Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Problem with Social Networking

A problem with Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads--that is, any and every social networking site--is that those things which are thought provoking are reduced to a shallow reaction of "Hm," "Ha," or "Oh." And although worthy of more attention which we half-promise ourselves we will do later, we move on to find the next Hm-Ha-Oh moment.
If something causes our vocal chords to rumble, we deem it worthy of internet space, but not real space--not space of thought, not space of time, not space of action.

We use it to forget the reality of life and be amused temporarily,
but when we go to be that night... seconds, minutes, and hours have been spent sifting through attempted wit, and we can't even remember the things that did strike a chord.

We forget the world

to forget everything

because we are afraid to face reality

we are afraid to enter our thoughts

we are afraid to meet the one we will find there

and the God who uses every moment of the day to say, "This is true because I am truth. This is enjoyable because I am joy. This is beautiful because I am Beauty."

Next time you come across something that makes you say "Hm," "Ha," or "Oh." Spend more than 1.5 seconds contemplating it. Ask yourself the question "Why?", write it on your hand or a sticky note or a napkin... then when you wash it off in the shower or sink, spend another thirty seconds on it; when you toss the sticky note while cleaning your desk, spend a minute thinking about it; when you throw away the trash from your meal, spend two minutes, thanking God for the meal you were able to enjoy, and consider him in whom all things find their source.

(This post was originally written in November of 2012, and published elsewhere.)


Social Media Idolatry

We all know people who have gone on “Facebook fasts” or announced to the world that they are staying away from the computer for a week. I admit I find them somewhat comical, especially when people announce via social media what they are doing. Of course, that’s better than those who simply disappear and then lambast the world for not caring. Much like most things, spread something too wide and it loses its depth: speak too often and your words lose influence; divide your time between 30 people a day and your relationships plateau; confess to the world wide web and receive no accountability. At the same time, there is something to be respected in those who recognize they have a social media addiction and take action against—however short lived that is.

Social Media Idols

Idolatry is the making of a good thing into an ultimate thing. I believe that was Tim Keller. But making your site of choice “ultimate” seems far-fetched, right? You don’t worship Facebook. But perhaps social media has become a conduit of idolatry—providing avenues for idolatry of other areas. C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain makes the claim that the greater potential something has for good, the greater potential it has for bad. Leslie Newbigin in Signs Amid the Rubble espouses something similar with a view to history: the longer this world continues the more opportunity there is for both good and bad. How good are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogger, Tumblr, Reddit, Goodreads, and MySpace? Not at all—they’re neutral (except MySpace—it is clearly maniacal). They can be used for great good or great evil.

  • Marriages have been rocked and shattered by happenings on the social networks.
  • Envy and strife has been provoked in places where we put our best foot forward (even if it’s one that isn’t actually in our DNA).
  • Anger has been tolerated in encouraged with the label ‘venting’… to everyone.
  • Procrastination has become a joke and perpetuated.
  • The gospel has found people with smart phones but no churches nearby.
  • Believers are encouraged by brothers and sisters at moments of need.
  • The beauty of God’s world is put on display for people to rejoice in.
  • Books have been shared to develop the minds of students in the faith.
  • Families are reconnected.

The good things don’t “outweigh” the bad, but the good things are good… and each individual is responsible for utilizing social media in a way that is quite simply good. So how can you and I be sure that social media hasn’t become an idol or a conduit of idolatry?

Check yourself:
When you need to be told how to view the world, do you turn to Scripture or blogs?
When you need to reach out to someone greater, and lay your requests at his able feet, do you turn to prayer or Twitter?
When you need to see beauty in all its fullness, do you turn Instagram, Vimeo, and YouTube, or to eyes of faith in perceiving the world around you?
When you need companionship and eternal interrelationship, do you turn to Facebook, or to family and friends created in God’s image for your eternal joy?
When you need to ‘kill time,’ do you unlock your phone or do you take a moment to rest in the quiet and rest which God has deemed fit to give you in that moment?

Maybe I have made fun of fasts in the past. But maybe it’s about time we confess our sin, as shameful as it may seem to have exchanged eternal glory for temporal diversion. Maybe it’s about time we worship God. Maybe it’s about time we use these avenues for good.


Be Fair, Be Informed, Be Wrong

I recently wrote an article in defense of cross-disciplinary discussion, encouraging people to engage the world around them. In your pursuits, you are sure to run into opposing and distinct viewpoints (not all of which are going to be contradictory). When you do disagree, be fair, be informed, and be wrong.

