Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Contemplate Heaven with Me for a Minute: Edward's "Heaven Is a World of Love", Pt. 2

Here, from the pen of Jonathan Edwards, are several ways for the Christian to cultivate a love for heaven and a holy piety that fits us for that realm. These are manifestly helpful to the Christian seeking to learn how to become more heavenly-minded, in the best sense of the term.

"First, let not your heart go after the things of this world, as your chief good. Indulge not yourself in the possession of earthly things as though they were to satisfy your soul. This is the reverse of seeking heaven; it is to go in a way contrary to that which leads to the world of love. If you would seek heaven, your affections must be taken off from the pleasures of the world. You must not allow yourself in sensuality, or worldliness, or the pursuit of the enjoyments or honors of the world, or occupy your thoughts or time in heaping up the dust of the earth. You must mortify the desires of vain-glory, and become poor in spirit and lowly in heart.

Second, you must, in your meditations and holy exercises, be much engaged in conversing with heavenly persons, and objects, and enjoyments.

Third, be content to pass through all difficulties in the way to heaven.

Fourth, In all your way let your eye be fixed on Jesus, who has gone to heaven as your forerunner. Look to him. Behold his glory in heaven, that a sight of it may stir you up the more earnestly to desire to be there.

Fifth, If you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love-of love to God, and love to men. All of us hope to have part in the world of love hereafter, and therefore we should cherish the spirit of love, and live a life of holy love here on earth. This is the way to be like the inhabitants of heaven, who are now confirmed in love forever. Only in this way can you be like them in excellence and loveliness, and like them, too, in happiness, and rest, and joy. By living in love in this world you may be like them, too, in sweet and holy peace, and thus have, on earth, the foretastes of heavenly pleasures and delights. Thus, also, you may have a sense of the glory of heavenly things, as of God, and Christ, and holiness; and your heart be disposed and opened by holy love to God, and by the spirit of peace and love to men, to a sense of the excellence and sweetness of all that is to be found in heaven. Thus shall the windows of heaven be as it weere opened, so that its glorious light shall shine in upon your soul. Thus you may have the evidence of your fitness for that blessed world, and that you are actually on the way to its possession. And being this made meet, through grace, for the inheritance of the saints in light, when a few more days shall have passed away, you shall be with them in their blessedness forever. Happy, thrice happy those, who shall thus be found faithful to the end, and then shall be welcomed to the joy of their Lord! There "they shall hunger no more, neither thrist anymore; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Contemplate Heaven with Me for a Minute: Edward's "Heaven Is a World of Love", Pt. 1

This sermon is an absolute masterpiece. Unfortunately, most Christians have not and never will encounter it. I encourage you to read this section and to check out the sermon. You'll see why if you read it.

The Reality of God’s Unending Love for His People--"As the saints will love God with an inconceivable ardency of heart, and to the utmost of their capacity, so they will know that he has loved them from all eternity, and still loves them, and will continue to love them forever. And God will then gloriously manifest himself to them, and they shall know that all that happiness and glory which they are possessed of, are the fruits of his love. And with the same ardor and fervency will the saints love the Lord Jesus Christ; and their love will be accepted; and they shall know that he has loved them with a faithful, yea, even with a dying love. They shall then be more sensible than now they are, what great love it manifested in Christ that he should lay down his life for them; and then will Christ open to their view the great fountain of love in his heart for them, beyond all that they ever saw before. Hereby the love of the saints to God and Christ is seen to he reciprocated, and that declaration fulfilled, "I love them that love me;" and though the love of God to them cannot properly be called the return of love, because he loved them first, yet the sight of his love will, on that very account, the more fill them with joy and admiration, and love to him."

--From "Heaven Is a World of Love," The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards

I recently taught on this at a local church in the Chicago area and was absolutely transported by Edwards's words. The central point of this passage is that God's love in heaven is something like a rushing force that unstoppably flows into the hearts and souls of His people. Like a sea churning with fury, God's love pours into the hearts of His people such that they are so full, so satiated with God's love, that there is no room for any other emotion or feeling. I do not know, of course, is this is the way heaven is, exactly, but I do commend Edwards for taking a stab at comprehending the reality of an uninhibited divine love. How often do you and I honestly stop to consider what it is like to experience the rushing, surging, overwhelming force of God's love as mediated through Christ in heaven? How much do we struggle to sense flickers of Christ's love while on earth, so cold and sinful are our hearts? Heaven, I am confident, will be very different, and whether it is just like Edwards pictures it in this sermon or not, it is clear from the biblical text that Christians have a great rushing sea of love in which to swim in the next life. Edwards lifts our gazes to think about this coming reality, and it will be worth reflecting on these next few days in order that we might train ourselves to allow our doctrine of heaven to transcend mere abstraction, mere intellectual exercise, and to warm our hearts as the Bible so clearly intends it to.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Jonathan Edwards on the Pastor's Chief Responsibility

The following is from a paper I just wrote on the subject.

Edwards's “Farewell Sermon”, delivered in June 1750 on 2 Corinthians 1:14, presents Edwards’s most extended treatment of the theology of Christian ministry, specifically, the theology of the pastorate. The following quotation captures nicely Edwards’s view of his call.

Ministers are set as guides and teachers, and are represented in Scripture as lights set up in the churches; and in the present state meet their people from time to time in order to instruct and enlighten them, to correct their mistakes, and to be a voice behind them, saying, “This is the way, walk in it” [Is. 30:21]; to evince and confirm the truth by exhibiting the proper evidences of it, and to refute errors and corrupt opinions, to convince the erroneous and establish the doubting.[1]

For all of Edwards’s abilities and proclivities, these words are immensely instructive to the one seeking an abbreviated conception of Edwards’s understanding of his life’s work. A minister is a “light” who leads his people on the narrow path of textual faithfulness. Pastors are both “guides” and “teachers.” Though Edwards’s capacities for preaching and theological instruction are so often bifurcated, in his own mind they were united.[2] The master pastor-theologian saw the Word as calling him to be just that: a pastor-theologian, one called to feed his people truth and to keep them from ingesting theological teaching that would poison and corrupt them.
This life-passion did not produce a thinly moralistic, intellectually simplistic body of work. No, Edwards’s sermons show that his quest to defend truth and refute error resulted in doctrinal and exegetical theology of the richest kind. Theology was not incidental to the life of the local church—it was central. Without a meaty, steady diet of it, the saints would suffer. The road to heaven would grow dark, and the people would wander off, Satan and a thousand dark angels waiting for them. But with it—with preaching of the stoutest kind, the stuff smacking of God, His character, His work, His dealings with men and all creation—the light would shine, and the people would live.
For Edwards, being a pastor-theologian was not a matter of choice, a pastoral flavor neatly tailored to his intellect and gifts. For Edwards, to be a pastor was only to be a pastor-theologian, one who devoted the full strength of his energy and ability to train his people in the way of truth. Though in the future these dual callings would split off from one another, in Edwards and his predecessors they were necessarily and beneficially joined.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “Farewell Sermon” in Kimnach, Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 217.

[2] Edwards offered equally helpful meditations on the pastorate in his “Notes on Scripture”: “When men read the Holy Scripture, they there may see Christ’s glory, as men see images of things by looking in a glass; so we see Christ’s glory in ordinances. Ministers are burning and shining lights, but then they don’t shine by their own light, but only reflect the light of Christ.” Jonathan Edwards, Notes on Scripture, ed. Stephen Stein, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 15 (New Haven: Yale, 1998), 320.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Week-est Link, April 25, 2008: Craig Blomberg, T4G Videos, Doing Hard Things

1. The Henry Center of TEDS in Deerfield, IL recently hosted a great lecture by eminent New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary. Click here to go the Center's website and click on the links under "Recent Media" to hear the talk and also an insightful interview with Dr. Blomberg on the topic of a biblical, pastoral approach to wealth. I happen to be slightly partial to this website, of course, as I manage it in my daily work!

2. Check out a fun video showing the "bookstore" at the T4G conference. Click on the video at the bottom of the page to see the so-called "store" which stretched all prior conceptions of the word. Also, look for an appearance by yours truly at the video's end--I'm in the yellow shirt, meekly handing out Henry Center booklets. In fact, when I first appear in the frame, I'm having one of my booklets handed back to me. Impressive marketing, indeed.

3. Check out Tim Challies's new review of the book Do Hard Things by the younger brothers of Covenant Life pastor Josh Harris. Great book to give to a parent of a teen or a teen himself to encourage a spirit of godly industriousness.

Have a great weekend, all.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Real Life Sanctification: The Century-Old Dilemma of Guys and Sports

As I said a few days ago, I think that when we're talking about sanctification, the progressive growth in grace of the Christian, we need to start with the deeper, higher truths and then carefully but energetically proceed to the workings of everyday life. After all, it is in the cracks of life, the details, the nitty-gritty, that our sanctification is worked out. Much as we might think otherwise, our growth in grace centers not so much in Sunday School, but in how we apply the teachings of Sunday School (or preaching, or our theological reading) to everyday life. We spend way, way more time practically applying our views on sanctification than we do thinking about them.

Am I denigrating theology and the study of it? Not in the least. I'm merely trying to point out to an audience who shades reformed and theologically concerned that while we must richly feed ourselves rich Christian teaching, we must work very hard to break that teaching down and allow it to shape the hum and drum of daily living. Armed with such a mindset, we'll be far less quick to categorize thoughtful reflection on life as "legalism" and far quicker to examine our everyday decisions in the light of higher theology. So with all this said, what should we do about the problem--and I think it is one--of guys and sports? How are we to handle the sports culture and its effect on the church? How can we extricate even thoughtful Christian men (and women, to some extent, but the burden here is on men) from athletic idolatry?

We need first to square with this problem. For young men like myself, for the twenty- and thirtysomething age bracket, we've got to recognize that we grew up in an era in which sports and the celebration of sports figures exploded in the popular media. Boys like myself who grew up in the age of Jordan, Sampras, and Gretzky were exposed to nothing less than glorification of these athletes and many like them. In a society drifting from the port of Judeo-Christian belief and accompanying emphasis on traditional principles like masculine responsibility, traditional commitments to family, church, and society, and important pursuits, sports filled a waiting vacuum. It didn't rise out of nothing. No, it mixed with celebrity culture, entertainment frenzy, and image-driven personhood to shape the modern mind and life. Match these factors with an economy fairly bursting with life and you end up with the sociological marvel that is modern sport. No longer played merely for fun, mostly among friends, and without transcendence, athletics in the last thirty years have become, in the minds of many men, the highest end of life.

Perhaps someone out there scoffs at that rather bold assertion. Well, then, conduct this little experiment: go to a grammar school and ask the little boys what they want to be. Then get back to me. I'm pretty confident that you'll find that the psyche of these little boys has already absorbed on a breathtaking level the transcendence, the importance, of sport. For these boys, and for the men they become, there is almost nothing greater than leading one's team to glory, and than etching one's name in the record books while doing it. Were the Greek poet-historians alive today, they would not celebrate and eulogize the warrior, but the athlete. Of course, we don't need the Greeks--we've got Nike commercials to do this for us. Honestly, some of the most moving moments of my recent life have been had while watching commercials about silly little games and the people who play them. It's not that I wanted to feel moved by these paens to commercialism and the people who fuel it, it's that it's nearly impossible not to feel moved while Nike matches gorgeous slow motion shots with orchestral music. In these little 30-second spots, one discovers the story, the power, the pathos, of modern sport.

Okay, so what does all this mean for we who claim Christ? It means that, if we're men and thereby generally (not, of course, exclusively) inclined to competition and the pursuit of glory, then we're going to feel the pull of modern sports. Furthermore, it means that they're going to tempt us to sacrifice our families, our work, our societies, our sleep patterns, our bodies, our vacations, our conversations, for athletics. Can there be any positive value in sports for men? Surely. It can help men to bond, for example, and relax, and have fun, all things that are good within limits. But can sports get way out of hand for the average Christian guy? Can he--despite what he might think in his mind--fall prey to the cultural obsession with sports, and so compromise in varied ways his walk with Christ? I think that he can. I think that he, on a major scale, does.

I'm not presenting myself as immune to this problem. I'm not. I play basketball a couple of times a week and love it. But I often come home conflicted and sometimes bruised. I sometimes struggle to damp down my competitive streak when the game stops, and I'm aware that continual damage to my body will harm my ability to enjoy such blessings as grandchildren, Lord willing, in the future. So I don't have this all figured out, either in theory or in practice. However, I can see at the very least that I have caught the cultural bug. Left to my own devices, bereft of the Holy Spirit, I could easily go head-over-heels in pursuit of sports. This propensity allows me to see this tendency not only in myself but in other men of God. How many of us stay up too late to watch games, thereby compromising our care of our families? How many of us bruise our bodies week after week, thinking little about the unimportance of such activity (however much we might think differently in the moment) and its long-term effect? How many of us think about how much sports sap our care for our wife, our attention to our children, our hunger for the Word? I'm convinced that many of us struggle in these ways and many more, and that one of the single greatest temptations of your average Christian guy today is to properly balance athletics in a sports-obsessed world.

What do we need, then, if we can see that we are imbalanced? We need accountability. We need the church. We need people asking us hard questions and perhaps giving us direct rebuke for our bad habits. We need to talk about sports with other guys in our churches and to see if we share common struggles. Then, we need to take action. We need our pastors to remember that sanctification is almost never a 30,000 foot issue in the Scripture, but is routinely brought to the ground level of behavior. Therefore, we need pastors who keep in mind the fact that many men (and some women) are obsessed with sports, and need to extricate themselves from sin in this respect. We need to bring up our boys in homes where sports are nothing more than games, things that we can and may well engage in, but that are never, ever construed as being transcendently or even moderately important. They simply aren't. We need fathers to model such a mindset in their own lives by making lots and lots of small, hard choices--to turn the tv off, to resist glorifying an athlete merely for talent, to wax endlessly about mere games.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying sports. It can be a good gift of God. It can bring men together, it can create and deepen friendships, it can bring health to bodies. But we must never let the gift become transcendent. It is not. Instead, we must devote ourselves to God, to healthy fellowship in His church, to devoted care for our wives and children, and allow sports to rest in their proper place, alongside other diversions. We may enjoy them, but we must not let them master us, as they do so many other men. The good of so many around is at stake on issues just like this--men, how will we respond?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Teens, Television, and the Befuddling Mix of the Two

A thoughtful anonymous reader posted this in response to my Monday piece on television watching by evangelicals:

"We don't miss it, but our teenage son is somewhat of a prodigal and resents us for "imposing" our beliefs on him. Of course, we have explained the obvious to him and he is refusing to see reason in the true fashion of teenage rebellion. What would you do in that situation? Just curious. We are not budging, since we have 5younger children, but wonder if we are missing some form of reasonable compromise."

I always read comments to my posts, which is not usually terribly taxing. But that should encourage some of you fence-sitters out there to write in with your thoughts. At any rate, I thought that this was a great question, and so I decided to give it a hack. Let me first say that I am not a parent of children who exist in physical form outside of their mother's womb. I do in fact have a child, but it is presently hanging out in its mother's womb, learning to punch her in all sorts of interesting ways. I am not a parenting authority, then, and do not present myself as one. With that said, I think on a personal level that parents have to set a tone in their home in which they are recognized as the authority. They do not need to apologize for being such and should in fact claim the role of leader as a God-given station in life. They should seek to set a tone for the home, though, in which authority is mixed with grace and love. In other words, children in Christian homes should be happy, inasmuch as parents can make this happen. They should experience life in happy, joyful terms. They should not grow up with a view of the Christian home that sees it only in terms of what it is against, but rather that sees it as being clearly rooted in joy that flows forth from a rich understanding of the doctrines of election, atonement, and providence.

This means that we strive to make our homes happy, that we give our children that happiest childhood we can, and that we root all our parenting in a vision of the Christian life that is not legalistic or stingy. However, we will also have to make difficult choices that our children, particularly our teens, may disagree with. Hopefully, when this happens, we can look back and see that we have trained our teens to trust our authority and follow our leadership, even if they disagree with certain decisions we make. Without such a foundation, I really don't know what one would do in the situation described above. With it, though, we can point our children to the duty to obey their parents, clearly and graciously articulate the reasons for our decision, and instruct them to seek to live joyfully under our rule.

In this particular instance, it sounds like this young person could have a hard heart. I don't think it's the parent's duty to give in here, as it often is not. Way more often, it's going to be the child's duty to follow their parents. Were I in the above situation, I would do what I've already written and stand my ground. Of course, I'm not sure that I would necessarily outlaw all tv, and that's not what I stated in my post. If you have made that decision, however, I would stick to your guns, love your son boldly, and attempt to show him that you're not making this decision to stick it to him but to usher him to holiness. If he rebels against you, that shows that his heart is hard. Again, he can well choose to watch tv when he's on his own, but as long as he's in your house, it is his biblical responsibility to joyfully submit to your leadership and follow you as his God-given authority, one put there for his own health and flourishing. It will naturally only help if this response is given in the context of a home in which a full, happy, rich Christian life is celebrated.

But even still, your son may reject your wisdom, and rebel against you. In such a case, you must not relinquish your authority as a parent and bend to his will, but stand firm and seek to love him.

Those are my thoughts--do other readers have their own? This is a sticky question, I must admit. I gave it my best shot, but as I said, I'm no authority here!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Sweet Work of God's Spirit: A Reflective Review of Collin Hansen's New Book Young, Restless, Reformed

One of the more shocking developments in the evangelical bubble the last few years was the sudden appearance of a number of very thoughtful journalistic pieces on the reformed movement and its figures in the mainstream evangelical magazine Christianity Today. CT, as it is known in the evangelical world, is well-known for its international focus, centrist theology, and high-quality writing. Until Collin Hansen's groundbreaking article, "Young, Restless, Reformed", though, it had not given a great amount of attention to the surging reformed movement among evangelical Christians.

That article, which expertly combined fresh writing with high-level observation, led to several other profiles of reformed thinkers and events, including one of Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll that is eminently worth reading. These various pieces eventually found their way into Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, a book hot off the presses from Crossway Books. Crossway is putting out many of the best books nowadays, and I am excited to see what the Lord continues to do with this publishing house. They have a clear winner in YRR (as I will refer to the book from now on) as Hansen has succeeded in giving the reader a fascinating on-the-ground account of the reformed movement among the young evangelicals.

The "New Calvinists", as Hansen terms them, often happened upon reformed theology by accident. Raised in Arminian or mainline churches, many young people gravitated to the Passion conferences staged by Louie Giglio throughout the South in the 1990s and the early years of this decade. Seeking the fresh, loud, zesty music of the conferences, many of these attendees were struck nearly numb by the preaching of a slight, bespectacled 60-year-old man named John Piper, who delivered messages calling for radical self-sacrifice for the glory of a transcendent, majestic God who personally loved His people enough to give them joy forever through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many of these students walked away from Passion profoundly changed, their theology transformed, their minds blown, their hearts inflamed to pour their lives out for the glory of God. Minds humming, many of these young people went back to their campuses, their local churches, their youth groups, and transformed them. The movement was afoot.

Hansen was not far behind. It is this group of people whose scent he tracks in YRR. He himself is one of their number, and thus the book reads with the same wide-eyed, excited, theologically captured kind of tone one finds among countless students today at places like Southern Seminary (which Hansen aptly terms the "Ground Zero" of the new calvinism), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Master's Seminary, Gordon-Conwell (to some extent), Reformed Theological Seminary, and many others. Hansen's chief assertion--that this movement exists at all, which some might question--is indeed indubitably proven by these campus communities, and by the energy of institutions connected formally or informally to the New Calvinism. Beyond the seminaries, think about organizations like Acts 29 (church planting network spreading like wildfire), Together for the Gospel (5000 strong), and The Gospel Coalition (scheduled for thousands in May 09). Each of these groups count twenty- and thirty-somethings as their key demographic. There is tremendous energy in this movement, as one can readily see.

Hansen's book is an on-the-ground account of the Calvinist Convergence, and so it does not offer statistics or factual data which would anchor its claims in irrefutable numbers. It does quote some studies, including the controversial Lifeway study of SBC Calvinism from a few years back, but it eschews in-depth numerical work for the telling of stories of the young people who populate this movement. If one wishes for a bit of background on what other theological movements are drawing young people, and how their draw compares to the New Calvinism, one will have to turn elsewhere. One cannot strongly fault Hansen for this matter, though--it's quite clear throughout the book that he has his capable hands full trying to track the fast-moving reformed crowd.

The book is nicely written, with an admixture of crisp, clean reporting and pithy comments. Hansen alternates between personal profiles, abstract observations, and theological commentary, and the combination works well. This is theological journalism, albeit fresh, passionate theological journalism that fits the subject it profiles. How boring it would have been to read a cold, rote account of the movement. Hansen succeeds in giving each of the title's elements flesh and bone. One feels the youth of the reformed movement, the restlessness of its participants, the strength of its commitment to the doctrines of grace. To be a part of this group is to be a part of a profoundly exciting, dynamic work of God, as my own life attests and this book reflects.

For many young reformed types, discovering true biblical theology is not an exercise in doctrinal calculation or scholastic argumentation. It is all about discovering a big, massive, breathtaking view of God that fundamentally reorients one's life and views, that displaces the self from its throne and that frees the soul to gaze at a majestic, mysterious, and incredibly generous God as He works out His plan and calls His people to labor with Him to blast His glory all through this earth. This vision, for most New Calvinists, does not stifle evangelism, or squelch Christian love, but fuels it, shapes it, funnels it into dynamic and even radical acts of service to God. More than any other piece of journalistic sociology I know of, YRR captures these realities.

Buy the book. Buy it. It reads very quickly--160 pages of lucid, engaging prose--and it will give you a place from which to evaluate and understand the reformed movement that is sweeping through churches and organizations of all types and denominations. I would have liked Hansen to give a bit more explanation on how the popularity of hip-hop relates to the reformed resurgence, and I would have liked more contemporary context, but these are mere drops on the duck's back. Collin Hansen is an excellent profiler, but he is also a shrewd commentator, and his book will not fail to educate and entertain you. I count Collin a good friend, and I am excited to see what the Lord does with his gifts. But let's not jump ahead of ourselves--order Young, Restless, Reformed and see firsthand what the Lord is already doing through Collin and his gifts.

The fundamental take-away of YRR? God is great, and He is good! He is doing incredible things among His younger people. Where they could be wasting their lives, pursuing their own interests and glory, and falling away from the faith due to doctrinal malaise, they are vibrant, happy, hungry for biblical truth, and zealous for God. Read the book and see if you're not challenged while reading it to spontaneously give praise to God for this sweet work of His Spirit, this fresh stroke from His painter's brush, that is reshaping an entire generation to give their hearts, their hands, their voices for the spread of his awesome renown.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Real-Life Sanctification: How Much Television Should a Christian Watch?

I actually figured this one out the other day. Turns out the correct amount rounds out to about eight hours a week.

Just thought that you might want to know.

And with that, I bring this bad joke to a close, even as I ask this question in a serious manner: how much tv should we watch as believers? It strikes me that this question ties in with our sanctification more than some of us might think. Sometimes we talk a good deal about sanctification--our progressive, life-long, Spirit-given growth in godliness as redeemed believers--but fail to put any feet on it. We forget to go the next step and ask, what does it actually look like to be sanctified in our contemporary age? In a culture that gravitates to certain sins and patterns of behavior, what does it look like to live a transformed life per Romans 12? We ought not to think that we can talk a great deal about sanctification without clear practical application. That's like talking a great deal about the importance of political engagement but never actually doing anything to enact that love. We would say that such a person is full of hot air--always possessing an opinion, yet never coupling that opinion with action. Many of us, however, can fall prey to just such a lifestyle.

In asking questions like this, then, we're not trying to get pinned down on tiny little matters that have no tie to our faith. No, we're trying to carry out Romans twelve in a very meaningful way and ask ourselves, what does it look like to be an American Christian? I appreciate this about my former boss, Dr. Al Mohler. He teaches about sanctification as a systematic theologian, but he then seeks to discern the particular challenges of contemporary culture to the sanctification of the individual Christian. I want to do the same, and I want to encourage others to do the same. Toward that end, many Americans watch a ton of television. Here's a quotation on the absolutely stunning amount of tv your average American watches (source):

"Figures from Nielsen Media Research show the average US household consuming eight hours and 14 minutes of TV per day; with the average individual American watching four hours and 35 minutes a day."


This is an obviously unhealthy amount of television viewing. I'm not even going to attempt to ground that claim. I don't need to. And yet we have to wonder how many Christians fit this "average" profile. I'm guessing, sadly, that many do. Beyond this, I'm guessing that many healthy, reformed, book-reading, intentionally holy Christians do as well. Why is it harmful to watch so much tv? Well, it's wasteful. One ends up lolling in front of a constantly blinking set with very little to show for it in the end. Of course, we all need some relaxation time, some period of the day when we rest our minds and allow ourselves to kick back. But we should not make the apparently national mistake of thinking that "relax" equals "television". It does not. Furthermore, there are so very many more healthy and helpful things we can do than to watch massive amounts of television. We can pray with our spouses or friends; we can read a good book together (yes, normal people actually do this!); we can go on a walk; we can go visit a person in need; we can call an unmarried friend who is in need of encouragement; we can check up on family members by a quick telephone call; we can write a blog post of endless length and little actual readership (just checking that you're reading). In these and so many other ways, we can avoid letting television do its voodoo work of mental hypnosis and physical paralysis.

Television is not nearly as neutral as many of us "engaging culture" types think it is. Bethany and I don't watch much of it, but our limited viewings of The Office definitely influence us. We repeat funny lines to one another, wonder out loud about whether Jim and Pam will ultimately marry, and laugh about Michael's antics. Though these acts are not inherently bad, necessarily, they show us that even in our very limited viewing, we are being impacted by our subject material. Many of my "engaging culture" friends have not caught on to the fact that though they, like me at times, think that they are impervious to all cultural influence on their faith, they in fact are not, as inarguably demonstrated by their use of a style of humor that one learns from shows like The Office, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. Do you really think that your ironic comebacks and affected coolness come only from your own comedic preferences? No, just like me and everyone else, you've been influenced to joke in that way by culture. It's not neutral, and neither is your approach to it.

In watching lots of tv, then, we'll be shaped by it in profound ways. Unless you're watching John MacArthur shows on loop on TBN, that's not a good thing, broadly speaking. Am I arguing here for legalism, for some prune-like, sour-mouthed Christianity? I don't think that I am. I'm merely trying to point out that we have a limited amount of time in the day, and what we take in during that limited time will shape us. It should not surprise us at all when we are less spiritually hungry and fruitful in seasons when we're consuming (and being consumed by) popular media. It only makes sense that this happen. If we want spiritual health and vitality, we're going to have to force ourselves to fight for holiness and to discipline ourselves for the purpose of attaining spiritual health. Christians who do so are most often the ones who, when cancer or financial difficulty or spousal sin or lay-offs or rejection letters or broken friendships hit, are most able to maintain a strong faith and even radiate joy in the midst of their trials. When you've been working through a good Puritan paperback, or listening to Mahaney sermons, or volunteering at your local crisis pregnancy center, you're going to be healthier than the person who has taken in lots of television, film, and music. It only makes sense.

Let's wrap this up with a personal word. My wife and I are working hard at this. At night, when we're both tired, it comes fairly naturally to put the tube and put our feet up. It's easy, it's fun, and it makes sense. While we've both realized that there are definitely times in the week when it is fine (and even good!) to do so, we can also both see that a steady diet of tv or movies dulls us spiritually and hinders us from doing really important spiritual things that will mature and grow us both personally and as a couple. We've recently drawn up a weekly schedule (shades of legalism--flee!) that will give us a basic form for the week. On a number of nights, we'll do lots of different things--have company, pray together for an extended time for the salvation of family (or the defeat of institutional abortion, the welfare of orphans abroad, the coming of God's kingdom), go on a walk, read a book on parenting--and on other nights, we'll watch something, often just a few shows of something we like, like The Office. In this way, we hope to avoid legalism and self-righteousness on the one hand and undisciplined media gluttony and spiritual torpor on the other.

We haven't necessarily solved this question, and we don't claim to have the perfect answer, and having a child is going to change everything, and we'll probably fluctuate in our actual practice of this plan, but we are resolved to use the limited time we have in this life well, and to grow in holiness. Eight hours a week may work, or it may not, but whatever the perfect answer is to the question posed in the blog's title, we are hopeful that we and many others can rebel against the culture and engage with God in real-life sanctification that defeats the whispers of the evil one ("just relax, you don't need to be all spiritual") and that in fact transforms us even as we pursue it.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dispatches from T4G: Day Three--Sacrifice and Sayonara

Today's very quick thoughts:

1. One of the hardest things about T4G is the fact that many friends from the past are around. We're talking the type who you never see. This makes it really hard to know what to do in organizing one's schedule. Do you listen to the speaker who's got great things to say or catch up with a long-lost friend for mutual edification? Tough call.

2. John Piper gave a typically stirring talk on the biblical imperative of Christian sacrifice for the sake of God's glory. I found most moving, perhaps, his comments afterwards on how fathers must sacrifice their interests for the betterment of their families. I recommend you find the panel discussion (when it's available) following Piper's talk and listen to the whole thing.

3. Dr. Al Mohler hosted his fellow conference organizers on his radio show today. Dever, Duncan and Mahaney came in for a fun and helpful discussion that will prove helpful to those wondering what on earth I've been talking about the last three days. Give it a listen.

4. To all friends of the past seen at the conference: it was a treasure to be with you. To all friends made at the conference: it was a joy to meet you. To all who hunger for a much fuller fellowship, a fellowship that will include not simply the reformed and conservative but the international, trans-denominational, trans-labels body of Christ united by faith in His death and resurrection: it will be simply unspeakable to taste in full what this conference gave us in a very small part.

See you in 2010.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dispatches from T4G: Day Two--Cupcakes and Curses

Quick thoughts from another very long and very rich day.

1. The opportunity to connect with fellow like-minded Christians is simply breathtaking at a conference of the magnitude of T4G. If you have not attended a conference of this sort, I would encourage you to do so in the future. In the past few days, I have seen dozens of old friends. I've been able to talk with many people whose writing and work I admire. I've met total strangers who I had an instant bond with. Conferences of this sort (and the Gospel Coalition, among others) are a rich treat. Consider going to an event of this sort if you have not, even if you don't know many folks who will be going. It will be good for your soul.

2. R. C. Sproul gave a masterful talk on curse motif of the Bible. As a speaker, he understands how to use every word, and every one seems carefully chosen. He is one of a rare breed of speakers who does not simply convey meaty content, but who does so in a textured, almost narratival way such that truth is not simply caught but felt. When he was talking about the idea of the sacrificial scapegoat, you could almost see the goat trotting away to its death in the wild. I would recommend that everyone listen to this talk when it comes out on mp3. You will be stirred in a way that is rare in this age of dumbed-down, simplistic communication, when rhetoric (and theology-fueled rhetoric) is largely a lost art.

3. There is nothing like hearing 5000-6000 people singing "And Can it Be". Wow.

4. If you do not know much about Covenant Life pastor (and I Kissed Dating Goodbye author) Joshua Harris, you should. Simply put, he is perhaps the most humble, kind man I think I've ever met. I talked with him and a few others for a bit today, and he listened to me like I was telling him the secret formula for long life. Soak up whatever you can of his ministry--he is a man I think is marked by God for his humble piety.

5. The dark-chocolate cupcakes at T.G.I. Friday's are sensational. Thanks, Paul Curtis--it was great to devour them with you.

6. I don't want to make you jealous, but tomorrow morning I have the privilege of waking up and listening to 1) John Piper on sacrifice and 2) CJ Mahaney on pastoral ministry. Honestly, friends, this is slated to be one of the richest mornings I think that I (and 5000 of my closest friends) will see.

Now, if you add some cupcakes to said morning...

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dispatches from T4G: Day One--Band of Bloggers and Our Own Pastor-Comedian

I'm writing this at an extremely advanced hour and am nearing my crash point. However, the T4G conference has been so encouraging, so moving, that it's hard not to be energized in body by the refreshment of spirit I've received.

There's much to say, but I'll just give you a numbered list of interesting moments and thoughts from the first day of the conference.

1. It is good fun to watch Mark Dever lead a crowd of people. He's this odd combination of brainy nerve, jovial demeanor, heartfelt piety, contrarian pique, and happy emcee. He manages to move you and make you laugh within the same minute. Even from afar, one can see that he is a naturally gifted leader. Some people just have it.

2. C. J. Mahaney could have been a world-famous comedian. He is able to bring out the humor from even the driest of crowds and speakers. When you're pals with John Piper, John MacArthur and Ligon Duncan, this is a decided benefit, at least to those watching you be pals with the aforementioned men (as the T4G audience does during the panel discussions). C. J. is downright hilarious. I love watching him go after people. He's a decided blend of gentle mockery and outright mockery. The balance is fun to observe.

3. The Band of Bloggers event put on by Timmy Brister was a smash. Despite being a UPS worker and a full-time student, Timmy engineered a terrific mini-conference on Christian blogging. I am repeatedly impressed by Timmy's drive and ability to take on heavy responsibility and succeed, and this event was no exception. If you are not familiar with Band of Bloggers, check out the website. In coming days, there will be an opportunity for bloggers to join a Christian blogging community, which is great for connection to others, exposure, and the like. Check the website in the next several weeks for more information.

4. Great talks today by Ligon Duncan on systematic theology and Thabiti Anyabwile on racial identity. I'm sure you'll be hearing a good deal about them on other blogs. Tomorrow we'll be hearing from John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, Al Mohler, and Mark Dever. It's a tough life here at the T4G conference.

See you tomorrow for another late-night posting.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

T4G Week at Consumed: Coming Up, Dispatches from the Conference

I'm heading off to sunny Louisville, KY with my wife and a friend. I have very little time to blog (none, actually), so I'm writing to let you know to check back in throughout the week. I'll be writing about the Together for the Gospel conference and reflecting on the various talks that will be given by men like Piper, Mahaney, Dever and Mohler.

This is the closest thing to an "on-the-road" feature you're going to get at consumed. Be sure to check in and find out what's going on at a conference that seeks to exalt the gospel and to build a sense of organic evangelical unity around it. Here's the blurb about the conference from the 2006 Statement of Faith--it's a great starting point:

"We are brothers in Christ united in one great cause – to stand together for the Gospel. We are convinced that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized in many churches and among many who claim the name of Christ. Compromise of the Gospel has led to the preaching of false gospels, the seduction of many minds and movements, and the weakening of the church’s Gospel witness."

See you throughout the week!

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Week-est Link, April 11, 2008

1. One of my favorite rappers, Braille, has a new album coming out. If you have never heard of Braille, or never given his music a chance, go to his Myspace page and listen to some of his tracks. Braille is a Christian from Oregon, and he makes great, God-glorifying music. See--unbelievers don't have all the good music!

2. This week's Blog Gem: Southern Seminary student Blake White's "Barabbas". Blake, a Texan, has a great blog going. He links to lots of interesting stuff and, while generally keeping commentary to a minimum, often has good things to say. He has a heart for contextualized Christianity and the spread of the gospel. He's also a killer basketball player, but that's neither here nor there. Check out his excellent blog.

3. An interesting Desiring God piece by John Piper on preaching as "Concept Creation". Piper is one of the few major reformed guys who is really interacting with contextualized theology, and I appreciate his efforts to do so.

4. Fun New Yorker piece on the actor George Clooney and the effort behind his effortless charm. I appreciate that Clooney makes films like "Ocean's 11" that are fun but that don't glorify sex. He's restored fun to Hollywood, I think.

5. David Powlison writes as helpfully as ever about "biopsychiatry". If you're like me, and you often wonder about where the line between truth and falsehood lies in regard to psychology and psychiatry, then I think you'll find this piece and others by Powlison to be of help. (HT: Justin Taylor)

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The New York Times on My Alma Mater's Food: And You Thought People Chose Bowdoin for the Academics

Actually, title of this blog aside, most people have no idea what Bowdoin College is, let alone why anyone would choose to go to this tiny school in Maine. But I, fair friends, am here to attempt to correct this cruel imbalance of perception by the ultimate stroke of modern agency: blogging.

The reason I got to thinking about my alma mater was this story by Michael Sanders in yesterday's New York Times. Titled "Latest College Reading Lists: Menus With Pho and Lobster", the piece profiles two schools, Bowdoin and Virginia Tech, that emphasize excellence in on-campus dining. There's an accompanying slideshow that is itself a visual feast. In an age of hypercompetition between schools that share many features, every aspect of the school becomes important. Bowdoin has seen that food is a huge part of college life and has prioritized excellent dining in its budget and general philosophy. The result is that, as the piece notes, students often come to dinner and stay for an hour and a half. When I sent this piece to another alumnus, he remarked that this assessment was woefully inadequate. My friends and I would regularly stretch the dinner hour into two. Several years after graduation, those meandering conversations, punctuated by visits from a variety of folks, are some of my fondest memories. The Bowdoin philosophy is, I think, worthwhile.

But this is to say nothing of the food. The food was tremendous! Dining at Bowdoin was an indulgence, really, and one sometimes felt a little silly at the choices before one each night. Of course, when students are paying over $40k per year for an education, what do you expect? I can easily recall the smell of the omelet bar each Saturday morning, the aroma of steak or chicken parm or pad thai wafting through the dining hall. The dining hall mentioned in the piece, Thorne Hall, is itself a marvel to behold. For thousands of dollars, the school had lights that change color installed overhead. Though that may sound weird, the effect was impressive, as were the hardwood floors and stainless steel counters.

Thinking about food at Bowdoin makes one think about Bowdoin in general. I would encourage people to check the school out, and I would encourage young Christian people to think about attending the school. There is a great need for Christian witness at this and many other Northeastern schools of its ilk. If you're a Christian in high school, don't automatically assume that you'll go to a Christian college or university. Think hard about whether your faith can withstand the test of an unbelieving university. Also, realize that many of these schools are not quite as menacing as they can sometimes be made out by well-meaning Christians. Students who are not well-grounded in their faith, who have not been trained to plug into a solid church and participate meaningfully in it, may very well struggle. I certainly saw that at Bowdoin. At a school of this type, where professors and students alike are intellectually able and generally averse to Christianity, believers will encounter significant challenges at times, and some who are weak to begin with will tragically fall away. But it was my experience that a student who was connected to a local church and in regular, enriching fellowship with non-believers could not only survive in a secular environment but thrive in it, and have countless opportunities to share the gospel and be an instrument of redemption.

We ought not to abandon bastions of secular thought, then. Bowdoin has a gay and lesbian studies department, but that does not mean that Christians cannot go to such a school and be a witness to the very students who would be inclined to such a "discipline". On the contrary, such places are rife with witnessing opportunities. I personally did far more evangelism in college than I have done since, primarily because I was surrounded by intellectually curious young people who were often quite open to conversation about spiritual things. Some thinkers today paint a portrait of the average intellectual twentysomething unbeliever as if he walks around just ready to conversationally cut down any Christian he can find. My friends and I encountered some of this type, to be sure, but we met far more students who were confused, honest, and open to conversation about religion and the higher questions of life. Beware of easy stereotypes that lump widely divergent groups of people into a single mass of clearly defined qualities.

The food at Bowdoin was great. So were the academics. It's a very tough little college that provides its students with exceptionally small classes taught by teachers who love to teach. It's in a beautiful spot in Maine (can you tell I was a tour guide?). But for a Christian, it not only offers a great education, but a great opportunity. If you're considering schools yourself, or if you're raising young minds, don't automatically write off a college like Bowdoin. Pray about it, and see if you--or your charge--might be part of a gospel movement at such a place, an undertaking more significant than even the most exhilarating educational experience.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Resurgence of Philosophy on the Modern College Campus

The New York Times has a story out today about the surge in interest in philosophy among contemporary college students. Here's the key quotation:

"Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts."

There's much to analyze about this phenomenon. For now, it's enough to note just a very few things. First, I think that the interest in philosophy is a direct response to the lack of classes in religion and theology in many college curricula today. In schools that do have such programs, these programs are often not required, and thus many students simply do not take them. Yet though we may a monolithic idea of college education today, many students are asking the higher questions of life. Philosophy classes give them such an opportunity.

Second, we can note that while interest in philosophy is a good thing, as it tends to self-examination and the asking of important questions that only Christianity can adequately answer, it is also taught as a secular exercise by many professors. Perhaps such classes may still be used to point out the flaws, however unintentionally, in certain philosophical and theological systems. One can hope that this is so. It could also lead students only farther away from true philosophy, that which is based in and bounded by Scripture. There doesn't seem to necessarily be a clear-cut answer here, making this question an inherently interesting philosophical and theological question in its own right: is the study of philosophy in itself a positive endeavor? I'd be interested to see what others think. Note that I'm not talking about Christian philosophy here; I'm asking whether the mere study of philosophy at a secular school taught by a non-Christian is a positive sign in the culture. I tend to think it is, but I'm sure that others will disagree, and I'm guessing that they'll make some good points.

Third, whether this rising interest in the discipline is positive in a spiritual sense, I think that it certainly is in a social sense. That is, philosophy is a rigorous discipline that requires one to think, argue, and write well. It's much harder to coast in philosophy than it is in other disciplines. I would encourage students to study philosophy far before I would encourage them to study other wildly popular subjects like sociology or psychology. It's one thing if you want to work in these fields. But if you merely want to study a subject that interests, I would personally encourage students to study a more rigorous discipline like philosophy, history, or the like.

Of course, there's always another reason to study this timeless discipline, as found in the NYT article:

Jenna Schaal-O’Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore who is majoring in cognitive science and linguistics, said philosophy had other perks. She said she found many male philosophy majors interesting and sensitive.

“That whole deep existential torment,” she said. “It’s good for getting girlfriends.”

If the above didn't convince you, my single male friends, I've got nothing else for you.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What I Am Reading Now: Or, This Is What Happens When Your Buddy "Tags" You

My friend Reid Monaghan "tagged" me to fill out this little survey about reading. I played along.

What are you reading on Spring reading days?

I do not have Spring reading days. Currently I am reading various works of Jonathan Edwards for my class on the same. "Heaven Is a World of Love" was recently on the list, and it was simply stunning. I'm also reading Voltaire's Candide for my Enlightenment class. This week I'll be working through The Life of David Brainerd by Edwards.

What do you wish you had time to read?

Well, I've been making time here and there to read the 1999 biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr by Andrew Chernow entitled Titan. It is a masterpiece. It's a bit fiduciary for my tastes; I don't have a great mind for finances (just ask my wife). However, Chernow explains the financial stuff with clarity and punch, and that makes for easier reading. The material on Rockefeller's personal life is absorbing. As with all good biographies, I get lost in his world while reading. He's such a fascinating figure--an extremely moral, ethical Christian who nonetheless torques the business world to advance the interests of his oil trust, Standard Oil Company. He becomes the richest man in the world, and yet he does so while constantly encountering very complex moral questions that do not have easy answers. What is the Christian response to predatory pricing? To the free market? Should one work to crush competitors, or is it more ethical to allow them to exist even when their extinction could be achieved? The biography raises such matters, and is simply a joy to read. Biography is perhaps my favorite type of writing to read, with the possible exception of fictional character studies of the type that novelist Tom Wolfe does (I Am Charlotte Simmons, Bonfire of the Vanities).

What have you decided NOT to read that you were assigned to read.

Hmmm. Nothing. I need to read it all. I should read it all, as I'll benefit from it all.

What is one great quote from your reading?

Jonathan Edwards on the absence of jealousy in heaven--"The saints shall know that God loves them, and they shall never doubt the greatness of his love, and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow inhabitants in heaven. And they shall not be jealous of the constancy of each other's love. They shall have no suspicion that the love which others have felt toward them is abated, or in any degree withdrawn from themselves for the sake of some rival, or by reason of anything in themselves which they suspect is disagreeable to others, or through any inconstancy in their own hearts or the hearts of others. Nor will they be in the least afraid that the love of any will ever be abated toward them. There shall be no such thing as inconstancy and unfaithfulness in heaven, to molest and disturb the friendship of that blessed society. The saints shall have no fear that the love of God will ever abate towards them, or that Christ will not continue always to love them with unabated tenderness and affection. And they shall have no jealousy one of another, but shall know that by divine grace the mutual love that exists between them shall never decay nor change."

Why are you blogging? (You’re supposed to be reading!)

Because by blogging on reading, I'll hopefully induce others to read. I've highlighted two excellent things to read here, and I hope some will check them out.

Also, though, I love to write. It's a bit like breathing for me, except I only do it for a few moments each day. I suppose, then, that I only breathe for a few daily moments. Somehow, that's enough for me. To write is to live; to live is to write.

(Take that, snarky question asker.)

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Wimps, Goofballs, and Thugs: Deconstructing Contemporary Masculine Stereotypes with Salvo Magazine

Note: this piece is cross-posted today at CBMW's GenderBlog.

A recent Salvo Magazine piece by S. T. Karnick, "Girly Men: The Media's Attack on Masculinity", lays out three stereotypical masculine images found in contemporary culture. Here's Karnick's distillation of the roles currently available to men in American society:

"(T)he war against boys seems to have created three main character patterns for the adult male of our time: sensitive guys who want to please women; weenies and dorks who want only to be left alone to drink beer and play video games with their dork buddies; and thugs who, in rebellion against their unnatural education, are perpetually concerned with proving their toughness through increasingly loutish behavior. There are, of course, examples of decent, positively masculine males in the culture, but they are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by the products of educational and cultural feminization."

Each of these characters depresses us, even as we realize that they are not fully imperfect. The sensitive man, after all, is something of a reaction to the cold, emotionless "Lone Ranger" type of man popularized by actors like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. The sensitive man represents a cultural attempt, then, to correct John Wayne masculinity. Where his father or grandfather never wept, never talked much, never said "I love you", the sensitive male weeps readily, chatters away, and reassures anyone within earshot of his love. In seeking an emotionally alive masculinity the sensitive man seems to have sped past "properly balanced emotional life" and landed in the once-foreign land of "traditionally feminine ways of speaking and feeling". The Christian man stands ready to lend him his roadmap.

However off-base this quest may be, at least the sensitive man seeks to go somewhere. The same can not be said for our goofball. Like other useful items strewn around his room in his parent's home, he could not find a sense of self-control, of shame, if offered a cash reward for it. Where men used to define themselves by taking responsibility, by making money, seeking a wife, fathering children, and so on, various factors changed all this. The rise of collegiate culture unimpeded by institutional Christianity, the booming of anonymous cities that allowed for familial escape, and the rise of the playboy bachelor in the post-World War Two era mixed with the rebellious 1960s to explode responsible masculinity. With that, the man-child was born, and so too a major missiological challenge.

The third group--the thugs--represents a reaction against each of these stereotypes. More accurately, perhaps, this third group is a subgroup of the first. This type of man prizes action, not talk, unlike both the sensitive man and the goofball. This is the kind of man who exalts deeds, not words, who would rather talk with his fists than his mouth. Though all three of these perversions of true manhood have existed throughout human history, this type has caused the most damage, at least physically. Your conquerors, your tyrants, your bullies from high school? They fit here. Driven by pride, motivated by glory and the opinions of others, this group, when unrestrained, possesses the power to cause great harm to others.

If many contemporary men fall into these three rather frightening categories, how are local churches to respond? First, by affirming the element of goodness found in each type. Men of the Bible are by no means silent or unemotional. The father of the prodigal son, for example, weeps openly and deservedly when his son returns home (see Luke 15:11-32). Christ Himself wept when He heard of Lazarus's death (John 11:35). Christ was compassionate, tender, gentle, and merciful throughout the course of His ministry. So we ought to be a balance of strength and gentleness, not either/or. On the other hand, it's a bit difficult to find the goodness in the goofball, frankly. With that said, we can appreciate the way in which this type lives honestly and often happily, enjoying the arts, sports, music, and more. Perhaps this cultural pattern of manhood shows us that men do not need to be grim and dour to be truly masculine. As with sensitivity, we need to work hard to strike a balance here, but we can surely recognize that the Bible affirms a balanced, happy life--see Ecclesiastes for more on that. The Christian man ought to be responsible, but he ought also to be happy.

The thug, for his part, shows us that men were not meant to be wimps. We were meant to be strong, to the best of our capability, and to use that strength for the betterment of others. The patriarchs worked the land, and they worked it hard, in order to provide for their families. Death was a constant threat--to worship in Israel in many ages was to worship with a sword on the belt. Christ Himself stormed through the temple, turning over tables, scourging the wicked. In His second coming, He will arrive as the Warrior-King. Therefore, as men, we should realize that to be a man is to harness one's natural strength, energy, and agency for the betterment of others, namely, one's family, church, and brothers and sisters.

We see, then, that there is a fourth model: the redeemed leader, whose type we derive from the Bible. In a sense, this fourth model is a composite of the earlier three types--or rather, the three types are all realized in Christ, the God-man, whose model is elaborated in the Bible. We must not let our children learn what it is to be a man--or a woman, of course!--from MTV, or Hollywood, or the NBA. No, we must embody robust, godly masculinity in our churches. This starts with a pastor who embodies biblical manhood and who then teaches men to do the same. A full commitment must be made to teaching men the rudiments of biblical masculinity--Proverbs, the Gospels, 2 Timothy come to mind here.

Churches must thus teach men not to be feminine in matters of communication and emotion, not to shirk responsibility and maturity, not to mistreat and abuse others, but to emulate the Savior. When churches train men in this way, fathers will trains their sons, leading to sea changes in Christian culture. The pastor is important, but he trains only one family directly. Every Christian church, however, has many fathers, and it is up to them in an earthly sense to determine whether they will raise men of Christ or men of culture. It is not too much to say that all of the above, all of the preceding discussion, rises or falls with the simple matter of what a father teaches his family, what models he holds up before them, and how he lives out that teaching.

Will our boys be wimps, goofballs, thugs--or will they be a fourth type: Christian leaders according to the dictates of Scripture? The answer depends not on what the culture says, not on what it parades before us on television, but on the conception of man that we teach, that we exalt, and that we embody before the eyes that are always watching, the hearts that are always taking shape and form.

taking shape and form.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

The Week-est Link, April 4, 2008: The Lord's Prayer, Rhapsody in August, and the Explanatory Power of Credobaptism

1. My wife showed me this video of a tiny little girl singing the Lord's prayer. It's precious. Out of the mouth of babes...

2. If you have not seen have August Rush, then you have not heard "August's Rhapsody". Therefore, you are impoverished. Listen to this little girl sing--it is nothing short of rapturous! Click the link, listen to the song, and then watch the movie. As I recently wrote, it's not a perfect movie, but it's inspiring and at times quite beautiful.

3. Future Southern Baptist theologian Robbie Sagers publishes a review of an excellent new book on the doctrine of believer's baptism. It's well-written and has a great section on how to approach the doctrine from a christocentric, kingdom-focused perspective. I found that part illuminating, and I think you will, too. (HT: Henry Institute)

4. Is the American newspaper soon to be extinct? Read this exhaustive piece in the New Yorker, and then get back to me. Things don't look good. What does that mean for our society?

5. The scariest photo I think I've ever seen. Dever + Mahaney + theological cooperation=T4G (very good, on the whole). Dever + Mahaney + physical merger=some sort of alien conqueror. (HT: Justin Taylor)

6. Blog gem: Standing on Shoulders. This is a group blog done by several SBTS students, all of whom are sharp, godly guys and friends of mine. Their blog is young but is already quite good, with lots of dense, helpful material on church history and theology. (Not every "Blog Gem" will be a church history blog, I promise). Check out their blog, and prepare for edification.

Have a great weekend, all. Christ is risen!

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Embodied Theology: Or, a Brief Investigation of How Theology Applies to Life

I'm taking a PhD class on the Enlightenment with the master historian John Woodbridge. He's a genuine gem of a Christian scholar, as he combines humble piety with an academic pedigree including a PhD on the Enlightenment era from the University of Paris, a teaching stint at Northwestern University, and multiple monographs, including the hugely influential The History of Biblical Authority (Zondervan 1982).

In the course of this class, we've covered many of the "philosophes", hugely influential 18th century thinkers who combined brilliant but irreligious writing with lifestyles awash in decadence. One of the best-known philosophes is the social and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau. There's much one could say about Rousseau (on the state of nature, social compact theory, etc.), but I will focus here on a little-known aspect of the Frenchman's life: he left all of his children to the state. That's right--the man who literally wrote the book on how to raise children, the classic work Emile, cast off his children in pursuit of pleasure and unimpeded contemplation. Rousseau, you see, was no mere high-minded thinker; he was actually a despicable person, despite how he might be viewed by certain sectors of society.

This got me thinking about theology. We are all like Rousseau. By this I mean that we all live out our beliefs. Though Rousseau portrayed himself as an expert on the family, he was the farthest thing from it. Thus, the way he embodied, or lived out, his ideology shows that he didn't really embody it at all. It may be easy for us to scorn Rousseau (or whomever) for his utter failure to live out his teaching, but how well do we embody our own theology? Having been rescued by grace, do others find grace in us? Having been saved by the mercy and kindness of God, do others see such mercy and kindness in us? Believing that every human being is an imprint in some sense of the very form of Deity, do we treat people of all types and beliefs with respect and compassion? In short, then, do we live out our theology? Does our life embody our doctrine?

This question must be asked of Christians of all stripes. In my own life, though, I identify most with the reformed tradition. So I pose this question to myself and other reformed types. Does how we live match up with what we believe? Do we represent graciously the truths we hold fast? While clearly and unapologetically standing for what we believe, are we kind to those who differ from? In engaging the culture, do we shout at it, or do we reach out to it? We all must acknowledge that we stumble in many ways. We do better at this in some seasons than others. But I wonder if we in the reformed movement, broadly speaking, might do a far better job than we have of embodying our theology.

One of the main ways that people end up subscribing to a doctrinal system is by seeing it lived out. This is of course not the only way, or perhaps even the primary way, that people's minds and hearts are changed, but it is nonetheless a key factor. How good it would be if we of the reformed stamp were not merely polite, but nice. How much more might we see others warm to the biblical truths we hold so firmly? Most of us don't struggle at all with being bold and defensive in our theologies. But many of us struggle with living out the theology we believe in a kind, compassionate, accessible way. This is not in any way to call for weakness or holding hands or pretending differences don't exist. We need not fly to ignorance to flee from folly. But it is to say that, for perhaps many of us, we do little to represent reformed theology well to those who, for whatever reason, are already closed to it.

This is by no means a very developed little piece on this subject. It's merely a musing on a matter that came up in a class far removed from the issue at hand. But I do think that there is something potent to be said about the way one practices one's faith. Rousseau, after all, ends up looking like a fool. It's hard--though not impossible--to take his Emile fully seriously after knowing his history. Despite what some might say in the current day (or any day), it is not possible to divorce one's philosophy from one's life. If the two do not necessarily rise or fall together (after all, we all have feet of clay, and thus all fall prey to hypocrisy at some point), then we may still they are closely connected. One is moved to take care, then, by Rousseau's example, lest one--like Rousseau--end up embodying a theology that is in practice the opposite of what it is on paper.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

What We Know About Self-Control, and What This Means for Students Who Check Their Facebook Page in Class

A couple of neuroscientists published an article in the New York Times today on the biology and effect of willpower. The article, "Tighten Your Belt, Strengthen Your Mind", by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, gives scientific verification to a principle your grandmother has been trying to teach you for years: self-control is good for you. This piece dovetails interestingly with another feature by Slate writer Laura Moser, "Footloose and Sugar-Free", in which the authors discusses her discovery that eating little sugar helped her complexion, waistline, and life.

A good quotation from the NYT piece:

"No one knows why willpower can grow with practice but it must reflect some biological change in the brain. Perhaps neurons in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for planning behavior, or in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with cognitive control, use blood sugar more efficiently after repeated challenges. Or maybe one of the chemical messengers that neurons use to communicate with one another is produced in larger quantities after it has been used up repeatedly, thereby improving the brain’s willpower capacity.

Whatever the explanation, consistently doing any activity that requires self-control seems to increase willpower — and the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification is highly associated with success in life."

These articles, published on major news outlets, show us that self-control is a powerful and verifiable force. They also demonstrate that our permissive society is willing to question itself, to wonder whether it truly is best to abide by the popular creed, "If it makes you happy, do it." This maxim, celebrated in countless films, novels, and tv shows of the current era, doesn't actually hold up all that well in the real world. It plays nicely in movies, of course, where no one gets zits, gets fat, or gets dumped (for long). It plays equally well in the hands of skilled novelists, who know that one of the best ways to sell a novel is to create a paradise world that taps into their audience's desire to find lasting satisfaction in their pursuits and desires. But as I've said--it doesn't play well in the real world. This isn't to say that self-gratification and the pursuit of pleasure is not fun. It is, at least for a time. It's fun to eat what you want and travel wherever you want to go and to have killer experiences that you tell stories about to your friends. Who doesn't enjoy that sort of thing? The problem is, these things, which now constitute life for a good many folks, used to group themselves under the common heading vacation. It's as if we all want to be on vacation all the time, incongruous a mindset as this may be with actual life.

Real life, after all, does consist in having the essentials of life and, beyond this, in having a good quality of life. It may be fun to pursue lots of wild trips to wherever, but at some point you have to come home, and if you're not making any money, then home probably equates to an uncomfortable futon backed up against your roommate's noxious hamper. It may be fun to eat and drink whatever you want, backing yourself up by some vaguely epicurean pronouncement, but you end up inconveniently overweight and, in the long term, in much greater risk of disease and early death. This issue has at its peak spiritual implications. Paul tells us in Titus that the grace of God appeared for nothing less than to cause us to be self-controlled. In a culture that exalts freedom and a relatively unrestrained life, this is an important point to underscore. We're not being prudish or octogenarian in prizing self-control; we're not being silly, or legalistic, or killjoys. No, we're being wise, and godly, and happily biblical.

What on earth does all this have to do with Facebook? Well, part of self-control in one's first twentysomething years of life (depending on how much education one gets, and that should and will vary wildly) involves discipline for the purpose of education. This means that one goes to school (or some form of it). While in school, one is to learn in a self-controlled way. Part of learning in a self-controlled way is to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted. An important component of not being distracted in the current day is to not log onto Facebook, Gmail, ESPN, Between Two Worlds, or whatever other site you and I might personally enjoy. Now, before I be seen as portraying myself in a perfect light, let me say that I am not. There were occasionally times that my attention drifted in class and I did something that was not focused on the task at hand. I freely admit this. However, I can also say that I did concentrate hard on the lecture or subject in the vast majority of my classes. I found J-terms and night classes to be a bit challenging in this regard, but outside of those, I worked hard to concentrate on what my instructor was saying.

I sat and sit in seminary classes where the mysteries of the gospel and Christian thought are unfolded, and I frequently observe and observed numerous students at any given moment playing games, checking websites, IMing friends. I can't heap condemnation on these students, but I can say that I think that their behavior (and mine, occasionally) does not demonstrate a high level of self-control, discipline, and focus on the incredible privilege of Christian education. No wonder most of us can recollect theological discussions and solutions with only the vaguest of terms. While our teacher was laying out the complex theology of Freedom of the Will, we were checking the latest Celtics score. While we should have been learning how to answer objections to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, we were sending a pointless email to our buddy (one we could so easily have sent an hour later). In these and many other instances, our lack of self-control and discipline not only robs us of temporary learning, but of long-term formation and, of course, character.

In writing all this, then, I'm not trying to portray myself as perfect in this regard. I'm not. I could have done better in this area, looking back. But I can also say that for much of my education, I did concentrate in class. It's one thing, after all, to briefly tune out in a class. Most of us will do that, and if that involves checking email, that may not be best, but it's not horrendous, either. But when we're constantly checking sites and writing emails, we have to wonder about our character and the seriousness with which we take the task of education--and if we're training for the ministry, the task of formation for the deadly serious business of gospel ministry.

Self-control is clearly not a moment-by-moment matter. You can't be undisciplined one moment and disciplined the next. In making choices of diet, lifestyle, and even classroom focus, we're not shuffling the unimportant--we're building a life, a ministry, a character.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

One Thing Jeremiah Wright Has Right: The Pastor Is a Theologian (and the Theologian Is a Pastor)

There's been much to-do about Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. I came across a helpful collection of resources from NPR on the theological stream in which Wright fits, the black liberationist theologians and preachers. If you have a few moments, take a listen. NPR, of course, slants strongly left, but they're well-researched.

Beyond that, I don't have much to say personally about Rev. Wright that has not been said. (Russ Moore, for example, has some helpful thoughts on this subject.) It's not really my bag to write about what other people who share my general perspective have written. With that said, there is one aspect of this whole controversy that I haven't heard much discussion about. It is clear that Rev. Wright styles himself as the thought-leader of his church. He does not seem to adhere to the "CEO" model of ministry or something like that, at least not in his pulpiteering. No, he's almost old-fashioned in that he clearly attempts to teach his people a theological system (that of black liberation theology). It so happens that I think that this system veers well off the scriptural course, and that is hugely lamentable, but I do admire one (and only one) aspect of Wright's program: he does not shirk back from arbiting theology and doctrine to his people. He is clearly the theological gate-keeper of his church. He is unquestionably the doctrinaire of his congregation. He jealously guards the right to provide spiritual direction to his people. In this light, Rev. Wright fits comfortably in the historic stream of theologian-pastors, a line that is slowly reviving after being crushed by the heel of pragmatic, anti-doctrinal ministry methodology.

Do not be confused. I am in no way endorsing Rev. Wright. I simply found it fascinating to find a man, albeit a man I view as tragically misled and confused, claiming unapologetically the role of pastor-prophet in an age dominated by "visionaries", "CEOs", and "professionals". This is not to say that there are not others who fill this role. In recent decades, we have seen something of a renaissance of the theologian-pastor in evangelical circles, with men like John Piper, Phil Ryken, Mark Dever, John Stott filling pulpits across the world. Each of these men could easily be an academician, but they have all chosen the pastorate as their primary role. There are many others who fit this same bill who are currently pastoring, and there are many, many more--a whole movement's worth--who are currently in training and who will, I would predict, fundamentally change the face of the American pastorate in coming years. Many Christians of my generation has rebelled against a vacuous, doctrinally wispy life and have instead embraced a robust, meaty way of thinking and living as redeemed people. A sizeable corps of young men have committed themselves to years of academic and ecclesiastical training in order to serve churches as theologian-pastors. These are exciting, heady times, and they signal, I believe, a coming shift for the American church--and, one can hope, for the global church.

Okay, okay, you may be saying. Great. But what's with all this confusing language--"pastor-theologian" versus "theologian-pastor"? And furthermore, Owen, why have you reversed these terms? Because of this: I think we might be misusing the term "pastor-theologian". This term should properly refer not to a person who is first and foremost a pastor, but a theologian. "Pastor" in such a phrase is modifying "theologian", after all. Therefore, those of us who want to be pastors should call ourselves, most properly, "theologian-pastors", because there the modifying word is "theologian". Does this make sense?

But with this minor squibble aside, let me say something that I've been thinking a bit about. Just as we need "theologian-pastors" (by which I'm referring to theologically astute pastors), so also are we in great need of "pastor-theologians" (by which I'm referring to academic scholars who bring pastoral concerns to bear on their work). There is a gigantic need for exegetes, historians, theologians, systematicians, and philosophers who see their work as done, generally speaking, in service of the church. Perhaps you've encountered scholars who don't seem to practice such a philosophy of scholarship, but who do theology in such a way that they talk in abstracted terminology, chase rabbits (for multiple books or classes) that have little relevance to an actual person, and generally show evidence of forgetting that their ministry is accountable to their local church and responsible for equipping pastors and laypeople. Such a class of thinker, it is hoped, is on the wane in Christian circles, even as the ecclesiastically attuned class of theologian is on the rise.

These scholars do not study, publish, and teach to pursue their own eccentric interests and doctrines, but to assist Christians in the task of understanding the Bible and its teachings as they apply to life and ministry. For this class of thinkers, church members are not a burden, but an audience; questions of all theological stripes are tackled not simply to satisfy one's curiosity, but to teach believers; and writing is composed not to wow fellow academics, but to instruct local church pastors and their members. This is not to say that there is no place for theological, historical, exegetical, and philosophical works of advanced depth and narrow focus; there is, and I would never seek to belittle such projects or demean them as unvaluable. These endeavors may well have value, perhaps great value, and we should regularly encourage our scholars to undertake them and to engage in the highest levels of scholarship. At the same time, it is my personal conviction that we should encourage our gifted scholars and teachers to reach us with their teaching--and not only this, but to aim at us. How blessed we would be if theologians styled themselves as pastor-theologians, and aimed to instruct the local church not incidentally, but primarily.

We need theologian-pastors (shepherds). This is our greatest need. But we also need pastor-theologians (scholars). We must be careful not to think that only one group is important. We do not need merely a continuing recovery of a vital, doctrinally focused pastorate. No, we need the continuing recovery of men like Carson and Sweeney and Ware and Mohler and Hamilton and Packer and Akin and Wells who engage in the sacred task of Christian scholarship in order to bless, help, rescue and vitalize the local churches that populate our world. Here's hoping that the future will bring, as I think it will, an army of doctrinally savvy, theologically precise, culturally engaged pastors who will lead local churches with great energy and faithfulness. And here's hoping that marching alongside them will be a great cavalry of scholars, who will help those pastors to steer Christians away from error, to love truth and live life doxologically, and to emerge victorious in the great struggle for true life that engulfs us all.

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