Monday, December 31, 2007

The Goof on the Roof, and the State of Contemporary Masculinity

I was reading the Sunday edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal when I came across this news nugget in the sports pages (I googled it to find out more). Apparently, some guy in Baltimore (he doesn't deserve to be named here) camped out on the roof of a Baltimore bar as a publicity stunt until the Ravens, the city's football team, either broke their nine-game losing streak or fired their head coach. The stunt crashed when the ex-wife of the man called the police due to the man's failure to pay multiple years of child support.

So let's get this straight. This guy cares so much about the Ravens that he will sleep on the roof of a bar for weeks--in the bitter Baltimore winter--but he can't rouse himself over a multiple-year period to pay his child support? This is a situation for which no comment is worthy.

However, this is a blog, and I want to write, and you expect me to do so, and so I will. This little episode, I think, shows a great deal about the state of manhood in the current day. We have here a man so devoted to his sports team--his hobby--that he does not even support his child. This is an extreme situation, but does it not tell us something about men in the current day? We are so interested in games--the fixation of boys--that we neglect the things of men. This man is a particularly depressing spectacle, but he is one of many men in the current day who idolize games and pastimes and who neglect the basic duties of manhood, the responsibilities upon which love is held constant, children are cared for, and societies are built upon.

Not many Christian men will take their love of games to the extent that this man did. However, a story like this should cause men who very much enjoy sports--men like me--to take stock of the extent of their passion for games. It is not wrong to enjoy sports; sports can be a good gift to us if held in proper perspective; but we Christian men, who have families and churches and jobs, should take care that we do not allow sports to dominate our waking hours. We should make sure that our families come way before our pastimes. Most of us should probably turn the television off for a number of hours each week and dig in to the Word, play with our kids, and serve our churches. We cannot allow sports and games and hobbies to devour our lives, our homes, our families, as they do for so many men in America today. We have a family to lead, a wife to love, and a Lord, a Savior who gave His blood for a kingdom cause, to magnify.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

The Week-est Link, Dec. 28 2008

1. There's a new Death Cab for Cutie album coming out very soon. Follow this link to watch a little video that gives a few details about the record. Death Cab is one of those cutting edge bands who everybody talks about. Sometimes these bands aren't really that good, but Death Cab is quite good, and they make haunting, melancholy music that is well worth your time.

HT: Ethan Meadow

2. Reid Monaghan commented yesterday about my description of science as a "double-sided blade." He questioned whether there is any scientific inquiry that is negative or harmful. I cannot perfectly answer that question, though I can point you to an interesting article that my boss Al Mohler wrote covering this topic. It will provoke thought, and I think it does show that the phenomenon of unbounded scientific inquiry is as morally complex as it is exciting.

3. An insightful profile of billionnaire Paul Allen. I've long heard about Allen, as he owns the Portland Trail Blazers (my friend Aaron Menikoff's team), but I knew little about him. Apparently he's something of a media recluse. The profile is an interesting study of a strange, talented, and ultimately unsatisfied man. It's always profitable to read secular articles from a theological standpoint--you can see biblical themes in most every life story. Allen's seems to be Ecclesiastes.

Have a nice weekend, everyone (and thanks, Rick and Ethan, for the "I Am Legend" info).

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Strange and Terrifying World of "I Am Legend"

Enough of this theology stuff. Let's move on. Let's get to what true thinkers care most about: movies.

I recently saw the film "I Am Legend" and came away shocked by it. My friend Adam and I were expecting the typical Will Smith action movie, where lots of things are blown up rather entertainingly as Smith makes well-placed cracks at the expense of his enemies. You know the genre I'm talking about--comedic action, perhaps, with some hero complex thrown in for good measure. Well, "I Am Legend" blew my expectations away. What looks like a "comedic action" film is actually a "Sci-fi horror so tense and chilling it makes you want to leave the theater" film. Yes, there actually is a film category of this name; trust me, I'm a blogger (feel free to catch that irony).

In all seriousness, this is a seriously tense film. A sense of dread pervades the movie and never lets up. "I Am Legend" is alot of things, but it is fundamentally a meditation on man in the worst state imaginable--alone, imprisoned, hunted. I won't give the plot away, as I'm not much for that sort of thing, but I will tell you that the movie--though it seems like the typical blockbuster--paints an apt portrait of the human condition. Without God, we are alone, we do live in a prison, we are in a sense hunted by the soul-stealer, Satan. Without God, there is a sense of dread that pervades all of life, and we don't need a backfired virus to induce such a condition. We're already living in it.

Other reviewers have focused on other aspects of the film, but I was most gripped by the haunted look and feel of "I Am Legend" and the perfectly pitched performance of Will Smith. Smith manages to make his character's simultaneous weariness and hopefulness plausible, and he communicates poignantly the terror that would grip a man in his situation. There are a couple of scenes in particular that will leave you elevated in your seat, heart thrashing, breath heavy. It's always fun to go to a movie that draws the teen crowd, elicits some sense of immature attention-grabbing as they mock the film in its early stages, and then shuts them up due to its terrifying nature. This film did just that. After a few of the most suspenseful scenes, the teenyboppers in front of me went absolutely silent, and stayed that way for the rest of the movie. "I Am Legend" is that tense. (My buddy Reid Monaghan agrees--read his excellent review.)