Be Fair
Oh, how easy it is to set up a man of straw and then blow it to pieces with a shotgun. Do not. What may be a fun exercise in target practice is sure to maim to you when your opponent has a gun as well. Be fair to the one you are arguing with. You are arguing against ideas, and though the person is the vehicle which the idea uses, if you are a friend of truth, you will love the person and pursue thinking alongside them as two finite men seeking to understand an infinite God and the world he has created. You may appear as a giant to those who are ignorant, but when someone with real knowledge stands before you, you will be seen for the intellectual ant you are—for only someone who is small in morals can willingly choose to set up a scarecrow. And what then when you stand before Gnosis (knowledge) and Alethia (truth) himself?

Be Informed
Simply because you are amateur in many areas of life does not mean you have the leisure and luxury of being immature or remaining ignorant. If you hope to make any contribution to dialogue, you must be able to speak into what is already being said—what is. Do yourself and those around you a favor: learn first, speak second. As soon as a fool begins to speak, the king’s jester will mock; stay silent instead, and people will think you wise. King Solomon said something similar. If you disagree with another, then at least know what it is that you are denying.

Unfortunately the uninformed Christians are prone to speak before they know. Believer, this does nothing to persuade men to the truth, and their mocking does not give cause to claim reward if you have failed to fulfill your responsibility. Philosophical postmodernism does not claim that everything is true. Atheism does not necessitate a lack of wonder/amazement at the universe. The LGBT community does not always choose to become something different than they were. Calvinism does not say people cannot choose. Arminianism does not say people are saved by works. Paedobaptists do not believe their babies are Christians. Credobaptists do not believe there is nothing significant about being born into a Christian home.

The list can go on for paragraphs about things that are frequently misunderstood or uninformed. If you did not know the things in this list, you have been ill informed by those who taught you otherwise. If you did know, and still portrayed the views as such, repent and ask forgiveness from God for you have hated not loved your enemy.

Be Wrong
Be freed to be wrong. You do not know everything, and some of the things you do know are incorrect. That’s okay. Learn from it; learn from others; be wrong and be excited that you have been shown truth. And even so! Pursue the truth. Pursue it further than you were taught because you are seeking to know a God with whom you will enjoy eternity. Do not fear knowledge, pursue it and take it as far as you can. For some time, when I would think and study and write, I wanted to be innovative—coming up with something brilliant which nobody else had thought! Over time I realized how dangerous this actually is; it became comforting to know that someone else had said this last year or 500 years ago, or that somebody else had said this and been proven wrong. Continue thinking and discussing, but never move to the part of the house where the lights are off and nobody ventures—you may be safe from the ridicule, but that’s not the goal of life. Be corrected, and do it humbly.

Be freed to be wronged. Simply because you care for others does not mean everyone will care for you. They will not be fair. They will not be informed. They will not be wrong. In such instances, find your identity in Jesus. Jesus is much more than proper thinking. When your thinking has gone wrong, or when it has been caricatured inappropriately, look to Jesus not to your intellectual prowess. He is truth, he is wisdom, he is the word by which the world was created, and your righteousness comes from him, not by getting the thesis down.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How Greatly We Need the Holy Spirit in the Providence of God

I occasionally substitute teach. I have to say, it is one of the most difficult jobs I have had: maintaining a classroom of dozens of 11 year-old children, and attempting to instruct them in mathematics, language, science, and any other subject. What was once an abstract principle has become exceedingly tangible: my understanding of God directly influences everything that I do. And yet, as a man, simul iustus et peccator (simultaneous justified and sinner), there is no possible way I can perfectly illustrate God to these students.

Do I believe in God’s grace toward me? Yes.
Do I believe God is yet just, exacting the penalty of my sin upon Jesus? Yes.
And how do I behave in grace and forgiveness toward some students while upholding the justice of God?

Grace and justice aren’t the only tensions to maintain.
So do teachers’ pets receive greater forgiveness and less judgment?
So how can I show them that ‘doing the right thing’ isn’t salvific?
So how can I tell students that I saw a good deed they did, and thus reward them; will this not encourage false piety?
So what of those tattle-tale tellers?
So how do I teach the general judgment and the particular salvation?
So how do I tell parents that their children have chosen to be less than they are?

The list could go on and on and on. How does anyone ever catch a glimpse of the true character of God when everyone around us in the world is sinful and incapable of perfectly representing the person and character of our Triune God?

The third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.

We need the Holy Spirit, desperately.

Yes, there is a difference between ‘perfectly representing’ and ‘faithfully representing.’ Believers can faithfully represent God even if they do it fallibly. But even faithful representation, without the work of the Holy Spirit is destined for abject failure. Most, if not all, of those students are unregenerate, un-indwelled beings on a dismal path toward damnation. And I will fail to reach them and to deliver them into the Kingdom of Christ. But the Holy Spirit is able. He is able to bring conviction to their hearts; he is capable of growing sinews and making their bones animate; he is able to draw them to God, though he is not far from each one of us. Thank God for his providence in the world we inhabit; thank God that despite all the failures of believers and all the misleading of unbelievers, he is still able to draw men to himself.

