Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cultivating Femininity in Our Daughters: Coed Sports

Everyone loves a good cookout volleyball game. Or a fun coed wiffleball or ultimate frisbee game. Those sorts of activities can be really enjoyable, and I've personally had alot of fun in such settings. Coed sports can be fun when they're relaxed. But when one wants to play seriously (an amusing phrase), the benefits of coed sports plummet.

In our egalitarian age, guys and girls often compete seriously together. I, for one, almost never enjoy this. When I want to play seriously, I want to play hard, physically, and without worrying about contact with the opposite sex. Playing with girls changes the whole feel of the game. One goes from enjoying the game to worrying about how the girl is doing, or whether or not one should make contact with her. I've played basketball now in several leagues in which girls played with guys, and I've always strongly disliked it. Girls should play with girls, and guys should compete with guys. Men are almost always stronger and rougher and they most enjoy playing with fellow men, who they don't have to worry about hurting or embarassing. Even in Christian circles, though, the sexes play together. This shocks me. Egalitarianism has truly taken hold of our culture.

This is not an issue of incredible importance, but I am trying to point out one small way in which a larger system--egalitarianism--manifests itself in our society. I am also attempting to say that most Christians, I think, don't even think this matter through. They simply assume that the way the society works is the way it should work. This is a poor assumption. We need to question everything our culture puts before us. We need to examine it, and to examine the Bible, and then approach the culture. We do not simply assume that what secular society promotes is a good thing. Often the ideas and principles it puts forth are antithetical to conformed Christianity, yet few of us realize this. I'm going to do a larger series on sports later (I've done little ones before), but for now, I want to hold up the example of sports. How many of us really think through how much time we should devote to them? And, once we've committed to sports, how much do we think about how we participate in them? I fear that the answer for most us is this: very little.

With that said, then, I want to encourage Christians to keep the sexes separate in matters of serious competition and sport. Egalitarianism is not a good thing, and neither are its trickle-down effects. When I exercise or play, I don't want to have to worry about a woman boxing me out. I don't want a woman to whom I am not married making any more physical contact with me than is absolutely necessary--and the contact found in pickup basketball, for instance, is certainly not necessary. I don't want to have to take it easy, or not play as hard, or be worried about a woman's feelings while I'm exercising. I propose that we return sports and lots of other areas in life to their former place of non-complication (to invent a word) and reclaim sacred spaces for men and women. Though egalitarianism speaks loudly to us, we don't have to listen. We can instead focus our attention on cultivating biblical masculinity and femininity, a discipline for which most of us need far more "practice" than we receive.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cultivating Femininity in Our Daughters: On Sports and Culture

There is no perfect standard by which to measure which sports girls might play, as Stephen suggested (check out his interesting blog here). With this subject, we're going to have to do what we do on a constant basis as Christians: discern. Think. Cogitate. There aren't necessarily easy answers to this question, and so we'll need to think wisely about how we can cultivate a gentle, beautiful femininity in our daughters.

In doing so, we will be going against the cultural grain. Women in cultural media today are shockingly aggressive, tough, and take-charge. The image sold over and over again in films and tv is that women should be all of these things, that they essentially have no need of men, and that their fundamental disposition should be hard-nosed, independent, and aggressive. Just take a look at popular television shows and high-grossing films and you will see this type of character pop up continuously. Whether they all seek to do so intentionally or not, the media of our country parades before us countless female characters who exhibit everything but biblical femininity.

Sports comes into our discussion because it is one of the primary training grounds for aggressive, hard-nosed femininity. Coaches treat girls much like boys, develop their bodies in similar ways, and develop attitudes that smack of independence and toughness. This may work for winning games, but it doesn't help to develop godly femininity. As Christians, we don't our girls to be just like our boys. We don't them to be tough and bulky, hard-charging and gritty. We want them to be sweet and gentle. We don't them to be aggressive in a physical or even social sense. We want them to learn to follow, to be sweet-spirited, to be kind. We don't want our girls to bulk up like guys, to physically resemble men save for a few differences. I know I'm speaking a bit directly here, but I very much mean what I say, and I suspect that others share my opinion. A girl can't help her natural build, but she can avoid packing on muscle and girth in the way that guys do. Sports encourages girls to be tomboys, which is a telling word, because in entering into lots of high-contact athletic activity, girls do indeed become more like boys in many ways, some of which I've outlined here. Watch the WNBA or some other such league, and you see just this: women who look and act more like men than women. This is not a good thing, and we should guard against it in our homes.

As I said yesterday, there are some sports that I think are fine for women. Tennis and volleyball come to mind. Should I ever have daughters, and should be they be athletic, I'm going to encourage them to head more toward these sports than the high-contact sports. Should I have boys, I'll push them more towards sports like basketball, baseball, or soccer. I want my boys (should I have any) to be tough, strong, and take-charge. I want them to have the smell and look of boys. On the other hand, I want my girls to be gentle, sweet-spirited, and decidedly girly. Somewhere along the way, it became a bad thing for a girl to be girly. It is my hope that Christians will reclaim this special space, and that we will raise our girls to be feminine, kind, and beautiful in mind, body, and soul. Our girls will be quite different than those around them, but isn't that sort of the point of Christianity to begin with?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cultivating Femininity in Our Daughters: On Sports

I'm not sure how this blog series will be received. Like some of my past series on gender, it might arouse some ire. I'm at least hoping it will foster some discussion. Essentially, I want to look this week at how we can counteract the culture of egalitarianism and feminism and instill a sense of biblically informed femininity in our daughters. Today, I'm going to think through sports, and how involved girls should be in them.

To look at the culture is to gaze at egalitarianism largely recognized. In short, women do most everything men do. They fight, they police, they wrestle, they play all the same sports. Most of us, I think, don't notice these changes. Many of us, after all, grew up in classrooms awash--if quietly so--in feminism and egalitarianism. We were taught that feminism--the movement to aggressively battle men for cultural space and reassert "rights"- and egalitarianism--the movement to abolish gender distinctions and allow men and women to function in the same social roles--were unquestionably right. The church did little to speak back to the culture. In some circles, especially fundamentalist churches, Christians did mount a backlash against feminism, albeit a defensive and often caustic one. In general, Christians have done a very poor job of making a case for biblical femininity, observing where society has departed from this standard, and then applying scriptural truth to womanhood. The results? Many Christian women live according to the same egalitarian principles that unsaved women do. This is a bad situation, one that requires serious thought and reflection.

