How can Christians encourage a love of theology in others? Here are some thoughts on how to approach this important task.
One of the first things I’m prone to correct with my kids is their use of these words: “I’m boooooooored.” By this, I don’t mean that I seek out ways to entertain them. Instead, I tend to challenge them. I mean, really? Bored? How on earth can any of us be truly bored when there is so much worth exploring? This is something G.K. Chesterton understood well. He didn’t life simply as a good thing, but as an adventure—the supreme adventure, even. He wrote,
Falling in love has been often regarded as the supreme adventure, the supreme romantic accident. In so much as there is in it something outside ourselves, something of a sort of merry fatalism, this is very true. Love does take us and transfigure and torture us. It does break our hearts with an unbearable beauty, like the unbearable beauty of music. But in so far as we have certainly something to do with the matter; in so far as we are in some sense prepared to fall in love and in some sense jump into it; in so far as we do to some extent choose and to some extent even judge—in all this falling in love is not truly romantic, is not truly adventurous at all. In this degree the supreme adventure is not falling in love. The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. (Heretics 191)
The problem, of course, is we don’t all get this right away. Like my kids don’t always understand this, I didn’t understand it until I was much older than they are now. My issue was that I believed a lie. But God has given us so much to explore, to be curious about, to seek to understand. There are books to read, paths to explore, recipes to invent, new skills to learn… Our great issue is never really boredom. We don’t have the time to be bored. There is far too much adventuring to do.
Moving to a new country is incredibly challenging in many ways. But when you spend the better part of a year preparing for it, you’d think you’d actually feel prepared. And there’s a degree to which, yeah, you do. But then little things remind you that it really is a different place. That you’re not “home.” (Not completely anyway.)
Thanksgiving is one of those for me this year.
This weekend, family and friends back home enjoyed their Thanksgiving celebrations. Turkey, stuffing, vegetables of every kind, pumpkin pie… They’re enjoying it all. Me? Well, for me, it’s not Thanksgiving. Not yet, anyway. That’s a few weeks away still. In November (weird).
For me, it’s just another Monday in the office.
It’s funny because we don’t actually do that much for the holiday in my home. We have a nice meal, but it’s mostly a low-key day for us. But today, it feels like I should be doing something if you follow. Maybe it’s social conditioning. Or perhaps it’s something greater. (Nope, social conditioning.)
But today, I get to be thankful in a different way. Today, I’m going to do a job I really enjoy. I get to spread the word about a Bible study I love and tell cool stories about how God is using it to change lives. I’m learning new skills every day. And I get to live with my family in a cool town and enjoy the lovely Tennessee weather.
Those are some great things to be thankful for, I think.
It’s not Thanksgiving for me today. It’s just Monday. But I’m still thankful, even if I don’t get to enjoy any turkey today.
Besides, turkey can wait. November isn’t that far away.
Christianity is the thinking person’s religion.
Or, it should be, at any rate.
By that, I don’t mean you need to be a high-brow scholar, or have an Ivy League education. You need not be particularly gifted when it comes to formal education at all. There are plenty of highly educated people who don’t truly think, after all. They are, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones described in The Gospel in Genesis, “ready to swallow the most dogmatic assertions that lack any vestige of proof whatsoever because they have great names attached to them and because they are made with a great show of certainty” (45).
This shows up in many ways and in many fields. Science, philosophy, politics… even theology or ministry can be a breeding ground for this sort of blind acceptance of whatever dogma is being put forward. But, he says, such behavior is mere rebellion:
Man still defies God and rebels against him merely on the basis of some theory or some dogmatic statement, and then he repeats the whole sorry process. He displays his doubts of God, his hatred of God. He reveals his ingratitude toward God. He uses his own reason and substitutes it for divine revelation. You remember how we are told that when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and was pleasant to the eyes, she started using her own understanding and her own reason. And so she took the fruit and ate it. It is the selfsame process. It happened there at the beginning, and it is still being repeated.
This is why we can’t simply leave “theology to the theologians,” and we dare not be anti-intellectual. We put our minds to work seeking to know God’s will through God’s Word. We take seriously the Bible’s commendation of deep and critical thinking: the call to practice the discipline of discernment (Acts 17:11). This is to, like the Berean Jews, test everything against the Word of God. To keep every thought captive, and consider opinions, no matter how lofty, in light of the Bible’s teaching (2 Corinthians 10:5).
And when we do this, something amazing happens: We choose that which draws us closer to the Lord, rather than running headlong after that which draws us away from him. We put to death determining right in our own eyes and reasoning, but looking to God’s Word for clarity, whether in explicit command or guiding principle.
We tend to start making decisions that lead to greater joy.
Thinking work is hard work. It is also good work, and the work of every believer. Do not be an unthinking Christian for all Christians are thinking Christians. (Or, they should be, at any rate.)
A year ago, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, Ryan Bell, announced he would spend 2014 living as an atheist to explore “the limits of theism and the atheism landscape in the United States.” His experiment ended on December 31st, 2014. So what happened?
Well, after a year of living as an atheist, Bell no longer believes that God exists.
“I think the best way I can explain the conclusion I’ve come to — and conclusion is too strong a word for the provisional place I now stand and work from — is that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us,” he told the Huffington Post.
Bell is not the angry disillusioned stereotype you usually see presented in stories of this sort. He comes across as a very sincere, likeable man. He simply believes “the existence of God seems like an extra layer of complexity that isn’t necessary.”
Which, of course, is not surprising in the least.
No doubt many saw the result of this experiment coming the moment it was announced. When I first read of it, this was certainly my reaction (though, not snidely, I hope).
The problem, is, of course, us. And more specifically, it’s our sin nature. Of course living as though God does not exist is going to be easier for us. When we acknowledge God as God, it means acknowledging his authority—which, yes, does make life more complex in some ways.
But so, too, does denying his existence.
An example of the greater complexity of denying God
For example, although, as Bell points out, atheists in general are not amoral people, we should recognize that there is a fluidity to their morality simply by virtue of there being no recognized objective, outside standard from which those morals emerge. We can more easily justify our wrongdoing as mistakes or errors, or point to the end result for our justification (see: “little white lies”). You do what’s right, you do your best to go to bed with a clear conscience, and you do it again the next day.
But here’s the rub: this is actually a far more complicated way to live. Not because going to bed with a clear conscience isn’t a good thing. Not because we shouldn’t be morally praiseworthy people. But, as Paul says, it’s our right deeds that present a problem for us. For when those “who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves” (Romans 2:14, emphasis mine). This is the same law, the same objective standard, he later says condemns us—not because the law is bad, but because it does not save us. Just because it’s easier to not recognize the source of morality doesn’t mean he’s not there, and it doesn’t mean we will escape the consequences of our falling short of it.
The greater concern with denying God
But there’s a greater concern that I have with this whole situation—and it, again, is one that comes as no surprise. As a Christian, as someone has been saved by Jesus, had my sins forgiven through his death on the cross, I cannot fathom the idea of living as though God did not exist. And I understand backsliding, straying, letting your love for the Lord grow cold, all that. It happens to all of us. But this is different. here’s something terrifying about the idea of being to so easily say, “Yep, I’m going to live this way now,” for it means something else entirely. That the Lord you professed to know, you did not know at all.
That, to me, is tragic. Not because I’m naïve enough to think this doesn’t happen all the time—I know far too many people who have either fallen astray for significant periods of time, continue to walk in rebellion, or have outright denied Christ who once claimed to be believers for my liking—but because the conceit of the project seemed to be self-deceptive. One doesn’t simply decide one day to be an atheist; it’s the result of moving along a trajectory toward unbelief. And one doesn’t engage in such a project if he or she is intending to come out the other side a more committed believer. Instead, the results show the experiment for what it was: one man getting comfortable with being able to say, “I don’t believe God exists.”
And it’s tragic because someday he’s going to meet the God he’s just denied.
So what should we do? We should not make callous comments. We should instead pray for God to reveal himself to Bell and people like him. That genuine believers would come into their lives. That they would meet the real Jesus—the one they never knew—so that, when they stand before him someday, it will not be in judgement, but as being welcomed home.
Last week I shared how 2013 felt like one long giant pregnant pause—that moment when you know something’s going to happen, but it just hasn’t yet. 2013 may have been a bit of a mixed bag for us in that regard, but I’m feeling unusually optimistic about 2014. Here’s why:
2013 is done. While it’s not exactly a full-on reset (the effects of what we did yesterday are still here today), there’s something refreshing about starting the calendar over, don’t you think? Say goodbye to resolution guilt (at least for another few hours until the new round sets in), and enjoy the moment.
Our family is healthy. While Emily’s epilepsy isn’t completely under control—she still has a few seizures here and there, but it’s very limited—her medication is helping. This is a very good thing, indeed. And our kids continue to grow, and surprise us with their cleverness, silliness and thoughtfulness. We’ve got a lovely family, and I’m very thankful for them.
It just “feels” like something big is going to happen. I hate saying stuff like this, but there it is. You know how you get that feeling sometimes—you can’t quite put your finger on it, you have a hard time describing it, but you just know something big is going to happen? That’s pretty much been the last few weeks. I don’t know what it looks like, and I don’t know when, but I can’t shake it. And that’s left me feeling really encouraged. (Although I hope it’s not a sign I’m becoming more naïve as I age…)
Jesus is alive and at work. Call it a cop-out if you must, but it’s true. This is the biggest thing any Christian can or should be excited about. Jesus continues to save his people and grow his kingdom. And we’ve started to see some interesting things in our own family, too. We’ve been praying for family members’ salvation for the better part of a decade now. We’ve been praying for Christians to begin influencing them—and we saw a little glimpse of that at Christmas this year when my dad showed me a gift he’d received: a Reformation Study Bible! We spent a portion of our car ride home praying he’d meet Jesus while reading it.
I don’t know what 2013 was like for you. Maybe it was a fantastic year. Maybe it was a total bummer. Maybe it was somewhere in between. But wherever you find yourself as 2014 begins, I really hope you can begin it with a sense of optimism. It could be a year of big change, or things could stay more-or-less the same. But as long as Jesus sits on the throne, we’ve got a great deal to be thankful for, don’t we?
I’ve been thinking about a number of things since reading The Next Story, but perhaps the biggest issue for me continues to be distraction. Distraction is everywhere. As I’m typing this message, my email is open, I’ve got a number of additional tab open in Safari and I’m sure my iPhone is somewhere reasonably close by.
But do these things help me actually get anything done? Should a relatively simple blog post sometimes take all night to do—merely because I get sidetracked watching a video on YouTube or reading another blog or checking out something my wife wants me to look at? (And as any good husband will tell you, the only one I should answer “yes” to is that last one, just in case you were wondering.)
One of the things that really caught my attention, though was in this passage (note especially the highlighted portion):
All of this distraction is reshaping us in two dangerous ways. First, we are tempted to forsake quality for quantity, believing the lie that virtue comes through speed, productivity, and efficiency. We think that more must be better, and so we drive ourselves to do more, accomplish more, be more. And second, as this happens, we lose our ability to engage in deeper ways of thinking—concentrated, focused thought that requires time and cannot be rushed. Instead of focusing our efforts in a few directions, we give scant attention to many things, skimming instead of studying. We live rushed lives and forget how to move slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully through life. (The Next Story, p. 119, emphasis added)
Because I do read a lot and there are a great number of books that are either sitting in my Kindle app, on my nightstand, dining table or coffee table (or mantle or…). Unfortunately, because there are so here, it sometimes can feel pretty daunting—and at times almost like I don’t have time to read as deeply as I want to with so much that I “have” to get to.
I know it’s just me being ridiculous, but am I the only one that feels this way?
How are you, in this digital age, with so much choice and so many distractions available to you protecting yourself from information overload? Are you taking the time you need to study or are you only skimming?
If I could explain all the mysteries of the Bible, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.
If I could show you many signs and wonders, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.
If I sacrificed all that I have and all I am in service to the poor and oppressed, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.
If I could live my life in such a way that there wouldn’t be even a hint of hypocrisy, then would you believe? No, you wouldn’t.
If I could prove my genuine love and concern for you over and over again, then would you believe?
No, you wouldn’t.
I cannot create a compelling enough argument to make you believe.
I cannot point to any sign that you could not explain away.
I cannot sacrifice enough or be authentic enough to convince you that the gospel is true.
No matter what I say or do, no matter how hard I try, there will always be another excuse to continue in unbelief.
While every day of my life will be spent seeking to live more and more in light of what Christ has done, I know I will stumble and fail. I will say and do things that will cause you to say, “See, this is why I don’t believe!”
I can’t not disappoint. I’m a sinner just like you.
So let’s be honest. I want you to believe the truth of the gospel. I want you to believe that Jesus Christ—God the Son in human form—lived a perfect life in obedience to God the Father, was crucified to pay for my sins and yours, and rose again in victory over sin, death and judgment.
You don’t want to believe this and there is nothing I can do on my own to convince you otherwise.
Fortunately, there is one thing I can do: I can pray for the One who can convince you to do exactly that.
I can pray for a miracle.
The only thing that will make you believe is if God, through the Holy Spirit, gives you a new heart—one that can see the truth and is willing to respond to it.
Then all the arguments will crumble.
Then all the barriers will break down.
Then all the excuses will come to an end.
And then you will believe.
Summer’s getting frighteningly close (after all, winter ended a week or so back, right?) and that means it’s time to think about vacations! A little time off does everyone good and also gives us the opportunity to do some reading!
A few days ago, Joe Thorn offered some great recommendations for what you might want to read this summer; his focus was on fighting sin and temptation and I’d encourage you to read any number of those ones. As I’ve been looking at what I want to be reading this summer, my list is certainly not going to be quite as focused, but I’m hoping it’ll be interesting:
Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
Machens classic defense of orthodox Christianity established the importance of scriptural doctrine and contrasts the teachings of liberalism and orthodoxy on God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church. Though originally published nearly seventy years ago, the book maintains its relevance today. It was named one of the top 100 books of the millennium by World magazine and one of the top 100 books of the century by Christianity Today.
(Incidentally, this is the selection for the latest edition of “Reading the Classics Together” over at Challies.com. That might be a really helpful way for you to get into this book if you’re interested.)
Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ by Russell Moore
Although temptation is a common and well-acknowledged part of the human experience, few realize the truth behind temptation and fewer still know how to defeat it. Tempted and Tried will not reassure Christians by claiming that temptation is less powerful or less prevalent than it is; instead, it will prepare believers for battle by telling the truth about the cosmic war that is raging. Moore shows that the temptation of every Christian is part of a broader conspiracy against God, a conspiracy that confronts everyone who shares the flesh of Jesus through human birth and especially confronts those who share the Spirit of Christ through the new birth of redemption.
Moore walks readers through the Devil’s ancient strategies for temptation revealed in Jesus’ wilderness testing. Moore considers how those strategies might appear in a contemporary context and points readers to a way of escape. Tempted and Tried will remind Christians that temptation must be understood in terms of warfare, encouraging them with the truth that victory has already been secured through the triumph of Christ. Read More about What Are You Reading this Summer?
I’m not talking about a manly version of keeping a diary (although if you keep a diary, that’s cool…), I’m talking about journaling what God is teaching you through your regular Scripture reading.
Do you journal?
For years, I’ve done it and it’s been very worthwhile, particularly from the standpoint of looking back and seeing what God’s been teaching you over the years. My friend Adam and I were talking about this last night over bison burgers and I’d mentioned that it’s very humbling to look back on things you wrote 3, 4 or 5 years ago that you thought were really insightful and intelligent and think, “Man, I was an idiot!”
Maybe that’s just me, though.
And even though I’ve always really enjoyed journaling, it’s fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. I always have things to ponder from my reading (some of which ends up becoming posts like these), but I’m not always writing it down.
This is probably a trend I should reverse.
So do you journal? If so, how do you keep yourself on track with doing it?