Russell and Duenes

Archive for May 2010

Should Housewives Do Outside Evangelism?

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My wife and I have discussed the topic of evangelism with some regularity, yet as we were talking about it today, I got to thinking: What did evangelism look like for a puritan wife with numerous children in 17th and 18th century America? Take Sarah Edwards, Jonathan Edwards’ wife. She had eleven children to raise, and her husband was sometimes working up to thirteen hours a day. He may not have been typical, but doubtless most men in New England at that time were spending long hours on the job, particularly if they were farming. Does anyone imagine that Sarah Edwards was doing a lot of “evangelistic activities” outside the home? Further, most everyone in the towns would have considered themselves Christians. I would gather that the only real “pagans” around would be the Natives, and I don’t imagine that your average housewife was doing a lot of evangelism among them.

So what kind of evangelism would these housewives be doing? Would they be doing a lot of it outside the home? Would they be handing out tracts? Would they be trying to engage “unbelievers” in the public places and spaces? Or would they be primarily invested in training their children to grow up in the Lord?

I raise this issue not because I think housewives today need an excuse not to evangelize their neighbors, but rather, to put evangelism for housewives in some historical context. Evangelism looks different in different eras and places. Further, it seems to me that the training up of the next generation in godliness was historically thought of as a very, very important job for mothers. And I think that our views of what constitutes “evangelism” these days can become rather reductionistic. To me, the most important evangelism my wife and I will do will be toward our children. Paul seems to echo this sentiment in his exhortation to young widows. He says that “they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander (1 Tim. 5:13-14). Of course Paul’s advice is now routinely discarded as “oppressive” to women. Working outside the home, I have more opportunities for evangelism in that context than does my wife, and this is as I would expect it to be for a mother of two toddlers. I think it’s great if mothers have outside relationships with non-Christians with whom they can share their faith, but I don’t know if mothers historically always had such relationships, and I don’t think they would be primary in any context.

I would love to see more mothers give the lion’s share of their attention to discipling their own children, teaching them to obey Christ in everything, including the reaching of the nations with the gospel. But I think it’s asking a lot to say that housewives should be doing the same kind of outside evangelism as others.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

May 31, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Memorial Day: Top 5 War Movie Scenes

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Tomorrow being Memorial Day, I thought I’d share the 5 American war movie scenes that have left largest impact on me. This may not be the proper order, but whatever the order, these are unforgettable scenes, reminding me of the hideous ugliness of war and the real human pain and loss that war brings.

#5. Though not technically a war movie, I consider the attacks on 9/11 to be acts of war, and thus, I consider the passengers on United, flight 93 to be American soldiers who defeated at least one prong of the enemy’s plan. The film, “United 93” is a testament to their bravery in the face of almost certain death, and it is a sobering film in its portrayal of how suddenly life can be snatched away from us. It deserves a much wider viewership than it has received.

#4. The scene in “Glory” where the black 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry are sharing some of their testimonies the night before they are set to attack Ft. Wagner. They share stories of God’s faithfulness and their hope in Christ as they prepare to give their lives. It is incredibly powerful.

#3. The scene in “Platoon,” where Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) frags Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and leaves him for dead in the jungle, but Charlie Sheen’s character knows better, and they exchange knowing looks as they ride out on the Huey together. “Platoon” was the first war movie that really moved me emotionally.

#2. The scene in “Saving Private Ryan,” where the American platoon translator, machine gun in hand, is frozen with fear while a German soldier is slowing plunging a knife into a Jewish American soldier’s heart. My entire insides are screaming, “Go up there and kill that S.O.B.,” which is the power of the scene, because one never knows how he will react in such a situation, and that’s an ugly reality of war. I can’t watch the scene again, it’s too brutal.

#1. The final scene in “To End All Wars,” where the American soldier, Ernest Gordon, reflects on his time in a brutal Japanese prison camp, and the words of Jesus come to his mind, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul; or what can a man give in exchange for his soul.” The power of Christ is evident throughout the film, as Christian soldiers show love to their gruesome captors, illustrating the reality of Jesus’ command to love our enemies. I can’t watch the scene without something stirring deep within me.

Honorable Mention: This goes to a scene from a documentary, and thus, not a conventional “war movie,” but it deals with war nonetheless. This would be the scene from “Fog of War” where the filmmakers sequentially flash the death toll from U.S. firebombing of Japanese cities. I dare say most people are as unacquainted with the death tolls as I was, and when you see them coming at you, city upon city, you can’t help but be staggered.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

N.T. Wright and What the Scripture “Can’t Mean”

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Well-known scholar, N.T. Wright, critiqued C.S. Lewis’ view that Jesus’ claim to forgive sins was also one of Jesus’ claims to be divine. Wright argues that the Jewish cultural milieu of Jesus’ day shows that his forgiveness of the paralyzed man is no apparent claim to deity. He writes,

What Lewis totally failed to see—as have, of course, many scholars in the field—was that Judaism already had a strong incarnational principle, namely the Temple, and that the language used of Shekinah, Torah, Wisdom, Word, and Spirit in the Old Testament—the language, in other words, upon which the earliest Christians drew when they were exploring and expounding what we have called Christology—was a language designed, long before Jesus’ day, to explain how the one true God could be both transcendent over the world and living and active within it, particularly within Israel. Lewis, at best, drastically short-circuits the argument. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is not claiming straightforwardly to be God, but to give people, out on the street, what they would normally get by going to the Temple.

This is a textbook example of how Wright and many others, including many who claim to be conservative evangelicals, try to use their reconstruction of the socio-cultural background of the New Testament to tell us what the text “can’t mean,” even though the plain reading of it clearly means what they say it can’t. Wright would be correct in his assessment of Jesus’ deity in the above case except for the little problem of the religious leaders’ response to Jesus’ act of forgiveness found in the text itself: The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21) Evidently the Jewish leaders, confronted with Jesus’ claim to be able to forgive sins, did not think to themselves, “Doesn’t Jesus know that the Temple is the only place where sins can be forgiven?” They saw Jesus’ words as a unmistakable assertion of his God-like status.

Is this being nit-picky? I don’t think so. For we see this kind of thing in other important areas. Two come to mind: “biblical” feminism and homosexuality. Too often today we read of some biblical scholar who argues that Paul simply could not have taught that women are disallowed from teaching and having authority over men in the church. And how do we know Paul could not have been teaching this? Because the Hellenic-Jewish background of the 1st century clearly informs us that women were uneducated and treated as inferior to men, and thus, Paul must have been making a temporary accomodation to the culture. Of course it doesn’t matter what Paul actually says in the text about Adam being formed first and then Eve, we “conservatives” must be reading it wrong.

The same goes for homosexuality. Clearly we know that 1st century homosexuality was reduced to pederasty and other perversions, and Paul simply couldn’t have imagined monogamous homosexual relationships like we have today. So we know that even though the text in Romans says nothing about pederasty, our scholarly study of the relevant cultural setting lets us know that this is what Paul was talking about. The text simply “can’t mean” that all homosexual behavior is sinful and wrong, even though that’s what it plainly says without any qualification whatsoever.

The truth is, N.T. Wright is the one who is not reading the text, rather than C.S. Lewis. The text simply gets in the way of what we “know” it must say and imply. With a procedure like this, the Bible ultimately becomes a wax nose in our hands, putty for “every wind of doctrine” that we desire.

-D

HT: Donald T. Williams

Written by Michael Duenes

May 27, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

Spiritual Knowledge, Barack Obama and Honorary Law Degrees

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2 x 2 = 4

“The earth revolves around the sun.”

“A complete sentence must have a subject and verb.”

“Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.”

Ask ten people on the street what the separates the first three statements above from the fourth, and you’ll likely get all ten of them saying, “The first three statements are statements of fact while the fourth statement is a religious opinion, something that people just take on faith.” In other words, biblical teaching is thought by virtually all to be something that one believes by a kind of blind “leap of faith,” not by any rational warrant. Scriptural statements are not thought of as a proper subject of knowledge in the way that, say, mathematics is. And we Christians are highly to blame for this error, for we decided long ago that it would be safer to remove discipleship to Christ from the realm of knowledge and sequester it in the “you just have to believe” category.