In thinking through this issue, there won't be alot of texts to support my conclusions, at least not explicitly. But that's no excuse to not think through things. We constantly have to study the Bible and then attempt to apply it to our lives. The Bible, frankly, doesn't say a great deal about a whole lot of things, but that doesn't mean we don't apply its principles to our lives and seek to fashion an ethic by which to live wisely. We do this constantly, on global warming, on banking, on fair trade, on raising children, on conducting church life, and so on. When it comes to girls and sports, then, I don't have a text to point to. Neither do I think I need to. I am not preaching a sermon but simply attempting to spark some thought.

I would simply say, then, that I think it is best to not involve our daughters in contact sports and to leave such hobbies to boys. In my opinion, heavy contact sports do not befit femininity. Womanhood need not be weak or bereft of activity, but I think it best to lead our daughters away from sports like football, basketball, hockey, and lacrosse. Women were not made to be rugged and brutish, as men were. They were not made to bear the burdens that men were made to bear. Women were not called to go to war, to defend their home, and to cultivate great strength. Men, on the other hand, were called to all of these responsibilities. Men are called to be strong, to be tough, to have a rough-and-tumble mindset. We men ought not be fragile or delicate. We should be strong. Contact sports cultivate such a mindset and a disposition, and so it is best that men engage in them, and that women engage in other sports that allow them to compete, exercise, and have fun without the need to become brutish. We want to encourage femininity in women. We want women to be different from men. We do not want them to become egalitarian. We want our men to protect our women. It is best that we leave contact sports to men, in order that we might cultivate femininity that shines and sparkles and stands different from a culture in which women are encouraged to adopt masculine traits and attitudes. In a world infatuated with secular notions of womanhood, we need to stand up for biblical femininity. Sometimes, for a girl, that action means sitting down.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Christian's Place in Society: Respectful and Law-Abiding

Selection from Romans 13:1-2

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment."

Later on in this same chapter the apostle Paul brings up the notion of "respect." He encourages Christians to go beyond mere obedience to the law, and to adopt a posture of congeniality to one's government and ruling officials (when possible). This is a simple but potent idea for the Christian. He is not simply to trudge about, following the rules of the state. He is to exude a healthy warmth for his country and locality and is to mark himself as one who strives to obey the law and his officials.

This section in Romans 13 comes immediately after a lengthy section on conformity to Christ. This shows us that one's relationship to the law closely reflects our level of Christian maturity. Less mature believers show less respect for the law and the state. More mature believers show more mature respect for the state. One's attitude to one's government and one's involvement in it is thus a much stronger indicator of our conformity to Christ than many Christians think. On a list of entities and groups to which we are to concern ourself, I think many of us would rank "respect for government" very far down--maybe number 15, or perhaps number 20. In the Bible, however, Paul's section on government follows directly a more abstract section on Christian conformity, indicating to us that our attitude to the government and our conduct within society is far more tied to our level of godliness than we might think. In voting, obeying laws and rules, speaking well of our authorities, praying for them, paying our taxes fairly, and other such deeds, Christians show that we are a unique people, a people who honor our government and submit to it when it in turn honors and respects us.

The Christian, then, is to take pains to adopt a respectful attitude, even as he remembers his roles as hated citizen, gospel witness, and prophetic voice. The Christian in society does not choose one of these roles. Instead, he merges all of them, and seeks to fulfill all of them with courage and conviction. In this way, he mirrors his Savior, who paid His taxes, spoke the gospel, denounced individual and societal evil, and bore the hatred--and the sin--of wretched, fallen man on His cross of redemption.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Christian's Place in Society: Prophets in Khakis and Skirts

Selection from Matthew 14:1-4

"At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him." For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her."

The Christian in society must not conform to society but must seek to speak biblical truth in the cultural conversation. As far too many Christians did in the twentieth century, he cannot withdraw from society. He must speak the gospel to it. But he must also speak the truth of the Bible to it. He must engage the world by a simple process:

1) Know biblical teaching.
2) Know secular thinking.
3) Speak against secular thinking through biblical witness.

If such activity seems rather modern to you, it's not at all. This is exactly what John the Baptist did in the selected passage above. He knew biblical teaching (that adultery was wrong); he observed secular behavior (Herod was committing adultery with Herodias); and he spoke against it. For this courageous, commendable action, John was imprisoned. His head was then cut off and brought as a party favor to Herodias. The Christian who speaks prophetically thus places himself in a place to be quite literally cut out of society.

Christians like Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Albert Mohler, men who speak prophetically to the culture, too often speak alone. Christians are not to allow social concerns to overwhelm gospel concerns. But neither are they to neglect social concerns. John the Baptist had a very important and significant ministry as the forerunner to Christ, but this did not stop him from speaking out against sin. But we should back up a bit here. Let's think about this. Speaking out against social sins or particular sins of a prominent individual is itself a form of gospel witness. One is identifying sin, calling it what it is, directing public attention to it. This paves the way for a gospel witness. The gospel is two-sided, after all. We speak negatively first, showing men their sin and future damnation. We speak positively second, telling men of the great hope that is found in Christ. This is how the Old Testament prophets spoke, this is how John the Baptist spoke, this is how Christ spoke, this is how Paul spoke. This is how we should speak, and we should do so without fear for our lives or reputations. Only concern for God's glory and the advancement of His Kingdom should fill our minds. Death and hatred will come--but so too will heaven, and a heavenly reward for faithfulness.

The Christian in society cannot conflate the gospel with political and social concerns. But neither can he neglect his role as a God-appointed prophet to the culture. He must speak the truth on matters just as John the Baptist did, identifying right and wrong and offering the gospel as the world's only hope of salvation from its sin. He is not to speak only the gospel; he is not to lie low until it may be spoken; and he is not to speak to the world only through social ministries. He is to be John the Baptist to his office, to his child's playgroup (speaking of mothers), to his bank teller, to his rec league friends, to his parents, to his children. When wrong is uttered, and foul ideas propagated, the Christian is to speak. Though believers do not wear the garb of John the Baptist, though they shave slightly more often, still the Christian is a prophet, albeit a prophet in khakis or a skirt.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Christian's Place in Society: Salt, Light, and a Force for Good

Selections from Matthew 5:13-16

"You are the salt of the earth...You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven."

The Christian has a clear place in society. He is not to seek glory and honor for himself. He is not to simply scold the culture. He is to be a force for good. We deduce from this biblical teaching that we are not to separate from society but to plunge ourselves into it in order that our good works would show and the Father would be glorified.

