Russell and Duenes

Archive for November 2010

Why Do We Not Plant Churches and Schools Concurrently?

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Is it a sin for a Christian to keep his or her child in a public school?

I’ve been asked this question, and it’s not easy to answer, as important questions rarely are. But let’s try to build an answer from the ground up, as it were. Does God require an explicitly Christian education for His children? I believe strongly that the answer is “yes.” I believe this for many reasons, but I think the first and greatest commandment sheds light on this question. Jesus said that the whole law is summed up in the command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” I don’t see how a public school education, where Jesus is officially excluded from the curriculum, can comport with obedience to this command. Kids are absolutely not taught to love Jesus with all their hearts, souls, powers, and minds in the public schools (and in many Christian schools, too). I would add that the Scriptures enjoin us to follow wisdom, and wisdom tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” If that’s true, then a school system that officially excludes the fear of the Lord, as the public schools do, is out of step with God’s will, and thus, is sinful. So this is where we must start, and we must start with repentance. The church must turn away from her disobedient participation in an idolatrous educational system, which is what our public schools are.

Now, when I mention repentance the obvious question from the Christian with kids in public schools is: “If you say I need to repent, then you’re saying that I’m sinning by having my kids in public schools, aren’t you?” Well, it’s not that simple. Why not?

First of all, there is the obvious financial issue. Private schools are cost-prohibitive for many, many families. So I can imagine that there are Christian families out there who would love to put their kids in a Christian school but simply can’t afford it. I’m not convinced such a person is sinning. They agree that a Christian education is biblical, but for them, in our current system, it is not feasible.

I suppose they could homeschool their kids, but this is not a panacea for all woes. Some are ill-equipped to homeschool, and some are just unable to homeschool due to circumstances, such as a family illness or unemployment or inability to purchase the required materials, to name a few. In fact, though I think the homeschooling movement has been a tremendous blessing, I’m in favor of children going to an actual brick and mortar school where they will be educated by trained teachers. Obviously this should be done in tandem with parents, but I think it should be done. So there are various reasons why having one’s children in public schools, given our current situation, may be unavoidable.

Where I believe the sin comes in is when Christians think that a public school education is not only unavoidable, but actually desirable. I’ve dealt elsewhere with the common arguments Christians make in favor of public schools (e.g., our kids are being salt and light, they’re learning to defend their faith, we don’t want them to be sheltered), and I think such arguments are ultimately wanting. I have tremendous sympathy for parents who desire a Christian education for their children but can’t pull it off. What I object to is the attitude of the church in general toward Christian education. If the church suddenly stopped putting any money in their budgets towards missions and outreach, what would we think of such churches? Surely we would say they are sinning. So then how come we don’t say they are sinning when they don’t have at least a line-item in their budget for Christian education (and I don’t mean Sunday School)? Why are we excited about planting churches but complacent about planting Christian schools? The two should go together. As we plant churches it would only be natural (and biblical) to plant schools right along with them. This is where the change of heart – repentance – is needed. What I hope God will do is raise up an army of pastors, elders, and deacons who see a distinctively Christian education for the children in their congregations as absolutely central to spiritual formation in Christ. I pray that God’s people will recover the vision for Christian education that moved Medieval Christians to found the schools and universities that shaped Western Culture. I pray that believers will recover a larger vision of education, as something more than “job training,” as an investment in cultural engagement for Christ. When this larger vision is recovered, then we will stop thinking that a Christian education is “sheltered” and “cut off from the world,” and we will see that true Christian education leads to unleashing Christians upon the culture who are well-equipped to influence it in all areas: Science, Engineering, Computer Technology, Architecture, Music, Filmmaking, Law, Literature, Journalism, Business, and on and on.

-D

 

Written by Michael Duenes

November 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

The Best Argument for Christianity…and the Worst

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I’m thoroughly enjoying my reading of A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. This truly is a Christian classic, and I’m only sorry I’ve waited this long to read it. I’m in the section of the book where Sheldon and his wife, Davy, are students at Oxford, though they are not yet Christians. Vanauken writes at length, however, about the winsome witness of the Christians he came to know at Oxford, which took me back to conversations I’ve had with non-believers. When I’ve had occasion to speak to them about Christianity, I often ask them the question: “When you hear the word ‘Christian,’ what comes to your mind?” I don’t always get a negative answer, but I do routinely hear things like “hypocrite,” “judgmental,” “narrow,” and the like. Indeed, it is common to hear Christians these days disavowing the name “Christian,” because we don’t want the negative connotations. We call ourselves “Christ followers” or some such. I have adopted this kind of thing myself, but Vanauken wrote something on this topic in his journal as he was being confronted with the reality of Christ in the Christians he knew. He said,

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity–and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order”

Dallas Willard has echoed this same theme when writing about the exclusivity of Christ, stating,

Let the reality of Christian spiritual formation come to its fullness, and exclusiveness [of Christianity] will take care of itself. If the witch and the warlock, the Buddhist and the Muslim, can truly walk in holiness and power equal to that of Jesus Christ and his devoted followers, there is nothing more to say. But Christ himself, and not Christianity as a form of human culture, is the standard by which “we” as well as “they” are to be measured. (The Great Omission, 79)

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

No One to Thank

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Is gratitude crucial to human flourishing?

What kind of person would you rather be?

