Monday, January 31, 2011

Parenting Towards Good Feelings or Success . . . or Something Else?

Below is a guest post from Josh Scheiderer, pastor of Bible Community Church in Mentor, Ohio.
The Wall Street Journal's most popular article for two solid weeks was about Chinese parenting. Currently it's at #3 almost three weeks after it was first published. Google the essay's title or the essayist's name (Amy Chua), and you will find a viral tiger on the loose. Since many in America fear that we're all going to be speaking Mandarin someday, it certainly piques the interest to find out what's going on in Chinese homes. How did all these Chinese kids turn out to be so far above average?

At a cursory glance one can appreciate the Chinese emphasis on hard work, discipline and demanding success. Upon further reading and thought another conclusion should arise. The Chinese (or at least Amy Chua) have rejected one bankrupt parenting method (the Western emphasis on a child's near-complete autonomy) for another (the Chinese emphasis on the parent's pride - filial piety).

Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.
That leads to this:
Back at the piano, Lulu [the author's daughter] made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day...I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Chua is telling us now that we should read the cover of her new book and understand that her assertions have been blown out of proportion and/or misunderstood. Ancient Chinese marketing secret.

Back to the topic at hand... Feel good or succeed? What's a parent to aim for when raising children? The Biblical doctrine of depravity should remind us that children's feelings and natural inclinations are innately anti-God. They shouldn't be celebrated or reinforced. So the common reaction is to swing to another extreme—hard work, achievement, self-discipline, character. That's better, but it's not necessarily obedience, and it may well have little to do with the gospel. [Publisher's note: It may even be antithetical to the gospel.] Obedience is a life lived with God, not the child or his achievements, at the center because the gospel of Christ has transformed the desires and the efforts.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Post for Churches Looking for Pastors and Pastors Looking for Associates

Every now and then I hear from men from a particular sort of fundamentalist background whose theological convictions and philosophy of ministry are increasingly incompatible with the sort of churches they've lived and ministered in. One way to characterize that shift might be that they're increasingly interested in the centrality of the gospel to Christian life and pastoral ministry, and decreasingly interested in the centrality of ecclesiastical separation or particular applications of the Bible to behavioral standards.

I have varying levels of personal familiarity with these guys. The common denominator, more often than not, is that we both have a high level of awareness of and affinity for 9Marks principles and priorities. In most cases I know enough to tell a church that they're worth talking to, but not enough to offer a thorough reference on their giftedness and qualification for ministry. And these guys have varying levels of formal training and pastoral ministry experience.

If you represent a church looking for a pastor or you're a pastor looking to call an associate/assistant, and that's the sort of guy you're looking for, I'd be happy to help you connect. E-mail me at the address in the sidebar.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Can We Trust the Jesus and the Apostles?

One of the basic questions we have to consider if we want to understand our Bibles is how Jesus and the Apostles employed quotations from the Old Testament. In other words, is their use of the Old Testament a model for us? Or, what was their hermeneutical approach, and how does it instruct us?

S. Lewis Johnson's The Old Testament in the New examines precisely those questions via the lens of six particular texts. (I can promise you, it was available for less than $58 when I bought it. Sorry.) This isn't a definitive text on the subject, but it's brief (94 pages), extremely readable (apart from some text comparisons in Greek and Hebrew), and puts some crucial issues on the table. Here's his conclusion:
[The Lord and His apostles] are reliable teachers of biblical doctrine and they are reliable teachers of hermeneutics and exegesis. We not only can reproduce their exegetical methodology, we must if we are to be taught their understanding of Holy Scripture. Their principles, probably taught them by the Lord in his post-resurrection ministry, are not abstruse and difficult. They are simple, plain, and logical. The things they find in the Old Testament are really there, although the Old Testament authors may not have seen them fully.

