Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The University

Congratulations to those of you who correctly guessed the name of my proposed New England university. I opted for a hyphenated name: Pitino-Mohler University. Thanks to all who guessed.

Actually, the name I thought of was indeed Edwards University, which no less than three or four people guessed (not counting sarcastic answers, that is). I guess that one was a little obvious. But seriously, who better than Edwards to name a Reformed university that seeks to meld academic excellence with living orthodoxy? Edwards was briefly the President of the institution that became Princeton. It's time for a school that not only namechecks him but holds him up as lighthouse for the saints.

In a world of crazy ideas, this one ranks high, but I can't shake it. Growing up in New England, I would have loved a Wheaton-like school in New England to attend. There was Gordon College, which has many features to commend it, but there is no school that carries both exacting standards and Reformed theology. New England Theological Seminary was mentioned in the comments, but it's not really aspiring at this point to be a college and seminary--it's more of a ministry training program. Edwards University could have a strong undergraduate college offering students excellent instruction through a traditional liberal arts curriculum as well as a seminary to train pastors and missionaries. I'm not in any way seeking to subvert my own seminary, Southern Seminary, but not everyone can move to Louisville to attend school. The possibilities afforded by such an institution are exciting--and vast.

New England, once the brightest light of the country's regions, has seen that light die. There are a faithful few ministering in the Northeast, but not enough, and the quality of Christian education for both undergraduates and would-be ministers is lacking. Pray with me that, whether this crazy idea comes to fruition or not, the region that sleeps would once more awaken to the gospel.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A New Idea

I have an idea. It's a little crazy.

How about this: a Reformed university in New England that is devoted to first-rate academic scholarship and gracious orthodoxy.

How does that sound?

Let me know your thoughts. This week, I'll unveil my plan for this school, which as of now exists as but a figment of my own imagination. Included in the vision is a name, a very distinctive name, a name that captures the spirit of historic New England Christianity, one that is borne by one of New England's great lights.

So, until tomorrow, I'll leave it to you to puzzle this through and to figure out the name I have in mind. What is the name I'm thinking of for this Christian school? Leave your guesses in the "Comments" section (click on the little pencil at the bottom of this post). If you read this blog but have never posted a comment, please indulge me, and offer a guess.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Charles Sykes on the Modern Family

Charles Sykes is an incisive cultural critic. In A Nation of Victims, published in 1992, he offers the following thoughts that are relevant to this week's topic:

“In their eagerness to accommodate the needs of the new age, parents often willingly transferred the values of the therapeutic culture from the larger society to the family itself. Not only were children now accorded a standing once reserved for adults alone, but the family was increasingly expected to adopt the therapeutic values of “openness” and “sharing” that had once been reserved the controlled settings of psychotherapeutic counseling…

By transforming itself into a therapeutic entity, the modern family had eased the transition between traditional norms and the shifting values of society; it had erased the boundaries of particularity and idiosyncracy that had so often made the transition from childhood to adulthood awkward and painful. But by breaking down the walls that had shielded it from the outside world, the family had also robbed itself of the ability to provide a safe haven against shocks from without.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Loving Children in More Ways than One

The modern parent seems to see their child not so much as a soul to be led to God but as a spectacle. People today have children not so much to fulfill the creation mandate and nurture their children morally and spiritually but to show the child off, to develop them such that they are publicly presentable. As soon as they can, parents enter into arms races with other parents, each unit sweating to fashion their charge into the most publicly respectable creation possible.

Along the way, parents enjoy the attention that comes from their children. They call attention to their child, campaign for their child to star in various fora, and generally teach the child that it is the center of the universe. Rather than forcing the child to conform to societal standards and expectations, many parents today conform to the wishes of the child, choosing pacification of the temper over education of the conscience. It's an understandable trade-off. Discipline is hard and debilitating work involving continual attention and effort. Modern parents in particular seem to have little stomach for it and thus lose out on opportunities to form true character in their children.

This is, after all, what one loses when one exchanges temporary calm for permanent change. Sure, your child stops crying now, but it also learns that it can manipulate you and lead you. It learns that it's will trumps yours. I suspect that unless you start very, very early, your child will quickly learn to assume its dominance. The modern parent seems to know this but not to care very much, or to think that the consequences won't be so great. The results show otherwise: children, even Christian children, whose wills, not their parents, dominate the home. We who will be parents need to recognize this and to prepare ourselves to avoid the parental arms race and to reject laziness and weakness.

