Archive | December, 2016

Bears repeating: our presuppositions matter

28 Dec

A dear friend of mine dove into theological waters for the first time last week.  As a result, I understand more clearly her view on the veracity and usefulness of the Bible.

She belongs to the United Church of Christ.  One of their beliefs is essentially ‘no creeds’.

  • The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy.

I am not writing a post to attack this denomination, but to use what they write about themselves to illustrate several points regarding logical and clear thought.

A couple of conclusions one can draw from that paragraph:

  1. If there is no substantive content to a belief, then there is no foundation for saying something is true or false, right or wrong.
  2. If you advocate ‘love’, who is going to criticize you, especially if you are vague about what love means?  Seems attractive and safe, yes.  Nevertheless, meaningless.

Some questions I would ask:

  1. Just what DO you mean by ‘love’?  Whose definition are you using? Is ‘love’ allowing people to continue in self-destructive ways because they believe them to be right?  Is it ‘loving’ (in order to avoid saddening or offending someone) to withhold a diagnosis for a disease that is curable?
  2. If there is no doctrine, then how can one interpret the Scriptures?
  3. And on what basis can one’s interpretation of Scripture be judged ‘excellent’?

That’s a short response, having read what this denomination writes about itself at the macro level. At the micro or individual and personal level, here is what weighs on me concerning my friend.

If I am correct in presenting her viewpoint, she believes that certainty about what the Bible teaches is impossible and in fact ‘destructive’.

I passed some sleepless hours across three nights last week working out the implications of this view.  What I have been given by God, the light and faith to believe that the Bible is not only true but authoritative, is precious and incalculably beneficial to me.  Here are just a few of its gifts:

  • God’s promises are both a safe haven in scary times and a source of REAL, supernatural strength when I both feel and AM weak
  • His Word provides guidance and wisdom
  • I have assurance that I am personally known and loved by a good Father who created me and everything in the universe
  • There is a purpose to both my life and my suffering
  • I have an inheritance safely waiting for me that outweighs all suffering on this earth

So there you have it, some out-workings of presuppositions.  Beliefs really do matter.

So what is my advice to all of us?  Not only must we know what we believe, but WHY we hold those beliefs. And we must be willing to follow the ramifications and determine if we like where they lead.

Bonnes Pensées!  Happy thinking!

 

 

If God controls the nations….

21 Dec

2 Chron 20:5-6  Jehoshaphat stood before the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the Lord’s temple, in front of the new courtyard. He prayed: “O Lord God of our ancestors, you are the God who lives in heaven and rules over all the kingdoms of the nations. You possess strength and power; no one can stand against you.

Biblical Christians accept, without pause, the fact that God controls nations.  Numerous passages in the Bible teach this.  Consider just a smattering of examples:

  • The formation of the people of Israel, created by God from one Babylonian pagan, Abraham.
  • Or God sending Cyrus to capture and subjugate rebellious Judah.
  • Or arranging for Caesar Augustus to desire a census so that Mary & Joseph would travel to Jerusalem and Jesus would be born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth

So, my thought is this:

If God controls the nations, then He also controls individual people and events.

How else do nations run, if not by very little details!

This past year I read David McCullough’s historical account of the Panama Canal.

God worked mosquitos, personality traits of leaders, weather, and human sin all together to bring America to the point to successfully take over the construction of the canal from the French.  When the French began construction in 1881 of this, their second significant canal after the Suez Canal, no one in Washington, DC even dreamed that America would complete this project.

But there were many details that God sovereignly organized into one surprising result.

Even the non-Christian deist Benjamin Franklin recognized the ‘butterfly effect’ and memorialized it with this rhyme:

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

Christians more easily recognize that God is the source of all these details, but where we (ME!!) fail is in applying this FACT to the personal details of our lives.  What great peace I forfeit when I fail to remember that God is in fact lovingly directing all occurrences according to His GOOD purposes.  This includes those details/events:

  • that others mean for evil (just consider Judas’ betrayal of Jesus)
  • natural disasters like earthquakes and droughts due to the Fall (‘all of creation groans in pain ‘ – Romans 8:22)

This logical gal is going to remind herself daily:

  • If God controls the nations, then He is controlling the details of my life right now.
  • If God is God, then He is good.
  • Therefore, the good God controls the details of my life right now.

That’s enough for me.

Is this true?

14 Dec

“Virtue is the happy medium between two extremes.” La vertu est le juste milieu entre deux vices.

I read Aristotle’s advice in a post by an American woman living in France.  And it caught my attention.  At first blush, it seems ‘reasonable’.  Who wants to argue with avoiding extremes?

But then I thought, what if both the extremes are irrational?  Wouldn’t that indicate that all the points in between were as well? Would it follow that virtue be found half way between the two extremes?

For example:

Either you can spend all your time playing video games or you can spend all your time pursuing extreme sports.

Would Aristotle really advocate spending HALF one’s time amusing oneself with virtual reality and the other half with high-adventure?

Just a few moments of reflection provide evidence that life is BEST lived in reflecting deeply.  Unfortunately we are a rushing culture, one apparently content with oft-meaningless sound bytes.  A good number of people don’t take time to think and reason. Pondering takes leisure, curiosity and time.  Recall that the classical definition of leisure has little to do with ‘free time filled by activity’.  Instead it’s a “spiritual and mental attitude, a state of inward calm, contemplation, serenity and openness”

A new year is coming and if you are the resolution-making kind of logical Joe or Jane, how about challenging yourself to eliminate one extra-curricular activity in your week to make room for some guilt-free sitting and thinking. Your body and soul would certainly benefit and maybe your neighbor as well!

Messy life; choose rest

7 Dec

Is there a correlation between desiring control and living with the illusion that life can be measured and ordered?

Recently in a couple of areas of life I’ve experienced the damaging effects of this tightly held perspective: enslavement, frustration and discontent.

Call it law versus grace.

The illusion looks like this:

  • If I follow the rules, then I should get the desired outcome

Or to put it another way:

  • Effort in = product out

I teach French.  To human beings. Recently I woke up to the fact that I had moved back to a outcome-based method of planning activities for my classes.  We all want to see results. But what I had forgotten was that I was working with human beings and not machines.

Language learning is messy because language is complex and the way the brain learns is not linear. Instead it’s multi-dimensional.  It doesn’t work to teach rules and practice them.  You almost have to approach language from inside out, by living it as though it is a living and organic thing (which it is) and not something to be impersonally dissected and then reassembled.

At last month’s ACTFL conference I was helped hearing Dr. Stephen Krashen once again. In the course of 2 workshops, he repeatedly explained how normal it is for students to acquire language in fits and starts, NOT necessarily sequentially, but even moving backwards at times reassured me.

Why should I be surprised?  Isn’t parenting similar? Or growth in Christlikeness? What works in all three of these arenas,

  • language learning (mother tongue AND subsequent languages)
  • raising children
  • Christian sanctification

is continuous, personal and compelling input.

For my French classes, students will acquire proficiency in the language if I keep up the comprehensible input in novel and compelling ways

For raising children it’s a matter of constant training, tailored to the circumstances and needs of each individual child.

For growth in holiness, it’s daily feeding on the Good News of Christ and the cross so I can SEE Christ.  For the Bible teaches that we become what we behold.

And isn’t that true about how our children turn out? If they SEE parents modeling a life of offering grace to one another, won’t that example and vision rub off on them?

And in my classroom, to the degree my students hear and understand language, won’t the mental symbol in their brains grow clearer, so that what comes out of their mouths is more and more accurate?

So my question to myself is this:

Can I live with messiness, with chaos knowing that over time, clarity will come?

A Sally Breedlove line nails this idea for me: “Rest is allowing the present to be imperfect.” 

My sons are now adults and I can’t go back and redo parenting.  But I am still teaching, and growing as a Christian.  So as long as I have breath and energy, I want to be known and experienced as a joyful French teacher and a happy Christian.

My new syllogism:

If I accept that acquiring language and Christian character are messy endeavors, then I can be at rest as I pursue those ends.