There is much that the film leaves unexplored--there is a ton of fascinating backstory that could have been played out. The movie is much too short, and ends with barely a second's notice--it's as if the filmmakers simply got tired of making a great movie and decided to vacate the set. I wish that the film had been much longer, as I love this genre of movie and "I Am Legend" is so well crafted, but oh well. You can't have everything you want, right? That aside, the film also explores other interesting themes--the nature of faith, the double-sided blade of scientific inquiry, the power of sacrifice, the reward of virtue, the weight of loneliness, the companionship between man and dog (don't laugh--you'll understand, and you might even cry), the results of isolation and imprisonment, the curse of human hubris. All this to say, go see this film. It's very well done, it's haunting, it's powerful, it's quite scary, and Will Smith's performance is excellent. In the end, it shows us a world that is--in its apocalyptic state--unlike our own, but is--in its palpable sense of despair and dread--very much like this present order.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Theology of Ambition: Concluding Synthesis

We conclude our very brief theology of ambition with a concluding synthesis of the material laid out so far. How, then, should we understand ambition from the texts considered?

There's a great deal to say here. We can start by pointing out the biblical ambition is never to be understood as using God to get what one wants in a worldly or secular sense. In the texts I've examined, biblical ambition emerges as an exercise in getting God maximal glory through the expansion of one's capacities. Spiritual boldness, then, should not be understood as praying for wealth, or praying for power, or praying for fame for the sake of these things. One is to be ambitious for explicitly spiritual ends. We saw this in numerous examples. Nehemiah's plan was so bold as to be almost audacious in its nature, but Nehemiah was not punished for his verve, he was richly rewarded. We saw the same process work itself out in the lives of Solomon and Jabez. These men, however, did not merely make request of God, they made request of God for explicitly spiritual ends.

Biblical ambition, then, should be gospel-focused. We should ask God for things and undertake work that furthers the work of the kingdom and the advancement of the gospel. Living in the era of the new covenant, we are to work to take spiritual dominion of the earth. This is our central motivation in life, not any other motive. Biblical ambition is assertive and aggressive in attempting to bring this present darkness under a reign of light. You and I, then, should pray toward this end. We should ask God to maximize our abilities and to sharpen our skills and expand our influence in order that the gospel would go forth, men would be saved, and God would be glorified. It is right--no, it is imperative--that we be ambitious for the kingdom, and put all our skills, abilities and proclivities to use for the good of God's name.

Spiritual boldness will involve our own personal lives, and we should not shy away from this. We should ask God to make us better Christians, holier people, more capable believers in order that we would be fully consecrated and put to use in kingdom work. We should ask God that the Spirit would do mighty things in us and embolden us and change us and shape us for the unique endeavors that God would have us to do. Businessmen should seek the betterment of their companies in order to glorify God in their work and to contribute to gospel endeavors. Teachers should seek to be the best teachers that they can be, in order that God would give them more influence with their unsaved peers. Homemakers should pray that they would perform their tasks with excellence, in order to glorify God and to be available for volunteer work and church work and mentoring of young women. We could go on and on, but I hope that you get a glimpse of how a spiritually ambitious local church can change itself and its community for the glory of God. Indeed, when a pastor models a life of godly ambition, and teaches his people to live boldly for the Lord, the congregation is set up to, like the apostles, take their own world by storm. Men will be better laborers and leaders of the home, women will follow the Proverbs 31 woman in taking dominion over their sphere, young people will be ambitious to evangelize the lost and take on a sin-crushed world. A theology of ambition, then, is no mere exercise in t-crossing and i-dotting. It is an essential part of being a Christian in a world that will gladly welcome and accomodate lazy, passive, visionless Christianity, to the detriment and death of us all.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

A Theology of Ambition: Biblical Considerations, Pt. 2

Update on December 25th--Merry Christmas to all consumed readers. Enjoy the holiday!

We pick back up in our biblical consideration of ambition. On Wednesday, I'll give a concluding synthesis.

1. Gen. 1:26-28 the call to take dominion
2. 1 Chron. 4:10 Jabez's bold prayer
3. 2 Chron. 1:7-13 Solomon's ambitious prayer for wisdom
4. Nehemiah an example of godly ambition
5. Matthew 28:18-20 the call to take spiritual dominion
6. 1 Cor. 10:31 life as an exercise in biblical ambition
7. Hebrews 4:16 the invitation to pray with boldness

The story of Nehemiah is incredible. Hearing that Jerusalem and its people are in shambles, Nehemiah prays to the Lord and asks Him to bless Nehemiah as he seeks to rebuild the city and reconstitute the people. We have no indication of divine prompting of this prayer. Like so many biblical characters, Nehemiah sees a lack and prays boldly that he might be used to address it. Read chapter one of Nehemiah to get the full vision of his prayer. What transpires after the prayer is equally inspiring. To make a long and invigorating story short, Nehemiah and the Jews prevail over their enemies and in an incredibly short period of time rebuild Jerusalem. It is clear from Nehemiah's example that the Lord is richly honored by Nehemiah's faith and by his bold request. Nehemiah asks God for Jerusalem, and the Lord gives it to him.

Skipping ahead to the new creation call to dominion, Matthew 28:18-20 teaches us that Christians are to be ambitious for the spread of the gospel. Jesus Christ's final recorded words in Matthew's gospel propel His disciples away from ensconcement and ease and push them to all the ends of the earth in order that sinful men might be recreated for the kingdom through the gospel's transforming power. If you follow up the new creation call to dominion by reading the book of Acts, you will see that Christ's disciples were nothing less than zealous for the publishing abroad of the euangelion, the good news. They prayed, planned, and acted, and they didn't do so in bite-sized bits. They went out and took the world by storm with the gospel. The disciples and apostles were fearless and ambitious, and their efforts, borne out of that spirit, changed all history.

There are so many texts that cover this theme, but we cannot skip 1 Cor 10:31, where the apostle Paul instructs us to do all to the glory of God. We commonly reference this text in other discussions, but it has an important place in a biblical consideration of ambition. We don't simply rubber stamp our actions as "Christian." That's not what Paul is encouraging us to do. Paul is encouraging us to be active in finding things to do that bring glory to God even as we respect the consciences of our fellow Christians. As opposed to those who prescribe a code of respectable actions, Paul pushes the Corinthian Christians to realize that all of life is an exercise in glorifying God, and thus to act boldly toward this end. We should do the same.

The final text I'll cover deals with the matter of prayer. In Hebrews 4:16, the author exhorts us to come boldly before God and to make our spiritual requests known to Him. Many of us know this text (and other passages I've covered), but I think that we sometimes fail to construct a broader theology of ambition. We are to be bold in prayer, but we are also to be bold in all of our lives. This does not and must not preclude the steady exercise of supplication to God, but just as we are to pray boldly and courageously, so we are to live boldly and courageously. The author of Hebrews makes this very clear on the matter of prayer as he pushes away from our natural hesitations to make big requests of God and tells us that such prayer is the very prayer God desires. We can of course make selfish, worldly requests of God, and this is not right. When we pray with right motives and for spiritual ends, however, God is well pleased with us. Let us live, then, as we are called to pray: boldly, courageously, passionately.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Week-est Link, Dec. 21

Okay, so it's not actually December 21, but I was out of town the past few days taking care of job stuff so I'm giving you my links a couple of days after they were originally scheduled to hit. The "Spiritual ambition" stuff picks back up tomorrow.

1. I highly recommend this strange and at times hilarious video depicting the internship program at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. I did this internship under Dr. Mark Dever, and I can only say that the interns are a good deal more technologically savvy than my group I ever was. If you've ever wondered what the CHBC internship is like, you won't find out in this video. You will, however, watch something very funny, and that's worth your time. Funniest line: Mark Dever saying, "Where did you get the idea I would answer that question?"

2. I just read God's Harvard by reporter and writer Hanna Rosin. Rosin is a liberal Jew. Her book is about Patrick Henry College, the home-school haven in Virginia. It's an academically challenging school and has a young but tumultuous history. Rosin's work is valuable primarily because it allows evangelicals to see how liberals view them. Rosin makes some good points along the way, and some of her critiques land, even if she is as heavy-handed as she accuses evangelicals of being. I'm hoping to write a fuller review of this book on this blog. Fascinating stuff if you like pop sociology as I do.

3. If you don't have Michael Buble's "Let It Snow" Christmas ep, you have a couple of days to buy it and enjoy it. Our family gave it to Bethany and me, and we play it constantly, in part because it's only six songs long and in part because Buble makes every room warm with his rich voice.

That's it for now--I'll be back tomorrow, and hope that everyone has a nice Sunday.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Theology of Ambition: Biblical Considerations, Pt. 1

I'm going to give you several different texts to think about in relation to my topic. Today and tomorrow, we do a study of biblical material. After that, we synthesize the material.

1. Gen. 1:26-28 the call to take dominion
2. 1 Chron. 4:10 Jabez's bold prayer
3. 2 Chron. 1:7-13 Solomon's ambitious prayer for wisdom
4. Nehemiah an example of godly ambition
5. Matthew 28:18-20 the call to take spiritual dominion
6. 1 Cor. 10:31 life as an exercise in biblical ambition
7. Hebrews 4:16 the invitation to pray with boldness

These texts should not and must not be understood as the only texts that speak to my topic. They are not. However, these texts when taken together give us a bare framework by which to begin to understand the Bible's view of ambition. With that said, we proceed to look at what this framework is and what it means for us as Christians. We will work quickly through these texts, and you can think of more on your own (and suggest them in the comments, if you would).