We need to be strong for our children, in order that they will be strong in the world.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Child-Centered Parenting

One of the things I'm noticing most lately is the tendency of Christians to live according to the world without realizing it. Part of this is natural. We are in the world, after all; and most of us do not wish to adopt an Amish-like lifestyle in which we become so "not of" this world that we look and live outside of it. So to some extent, it's entirely understandable that we live to some degree like the rest of the world, in terms of our dress, our living environment, and our personal interaction with others. Like Christ, we adapt to our context.

Yet we must also strive to swim against the tide in many respects. While the clothing we wear may acceptably be culturally conditioned (to a degree), our thought patterns must be conformed to Christ and not to this world. Most of us, I think, are far more adept at realizing where our clothing is out of line than we are at realizing where our thinking is out of line. What do I mean by this? Well, I'm confident that most Christians understand that they need to be pro-life. This is an extremely important matter. Yet most of us aren't as quick to see where we might have unwittingly adopted worldly attitudes in such areas as work or parenting. In areas that do not involve as stark a separation between right and wrong, I think we often fail to spot conformity to the world's thought patterns. Thus we live on a daily basis in (unwitting) rebellion to God's wisdom.

One of the ways we do this in our age, I think, is to parent with the mindset that our homes and our social lives are child-centered. This is a very recent development in terms of American culture. The culture at large subscribed to a very different model of child-rearing in years past than we do today. Now, children dominate their parent's lives, and parents cater to every whim of their children. Before, parents raised children to be seen and not heard. Now, it often seems that parents raise children in order that they will be seen and heard, so maximal is their cuteness and charm. Now, there is probably some level of appropriateness in this tendency. Past generations likely did not enjoy their children enough, and likely stifled some of the fun and joy that comes with raising children. But in correcting that tendency, it is my opinion that many parents, even Christian parents, have gone too far the other way.

I have been in numerous social settings in the last two years in which children were allowed and almost encouraged to dominate social settings. I don't agree with such a parenting style. It teaches children to be narcissistic and to think of themselves too highly. Children should not dominate adult-settings. They should primarily listen and learn when they are around adults. They should be taught to respect the social settings in which they find themselves and to not perform or call attention to themselves. Surely, there is a place for delighting in children. We must do so. But there is clearly a category of behavior that is over-indulgent, and I wonder whether many Christian households have accepted such a style, and so conformed to the world's patterns without even knowing it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Paper Writing on John

I'm currently writing a paper on the theme of the power of Christ's word as portrayed by John in his Gospel. It's an interesting theme, but it makes for alot of writing. That makes for little time for blogging. So, in lieu of posting something original, I will give you something noteworthy to think about from the Bible. I love difficult, strange, and fascinating passages of the Bible. It's always cool to encounter something foreign, something divine, in the Word. I find that people often overlook such passages because they don't understand them. Here's one such passage: John 18:4-6, where Jesus causes a most strange reaction from the cohort of Roman soldiers who have come at Judas's lead to arrest Him. (Interesting note: cohorts numbered between 600-1000 men. This event was pretty earth-shaking, literally and figuratively.)

I'll leave you with a question, one that I have been seeking to answer in writing this paper: is the reaction of the soldiers who seek to arrest Christ voluntary or involuntary? Are they struck down by the majesty of Christ, or do they recoil in fear at His use of the divine name ("I am")? Let me know what you think.

John 18:4-6 4 So Jesus, aknowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" 5 They answered Him, "Jesus the Nazarene." He said to them, "I am He." And Judas also, who was betraying Him, was standing with them. 6 So when He said to them, "I am He," they drew back and fell to the ground.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Recommended Music: Stars of Track and Field

Just how many bands are out there right now, making music, hoping to be the next big thing? As many, I would guess, as there are stars in the sky. In an age when most anyone can afford recording equipment, everyone could be the next Dylan, the next Derek Webb, the next Common.

Which leads me to recommend one of those small stars in the sky: Stars of Track and Field. Until this week, I had never heard of them. Now I've listened to them steadily all week. I highly recommend their music. It fuses electronic music, haunting rock, and that intangible "catchy" element that every group craves. The end result is a 38 minute album that is wistfully beautiful. They are not, to my knowledge, a Christian band, but neither do they produce objectionable content. I know very little about this band, and that's part of the fun. I like hearing music that hasn't been hyped to the point of overheated. It's truly enjoyable to find gems out there, bands that make thoughtful and meaningful music without the crudities of the modern industry. One of my aims on this blog is to introduce my reader base (of four people, approximately) to good art. This band makes good art. Great to study to, drive to, think to.

