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March 15, 2006

I recently read David Kupelian’s The Marketing of Evil, a book which disusses how so many of the social ills we see in our society have not merely happened, but have been actively marketed and promoted by men and women with specific, unbiblical agendas (you can read my review of this book here). One pearl of wisdom which Kupelian repeats throughout the book is that the person who frames the terms of a debate almost always wins that debate. In other words, the person who is allowed to set the language in a debate over a particular social issue, will almost always be able to prevail in winning that debate. While we could choose any number of examples to support this, perhaps the most obvious is in the debate over abortion.

The right to abortion was not fought over the right of a mother to kill her child. No lawyer marched into court and demanded that a mother have the right to allow a doctor to probe her womb for a helpless baby and dismember the fetus. And today, as debate rages over partial birth abortion, no one demands that a woman be able to give birth to a premature baby and have the doctor crush that child’s skull. The child has been left out of the equation altogether. Instead, the debate always has been and seemingly always will be over a woman’s right to choose. It was never presented an issue of life or death, but an issue of choice. And who, in a free and democratic culture, could deny a person the right of free choice? The debate was over and won before it began. It was over when the abortionists framed the terms of the debate. Kupelian says, “In one of the most successful marketing campaigns in modern political history, the “abortion rights” movement—with all of its emotionally compelling catchphrases and powerful political slogans—has succeeded in turning what once was a crime into a fiercely defended constitutional right.”

This battle was won with catchphrases such as:

  • “Women must have control over their own bodies.”
  • “Safe and legal abortion is every woman’s right.”
  • “Who decides? You decide!”
  • “Abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her doctor.”
  • “Freedom of choice—a basic American right.”

Interestingly, feminists are now turning against choice. Choice, it seems, has come to haunt feminists. Why? Quite simply, far too many women, in the opinion of these feminists, are choosing to forsake their careers in favor of full-time motherhood. Choice has spilled over the from the abortion debate and has impacted all of feminism. Some women, it seems, are not using their right to choose in a way that pleases the more radical feminists.

In the final days of 2005, Linda Hirshman wrote a harsh critique of such women in a much-discussed article entitled “Homeward Bound.” “ ‘Choice feminism’ claims that staying home with the kids is just one more feminist option. Funny that most men rarely make the same ‘choice.’ Exactly what kind of choice is that?” She documents the failure of “choice feminism” and proposes that the word “choice” be removed as the hallmark of the feminist agenda. She proposes that, rather than offering women choice, society must offer women solutions they can enact on their own. She further proposes three rules that women must follow: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don’t put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry. Appended to the three rules is just one more: a woman should never have more than one child. “A second kid pressures the mother’s organizational skills, doubles the demands for appointments, wildly raises the cost of education and housing, and drives the family to the suburbs. But cities, with their Chinese carryouts and all, are better for working mothers.” In short, a second child requires a greater committment and increases the likelihood that a mother will enact her right to choose and elect to stay home with the children.

Wendy McElroy, editor of ifeminists.com, discusses some of the impact of this move away from choice in the future of feminism:

On abortion. The words choice and pro-choice will be de-emphasized. Instead, stress will be placed on weighing the rights and health of the woman against those of the unborn with the clear message that the woman takes precedence.

On sexual harassment. The argument will not change because it has proven successful but the approach will be broadened to include male victims, especially boys. For example, the latest survey from the American Association of University Women on school and campus harassment reports on male victims.

On domestic violence. The argument will not change and the approach will not be broadened significantly. In gender feminist theory, domestic violence is key to establishing that traditional marriage is a dangerous place for women.

McElroy, in disagreement with Hirshman, tell her readers what she feels is the best “feminist line” for our new century. “Your peaceful choices are yours alone and no one else’s business. Be a housewife, love your children without a time schedule…or dive into a 24/7 job that you get on merit. Live your own dream. Be your own woman.”

It is clear that a shift is occuring within feminism. Whether a rift grows along the “choice” fault line or along another, change is afoot. If there is a lesson that Christians ought to have learned from the first few decades of feminism, it is exactly what Kupelian sought to make clear in The Marketing of Evil: the person who frames the debate will win the debate. We, as Christians, need to keep abreast of these changes and, if and when possible, seek to have a voice in the framing of this debate and so many others. Once the terms have been set in stone, the debate may well have already been lost.

March 14, 2006

It was a good couple of months ago that a little article on an obscure web site caught my eye. For some reason, that now escapes my mind, I found myself at the web site of The Peninsula, which describes itself as “Qatar’s Leading English Daily.” I hadn’t been there before and I haven’t been there since, except to read this particular article.

The title of the article is, “400 sheep fall off cliff in Turkey.” Perhaps it was just a slow day for news, or perhaps something about the story tickled the fancy of an editor. But for some reason the publication decided to provide a small article about something that had happened in Istanbul. Here is the complete text of the article:

ISTANBUL: Hundreds of sheep followed their leader off a cliff in eastern Turkey, plunging to their deaths this week while shepherds looked on in dismay. Four hundred sheep fell 15 metres to their deaths in a ravine in Van province near Iran but broke the fall of another 1,100 animals who survived, newspaper reports said yesterday. Shepherds from Ikizler village neglected the flock while eating breakfast, leaving the sheep to roam free, the Radikal daily said. The loss to local farmers was estimated at $74,000.

I laughed as I read the story. We have all heard of lemmings and their renowed but mythological plunges into the sea. As I child, and especially as a teenager, I was often exhorted not to be a lemming. “If your friends all jumped off of a cliff, would you?,” my parents or teachers would ask. At times I probably would have. But lemmings don’t really plunge into the sea in suicidal droves. That legend was created and supported by a Walt Disney movie filmed in 1958. Lemmings are too intelligent to kill themselves en masse.

Sheep don’t commit suicide, or not knowingly at any rate. The problem with sheep is that they are dumb. Really dumb. Far more dumb than lemmings. They are committed to a leader, and so committed that they will follow this leader even at the cost of their safety. When the leader wanders off a cliff, so do the rest of the sheep. This is both sad and comical. And in this little article we see this kind of leader. He led his entire flock over a cliff. When he fell to his death he was quickly followed by hundreds and then thousands of the flock. They were soon piled so deep that the ones at the bottom were crushed and the ones on top were able to survive, their fall cushioned by the mass of bodies below. After a while it must have been like jumping onto a giant pile of wool.

Can’t you picture the shepherds, their eyes bulging as sheep after sheep disappears in the distance, careening off the edge of the cliff? Can’t you see them running towards the flock, yelling, shouting, drying desperately to distract the sheep from following their leader? Can’t you picture their shame as they look at the mass of writhing, broken bodies, and then look back at their breakfast, now forgotten?

This isn’t really the fault of the sheep is it? It was the fault of the shepherds who had neglected their flock in order to indulge in a meal. They knew their sheep and they knew that sheep are not intelligent creatures. While these men filled their stomachs, they neglected their sheep and hundreds of them were killed, falling to their deaths in a mad, blind rush off the edge of a cliff.

This story could almost be a parable, couldn’t it? I can almost picture Jesus standing on the side of a hill in Galilee sharing this story with his disciples as they sat before him. “A man had a flock of sheep and entrusted them to shepherds. The shepherds, growing weary, allowed the sheep to wander as they ate their meal…”

I sometimes wonder if God doesn’t allow things like this to happen just to provide us with something to chew on, to mull over in our minds. I thought of concluding this article with some exhortations or applications, but I am not sure that I need to. I will say only this: Jesus calls us sheep. Reading a story like this, I am not so sure that he means this as a compliment.

March 11, 2006

Over the past few days, I have been reading J.P. Moreland’s book, Love Your God With All Your Mind. It is a good book; deeply challenging. Moreland says many of the same things Nancy Pearecy did several years later in the much-lauded Total Truth. Like Pearcey, Moreland is concerned with the intellectual environment within Evangelicalism, and increasingly worried about the presence of the sacred/secular dichotomy that exists within the church as much as without.

While several of Moreland’s points have stood out to me, there is one that I thought would make for interesting discussion. In a chapter in which he seeks to sketch a biblical portrait of the life of the mind, he discusses the importance of biblical revelation in developing a Christian mind. He challenges Christians to consider how the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible. What he believes on this issue is significantly different than what the average Evangelical believes and practices. Here is what he says:

Because of the Bible’s nature, serious study is needed to grasp what it says. Of course, the Scripture contains easily grasped portions that are fairly straightforward. But some of it is very difficult, intellectually speaking. In fact, Peter once said that some of Paul’s writings were intellectually challenging, hard to understand, and easily distorted by untaught (that is, uneducated in Christian theology) and unstable people (2 Peter 3:16). Anyone who has tried to grasp the theological depths of Romans or Ephesians will say “Amen!” to that. The more a person develops the mind and the understanding of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Scriptures), the more he or she will be able to understand the meaning and significance of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, many today apparently think that hard intellectual work is not needed to understand God’s propositional revelation to us. Instead, they believe that the Holy Spirit will simply make known the meaning of a text if implored to do so. Tragically, this represents a misunderstanding of the Spirit’s role in understanding the Scriptures. In my view, the Spirit does not help the believer understand the meaning of Scripture. Rather, He speaks to the believer’s soul, convicting, comforting, opening up applications of His truth through His promptings.

Moreland goes on to say that there are three passages used to justify this idea that the Spirit helps us understand the meaning of a scriptural text: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, John 14:26, and 1 John 2:27. He spends a paragraph or two on each of these passages in order to show that they do not teach that the Spirit actually helps us bypass the difficult work of discovering what a passage means.

“I fear,” he says, “that our inaccurate emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s role in understanding Scripture has become an easy shortcut to the hard work of building a personal library of study tools and using them. As Gallup poll after Gallup poll has shown, the result of our inaccurate emphasis on Spirit, along with our intellectual laziness, is that modern Christians are largely illiterate about the content of their own religion and feel inadequate because of it.”

And here, in brief, is Moreland’s solution. “We need local churches dedicated to the task of training believers to think theologically and biblically. We must develop intelligent Christians; that is, Christians who have the mental training to see issues clearly, make important distinctions carefully, and weigh various factors appropriately. If we are not planning to see this happen, then at the end of the day, what we are really saying is that a deep understanding of the Scripture, creeds, and theology of Christianity just doesn’t matter that much.”

While I doubt that many readers of this site would argue with Moreland’s proposed solution (increased intellectual training within the church) I do wonder how many would disagree with his understanding of the Spirit’s role in helping us understand the Bible. And so I appeal to you. Do you believe that the Spirit’s primary role in helping us understand Scripture is making known to us the meaning of a text? Or is it, as Moreland says, primarily in helping us apply what we have learned through diligent study of the Scripture, aided by the resources available to us? Or should we take a middle ground, suggesting that the Spirit is inexorably involved in both of these activities?

March 08, 2006

It is always enjoyable to me when I see secular experts stumble across something they think is revolutionary, yet it is merely something that Christians have known and believed for years.

Associated Press writer Samantha Critchell recently reported on a pair of recent studies which conclude that children, and girls in particular, are greatly influenced by their parents, and especially their fathers, in their attitudes towards sexuality. The first study seems to indicate that sexuality is a topic children should slowly grow accustomed to, rather than being a topic that is off-bounds until they are teenagers.

“If adolescent girls perceive their parents’ disapproval of teenage sex, she is less likely to have a sexually transmitted disease six years later, according to the study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Carol Ford, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, lead researcher of the 2005 study, says the findings indicate that parents should make their view on sex clear to their children.” This study concluded that parents should discuss sexuality with their children, not making the topic secret or forbidden, but simply discussing it naturally as it appears in conversation. “[I]t seems the earlier that parents start talking about sex, the older that children are when they lose their virginity…’Even if parents aren’t talking about sex, kids are hearing about it, so it’s best for parents to find a way to discuss it, too. Talk about what’s on TV — and indicate whether you think it’s acceptable or unacceptable behavior. What you say will vary depending on the kid, the family’s values.’” Ford goes on to say that waiting until a child is an adolescent and then suddenly broaching the topic of sexuality is less effective than simply incorporating the topic into every day conversation. A parent need not be explicit about the subject, but he also does not need to hide the topic. “Ford recommends simply keeping sex as part of parents’ vocabulary, not harping on it but not shying away from opportunities to let their thoughts be known. Also, consider your own children’s ability to comprehend what you’re about to say, she says.” She goes on to say that “The ‘don’t-have-sex-until-you’re-married’ edict might carry a clearer message, but it might not have as much weight as a series of conversations about why parents believe that and why they want it for their children.”

This is the attitude I have witnessed time and again within Christian homes. It is the attitude that my parents adopted. They discussed sexuality, though not explicitly. As we grew older we were introduced to the topic slowly and incrementally until we were mature enough to learn the full story. Of course in Christian homes children will naturally be introduced to certain topics of sexuality simply by being taught from the Bible. They will learn about being fruitful and multiplying. They will learn, at least to some extent, what a virgin is. A trip through the Old Testament will discuss laws of hygiene and any number of stories dealing either subtly or frankly with sexuality.

So it seems to me that this first study says nothing more than the obvious: parents should carefully, but lovingly and consistently, introduce topics of sexuality from their children.

A second study published by the Journal of Family Issues and spearheaded by Mark Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, found that girls with close relationships with their fathers tended to put off having sex. This study was an attempt to gauge the effect of religion in sexual decision making. It turned out religion didn’t have much of an impact, but when examining adolescents who live in intact, two-parent families, Regnerus did find that a strong father-daughter bond played a significant role. “For girls, my best assessment of why fathers are so important is that teenagers of all sorts are ‘connectional beings.’ As adolescent girls age, they move from a relationship with their fathers to relationships with boys or young men. In the absence of a good quality relationship with their father, the shift happens earlier…It’s not that girls are hellbent on having sex; it’s more about the transfer of relationships with men. Girls with a healthy relationship with dad don’t need to look for male love elsewhere.”

That is a sobering thought for fathers, is it not? This study has concluded that fathers hold a great deal of influence over the circumstances through which their daughters become sexually active. Even more sobering, it shows that many girls may not become sexually active so much out of sexual desire but out of a desire for a “connectional” relationship with a man. Unfortunately, such a relationship outside of the God-ordained father-daugther relationship will usually become sexual, even if it is not a marriage relationship. And so it stands to reason that fathers must maintain close relationships with their daughters.

“It’s possible dad also put the kibosh on dating, and because the girl values his opinion, she delays a romantic relationship, which usually means delaying sex,” Regenerus concluded. As I read this study I was reminded of a chapter Douglas Wilson contributed to the book 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life, edited by Alex Chediak. Wilson, reflecting on a father’s role in the life of a daughter who is becoming interested in a relationship with another man, writes:

[M]any parents make the mistake of neglecting their children over the course of many years and then, just as their daughter comes to the age when young men begin coming around, her father suddenly develops very strong and rigid views on how the young man has to “get through him first.” In terms of authority on paper, this is quite true and is right at the center of the courtship model [which Wilson espouses]. A young suitor should approach a young woman’s father. But if the father in this situation has been abdicating for years, he cannot suddenly conjure up moral authority. When counselling fathers in this kind of situation, I have explained to them that whether they have the right to sign a check in their checkbook and whether they have any money in the account are two entirely seperate questions. A father might say that he should be able to tell this suitor no. This is right—he should be able to. But he should have thought of that fifteen years earlier when he was busy building fundamental distrust in his daughter.

There is little difference between Wilson’s exhortation, built upon biblical principles, and Regenerus’ conclusions, based simply upon a sociology and statistics. So what we see is that fathers must invest themselves in their daughters while the girls are still young. A father who has a close, meaningful relationship with his daughter will protect her from seeking alternative male companionship before she is adequately mature. And at the same time, parents can speak discreetly about sexuality in the presence of their children and so prepare them to face the issues they will encounter later in life.

Did we really need sociological studies to tell us these things?

You can read the AP report here.

February 27, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s honoree is Coffeeswirls, the online home of Doug McHone. Doug was one of the first bloggers with whom I made a genuine personal connection. He has become a good friend, first via email and then in “real life.” We spent a weekend together at last year’s Desiring God Conference and will be spending the week together this coming week at The Shepherd’s Conference. As I am liveblogging the event, Doug will also be posting reflections on the week in L.A. So be sure to stop by his site this week for further information about what is happening at the conference.

For the next few days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from Coffeeswirls in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so by clicking on the “suggest” button below the King of the Week box. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

February 23, 2006

Cindy KlassenCindy Klassen is the toast of Canada. Yesterday she won a gold medal in the women’s 1,500-meter long-track speed skating event. It was her fourth medal of the games. She had previously won a bronze in the 3,000-meter event, a silver in the team pursuit and a silver in 1,000 meter competition. She still has one event left to compete in: the 5,000-meter which will take place on Saturday. While it is not her strongest event, who can deny the possibility that she might walk away from Turin with a fifth medal?

Klassen, like Canada’s last great speed skater, Catriona LeMay Doan, is a Christian. Like LeMay Doan, she is outspoken about her beliefs. This is a rarity in Canada where celebrities and athletes do not commonly boast, and rarely boast lightly, about their Christian beliefs. Living Light News says “Klassen desires to be as open about her faith as former teammate and gold medalist, Catriona LeMay Doan, who told City Light News, ‘It’s my relationship with Jesus that gives me true significance.’ Inspired by Doan’s boldness, Klassen says, “I want to use the publicity I’ve gotten through my success for His glory. I go back to my old high school and talk to the students. I … let people know I’m a Christian.”

“At McIvor Mennonite Brethren Church and Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, cards have been distributed encouraging prayer for her during the competition. ‘Cindy asks we pray that God is first in her life as she maintains good health in the face of the very best competition,’ the cards say, along with pictures of her and a schedule of her races.” Ken Reddig, director of the Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies, says “Her faith in Christ is very important to her. She does not ask that we pray for her to win, just that she can perform at her peak. I greatly respect that humble, confident but also mature attitude.”

Klassen, in words vaguely reminiscent of the great Eric Liddell, says, “I’m thankful for everything God has given me…God has given me this gift to be able to skate and race, and he wants 100 percent of me.”

It has been inspiring to watch Klassen compete at these Olympics, knowing that she does so for the glory of God. After the 2002 Olympics, in which she won a bronze medal, she reflected on the value of that honor. Her words are surely as true today as they were four years ago. “I’ve won a medal, but that’s nothing compared to the crown I’ll get in Heaven. I see a lot of people in sports who think when they reach a certain level they’ve got it made, but really, you can only find happiness in the Lord.” It seems that Klassen is taking seriously the admonition of Jesus Christ who said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I, and millions of other Canadians, will be cheering for Cindy on Saturday. But as a Christian I also have the joy and responsibility of praying for her, that she would use this platform she has been given for the glory of God. I pray that she will, for in so many ways, Canada is a dark nation desperately in need of some light.

February 22, 2006

On Sunday, Paul began his sermon by saying that, while he always intends not to watch the Olympics, somehow he is always drawn to them. I feel much the same way. I have found it somewhat easier this year than usual, since by the evening there is nothing to watch but reruns of events I’ve already read about on the Internet, but the Olympics still do have a particular and even peculiar appeal.

A couple of years ago Dr Peter Hammond wrote an article about the original olympics which I am going to take the liberty of posting here. I found that it provides quite an interesting perspective on the Olympic games, both in history and in our day. Those who have remarked that the opening ceremonies of the Olympics resemble what we might expect for a pagan, worldwide, man-exalting, godless religion, may not be too far wrong. And before they compete athletes take a vow to compete for the glory of sport. Perhaps the most interesting question he asks is, “If the Olympics are only about sports, then why are the increasingly pagan opening ceremonies glorifying ancient religions - all of which practiced animal and human sacrifices, infanticide, slavery and brutal oppression of women?” What follows is Dr Hammond’s article:

Various newspaper articles, media networks and the Olympic website have made reference to the fact that in AD393, the Roman emperor Theodosius banned the Olympic games for “being too pagan”. Some have also mentioned that under the emperor’s direction, fanatical Christians closed and later tore down the temple (of Zeus) built in Olympia. Numerous reports have characterised Christians as anti-sport - even though many Christian athletes are performing in these games.

It is worth noting that the original Olympians were professionals - they trained and competed fulltime, profiting royally from their wins, receiving huge amounts of cash, pensions and slaves as prizes. The original Olympic Games were thoroughly pagan. Before the games began, competitors went in procession to the village of Piera, there priests offered an animal sacrifice to Zeus. Then the athletes participated in a religious ceremony of purification and large numbers of animals were sacrificed before the colossal statue of Zeus in the Olympia. The athletes swore allegiance to the Greek gods and specifically to Zeus.

Winners of the events visited the temple of Zeus to sacrifice to the gods. The opening procession, where priests carried glowing embers from the fire of the goddess Hestia, was carried on past spectators singing a hymn to Zeus. Arriving at the temple of Zeus, the priests mounted the steps and lit the fire in the altar with the embers. There they slaughtered and sacrificed a hundred bulls.

In the original Olympics, men competed in the nude. Married women were not allowed in the stands, woman who flouted this prohibition risked being pitched headfirst off the nearby cliffs. Unmarried women were allowed to watch and prostitutes from the temple of Aphrodite were available to the winners.

The original Olympics were also incredibly violent. One of the most popular events at the ancient games was the Four-Horse Chariot Race which often resulted in multiple spills, accidents and gory pile-ups. Numerous participants were disfigured beyond recognition.

The Olympics also featured a “ferocious, no holds barred brawl known as the Pankration…a vicious mix of wrestling, boxing and street fighting in which punches, kicks to the groin, shoulder and ankle dislocations and choke holds were allowed.” One famous contestant specialised in breaking his opponent’s fingers. One Damoxenos jabbed his opponents with the fingers so violently that he would pierce men’s ribcages and yank out their intestines. (Christian History)

Hence, when on 24 February 391AD the emperor Theodosius began issuing the series of decrees that effectively outlawed all pagan sacrifices, divination, and occult rituals, one can understand how this led to the closing down of the original Olympics.

Christians were not hostile to sport in and of itself. There are numerous positive references to physical exercise and running the race in the Scriptures. “For physical training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8; “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others I myself will not be disqualified from the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24 - 27; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7

The third century minister Hippolytus listed 24 vocations forbidden to Christians in his book Apostolic Traditions. Eight of these involved brutality, including chariot driving.

Fortunately, today, athletes are no longer required to sacrifice animals to Zeus, and cruelty to animals and brutality to fellow contestants is no longer on the Olympic programme. However, after the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, one reporter noted: “The spirit behind Zeus, the ancient god of the Olympics, would have been pleased. Never has so large a flock sung his hymn and cheered his sacred flame. Never have so many people celebrated the timeless ritual involving earth centred spirits and the tribes they inspire…” The Olympic Dream by Berit Kjos

Those who think that the present Olympic Games have nothing to do with the mythological paganism of Ancient Greece should consider the present day Olympic anthem: “Ancient Immortal Spirit, chaste Father of all that is Beauty, Grandeur and Truth descending appear with thy presence, illumin thy earth and the heavens. Shine upon noble endeavours wrought at the games, on track and in the field…to thine Temple, to thine worship, come all. O Ancient Eternal Spirit!”

One description of the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens observed: “A centaur (half human, half horse) launches into the darkness a javelin, a shaft of light arching through the air. Then the Greek god Eros descends over scantily clad lovers sensually clutching and releasing each other as they folic in the water…the procession of Greek history begins with float after float…culminating in the persona of the goddess Athena and replica of the Parthenon - religion. Over all this, Eros hovers, as though the god of love is guiding the course of history.”

If the Olympics are only about sports, then why are the increasingly pagan opening ceremonies glorifying ancient religions - all of which practiced animal and human sacrifices, infanticide, slavery and brutal oppression of women?

There is a pervasive tendency to ignore our Christian heritage and how Christianity introduced a respect for life and liberty that was completely unknown before the coming of Jesus Christ. In the ancient world, the teachings of Jesus Christ halted infanticide, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired the first charities and relief organisations, created hospitals, established orphanages and founded schools. In the medieval times, Christianity built libraries, invented colleges and universities, dignified labour and converted the barbarians. In the modern era, Christian teaching has advanced science, elevated political, social and economic freedom, promoted justice and provided the greatest inspiration for the most magnificent achievements in art, architecture, music and literature.

Christianity has been the most powerful agent in transforming society for the better across 2000 years. No other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation or movement has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done. Yet at the Olympics billions of people worldwide choose to unite in pagan worship rather than acknowledging our Creator, Saviour and eternal Judge.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2

(source)

February 21, 2006

Yesterday I wrote about my inflamed duoduwhatzit and the untrained doctor who is going to be removing it for me. This was only a parable, of course, and likely not a very good one at that. Yet it stimulated some good discussion for which I am grateful. I thought I would take the opportunity this morning to clarify my feelings on seminary education. But let me begin somewhere else.

People who serve in the military will all be able to describe times that they were required to do things that seemed utterly irrelevant to their chosen career. I have read of people who spent days upon days digging ditches and then filling them back in. Hour after hour, day after day. Their joints ached and their hands developed painful blisters. And all the time they wondered, “Is this why I joined the Army?” The activity seemed to bear little resemblance to what they had imagined would be involved in a career in the military. And to a great extent they were right. Yet it is only later that they realize that this was not an empty exercise. It was a deliberate exercise. It taught them teamwork. It taught the soldiers to work together as a unit. It forged a bond between them that would drive them to take heroic measures on the battlefield. It was these exercises that created the bond that would make these soldiers become a band of brothers.

That analogy is true, at least to some degree, in almost every type of education. There are some exercises that are given as a means to a greater end. Many of the essays I wrote in college are long forgotten. They meant almost nothing to me then and mean nothing to me, or to anyone else, now. Yet they were valuable. My professor did not need to know anything more about whether the Allies overcame the Axis powers in World War II by virtue of superior numbers or by virtue of greater application of technology. Yet he forced me to write about it. I did. I don’t remember what I concluded, but the exercise, and many like it, was valuable because it taught me to think critically. It taught me to do careful research. It taught me to attempt to understand both sides of an argument before forming an opinion about a particular topic. Students are constantly required to do things that seem utterly irrelevant. Yet they must have faith that somehow these things will prove useful in the end.

When I was in the eleventh grade I decided to study Latin. I don’t remember what it was that compelled me to study the language, but I suspect it had something to do with the small class size. Where most classes in my high school had twenty five or thirty students, Latin usually had only seven or eight. And so it was that for a year I studied Latin. The teacher, Dr. Helder, quickly became my favorite teacher and grade eleven Latin stands out as my favorite class in all my years of high school. Dr. Helder was faced with the daunting task of making a group of teenagers enjoy Latin, a dead language. Yet he succeeded in making us not only learn the language but also in making us enjoy learning it. How did he do that? He proved to us that Latin is not dead, but in fact, is still in common use. One ongoing task throughout the year was to collect Latin words and phrases we found in books, newspapers and magazines. We were to collect all these examples and at the end of the year, part of our grade was based on how many of these we found. The more of the language we learned, the more Latin we found. As our eyes were opened to the language, suddenly we saw it all around us - in print, in law, in theology, in advertising, and just about everywhere else. And of course we also saw it in our own language and in other languages we studied. Latin brought English and French to life in a fresh way. The study of this dead language helped undergird my study of other languages and gave me a greater love and appreciation for my own language.

After I pointed to Perry Noble’s article yesterday I got a nice email from him. He wrote:

I picked up several hits from your blog today. WOW-you have some awesome insight…and I love your writing style-sarcastic, yet not in an attacking sort of way.

Let me be honest dude-I love what I do-I can’t believe the opportunity that Jesus has given me to work in His church. He changed my life…seriously, I was an awesome PAGAN…and then He rocked my world.

You say you are putting the fun in being a fundamentalist-I love it!

However, I think you may have slightly misunderstood my post in my letter to the staff. I never meant for it to get blown out of proportion. I am not anti-seminary; however, I do think it is a calling and not a biblical mandate.

I completed 36 hours towards my Masters degree in seminary…and I dropped out. Not because I was making bad grades; in fact, I was blowing most classes out of the water. It is just that the particular seminary I was in was not teaching me anything that I could practically use to assist the people I was ministering to.

Trust me-I believe that we should all immerse ourselves in the study of Scripture. We should know and be able to defend our doctrine…AND be able to recognize and refute heresy when we see it. And trust me…I am in the word every day! I do an incredible amount of research and study…and the more I learn…the more I realize that there is even more to learn.

So…in no way was I supporting ignorance…AT ALL!

And seriously-I did really like your analogy…my wife is a doctor & so I could see where you were coming from.

Now I realized that I was taking a risk in singling out Perry in my article yesterday. However, blogging, by its very nature, invites discussion and even critical discussion, so I do not think I ought to feel remorse for pointing to his article. He intended for it to be public and thus he invited discussion. And I was glad to see that he was not at all offended.

Neumatikos had the following to say about my analogy: “Despite the fact that I’m even now going to seminary, I think Tim Challies analogy is a false one. He wants to persuade people that you shouldn’t trust a minister without theological training any more than you would trust a doctor without medical training. That’s not necessarily true. Religious education in general is just as likely to lead you away from the gospel as toward it.” To be fair, my analogy was just that: an analogy. It was not meant to portray my full feelings on a subject but merely to make a comparison or suggestion. I do not feel that the medical field lends itself to a perfect comparison with the ministry. So let me clarify my feelings about seminary.

I do not feel that every person who desires to be a pastor or to be involved in vocational ministry must have graduated from seminary. Some of the pastors I respect most did not have a seminary education. Moody and Spurgeon are two names that spring to mind! But, while these men did not graduate from seminary, they were lifelong students. Spurgeon, especially, is known as being a voracious reader. He was reading the Puritans while still little more than an infant. He had a photographic memory and had intimate knowledge of thousands of commentaries and books. Also, to my knowledge, Spurgeon did not delight in his lack of formal education. In later years he trained thousands of pastors, affirming that he knew the importance of education. He realized that he was unique.

All this is to say that I do not feel that seminary education is always a necessity for a man who wishes to be a pastor. However, I do think a career as important as Minister of the Word is worth the time of preparation. At the very least a man can learn from and be mentored by men who are older and more advanced in sanctification than he is.

A commenter, Brian Thornton, did a good job of summarizing the purpose of my little parable. “I think Tim’s whole point - if I may speak for him - is that this pastor is wrong to discount the importance and value of preparing for the ministry…or for anything else related to teaching God’s people God’s truth. There has to be a foundation from which to build upon. And while there are examples of extraordinary men who have been used incredibly by God without the usual preparation prior to ministry…that is the exception rather than the rule.” Perry Noble does not feel that he has discounted the importance and value of preparing for the ministry, but that was certainly how I and others understood his words. This may not be what he meant, yet it is what he communicated.

So what I was reacting to was not so much the fact that Perry Noble has not graduated from seminary. I know nothing about his ministry and have not heard a word about him beyond what he wrote on his blog and what he subsequently told me in an email. He may be the next Charles Spurgeon for all I know! What I was reacting to was the anti-intellectual undertone in what he said. This statement was particularly alarming: “…as I look back I think that me lacking experience was a good thing because it forced me to rely on common sense rather than textbook procedure and principals.” This statement completely discredits a seminary education. To borrow from the military analogy, it assumes that digging ditches is in no way relevant to a career in the military. It assumes that many of the subjects in seminary, perhaps languages, church history, or hermeneutics, is a waste of time that will generate only useless head knowledge that a pastor will have to unlearn before he can be useful and relevant. It may even assume that principles and procedures, passed down through the history of the church, are useless.