How many interactions have you had in life? And how many of them bore the face of God? What percentage of your interactions have been explicit or profoundly implicit reference points of God? And yet, has God drawn you to himself?
I believe God is wise. I believe God is good. I believe God is capable.
If I did not, I would quit right now and become a nihilist.

Take time today to call or text someone who was faithful in representing God to you.

Take time to bask in your ineptitude and praise the sufficiency of God.

Lessons in Teaching, Post 1

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Young One's Thoughts on Catechisms

(As I wrote this article, I struggled and faded back and forth between two audiences: those who know catechisms’ intent, and those who do not. So I ask for generosity if you feel I think you ignorant, and that you continue reading if my writing seems pointless or confusing.)

I recently completed a year through the New City Catechism. I did so in a very public forum: Facebook. In spite of the perpetual, public, and of course the off-handed, private comments mocking those who place quoted material on Facebook, I did just that: I placed 52 weeks-worth of quoted questions and answers on my timeline and my friends’ newsfeed.

Occasionally I would get comments predicting the answer—one friend in particular would research related questions in other catechisms. A few times I received theological jokes. Once or twice I got degrading comments from practicing Jews. I vividly recall the genuinely curious response of someone wrestling with issues of faith. And other times, things went completely unacknowledged. And yet, I cannot tell you how many times I ran into friends old and new, forgotten and assumed who mentioned “the thing you do on Facebook.” Some of them had never clicked ‘like,’ but went on to tell me how encouraging it was. So, label this a #humblebrag, if you want, but really this is just a transition to some thoughts on catechisms in general.

Catechisms are a series of questions and answers designed to teach the basics of the Christian faith. They are intended to be memorized, not for rote’s sake, but for foundational, solid propositions to believe. They inform your faith as your faith finds flesh. The New City Catechism is the first wide-release evangelical catechism for some time. And it is extremely helpful. Of course, it’s not the only one available, but it is the most tech-intuitive—even using videos as resources.

To some, catechisms seem dead. ‘They’re too propositional to be respected in our postmodern context.’ ‘People want relationship not religion.’ ‘Doctrine is manmade.’ ‘That’s so seventeenth century.’ ‘Discipleship needs to be organic.’ Thoughts abound. But I beg to differ.

Most of those who spoke to me about the benefit they received from the New City Catechism were 20-somethings. That is… those who have grown up in the postmodern context. Those who have been influenced by the false dichotomy of relationship-religion. Those who have been told that ‘all we need is the Bible; doctrine divides.’ Those who are born in the 80’s and 90’s and taught that new is better. Those who have likely never been truly discipled in their life. Perhaps the reason these least-likelies find the Catechism so refreshing is because they’ve been living their life for twenty years with no solid ground—everybody is simply telling them that all is okay, that there’s no particular right way of… doing anything that they find it relieving to be told something as straightforward as a question with a right answer. The more academic and philosophical school of postmodernism [which respectfully states that although there is probably a right way, the limits of human reasoning cannot attain to it] is not fully exempt from this criticism (though it certainly ought to be leveled with less force toward them).

This is not an article about people leaving the church, or how to get them back. Plenty of people have written on that—even studies like Christian Smith’s Souls in Transition reveal that there’s been no great increase in the number of youth leaving the church, and Tim Keller casts things from a different angle (while including people of all ages) when he talks about “The Mushy Middle.” This is an article about catechisms.

  • Catechisms provide and propound basic theology which Christians ought to believe.
  • Most catechisms are denomination-specific, meaning that if you align to that denomination, you ought to believe the things in that catechism… and if you believe everything in a certain catechism, you are probably that denomination in theology.
  • Most (all, that I know of) are available somewhere online… since many of them are public domain, but you can also purchase copies of some of the more popular ones.
  • The Westminster Catechism (smaller and larger) is produced by the Presbyterian Church of America or Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
  • Luther’s Catechism was written by Martin Luther, but not in English originally.
  • The Heidelberg Catechism is a Reformed catechism, generally agreeable to all in that category (though not Reformed Baptists regarding baptism).
  • Catechisms were originally intended to teach children, but are profitable for all ages.
  • Some catechisms have short answers (for children) and long answers (for adults).
  • Catechisms seek to synthesize biblical truths in concise statements. As such, most have ‘proof texts’ or the verses from whence the statements were derived. (This is particularly helpful if you don’t think something, e.g. paedobaptism, predestination, can be found in Scripture.)
  • Confessions are not catechisms. Creeds are not confessions. There are four creeds that are believed by all Christians (otherwise you are not a Christian, necessarily, by definition). Confessions are extensive statements of faith belonging to a particular denominational group, denomination, or church. Catechisms are simple, divided ways of teaching the basics found in the confession. All of these attempt to be faithful to what is found in Scripture, not to teach something new, but to teach what is already there.