Plus, with a name like "Stars of Track and Field," they're worth checking out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Anti-Authoritarianism in Myself

Here's my last post on this topic. It's prompted by a comment from my friend Jed, who asked me if my latest thoughts on authority represent a departure from earlier statements I made about earrings, clothing, and contextualization. I haven't worked out everything regarding contextualization. It's a tricky matter, and I'm a long way from understanding how it plays out. However, I can say that in the area of personal style and dress, my convictions have shifted.

I've changed my stance toward authority after studying the roots of anti-authoritarianism. An attitude hostile to authority is in no sense biblical or Christian. Instead, it is entirely secular. It springs from the zeitgeist of the 60s and 70s, in which twentysomethings rebelled against anything and everything: God, adulthood, the church, fashion, music, literature, the state, the list goes on. These decades provide the basis for the rebellious spirit so prevalent today. After really looking into this era and its attitude, I have realized that it is sinful and altogether unglorifying to God to adopt an anti-authority stance.

This blog is about ideas. It's not a journal. However, I should tell you that my research has led me to take personal action. I'm still thinking through how and where I rebel against authority, and I'm working hard to counteract those areas with a sanctified attitude. Where I used to grow my hair long, I've now cut it. 60s men grew their hair long to thumb their noses at traditional masculine notions of appearance. I don't want to do that. Such behavior reflects immaturity and a sinfully undeveloped response to authority and responsibility.

So there you have it. I'm by no means settled on these matters--I've got alot of thinking and growing to do. I am committed to a life of self-examination and change, not so that I can proudly survey my life, but so that I can pursue humility and character. This is what God requires of us--not that we grow comfortable with ourselves and then cease to question our practices, but that we continually examine ourselves in order to mortify sin and embrace the holiness of God.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New 9Marks Article

For those of you who don't check the 9Marks website, I want to point out an article I wrote on pastoral discipleship that was just published. It's called "Befriending Timothy." Read it if you can and let me know what you think.

Here's a teaser from the article.

"The universe operates according to a cause-and-effect framework. When matter is acted upon, change happens. When a match is struck, fire flares. When food cooks, hungry stomachs grumble. And when a pastor befriends a young man, the kingdom advances.

This last equation might seem simplistic. But God doesn’t need us to conduct mass evangelistic rallies or dream up growth plans with S-curves. He simply calls wise men of God to befriend young men and disciple them for ministry. When God’s shepherds invest in young Christian men by befriending them, the young men will be transformed. When they are transformed, they are hungry to minister to others."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Right Responses to Authority

As Christians, we're pretty good at spotting the sins we hear talked about alot in church: failing in our devotion to God, lusting, getting angry, and that sort of thing. All of these things need to be addressed and fought with the Spirit's power. However, I don't think we give enough attention as Christians to more foundational sinful postures like anti-authoritarianism. We focus a great deal on the moment-by-moment sins but almost forget that a mindset that, though devoted to Christ, is anti-authority is greatly dishonoring to God. We ought to realize this and to fight it with the same devotion that we fight other, more noticeable sins.

That said, here are a few ways we can respect authority as Christians.

Respect your elders--This can have a double meaning, which I realized as I wrote it. Actually, I like both meanings. We live in an age of ageism. That is, we preference youth and disdain old age. This is unbiblical and disrespectful. We ought to look up to the elderly among us. Though they were not perfect, they contributed in many ways to a strong, safe, and moral America. There was much good in them. We should respect the elderly and not mock or belittle them.

In addition, we should respect our church elders (if your church doesn't have elders, it should). We should not seek to make their lives difficult or to make some sort of wicked game in which we constantly question them and snipe at them. That is not a helpful practice and I would go farther than this: such an attitude is sinful. I see this some in my seminary context and it is disappointing. Again, you do not need to think that your elders are perfect. You can critically evaluate their decisions. But you should do with caution and in moderation.

Respect traditional societal mores--Not all of them, obviously, but in things like dress, demeanor, and style you should adopt a posture of general conformity. No, you didn't read me wrong. I actually suggested that you conform. I know you've been taught that that is the peak of heinous thought, but you've been taught a lie. It's good to conform to many things. As a Christian, don't try to change the world's dress code or some stupid thing like that. Instead, adopt a posture of general respect. You can be original without going to extremes to show that you are. Don't conform to anti-conformity. Instead, respect your culture and participate in it as a positive, not a negative presence.

Respect the government and law--If you've paid attention to entertainment culture of the past few decades, you've noticed that it is often anti-government and anti-law. That's because lots of entertainment is made by immature people. We should note this as Christians and rebel against such an attitude. We should speak well of our government and the law which together bring great order and prevention to society. Many among us thumb their noses at the government just because it has power. We ought not to do so. We should, per Romans 13, respect our officials and the work they do. The government isn't all corrupt; it's not stupid; voting isn't pointless; and we shouldn't act on such principles. They're lazy and not well thought out and they don't reflect a godly attitude towards our earthly officials.