Perry is not alone in this type of sentiment. It may be that I am reading too much into his words, but I think we can all think of people who feel that seminary is a waste of time, money and effort. I would agree that some seminaries probably are. But seminary education should not be discredited or regarded as something less than useful. I admire the humility of men who, realizing their lack of knowledge and realizing the importance of a solid foundation, invest a great deal of time and effort in formal training. To those who struggle with the usefulness of a particular subject or course of study, I would encourage you to ask the professor or other member of staff to explain how and why a particular course is relevant. I suspect you will come to see that no course is without both long term and short term benefit.

I do not believe that seminary is an absolute necessity. But I do believe that in most cases it will be of great benefit to a man who wishes to be a pastor. Seminary is not mandated by Scripture. Yet if a man desires to be a pastor and to bring God’s Word to His people week after week, should he not wish to ensure that he is adequately and properly prepared?

February 20, 2006

I went to the doctor the other day. I was shocked to find out that I have a rare genetic disorder that is going to require immediate attention. Apparently my duoduwhatzit is inflamed and is putting undue and unhealthy pressure on my intestinor majorus and my cardialitozalingdon. Thankfully humans can live fairly comfortably without the duoduwhatzit, so the doctor is suggesting that I have it removed immediately. He tells me that he is one of the foremost duoduwhatzit experts in this part of the world and that he would be glad to conduct the surgery for me.

I guess I’ll go ahead with the surgery. The surgeon sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. He certainly seemed to be familiar with my symptoms and his suggested remedy made perfect sense. He used small, simple words to explain the importance and functionality of the duoduwhatzit and to describe exactly how the procedure would take place. He made me understand just what’s at stake here. He seems like a nice guy and exudes confidence. Perhaps the greatest testament to his skill was his clinic. It was big and filled with fancy new equipment. The halls were packed full of people - there must have been forty or fifty staff members milling about and hundreds, perhaps even thousands of patients. I’m sure this is a testament to his great ability.

I did notice one peculiar thing about his office. Where most doctors have walls emblazoned with degrees and certifications, this doctor’s walls were quite bare. There was a large, color picture of him standing in the reception area with his staff and they all seemed very pleased. There was a small letter of congratulation from someone whose name escapes me, but I assume he is a high-ranking doctor who took the opportunity to commend this man’s practice. But that was it. I noticed as well that most of the people in the picture, obviously staff members who are involved in this man’s practice, were also young. There was hardly a grey-haired doctor to be found among them.

I asked the doctor about the bare walls and young faces. This is what he said:

Most of us are young—really young. Sure—there is a Caleb or two among us. However, the average age of this staff has to be in our late 20’s or early 30’s. Why is that? I believe it is because younger generations tend to believe in the power of medicine—we believe that if it is medically possible, that we can do it…well…then we can do it. Do not let the fact that you are young ever distract you from doing what your heart has called you to do! EVER!

I remember being 28 when we started this practice and people telling me that I was too young and that I lacked experience…as I look back I think that me lacking experience was a good thing because it forced me to rely on common sense rather than textbook procedure and principals.

Speaking of textbook…not many of us have been trained “medically.” In fact, I believe there is only one medical school graduate on staff. I remember talking to many of you about joining our staff and you making the comment, “But I don’t have a medical degree,” and then watching your face as I replied, “neither do I!”

Sure, there are people that may criticize that aspect of our clinic; however, when I look at the description given about some of my medical heroes…they are refered to as “unschooled, ordinary men.” I believe the medical establishment is looking for a few more of those—people who allow fate to lead and teach them common sense. Don’t get me wrong…I am not cracking on medical school…it’s just that it isn’t a mandate…and we have seen fruit without it.

I thought his words made great sense. He’s right! What use is a medical degree anyways? Let’s suppose that he had spent six or eight or ten years in college and medical school. What good would that do? He would have then had to spend several years unlearning all that head knowledge so he could learn to practically apply common sense medical procedures. I would far rather have a doctor rely on common sense then on what some “expert” wrote tens or hundreds of years ago. Seriously, textbook procedures and principals are so overrated.

One thing still bothers me just a little bit. I can’t help but wonder if it would be such a hardship to endure a few year’s preparation for as important a career as a medical doctor and surgeon. After all, if the job is that important, wouldn’t it be worth a person’s time to ensure that he is properly prepared? Wouldn’t his love for his chosen career compel him to desire training from others more advanced in the field? So many questions. Anyways, I don’t have time to think about it right now. My duoduwhatzit is throbbing and I’m going to go and have it removed. For some reason my life insurance policy will not cover this procedure. But that’s okay. I’m sure that I and my duoduwhatzit are in good hands.

By the way, before I head over to his clinic I thought I’d leave you with a link. This is an interesting open letter written by a pastor to the staff members at his church. It may ring a bell.

February 16, 2006

I have been challenged recently on the subject of submission and how it relates to the role of women in a marriage relationship. In particular, I have been challenged to understand and then prove that the submission prescribed by Scripture is inherent in God’s created order. In other words, the fact that women are to submit to their husbands is not merely the product of the Fall of the human race into sin, but is a product of God’s creation. Even if sin had never entered the world, a wife would still be expected to submit to her husband. Having studied this issue I believe that is a fair statement and today I will attempt to prove it.

I have discussed this topic with several women and have been a little bit surprised by their reactions. It seems to me that women would be glad to know that the idea of submission precedes the fall. This shows us that the headship of the husband is not rooted in a punishment, and perhaps even an unfair punishment where woman was given the harsher penalty of having to submit, but is rooted in the very purpose and creation of mankind. Yet women have told me that they prefer to think that submission is a product of the Fall. Perhaps this shows just what a poor job the church has done in teaching this subject and what a poor job husbands have done in making submission joyful.

Strange though it may seem, submission is a good and beautiful and godly thing. The most perfect relationship in the world, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, displays a perfect example of submission. The Son submits Himself to the Father. They are, to echo the Shorter Catechism, “the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” Yet the Father demonstrates headship. We speak of Jesus’ mission to the earth in two ways. We speak of Jesus being sent by the Father. And this is true. From eternity it was decided by the Father that man would have to be ransomed by a perfect substitute. The Father tasked the Son with this responsibility. But we also speak of the Son willingly giving up his life. These are both true. The Son’s perfect submission to the Father’s will meant that a command of the Father is indistinguishable from a decision of the Son. Christ was perfectly willing to submit to His Father’s will. This relationship within the Trinity provides us many clues as to the nature of the relationship between husband and wife.

So let me provide ten proofs that submission precedes the Fall and is part of God’s natural order. We will follow the structure outlined by Wayne Grudem in his thorough study on the subject, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth.

  1. The order of creation: Adam was created before Eve. This may seem to be weak grounds for an argument yet it was strong enough for Paul to mention in 1 Timothy 2:12-13 where he does not “permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Inherent in the order of creation is the foundation for the order of human relationships.
  2. The representation of the human race: It was Adam who had a special role in representing the human race. Though Eve was the first to sin, it was Adam who was considered most culpable for their combined disobedience. In Corinthians we read that, “as in Adam all men die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ is the second Adam, not the second Eve as we might expect if the Bible held Adam and Eve as being equal in representation and leadership.
  3. The naming of woman: Adam was given the honor and responsibility of naming his wife. “She shall be called woman,” he said, “because she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). Within the Scriptures we see that the person who names something is always the one who has authority over it. This parallels the account of creation where God named the night and the day, the expanse, the earth and the waters. By naming them He showed His authority.
  4. The naming of the human race: The human race is named after Adam, not Eve. Neither is it named after both Adam and Eve. God named the human race “man.” “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created” (Genesis 5:1-2). While this does not provide a cut and dry case, it points again to the headship and leadership of the man in the created order.
  5. The primary accountability: God held Adam primarily accountable for the Fall. While Adam and Eve hid from God, God called “to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Genesis 3:9). God did not call to both Adam and Eve, but called to Adam alone. Dr. Grudem draws an analogy of a parent who, upon entering a room where several children have been misbehaving, will summon the oldest and demand answers. It is the oldest who bears greatest responsibility. In the same way God summoned Adam and demanded an account of both his sin and that of his wife. Notice that Satan reversed this order, approaching Eve before Adam in an obvious (and successful) attempt to disrupt the God-given pattern.
  6. The purpose of women: Eve was created as a helper for Adam, not Adam as a helper for Eve. While feminists have made much of the term “helper,” the fact remains that in any given situation, the person doing the helping necessarily places himself in a subordinate role to the person needing help. Yet helping does not remove accountability. While I may help my son with a paper route, the ultimate responsibility is still his. Eve’s role, from the beginning of creation, was to be a helper for Adam. This does not by any means indicate a inferiority, but a helper who was Adam’s equal. She differed in ways that would complement Adam.
  7. The conflict: A dire consequence of the Fall is the conflict it has introduced into the relationships of husbands and wives. In Genesis 3:16 God tells Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This desire is to interfere with or distort the role of her husband. The roles God gave to the husband and wife have been distorted through the Fall. Eve would now rebel against the God-given authority of her husband and he would abuse the authority to rule poorly, forcefully and even harshly.
  8. The restoration: When creation is restored through the work of Christ we do not find an undoing of the marriage order. Were submission a consequence of the Fall we would expect Christ to “make all things new” in this manner. Instead we find that Christ provides power to overcome the sinful impulses of a wife against her husband and the husband’s response of ruling harshly over her. But Christ does not remove the order of a husband being in authority over his wife.
  9. The mystery: When the Apostle Paul wrote of a “mystery” he was describing something that was understood only faintly in the Old Testament but became clear in the New. In Ephesians 5:31-32 Paul shows that the ultimate purpose in marriage is to mirror the relationship between Christ and the church. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Dr. Grudem says, “Although Adam and Eve did not know it, their relationship represented the relationship between Christ and the church. They were created to represent that relationship, and that is what all marriages are supposed to do. In that relationship, Adam represents Christ and Eve represents the church…”
  10. The parallel with the Trinity: The triune nature of God provides the perfect example of submission. “The equality, differences, and unity between men and women reflects the equality, differences and unity of the Trinity.” We are blessed and honored to be able to represent that relationship in our marriages.

The ultimate reason a wife is to submit her husband may not have been clear to Adam and Eve. It was not clear to God’s people until after the writing of the New Testament. The ultimate reason a wife is to submit to her husband is that the marriage relationship is to mirror that of Christ and His church. Just as Christ is head of the church and we submit to Him, in the same way man is the head of the family and the wife should submit to Him. A husband is to lead in the same was as Christ: lovingly, tenderly and always seeking the greatest good for his wife. A wife is to mirror her relationship with Christ in her relationship with her husband. She is to trust him, be loyal to him and help him. This can only be done in a relationship of humble, loving, godly submission.

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