The call to take dominion over the earth in Genesis 1 is fundamentally a call to theological ambition. Those who think that ambition has little place in the Christian life find an opposite ideal in this first chapter of the Bible. From the beginning, God intended man to subdue and rule over his environment. It is clear from the lack of instruction recorded in this text that God did not spell out all the details of this dominion-taking. Rather, he left it to Adam, His vice-regent, to figure out what needed to be done and to do it. Such action necessarily includes an aggressive mindset that seeks to glorify God through action pleasing to God. The race of men, then, was not created to be passive and weak, but to be active and strong, assessing their domain, ruling over their territory, glorifying God by virtuous, godly action.

It's silly to pass up all the examples of Old Testament believers who acted ambitiously for God's renown, but time and space is limited. So we skip ahead to the much-discussed Jabez. Now, let me say a word here. Bruce Wilkinson took the whole Jabez thing a bit far, if you ask me, but I still think he had a point (one made by men like Spurgeon well before prosperity theologians). His point was this: Jabez was spiritually ambitious. Wilkinson was no genius in understanding this, but he was right. Jabez prayed that the Lord would bless him. The Lord did bless him. Jabez had a desire to glorify God through a blessed life. God answered this desire. We could take this text and run, but we should not do so. Instead, we should simply make the point that God rewarded Jabez's spiritual ambition, and leave things there. Clearly, it is no terrible thing--far from that, it is a good thing--to be spiritually ambitious before the Lord.

The story of Solomon is the same. Solomon made an incredible request of God, that he be given incredible wisdom, and God gave it to him. God was not displeased with such a bold request. The biblical picture of God is not that which many of us hold in our minds, a miserly, angry, bitter father who despises giving out blessings. No, the biblical picture of God is that He often graciously rewards the seeker and gives them the righteous desires of their heart. Solomon's desire was righteous--this is a crucial point--and thus God granted his request. The Lord does seem to be like the great leader Alexander in a story I've heard Tim Keller tell. One of Alexander's generals made a very bold request of his lord, asking him to finance an extravagant wedding ceremony for his child. Upon hearing the request, Alexander's right-hand man urged Alexander to cruelly discipline such a boorish man. Alexander demurred, and instead granted the man's request. His reasoning? The man, by his massive request, showed that he thought Alexander to be a man of massive means. Thus his plea, so far from dishonoring Alexander, actually honored Alexander in the extreme. So it is with us when we ask God for great things. A right sense of ambition, one devoted to the Lord, shows just how great we think our God to be.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Theology of Ambition

In some evangelical circles, piety is equated with passivity. The holiest person is the one who sits the stillest, waits the longest, and does the least. Somewhere along the way, godliness became equated with doing very little, with sitting on one's hands, with praying for hours while sitting for the same. This version of the Christian life leaves much to be desired.

Christians have always struggled with the tendency to pit prayer and meditation on Scripture against action. Those who do so always lose. If we emphasize prayer to the detriment of action, we overspiritualize life and become passive. If we emphasize action to the detriment of prayer, we live as practical atheists. Neither option is sound, and both will lead to a damaged way of life. Far better to couple prayer with action, to bathe action in prayer, and so to live in a combination of trust and dependence. Though this idea seems pretty basic, it has lost its place in certain Christian circles. I'm not sure of the exact origins of this tendency (and it is probably is old as the earth itself), but in terms of a codified way of Christian living, I would guess that its presence in much Christian thought traces back to pietism and its experientialist dimensions. There is of course much good in such strains of Christianity, but there can also be a tendency to misread the Bible along hermeneutical lines and to think that God speaks and communicates to Christians today just as He did in Old Testament times. The result of such thinking is that godly people fail to act until they receive an impression, a sign, a voice, a call that is from God Himself. Praying to God and living patiently is biblical, but it is my contention that our way of discovering and living out the will of God is quite different today than it was in Old Testament times. We have the Spirit, yes, but the preponderance of New Testament teaching (and much of the Old) teaches us to act in wisdom out of a backdrop of prayer, counsel, and courage.

As I noted above, Christians tend to break up into two camps. It is my opinion that there is an abundance of literature out there that teaches believers to depend on God and go often to Him in prayer, so I'm not focusing on that side of things in this brief series. Instead, I am targeting those who overspiritualize their lives and who end up living passively instead of actively. The specific casualty of such living that I want to target is the death of ambition that such a philosophy of life brings. Many Christians who fall in the "pray and don't act until absolutely certain" camp live without a strong sense of personal ambition and in fact tend to view those with ambition and vigor as ungodly and dangerous. As we will see, there is some truth to this concern. However, there is also falsehood, for the Bible itself commends a certain kind of godly ambition that involves praying to God, trusting God, and acting for His glory and the good of one's life, family, church and even society. In the coming days, we'll seek to construct a very basic theology of ambition in order to reclaim a sense of Christian agency that is inextricably related to the foundational command to Adam and Eve to take dominion of the earth. As we will see, it is well nigh impossible to take dominion of the earth, let alone one's finances, or marriage, or work, without some sense of ambition. A theology of ambition, then, allows us not to chase a spiritual goose through the Bible, but to understand in a fundamental way how it is we are to live as Christians on God's earth.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Interesting Books I'm Reading; Also, a Time of Transition

1. Richistan--A pop sociology book on America's "new rich" economic class. I'm just a little ways into it, but it looks very interesting. I'm not sure why, but I love pop sociology stuff. The study of culture has always drawn me, and I enjoy finding out what the broad mass of people are doing and why they're doing it. I don't really enjoy sociology as a discipline, as I think it gets a little out of hand and is rather nonacademic at the core, but I do enjoy the pop sociology stuff which doesn't take itself too seriously.

2. Bonfire of the Vanities--I'm not actually reading this yet, but I will be soon. I love Tom Wolfe's writing. He takes on these massive social shifts and movements and writes a tome about them. Few other contemporary authors are as ambitious as Wolfe is, and few have his talent for description and anthropological insight. This will be a fun one to read.

3. American Shaolin--A very strange book about a Princeton student who went to China's Shaolin temple to study martial arts for a spell. Not far into it, but thus far it's an interesting portrait of confused, spiritually drifting masculinity and what life looks like for a person of this type, particularly when such a person is from a wealthy family and can afford to do such things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I have very recently decided to take a position at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. I'll be working at the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS and will also do a PhD in Theological Studies with an emphasis in historical theology. Bethany and I are excited about this new stage of life, and I am quite happy that she will now be able to do pretty much what she likes with her time. The MDiv is a grind, and it (and other degrees) take the greatest toll on wives and families. I am so thankful to the Lord for this neat position, for the opportunity to work with and study under a pastoral scholar like Doug Sweeney, and for the change in life situation it affords my wife. However, we will miss Louisville when we move next month, and our time here has been richly blessed and filled with sweet memories of family, friends, and profitable experiences. Soon, then, we will be saying goodbye to Louisville and hello to Deerfield.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

The Week-est Link, Dec. 14

1. There is no weekly link list this week. I want to leave up my tribute to my grandfather. I was honored and encouraged by the comments left yesterday, and though I realize that some people will already have read this memoir for my grandfather, perhaps there were some out there who did not. I wrote this piece not simply to reflect on my Grandpa, though, but also to prompt thought in my readers' minds about the legacy that they will leave behind. As Roy Ciampa so kindly noted, my grandfather's life touched many beyond his family. What a testimony, and what a challenge to those of us who still can shape the mark we will leave on this fading earth.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Memoir for a Great Man: Remembering Daniel Dustin

I recently experienced for the first time the death of a close family member. My grandfather, Daniel Dustin, passed away a week ago. He was a Christian, a faithful husband and father, and a great Grandpa to his five grandchildren. In the following paragraphs, I remember him. Those who can read it all will catch a brief glimpse of what made him great.

Daniel Dustin—Grandpa to his grandchildren—was a great man. I will remember him by reflecting on his life through my role as grandson. When visiting the brown home in Lincoln in my childhood, I was always filled with joy. Grandpa and I stormed down the driveway on the mudbuggy, shot baskets together, and talked about serious matters like the Red Sox pennant chase. Our talks and activities might sometimes have driven my grandmother a little mad, but I also saw her often smile in bemusement. I know she smiled when Grandpa donned a bandana, an old t-shirt, and painters’ shorts and played a game of soccer with his grandson, as he did on one occasion, or when he gamely pitched to me in the summers at Sheepscot Lake. With cousins and family all around, those were memorable times. Grandpa was at the center of them.

Grandpa could be a very serious man, and we grandkids knew that he did important things, but we never really figured out what, and he had no interest in a lordly demeanor. He commanded respect and affection, but he rarely did so by the exercise of his will. His gentle nature with us was shaped by marriage to a strong, servant-hearted Maine beauty named Rachel and then by raising three spirited New England women. By living understandingly with Grammy, Grandpa learned how to love Donna, Melissa, and Cynthia. By the time he had grandchildren, he knew just how to draw us out, how to say the right word, how to suggest the right activity. He was the man of his home, but he was a man whose heart had been touched by God, and thus his headship was strong yet gentle, assertive yet tender.

Grandpa made my childhood special. He took me to Revolutionary War events, including the Battle on Lexington Green reenactment each year. This sparked a love for history in me that is strong to the current day. Grandpa took me to my first Red Sox game. He surprised me with the news at breakfast one day on an “alone visit” in Lincoln. A car ride, my first train ride, and a long walk later, we were at magical Fenway Park. I got Tom Brunansky’s autograph, the Red Sox won, and a grandfather had given his grandson a memory for life. And who can forget the trips to “Nineteen and a half?” Any reflection on the Dustin family has to include that strange discount store and the thriftiness that drew us to it. Grandpa had his quirks, to be sure, but they only made him more special in my eyes.

The years wore on, my life grew busier, but I always loved my grandparents, and I treasured Grandpa’s letters. He wrote to all of us, and he wrote sweetly, with a sweeping grasp of details and a desire to guide and assist those whom he loved. Through his letters and other means of contact, he loomed large in my life. Indeed, in recent years I have learned that my grandfather truly was a great man. By asking many questions—questions necessitated by Grandpa’s humility and unwillingness to talk about himself—I’ve discovered that he managed thousands of employees at an MIT laboratory, met regularly with the Secretary of Defense about top-secret matters, and made huge contributions to United States defense technology. The same man who tended his roses and who was kind to all his neighbors was the man who caused thousands of talented employees to whisper after he walked by, “That was Daniel Dustin.” Today, we do the same. That was Daniel Dustin. He was a great man.

We must ask, then, why was Grandpa a great man? Was it talent, or charm, or luck? No, the central reality of Grandpa’s life was that he was a sinner saved from hell by a majestic God who commissioned him to speak the gospel and live the gospel in a darkened world. Grandpa was a faithful husband and father; he was a successful worker; but he was fundamentally a man who worshipped a great God and who lived to see others do the same. Like my own father, he served his church so faithfully that it is not too much to say that it in some sense rested upon his shoulders. His service to Grace Chapel did not proceed out of duty or formality, though, but out of love for Jesus Christ. It was for this reason that he taught Sunday school, served as an elder, gave generously to the church and to many missionaries, and raised his family to do the same. Grandpa was a great man, but only because God loved him and made him great. By the Spirit’s power, Grandpa walked with the Father by faith. Now he walks with God by sight. Now he sees Him face to face. Though there are tears here on earth, there are none there in heaven. Grandpa is home.

Grandpa and Grammy had many wonderful years together, and Grammy served Grandpa so well. She was a model for me in looking for biblical character in a wife. When I heard of my grandfather’s condition, I asked my sweet grandmother to say just one thing to him, to whisper it in his ears: Grandpa, I love you so much, and I am honored to be your grandson. He heard those words. Now I say them again, though this time they are whispered to God: Thank you for my grandpa, Lord. I was honored to be his grandson. May we who now remember him love You as he did. When our days, swiftly passing as the ships, are over, may we walk with You as he now does. Amen.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Often Destructive Nature of Masculine Competition

Those who study men know that they love to compete. In sports, relationships, cars, hair, jobs, clothes, accolades, books--you name it, men compete with one another to see who can become the most prestigious.

I found a great quotation on this phenomenon by a psychiatrist named Frank Pittman in his book Man Enough. Read it all, especially if you're a guy with competitive tendencies--you'll find that Pittman's words nail you where you're standing.

"The primary contest for grown economic. Grown men are measured by the size of their net worth. And contending men, not content with merely making a living and having a life, want to improve their position in the pecking order by flashing a bigger checkbook. They can always try to steal money, or inherit it, or marry it, or win it, but most often they will try to make it through work. As long as they are working, they can feel themselves contending to finally, however belatedly, become a more alpha male in the pack.

Contenders like to believe their success is part of a contest against the other guys. Actually, of course, most work is an exercise in cooperation and teamwork, in which their competitiveness may serve them badly. I routinely see men who have failed at noncompetitive nurturing jobs, as teachers, coaches, or managers, because they found a competitive aspect they could run with and they let that overwhelm the job itself.

Contenders may just compete to see who can work longest or hardest, who can sacrifice the most. These guys stay up all night to best the competition, maybe to win the prize, maybe just to keep the competition from winning it. Those who really like to win can struggle with enthusiasm and optimism, and the game can be fun for them. But those who are desperate not to lose go through it with tortured anxiety, and with envy of whoever was relaxed and enthusiastic enough to win.

Workaholic Contenders may well love their work, but they may not love the rest of their life. They may not feel at home at home. They may find their wives and children to be distractions. Men sometimes try to convince themselves that they work so hard and make so much money for the sake of their wife and children. They can't admit to themselves that their work is just part of that old schoolyard competition with the other boys." (81-2)

Christians are redeemed, but we are not perfect. I have sadly seen alot of these competitive tendencies in the circles I've been in as a young man. Of course, to turn this on myself, I see the drive to compete--to ministerially compete, even--in myself. How many of us work late not to advance the kingdom, but to make a reputation for ourselves? How much of our attention to our papers and assignments is due to concern for working rightly before the Lord, and how much of it is due to our concern for prestige? How many of our life decisions are motivated by the desire to hold the trump card? We've got to answer these questions honestly.