So there you go. I'll leave it to you to figure out a bunch more on your own. Remember, the point is not to compose a book of situational guidelines, but to seek to glorify God by respecting the authority that exists in the earth He has made.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Anti-Authoritarianism and Aversion to Tradition

My generation was raised hating tradition. I'm not sure exactly who decided that tradition was a horrible thing, but suffice it to say that we got the memo. We think tradition of most any kind is awful and to be cast off.

This is an unfortunate viewpoint. Tradition is not holy, in and of itself. It's not above questioning or revising. Not at all. But neither is tradition ontologically our sworn enemy. In fact, I would argue that we should adopt a generally friendly stance to tradition. This is very far from what my generation thinks. We think that the only reason tradition exists at all is to be torn down. With the generation before us, we've done our best to accomplish this end. We've made our own music, created our own dress codes, fashioned our own vocabulary, and done pretty much whatever we can think of to sever our links to older and thus outmoded generations. This is an unfortunate practice. There is no need to lionize tradition. To do so is to place oneself on shaky ground, because mere traditions in and of themselves are not holy or perfect. Perhaps we can be balanced and say that some past generations have, in the interest of exalting tradition, suppressed originality and creativity. That was a mistake (a big one) and we should avoid it. However, one does not have to idolize tradition to appreciate it.

Now, you might push me by asking me what concretely I'm talking about. I would answer by saying that I'm actually not talking about any certain style or preference. I'm talking about a general aversion to tradition, the presupposition inherent in many of my peers that any sniff of an established practice is foul. If you are a Christian, and you are reading this, you should know that you have been taught by the culture at large to despise and scoff at tradition. You have been taught that tradition is a form of suppression and domination and that in order to be truly authentic and a person of integrity, you should "fight the man" and stick it to him wherever you can. This is a horrible attitude, one rooted in anti-authoritarianism and an over-reaction to a society that did in some ways stifle creativity and originality. Note that carefully: over-reaction. Past generations were repressed, life was overly formal, creative and original thinkers were largely shunned. Okay, there is some truth to those ideas. Most of us, if we think hard, can agree on that. But instead of siding with our culture, and reacting to these facts with derision, we can seek to calmly and respectfully correct them, and avoid the kind of anti-authority attitude that so dominates today.

This attitude has caused much harm to the church. We throw out old music because it's old, ignore the richness of history because it's ancient, and battle against church customs that are cherished. In none of these areas should we necessarily embrace all forms of tradition. But in none of them should we categorically reject all traditions. If we act in this way, we are not acting neutrally. We are following the anti-authority patterns of our generation. Those patterns in many ways are sinful. As a generation of Christians, we need to re-examine our approach to tradition, and see where we have sinfully despised it, where we may appreciate it, and how we may rebel against the rebellion of our age. Tomorrow, we'll look specifically at what we can do to rebel.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Anti-Authoritarianism in the Church

If your head is not in the sand, then you probably know that the culture at large is in rebellion against authority. We of the postmodern era distrust authority in all its forms. We don't trust the government, we don't trust written texts, we don't trust the author's original intent, we don't trust the police, we ignore basic rules and regulations of society, we don't vote, we are cynical toward those who are in leadership roles, and the list goes on. We, in the words of a video game company, "question everything."

As Christians, we should recognize this fundamental attitude not only in society but in ourselves. It's very easy for us to shake a finger at a disobedient world. It's not so easy to point that finger at ourselves. Yet if we look deeply enough, we'll see that we are not, as we might think, isolated from the sins of our generation. Most of us have actually imbibed a fair amount of prevailing generational thought, though we don't realize it. So think for a moment: how do you naturally distrust and dislike authority? How do you express these tendencies? If you look deeply enough, I'm guessing you'll find some native rebellion in your heart, rebellion that exists for no good reason--but that exists nonetheless.

To apply this to the church (which I'll do in subsequent posts), I can clearly see how my generation is anti-authority. We were raised amidst rancor for tradition and clamor that Christianity is about relationship, not religion. There are seeds of truth in both of these statements, to be sure. There are also seeds of anti-authoritarianism. I don't think most of us know that. We just go our merry way and think that church should be structured as best we see fit and that church is for us--not that we are for the church. This tendency has splashed itself all over Christianity in this age. I recall being quite befuddled when a fellow college student suggested to my men's small group that we not have a leader, because leaders dominate things and repress others. I didn't understand then as I do now the roots of such a statement, but I did know that such a notion was ridiculous. Now, I understand that it also shows a heart allergic to authority, one unable to submit itself to a leader. This is a huge problem, because our fundamental need in life is to submit ourselves to God.