Wherever the Christian is, you should see light. Wherever the Christian goes, you should taste salt. The life of a Christian should look and taste differently than the life of an unbeliever. Goodness, holiness, love, and conviction should emanate from the believer. Christians should pursue placement in all levels of society. We ought not to aim solely for the lower class, the middle class, or the upper class. We should come together as one diverse, glorious body on Sundays and then scatter all over the place throughout the week. As we go, we brace ourselves for hatred and condenscension, ugliness and awkwardness. If such elements are not in our life, we are not blessed, and we are not tasting like salt and looking like light. The Christian's place in society is to do the work the Lord places before him. He need not worry over that work or see it as a subpar duty. The Lord calls few to ministry and many to non-ministerial vocations. It is His design to do so. So Christians should labor with joy in their callings, knowing that they have been placed in that post by God to be a light to their specific group of peers. It is essential that we grasp this notion of placement. God is sovereign, and so we do not "end up" in different places and jobs--we are placed there to smack of God.

The Christian's calling to be a force for good necessarily involves the proclamation of the gospel, however. Believers rightly recognize that all work done for God's glory is honoring to the Lord and thereby valuable, but they also realize that they were not saved simply to labor productively and cheerfully but to flood dark places with light. The light beams when the gospel is shared. It is right, then, that believers of all vocations and backgrounds actively work for the spread of the gospel. God places us in society, gives us diverse tasks and duties, and these are all good, but He also bids us share the gospel with the lost (Rom 10). Christians are right to witness on the weekend at the mall or on the beach, but in calling most of us to non-ministerial vocations the Lord has directly answered our prayers to be witnesses to the lost. Again, you are placed in your work for a reason. Your work is your mission field. Strive to be the best employee you can be, but strive with equal effort to be a faithful witness. The Christian's place in society is always that of missionary, whether to elementary schools, to fellow stay-at-home moms, to corporate elites, or to construction workers. In all of these places and to all of these people, the Christian must look, and taste, different.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Christian's Place in Society: the Hated

A recent study of academics showed overwhelming bias against evangelicals. More than half of the professors polled by a Jewish research group indicated that they thought unfavorably of Christians. This study, if you have not heard of it, put into concrete terms what many Christians know on a very practical level: many people hate them. For a few days, I want to consider just what exactly our place in society is.

I went to a secular New England college (Bowdoin College) that did not have a single evangelical on its faculty. There was one--yes, one--evangelical among the administration officers. The college, founded on staunch Congregationalism of the Edwardsean stamp, has successfully scrubbed itself clean of even a remote connection to its Christian heritage. This is quite a trend in higher education. Here's a little exercise for you that will show the truth of this assertion. Go to the "History" webpages of places like Bowdoin, Yale, Princeton, or Harvard, places that were founded in devotion to biblical Christianity for the training of ministers and Christians in broader society. You will find on such pages only the most cursory mention of the Christian roots of these schools and many others. Once accorded a place of prominence in America, now evangelical Christianity is hated. We are the despised.

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 not to expect any differently. The world is going to hate you, Paul says. Gear up. You're going to be despised. You're going to be seen as foolish. To apply his words to our context, we might say by way of paraphrase that, while we will not be eaten by lions or thrown into prison for our faith, we will be rejected by admissions committees and avoided at faculty luncheons. We may not suffer the loss of our homes, but we will surely suffer the loss of our reputation when fellow workers discover our beliefs. The reason is simple. Men hate the gospel. It convicts them of sin, tells them they're going to hell for eternity, and assures them that their only hope is the exercise of repentant faith in the existence, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Now the problem only lengthens and broadens when one considers that Christians, unlike adherents of other religions, are stubbornly committed to sharing this message with anyone they can as often as they can. Such behavior breaks all of the social codes of our world, for even when people of today practice an absolutist faith, they keep their practice as quiet as possible. Religion is allowed to change a postmodern person, but it is never allowed to offend others. Faith must never bleed over into the lives of one's peers. Faith for the postmodern is happily, snugly compartmentalized, and so Catholics, Jews, and Muslims may live the same life six-and-a-half days a week, excepting a few hours for the performance of one's religious ritual. What an age we have. One almost longs for the days when the different religions disliked one another. At least we then observed some measure of authenticity in religious practice. Now, religions that formerly thundered whisper to themselves in society's corner, keeping desperately quiet so as not to bother anyone else.

Christians are, with a few exceptions, the last to proclaim absolutist religious ideas to the culture. We have always done so, and it is right that we have--after all, we are those who have been allowed to find the Way, to believe the Truth, to live the Life. We do not shirk the necessary proclamation of the truth by hiding our absolutism behind social work and a positive media image. Au contraire, we speak the Gospel. We have always been hated for doing so. But now, we are left alone to voice our beliefs. We thus make ourselves exceedingly good targets for the natural man. While only 3 percent of professors dislike Jews, and only 13 percent dislike Catholics, over 50 percent of our nation's intelligentsia hate us. In seeking to locate our seat in the great hall of society, then, we find it rather quickly. We are the hated. To varying degrees, we have always sat in this seat. It is just that now we sit alone. I suppose it is best that this is so. After all, our denigration is itself a form of prominence. We are the most hated, and the publicity that accrues from such a honor draws men to consider us--if only for a moment before they reject us. In that sense, one is reminded of Another who occupied this chair--that is, until death took Him from it. We sit in His seat now, waiting for the day when He will smash it and all others and claim His rightful chair, which, if I'm not mistaken, takes the form of a throne.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: Practical Suggestions

Leave it to guys to keep asking me for suggestions. We're practically minded, many of us, and so we want to know what to do. Of course, this rule will not apply in the following situations: 1) when lost, 2) when putting household appliances together, and so on. My grumpiness is feigned, of course, because I myself love practical application and need it.

Here are some ways to get the men in your church/life to go to coffee and develop meaningful friendships.

1) Model this in your own life. If you're not doing this as a leader, who of those who follow you are going to do it? You need to lead the change.

2) Teach a Sunday School class on friendship. Go through the Bible and highlight men who shared close kinship with another man. Teach explicitly that it is not unbiblical to have a close friend with whom one shares life but that the opposite is true: real men have close friendships. As you do this over several weeks (six? four? You decide), you will see a difference.

3) When the text speaks to manhood, preach wisely. Don't perpetuate male stereotypes for a cheap laugh from the pulpit. Speak honestly and winsomely about male friendship in the Bible and about true manhood in general. For some reason, too many of us revert to jokes about stereotypes when it comes to the subject of men, as if we can't say anything heartfelt or meaningful about men and their relationships. If you do that, stop doing it. Preach a full-orbed picture of manhood, and avoid caricatures and stupid jokes.