When we answer them honestly, we Reformed types need to not simply shoo the spiritual ramifications away with some rejoinder like, "Well, all of life is a mix of good and bad, and our motives will never be pure, so let's just do what we do." It is of course true that we should not paralyze ourselves over our motives, but so too should we evaluate them and take action against sin when it clearly dominates our desires. If we see that competition is the main factor behind our decisions, the main influencer of our motives, and thus a huge part of our lives, then we must repent, and turn away from such action, and chart a new course for ourselves, one that does not lead us and our families to destruction.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Rise of the Pastor-Theologian

Came across this quotation by Jonathan Edwards scholar Doug Sweeney. Those familiar with Edwards's works will recognize Sweeney as an editor of volume 23 of the Works volumes (it's pretty sensational to have your name alongside that of Jonathan Edwards on the author listing). Sweeney is an impressive scholar, but he is also a man with a love for the local church. Several years ago he said this of Edwards's pastor-theologian model:

"Edwards teaches us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, for the promotion of Christian wisdom among God’s people. In Edwards’s day, America did not yet have any modern, post-baccalaureate seminaries. Pastors were our nation’s most important theologians, and parishioners understood better how much our lives depend on God’s Word. Today, many pastors have abdicated their responsibilities as theologians. And many theologians do their work in a way that is lost on the people of God. I want to be realistic in making this point. A certain amount of specialization is inevitable in modern, market-driven economies. And the specialization of roles within God’s kingdom often enhances our Christian ministries. But when pastors spend the bulk of their time on organizational concerns, and professors spend most of their time on intramural, academic concerns, no one is left to do the work that Edwards knew is most important: the hard work of opening the Scriptures in ways that deepen the faith, hope, and love of the church." (Trinity Magazine, Spring, 2004)

I hope to talk more about this in coming days. These are powerful words that all seminarians should consider, particularly those who are intellectually gifted. In past years, the pastorate was not a subsidiary calling for those not intelligent enough to be professors. It was the primary theological office. We are seeing a return to this model in the current day, and this only portends good things for the Christian church.

(Don't worry, Steve Weaver, I'm sure you'll do fine--and no, I don't think I'll be at SBTS next fall, though I'm not sure where I'll be. Thanks for asking, brother.)

HT: Iustificare

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Monday, December 10, 2007

GRE Words

In studying for the GRE, I've realized that there a number of words that I've used wrongly for all of my life. This is a sobering realization. How many of us have used the word "insensible" to describe a particularly risky operation, never realizing that the word means unconscious? Sadly, I think I'm in the number of people who have.

Kudos will go to the consumed commentor who can rightly define all four of the following words:
  • internecine
  • expostulation
  • depredation
  • mendacious

Give it a shot. I'm attempting to do the same as I study for the GRE, so you're not alone in your efforts.


Friday, December 07, 2007

The Week-est Link, Dec. 7

1. The strangest--and most hilarious--commercial I've ever seen. Suffice it to say that after you watch this, you will never hear the words "berries and cream" in the same way. Also, go here to discover more of Starburst's excessively strange commercials.

2. This man takes good pictures. My wife and I randomly met him and he took some incredible shots for us for our holiday picture. If you're a seminarian looking for a good wedding photographer, you might look Jason's way.

3. I just graduated from Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY with an MDiv in Biblical and Theological Studies. When it's up, go to the SBTS website and listen to Dr. Al Mohler's excellent commencement address. He spoke on Samuel's call to ministry and related it to our own modern-day call to ministry. In coming days, I will be writing on my experience at Southern, my time with Dr. Mohler, and my thoughts on seminary in general. I hope you'll find it interesting.

4. The New England Center for Expository Preaching has some openings and is always looking for interns and preachers who are interested in the difficult but extremely meaningful calling of ministry in New England. I recently heard a brother (Reid Monaghan who is planting a church in New Jersey) relate some comments of workers in Northeastern campus ministry. They said that that the character of ministerial "soil" on Northeast campuses is "hard as concrete." That is, it's not just hard grass, it's not just solid dirt, it's concrete. Brothers, are you ambitious for the kingdom? Do you have energy, and intelligence, and gospel zeal? Then think about New England and the secular Northeast. Your road, if you go, will be hard, but your reward will be sweet.

Blessings to all, and look in the coming days for some material on my time at SBTS. I've been wanting to write about Southern, and Dr. Mohler, and other things for some time, and I'm ready to do so.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Young Preacher's Thoughts on Preaching: Practice Makes Better

Practice does not, as we know, make perfect, necessarily. But practice does make one better.

Preaching is no different than any other discipline in this regard. It is hard to be a young preacher. You read off your manuscript too much; you try to go off it and end up somewhere you didn't mean to go; you preach way too long and observe the congregation yawning; you go too short and leave everyone a bit shocked by your brevity. What young preacher hasn't committed these mistakes, and many more besides?