I don’t have children yet. When I have children, I believe that catechizing them will be a portion of faithful parenting. As they age, they will have the choice of deciding whether or not to believe the Christian faith, but at least if they deny it, they will be denying something which Christians actually believe; I will not afford them the opportunity of denying something they do not understand. I do not consider this ‘brainwashing,’ I consider it teaching ‘according to where [I believe] they should go.’ Which is what catechize means. And which is, of course, what every parent does.

"Quack! How a Simple Catechism Could Have Saved a Duck" by Michael L. Johnson

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Parable for Your Sunday Evening Meditation (Based on Luke 13.17-20)

Tonight's parable is based on Luke 13.17-20

Having just honored a woman, the great King left the crowd, leaving a gang of flustered self-righteous in his wake. He didn’t get far before the crowd’s rumble of whispers turned into laughter and excited talk. A smirk came to the King’s face and joy filled his heart. So he turned around to face the crowd—a move which silenced them immediately as they waited expectantly to see what their ruler would do next. Gazing over them for a few seconds, he raised his eyebrow as was common to his near-mischievous humor. Then he smiled.

“What is my kingdom like? What can I compare it with?” he asked, the smile never leaving.

Several in the crowd elbowed each other, the elderly couple stood intently looking, and the 15-year old mumbled something. None of them feared answering due to rebuke, but all of them feared that if they answered, they might accidentally speak over the King’s words. All of them, of course had answers, ‘the kingdom is like perfection,’ ‘like a family,’ ‘like a beautiful bride.’ But none of them spoke.

The King looked over the crowd once more and saw a little girl holding a puppy. Chuckling to himself and nodding, he said, “My kingdom is like a little puppy.” The girl looked wide-eyed and turned red. Kneeling beside her the King spoke gently, “My kingdom is like a little puppy that grows into a big great dog. Once grown, she gives birth to a litter of her own, and they become the pets of many, snuggling against their legs, eating their mess, and bringing them comfort on a cold winter day.” The dog licked the King’s face, and the crowd laughed.

Wiping off the saliva, he stood up. He cleared his throat and asked, “What is my kingdom like?”

The little girl whispered, “Like a puppy.” And those who heard her nodded in agreement.

“My kingdom,” the King continued, “is not just like a puppy. My kingdom is like a campfire. The Boy Scout takes a spark to the kindle. What starts as a small flame soon becomes a great fire and overtakes all the wood in the pit. And who doesn’t want the warmth of a fire on a chilly autumn night?”

The looks on their faces betrayed them. Anyone could see their minds racing to connect the dots.

The crowd would have many new answers to the question “What is my kingdom like?” So the King smiled yet again, scratched the puppy behind the ears, and turned to walk away. The group behind him laughed and talked excitedly again, but though the King smiled as before, he continued on his way. This was his kingdom.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Greater than Grace

Grace is good; grace is great, but there is something that is greater. “Greater than grace? What could be greater than grace?” Philip Yancey has shown us that grace truly is amazing, just like John Newton penned many years ago. Christian believers have been champions of the grace of God since its revelation on the cross. TullianTchividjian reminds us at every possible moment that the costly grace of God is the only thing which liberates believers to achieve righteousness. So what could be greater than grace? Ah, but did not you not read the previous statement—what does grace allow us to pursue and actualize? Righteousness. Oh, how Martin Luther hated that phrase “the righteousness of God” because borne with it was the judgment of God. But you, biblical Christian, know that grace is not the end; you know that there is something greater than grace.

Many years ago, a respected church planter dictated words to his scribe: “What will we say then? ‘We shall live in sin in order that grace might multiply’? Not even possible!”

Paul is explaining to the Roman believers that we need grace, but that isn’t the end of the story—that’s obvious from the structure of the letter as a whole: it begins with the desperate state of humanity, moves on to the grace of God, but the grace has the hope of cosmic peace restored in chapter 8, and! grace produces obedience, worship, and humility in chapters 12-15. It’s not the end of the story in Romans, and it’s not the end of the story in this world. What say you: will there be grace in the new creation: the new heaven and new earth?