4) Actively encourage men to develop friendships. This folds in with the previous two but it needs to be said clearly. As a pastor, you are responsible for overseeing congregational discipleship. Knowing this, challenge your men to find a close friend in whom they can confide. Exhort them not simply to do an activity together but to develop a close friendship. Tell them to talk about things that matter: their spiritual lives, the work of the church, the church's preaching, their families, their love for their wives, their children, their struggles, their sins, their hopes. Again, don't do so in a silly manner. If you treat this subject in a joking way, that's how people will take it. The tone we set for things as leaders often determines the way people will perceive them.

5) Prepare yourself for a flood of female adulation. As you encourage men to open up, you'll find that over time, families will change. Husbands will become more emotionally attuned and concerned. Fathers will care more for their children. Good will come when men allow themselves to express and experience emotion.

6) Encourage the men to meet ritually. Rituals work well for men. I'm guessing many readers can think of a man they know who followed a certain ritual for many years. I recall recently reading about MLB commissioner Bud Selig, who has eaten the same breakfast at the same place for decades. That's how men are (I have no idea why). Use this masculine trait for good in the lives of men--otherwise, friendship won't happen. That's how men are. Pin them down, give them a structure, and good things will come if they invest in the relationship.

7) Allow for activities but encourage men to talk. You don't have to do coffee. Men may bond best over an activity. That's common. But those who do activities together should not allow those activities to prevent them from talking meaningfully about life. I realize that it will take time for many men to make close friends and bond, and so some activities will be necessary. Men should have the goal, however, of becoming close by bearing burdens and sharing sorrows.

8) Remember that the goal of all this is conformity to Christ. You're not doing this to become better men, ultimately, or more whole people. You're doing this in order to grow as a Christian by sharpening your character and enjoying God's goodness in a fuller way. This is not a self-improvement program of the kind being constantly peddled in the media. This is the real, meaningful, old-fashioned, world-changing work of conformity to Christ. By enjoying God's great gift of friendship and grounding that friendship in the Word, you are glorifying God and conforming yourself to Christ. This is the beginning, and the end, of everything male friendship is and will be.

There are some ideas to get started. They're a bit scattered, but I hope they're of some use to you. If you are a man without a close friend, or a group of close friends, pray that the Lord will give you a best friend. Pray for growth in your own life in this area. Challenge yourself to change and to invest in another man. Though you may play the part convincingly, you're not an island. All of us need friends, and I'm not talking about golf buddies--I'm talking about true friends with whom one really connects.

Don't stand alone. Bring another by your side, and stand tall together, each strengthening the other, each leading the other closer to Christ through fellowship, encouragement, confession, and compassion. Become a David, men, and find a Jonathan.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: Beginning Anew

It's tough to figure out where to start in trying to create a culture of meaningful male friendship. I suppose that at the end of the day, you simply have to see it modeled.

This is especially true in a church culture. Your church, for better or worse (and often both), will take on the persona of its leaders, and specifically, its pastor. If your pastor can command the respect of the church's men through a leadership style that smells of manhood, and he is able to reach out to other men and form meaningful friendships with them, then the men of your church will, over time, follow suit. If, however, your pastor is standoffish or awkward around guys and unable in the typical ways to forge deep friendships, it's my guess that your men will struggle to do the same.

I think a good starting place for men is to reclaim coffee. We men have all too often ceded coffee (or lunch) to women, assuming that guys can't conscionably get together and just talk. That's stupid. There is absolutely no good reason why two men cannot get coffee together and converse. There's nothing womanly about friendship. It's sexless, sex-neutral, fair ground. Men can be friends, too. Men can talk. As I said earlier this week, men have no less emotions than women do--they simply process them differently. No one is suggesting here that men talk in the same way that women do. There will be distinctly masculine ways of conversing in male friendships and that's fine. We don't have to cry often or talk as fast or search our souls quite as much as women do. But we can talk about our spiritual lives, our families, our jobs, our hopes, our failures, our pasts, and we can do so in meaningful, non-stilted ways.

I will say it again for effect: there is nothing unmanly about conversation and friendship. Our society teaches us this through the John Wayne model in which men are strong, silent, and emotional only in the form of blood-hungry anger. That's a ridiculous model. It's not the biblical model for sure. David and Jonathan were as close as two friends could be, and they were men, and there was absolutely nothing feminine about their friendship. I think sometimes conservative Christian men make the mistake of reading the Bible through the culture instead of reading the culture through the Bible. When you do this, you tend to suspect David and Jonathan a little bit, if in your own head--"Were they a little gushy? A little feminine? I don't think there was any funny business going on there, but..." This is as dangerous a mistake to make as egalitarianism is, though the two are polar opposites. Egalitarianism teaches us that the sexes have equal roles and that men ought to adopt feminine traits whereas John Wayne manhood teaches us that men ought to adopt an extremist masculinity that equates emotion and compassion with womanhood. If egalitarianism is perverse, and it is, so too is John Wayne masculinity.

Christian men need friends, and not just hunting buddies, or sports-watchers. They need men who they can trust, who they can talk to, who they can relate to, who they can express emotions to, who they can love. If your culture or your upbringing tells you otherwise, they're wrong. That's it--case closed. David and Jonathan show us the real biblical model for masculine friendship, and it is deep, expressive, forged in trust, pure, and nourishing. The man who comes to such examples and disdains them or who avoids the exegetical mistake but makes the practical one is the one who gets it all wrong. In the end, he may be strong, he may be silent, and he may be accorded a measure of respect. But he's also alone. Tragically, he always will be.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: It's Tough Being a Guy

Why is it tough being a man? Because we don't have the emotional abilities that women do--or, at least, those abilities typically lie buried beneath bravado, posturing, awkwardness, and a desire to hide vulnerability.

A book which speaks well to the stilted nature of many male friendships is Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man. I cannot highly recommend the book, as there is much objectionable content written from Vincent's perspective as a lesbian dressing up as a man, but I can say that she has an eye for human nature. That is, she identifies the nuances of human behavior and rightly targets their cause. Her book is essentially a study on the emotional lives of men, and it reveals much. Men, for example, cannot typically just go out and talk. They need an excuse for companionship--a sport, a quest, a diversion, and only then can they slowly begin to talk with one another. Even as they do, they often never get very deep.

I recall experiencing this with a friend from seminary. I asked him if he would like to get lunch in the near future. A few days later, he called me to tell me some guys were going to a wings restaurant to watch some sports and eat wings. I declined to go but have not forgotten that exchange. It symbolizes well the awkwardness many men feel in creating friendship with one another. I've seen this same tendency played out hundreds of times on the basketball court. Guys don't naturally approach one another with kindness. They approach one another warily, revealing as little as possible in initial encounters, everyone sizing one another up in an attempt to find their place in the male hierarchy. It's not the purpose of this blog to try and overturn all these situations. They are what they are, and I myself possess some very typical male tendencies. But I am trying to say that the male social world is strange and complex, awkward and rough, difficult to move in.

I've met few men in my life who were really able to get past the awkwardness and allow themselves to enjoy male friendship. Most of the time, guys stand on the opposite sides of the room from those they don't immediately know or click with. It's as if we're all still in the Old West, each man measuring the other to see whether he should launch an attack or expect one. Bonding is difficult, and often accomplished by talk about things that don't matter--sports is a huge topic--or things that shouldn't be talked about--coarse jesting. Conditioned to be withdrawn, afraid of being seen as feminine, men hunker down in their own little social corner, aware like those Old West gunslingers that life is not ideal, that it might be nicer to have a few more friends and a little less bravado, but that survival beats submission any day. It's a tough world we live in, us guys. Curt conversation, size-em-up eye contact, and the need to posture. They say the female emotional world is complex, but I'm thinking that the male side of things has its own share of difficulty. That chip on the shoulder is harder to carry than you might think.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Complex World of Male Friendship: All Is Not as it Seems

We all know that women connect with one another better than men connect with fellow men. I'm going to explore for a few days how men do attempt to connect and how one should understand the strange and complex rituals involved in male friendship. Today, I want to talk about the emotional lives of men.

To start off, I should note that men are not less emotional than women. Lots of us believe and perpetuate this popular myth. Well, this blog is just one tiny shot in the dark toward dispelling that myth. If you don't believe me, rent the PBS documentary Raising Cain (engrossing and compelling) or read the book that spawned it or a similar book, Real Boys. That should give you a good start to understanding the emotional lives of boys. You see, it's not that boys don't have emotions, it's that they express them in different ways than girls. Because women express their emotions more strongly and directly, we have made the cultural (global?) mistake of thinking that men have less emotions than women, when in fact some research suggest that men have stronger emotions than women.

Men express their emotions in ways that stamp their whole being, their entire self. There are certainly girls who leave home and chase danger on the street, but if you think about it hard for just a moment, you'll realize that there are far more boys on your average corner than there are girls. Whether you live in the North or South, city or country, rich or poor, you've seen young men sitting on the corner or talking in parked trucks. These men may look to you as if they're all rebel, pure spite, and in some cases they are, but in others, they're just lonely, hurting, wayward boys in search of something they can't quite find. They project an attitude of carelessness and mockery, but the fact that they are airing such grievances with their world publicly shows you that the attitude behind the mask is one of isolation, sadness, and needyness. They want you to see them, even if only for a moment. In the exchange of a fleeting glance with a passerby, there is community, togetherness, connection, if only for a second.

Girls call each other on the phone or get together or write letters when they are racked by angst. They become loud or weepy or volatile. Boys more often sulk, skulk, and creep away. When girls become emotional, they often release those feelings quickly, in a burst, with a flood of expression and talking and confession and relief. Boys more often shut up, and walk away, and hammer something, or pound a ball, or walk far, far away. The sexes have very different responses, but boys are no less emotional than girls. They simply express their emotions differently.

I'm not suggesting, of course, that the primary need boys (or girls) have is for companionship. That boy on the street corner is a wretched sinner in need of the grace of God in Christ, and he needs you to tell him about his sin and that grace. Out of a sinful heart and a sinful world, though, has come a great deal of pain and sorrow. If you look for these traits, you'll find them. That boy on the corner, or on the playground, or walking through the mall, is himself looking for something. He's confused, and turbulent, and guilty, and angry. We should not understand him as anything but this. We should reach out to him in kindness, show him Christian love, and share the gospel of grace with him. Remember, his sullen stare isn't really pushing you away. It's actually beckoning you close, and pleading with you for the hope only you--a Christian--can give.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Birthday Reminisces and a Prayer

On my twenty-sixth birthday, I want to post a few thoughts on past birthdays.

I remember my mother making me a chocolate cake with butter-cream frosting when I was quite young. She never did find that recipe again, but she made me many incredible birthday cakes. I remember so many special times--trips to Ellsworth, ME to eat at The Mex or Hilltop House, countless basketball shirts and shorts, Portland birthdays, Owls Head birthdays, and so much more. I had a very happy childhood, and I was never happier than when surrounded by my family's love on my birthdays. My father, mother, and sister always made my birthdays very special times. I was a blessed child.

When I was in junior high, my Strachan grandparents kindly bought me my first pair of really cool sneakers: the Shaq InstaPumps. You filled them up with a little CO2 pump. They were incredibly cool. All my friends thought so. I was on top of the world.

In my senior year of college, my friends Keegan, Colin, Jed, Suen, Emily, Claire and others combined to throw me a really fun birthday party. Our dear elderly friend Mr. Knowles and his son's family came as well. It was a special time. I have not and will not forget it.

This is my first birthday as a married man. I told my wife that last year, she was my birthday gift. We got engaged on April 28, 2006, so you understand. A year later, I feel the same way. When you have love, you really don't need anything else. It sounds cliched until you test it out. Then you know. I'm going to write more about my wonderful wife at another time, but for now, it is enough to simply repeat what I just said: my wife is the only gift I need this year. If I never got another, and had only her love, I would be the richest man on earth.

Thank you, Lord, for this life. Thank you for twenty-six years of life, years so filled with your kindness. Thank you for a loving family, and for the new family you've given me in the last year. Thank you for an incredible wife, and the many joys you give me through her. If I see 70 more birthdays come and go, or another one never comes, thank you for all this. This birthday is not about me--it is about You and Your kindness to me, Your gifts of life and love and happiness and joy and hope and fulfillment and salvation and heaven and forgiveness. You are an amazing God, I am a sinful man, and I am still astounded that the two of us may know one another, and that you will continue to love me for all my days.