That's why it is essential that young preachers do two things: 1) get lots of practice, and 2) get lots of feedback from skilled, faithful preachers. When I refer to lots of practice, though, don't assume that I mean lots of practice preaching on Sunday mornings. You may get that, and if so, terrific. But most of us won't. My advice is to find a venue that calls for you to put together messages on a regular basis. For me, the local FCA groups have afforded me a steady stream of "preaching" opportunities. Roughly 10-15 times per semester, I'll travel to some school at 7am in the morning and speak to a bunch of youth for about 15 minutes. In these times, I try to speak off of the top of my head from a passage of Scripture while communicating the point of a given passage and the way in which the passage points to Christ. It's pretty simple, really. Having this chance to speak publicly, though the setting is of course not a Sunday morning pulpit, has nonetheless made much more comfortable when I do have real preaching opportunities.

So my advice to my fellow young preachers is this: get out there. Use some initiative and find a place to preach or speak or teach. It doesn't need to be prominent, it doesn't need to be salaried, but it does need to be regular. Solicit feedback wherever possible and assess your strengths and weaknesses as a preacher. Work hard to become an organized, winsome, engaging communicator. Then, when you have a pulpit to fill, you will have already achieved a level of polish and comfort that will serve you well. Too many of us think it's either a full-time ministry job or nothing. With your desire to advance the gospel, push yourself past malaise, past fear, and past your weaknesses to grow as a preacher of the Word of God. Practice may not make perfect, remember, but it will make better.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Young Preacher's Thoughts on Preaching: Manuscripts, Notes, or Extemporaneous?

This is one of the hardest things to figure out as a young preacher: how much should I rely on a manuscript? How much should I speak off the top of my head? How much should I study and then just talk as I remember my points? These are difficult questions for the young preacher to answer.

My suggestion would be to do this.
  1. Start your preaching career using a manuscript.
  2. As you get more opportunities to preach, change from a full manuscript to a detailed outline.
  3. As you grow familiar with the outline, shift from a detailed outline to a less detailed outline.
  4. When you work well with a pretty sparse outline, you'll need to personally determine whether you can go off the top of your head or if you'll stick to a less detailed outline.

I should note that some guys do not make the shift from 3 to 4. That, in my opinion, is fine. So long as we give our people a rich feeding from the Word, and so long as we are preaching to them in a natural, unaffected, and unchoppy style, then we're fine. The key in my view with preaching is to communicate rich, affective truth in a style that is natural for each of us. We will all preach differently, with varying levels of intensity, drama, formality of speech, and so on, but so long as we are preaching the point of a passage, pointing our hearers to the passage's fulfillment in Christ, speaking in a natural way, and proceeding through the sermon in a natural, smooth style, then I think that we are doing pretty well on the whole.

Manuscript preaching has come back into style, and I certainly can see the merits of it. Less trip-ups, less forgetfulness, less "uhhhhh" as you grasp for the right illustration, less tendency to freelance for so long that your sermon goes much longer than you thought it would. However, it also has some significant drawbacks: manuscript sermons are often more read than preached, one loses some connection with the congregation (unless one is an exceptional reader), and the whole thing can generally feel scripted. In general, it's my personal opinion that it is best for most of us to use a detailed outline or sparser outline, and to adopt a natural, more fluid preaching style that still gives people a rich exegetical diet by which to make application. More on this tomorrow.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A Young Preacher's Thoughts on Preaching: Fresh Insights

Much is made in the current day of preaching the basic truths of the Bible. This we must do. However, it is my opinion that the best preaching is not simply that which is true, but that which digs very deeply into the text and the context of the text to unearth fresh insights or approach familiar truths from fresh angles.

In conservative and reformed circles, many preachers have reacted against liberal disbelief in Scripture by focusing great attention on preaching the point of a passage. Many preachers take pride in the fact that they say nothing new and only declare the counsel of Scripture. I think that there is much to be commended in this line of thinking. Fanciful, allegorical or just plain unbelieving preaching is harmful and ungodly. We must take great pains to preach the point of a given text and to take our homiletical, theological, and applicational cues from the text from which we preach. We must always assume that the Bible has a tremendous amount to say, that it in fact has inexhaustible riches to consider, and that it is the all-sufficient speech of a divine God to a decidedly human audience in desperate need of nothing else but this divine speech.

However, there is a mistake that I think can be made among those who share such thinking as that outlined above. No group has a monopoly on truth and all will fall into error at some point in their thinking. The particular group of which I speak can, I think, lose sight of freshness due to an overemphasis on faithfulness. Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that there should be a limit to how faithful we are in our preaching! I am saying that we can so emphasize preaching the exact point of Scripture and can so rejoice in our lack of fanciful preaching that we actually become lazy in our preaching, fail to really unearth and situate the text, and end up preaching general truths each week that fail to move our listeners. It is our responsibility as preachers, I would argue, to so know the languages, to so study the commentaries, to so meditate on the text, that we preach the great truths of the faith each week but with detail and insight that only hard work can yield. I'll elaborate more on this tomorrow, but for now, the pot should be stirred. It is not enough merely to say the true thing as a Christian preacher; we must go beyond this, and give our people a fresh meal of truth each week.