Sadly, my generation thinks it is doing so if it is honest with God. Because we've made ourselves and our desires the center of our world, we don't think it's most important to obey God's authority. We think it's most important to obey our own intangible wills and worship God as we see fit. Strangely, we pat ourselves on the back for such action, because we're being authentic, and being authentic, instead of being obedient, is the cardinal principle for us. We don't realize that the back we pat is turning itself away from authority--and perhaps, away from God.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Roots of Anti-Authoritarianism

This post, like many others, will have to be far briefer than it should be. The title of this blog leads one to a great number of factors that have contributed to an anti-authority attitude. However, there are several that I will highlight here.

First, and this will surprise some who know my theological commitments, Luther's 95 Theses in 1517 contributed to an anti-authority attitude. Please understand me here. I am not saying that what Luther did was wrong or that he was himself sinfully trying to undermine authority. I don't think that's true at all. However, his actions did lead many of his countrymen to revolt and to sinfully rebel against the government. Such rebellion was put down, but one could say that this was the first historical example of a society turning in on itself, and the common people achieving a significant degree of rebellious success.

The major contributing factor to the prevailing anti-authority attitude was the Enlightenment, which emphasized as its major principle the autonomous will and reason of man over against the authority of God. Prior to the Enlightenment, every person who lived, essentially, believed that God held the uppermost authority. Post-Enlightenment, however, the European citizen came to view himself as an autonomous being. Thus, the French Revolution, in which the French citizenry did in fact overthrow the reigning government (prompting the celebration of Bastille Day--think about it: should a French Christian celebrate this day?). In addition, the American Revolution represents a revolt against established authority. One cannot swiftly say that this event was wrong, but surely this event represented a negative response to established authority (whether just or unjust). It also gave rise to Modernism, in which man himself is central, autonomous, and uninhibited (purportedly) by sin. Man's reason discovers truth, not the leading of God's Spirit. In pre-Modernism, authority was located in God's Word. Now, it was untethered and subject to the whims of man.

It took many years for Enlightenment thought to ferment. When it did, in the late nineteenth century, it overthrew the authority of the Bible and the Christian church. This began in Europe and spread all over the globe. Men began to realize that truth located outside of a greater authority was no truth at all, and Existentialism arose, causing men to doubt the meaning of, well, anything. This coincided with the rise of psychology in the mid-twentieth century, which displaced religion as the explanatory principle of man. Now, the self was not only central, it was worshipped. Existentialism gave way to nihilism in the mid-twentieth century. Nihilism led to societal revolt as seen in the Hippy movement and other threads. The Hippies grew up and became postmodernists, which meant that they no longer believed even in the reality of truth, as the modernists did. Thus, the rebellion was complete. Without any greater truth, man could live how he wanted. And thus came the spirit of anti-authoritarianism that we know so well today.

Monday, January 08, 2007


After a long hiatus, I'm back. Hope everyone out there had nice breaks. My wife and I had a wonderful first Christmas here in Kentucky and then a wonderful second Christmas in Maine. We're back in the swing of things, and I'm itching to blog.

I want to talk this week about the anti-authority attitude so common today, particularly among my generation and the generation that raised it, the Boomer generation. I've been thinking a good deal about the basic attitudes that lie under one's worldview. There are whole currents of thought that exist in our mind that we are not able to see (until we think deeply and then have discussions). In the Christian world, we are trained to see our sin, so we are trained in one sense to look deeply into ourselves and examine ourselves. We do not play the games of hide-and-seek with our sin that the lost world tragically does. We understand ourselves to be sinners and so we take pains to point out to ourselves our sins. We then confess and fight them for all our days.

Yet while we're pretty adept at confessing the moment-by-moment sins, the lustful looks and angry thoughts, we're not so good at spotting the major attitudes that underlie our sins and drive our behavior. We also naturally suffer from generational blindness, whereby we think every generation has thought and lived just as we do. In fact, we are all conditioned and affected by our generation. We may not be in wholesale agreement with it, for sure. But there are all kinds of major attitudinal areas that we do not see that inform and drive our behavior. I want to look at those areas in coming days. So this week, we'll look at how we quietly (and not so quietly) anti-authority. We'll examine this trend in the culture and in the church. I hope you'll converse with me as we think about this together.