In the final analysis the biblical interpreter is interested not only in what the inspired author meant but also in what God meant. Therefore, the New Testament understanding of the Old Testament is the true exposition of it, because it supplies the reader not simply with what Moses and the prophets understood but also with what the Holy Spirit understood, gave to them, and empowered them to write down. [pg. 94, emphasis original]
This view is not without objection, but it seems reasonable that it ought to be our starting assumption, at least until compelling evidence to the contrary is produced. The burden of proof lies with those who would argue that Jesus and the Apostles used OT quotations in ways that are incompatible with original authorial intent.

P.S. I didn't try to track down all the links, but you may be able to find a better deal here.

Mohler and George: Abortion as a Bio-Ideology of Genocide

I really enjoy Al Mohler's new "Thinking in Public" podcast. Long conversations about serious cultural issues conducted with a sense of gravity are hard to find. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, FoxNews and MSNBC.) It's sort of like NPR, but without the obsession with political correctness, moral relativism, and wine.

Anyway, Mohler's recent conversation with Robert P. George is particularly worth a listen. Here's a bit of what they had to say about abortion:
GEORGE: Over the years, millions of our African-American children—destroyed by the practice of abortion. No racist, no Klu Klux Klansman, no Nazi could have come up with a more effective way of carrying out their bio-ideology of genocide against blacks than what has happened here. And I think that those groups that push abortion, especially in minority communities and poor communities are responsible for it.

MOHLER: I heard Jesse Jackson speak on this issue in the 1980s, and he made that very point.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Money is fiction."

I'm not going to tell you that "This American Life" is a must-listen podcast. About two of every five shows aren't at all worthwhile. Another two are just ok. But that other one is absolutely fascinating.

A show from a couple weeks ago, "The Invention of Money," was one of the best I've ever heard. (The shows produced in tandem with NPR's "Planet Money" team are consistently top-shelf. "The Return to the Giant Pool of Money" and "Bad Bank" are a couple of my favorites as well. You can buy shows from the archive or stream them for free, and of course the weekly podcast is free. Of course, if you don't feel like you're already supporting public radio enough through your taxes, you can always kick in a few extra bucks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Legalism may sometimes be as debilitating to the church as the moral dangers against which the legalism has become the protection."

In one of Mark Minnick's Preserving the Truth conference talks (I think it was his first), he quoted from David Wells' article, "The Word in the World." I found Wells' article online here, and it's well worth reading the whole thing.

The article is a bit long for the internet, and below are two extended quotes (with the portion Minnick quoted in italics), also unusually long for the medium. But as so much that Wells writes, they're penetrating and provocative:
It is not difficult to see that Protestant fundamentalism in the twentieth century has been, in these ways, a sect.3 Although its stridency in the first decades of this century came to be moderated later on, its view of the world has nevertheless always been distinctive and discernibly different from what has been considered normal in society. Its sense of antithesis, both to the culture and to the liberalism within Christian faith, was sharp and painful. It developed its own religious jargon and formulated rules that rapidly became legalisms that covered everything from wearing lipstick, to dancing, to movies. It withdrew educationally, denominationally, and culturally and organized itself into enclaves from which the outside world was excluded. Within these enclaves, therapy and comfort were offered to those who, from time to time, might wonder about the world outside. And it is not hard to see how fundamentalist doctrine had both a religious and a cultural dimension, for as George Marsden notes, at the heart of the debate with the modernists was the question: “Should Christianity and the Bible be viewed through the lens of cultural development, or should culture be viewed through the lens of Scripture?”4

For example, that the Bible was to be viewed as inerrant and “literally” true was, at a doctrinal level, a way of asserting its inspiration; but at a cultural level it was also a way of rejecting literary criticism in the universities. And this criticism was simply symptomatic of the whole drift of modern education. The belief in miracles, which was at the heart of fundamentalism, was there because it is at the heart of the Bible; but the assertion of such a belief was also an unmistakable way of rejecting the naturalistic and secular temper of the day. The belief in divine creation was, at one level, the assertion of biblical teaching; but at another, it was a deliberate rejection of Darwinianism and was a way of defying the reigning cognitive paradigm in society. Dispensational premillenialism was seen to replicate biblical teaching, but it was also a way of rejecting ideas about the progress of humanity that were at the heart of the civil credo that dominated public thinking until quite recently.5 In fact, prior to Christ’s return things are going to get much worse, not much better. Fundamentalist doctrine thus served both to protect biblical truth and to fend off the modern world.