Thank you, Lord, for this life. May I live it for you.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Further Thoughts on Walk the Line

I had not anticipated the veritable flood of comments that came from my post on the movie Walk the Line's deficient picture of manhood. With that said, let me first say that I appreciated everyone's contributions and found them stimulating. As I've said before, my blog regularly benefits from a group of erudite commenters and thinkers. Thanks to all who contributed--newcomer glorygrace, trevin, riley, the master-of-Bible translations r. mansfield (he has a neat blog), and the reg's--paul, ben, al, and gf.

My post attracted a variety of comments on a number of different ideas. Let me state a few points at the outset: 1) I am not saying that Cash did not become a Christian--that is nowhere my point. 2) I am not saying that we should expect unbelievers to live like Christians. You will not find that point in my post. 3) I am not saying that Walk the Line is not in some sense a redemptive film. There are certainly redemptive elements. 4) I too am glad that Hollywood did in some sense choose to portray Cash's sinful lifestyle as destructive.

Those comments are my clarifying comments which I hope will illuminate my earlier post. I might say generally that my post was not about Cash's life as it actually happened but about Cash's life as portrayed in the film. This portrayal was influenced by Cash's writing but it was also heavily influenced by the viewpoints of the writers and director. Having offered these nuances, then, I want to say that I think that Ben is onto something when he notes that Walk the Line mostly portrays redemption as redemption from pain, not redemption from sin. That's an excellent point, albeit one that's easy to miss. So I could not wholeheartedly say that the film is a redemption story. It is in part, and does show that Cash in some sense "got religion," but it actually interprets redemption more along psychological than spiritual lines.

Furthermore, I do not think that the movie depicted Cash's failures as a husband in a thoroughly negative light. Yes, it showed that Cash's lifestyle was not good. But it nevertheless romanticized his quest for personal authenticity which was characterized by an understandable hunger for musical expression and affectionate, connected romance. The end shows that this quest had negative effects, to be sure, but it does not show that the negatives outweigh the positives. It shows that Johnny, though hurting some folks along the way, ultimately got what he needed: June. It never truly condemns Johnny for his failure to responsibly provide for his family and lead them and love his wife as she needed. As I said earlier, the movie directs us to root for Johnny in two harmful ways: 1) to get with June, and 2) to make music. In these ways it calls us to side with Johnny as he follows his heart. This quest may have some difficulties, but in the end, it's worth it all.

I close then by affirming what I said earlier, that this is a disastrous picture of manhood, one thoroughly driven by postmodern conceptions of responsibility and "authenticity." I would suggest that the story Johnny Cash himself tells about his life is bound to be different. It is my understanding that Cash came to understand that his sin in the past was terribly destructive and that forgiveness, not music, not June, and not even connection with his father (however understandable) constituted his one true need. We can only wish that Walk the Line had made the same point.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Subtle and Sinister Dynamics of "Walk the Line"

My wife and I received the 2005 movie "Walk the Line" a few days ago and watched a bit of it last night. We had watched it many months ago in our pre-dating days and had really liked it then. The movie includes some pretty incredible acting and is directed with a deft touch. In general, however, the movie's depiction of manhood is altogether deficient, and thus the movie communicates a rather poisonous message.

I of course realize that lots of ink (or blog space, however one quantifies it) has been devoted to this movie and its ideas, but I don't really care. It's worth talking about and thinking about again. Jumping in, then, the movie subtly poisons its viewers against Cash's first wife and causes us to root for Johnny and June Carter to get together. Johnny and June have immediate and intense chemistry. They are a great physical match, their personalities play off one another beautifully, and they--how else can you say it?--smolder with desire when they're together. This connection plays against the backdrop of Cash's unhappy marriage to his wife with whom he has several children and little emotional connection. The movie portrays Cash's wife as a nag and a killjoy who is unable to understand Johnny's love for music and his "need" to make it and express himself. June, conversely, perfectly understands Johnny's musical instincts and his wanderlust. She has these qualities herself. The result of these situations is that Johnny and his wife fail to understand one another, fight all the time, and are portrayed as strangers paired in an unfortunate union destined to crumble from its beginning.

To put it mildly, this is trash. Incredibly, the movie directs us to sympathize with Johnny, who essentially abandons his family to make music. Though not without any sympathy for his wife, and never glamorizing Johnny's wild and disjointed life, it nonetheless portrays Johnny far more positively than her. The idea it sneaks into our consciousness is that one must serve one's artistic or professional instincts over one's family. This is a poisonous and destructive idea. Johnny is a deficient father and husband if there ever was one. I love his music, and I understand his desire to make it, but it was his responsibility to put his family before his career, and he did not do that. I felt terribly for his poor wife, uncared for as she was, tied to a man who refused to provide for his family in a stable and self-denying manner. Cash charted a course for himself that I think many young people romanticize today, in which pursuit of one's artistic self-expression takes precedence over the essential duties of life--church, family, responsible employment. Somewhere along the way, it became more "authentic" to indulge one's interests than to assume responsibility. This is a thoroughly postmodern idea, and it has no place in the life of a Christian.

It is "cool" to "follow one's heart" in our day and age. The problem is that "following one's heart" often leads one away from maturity, responsibility, and, to put it bluntly, godliness. If you're a young person, don't pursue "authenticity." Just be yourself. And don't make the world's mistake of thinking you're only truly "real" if you're pursuing your personal interests. That's a thoroughly modern invention. You're being "real" by pursuing what God would have you to pursue, being the creation and sustenance of a family, the upbuilding of a church, and the defense and propagation of the faith. I realize that this mindset won't produce a lot of Johnny Cashes. Some good music will go unmade; some incredible experiences will not be had; and some personal authenticity will go unindulged. In the end, the trade-off, though it appears tragic, works out quite well in the end. Families are created, children are loved, households are sustained, churches are strengthened, and God is glorified. Now that truly is a life worth living.

That is a line worth walking.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Moral Argument for God's Existence

Christian apologist C. S. Lewis used this proof in his witnessing as found in his foundational texts Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man. The essence of the argument is that the existence of an awareness of the need for an objective moral composes a compelling witness to the existence of a Standard-giver. Here's a quotation to chew on:

“If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.” (31)

Here's a corroborating quotation from the secular philosopher James Q. Wilson from his text The Moral Sense. I find it quite compelling and reflective of Romans 1.