But this retreat from spiritual knowledge has its consequences, one of which is brilliantly discussed by Dr. Francis Beckwith in the latest issue of Touchstone Magazine (Justice for Some”). Beckwith hits upon the fact that President Obama, like many others, has removed the issue of when human life begins from the arena of knowledge and relegated it to the arena of “deeply held belief,” something which cannot be known, but only professed. And much to its shame, Notre Dame university gave approval to his falsehood not only by inviting him to speak to their graduates, but also by bestowing upon him an honorary doctorate. Beckwith notes,

I am confident that Notre Dame would never bestow an honorary doctorate in science on an astronomer who vigorously advanced the theory of geocentricity, or to a chemist who refused to teach his students the periodic table. Nor would it award an honorary doctorate in divinity to a theologian who was an unrepentant apologist for racial apartheid and white supremacy. Why, then, did it bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on someone who, for his entire public life, has enthusiastically fought to keep the unborn permanently outside the protections of the law? If a Christian university is to remain true to its identity, it must recognize that the truth it claims to know in dogmatic and moral theology matters as much as, if not more than, the deliverances and insights of the other disciplines in the academy, such as law, business, chemistry, physics, or art history. (Emphasis mine)

Beckwith has put his finger precisely on the problem: Our universities, including many Christian ones, have accepted this false “fact/ belief” dualism when it comes to Christian theology, and thus chemistry, mathematics, physics, engineering and psychology have the exalted status of “knowledge” while faith in Jesus Christ and the truth of the Scriptures have been relegated to a blind leap, a mere profession. So our president can say that the answer to when human life begins is “above my pay grade,” and still be given an honorary doctorate from a university that claims to know better. Other examples could be adduced, and thus you see the trouble we’re in. Beckwith concludes with wise counsel:

For Christians, resisting this epistemological apartheid will come at a price. A bold and confident propagation of what they believe is true will put Christians at odds with those who have the influence and power to dispense prestige and authority in our culture. But no matter—those who serve the truth will garner a far better and more lasting reward.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Duenes, Philosophy, Theology

A Tale of Two Species

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From the primordial ooze came simple organisms, and through a continual process of unguided and purposeless evolution, mankind came to be. He is not created, does not bear any “stamp” or “image” of a Creator, has no purpose for being here, has no end toward which he is evolving, except perhaps extinction, and possesses no inherent dignity or value. Mankind is merely a souped up primate trying to survive, and his technological inventions have given him immense control over the evolutionary process, allowing him to weed out the undesirables rather ahead of schedule (though there really can be no schedule in this narrative). Since there is no end or telos for which mankind was created, and there is no knowable life after death, then our existence veers ever more toward the desperate quest for immortality and human perfection, a way to transcend the limits of our embodied existence and overcome physical death. Since there is no sin in this story, there is no redemption. Only ever increasing raw power to exercise command over nature. Perhaps our technological wizardry will make it possible to live on forever by downloading the contents of our mind on to a kind of super computer and concocting a mechanical body which will be ruled by the computer. This is the culturally dominant, “scientistic” narrative where technological “progress” is our lord and the techno-utopians are the high priests and messiahs…

We were created as physical and spiritual beings by a loving, wise, transcendent and immanent Creator, bearing His image and likeness, for the purpose of living in fellowship with him. We fell from this lofty position by rebelling against our Creator and preferring useless idols instead. We were thus cursed. Corruption, decay and death were now our fate. We deserved God’s holy judgment. But God wanted to redeem and save the people he had made. So he had mercy on us in our rebellious state, and he determined the times and places of our lives so that we might seek him and find him, “though he is not far from each one of us.” In fact, our Creator entered into our world as the God-man in order to offer himself over to death for our redemption and rise to new life for our ultimate salvation. Death still claims us all, but we have the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. God makes his people to be “a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.” This is the competing narrative, whereby mankind’s hope is not found in outlasting death through technological manipulation of brute nature, but rather, where death is overcome in the death and resurrection of Christ, and our final hope is having “citizenship in heaven, and from it awaiting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

We should be concerned with which story is actually true, but we ought also to ask ourselves which story we should like to be true.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

May 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm