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January 2005

January 25, 2005

Quite a while ago I wrote an article about spiritual gift assessments. Today I am hauling that article out of storage and am going to update it. At the time I first wrote about spiritual gift assessments I was responding to a question a friend had asked me. He was interested in knowing my opinion on these assessments. I had taken them a few times through my church and various men’s groups and had always found them somewhat helpful, though they never really had a significant impact on my spiritual life. I grew up attending Reformed churches and the term “spiritual gifts” was largely foreign to me since these gifts are not a great emphasis in Reformed circles. Therefore, I decided to begin by researching spiritual gifts.

As I began to research them I found one strange thing: it seems no one can agree about these gifts. It seems everyone has a different list of the gifts and even a different idea of how and when they are dispensed. One thing they all agree on is that these gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to believers after they become Christians and thus they are available only to believers. Some argue the gifts are given immediately upon conversion and others believe they are given at baptism. While the Bible lists only a few gifts (see 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 and 12:1-11), some assessments list far more. The following is a typical list of gifts:

Administration: the gift that enables a believer to formulate, direct, and carry out plans necessary to fulfill a purpose. Biblical References: I Corinthians 12:28, Acts 14:23.

Artistry:  the gift that gives the believer the skill of creating artistic expressions that produce a spiritual response of strength and inspiration. Biblical References: Exodus 31:1-11, Psalm 149:3a.

Discernment:  the gift that motivates a believer to seek God’s will and purpose and apply that understanding to individual and congregational situations. Biblical References: John 16:6-15, Romans 9:1, I Corinthians 2:9-16.

Evangelism:  the gift that moves believers to reach nonbelievers in such a way that they are baptized and become active members of the Christian community. Biblical References: Matthew 28:16-20, Ephesians 4:11- 16, Acts 2:36-40.

Exhortation:  the gift that moves the believer to reach out with Christian love and presence to people in personal conflict of facing a spiritual void. Biblical References: John 14:1, II Timothy 1:16-18, III John 5-8.

Faith:  the gift that gives a believer the eyes to see the Spirit at work and the ability to trust the Spirit’s leading without indication of where it all might lead. Biblical References: Genesis 12:1-4a, Mark 5:25-34, I Thessalonians 1:8-10.

Giving: the gift that enables a believer to recognize God’s blessings and to respond to those blessings by generously and sacrificially giving of one’s resources (time, talent, and treasure). Biblical References: II Corinthians 9:6-15, Luke 21:1-4.

Hospitality: the gift that causes a believer to joyfully welcome and receive guests and those in need of food and lodging. Biblical References: Romans 12:13, Romans 16:23a, Luke 10:38.

Intercession:  the gift that enables a believer to pray with the certainty that prayer is heard and when requests are made, answers will come. Biblical References: Matthew 6:6-15, Luke 11:1-10, Ephesians 6:18.

Knowledge: the gift that drives a person to learn, analyze and uncover new insights with regard to the Bible and faith. Biblical References: I Corinthians 12:8; I Corinthians 14:6, Romans 12:2.

Leadership:  the gift that gives a believer the confidence to step forward, give direction and provide motivation to fulfill a dream or complete a task. Biblical References: Romans 12:8, John 21:15-17, II Timothy 4:1-5.

Mercy:  the gift that motivates a believer to feel deeply for those in physical, spiritual, or emotional need and then act to meet that need. Biblical References: Luke 7:12-15, Luke 10:30-37, Matthew 25:34-36. 

Music—Vocal:  the gift that gives a believer the capability and opportunity to present personal witness and inspiration to others through singing. Biblical References: Psalm 96:1-9, Psalm 100:1-2, Psalm 149:1-2.

Music—Instrumental:  the gift that inspires a believer to express personal faith and provide inspiration and comfort through the playing of a musical instrument. Biblical References: Psalm 33:1-5, Psalm 150, I Samuel 16:14-23.

Pastoring (Shepherding):   the gift that gives a believer the confidence, capability and compassion to provide spiritual leadership and direction for individuals or groups of believers. Biblical References: I Timothy 4:12-16, I Timothy 3:1-13, II Timothy 4:1-2.

Service (Helps):  the gift that enables a believer to work gladly behind the scenes in order that God’s work is fulfilled. Biblical References: Luke 23:50-54, Romans 16:1-16, Philippians 2:19-23.

Skilled Craft:   the gift that enables a believer to create, build, maintain or repair items used within the church. Biblical References: Exodus 30:1-6, Exodus 31:3-5, Ezekiel 27:4-11.

Teaching:   the gift that enables a believer to communicate a personal understanding of the Bible and faith in such a way that it becomes clear and understood by others. Biblical References: I Corinthians 12:28, Matthew 5:1-12, Acts 18:24-48.

Wisdom:   the gift that allows the believer to sort through opinions, facts and thoughts in order to determine what solution would be best for the individual believer or the community of believers. Biblical References: I Corinthians 2:6-13, James 3:13-18, II Chronicles 1:7-11.

Writing:   the gift that gives a believer the ability to express truth in a written form; a form that can edify, instruct and strengthen the community of believers. Biblical References: I John 2:1-6, 12-14, I Timothy 3:14-15,
Jude 3.

This list was taken from this assessment. I found it interesting that several of the gifts (Skilled craft, for example) are only proof-texted by the Old Testament which was written before the Spirit was given to believers.

I took a couple of the surveys that are available online and found them quite similar to ones I have taken in the past. The general format is between 30 to 50 multiple choice questions, most of which can be answered on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 meaning the description does not fit me at all and 4 meaning it is exactly like me). For example, I took a test at this site which tells me my primary spiritual gift is knowledge which it describes as follows:

The gift of knowledge allows people to automatically convert facts, data, and information into useful and important knowledge. People possessing this gift can learn in a variety of ways, retain what they learn, and understand how learning can be applied in meaningful and productive ways. Those gifted with knowledge have a voracious and insatiable desire to learn more, and they seek multiple avenues for deepening their understanding of God’s world, God’s will, and God’s people.

[For an example of this gift in popular media] See the good, the bad, and the ugly side of knowledge in Matt Damon’s character in the film Good Will Hunting.

Though I digress, I would like to point out an obvious conflict between gifts of the spirit and a movie like Good Will Hunting which, being full of swearing and sex, is hardly compatible with the Spirit.

In the end I returned to Scripture and studied the gifts outlined in the applicable passages of Scripture. Having examined the gifts of the Spirit, both those in the Bible and those in various assessments, I decided to search for references in the Scripture of people assessing themselves to discover their gifts. A question I had to ask myself is this: Is there any Biblical model for searching for spiritual gifts? James Sundquist researched this and discovered the following:

I can’t find one single Scripture that says finding our gift was EVER a problem for the Church.

I can’t find one single Scripture that instructs us how to find our gift.

I can’t find any historical account that finding our gift was a problem for the Church.

I can’t find any historical account that finding our gift was a problem for Church Fathers.

Anything we do in Christ is not through our strengths, but is perfected in weakness.

I can’t find one single Scripture which uses a subjective balance of weighing our strengths and weaknesses to determine our Gift(s) of the Holy Spirit.

I can’t find one single Scripture that uses personality or personality theory to determine our course in Christ or in the Church.

I can’t find one single Scripture that instructs us to come up with a numerical value or rating system for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I spent several years in the workforce and in that time was often encouraged to attend seminars on discovering my personality type. One observation I made from some spiritual gift assessments (most notably the Saddleback SHAPE assessment) is that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator tests so common in schools and the workforce. The Myers-Briggs indicator is used for “Professionals like you [who] depend on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator when clients need to make important business, career, or personal decisions. Last year alone, two million people gained valuable insight about themselves and the people they interact with daily by taking the MBTI instrument. The MBTI describes an individual’s preferences on four dimensions; Extraverted vs Introverted, Sensing vs Intuitive, Thinking vs Feeling, Judging vs Perceiving.” The Myers-Briggs assessment is drawn from the teaching and research of the anti-Christian humanist Carl Jung. His spirit guide Philemon led him to develop four profiles to describe human nature, and Myers-Briggs uses those personality types. Many of these spiritual gift assessments draw directly from this teaching. This in itself should be cause for concern. Combined with the lack of Biblical model, this should be sufficient to raise a warning flag.

Perhaps the greatest cause for concern with these assessments is that they can be successfully completed by both believers and non-believers. If a spiritual gift assessment is truly assessing gifts given by the Holy Spirit, someone who is not a Christian should necessarily achieve a score of 0. However, this is simply not the case. There may be questions related to spiritual matters that an unbeliever can not answer, but many of the questions are generic in nature. For example “I enjoy pitching in on service projects in the church” could be as easily answered by an unbeliever as a believer. The same holds true for “People seem to respect me and follow my lead.” We need to ask, then, if these tests are truly measuring spiritual gifts or if they are simply examining personality.

Let’s pause for a moment. If spiritual gifts are given only to believers and these assessments can convince an unbeliever that he or she posesses spiritual gifts, then the assessments must be deeply flawed. It seems clear that these tests are, in reality, measuring personality, and even then, they may be measuring personality by a humanistic standard. Is it possible that perhaps we are only given spiritual gifts that compliment our personalities so personality and gifts are one in the same? That would be unsatisfying, because I believe God can work through gifts that may contradict our personalities. Think of Moses and how God used him despite his obvious shyness and lack of eloquence. Had God only used Moses’ existing talents and personality He would not have had much to work with! The Bible is filled with examples of people who were used by God despite their natural talent or gifting.

Am I ready to write-off spiritual gift assessments as a waste of time? No, I think that might be a kneejerk reaction. I see little basis, though, to believe that these truly measure the gifts of the Spirit. I am sure these tests can be valuable in assessing talents and personality traits and can cause people to look more thoroughly at where they should use their talents to honor God. But unless gifts and personality are one and the same, I do not understand how these tests measure spiritual gifts.

I would suggest that if you want to learn what your spiritual gifts are, the best place to begin would be with reading the Bible and praying. Allow God to speak to you through His Word, showing you where He has gifted you. Ask Him to give you a passion for your gift and to open doors that you can use it. And having done that, ask your Christian friends and family, your pastor and elders, what they think your gifting is. I believe this may be a far more valuable means of assessment than a spiritual gift inventory.

January 24, 2005

Spam is annoying. Really annoying. What is especially annoying is when you post your email address on your web site and those spammers send their bots to automatically glean your site and scrape all those addresses into their ever-growing databases. We all hate it. What I see more and more often these days is people posting little work-arounds like “myname att challies dott com”. That is not terribly effective. Plus, ideally, we’d like people to be able to just click on the link and have Outlook or another mail program open up. I think I have found a solution. Or, to give credit where credit is due, I think my friend Dave has found a solution. A simple little JavaScript seems to keep those programs from automatically finding your address…

[Update: I don’t use this method anymore. For more on it and alternatives read Nine ways to obfuscate e-mail addresses compared.]

January 24, 2005

Al Mohler’s column for today is entitled “The Generation That Won’t Grow Up” and deals with what TIME Magazine, in their latest issue, is calling the “twixers.” He quotes Lev Grossman, the author of the article, as saying, “In the past, people moved from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood, but today there is a new, intermediate phase along the way. The years from 18 until 25 and even beyond have become a distinct and separate life stage, a strange transitional never-never land between adolescence and adulthood in which people stall for a few extra years, putting off the iron cage of adult responsibility that constantly threatens to crash down on them. They’re betwixt and between.” “Twixters,” then, refers to those people betwixt and between being teenagers and adults.

This is a phenomenon I have long been aware of, but had never formulated quite so thoroughly. Mohler has been aware of this for several years too. He writes, “For several years, I have been warning audiences that America now faces a generation of young people unwilling to grow up, assume adult responsibility, marry, and start raising families.” When I think of these people, I think of the show Friends which showed five friends who refused to grow up. It was not until the final couple of seasons that they finally began to marry and mature. By that time they were well into their thirties. I am sure they serve as an subconscious inspiration for many.

What is especially interesting are the long-term social consequences of these phenomenon. “Economists are concerned about the financial implications of young adults who return to live with their parents and put off major investments like the purchase of a home until well into their thirties. Social scientists are tracking the effects of delayed marriage and the social dislocation common to this age group. Like most demographic trends, this new pattern of life is not likely to be reversed anytime soon, at least in society at large.”

While TIME deals primarily with the social issues, Mohler writes about the impact on Christianity. “Looking at this from a biblical perspective, the most tragic aspect of this development is the fact that these young people are refusing to enter into the adult experience and adult responsibilities that is their Christian calling. The delay of marriage will exact an undeniable social toll in terms of delayed parenthood, even smaller families, and more self-centered parents. The experiences of marriage and raising children are important parts of learning the adult experience and finding one’s way into the deep responsibilities and incalculable rewards of genuine adulthood…As TIME explains, many of these young people are so busy buying iPods, designer clothes, and new automobiles that they will find the necessary sacrifices of marital life and parenthood to be a rude shock. So long as they are living with parents, or grouping together in “emerging adult” enclaves, they continue to live like teenagers—only with even greater freedoms and privileges.”

You can read Mohler’s article here. As for the TIME article, it does not appear to be online at this point, so if you want to read it you’ll need to buy the magazine!

January 24, 2005

Several months ago I wrote an article where I outlined the difference between evangelism and outreach. These are terms that many people treat as being synonymous, yet they are distinct and need to be treated as such. This morning I was thinking about the idea of “successful evangelism.” What makes one evangelistic effort successful and another unsuccessful? I would like to briefly examine this today. I will begin by defining “evangelism.”

The root of the word evangelism, evangel, is derived from the Greek word euangelion which is translated good news. From that same word, we derive the word gospel. We find also that many words we use in English are in reality synonymous – evangel(ism), gospel and good news all speak of the same thing and find their root in the same word. They speak of the act of spreading the gospel and to the content of the message that is given. This is an important point to note – they refer both to the method and the message.

The word euangelion is found in many places throughout the New Testament. “The term is often used to express collectively the gospel doctrines; and ‘preaching the gospel’ is often used to include not only the proclaiming of the good tidings, but the teaching men how to avail themselves of the offer of salvation, the declaring of all the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of Christianity.” It is termed “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16), “the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), “the glorious gospel,” “the everlasting gospel,” “the gospel of salvation” (Eph. 1:13).” (Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

In the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary we read specifically about Paul’s application of the term which he used over 60 times and is found in every one of his letters except for Titus. “Paul’s ministry was distinctively that of the propagation of the gospel. Unto this gospel he was set apart (Rom. 1:1) and made a minister according to the grace of God (Eph. 3:7). His special sphere of action was the Gentile world (Rom. 16:16; Gal. 2:7). Since Paul accepted the gospel as a sacred trust (Gal. 2:7), it was necessary that in the discharge of this obligation he speak so as to please God rather than man (I Tim. 2:4). The divine commission had created a sense of urgency that made him cry out, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). For the sake of the gospel Paul was willing to become all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22-23). No sacrifice was too great. Eternal issues were at stake. Those whose minds were blinded and did not obey the gospel were perishing and would ultimately reap the vengeance of divine wrath (II Cor. 4:3; II Thess. 1:9). On the other hand, to those who believed, the gospel had effectively become the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).”

We can find insight into what the gospel means to Christians through the words of William Tyndale, who was a great English Reformer and Bible translator. To him it signified “good, mery, glad and ioyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye.” It truly is Good News!

Evangelism is more than telling people that Jesus loves them or that He died for them. It is telling people that they have offended a Holy God and stand before Him as condemned sinners. It is sharing with them that the good news, the best news of all, is that Jesus died for that very type of person. Jesus died to reconcile those condemned individuals to this God of justice. It is sharing with people that through faith they can be saved and can avoid an eternity of suffering for their offense to God. The Good News can only be understood in context of the bad news. If people do not understand the bad, if they do not realize that they are repugnant to God, befouled by their sin, they can not understand just how good the Good News is!

In short, evangelism is nothing more and nothing less than sharing this Good News with one who so desperately needs to hear it. So now to the matter at hand: how can we evaluate if our effort in evangelizing has been successful? Some people would have us believe that it is difficult to determine whether or not evangelism is successful. More commonly people teach that it is very easy to determine if it has been successful, for if people respond to the message, we can trust that we have evangelized successfully. Yet this idea is quickly refuted by 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 where Paul writes “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” The one who plants and the one who waters are together nothing. It is God who gives the increase. It is God who determines who will respond to the message and who will not.

So again, how can we determine when we have evangelized successfully? I contend that it is very easy to know. If we have shared the Good News, if we have shared the message of sin, death, Savior and forgiveness, we have evangelized successfully, for we have done the very thing Christ commanded. We cannot and must not evaluate our efforts in the light of who responds to the message. Don Whitney likens the evangelist to the mailman. The mailman has fulfilled the obligation of his job when he has delivered the mail to me. The measure of success in his job is to carefully and accurately deliver the message. How I respond to the letters I receive is none of his business. And the same is true of the evangelist. We can look back and, examining the words we spoke, know that we have successfully evangelized when we have shared the Gospel. When we have carefully and accurately delivered the message of God, we can trust that we have pleased our Father. And if one responds, or if one thousand respond, it is nothing, for God gives the increase. Soli deo gloria!

January 23, 2005

I grew up in a comfortable little Christian subculture. I have gone to church just about every Sunday since I was born, I attended Christian schools all the way through high school and have sat through countless Catechism and Sunday school classes. I can’t count the number of times I had to sit through sermons and presentations about the evils of popular music. I remember being exhorted not to listen to Twisted Sister and Van Halen and so many other big bands of the 70’s and 80’s. I always shrugged-off these presentations. From the time I was a teenager I preferred Christian rock to mainstream, so listening to most of them was hardly an issue anyways. I often noticed that the bands we were warned about had been in the limelight years before and really were not at all relevant to my life.

This morning at church I noticed an invitation to attend a Media Awareness Seminar at a nearby church. They provided a link to the organization which provides these seminars and I decided to visit their web site. There is an interested section on that site where they break down the top 40 countdown from a certain popular radio station. The list is current as of May 18, 2004 - a little dated, but recent enough to be relevant. I am not easily shocked, but samples of lyrics from the songs on this list blew me away. Despite spending my life as a believer, I don’t consider myself sheltered, yet these songs still made my eyes bulge a few times. I don’t even know some of the words, though I can generally guess at their meanings.

I always promised myself that I would not be the type of parent to go on anti-popular-music crusades, yet after viewing this list I may have no choice when my children get a little older. Would you like to know what kids are listening to on the radio these days? Check out this list (featuring hundreds of strategic asterisks) is truly shocking. Do be warned that though the worst words are masked by asterisks, the lyrics are still absolutely vile. I realize that it is something of a worst-case list (not every top 40 list features to much rap music) but Kristin (our boarder who lives with us and is much more in-tune with pop culture than I am) assures me that these songs are popular and widely listened-to.

To be honest, what shocked me most was the fact that even in my day, which really wasn’t all that long ago, songs like this were extremely rare and were certainly not played on the radio. I remember a certain band releasing an album that was only available by request at most music stores because the lyrics were so vile. Today these albums are played on the radio, on TV and are available for anyone who wants them. Of course I’m sure that the songs I listened to in the 80’s are substantially worse than the songs my parents enjoyed in the 50’s and 60’s. It makes me shudder to think of what the songs will be liked in 10 years when my children are teens, and in 30 or 40 years when their children are teens. There isn’t anything easy about parenting, is there?

January 23, 2005

Adrian Warnock, of Adrian Warnock’s UK Evangelical Blog has just announced the recipients of his second “Warnie” awards and I am glad to say that one of those recipients is me. Adrian is the brain behind The Blogdom of God and is a man with his finger on the pulse of Christian blogging. Writing about himself in the third person, Adrian wrote the following: “When asked the reasons for his choice Adrian said “The 21st Century Reformation does a fantastic job of looking at how the church should look in 2005, and I have found absolutely no evidence that he is a neo-liberal. Tim is a man every writer should either dread, bribe or at least send a free book to. He is a tough but fair book reviewer who also finds time to write fantastic blog posts like his one on information overload earlier today. These two guys really ought to be read much more than they are currently.”

Adrian asked if I would make an acceptance speech so here goes:

I would like to thank the academy for the award and I’d also like to thank the kind and generous person (or people) that nominated me. I’d like to thank my mom and dad and wife and children and manager and promoter and director and supervisor and publicist and… Ah, what am I saying? Thanks to Adrian not just for the award, but for taking the time to encourage other bloggers who often endure more criticism than encouragement. I am thrilled just to have the opportunity to share my Christian walk with others, and to have other brothers and sisters in the Lord who allow me to share in theirs. It is my sincere hope and prayer that what we accomplish together as readers and writers, and above all, as ones privileged to be believers, brings glory to our Creator, Redeemer and Friend.

January 22, 2005

We are at a stage of human history that in some ways is quite bizarre. Because of the Internet, electronic storage media, the rapid rate of technological progress and the fast-pace of our society, we have unparalleled access to unparalleled amounts of information. Never in history have people had access to so much information. Consider just a few examples:

Google currently indexes over eight billion web pages (as of this moment, the exact number is 8,058,044,651). Almost every one of those pages contains at least some information. Amazon and other internet retailers sell hundreds of thousands of different books, videos and other sources of information.

Newspapers, especially weekend editions, are obscenely large, often totaling hundreds of pages and weighing several pounds. In Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life, Don Whitney says that the amount of information contained in just one weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than a man like Jonathan Edwards would have encountered in his entire life.

A 2003 study showed that print, film, magnetic, and optical storage media produced about 5 exabytes of new information in 2002. Ninety-two percent of the new information was stored on magnetic media, mostly in hard disks, meaning that much of it was readily available to others. (5 exabytes = 5 billion gigabytes, or the equivalent of 125,000,000 average-sized hard drives. This was a dramatic increase from just two years before when the total amount of new information was a “mere” 1.5 exabytes. “How big is five exabytes? If digitized with full formatting, the seventeen million books in the Library of Congress contain about 136 terabytes of information; five exabytes of information is equivalent in size to the information contained in 37,000 new libraries the size of the Library of Congress book collections.”

Neil Postman, in a talk entitled Informing Ourselves To Death spoke about the information facing Americans: “In America, there are 260,000 billboards; 11,520 newspapers; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets for renting tapes; 362 million tv sets; and over 400 million radios. There are 40,000 new book titles published every year (300,000 world-wide) and every day in America 41 million photographs are taken, and just for the record, over 60 billion pieces of advertising junk mail come into our mail boxes every year. Everything from telegraphy and photography in the 19th century to the silicon chip in the twentieth has amplified the din of information, until matters have reached such proportions today that for the average person, information no longer has any relation to the solution of problems.”

All of this points to the fact that we are facing much more information than humans did in days past. In fact, we are facing information overload. We cannot possibly keep up with the amount of information that is coming our way. Yet in many ways it is becoming increasingly important to our lives that we do just that.

Francis Heylighen, in an article entitled Change and Information Overload: negative effects writes about the problem of information overload as it is a condition that is becoming increasingly destructive in the workforce. He shows that the acceleration of change in our society has caused a dramatic increase in information, and thus an increase in the amount of information the average person needs to know.

The acceleration of change is accompanied by an increase in the information needed to keep up with all these developments. This too leads to psychological, physical and social problems. A world-wide survey (Reuters, 1996) found that two thirds of managers suffer from increased tension and one third from ill-health because of information overload. The psychologist David Lewis, who analysed the findings of this survey, proposed the term “Information Fatigue Syndrome” to describe the resulting symptoms. Other effects of too much information include anxiety, poor decision-making, difficulties in memorizing and remembering, and reduced attention span (Reuters, 1996; Shenk, 1997). These effects merely add to the stress caused by the need to constantly adapt to a changing situation.

Part of the problem is caused by the fact that technological advances have made the retrieval, production and distribution of information so much easier than in earlier periods. This has reduced the natural selection processes which would otherwise have kept all but the most important information from being published. The result is an explosion in often irrelevant, unclear and inaccurate data fragments, making it ever more difficult to see the forest through the trees. This overabundance of low quality information, which Shenk (1997) has called “data smog”, is comparable in its emergence and effects to the pollution of rivers and seas caused by an excess of fertilizers, or to the health problems caused by a diet too rich in calories. The underlying mechanism may be called “overshooting”: because progress has inertia, the movement in a given direction tends to continue even after the need has been satisfied. Whereas information used to be scarce, and having more of it was considered a good thing, it seems that we now have reached the point of saturation, and need to limit our use of it.

His conclusion is that the biggest problem facing our society is not that we are making too little progress, but that we are making too much!

I believe Christians are directly impacted by information overload. Consider, for example, a pastor who lived in America in the early nineteenth century. What information was he privy to on a daily basis? If he lived in a large town he may have had access to a newspaper and perhaps even a library. He may have owned a few books, but generally he had very little access to significant amounts of information. He usually rose and went to bed with the sun, he never watched CNN, never listened to the radio, and if he lived outside of the city, may have only rarely had anyone to talk to outside of his family members. But consider a pastor today. We can be sure he has access to hundreds of television channels, hundreds of radio stations, billions of web pages, millions of books, newspapers, magazines and so on. The phone rings constantly, pagers buzz and the computer beeps that a new email has arrived.

In many ways the nineteenth century pastor had a difficult life compared to what we experience today, yet, in the words of Don Whitney, “On the other hand, he never had to answer a telephone once in his entire lifetime! Despite his inconveniences, his mind, like the psalmist’s, was not as distracted by instant world news, television and radio, portable and car telephones, personal stereos, rapid transportation, junk mail, and so on. Because of these things, it’s harder for us today to concentrate our thoughts, especially on God and Scripture, than it ever has been.”

How can a Christian find time to just sit and think, or sit and memorize or meditate upon Scripture? I know first-hand how difficult it is to remove myself from this information overload, even for a few days or a few hours. I consider it a hardship to be disconnected from email and the telephone, and often my job depends on having near-instant access to these technologies. It is such a temptation to begin my day with checking my email and checking my favorite blogs and news sites rather than beginning quietly with God. I have a difficult time turning off the phone and the computer so I can sit and memorize God’s Word, even for just a few minutes at a time. I have succumbed to the information overload, and have loved being a part of it. But, as with many other Christians, I know it has affected my spiritual life. While the information we are privy to is in many ways a blessing, in other ways it is a temptation and a curse.

Some days I thank God for the vast amount of information at my disposal. Other days I just wish it would all go away. In my more rational moments I know that this is impossible – the information is going to increase, not decrease. Therefore I am responsible before God to live a spiritually disciplined life in spite of this information overload. I am responsible before Him to carve time out of this information influx so I can just be alone with Him; alone with no telephone, no email, no internet. I need to remove these distractions that keep me from spending the time He and I need to build a thriving, growing relationship. And with His help, I will.

January 21, 2005

Apologetics is an underappreciated art. Or is it science? Whatever it is, people do not appreciate it as they ought. I suppose it is because apologists seem always to be on the attack, though the reality is generally that they are on the defensive, defending the faith against the inroads of the evil one. A little while back I wrote an article entitled Apologetics 101 where I began with these words: “In recent days I have had a few people take the time to challenge me about their perception that this Web site, and the content of it, are largely negative in tone. As one might expect, I take offense to such comments and would largely disagree with them. I do certainly broach topics that are controversial and may generate difficult discussions, but I do not do so from a desire to be negative or simply go have a good argument.” Yesterday James White, one of the foremost Reformed apologists, wrote about this topic as well. You can read the article here…but I am going to quote it in whole:

The widening influence of a sub-biblical world-view within Christian circles manifests itself in many ways: the diminishing emphasis upon the reality of God’s Word as the certain touchstone of truth; the lack of passion for its study and application; the odd and strange appearance of those who lay claim to the name “Christian” and even “Reformed” and yet who do not mind redefining almost every single aspect of what it has always meant to be Christian or Reformed.

I was recently referred to these words:

I did my time as an “apologist”. The more I move away from it, the more I feel I’m finding a balance and a peace I never knew, and never would have known, had I continued being a War-Monger for The Truth.

Now, it is always best to acknowledge any possible truth in a statement, and surely I know of some who call themselves apologists and who are disagreeable just for the sake of being disagreeable. But since this same writer has applied the phrase “War-Monger” to me, particularly, in the past, I have to wonder: was Jude being a “war-monger” when he exhorted us to agonize for the faith once for all delivered to the saints? Was John being a “war-monger” when he wrote 1 John and took specific aim at the proto-gnostic docetists who were troubling the Christian congregation? And surely the Apostle Paul lacked all balance and peace when writing Galatians, let alone Colossians!

You see, there are two motivations for doing apologetics, one wrong, one good. You can do apologetics because you are afraid of challenges, and feel that your defense of your faith somehow insulates you from those challenges and bolsters your faith. That leads to bad, unbalanced apologetics. Or, you can do apologetics because you honor and value the Word of God and the truth of God and hence seek to honor Him through the offering of a defense of His truth, knowing this brings God glory, and is the necessary action of one who believes what you believe. That’s why I do apologetics. What kind of peace, I wonder, does one find when the battle continues to wage around us? It is the peace of surrender, the peace of compromise. It is the peace of defining the enemy as my friend, the peace that no longer stands firm but instead “goes with the flow.” It is a peace I pray God will never let me seek.

My only disagreement is that I believe there are three reasons to do apologetics. The third, which he does not mention, is because a person just likes to argue. That, of course, is not a good reason to do it!

When I write articles that are apologetic in nature, I can do so for any of the reasons he outlined. Sometimes I do them just because I’ve written so much about a topic that one more article about it is easy to write and takes little brain-power on a Saturday afternoon. But with White, I do hope and pray that all I do, write and defend brings glory to God. I know I sometimes take some mis-steps and begin to see Rick Warren evil in everything. But again, to quote White, I “do apologetics because I honor and value the Word of God and the truth of God and hence seek to honor Him through the offering of a defense of His truth, knowing this brings God glory, and is the necessary action of one who believes what I believe.”