Archive for February 2010

Give me your heart

February 27th, 2010 — 4:22pm

I know of no more urgent question facing Christian fathers than this: Do I have the hearts of my children? The father who does not see the importance of this question is almost certainly already losing the hearts of his children to someone else. Deep down our children love someone. Deep down they delight in someone. Deep down they trust and admire someone. Deep down they are open to someone and want his or her input. If that person isn’t you, Dad, you’re losing your kids. They may look okay on the outside, but you’re losing them. 

It’s easy when they’re young. Children want to be open toward their father when they’re young. They will hug you and kiss you and be glad to see you when you get home from work. But if you aren’t thinking about what it takes to win and keep and guard their hearts, a day is coming when their response to you will fall somewhere between indifference and hostility. And as they regard you, their earthly father, so they will regard their heavenly Father. Mark it down. I have seen it so many times it makes my heart sick. 

I don’t want my children to tolerate conversations with me at any stage in their development. I don’t want them to endure family worship or public worship at any stage in their development. I don’t want them just to have a head full of Christian facts, ideas, and rules, either, while their heart is elsewhere. I want children who want to know God, who really enjoy being His children, whose souls burn with sincere passion for the Lord their God; who ask unprompted the question, “What has God made me do? How can I bring glory to Him in the earth? Tell me! Let me at it!” 

If this doesn’t happen (and giving due allowance for causes outside my control), it’s because I haven’t done the hard work of interacting with my children lovingly, sincerely, and thoughtfully all the days of their lives. It’s because I haven’t fulfilled the commands of Deuteronomy 6:7. I’m not talking here about talking at my children: lecturing them, filling their ears with the noise of my voice. I’m talking about talking with my children as together we walk the path of life, sharing meaningful hours. This means rebuking and disciplining them, yes; it means catechizing and teaching, yes. It also means listening to music and watching films together, going on hikes and to ballgames together, building forts and reading great books together – and in all of this seeking to find out what is really going on in their heads, entering their thought-world in such a way that they become comfortable with my presence there, even welcome it. It means listening to their questions in such a way that they know I have really heard them (and, by the way, immediate longwinded answers are a sure way to ensure no further questions will be forthcoming). It means being courteous to my children, treating them with the same respect I extend to humans outside my home. I know Christian youth who from toddlerhood have been treated so rudely and sharply by their parents, that eventually (and naturally!) they simply respond in kind. Beyond all of this, it means enacting joyful faith in front of my children, so they get the idea my God is delightful, that He is worthy to be known and worshipped and served. 

Christians frequently talk as if all of this is fine with young children, but once the “teen years” roll in, all bets are off. Well, let me put it bluntly. The “teen years” are hard: this is a season of life in which major physical and intellectual transitions are occurring, and as in all transitional periods, there are difficulties to be traversed. Ugly teen years, however, in which Christian youth drift farther and farther from their parents and their God, are the fruit of bad parenting. Your child’s heart is a garden entrusted to you by God, and if it is full of weeds, it happened on your watch (again, giving due allowance for causes genuinely beyond your control). And make no mistake: a garden full of weed-seeds bears weeds, every time. An illustration: One Christian teen frequently posts quotes from great Christian thinkers on her Facebook site. Why? Because deep inside she is pondering this stuff; it genuinely interests her. Another Christian teen posts profanity and pictures of himself drinking with his girlfriend. Why? Because deep inside he is giving the finger to his parents, his Christian upbringing, and ultimately God Himself. What is in his heart comes out on Facebook. And it didn’t get there last week. 

“My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways” (Prov 23:26). This is the pulse of Christian parenting. A child whose heart has been in the hand of a godly father all of his life will find, when he comes to adulthood, that his heart has been in the hand of God since before he can remember – it will be a joy to give his heart to his Father in heaven, because he has been doing that, under the tutelage of his earthly father, all along.

Comment » | Hearth and Home

Some really fatal flaw

February 27th, 2010 — 10:24am

“It is important to realise that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about – like what the advertisements call ‘halitosis’, which everyone notices except the person who has it. But why, you ask, don’t the others tell me? Believe me, they have tried to tell you over and over again, and you just couldn’t ‘take it’. Perhaps a good deal of what you call their ‘nagging’ or ‘bad temper’ or ‘queerness’ are just their attempts to make you see the truth. And even the faults you do know you don’t know fully. You say, ‘I admit I lost my temper last night’; but the others know that you’re always doing it, that you are a bad-tempered person. You say, ‘I admit I drank too much last Saturday’; but every one else knows that you are an habitual drunkard.” (C. S. Lewis, “The Trouble with ‘X’ . . .” in God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics)

Comment » | Grace and Life

Law abiding citizens

February 26th, 2010 — 9:52am

I have noted with interest the spate of recent films dealing with vigilante justice (two of the more memorable being Boondock Saints and The Brave One). Last year another contribution arrived in Gary Gray’s Law Abiding Citizen. It is a hard film to watch, from the opening scene, and there is a lot of rough language; but it is a movie with a message (underscored by the sheer implausibility of its storyline), and thanks to compelling performances from Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler (no surprise!), the question at the heart of the film simply will not be denied. 

What I find powerful in these vigilante films, despite their deplorable glamorization at times of personal vengeance, is their rejection in the strongest possible terms of “legal positivism.” Legal positivism is the view that, roughly speaking, law is as law does. Law exists or it does not exist, but the existence of law has nothing to do with its merits or demerits (judged by some standard external to itself). Lon Fuller says that, in positivism, “law is defined as ‘the existence of public order’ without asking what kind of order is meant or how it is brought about. Again, the distinguishing mark of law is said to lie in a means, namely ‘force,’ that is typically employed to effectuate its aims” (The Morality of Law, rev. ed., p. 118). 

By contrast, a basic tenet of vigilante justice is that the “justice” offered by an existing legal system just isn’t good enough – in fact, doesn’t qualify as justice at all. Whether the vigilante impulse is a righteous alternative is not my point here; what interests me is the argument for holding legal systems accountable to something outside themselves. Put simply, there must be a moral standard to which human systems of justice are held accountable; or put yet another way, there must be a genuinely transcendent moral norm, so that might in itself does not make right. 

This transcendent moral norm is frequently identified by invocations of divine justice (e.g., the tagline in Boondock Saints, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”). In Law Abiding Citizen, Clyde Shelton says to prosecutor Nick Rice, “I’m gonna pull the whole thing down. I’m gonna bring the whole *&^%$# diseased, corrupt temple down on your head. It’s gonna be Biblical.” Later in the film, he disguises himself as a janitor under the telling name “Nomos.” Higher law, higher nomos – even divine nomos – is the central issue of the film. 

But of course this accountability to a transcendent standard, demanded by the vigilante, must in the end return on his own pate. In Shelton’s arraignment, he demands of the judge, “Whatever happened to right and wrong?” Good question. Later he says to Rice, “Justice should be harsh, Nick, but especially for those who denied it to others.” Fine, but is there such a thing as an unjust response to injustice? Later, he utters these telling words: “Everyone must be held accountable for their actions.” And this is the reason his methods cannot, in the end, prevail. At the end of the film, in the final scene in Shelton’s cell, everything comes full circle as Rice says to him, “We’re all held accountable, Clyde. That includes you.” 

The anger in vigilante films is refreshing. It shows the refusal of the human spirit to surrender to positivistic views of justice and morality. It shows that our hearts cry out for a standard beyond and above us all. That standard (though most of the films barely hint at it, at best) is the law of God in whose hand is the life-breath of every living thing and whose are all our ways. 

Law Abiding Citizen ends with Grand Funk Railroad’s “Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother”: 

     Some folks need an education
     Don’t give up or we’ll lose the nation
     You say we need a revolution?
     It seems to be the only solution 

Indeed we do need a revolution. But let us make it one grounded in the law of God, administered according to methods He prescribes. Let us leave off taking the law into our own hands, whether in organized legal systems or in personal vendettas, and let us kiss the scepter of God in order that we may learn at His feet the ways of righteousness, justice, equity, and peace.

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Hart on Romans 1

February 25th, 2010 — 8:54am

“What is deplored in those who fail to glorify God is, so to speak, an inadequate aesthetic response, a failure to appreciate the magnitude and ubiquity of the divine address, a deficiency of taste and gratitude.” (Beauty of the Infinite, p. 292)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

The lamppost

February 25th, 2010 — 8:43am

This from Heretics is one of my favorite Chesterton quotes of all time; I wonder if Nancy Pelosi has ever read it: 

“Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, ‘Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good—’ At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”

Comment » | Of Books and Beer

Christian metaphysics

February 25th, 2010 — 8:40am

“Here, in the most elementary terms, is Christian metaphysics: God speaks God, and creation occurs within that speaking, as a rhetorical embellishment, a needless ornament.” (David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 291)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

Love that lies between

February 24th, 2010 — 4:11pm

Do I love you?
Or do I love an idea of you?
If I love you only as you appear to me now, my love is superficial
     and I have cheapened you
     for there is more to you than appears
          I know this
          or so I think
If I do not love you as you appear to me now, my love is conditional
     perhaps idolatrous
If I love you as you are, regardless of what appears, my love is presumptuous
     for who can know what another truly is
     and love it, without loving an idea?
If I love you only as you are, my love is without memory, and without hope
     moreover it is possessive
     neither seeking nor remembering your highest good
If I love an idea I have of you, my love is for what may be
     or for what was, and is no more
     or perhaps for what was, and is still, but is not seen
     and are you then loved as you are?
What then of love?
Yet for all this I do love you
I love you for what I have seen
     for what I see
     and for what I have not seen
I love you for what you have become
     for all you have lost
     and for all you may yet be
For my love is the love of God
     which remembers what you have been
     sees what you have become
     and hopes for what you shall be
          and beyond again, for the end is better than the beginning
This is the love of Him
     who knows the end from the beginning
     the beginning from the end
     and all that lies between

Comment » | Life Together

Pondering Fish

February 24th, 2010 — 2:41pm

Whodathunk the ghost of Cornelius Van Til would ever haunt the New York Times Opinionator? Check this out from Stanley Fish, reviewing Steven Smith’s soon-to-be-released Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (which appears to be a must-read). A teaser from Fish: 

“While secular discourse, in the form of statistical analyses, controlled experiments and rational decision-trees, can yield banks of data that can then be subdivided and refined in more ways than we can count, it cannot tell us what that data means or what to do with it. No matter how much information you pile up and how sophisticated are the analytical operations you perform, you will never get one millimeter closer to the moment when you can move from the piled-up information to some lesson or imperative it points to; for it doesn’t point anywhere; it just sits there, inert and empty.” 

I was equally taken with Fish’s brief mention of “a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction.” It reminded me what a mess dualism has made in the history of Western philosophy and theology. Think about it: 

In philosophy, the duality of idea and form, which we owe to the classical Greeks. We’re still trying to find a way to put these back together, especially post-Kant. 

In anthropology, the duality of soul (mind) and body. In the field of medicine alone, one wonders how different things might look if these were ever brought back into fruitful connection. Let us not even speak of the field of education. 

In social theory, the duality of religious (church) and secular (state, society). The one cares for all things “spiritual” (worship, and the fate of the soul); the other for all things social, tangible, and embodied (says Fish, “the business of everyday life – commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc.). The arrangement sits awkwardly, one must admit, with the biblical metaphors of salt, light, and leaven; but there are Christians who seem to believe God is happy with it.

Penetrating all of this, the eschatological duality of heaven (eternity) and earth (time). What doth earth matter? Of what value is the historical? We’re holding out for a harp, a cloud, and a crown. I could do without the cloud, myself, but my sanctification has proceeded only so far.

Comment » | Things Come Lately

World Cup Christianity

February 23rd, 2010 — 10:30am

Would an all-Christian team win the 2010 World Cup? A friend recently asked me if Christian soccer players are better at soccer, by virtue of the particular grace of God at work in their lives. He noted the following from Henry Van Til’s Calvinistic Concept of Culture, in which Van Til is explicating Abraham Kuyper’s philosophy of culture: 

“In the broader cultural field there are certain activities that are not affected by particular grace, such as architecture and dentistry. Particular grace does not give a man a better understanding of such technical matters, nor does it give any additional knowledge or craftsmanship in any of the arts [citation omitted]. In science, for example, the difference between a natural and a spiritual man does not count when they are engaged in such simple activities as weighing, measuring, counting, etc. Observation is said to be non-scientific in nature, and Kuyper maintains that looking through a microscope or a telescope are forms of observation. Logic also is neutral. But when an attempt is made to interpret the facts empirically gathered, and to arrive at ‘the thought which governs the whole constellation of phenomena,’ then we may truly speak of science emerging. And in this field of interpretation the impact of particular grace is very great.” (Van Til, pp. 124–125) 

This is one of those issues within the Christ-and-culture constellation on which a ton of ink could be (and has been) spilled, but I will keep my response pretty modest. I think perhaps the problem lies in the question itself: what does it really mean to be “better” at soccer (or anything else in the artistic or technical fields, for that matter)? If we define the quality of a cultural product simply in terms of its technical character (e.g., footwork in soccer, brushstroke in painting, body control in a half pipe routine, precision with a scalpel or a chisel or a stringed instrument), then we must acknowledge that the mental and physical faculties of man have not been destroyed by the Fall; it is simply not the case that believers can walk, while unbelievers must crawl. It must, moreover, be acknowledged that the Creator has granted particular mental and physical gifts to particular people, and He showers these gifts on the just and the unjust. Tiger Woods has something I don’t have, and this fact is not altered in the least by the fact that I worship the true God while he does not. In fact, to think that just because I am born from above I possess every gift known to man, while those not so born are bereft of all gifts, is, to put it kindly, delusional. 

But of course the Bible does not define the quality of cultural products simply in terms of their technical character. All cultural products are the fruit of a total “vision” of reality. They reflect a certain view of relationships in the cosmos, and of man’s place within those relationships. They express particular motives, follow particular rules, and are directed to particular ends. It may be, therefore, that a neurosurgeon’s technical skills are impeccable and yet his medical practice be utterly impoverished, because he works his skill in rebellion against his Maker, and pursues a philosophy of life (including medicine) that, carried to its logical extreme, would undo all of the integrating dynamics in the cosmos upon which his technical skills are premised. Is his surgical work “better” than that of his less-gifted Christian colleague? In strictly technical terms, perhaps so, but the biblical view of culture encompasses much more than the strictly technical; its vision of the culturally “good” and “excellent” and “beautiful” cannot be reduced to utilitarianism (e.g., what will win a soccer game).

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Particular sins, particularly

February 23rd, 2010 — 8:56am

I remember an evening class during my first semester in seminary, in which we were discussing repentance and confession of sin. I think we may have been working on Westminster Confession of Faith 15.5, “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly.” I remember telling the prof how hard this has always been for me, because I commit so many sins that, to confess them all, I would have to be confessing pretty much every waking minute. 

I doubt many Christians struggle with this kind of obsessive thinking. But perhaps some do, and if so it may be a relief to them (as it has been to me since that evening) to understand that when the Bible tells us to confess our sins, it is not telling us we must confess every single episode of every single sin. Take a fellow who has become ensnared in pornography. He must confess his lust and idolatry (and other related sins) particularly; he must not content himself with a general confession, “Dear God, I have sinned, please forgive me, amen.” But particular confession does not mean he must recount to God every look at every magazine, including date, time, and place. 

I say this because confession is vitally important in Christian piety, and I wonder if some are not driven away from it because we know we sin daily in thought and word and deed, and it is hard to find enough hours to confess it all. Perhaps we have missed the point: God does not ask us to come to Him as in a confessional, recounting every act of sin (which tends to breed superficial thinking about sin, in any event – as if sin consists primarily in acts). Rather, He commands us to confess our sins, particularly, by name, and this need not take long hours of time: “Father, I have frequently spoken in anger today. I say of that angry speech what You Yourself say of it: it is a falling short of Your glory, it is an attempt to control others, it is murder in seed-form. I am unworthy of the least of Your mercies, but for the sake of my Savior, Your beloved Son, be faithful and righteous to forgive me, and to cleanse me from this and all unrighteousness.”

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

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