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Archive for December 2013

What Is Education?

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Because he believes that the content of education contains a large amount of “neutral info,” he also believes that it should be possible for Christian kids to get access to that neutral info. – Douglas Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education, p.10.

The next couple of chapters in Wilson’s book deal with the nature of education and the question of “what everybody knows.” Wilson’s central point about education is that education is bound up with our understanding of knowledge, that is, with our “epistemology.” As Wilson says, “[t]he field of epistemology asks how it is that we humans know things, and schools are places where young humans are coming to know things.” (p.11). Therefore, his conclusion is that the trajectory of our thoughts about education will follow along the lines of our thoughts about epistemology. In my ten years of teaching high school students, I became convinced that, next to biblical theology, the most important thing I could teach my students was epistemology, and one of the main tenets of a Christian epistemology is that there is no neutral knowledge anywhere, not even in math or any of the other “hard sciences.” There is no neutral knowledge because the Scriptures are the basis for all knowledge, and they teach that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov. 1:7) and “in [Jesus] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col.2:3).

In his next chapter, Wilson argues that many American Christians have come to believe – wrongly – that there is a whole bunch of stuff that everyone “just knows. Fact is, these things that “everyone knows” are actually “the fruit of a Christian worldview, extended over centuries.” Moreover, “[w]e naively believe that these common values are a shared inheritance among all humans, and whatever it was that Adam’s fall into sin did, it did not erase these values. This means that it should be possible, or so the argument goes, to work together with non-believers in a task like education.” (pgs. 13-14). Such a project is doomed to fail, however.

Wilson anticipates an objection to his argument, namely, by the person who argues that 2+2=4 is something that “everybody just knows.” Surely this is an example of neutral knowledge common to believer and unbeliever alike. Wilson, however, responds by summoning up the pantheist who believes that “everything is actually one.” (p.14). If everything is all “one,” then 2+2 cannot equal 4. So apparently the pantheist does not “know” this mathematical axiom we take for granted. And the pantheist is not the only one who has a problem with such “knowledge.”

Now Wilson grants that one need not subscribe to the Apostle’s Creed in order to affirm that 2+2=4 or any other mathematical proposition. (p. 15). Yet one must ask how it is that the unbeliever has come by this knowledge, historically speaking. One must further ask which worldview sustains such knowledge. Christian premises must be borrowed in both cases, (p.16), and non-Christian premises will not allow the unbeliever to arrive at the true conclusions he holds. (p. 17). But so what? What does this have to do with education? Wilson gets down to the ultimate rub: “The government school system is not just one in which the true conclusions are taught, and where the false premises are ignored or given a miss. No, the whole system is taught together. The secular worldview is taught, top to bottom. The includes origins, the nature of knowledge, the progressive view of history, and so on.” (pgs. 17-18). What this means is that parents cannot simply “opt out” of the day the schools teach gay pride and thereby preserve the the neutrality of the knowledge their child is receiving. The secular premise – “Jesus has nothing to do with knowledge” – necessarily suffuses everything the government schools teach, and what’s worse, the effects of this premise on individual children are often difficult to discern.

My primary response to Wilson’s arguments in these chapters is that they need to be presented by pastors in the church. Education and epistemology should be addressed from the pulpit, not merely in Sunday School. In my experience, these topics are almost entirely neglected, which is why I began given them more attention in my Bible classes. Further, as a practical matter, once the church begins to teach these things, the church should then stand ready, as Wilson’s church is ready, to provide financial help to those who take these arguments to heart.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

December 29, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

Duck Dynasty Sermon

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My good friend Tony Gervase posted a helpful piece over at Going the Distance. I thought I’d provide some brief thoughts in response.

Like Tony, I’ve never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty, and I don’t plan to watch any. It’s not my cup o’ tea. But it’s clearly got a stranglehold on the pop culture vibe right now, and that by itself explains GQ’s interest in the interview. They’ve got a bottom line to consider, and Duck Dynasty sells.

Tony writes: “What I’m tired of the most is how this has become such a rivalry. I’m tired of all the animosity: Christians vs. Homosexuals. Liberal media vs. Conservatives. Republicans vs. Democrats.” I suppose everyone has a different feeling about these things, but much of the chatter about it can be avoided by choice. If one doesn’t want to read or hear about the “liberal media v. conservatives” or “Republicans v. Democrats,” one can choose to stay off Facebook, off TV, off the political blogosphere, and so forth. Frankly, if I wasn’t reading National Review or Blog and Mablog, I wouldn’t be hearing boo about this whole thing. I suspect that deep-down, we want the animosity. It’s kind of like the old guy in the Seinfeld episode who says, while staring at a painting of Kramer: “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away.” We can look away, but we choose not to. I could venture various guesses as to why this is so, but in my view, at least part of it would be based on the way that the secular idolatry that so characterizes our age tends to totalize its statist aspirations. In other words, the secular worldview is a religion, just as Christianity is a religion, and therefore, it must make everything political. Hence, everything is turned into political speech, from which we have a hard time escaping. My gosh, I can’t even settle in for an easy night of Sunday Night Football without being served up a bunch of bromides on gun control by one Bob Costas. Sheesh!

I most certainly agree that we could use a lot more civility and cordiality among our political leaders, but unfortunately, they are not really leading. Most of them are, at best, engaging in political theatre while enriching themselves. They are the blind leading the blind. When it’s all pretension, rather than blood earnestness, we get grandstanding rather than honor, loyalty, faithfulness, constancy, magnanimity and gratitude. The lack of these things amongst our ostensible “leaders” tells us a good bit about the trouble we’re in.

I do find it curious how interested the media is in Christian views about homosexuality. They don’t seem equally curious about, say, Muslim views about homosexuality. I wonder why? Maybe if some Muslim fundamentalists had the number one show in TV history, GLAAD would try to put them out of business too. That would be interesting to see.

Tony, you’ll have to help me out on which words of Mr. Robertson were “mean and insensitive” to homosexuals. Crude, perhaps so. References to male and female anatomy really should be reserved for other venues. But unless I missed something in the interview, Mr. Robertson was never mean to homosexuals. He never called them anything derogatory. He never said they were disgusting or the like. He never called for any kind of action against them. In fact, he took pains to say that it wasn’t his job to figure out their eternal destinies. He said it was God’s job to sort it all out. Rather, I think we out here in America are the ones who have become far too sensitive. We live under a suffocating political correctness and thought-police. We have suffered ourselves to allow agitators and malcontents to determine which words will and will not be tolerated in public, and this does not bode well, particularly for Christians. We know we ought to be loving, wise, humble and sensitive; and the sons of the devil know we know this, and they use it to great effect to render us mute, whether we would speak wisely and humbly or not. It’s twaddle, and may God give us the fortitude to stand against it.

I totally agree that Christians can, and indeed have a duty, to care about the hungry and poor in this world, while caring about sexual fidelity and faithfulness in their lives and in the public square. It’s a false dichotomy to say that it’s “either-or,” and kudos to you for pointing this out.

I don’t know who is doing “a better job of loving the LGBT community,” but I do know that anyone going under the name “Christian” needs to define what “love” means, according to the Scriptures. It certainly cannot mean simply that which provides emotional warm-fuzzies for people here and now. It has to account for eternity. It’s the “eternity” part from which too many of us have averted our gaze, for we’d rather not think about it. That bit about “the sheep and the goats” and the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” at the end of the age can be very unpleasant stuff. I, too, would rather not think about it, nor have my understanding of love encompass it.

I also agree that we can stand to re-read Jesus’ story about not judging, lest we be judged, and about removing the log in our own eye before we try to remove the speck in another’s eye. However, I am leery of the way this gets applied today. Too often it is simply used as a cudgel against Christians who aren’t perfect and is paraphrased as, “Hey, you Christian, shut up.” But Jesus never said nor implied that Christians were to keep their mouths shut about sin unless and until their own lives were perfectly free of sin. If that’s what it means, then every pastor had best never talk about sin. To be sure, Christians must examine their own lives and see to it that they are careful to obey Christ. And there must not be a smug, sneering, holier-than-thou moralizing over others, particularly one’s own Christian brothers and sisters. But too often well-meaning Christians have taken Jesus’ words to mean “live and let live” and “it’s none of my business what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.”

I agree with Tony about the canard that “Jesus never mentioned homosexuality,” and indeed, I would strengthen his point. When Jesus talks about “sexual immorality” in the New Testament, he is mentioning homosexuality. Jesus’ theology builds upon the Old Testament. Heck, Jesus inspired the Old Testament. Every word of it came from His mouth. Thus, Jesus meant, and His readers understood, that sexual immorality included all of the various forms of it mentioned in Leviticus. Hence, sexual immorality on Jesus’ lips means “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” (Lev. 18:22).

I give a hearty AMEN to Tony’s closing missive. At the end of the day, we all have sinned and fall short of what God requires of us. We have all failed to love, honor and obey Him. That’s why Jesus came. That’s what Christmas is about. God’s law is righteous, holy and good, and we have transgressed it with our idolatry, indifference, apathy, pride, arrogance, competitiveness, love for the world and lust. And Christ, by his death and resurrection, offers us a new heart and a new life, with joy, peace, love and gratitude. It is this life we are to receive, live out and commend to others. Whether Phil Robertson has done so, truly, only God knows. I pray that Tony and I and our readers will do so. In reality, I rarely talk about homosexuality because, as Tony says, there are larger issues of which it is only a subset. Mostly, I need to speak about Jesus more, for He is the sum and substance of everything good, beautiful and true.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

December 26, 2013 at 5:03 am

Posted in Apologetics, Duenes

Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education

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Disagreements about things like the necessity of Christian education are actually disagreements about the nature of knowledge, the meaning of common grace, the authority of natural revelation, and the possibility of neutrality in education. These are the macro issues, and we will never get anywhere in our discussion of the details unless we address them first. These issues are the tectonic plates. – Douglas Wilson, IntroductionWhy Christian Kids Need a Christian Education

Such clarity and forthrightness are what move me to commend Wilson’s 71-small-paged book. Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education is part of his “Answers in an Hour” series, and you can easily read it in one sitting (in an hour, if you’re fast). What’s refreshing about Wilson’s treatment of this topic is that, as one can see from the above quote, he does not begin by pushing biblical texts that speak to education. His vision is larger than education for education’s sake, that is to say, it’s a gospel vision.

Wilson knows that one’s philosophy and practice with respect to education is merely an outgrowth of one’s theology and practice overall. What we aim for in our educational choices is what we aim for in our Christianity overall. As he says, the differences that Christians have about education “are usually differences that go all the way down . . . The question of Christian education is therefore a litmus test – it reveals differences far greater than we initially thought were there.” (Intro., p.6).

This is not the first time I’ve heard this from Wilson. Indeed, he gives Christian education a more thorough treatment in his great work, The Case for Classical Christian Education. Yet his points here have been highly influential in my own thinking and practice on education, to happy effect. I should be glad if that same effect would be visited upon others far and wide. To that end, may Wilson’s little pamphlet “run and get the victory,” to borrow the Apostle Paul’s words.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

December 23, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

What You Believe About Homosexuality Doesn’t Matter

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Tyler Smither wrote a little piece called What You Believe About Homosexuality Doesn’t Matter. I came across it because one of my good friends posted it on FB. So I thought I’d interact with it here. Mr. Smither words are italicized below.

I refuse to engage in [the debate over homosexuality]. The way I see it, the time for that debate has long since passed. The stakes are too high now. The current research suggestions that teenagers that are gay are about 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. That puts the percentage of gay teens attempting suicide at about 30-some percent. 1 out of 3 teens who are gay or bisexual will try to kill themselves. And a lot of times they succeed. In fact, Rev. Schaefer’s son contemplated suicide on a number of occasions in his teens.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the “current research” is accurate. It appears that the author makes his assertions about suicide prior to making his theological assertions in order to soften the reader up for a false dichotomy. In other words, only a cold-hearted brute could fling aside gay teen suicide attempts just to keep his or her theological purity on homosexuality. We naturally feel compassion for these teens, and rightly so, and  thus it becomes perhaps more understandable if the Christian drops the whole homosexual “debate” altogether. But does true compassion and biblical sentiment toward gay teens stand in contrast to gay teen well-being? We’re clearly supposed to feel that it does.

The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter whether or not you think homosexuality is a sin. Let me say that again. It does not matter if you think homosexuality is a sin, or if you think it is simply another expression of human love. It doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter? Because people are dying. Kids are literally killing themselves because they are so tired of being rejected and dehumanized that they feel their only option left is to end their life. As a Youth Pastor, this makes me physically ill. And as a human, it should make you feel the same way. So, I’m through with the debate.

If I understand Mr. Smither correctly, his argument means that when “people are dying,” biblical truth must stand aside. In other words, if God says something is true, something like, “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9), and people react to this truth in ways that threaten their own lives, then this spiritual truth must stand down. But would God really say something that would be of ultimate harm to human well-being? Does not the Bible take pains to say both that God is love and that God will refuse the kingdom to the sexually immoral? Indeed it does. Therefore, either God is incoherent, or pitting these two things against each other is a false move. I’ll go with the latter.

Then Mr. Smither implies, though he does not say so explicitly, that the biblical teaching on homosexuality conveyed by many Christians is the very “reject[ion] and dehumaniz[ation]” which makes gay teens “feel their only option left is to end their life.” But this is a dubious, and may I say, rather tasteless insinuation. I don’t doubt that there are many people who go by the name of “Christian” who have trashed and degraded homosexuals in the name of the God. God has a bit to say about them, too, in the Third Commandment. But my experience within Christendom and among Christians tells me that the vast, vast majority of Christians who actually do seek to live in the way of Jesus take extraordinary pains to be kind and inclusive towards homosexuals.

Further, it certainly does not follow that because a Christian or Christian church told a homosexual that God finds his or her homosexual behavior to be sinful and wrong, that this is the reason for the homosexual’s suicidal ideation or action. The decision to commit suicide is complex, multi-faceted and uniquely individual. Mr. Smither has no basis for drawing a causal connection between the preaching of biblical texts on homosexuality and gay teen suicide. One could just as easily point to the great number of homosexuals who have been rescued from suicidal thoughts by the teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful, that repentance is required, and that God graciously gives repentance. This does not exempt Christians from being winsome and wise in how they state God’s truth and how they position it, but it simply cannot be the case that God’s Word preached is the cause of human suicide. Other things are going on, things which the Bible also speaks to.

When faced with the choice between being theologically correct…as if this is even possible…and being morally responsible, I’ll go with morally responsible every time. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian during World War II. He firmly held the theological position of nonviolence. He believed that complete pacifism was theologically correct. And yet, in the midst of the war, he conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler; to kill a fellow man. Why? Because in light of what he saw happening to the Jews around him by the Nazis, he felt that it would be morally irresponsible not to. Between the assassination of Hitler and nonviolence, he felt the greater sin would be nonviolence.

Mr. Smither apparently thinks it’s not possible to be “theologically correct.” Yet here he is speaking theologically, and I assume he thinks he’s “correct.” That’s rather cheeky. And again he tells us that “theological correctness” is pitted against “moral responsibility.” So teaching what God says in the Scriptures is morally irresponsible? This is a false dichotomy extraordinaire! If this is one’s position, it’s time to hand in one’s resignation. The jig is up. This is tantamount to saying that the teaching of God about sexual ethics is morally irresponsible, that is, it leads to suicides. How, I wonder, does Mr. Smither ascertain in his ministry which teachings of the Bible can be counted on to produce good, healthy, warm feelings in human beings and which ones can be counted on to produce suicidal tendencies?

I like Dietrich Bonhoeffer as much as the next guy. Indeed, I count him a great saint and an inspiration. But I’m not sure he should get the final word on what is and is not morally responsible behavior in any given situation. It’s not like we can just appeal to Bonhoeffer and . . . end of story. Could he have been wrong in his assessment of what was needed in response to Hitler? Because Bonhoeffer chose to try and take Hitler out, should we extrapolate to the argument that whenever we get the sense that biblical teachings might lead people to react badly, we should discard as imprudent and irresponsible the biblical teachings?

We are past the time for debate. We no longer have the luxury to consider the original meaning of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. We are now faced with the reality that there are lives at stake. So whatever you believe about homosexuality, keep it to yourself. Instead, try telling a gay kid that you love him and you don’t want him to die. Try inviting her into your church and into your home and into your life. Anything other than that simply doesn’t matter.

Aside from Mr. Smithers implication that “the original meaning of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church” is what leads homosexual teens to suicide, I wonder if there is anything greater at stake than teenage lives. How about teenage eternities? If “the original meaning of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church” is that homosexual practitioners will not inherit the kingdom of God, and if Paul’s letters in the Bible are the very words of God, as they claim to be, then ought we not be even more concerned about the spiritual lives that are at stake? The spiritual stakes are eternal, not merely temporal. Yet here is where we get down to brass tax, for the logical end of Mr. Smither’s line of thought is that there is no eternal judgment waiting for the sexually immoral. Either that, or he’s saying that homosexual behavior does not count as sexual immorality. Either way, the Bible clearly opposes him on these counts at every turn.

I think it is fair to say that just about every, if not every, Christian I know or have ever known would happily tell any homosexual kid that they “love him and don’t want him to die.” They might also, however, believe that loving the homosexual kid means, at some point, calling that kid to sexual repentance and holiness. They may not say it within the first meeting of the kid, or even on the 37th meeting. However, if one thinks, like Mr. Smither, that it’s best to just shut up about it, rather than trying to move the kid toward repentance and faith, then the Bible says that such a one is not really loving the kid. Love must be wedded to truth, and the truth is, the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Not only that, but sexual immorality leads ultimately to pain, loneliness, bondage, despair and destruction. God’s design for human sexuality, whatever one might think of it, is healthy, joy-producing, holy, good, pure and beautiful. God is not against sexual pleasure and prosperity. Indeed, he invented it. Nothing less could come from a holy and good God. God’s designs lead to human flourishing if entered into by faith. Plenty of Christians invite gay teens into their churches, their homes and their lives. But to argue that this is the end all, be all, beyond which nothing else matters, is not only contrary to what God teaches, it’s not beautiful, not redemptive, and not loving. It does not take the homosexual teen seriously as a human being in the image of God. Jesus called all sorts of people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Some responded in faith, others not. Jesus called Zaccheus to faith, and Zaccheus repented and turned to the deeds of light. Jesus called the Rich Young Ruler to faith, and he turned away. But Jesus knows what is best for us, and for homosexual teens. His truth, lovingly and wisely ministered, is a balm to battered souls – not a battering ram – and provides the only sure path to joy, both in this life and in the eternal life to come.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

December 21, 2013 at 10:06 pm

A Lot Of Things Don’t Matter That Are Supposed To

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A lot of things don’t matter that are supposed to; one of them is well-funded government schools. . . After 12,000 hours of compulsory training at the hands of nearly 100 government-certified men and women, many high school graduates have no skills to trade for an income or even any skills with which to talk to each other. They can’t change a flat, read a book, repair a faucet, install a light, follow directions for the use of a word processor, build a wall, make change reliably, be alone with themselves or keep their marriages together. The situation is considerably worse than journalists have discerned. I know, because I lived in it for 30 years as a teacher. – John Taylor Gatto, 3-Time New York City Teacher of the Year, 1991 Teacher of the State, New York, in What Really Matters.

I don’t know how many of the boys I taught at Redwood Christian High School knew how to change the oil on a car, but if I had my way, they’d all have known by the time they graduated, because they’d have changed the oil on lots of cars as part of their graduation requirements (the girls, too). I remember thinking how important it was to get students out of the classroom during the day, if for no other reason than to get them focused on the natural world around them. I tried this several times with one of my Bible classes. I took my students out and asked them to simply look carefully at a tree or a blade of grass and describe what they were seeing. You can imagine how this went.

But what if the geometry class at the local Christian school required the students to frame up a wall with wood and nails, or build a retaining wall out of bricks? Might they not learn more about math, and about life, than by simply sitting in rows in a classroom for dozens of hours over the course of a year? Indeed, John Taylor Gatto mentions a school in Maine, called the Shelter Institute, where 15-year-old boys are “taught to build a beautiful post-and-beam Cape Cod home in three weeks, with all the math and calculations that entails.” If the boys stay three weeks more, they “learn how to install a sewer system, water, heat and electric.”

As I’ve said elsewhere, the main point of education is not merely to “get a job,” or acquire certain skills. But the Bible is clear that a well-lived life requires the acquisition of certain skills, and mastering video games and one’s iphone are not among them. Most, if not all, of the skills we need to enjoy a well-lived life can be learned at home, and they must certainly be reinforced there. But who has time for that? As Gatto writes, “Television has cost the average 21-year-old about 18,000 hours of time…Going to government-run schools takes another 15,000 hours from the young life, 21,000 if you count going and coming and homework. What might this time have gone toward otherwise? From the  very small amount of time remaining, machinery other than television gobbles a great deal. What does it give back in return? Hearts-ease? Love? Courage? Self-reliance? Dreams?”

Charlotte Mason, writing in Home Education in 1905, said, “[W]e are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.” Would that our schools, both public and private, understood this maxim, or even pondered it at all. Then our children might not, as Gatto says, “live penned up by strangers” throughout most of their childhoods. If the curriculum actually took them out of the classroom, they might learn all that they currently are learning within it, and “a lot of [other] things that matter.”

-D

 

Written by Michael Duenes

December 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education