If you want, you can define grace as anything that is unmerited good (e.g. breath and movement). By that definition I believe there will be grace in the new creation, but that is not the grace that Paul has in mind in Romans 6.1,2a (which we quoted above). The grace that Paul has in mind in Romans 6 is a grace directly proportional to the amount of sin—it is the reversal of wrong or supplement of lack. He has in mind an ideal world that will remove all need of this type of grace. “Whoever among us died to sin, how will we still live in it?” The grace which forgives must have an offense to forgive. But perhaps this is unsatisfactory. I ask you a different question then.

Is God gracious in his essence—his very being? Recognize that whatever God is in his essence is something that he is eternally since God is eternal in essence. Is God gracious in his essence (i.e. is God gracious eternally)? And if so, and graciousness/grace is unmerited good particularly in forgiving sin, then to whom was God gracious before the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them? The other persons of the Trinity? But are they not perfect? Do they not deserve all good al-ways? Then it is not grace he shows them, but simply goodness which is fully deserved. Therefore, there was a time when grace was not… at the time when nothing ‘other’ was. At the time when all which existed was God himself and only God in perfect loving Trinity, there was no grace because grace had no opportunity to be shown. Grace, then, is a temporal/dynamic application of something which exists eternally in the being of God.

Grace is an application (expression) of love which is eternal. God in Trinity has always perfectly loved because love does not need occasion (only object): love can be shown to the most lovely and most unlovely of things. God who is absolutely, essentially lovely has loved and received love intratrinitarianly eternally. Love is greater than grace. Love is eternal, grace is temporal. Love has existed always, grace has existed only after creation has fallen. When creation is restored, there will once again be no need for grace because God in love is making us into something lovely.

And that is Paul’s point: we cannot continue on in sin… we could not even want to continue on in sin because sin is a lack of righteousness. Righteousness is lovely. Righteousness deserves to be loved. Righteousness loves the lovely. Grace is amazing because the love of God has overcome our sin through dealing with it in the incarnation of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. The righteousness of God has been vindicated on the cross—the judgment which Luther feared was a true judgment but one exacted upon Grace Incarnate Love Incarnate. And Love Himself desires something greater than grace for you and me; Love desires us to be absolutely lovelylove desires us to be righteous because in living in righteousness we reveal something of the eternal character of God since God has eternally been righteous in his essence; righteousness is love, love is righteousness. Righteousness~Love is greater than grace.

Long for the day when you no longer need the forgiving grace of God. Long for the day when you can say, “I am good” and have it be both true and grammatically correct. Love God because he is lovely.

Friday, October 18, 2013

In Praise of Multi-Generational Homes P4

Contemporary Application and Fallout

Where do we go from here?

I have argued, either convincingly or unconvincingly, that a Christian perspective will properly evaluate, encourage, and praise multi-generational households as a viable expression of the glory of God in accepting the roles and realities of individuals in varying stages of life. Discipleship is not the ultimate end, but it is a proximate one. And it is one that finds a multi-generational context profitable. However, I am an amateur in sociology. Therefore, the first application is for a sociologist to study and evaluate the benefit of multi-generational homes and to encourage their establishment. If you know a Sociologist Ph.D. student, encourage them to do so.

The second point of application goes to the middle generation. Teach your teenagers that living with your parents in your twenties does not mean you have failed. Explain to them the benefits of living at home, but give them some privacy as well. If they are to come and live with you, they are choosing to do so as adults; respecting you, yes, but they are not immature children anymore. Perhaps you will have to pursue a building project with them: creating enough space for them to bring a spouse into. Consider the older generation as well: they are not a burden, they are an eternal soul developed by our gracious God to have influence on the world they still inhabit.

The third point of application may be the most difficult to accomplish. It belongs to the young generation. Young adults, you will be told by the culture around you, even friends and family members, that real adults get a job and move out to be on their own. Perhaps I am wrong and they are right, but either way you cannot make your decision subject to prevailing philosophy of culture. Evaluate the possibilities; pursue knowledge of God; pray for humility. It may seem humiliating, but humiliation is a quick path to humility; take comfort in knowing that God looks to the humble and contrite in spirit. The economy may be the only reason that you choose to live at home until your 25, but sometimes God uses external and ‘unrelated’ means to bring about his desired ends.

See Part 1: The Problem
See Part 2: Questioning Cultural Assumptions

See Part 3: A Perspective

Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Praise of Multi-Generational Homes P3

Part 3: A Perspective

Although there may be good reasons for young adults to move out and carve out an entire life on their own, separated from previous family relations, there are many good reasons for the young adult to situate themselves in community with their family of multiple generations.