“Lest we adults think that these childlike prejudices disappear with age, we should remember the countless places where one group of adults has systematically reduced another to servitude and the numberless centuries during which men have used torture and merciless warfare to impose on others religious convictions that to someone from Mars would differ only in esoteric and irrelevant detail from the beliefs of the victims. Even people who fancy themselves too moral and cosmopolitan to practice slavery or religious persecution would do well to recall how wary they are when they encounter people who differ in race, accent, dress, or political outlook. Mankind has a moral sense, but much of the time its reach is short and its effect uncertain.” (192)

What do you think about the moral argument? Is it a good argument for the existence of God? Should we use this proof and other theistic proofs (teleological, cosmological, etc) in our witnessing? Does the "moral sense" really point to God's existence?

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Monday, May 07, 2007

New 9Marks Conference on Church Growth

One of my least favorite ecclesiastical ideas is that of church growth.

I personally see the very idea of church growth as a pragmatic invention of the twentieth century by which pastors and church leaders focus more on numbers and programs than on individuals and piety. There is very little of the church growth movement that is remotely positive. It's had a harmful effect on the local church, and will be judged in history as a worldly shift in the church's thinking.

With that said, how welcome is the following banner: "Gospel Growth vs. Church Growth". This is also the name of a conference to be held at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC in late October. The conference is co-sponsored by 9Marks Ministries and Matthias Media. Speakers at the event include Tony Payne, Phillip Jensen, and Mark Dever. As a former CHBC intern and a current contributing writer to 9Marks, I cannot encourage you more to attend this conference. It is confusing to try and figure out how much of a church growth focus is appropriate. I have found the ministry of Mark Dever to be no less than illuminating on this point. If you are a pastor, or if you know a pastor who is struggling, or leading a small church, or merely in need of instruction on this issue, tell them of this conference. If you are a blogger, I encourage you to link to this conference as I have. Let's get the word out in hopes that the health of the church might spread.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

The Deadly Serious Art of Preaching

Part of the fun of doing a blog is attracting smart comments from sound thinkers. To everyone who comments or who is thinking about commenting, please know that I read every comment written on this blog, and your words often make me think about my own. I appreciate those who read this humble little blog, and I appreciate those who take the time to think about it and offer their thoughts. I don't always respond to what you write, but I do always think about it.

While I have great respect for Tony and Ben, I would have to restate my point, and note my congenial disagreement with them. As I do so, though, I want to say that I am not against humor in the pulpit and that I myself sometimes make a humorous remark when I have the opportunity to teach or preach. I am not a sphinx in the pulpit, and I do not think anyone else needs to be one, either. Failure to include humor in one's life is to me a sign of personal deficiency and a lack of enjoyment of God's good gifts. I was drawn to my own wife in part because of her fun personality and sharp wit, and we enjoy the gift of humor and laughter on a daily basis. So far be it from me to act as the tight-lipped curmudgeon on the matter of humor's place in life.

With that said, however, there are certain contexts in which solemnity, not lightheartedness, needs to be prioritized. There are occasions and places for serious thinking, and in such places humor should tread lightly. As much as we desire to live joyful, happy, and even fun lives, we must recognize that reverence, solemnity, and soberness are key ingredients of the Christian existence. I fear that our culture of sillyness, mockery, and nonstop humor has pervaded our pulpits, just as it has our political and academic environs. One of the key ways authority figures connect nowadays is to show they have a funny bone and can mock themselves--see the proliferation of otherwise serious thinkers who host "Saturday Night Live," for example, or the appearance of countless intellectuals on fake news-programs shows like "The Colbert Report" or "The Daily Show." Ours is an age in which sillyness and mockery reign. The jester does not merely dance in the king's court in our day. Now, he vies for the king's throne. He is not yet there, but then again, who would have guessed that huge numbers of twentysomethings would glean the day's news not from real television news shows, but from Comedy Central?

It is quite wrong to think that the culture, as it always seems to do, has not negatively influenced the church in this respect. There are many congregations out there that think their pastor is a sort-of "Bible entertainer," one who mixes wisdom with wit each Sunday to produce a nice little feel-good message that noone has to take seriously, lest it actually challenge their consciences and change their lives. There are all too many professors and teachers who think that they have to mock themselves to be relevant to today's youth, and that they should open each lecture with a joke in order to loosen the crowd up. These are dangerous trends, friends. It's one thing to occasionally drop a wry comment or offer an ironic aside, but it's another to be humorous enough that your personality--and not your preaching--is drawing folks to church. The doing of church is fundamentally serious business. We are gathering in joy and solemnity to celebrate our risen Savior and to proclaim His Word. We are preaching a gospel that includes news of hellfire and damnation that lasts for eternity. We are considering our sins, the wrongs that draw us away from God during the week and that, if unchecked, will draw us away from God for eternity. We who preach (one day) are speaking to husbands who neglect their wives, wives who speak badly about their husbands, children who hide secret sins from their parents, college students who view horrific pornographic acts on a daily basis and cannot stop, employees who steal time from their employers, elderly saints who forget God in the midst of physical pain and complaints, high schoolers who hate God but who mask it when at youth group, and many, many others. Sin is everywhere around us, brothers and sisters, and it is not defeated by humor. It is defeated by serious-minded proclamation of the Gospel which alone frees us from our sin. With such a weighty task before the preacher, and so little time, how can we not solemnly, soberly, boldly preach the Word?

Pastors should be winsome. They should be able to laugh and able to cry. They should be nice. They should be approachable. They should be joyful. But they should be very serious about their work. They should reject the culture of sillyness and mockery that especially characterizes young men and apply themselves to Gospel work with a sense of desperation. Yes, we must be balanced, but we who preach and teach (and all the Christians who do so as well, in Bible studies and Sunday School classes and homes, etc.) must not make the mistake so many do in this age and think that we can approach the Gospel like we approach anything else. We cannot, and we must not. We need less entertainers, less showmen, less jokesters and more Lloyd-Jones types. Occasional humor in the pulpit, a joyful life outside of it, but ever and always a commitment to the holy task of preaching and teaching the Word of God. Ezekiel and Jesus and others used irony, but they were not seeking to create a humorous environment when they did so. They were using biting irony and strange scenes to make their points, which were very serious in nature. There is no biblical example of a joke-teller preacher, and what irony is in the Bible is not silly--it is actually quite sober.

Do not hang your hat on humor, pastor, and do not be known for it in your preaching. Be known for a serious-mindedness that cannot help but pass itself on to the people of God, sin-sick and struggling for faith as we all are.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Attitudes That Do Not Square with the Christian Faith: Sillyness

A key part of the self-understanding of many modern persons is that they do not take themselves, or life, very seriously. Mockery is everywhere around us. Turn on most any tv sitcom and the brand of humor is not punchlines, it's subtle, arrogant mocking. In addition to this posture, sillyness proliferates today. This is a problem for the Christian church, and it requires that we chart a new course.

But too often we simply sail according to the world's compass. I can't count the number of times I've heard a pastor tell a joke to "warm a congregation up." I'm all for personal connection with one's audience, and I myself enjoy a pastor who is warm and engaging, but I'm not sure why Christians think they need to be silly in order to connect with one another. Pastors aren't comedians. There's nothing in the Bible that would lend us to think that there's anything funny about preaching. There may be occasional humor in a sermon, but to strike a silly pose is to rob the pulpit of its solemnity and its power. Moving from services to everyday life, so many young people today think and act like life is one big joke that circles through all of one's conversations. I'm amazed at how foolish many conversations I have actually are. With men, especially, or more specifically young men, I'm struck by how often and how quickly common interactions turn ridiculous or silly. Such dialogue cheapens life and robs it of meaningfulness. I'm all for being lighthearted, but we've sacrificed lightheartedness for sillyness in the current day.

Sillyness and mockery prevent us from seeing people as dignified beings made in the image of God. Futhermore, these postures subtly trick us as they leave us thinking that life is fundamentally funny and easy-going. This is far from the truth. Life is difficult, and sin is real, and Satan is whisking people to hell every second the world turns. There's nothing funny about that. Such a reality should not rob us of joy, but it should infuse us with a seriousness that respects people and treats life as a meaningful exercise. The next time you contemplate a ridiculous youth group event, pastor, or you crack your fourth joke in an otherwise serious conversation, young man, think about the approach our Lord took towards life, and remember your mother's words: "Wipe that silly grin off your face!" There's a place for laughing in our lives, but there's also a considerable place for seriousness.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Excursus on Elitism, Good and Bad

I took yesterday's blog to denounce elitism among Christians and argued that it has no place in the Christian church. All people have been created in the image of God and thus stand on equal ground in regard to our being, to the fiber of our person. Noone is any better than anyone else. My close friend, blogger extraordinaire, and coworker Matthew Hall left a thought-provoking comment in response to my post. Essentially, Matt (go to his excellent blog here) argued that while a snobby attitude is wrong, there is a place in society for elites, those who are experts at their craft and who are thus able to lead and help people through their craft. Matt claimed that the Christian church needs to recover a respect for such people and their place in the church. While we should all reverence the wizened but unlearned saint who teaches Sunday School, Matt is saying, we should not hire him to write books of theology. It is appropriate that we require intellectual credentials for such work and that we respect those who possess those credentials and so instruct the church.

Let me say at the outset that Matt and I do not disagree with one another. We are making different but potentially complementary points and we are speaking to different groups. I am speaking to the elites and telling them not to get a big head. Matt is speaking to the public and telling them to respect the learned class by soaking up their training. These are both essential points. I don't think that I made a mistake or an error or even that my original post was deficient in making its point. I do think, however, that Matt is onto something here, and that it is far too possible for we who are human to become nasty despisers of the learned and accomplished even as we fashion ourselves as noble iconoclasts.

I am not one to say, for example, that a pastor should not reference the original languages in his preaching. Jed made some interesting points in his comment from yesterday, wondering if perhaps the nature of the church is such that it automatically excludes any sort of purposeful division between trained and untrained, but I would say that the Bible holds out a reverence for the chief instructor of the church, the pastor, and that this figure is responsible for leading and nurturing his people. This may involve technical discussions, or the occasional explanation of the Greek, but in my opinion, that's fine. That's why my church hired such a man in the first place, to educate us on a level we ourselves could not, and so I want to get sap of information out of this man that I can. We didn't expect him to get an education to sit on it for the rest of his life. He should be careful not to overdo it on this front, but as a layman myself, I want a pastor who richly instructs me and brings out matters from the text I could not have. In the end, then, I think Matt and I make very complementary points, and that Matt has much good to say in his post. Christians should be humble, they should pursue knowledge, and they should ever seek to balance the two as they instruct the church.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Attitudes That Do Not Square with the Christian Faith: Elitism

Different age groups and segments of the Christian church will struggle with different problems. Yesterday's idea or problem, "coolness," will mostly affect young people who don't realize that love and truth are the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith, and that Christians were never called to be hip, but to be holy, kind, bold, and truthful. Today's problem will affect more of the learned folks of our churches, those who have achieved a high standard of academic accomplishment. It may also affect those who are economically successful.

I see elitism sometimes from my humble perch as a pastor-in-training, and it never sits right. Elitism, for the record, involves thinking one is better than others because of some specialized credential and then acting to isolate oneself from that inferior group even as one associates with those who hold one's own credential. I see this behavior at seminary and it troubles me. Christians may educate themselves or become wealthy or famous or some such thing, but they never become a better human being than any other person. Those who grade papers for a professor or wear a suit to work or talk on the phone with celebrity pastors are no better or worse than you or I. The staff of Bethlehem Baptist (where John Piper pastors) are no better than the staff of East Podunk, New Hampshire. There may well be a difference in quality of preaching and so on, but this does not in any way make it more desirable to know and associate with the staff of Bethlehem than it does the staff of my thirty-person church back home in Maine. Professors here at Southern may have PhDs and write articles that quote German sources in the original language, but I'm no more impressed with them than I am my former Sunday School teachers. I may learn more from my professors here, but I'm not to esteem them any better as people and to seek to isolate myself from "common folks" in order to join the cloistered seminary professor community. That's gross thinking. It's entirely antithetical to Christianity.

Christians should respect authority, and they are told in Scripture to reverence their leaders. So this is our fundamental posture towards those in authority over us. But with that said, the central figure of our faith, Jesus Christ, was to His core a humble person. He was very God Himself, and yet He was completely humble. His humility characterized everything He did, and it was the genesis of His coming to earth. How unlike Christ we so easily become. We get a little taste of power, a few letters to our name, and suddenly we rule the world, albeit from heights no man has ever ascended. More than this, we barely make an effort to talk to those outside of our elite peer group, while Christ gave His very body and blood to draw those people to Himself. Here's a call to my fellow Christians, whatever position you possess, whatever authority you wield, to never esteem yourselves as qualitatively better than any other believer. Cultivate a love for all your fellow church members. Carry yourself with dignity, men, but never arrogance. Carry yourself with grace, women, but never haughtiness. No matter what others whisper to you, no matter what you tell yourself, no matter what the world encourages you to think, you are no better than any other man. You are called, fundamentally, to humility, an attitude that does not square with the world but which certainly squares with the cross.