The kind of person who grumbles against Moses and Aaron: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”…”Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another,’Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’…Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards.” Do you think you will flourish and enjoy a better life when there’s no one to thank? No one to thank for your good health, for your daily food, for the people who choose to love you, for your employer who keeps you employed, for the beauty of the creation around you, indeed, for all the good circumstances you enjoy that have nothing to do with your efforts? Will you enjoy life more when there’s no one to thank, and when all you can do when things don’t go your way is murmur and complain?

Or the kind of person who “gives thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess.5:18),” who is “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God (2 Cor 9:12),” who is “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:20),” who “by prayer and supplication with thanksgivingĀ  is letting your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6),” or who is “letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God? (Col. 3:16)”

To ask the question is to answer it. Gratitude is the posture human beings were fitted to embrace by our very design. There is great joy and power in it. It is the kind of power I saw at work in my own father at the retirement party we threw for him after 38 years at TWA and American Airlines. It is the profound joy that brought him to tears as he looked around that room and saw all the people to whom he owed gratitude for making his career the success it was. This is why God commands gratitude. He is good and He knows what’s best for us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 25, 2010 at 10:14 am

Posted in Duenes, Thank the Lord

You Could Have Been Born Elsewhere

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My students and I were meditating on some Thanksgiving texts in Scripture and we came to reflect on the fact that we ought to be thankful for being born when and where we were, considering that we could have been born elsewhere.

Now don’t get me wrong, being born in America in the late 20th century is not an unfettered good. Each generation in every location has had its blessings and curses, but consider…

1) You could have been born in Europe during the 13th century, but instead you were born in an age of anti-biotics.

2) You could have been born in war-torn Uganda or Sudan, but instead you were born in an irenic U.S. city or, more likely, suburb.

3) You could have been born, again, in any century previous to the 20th, where only royalty and the super rich could listen to classical music, but instead you were born in an age when all manner of music is available to you right in your little headset.

4) You could have been born as a Russian peasant in the 16th century, never going more than 10 miles from your home, but instead you were born in the jet age where you can be on the other side of the globe in less than 24 hours and for less than $1,000.

5) You could have been born in the 1780’s in America and had to have undergone a major surgery without anesthesia, but instead, well, you know. You’re entirely out while having your bones and ligaments cut. Indeed, you can have major organ transplants because you were born at this time and place.

Again, this is not to say that being born at this time and place rescues us from the human condition, and perhaps we would be in some ways better off spiritually if we did not have all the technological distractions we have today; but it sure is worth thanking God for all of the blessings of being born in the U.S. in the 20th/ 21st century.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

10 Reasons to Be Thankful

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1. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” Consider: You woke up today with indoor plumbing, hot water in your shower, heat in your house, a warm bed, a refrigerator with food in it, a computer, and some kind of stereo or ipod. On that basis alone, we should be effusive in thanking our God.

2. “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever.” God’s love does not wax and wane. He supports us with His fervent love at all times. The tokens of His love are evident every nanosecond of the day.

3. “I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness.” God is righteous in all His ways and will certainly do what is right in everything. All injustices and wrongdoing will finally be judged by His righteous hand. But the really good news is that He imputes His own righteousness to us. In Christ, we are counted righteous. Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” Thank you, Lord.

4. “We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near.” God is not only high and exalted above the heavens. He is also near. In fact, the nearness of God is our good, and He came nearest through the incarnation. God is “with us,” and for that we give thanks.

5. “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” Constantly the Psalmist tells us to give thanks to God for His wondrous deeds. We are to remember what God has done, and by calling to mind His awesome works on our behalf, we will be filled with gratitude. As we approach Thanksgiving, spend time in your mind and out loud with others just rehearsing the ways that God has worked on your behalf.

6. “I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.” Consider all the prayers of yours that God has answered. Call some of them to mind. And consider the great blessings of salvation. God is our salvation. He has become to us “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” God has given us union with His Son and has filled us with His Holy Spirit. He has shown in our hearts the light of the glory of Christ, by which we are saved. Give thanks to God for His foreknowing of you, His predestining of you, His sovereign calling of you to salvation, His justifying of you, His giving you the righteousness of Christ, His filling you with His Spirit, His sanctifying power in your life, His guiding of your steps day-by-day, and His promise of everlasting life with Him in heaven.

7. Paul says to the Romans, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” Give thanks to God that He is causing His salvation to go forth to the nations even now. Give thanks to Him for every opportunity you have to share the gospel.

8. Paul says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” Thank God this week that, in Christ Jesus, He has liberated you from the bondage to sin. You now have freedom to love and obey Christ from the heart.

9. Paul writes, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” It seems to me that if I am in the practice of giving thanks, if my heart is overflowing with gratitude, I will not in the next instance be able to engage in filthiness and foolish talk. People who are constantly thanking God are not dropping F-bombs on people or getting their jollies from crude jokes at the same time.

10. Paul writes, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” May you spend this Thanksgiving week giving thanks to God for all of the wonderful people He has put in your life over the years. Bring to your remembrance parents who have cared for you, teachers who have educated you, pastors who have preached the word of God to you, friends who have encouraged you, children who have brought joy to you, spouses who have sacrificed for you, and strangers who have welcomed you. Give thanks for such rich blessings.

These are just a tiny few of the reasons we ought to thank God this week. May you come up with many others as you read the Scriptures.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 22, 2010 at 8:05 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections