In this day and age, we often forget what marriage is about. Is it about children? Sex? Loneliness? What? It is this lack of understanding of marriage that leads to so many problems in the family. Therefore, when my brother-in-law asked me to give a sermonette in his wedding to introduce the scripture reading (1 Corinthians 13), I decided to celebrate his marriage by reminding them and everyone about just how important marriage is, and what it is for in the first place. So, here is my sermon. Feel free to use it for your own weddings if you like it:
We are here today to celebrate the marriage of Billy and Stasia. It is worthwhile to take a moment and reflect on this mystical union between man and woman. Aristotle noted that all civilization starts with the natural attraction between husband and wife, which brings them together to form a family, and from the interactions of families, we get towns and cities. Thus we see in Billy and Stasia not only the beginning of their lives together, but the very roots of society spreading further.
Not only is marriage the foundation of society, but it is also the foundation of unity in humanity. The divide between man and woman is the ultimate divide. Races can be mixed. Religions can be syncretized. Cultures can be influenced. But man and woman have been split from the beginning, more distant than any two tribes or nations, and no amount of breeding can ever remove the boundary. It is only through marriage that the two parts of humanity are reunited back into one. And it is marriage as a symbol of unity that gives us all hope for any peace among anyone else.
However, since men and women are so different, sometimes maintaining unity is difficult. God gives us some help in nature by giving us attractions to each other. As Garth Brooks said, "Some times we fight just so we can make up"! While attraction brings us together, it doesn't bond. For that, we need love. Some days choosing to love is easy, and other days it is harder. But we must choose it each and every day, for it is the highest Christian virtue.
Someone sent me this quote, and I thought it was worthwhile:
Sadly we must say that in the area of scholarship the evangelical world has not done well. In every academic discipline the temptation and pressure to accommodate is overwhelming. Evangelicals were right in their rejection of a poor pietism which shut Christianity up into a very narrow area of spiritual life. Evangelicals were right in emphasizing the Lordship of Christ over all areas of culture art, philosophy, society, government, academics, and so on. But then what happened? Many young evangelicals heard this message, went out into the academic world, and earned their undergraduate and graduate degrees from the finest secular schools. But something happened in the process. In the midst of totally humanistic colleges and universities, and a totally humanistic orientation in the academic disciplines, many of these young evangelicals began to be infiltrated by the anti-Christian world view which dominated the thinking of their colleges and professors. In the process, any distinctively evangelical Christian point of view was accommodated to the secularistic thinking in their discipline and to the surrounding world spirit of our age. To make the cycle complete, many of these have now returned to teach at evangelical colleges where what they present in their classes has very little that is distinctively Christian.
Note that this criticism is not a call for intellectual retreat and a new anti-intellectualism. Evangelical Christians should be better scholars than non-Christians because they know that there is truth in contrast to the relativism and narrow reductionism of every discipline. But too often Christians have naively entered the academic world with a glassy-eyed fascination and left their critical judgment and Christian truth behind.
The battle we are in rages most intensely in the academic world. Every academic discipline has dominated secularist thinking especially in the behavioral sciences, the humanities, and the arts. Part of our task as Christians is to carefully understand and study these areas—but then to respond critically from a distinctively Christian point of view. But note, as I pointed out in the preceding chapter, this involves two things: 1) being truly Bible-believing; and 2) facing the results of the surrounding wrong world view with loving, but definite confrontation. Please do not take this lightly. We cannot retreat and shut Christianity up to a narrow view of spirituality; but in the totally secularistic academic world the dangers and the temptations are profound. It is very difficult to live in this world as a college or university student for four years or longer and not become infiltrated by the surrounding world-view.
(in The Complete Works of Fr. Schaeffer, vol. 4: 385-387)
Sometimes I get lots of stuff to write about, but no time. So here's some theology stuff I wish I had time to comment on:
I was recently quoted in an article on LifeChurch.tv in the latest issue of Christian Century. Jason Byassee was doing an introduction to the church for a mainline audience, who might not understand what LifeChurch is or why it is important. It was a really good article.
My quote is toward the end, which, admittedly, borrows a lot from a friend who I will not name because he may wish to remain nameless:
Jonathan Bartlett, a seminary student with a background in the Vineyard movement, says he sees little place in LifeChurch for strong lay leaders. "Their whole pitch for leaders of LifeGroups is 'It's easy.' LifeChurch is made up of people who liked youth group in high school, but then grew up and found nothing like it—until this."
While I was at LifeChurch, that is what I found - there simply isn't much of a place for a strong lay leadership. It is antithetical to the way they operate. I think they like the idea of a strong lay leadership in theory, but they simply don't provide any meaningful mode of expression. Their LifeGroups, which presumably might feed that purpose, are promoted to leaders, not with the idea that this is something that requires something of you, but rather that all that is required is for you to insert a DVD and press play.
And, not suprisingly, most LifeGroups conform to the low expectations that the Church puts on them.
Mark Riddle hits a home run with his saga about breastfeeding, and the changed perspective one gets after actually having a family, rather than just imagining what it might be like.
I am often appalled at the way in which many academics treat laity. Whether it is the way in which academic theologians think about the faithful Bible-believer in the pew who knows only how to read the Bible devotionally or it is the way in which evolutionists think that no other discipline (or especially someone just making use of common sense) might have something to add to biology.
If I've ever treated someone this way, I'm sorry. It is a bad habit, and it is bred into you in the post-graduate level. Basically, any thinking like a lay person should be thought of as stupid, and talked down to, rather than addressed seriously. That is the way nearly every academic professor I've run into has behaved when teaching classes, and so that academic elitism gets transferred to the students by osmosis.
What academics don't realize is that there is a perspective that lay people can offer that is simply unavailable to them in an academic setting. This isn't to say that lay people are more knowledgeable than the experts. On the contrary, the perspective that lay people offer is important precisely because they do not know all of the details.
Think about the view of earth as a fly, a person, an airplane, and a satellite. Each of them might be looking at the same spot, but each one is seeing very different things. The satellite will never see the details that a fly does. However, the satellite may in fact have data, or even a perspective, that would be useful to the fly.
I often challenge evolutionists to try to find something of value in the way in which creationists (not me, but the lay creationists that annoy them so much) are thinking. They often respond that while they can value the person, there is no way in which they can value such idiotic ideas. Really? Nothing? Can you value the way in which they rest solidly on their faith, even though you might disagree with its content? Can you value some aspect of the way their worldview works? I have trouble thinking of any thought pattern which is completely valueless.
But this looking-down-your-nose attitude continues to prevail throughout culture. And it's not just evolution. If you hear the way in which theologians talk so condescendingly about people who read the Bible who have no idea of the synoptic problem, but just want to know God better, it is truly disgusting.
The fact is that lay people have, among other things, the following attributes in which academics simply cannot have:
Any particular lay person will have additional perspectives which are valuable. This doesn't mean that academics should abandon their post for a lay-only view of their subject. But it does mean that people who aren't part of a discipline might have valuable insight that is simply unavailable to the unaided academic community. If a layperson is incorrect, belittling them is not the answer - but rather a process of both finding out where they are coming from and explaining where you are coming from is the answer. I've often found that, even when someone is completely wrong, there is a kernel of truth to what they say, and if you find it this kernel will be greatly valuable.
For you lay people, be encouraged. Just because an academic treats you like mud doesn't mean your ideas are worthless. It just means that you having gone through the right hazing rituals to be respected by their community. For you academics - lighten up! A two-way dialogue is the best way to interact with the lay public, not a one-way lecture.
I have been reading Cox's The Future of Faith. There seems to be a rash of reinterpreting what Christianity means. I don't know if there is a direct-causal relationship, or which way the causality goes, but I will say that the rise of "reinterpreting Christianity" seems to match, almost step-for-step, the rise in theistic evolution among evangelicals. I think that what is happening is that they stem from a common theological sea change - the move from an emphasis on special revelation to an emphasis on general revelation.
Cox describes what he views as the direction that Christianity is headed in as "the age of the spirit". He says that we have been in the "age of belief", where Christianity was identified by adherence to specific doctrines, and are moving into a period where Christianity will be defined by people who are empowered by the awe they see in the universe, however they define it, to live it out in their lives by doing good.
