Line. Find it in Shakespeare, and find it in W.E.B. Dubois. Find it in old hymns, new choruses, and Bob Dylan. Where truth is spoken, take it for yourself, own it, and treasure it. Though that egg be buried in a patch of manure, as it many times will be, prize it. In cultural insight, in practical parenting advice, in capturing the sadness of death, in depicting the happiness of birth, in a novel on teamwork, in the struggle of good against evil, in commentary on social graces, in all these and so much more, find truth. It’s not simply in your favorite Christian authors and musicians. It's in the Sierra Club and Democratic platforms and Libertarian arguments. It's in Kant, Frederick Weil, and Oprah. It’s all over the place. Find it.

3) Give God praise for His truth. This is the end of edification, that we would be built up in our love for God, and give Him our praise. This may seem like the throw-in point, but it’s definitely not. We must remember as we engage this world that it is God’s. He didn’t simply write the spiritual truth, contained in the Bible, and all the other stuff is caused by cosmic forces and junk like that. He is the very author of truth, and we must always remember that, and give Him praise for it. This reminds that the search for truth, for edification, is not simply a search for good earthly things. It is no less than a search for God and His work among us.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Does the Pure Planet Really Exist?

Once in a while, you think to yourself, are the members of the Pure Planet really that good? You’re sure they are, but then you have an unpleasant encounter with them, and you get to wondering. The one who has set the record for most souls witnessed to treats your rudely. The girl who sings in the praise band breaks your heart—and it’s because you’re not cool enough for her. The pastor shows a sign—just a hint—of being upset over response to his decision-making. You see all this, and you lose breath for a moment. Did that Pure Planet resident just do that?

And so you confront that person in their sin, and you find that far from receiving your rebuke, the so-called Pure Person fights you off. They deny wrongdoing and make you feel ashamed for bringing up the offense. A bit disillusioned, you walk away. Perhaps they’re a 90% resident of the Pure Planet, not 95%. Or, you think for a fleeting moment, they’re a sinner just like me, and their best is mixed with their worst. Then the thought passes.

The “poison-pill” division shares some blame for the shock we feel in such situations. I’ve labored it a bit for a reason: to show its bankruptcy. Unlike some would have us to believe, we are constantly sinning, whether we know it or not. We’re not simply sinning when we lust or swear or get drunk (the really putrefied stuff). We’re sinning more than we can ever know, in my biblically informed guess. We’re sinning in our best moments and our worst. Think about it—as long as we live on this earth, we’re never worshipping God as we ought. That’s the whole deal with heaven—when we go there, we do worship God as we ought. Here, however, our thoughts are “only evil continually,” according to Genesis 6:5. Due to sin, I’m quite sure that we often fail to sense what is bad in us. Often we do. But often we don’t. I am of the opinion put forth by Martin Luther that we are living out our wretchedness by the minute, by the second, not by the day or week. We’re evil beings, folks. Redeemed, but under the curse. And thinking that we can separate ourselves from this condition, even in a partial way, is not helpful. Sadly, we are continually swallowing poison-pills, whether we watch R-rated movies or not.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Edification: It’s Not That Simple, Bro

I introduced the idea of “poison-pill” thinking yesterday and tried to show that such division of the world into two categories is naïve. Beyond this, though, this categorization is unhelpful and harmful. In the next two days, I’m going to hash out two negative effects of such thinking.

This thinking leads many Christians to a false spirituality in which life is broken up into two spheres. The first sphere could be called “the pure planet.” In some weird sense, Christians transport themselves to this planet when doing such things as Bible study, prayer, church, witnessing, listening to Christian music, and singing in the choir. This is the realm of the uncontaminated. Hermetically sealed from sin, this is the place that most of us spend about 95% of our time in. Sadly, sometimes we speak a harsh word to someone or hear a curse word in a movie and come crashing to the other planet located 8 million miles away from the Pure Planet. This is the “putrefied planet” and consists of only horrible, stinky things. Thankfully, we don’t stay long on the Putrefied Planet, because we are in actuality quite good, and so are soon whisked away to the Pure Planet, where we breath rareified air and remain blissfully free for many hours from any semblance of sin. In fact, we probably crash to the Putrified Planet about six times a week; that’s how often we do a really noticeable sin, and those are what count, because the others can be explained away. We weren’t really jealous, we were just asking why they got the job we didn’t get. We weren’t really attacking our sister in Christ when we repeatedly made fun of her in front of others—we were just showing our playful side and making the conversation lighter. We didn’t really lust after that attractive guy or girl—after all, we’re sexual beings, and so that sort of thing is natural. These are the mantras of the inhabitants of the Pure Planet.

These people know they sin—of course! Oh, they will tell you, what a wretch I am! I’m just a nasty little person, a sinner saved by grace. Ask them how they’re doing, and they’ll quickly reply, fast as the words can come out, “BetterthanIdeserve!” And you’ll hear all this and believe them and the world is all good and understandable and you’ll envy them in your heart for the amount of time they spend on the Pure Planet. You see, you know your own heart, and you know deep in there, in the place where you’re really honest with yourself, that you don’t come close to a 95% inhabitancy rate. See, for some strange reason, probably some deep spiritual inadequacy, you see that your best is mixed with your worst. You see that in your good thoughts, there are bad thoughts that slip in. You know how you set out to have devotional times of uninterrupted piety but often, in the very middle of your Purest Time!, think or say sinful things. You know that in church, when you should be applying the carefully chosen words of your pastor to your heart, you’re thinking about basketball, or dating, or unfinished work, or how your hair looks, or what you’re going to do that afternoon. You see all this, and much, much more, and it troubles you. You seem to be a pretty committed member of the Putrefied Planet. In the next blog, we’ll see what happens when you, a citizen of Putrified, begin seeing what the members of Pure are really like.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Edification: It’s Not That Simple

I think that when faced with the questionable movie, art show, or book, the first instinct of many Christians is simply to cast out the material or ignore it. I recall one respected Christian leader characterizing material that had a mixture of good and bad moral content as “half a poison pill.” The message was that if media contains anything bad, anything “poisonous,” it’s fully harmful. The syllogism (if A=B and B=C, then A=C) is simple and forceful. After all, who of us mixes a little poison in our morning coffee? Can you see it at Starbucks? “Tall no-whip pumpkin spice latte two pumps of caramel and a little poison for Roger?” It’s preposterous.

Humor aside, I want to step carefully here. I hold in high esteem the preacher who introduced the “poison-pill” illustration. And as I’ve already covered this week, there is much in this world that is overwhelmingly harmful and must be avoided at all costs. So there is truth in this illustration. There is also, however, sweeping generalization. It’s of the kind that quickly convinces many who don’t think about it. For those who do, particularly those who blab away on blogs, however, something smells wrong, like recently purchased milk that’s a bit sour.

The world is filled with ugliness. It winds through everything and anything we see, infecting what is good, making what is bad worse. It is found in pre-school, middle school, and in high school. It is found at Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving, warm feelings not withstanding. It’s in Sunday school, the morning service, the evening service, the midweek service, and the Bible study. It is found in the best of motives, the purest of intentions, the strongest moral fiber. It sneaks into our mind during prayer, distracts us when we read our Bible, sucker punches us when all seems well and good. It’s in darling babies, really cute two-year olds, sparkling teens, idealistic college students, and charming businessmen. It’s in movies, plays, tv shows, biographies, children’s books, fables, nursery rhymes, rap songs, country songs, and Christian music. It’s in our favorite pastor’s sermon, our best friend’s advice, our trusted politician’s rhetoric. It’s seen on our faces. It’s hidden in our hearts. It’s never far. It’s always here. It’s a disease, a terminal illness, an affliction, a hindrance, an enemy, a force. Though it is our mortal enemy, it is our constant companion.

All the above explodes the idea that everything and everyone in the world is divided neatly and equally into two discernable categories—really good and really bad. Such thinking is naïve almost to the extreme. Now, I promised I would step carefully, and so I do. It is certainly true that much in this world is really good, and much is really bad. I hope that this is abundantly clear. But—and this is a hairpin but- much is neither bad nor good. To pretend this is so is head-scratchingly naïve. I would urge you to accept this idea right now: this is a conflicted, mixed, confusing little planet we inhabit. Often good stands removed from bad. But often good mixes with bad. Often falsehood tucks in beside truth. Often immorality blissfully coexists with morality. This is simply the fabric of our lives. Tomorrow, we’ll flesh this out more.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Edification: What is it?

Yesterday, we began thinking through the question of Christian engagement of worldly ugliness through a principle an astute reader brought up: edification. This was of course touched on in last week’s discussion, but it was only one of a number of ideas we touched on. It definitely merits more discussion, especially when one considers the important role edification plays in New Testament Christianity. Put simply, one could say that this quality is to characterize every aspect of the faith-filled life.

Okay, that’s all fine and good. Oftentimes, Christians can quickly identify what is right (edifying) and what is wrong (not edifying). This is an essential part of the “obedience of faith,” to use Paul’s potent summation of the Christian life. We are to train our minds to identify the good and evil in this world. Read 1 John. John sternly assures us that failure to do so consigns us to a dark and terrible way. On the other hand, success in this enterprise means we sight the narrow path those on the broad path to destruction cannot see. This is clearly a high-stakes affair. Our very soul is at stake.

But this is all easily applied when we are faced with the desire to watch pornography or not. Never, no, and not even. It’s not an option. So with slandering another person. Always wrong. And stealing music? Not a chance. These are easily sighted as immoral. They do not edify. But what about watching a movie that has some bad elements—language and some heated passion?

Well, speaking personally, I can’t say that I find these things edifying. I don’t. But what if the movie is engaging, enlightening, or even just entertaining? How do I weigh its relative edification factor? Or what if I go to an art gallery and there’s a bunch of cool art but there’s some funky stuff that pushes my moral categories? Some of the art, let’s say, makes me think about the nature of existence. That would seem to be edifying. Some of it displays the lewdness of sin. That is not edifying. Or take fiction. Let’s say I’m reading a powerful drama that tackles the great philosophical questions of life. That’s cool, and it builds me up as it causes me to consider the world God has made. But then there are some naughty passages. Well, the philosophy is cool and the naughtiness ain’t. What am I to do as a Christian seeking edification in my life? More on this tomorrow.