An Ideal Context for Discipleship
A home with three or more generations provides an ideal context for discipleship. I have two questions for you. One: How many times have you heard a church or youth pastor explain that the parents are the ones responsible for discipling their children? After all, the youth pastor spends 1 to 3 hours with the children per week, and even when that happens, it’s alongside twenty other kids; and that is just a medium sized church! Two: How many middle-aged parents are able to devote the time and effort necessary for discipling their children? Consider the average day for a working man or woman. Consider the average day for a teenager in high school. Should discipleship occur before or after sports practice, cooking dinner, doing homework, and getting ready for bed? Sure, you can argue all you want that the way in which you do these things can be discipleship. You would be absolutely right, and incredibly optimistic. Some families manage, but they are few. The busyness of the world greatly squelches the opportunities families have for meaningful, intentional, time. Quality rather than quantity, sure, but quality nothingness is impossible.

But! What if, hypothetically speaking, there lived in the home a retired family member. Somebody who was wise with age, who had lived their faith out in varying contexts before. What if they didn’t have a 9 to 5 job? What if they were able to pick up the kids from school, talk about their day, and point the children to the gospel of Christ?

Are the parents responsible for discipling the children as most youth pastors claim? Or is it the family, the home, the individuals who love God and interact with the children? Many people recognize that the family is responsible for training up children. This is evident in passages like Deuteronomy 6, Proverbs 1, and I & II Timothy; it is evident in books and tools old and new that seek to convince and equip family-heads to disciple their families. Martin Luther wrote his catechism “As it should be clearly and simply explained to every household by the head of the family." But the head of the family is not necessarily the father of the youngest children. Both Chris Wright and Craig Blomberg note how the oldest patriarch in the household was responsible for the faith [and sanctification] of his family.

Inhabiting a home of multiple generations gives perspective to the individuals living there; it provides wisdom to trickle down and shape the young ones; it allows the middle generation to focus on securing finances and food; it gives the elderly a chance to be involved in their children and grandchildren’s lives instead of being segregated to a trailer park and bingo; it gives the parents encouraging support and a ready babysitter so they can have a date night. In other words, it opens up opportunity for believing individuals to exercise their faith in the roles that God in his wisdom has created for them. Age is not a mistake. Let us utilize it.

Yet, Discipleship supersedes Genetics
Now I’ve become the one who is optimistic, and have thus far neglected to deal with the exceptions. It is true, there will be circumstances that disallow families to live multi-generationally.

This one is the obvious example, but it may not be as simple as it seems. It is true: Jesus reconstitutes the meaning of family. But he also tells a wife to remain with her unbelieving husband in hopes of his being saved. When it comes to other generations, the believing parents may be disowned by the elderly. It has happened many times before, and still frequently happens today. But if they are not disowned, shall they submit their children to the influence of the unbelieving grandparents? I doubt there is a static answer. Wisdom should be used in deciding.

Goals, Dreams, and Aspirations
On the other hand, what if my intentions are to live overseas and translate the Bible for an unreached people group? Or what if I am invited to work with NASA several states away? Or what if my deepest desire has been to enjoy the Miami beaches? I recognize that there are some things that will necessarily take the family away from other generations. I recognize that even in the ‘silly’ example of Miami, God has given people desires and tastes which he uses to put them in situations for the furtherance of the gospel and the enjoyment of his glory. So again, rather unsatisfyingly, I answer: I doubt there is a static answer. Wisdom should be used in deciding. Ask yourself, will this change enable me and others to more fully enjoy the glory of God? Will this result in the greater establishment of the kingdom of God? And maybe you should ask also, could my whole family do this with me? Elderly are often greatly respected in other cultures: your 70 year old father may expedite the reality of you reaching a people group.

Return: A Perspective

I return to the way we opened today’s installment: perspective. What I’m calling for is a reorienting of your perspective. Yesterday we questioned cultural norms; today I ask you to consider your life and the lives of your children in light of God’s eternal work in the world. You are not the end-all-be-all. Neither are your children. How does the way that you live life exemplify the inbreaking of God into the world? Might you look strange for having four generations in one household? Maybe, but not much longer if the trend holds true. But that’s not the point: not to be different for difference-sake, nor to be same for so-called palatability. The point is to inhabit God's world faithfully in light of the things he has and continues to give you.

See Part 4 for some application tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In Praise of Multi-Generational Homes P2

Part 2: Questioning Cultural Assumptions

The demand for the young adult to leave the house may be more of a Western culture overflow than a biblical call of maturity. The focus on independence and individualism has brought some good things (e.g. ambition and entrepreneurship; the recognition of my own inadequacy as a solitary individual before God, viz. Søren Kierkegaard). You could place this in line with the Enlightenment and Modernism if you wish, you could even criticize Luther and the Reformation—but that is currently beside the point. While every cultural shift has benefits, it has downfalls as well. And one downfall of the individualization of…individuals is the neglect of the larger family unit as an effective (and affective) means of discipleship. A Christian Perspective, a biblical perspective, praises and encourages multi-generational homes if possible.

The Biblical Context
I recognize that the Bible was written within a cultural framework, but I also recognize that the Bible critiques its contemporary culture at times. I recognize that it would quite disadvantageous for me to begin wearing a tunic and cloak around town, but I also recognize that there are logical reasons not to appropriate the dress code of biblical times. That being said, we still need to differentiate between time periods and cultural practices within the Bible.

Old Testament

In the Old Testament, we are privy to a single family’s history… several times, in fact, when the theme of recreation/reconstitution reappears (i.e. Adam, Noah, Abram, David). Notice that when Cain is marked and sent to wander, his curse is ostracization from God but includes ostracization from his family (Gen.4). Noah’s family is privileged with grace to be saved through the flood, but his family includes his grown sons and their wives. Abram’s family becomes so large that he and his nephew have to split ways, and that before Abram has a son! When Abraham does bear sons, Isaac continues to live with him until his death; Isaac’s sons also live with him into his old age, even with their wives. The family of Jacob descends into Egypt to live, 70 people at that time. Consider also David, and his great grandmother Ruth who lived with Naomi; the examples abound, and to list more would be an exercise in the obvious—like explaining which cities in the States have asphalt—the picture of the family is multi-generational: it is an odd occurrence when it is not. Chris Wright in Old Testament Ethics forthe People of God explains that even “the smallest unit” was “still a fairly large group of people. It consisted of….his wife or wives, his sons and their wives and their sons and wives and unmarried daughters. It would normally therefore have been a three-generational community, and sometimes even four generations” (338, 339 emphasis mine).

New Testament

Fast forward several hundred years and a couple of world empires. Hellenization (Greek influence) has occurred in the Roman-operated world, and this even affects the people of Palestine, where the New Testament was composed. According to biblical-cultural scholarship, homes were typically part of larger unit. Usually three small dwellings sat in a horseshoe shape and opened up to the courtyard/stove. The ‘neighbors’ though were not their friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses but were extended family members. In fact, the soon-to-be husband would go prepare this dwelling next to his family and then return for his bride to be wed. The in-laws were the neighbors (see Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels for more).

This is why Paul’s instructions to Timothy about widows involves children and grandchildren as well as her parents (I Tim.5.3-16). The widow is devote herself to caring for them, and likewise a believer is to care for those who are widowed and need aid—there is no need to visit a nursing home or find a nearby trailer park; simply go next-door.

Is it cultural? Yes, but is that all it is. There are reasons I don’t write on papyrus or parchment with all capitals and no spaces, but is there a reason why this cultural norm is invalid or less than what we know and practice now?

See Part 3 tomorrow.
See Part 1 here.

See Part 4 here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Praise of Multi-Generational Homes P1

Part 1: The Problem

It was common in my college setting to boldly decry any college student (but especially males) who ended up living with their parents post-college. Particularly vocal and opinionated professors would cry, “Fowl!” and mourn the loss of manhood in our society. Reasonably, the students would follow suit. A real man, a biblical man, is one who leaves home never to return! Perhaps that’s embellished, but then again I wouldn’t be surprised to hear it come out of some mouths. But is it true? Is the Christian male’s rite of passage to leave the home and be married? Or can you still live at home and be a faithful, sanctifying man—after university? I acknowledge that these professors are battling a culture of “adult-o-lescence” and perpetual boyhood (and even culture has recognized this); I understand that laziness and comfort has become default; but at the same time, if we continually react with over-correction  when will the pendulum settle with proper peace (that is to say with Shalom—rightly viewing and inhabiting the world in fullness)?

I recently talked with a friend who is an hospice nurse. She routinely visits homes in Southern California. She explained that many of the homes she visits are multi-generational: usually housing three generations—grandma, mom & dad, and son & wife. It only takes 9 months for that house to become a 4-generation dwelling! My friend said that years ago the multi-generational home was an anomaly. But no longer. Part of it iseconomic: another friend said that when he was a young man, gas was 25¢/gallon with a $1/hour minimum wage paycheck. That’s ¼ of a paycheck. But nowadays with gas forever tempting $4/gallon and minimum wage at $8/hour, HALF of the proletariat’s paycheck goes to making our vehicle run (even with the increase in mpg). Employers posting entry-level positions requiring 3-5 years’ experience doesn’t exactly help the just-graduated, school-indebted, optimistic young man or woman make it on their own. It makes sense, then, for a 22-year old to move back in with their parents. They don’t have rent (or leastwise expensive rent) to pay. They can focus their energy on finding a job—anyjob!—that will allow them to begin repaying loans, buying an engagement ring, and locating a feasible home. How soul-crushing for that one that wants to go overseas or be involved in vocational ministry. Especially when the Christian community is saying that you’ve failed to make it as a man. Is that beneficial, really?

But this isn’t an exercise in sympathy and pity. It’s a call to consider: what is the biblical picture of a faithful Christian? I propose that a Christian perspective actually praises and encourages multi-generational homes if possible.

See Part 2 tomorrow.

Part 3: A Perspective
Part 4: Contemporary Application and Fallout

Monday, October 14, 2013

In Defense of Cross-Disciplinary Endeavors

It is easy to be critical of individuals… in every facet of life. When you are cut off on the highway, it is always the other person’s fault—never were you going too fast or passing in the slow lane. When someone fails to respond to your message, you comfort yourself with knowing that you are always faithful to respond quickly—never mind the times you have forgotten or worse deliberately delayed a response. We are particularly critical in contexts that we are trained in. The public speaker can sit and pull-apart every misplaced emphasis and gesture. The English graduate can stand in conversation and correct every grammatical error. The theology and philosophy student can visit every YouTube video and start arguments on the word “the.” To some extent, these are valid: emphases and gestures can attract to or detract from the message; grammar does enable intelligent conversation; discussing the matters of life is necessary. And we ought to pursue excellence in everything we do. Yet, the above happenings are annoying when others do it (because God knows we never do). The pride and arrogance that I exhibit when I do such things aren't the only problems, however—I am denouncing the wisdom and glory of God in creating man in his image. Too much of a jump? Then engage me as I explain.

Every person lives a multi-dimensional, cross-disciplinary life. All individuals we interact with exist. As long as they exist, they must perpetually engage in varying facets of life, or else cease to exist over time. They must choose food to eat, but not many are dietitians, chefs, connoisseurs, or grandmas in their kitchen. While some are experts in the field of eating, everybody must eat. They must plan and execute decisions, but not all are strategists. They must communicate, but not all are linguists, sociologists, speech therapists, counselors, orators, rhetoricians, or lawyers. What of travel and movement by those who are not racecar drivers, physical trainers, or emissions testers? Is it silly to point to such particular and minute professionals in light of common circumstances? A bit, indeed—and yet that is the point exactly: God has created man in his image and given him a life to live, a world to inhabit—not all can expect to be experts in every area, neither in this life or the new creation. As we are critical of individuals who do not match up to our expertise in a given context, we often make a mockery of their ability to live well at all. We do not always go so far, but our hubris is more prone to it than we like to admit.

The ‘uninformed’ person is informed in another area. Besides the reality that we engage multiple disciplines every day, surely we are informed or ‘expert’ in at least one area. This is not to deny that some are ‘more expert,’ but simply to say the person you criticized yesterday isn't completely incompetent. Totally depraved? Likely. Totally stupid? Unlikely. In fact, oftentimes, the one who is clinically disadvantaged of intelligence is well-versed in love and expert in trust. Surely, there is at least one discipline you are ignorant of. And that discipline brings another their paycheck.
Beyond this, have you considered that since you are trained in your field, you speak the language of your field, follow the thoughts of your field, and are sometimes handicapped by those very things that make you expert? Voices from other perspectives will shed light on the object you've been studying from a single angle. God made you finite and you cannot hold all things in your mind at once—even if you have held particulars in your mind once before. They may not know what you know, but they do know something you don’t.

The amateur speaks to amateurs. How many of your family members would read the journals in your discipline or attend your conferences… and enjoy them? Even if they understood all the jargon, they may not care to pay attention for an hour plenary session or fifteen-page posit. Not to mention the breakout sessions and book review! But the one who is amateur speaks to amateurs. She can couch the thoughts in analogy and simplicity—she can bring your lofty thoughts to the masses. Things will be lost in translation, but would you not rather have the public know in part what you know in whole? If not, then do not pretend you care for knowledge of truth; what you care for is the power of having what others do not.

Commendation. All persons must inhabit a world of details even if they cannot name what all the details are. Some are more responsible than others because their expertise requires expertise in many fields, or because God has deemed it wise to give them more intelligence and opportunities than others. So indwell the world, and pursue God through the details. You will never reach the end in this life or the new creation, but that ought to bring excitement rather than discouragement. As you continue on, grow in humility in proportion to your knowledge, or more if possible! Dialogue about politics, faith, philosophy, aesthetics, culture, food. Learn.

Related: Be Fair, Be Informed, Be Wrong