Cox tried to make a connection to this view of the world to the early days of Christianity, but really it doesn't stack up. The Bible - the book produced and used by the early Church - makes it clear both that (a) there is doctrine, and (b) that it is important. It is true that sometimes Christians go overboard with doctrine and forget our calling in the world. Nevertheless, scripture (and likewise the early Church) makes it clear that doctrine is, in fact, important. Of course it is wildly popular today to talk about other types of Christianity in the early period (Paul had some interesting things to say about these other types of Christianity himself). However, this was not mainstream Christianity, nor was it an extension of the apostle's teaching.
The fundamental flaw with the move to general revelation over special revelation is that Christianity is a historical religion. It's very foundation is the fact that God has indeed done special things throughout history. God is Himself involved in history. Christianity cannot be replaced with a sense of awe that invokes a desire to do good. It is about God doing specific things with specific meanings.
Did God do these things? If so, then they matter - both their historical reality and their implications. If not, then we need to not improve Christianity, but rather simply switch religions.
Cox on several occasions tries to convince the reader that the old way of believing is invalid, but his arguments are excessively weak. He argues against end-times notions on the basis that it doesn't help environmentalism. He argues against Biblical Christianity on the basis that Catholics and Jews have different Bibles. He argues against fundamentalism on the basis that people get carried away with it (has he never read any of the liberation theologians he espouses?).
It is true that Christianity is often suffocated by creeds. But the fix is not to abandon them, but to rather, (a) be more cautious about our own ability to fully rationally understand and articulate the faith, and (b) put them in their right place within Christianity. Creeds are important, but God calls us to be united. Cox, like others (see Spong, for instance), call for a "shift" in Christianity, which is actually an abandonment. What you believe is important, because these are God's acts in history. If Jesus did in fact come down to be a sacrifice for us all, then what you believe about that event matters.
The God that Christians worship is a God who has been active in the world from the beginning - not in some nebulous manner - but a real, active, and detectable presence throughout history. Christians live in continuity with God's message, believing in His works, and trusting Him about what the future will hold.
But that is not the future of faith that Harvey Cox sees.
Philip Clayton and Harvey Cox both have new books out and they are taking them out on a blog tour. One of the blog tour stops will be here, and as you can see below they will be making their rounds over the next month.
They will wrap things up in Montreal at the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting where they will be joined by a top notch panel including Eric Gregory, Bruce Sanguin, Serene Jones, Frank Tupper, and Andrew Sung Park to share a 'Big Idea' for the future of the Church. These 'Big Ideas' will be video tapped and shared, and I'll post a link when they are ready.
Clayton's new book is Transforming Christian Theology for Church & Society and Cox's is The Future of Faith. Both are worth checking out at one of the many tour stops. If you can't wait you can listen to them interview each other. I am currently working through Cox's The Future of Faith, and hope to have several posts on it in the near future.
Here's the blog tour list if you want to follow what's going on:
Joseph Weethee , Jonathan Bartlett, The Church Geek, Jacob’s Cafe, Reverend Mommy, Steve Knight, Todd Littleton, Christina Accornero, John David Ryan, LeAnn Gunter Johns, Chase Andre, Matt Moorman, Gideon Addington, Ryan Dueck, Rachel Marszalek, Amy Moffitt, Josh Wallace, Jonathan Dodson, Stephen Barkley, Monty Galloway, Colin McEnroe, Tad DeLay, David Mullens, Kimberly Roth, Tripp Hudgins, Tripp Fuller, Greg Horton, Andrew Tatum, Drew Tatusko, Sam Andress, Susan Barnes, Jared Enyart, Jake Bouma, Eliacin Rosario-Cruz, Blake Huggins, Lance Green, Scott Lenger, Dan Rose, Thomas Turner, Les Chatwin, Joseph Carson, Brian Brandsmeier, J. D. Allen, Greg Bolt, Tim Snyder, Matthew L. Kelley, Carl McLendon, Carter McNeese, David R. Gillespie, Arthur Stewart, Tim Thompson, Joe Bumbulis, Bob Cornwall
This Tour is Sponsored by Transforming Theology DOT org!
[Note that while I did edit this to my own satisfaction, this was a suggested announcement post for the blog tour, and may look strangely like other announcements for the tour at other sites]
The Little Light House is one of the best ministries I've ever been involved with. They are a Christian, private, tuition-free school for special-needs kids. That's right, the kids who go there don't have to pay anything at all.
This isn't day-care - it's an intensive, customized program for each child. The school day lets out at 1PM, and the staff spends the rest of the day planning each child's next day. When a child gets to school, they have a card of things that they are going to work on that day. It's both extremely fun and extremely helpful for the children -- and the parents.
While our oldest son, Danny, was alive, he attended the Little Light House. His world expanded so much while he was there. His ability to play with others and interact and do new things hinged upon the teachers at the Little Light House and their love and their help. Danny had to be fed through a tube, received many, many, many medications at specially-timed intervals, and, if everyone was lucky, he only threw up three times a day. Yet the Little Light House had no problems seeing to his every need while he was there, and providing every manner of therapy. At the Little Light House, they have physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and probably a lot of other therapies I'm not so familiar with. And everything is done in a specifically Christian way.
Isaac had the same genetic defect that Danny had, and, had he lived long enough, would have enjoyed the services of the Little Light House as well. As soon as we discovered his condition, we reserved him a spot there, because we knew that their help was the difference between night and day for us.
Below are pictures of Danny learning at the Little Light House. Also, for those of you who didn't get to know Danny or Isaac, I pasted their memorial videos below. In any case, please consider helping out the Little Light House - they have been a huge blessing to us, and to many, many, many other children.
You can donate now by going here.
Here is Danny's Memorial Video:
Isaac's Memorial Video:
A few pictures of Danny at the Little Light House if you don't have time for the video:
The picture below might look like playtime to you, but this was actually crucial for Danny. He had problems touching a variety of surfaces - many different textures made him cry and gag and puke (yes, really). The Little Light House worked with him to help him adjust his senses to be able to touch and play with a huge variety of textures.
One thing that is frustrating about the conservative movement, is the tendency in the last century to practice what I call "shallow apologetics". Shallow apologetics is an attempt to defend the scripture or practice of the Church using the simplest means available. It often means memorizing formulas or answers to questions.
Now, on its face, this has some value. It builds up the congregation by providing answers to questions, and doing so at a level which is comprehensible to the largest group of parishioners. But I will argue that this sort of benefit is largely temporary, and in fact is one of the reasons we are losing the culture war.
So what is the alternative? The alternative is "deep apologetics". Deep apologetics is looking into the faith in a way which engages the mind on a deep level, and is not satisfied with shallow answers. This usually produces some of what I consider to be shallow apologetics, but the difference is that deep apologetics does not view the formulas and answers as the final goal, but rather looks at discovering the order of God's Creation as the final goal. The fact that it can provide near-term answers is an added bonus.
The shallow apologists are looking to refute something, while the deep apologists are looking to learn something. Notice that in shallow apologetics, it is the skeptics of the faith who set the agenda, while in deep apologetics it is the faithful who do so. This is why shallow apologetics, if it is the main feature of the apologetics enterprise, is destined to lose. Eventually someone is going to figure out that the shallow apologist is not producing anything of value, but merely holding on to what he has. Think of the parable of the talents. The shallow apologists are the ones who simply bury their talent it in the ground, and dig it back up when God asks for it. Shallow apologetics does not bear fruit, precisely because it does not aim to. Deep apologetics provides a harvest for the future precisely because that is where it aims.
This used to be known as "academics." Unfortunately, in the current academic environment, anyone who starts their reasoning from scripture, or norms their reasoning by scripture, is considered unacademic. That is a travesty of the highest order. The very institutions which were established to provide a harvest for the future of the faith have excluded faithful reasoning from their repertoire. And so, when we wonder where is the intellectual harvest of the Church is, we find that the institutions charged with its production have decided to simply do something else.
We need to return our minds to the task of understanding God's world - scientific, political, cultural, sociological, and historical, from a perspective that is explicitly and intentionally Christian. Since others have burned the crops which the Church has contributed to, we must begin in earnest rebuilding the storehouse of faithful reason for the future of the faith.