December 24, 2005

Samuel Davies on Simple, Biblical, Patient Church Ministry

I like the perspective of Samuel Davies, the Great Awakening preacher as well as the theological and homiletical mentor to the Patriot, Patrick Henry. Here are a couple of quotes from his book of sermons that argue for "sober views"... not in 'new experiments" and "new modes of doing things". I wish I understood this as a young pastor.

“The times demand a ministry of sober views: of settled habits of industry; of plain practical good sense; of sound and judicious modes of thinking; a ministry that shall be patient, equable, persevering, and that shall look for success rather in the proper results of patient toil. Than in new experiments find new modes of doing things…. Success should not be expected from that which is adapted merely to startle, shock, surprise, confound or perplex. Success should not be looked for as the result of scheming, of dark plans, of unusual modes of thought, of paradoxes in theology or in an affected originality.. The men who enter the ministry should be men who will be willing to labour patiently as long as may be necessary to accomplish an object; to tread on, if necessary, in a path which has been trodden by thousands before; and at the close of life to look back upon results gained by patient toil rather than on the results of fitful efforts, however brilliant, or which have only served to startle and amaze mankind." p. xxxv Sermons of Samuel Davies

“The times in which we live demand of the ministry a close and patient, and honest investigaton fo the Bible.” Sermons of Samuel Davies, p. xxx

December 23, 2005

Anniversary of 58 Years of Marriage

Today, my father and mother celebrated fiftyeight years of marriage. My mom always says that "Bill made everyday a honeymoon." That's a long honeymoon... sounds like something our Father in heaven would do.

December 14, 2005

What I am NOT saying about Fantasy

Here is what I am not saying about fantasy. I am not saying that it is always wrong to write or read or watch some fantasy, allegory or parable. I do believe that there is a good place for allegory and parable to communicate truth. My opinion is that fantasy is a different category in which much sound wisdom and discernment should be exercised. And, I am not advocating that it is categorically wrong to create or read or view it, but I do have issue with what I regard as "unsanctified fantasy" which is not under the order and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense it is our duty to urge our fellow believers to bring every thought (and image and word) captive to Christ. I am simply registering a caution for a culture that consumes lots of fantasy without much forethought.

My main thoughts and questions regarding fantasy are as follows:

Issue #1 The Rush For Entertainment. People in the church today seem to wantonly rush toward every form of fantasy entertainment offered by Hollywood that is “clean” without weighing the other important issues.

Issue #2 The Importance of Images used to communicate the Gospel. Christian people should have a sensitivity to the images that they see and they should understand how important it is that we look upon "whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things." (Phl 4:8).

Issue #3 The Words used to communicate the gospel. The words that we read which are surrounding a “presentation” of the “gospel’ in that particular context should be carefully weighed. Why? Because we have been given a perfect, fixed, external Word of God that is best understood in it’s own context, not the context of the fantastical meditations of a creative uninspired writer.

Issue#4 The Relative importance of different genres of literature.
I want to encourage my brothers and sisters to see the relative importance of the different genres of literature. For instance I would encourage fathers and mothers to limit their children’s time spent reading fantasy because reality is better than fantasy. This is very important because all the things that we expose ourselves and our children to builds affection. What we expose them to, will grow a taste and desire. Giving your children fantasy will give them a taste for fantasy and I have seen this taste become an obsession in many children in christian homes consuming much of their time and meditation. And, personal tastes are hard to break. My appeal goes like this: give them God so that they will have a taste for God. You may have fond childhood memories of fantasy stories, but what was it's relative value? Fantasy is indeed fantasy. What if your fond memories were developed by sitting and reading the Bible? Wouldn't that have been better for the building of the fond memories. This is why I advocate limiting exposure to fantasy.

Issue #5 The use of time. The use of time is a critical issue for any person wishing to “redeem the time for the days are evil.” (Ephisians 5:15-16) Where does meditation on fantasy fit in to redeeming the time?

What About Pilgrim's Progress

One of the most asked questions about my view of fantasy and specifically, The Lord of the Rings and Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, is ‘what about the allegory that John Bunyan wrote called Pilgrim’s Progress”.?

To answer this question it is important to define two terms, “fantasy” and “allegory.” The following definitions have been taken from Websters Third New International Dictionary published in 1966.

”...imaginative fiction dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (other worlds or times) and of characters (as supernatural or unnatural beings).

The oral or written or artistic expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human conduct or experience (as in Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”…) simply telling a story for the sake of presenting a truth.”

I do not put the Narnia movie and Pilgrim’s Progress in the same category. Granted, they have some similar qualities, but they are not the same genre.

I am more affectionate toward Pilgrim’s Progress because it is more closely tied to real life and real people and it avoids much of the fantastical beasts and images that hard core fantasy presents.

On Fantasy and Video Games and Other Time Wasters

In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul encourages the Ephesians to maintain a vigorous lifestyle that is characterized by walking in love, walking in the light and walking in wisdom. Then he says

"See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil." Ephesians 5:15

Then he gives some examples of misuse and good use of time.

The point is, God has given us fleeting days on earth and he does indeed call us to use the time well, savor it and redeem it.

Richard Baxter wrote clearly about the importance of how we spend our time. Here are three selections of his counsel to his people delivered somewhere between the years of 1641 and 1660:

“I tell you time is a most precious thing; more precious than gold, or jewels, or fine clothes’ and he is incomparably more foolish that throws away his time, than he that throws away his gold, or trampleth his clothes or ornaments in the dirt.”

“How think you the miserable souls in hell would value time, if they were again sent hither, and tried with it again on the terms as we are? Would they feast it away, and play it away, as you do now and then say, Are not plays, and cards, and feastings lawful.” Baxter p1041, Vol 4 The Reformed Pastor

"Have you not many good works of charity to do? And will you leave the most of this undone, and waste your time in plays, and cards, and feasts and idleness and then say, what harm is in all this, and are they not lawful…. And then you would easily tell yourselves whether playing and fooling away precious time be lawful for one in your condition. If your servants leave most of their work undone, an spend the day in cards and stage-plays and feasting, and in merry chat, and then say, “Madam, are not cards, and plays, and jesting lawful?” Will you take it for a satisfactory answer? And it is not worse that you deal with God.”
Richard Baxter, p1040. Vol 4 The Reformed Pastor

It always amazes me that parents would allow their children to spend hours on end playing video games and plunging their minds in fantasy. To me this does not qualify as "redeeming the time."

December 13, 2005

Rushing To Fantasy

As people who know me well might imagine, I am unsettled with the rush of the church for Disneys new "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" movie. Of course, I am always concerned when the church rushes en masse toward entertainment or anything Hollywood has made. The release of this movie, with it's great story line and with it's many teaching points that are helpful in seeing some of the issues of good and evil, is still one of those entertainment offerings presented by Hollywood - the enemy of the church. I just think we need to remember that Satan is an angel of light who always masquerades.

It is a difficult thing to write these things as I have many happy memories of reading most all of what C.S. Lewis has written. And, I have read the entire series of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe' to my children. I have also received much benefit from his philosophical works. So please understand that I am not advoctating burning your C.S. Lewis books or protesting at the movie theatres. I am not saying "don't go to that movie or you will be forever outside the camp. I am not even saying, don't go to that movie."

Please consider my comments as a genuine effort to increase the joy and the beauty of the body of Christ.

Here are the concerns I have with fantasy movies as well as most of the other entertainment offerings the church gets excited about.

How we communicate the gospel
How we communicate the gospel matters. My assumption is that the best way to communicate the gospel is the same way it's presented to us in the Bible… not through replacement messages or words or images of fantasy stories, but with the historic ones. For example, what words are best suited to describe the gospel message? I maintain that the best words to use in evangelism or equipping the saints are the bible words. The most powerful tool we can wield is the sword of the spirit, using the very words of scripture to preach the gospel. God has spoken perfectly in words and these words are enough for us as the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture declares. “God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

This is why I become uncomfortable when there are attempts to explain the gospel with non biblical images and words through fantastical beings.

The caution that I issue for Christian movie goers is to be very discerning about the words they hear and the images they see. It matters what we see and read and hear because we are created by God to be drawn into whatever words we hear or images we entertain. We simply cannot help ourselves. We cannot engage in anything and expect to come out “neutral” from it. Everything affects us.

What happens in these fantasies is that elements of the gospel are embedded in fantasy which uses all kinds of unscriptural words and images. We are literally staging the gospel in a non gospel or even an anti gospel context.

The gospel is hemmed in by unbiblical words.

Many modern churches like to take out the gospel words and replace them with more modern ones so that people would relate to more easily. The megachurch movement has been the champion of this technique and it has only led to further worldliness in the church.

One of the most vivid expressions of setting the gospel in the midst of non biblical words and contexts is Veggietales. This is a radical trivialization of everything biblical. With Veggie tales it is the gospel in cucumbers and tomatoes. Instead of David and Goliath, it is “Dave and the Giant Pickle”. The good Samaritan becomes “Junior Asparagus’. Narnia does a similar thing, yet with much more style and eloquence. With Narnia, it is witches and centaurs and nymphs. Just because Lewis uses one biblical image - a Lion - does not erase the rest of the miscasting.

The Importance of Images

Images matter. Images can become objects of meditation which shape our thinking. So when we think about going to a movie, we should ask some questions, “where do the images originate?” Do they come from people with Godly meditations or heavenly wisdom? Do they come from the hearts of people who honor God, who are filled up with the knowledge of God, who have set their minds on things above not on the things on the earth.?” "Did God intend for us to create these fantastical extrabiblical beasts to communicate the gospel? Does He desire that our imaginations be activated by images which cast our thinking far from reality? Which images are most helpful to understand the gospel?

I maintain that if we want to give the best information about Christ, we should use the Bible images. In scripture, Christ is portrayed as a lamb, high priest, shepherd, bread… The church is depicted as a family, body, holy nation… These are the perfect images to use in our communication of the gospel.

What do Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia have in common? They are enormously popular, singularly creative, fantasy stories which bring up certain biblical ideas couched in unbiblical words and settings and were produced by very creative people who had the responsibility to make money for their bosses. They contain images that are replacements of the images used to portray the gospel. And they promote replacement words to explain it that are not Biblical words. In this sense, I believe that these entertainment offerings are often misleading for understanding the true gospel.

The Superior Genre

I have a conviction that not all genre's of literature are created equal. For instance, I hold that reality oriented books like historical, biographical, theological and technical writing are superior to fantasy. In the daily educational life in the Brown home, this works itself out in an emphasis on reality oriented books and a virtual starvation of fantasy.

I want my children thinking about the real world not fantasy worlds.

This principle makes me judge the Bible as the supremely important genre is that it presents things that are true, not mythical and profitable not theoretical. This is of enormous importance because it is the truth which sets us free.

If the truth sets us free, what does fantasy do?

God is the God of reality, not fantasy. The beauty of truth is shown everywhere in the Bible (Revelation 22:6, Daniel 8:26, John 1:9, Proverbs 14:2)

This is why I am not a big fan of fantasy stories.

All my life, I have preferred reality to fantasy. And, I want to train my family in reality and knowledge and service instead of spending time understanding the nuances of the latest fantasy story.

I have fond memories of reading Lewis in my younger years, but where did all the time spent and the fond memories get me? Perhaps sentimental feelings, but no real forward movement toward real and important conquerings.

December 09, 2005

"The Entire Concept of School is Flawed", Says C.S. Lewis' Son

Douglas Gresham step son of CS Lewis... on Homeschooling

Homeschooling and why I advocate it is not a matter of whether the schools are good or bad, though obviously I would rather children went to good schools than to bad ones, if go to school they must. It is that, as someone who has been trained and works in the field of post-childhood abuse trauma, and has devoted considerable thought to the mattter, I have formed the opinion that the entire concept of school is flawed. In fact, it is a terrible mistake.

Look what we do: we observe what God has designed, a pair of parents, one of each
sex, and two pairs of grandparents, often with a few aunts and uncles thrown in. In fact, a Family. This is the unit designed by God Himself for the specific purpose of ministry of raising each new generation.
Then what do we do? We take the child and remove him from this carefully designed support group of parents and close family members, all of whom share a genetic bond with the child, and plunge him into a mass group of his peers, all of whom are as ignorant and as demanding as he is, with one adult stranger supervising. In terms of the psycho-emotional development of the child, this is complete madness.

A child is best nurtured by having the one-on-one attention from each of the two parents for a specific period of time each day. Ideally, a child should be homeschooled by both parents sharing the task equally, though I do realize that this is not always possible. Bear in mind that I am not referring to idiotic parents, criminal parents, drug-addicted parents, or self-indulgent, self-obsessed parents, nor to anyone else who should never be graced (in my view, not God's, of course) with progeny in the first place. I am referring to normal, well-adjusted, good parents.

And with our modern habits of sending children away from their home and families for the better part of every day these [well-adjusted parents] are becoming more and more scarce as the vast majority of people are damaged or scarred emotionally and intellectually themselves by being exiled from their home and parents and placed in the hands of strangers at a young age.

It is a trans-generational progression exacerbated by the fact that those who are damaged very often are not even aware of it. If I had known back then what I know now, my children would never have gone to school until they were at least 18 years old. Satan hates what God loves and God loves us, Mankind. The basic unit of Mankind is the family, so Satan has targeted the Family, and he has been pretty successful, mostly by using "good intentions." I think that "School" is one of his very clever inventions. As far as I am concerned, schools are for fish.
(The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Fall 2005 issue, page 57) Fall 2005 issue of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine includes an interview with Douglas Gresham, stepson of C. S. Lewis. While much of the conversation focuses on the upcoming Narnia movie and Gresham's relationship with Lewis, there is some frank discussion about Gresham's own strong support for homeschooling.

December 01, 2005

Families, The Seminaries of Christ's Church

Richard Baxter spoke as clearly as anyone on the importance of Godly family life:

"Holy families are the seminaries of Christ's church on earth, and it is very much that lieth upon them to keep up the interest of religion in the world. Hence come holy magistrates, when great men's children have a holy education. And, oh, what a blessing is one such to the countries where they are! Hence spring holy pastors and teachers to the churches, who as Timothy, receive holy instructions from their parents, and grace from the Spirit of Christ in their tender age. Many a congregation that is happliy fed with the bread of life, may thank God for the endeavors of a poor man or woman,that trained up a child in the fear of God, to become their holy, faithful teacher."

The Reformed Pastor, Vol 4, The Poor Man's Family Book. p230