In retrospect, it is clear that many dangers attend the path of cognitive dissonance. It is not easy to reject the reigning cognitive paradigm without stumbling into anti-intellectualism. That was a turn that fundamentalism took.6 Nor is it easy to sustain a moral antithesis to culture without drifting into legalism. Legalism may sometimes be as debilitating to the church as the moral dangers against which the legalism has become the protection. Much of fundamentalism did become hidebound and legalistic. Fundamentalism also produced a profusion of authoritarian leaders who could resolve life’s dilemmas with a degree of certainty that is usually beyond the reach of mere mortals. The fundamentalist landscape was filled with such figures.

In the early post-War years, evangelicals were determined that they would not repeat the fundamentalists’ mistakes. They distanced themselves from their rather rough and belligerent cousins by speaking of themselves as “neo-evangelicals.” The language was Carl Henry’s, though it has usually been credited to Harold Ockenga. What was “neo” about them was that they would not be anti-intellectual, separatistic, legalistic, or culturally withdrawn. They shed fundamentalist uncouthness, earned Ph.D’s from the finest universities, sat at the ecumenical table, dispensed for the most part with dispensational premillenialism, and loosed themselves from most cultural taboos.

The final chapter has not yet been written on this experiment, but when the time comes there will be an interesting question to answer For all the warts and flaws of fundamentalism, it did succeed in preserving the Word of God and the Gospel. Will this also be true of the evangelicals? They are undoubtedly much nicer than the fundamentalists, but in the end will they fail where the fundamentalists had succeeded? That will be a delicious piece of irony if it turns out to be true.


On the surface, the issue seems simple enough. Fundamentalists exhibited too much of the “Christ-against-Culture” animus, and evangelicals have too much of the old liberal “Christ-of-Culture” outlook.7 The earlier liberals, Niebuhr said, believed they “could live in culture as those who sought a destiny beyond but were not in strife with it.”8 That is what too many evangelicals are like today. From our church marketers to our respectable journals to some of our theologians,9 there is a rush to embrace cultural norms, habits, and tastes in hope of success and in the naive belief that it is all quite harmless and can be harnessed to this or that Christian cause with impunity. So at first glance the transition from fundamentalism to evangelicalism seems like one from too much strife with culture, in the one case, to too little with it in the other.

At root, however, it is a question of how to engage the culture without losing one’s soul. Fundamentalism feared losing its soul and so did not engage the culture; evangelicalism fears being different from the culture and is in danger of losing its soul.

[. . . and then the conclusion . . .]

There is, however, a final irony to note. It is this: In the Old and New Testaments, the moments of great impact in the world were never those in which the people of God became indistinguishable from those in their world. When this happened it was a moment of spiritual debauchery. In order to influence the world, the people of God have to be quite different from it cognitively and morally. The irony is that to be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly; and when this spiritual otherness is extinguished by the ache for this-worldly acceptance, it loses the thing that it wants above all else—relevance. The church eventually discovers, to its great dismay, that it has lost its voice and no longer has anything left to say. That is the discovery that now seems to be looming ahead of the evangelical world. It is the iceberg that awaits the Titanic as those on board persuade themselves of their invincibility and pass the days in partying.

Perspectives on Change

I think this (PDF, HT), written by an FBFI and Baptist World Mission board member, makes the same point I made here, just from a completely different perspective. Perhaps I should point out that his article is riddled with factual inaccuracies, so maybe just take it with a grain of salt.