Issue #78

Hebrews 11, Teaching Children to See, 6 Ways Christians Can Respond to Our Strange New World, and more...

Issue #78
Photo by Aubrey Odom-Mabey / Unsplash

Family Focus 🏡

Teaching Children to See | Kelly Givens 📃 →

Of all the virtues our society needs to meet the present moment, humility is among the most necessary and urgent. It is a powerful antidote for the poisons infecting our culture: hyper-individualism, greed, irresponsible leisure, and our insatiable appetites for more of everything.

And while I have seen more calls for humility as a response to these things, I have had trouble finding conversations around how exactly one becomes humble. Maybe it’s because we believe that the truly humble never think about their own humility. That to focus on our own humility would only be an exercise in hubris. But humility, like all virtues, is a habit of excellence formed by practice over a long period of time.2 It takes intentional cultivation. And I believe there are certain habits that, if practiced, will stimulate the growth of humble roots in our lives. One of those is a habit of awe and wonder.

By awe and wonder, I mean the regular practice of paying careful attention to the world around us. Not merely seeing but observing. Perceiving. Considering. Asking thoughtful questions about what we see, smell, hear, touch, taste. In other words, attending with love and curiosity to what our senses sense. (How often do we eat without tasting? How often do we look without seeing? Hear without listening?) Admiring, imagining, receiving the beauty of the world around us in a regular, intentional way: this is the habit of a wonder-filled person. And it leads to humility.

This is a wonderful and short post about how we need to recapture wonder and encourage it in our children.

Consider Another Perspective 🤔

A Question Mormons Can’t Answer | Clay Jones 📃 →

When the Mormons (also known as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) come to my door, I always ask them the same question because it’s a question Mormons can’t answer. I do this because this question is essential to their beliefs.

The question I ask regards why Mormons believe Mormonism is true and they believe it to be true because they had a subjective personal inward witness of the truth of it.

This is why I struggle with Christians who base their witnessing on their subjective experience. I do think that our stories of how God has worked in our lives can be effective witnesses, but I don’t think that they should be our only witness and the only basis of our faith.

Understanding that there are good reasons to be a Christian is important, as is understanding that there are good reasons not to be a Mormon.

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Listen and Learn 🎧

On Preaching the Rape Texts | Jen Pollock Michel, Matthew Anderson, Derek Rishmawy, and Alistair Roberts 🎧 →

Jen Pollock Michel, writer and Mere Fidelity listener, sent in an important and challenging question by email: There are several passages in the Bible that deal with scenarios of sexual violence. What is the best way to preach these texts, without traumatizing or triggering the congregation? We decided to not only address this question on the show but bring her directly on as a guest to talk about it.

Talk about a difficult topic. I wasn’t aware that rape is portrayed so frequently in scripture, but there are no less than six narrative portrayals in the Hebrew scriptures. Part of their discussion is how pastors should address and preach on these texts, but I think it’s beneficial for all Christians to really think about these texts and why the Holy Spirit inspired them to exist in our Bibles.

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Read and Reflect 📖

Slow to Anger: The Beauty of God’s Perfect Patience | Scott Hubbard 📃 →

I haven’t thought of patience as beautiful before, but Hubbard argues that in the pages of scripture, that’s exactly what we find. We often think of the God of the Old Testament as angry and vindictive. Instead, Hubbard traces the theme of patience and argues that our God is relentlessly patient. He will punish, but he is slow to anger.

God’s patience, like his love, has special significance for his chosen people — the slow-to-anger God of Exodus 34:6 is none other than “the Lord,” Yahweh, the God Israel knows by covenant (Exodus 3:13–15). And yet, amazingly, the record of God’s dealings in Scripture reveals a marked slowness to anger not only toward his covenant people, but toward those who hate and oppose him.

Challenge Your Brain 🧠

Hebrews 11 | Michael Heiser 🎧 →

Hebrews 11 contains the famous “hall of faith.” This plays on the cultural term, “the hall of fame,” and portrays the “heroes” of our Jewish forefathers in the faith.

But there seems to be a problem. Many of these figures are portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures as having severe moral failings. How can the scriptures portray these men as deeply flawed and the author of Hebrews portrays them as heroes of the faith that we should aspire to? Is that what the author is saying? I enjoyed Heiser’s explanations as he teaches through this famous but perplexing passage.

Explore the Scriptures 📖

What Is Promised to the Two or Three Who Are Gathered in Jesus’ Name? | Amy Hall 📃 →

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.
— Matthew 18:19–20 (CSB)

When looked at like this, it seems to be a passage simply telling you, dear reader, that if you find another Christian and pray for something, it’s a 100% guarantee to happen, and not only that, but Jesus himself will be with your gathering.

Indeed, that is how this passage is understood in many churches. I’ve heard many well-meaning Christians, and even pastors, say something like this.

But as you might guess from how I’m writing, I think that approach is not correct. Sometimes the “plain reading of the text” is shown to be wrong when we look at the verses in their contexts.

As always, when we’re trying to understand the meaning of a verse, we need to start with the context around that verse, and what we find here is that these verses are in a passage about church discipline.

When Jesus says, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed,” he’s referring to Deuteronomy 19:15, which says that “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” In other words, it comes from instructions in the Mosaic Law about the proper way to judge others. In order to protect the innocent party, you should have more than one witness or accuser.

Hall goes on to look at other passages that can help us understand what Jesus means. It’s a short article—5 minutes—so take the time to learn about this often misunderstood passage.

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Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️

6 Ways Christians Can Respond to Our Strange New World | Carl Trueman 📃 →

The revolution in selfhood, particularly as it manifests itself in the various facets of the sexual revolution, is set to exert pressure on the lives of all of us, from kindergarten education to workplace policies on pronouns. Christians might still be able to run, so to speak, and avoid some of these things for a period of time, but they cannot hide forever. Sooner or later every single one of us is likely to be faced with a challenging situation generated by the modern notion of selfhood. And this means that for all of us the questions of how we should live and what we should do when facing pressure to conform are gaining in urgency. Here are six ways Christians should respond to this new world.

This is a long article and not the easiest to read, so I will do my best to summarize it. Trueman argues that our culture’s focus on our inward selves (think: “follow your heart”) tells us a lot about the problems facing our culture.

1. Recognize Our Complicity

Trueman points out that our “individualism”—who you feel inside is who you are and is valid—is not all bad. He writes, “We do have feelings; who do have an inner psychological space that deeply shapes who we are.” But it has problems too, including many that American Christians have adopted.

This also connects to another way in which the church has become more akin to the world than she often realizes: the cult of personal happiness. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being happy, of course. But the nature of happiness has changed over the years to being akin to an inner sense of psychological well-being. Once we start thinking of happiness in those terms, the vision of the Christian life laid out in Paul’s letters, particularly 2 Corinthians, becomes incomprehensible. We may not all be explicitly committed to the prosperity gospel, but many of us think of divine blessing in terms of our individual happiness. That is a result of the psychological, therapeutic culture seeping into our Christianity.

In other words, American priority on happiness has infiltrated how we think about church and our relationship with God. We think we will serve God and go to church as long as it makes us happy.

2. Learn from the Ancient Church

Trueman argues that American Christians have unmoored themselves from historical Christianity. Even more theologically inclined Protestants tend to go back to Luther and Calvin, while Catholics may go back a bit further to the middle ages. Most Christians don’t go back further than a few years. Call this the “cult of the new” if you will.

But Trueman argues that we should all go back and read our ancient brothers and sisters and consider what the earliest church endured and how they practiced their faith.

3. Teach the Whole Council of God

One of the temptations at a time of tremendous flux and change is to fixate upon the immediate challenges to the Christian faith. Now, it’s surely not a bad thing to prioritize the most pressing problems the church faces and to address them with a degree of urgency. The sale of indulgences, for example, was a major problem in 1517, and it was right for Luther to focus on that rather than spend his time writing on the issue of same-sex marriage, a matter of no import whatsoever in the early 16th century. Yet there’s a danger here: we can become so preoccupied with specific threats that we neglect the important fact that Christian truth is not a set of isolated and unconnected claims but rather stands as a coherent whole.

It’s easy to just preach on hot topics or to avoid them. What is difficult is to situate those topics within the context that the Bible presents them. As Trueman writes, the questions we face today about gender and sexuality are answered not by a rule book, but by how Scripture’s story speaks about what it means to be human.

If we teach and learn about what it means to be human, we will learn the wisdom that will answer our questions about sex at a much deeper level than any single Bible verse can.

4. Shape Intuitions Through Biblical Worship

Much American Christian worship is based on helping us reach an emotional high. Trueman argues, however, that Biblical worship, as seen in places like the Psalms, contains joy but also sorrow and lament. It deals with struggle and loss. These struggles are often swept under the rug in American churches in favor of feel-good music.

5. Retrieve Natural Law and the Theology of the Body

The church also needs to recover natural law and a theology of the body. Roman Catholics have a long tradition with regard to the former and, in the person of Pope John Paul II, a brilliant teacher of the latter. While Protestantism at the time of the Reformation had a rich appreciation for natural law, it has died away in the last two centuries.

So what is natural law? Put simply, it’s the idea that the world in which we live is not simply morally indifferent “stuff” but possesses in itself a moral structure. Our bodies in particular have a profound significance. We connect to others through our bodies. We are dependent on others because of our bodies. Our bodies are not containers that we happen to inhabit and animate. They are in a deep and significant way integral to our identity, to ourselves. Bodies have strengths and weaknesses, some specific to the individual, for sure, but many shared by us all. This means that human beings—human bodies—are made to flourish in some ways and not in others.
6. Live in Realistic Hope

Finally, the church needs to respond to this present age by avoiding the temptations of despair and optimism. To fall into the former would be to fail to take seriously the promise that the church will win in the end because the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. To engage in the latter is simply to prepare the stage for deeper despair later. And both will feed inaction, one out of a sense of impotence, the other out of naivete.

There is an alternative. Last year, in a conversation with my friend Rod Dreher, a journalist and Orthodox Christian, I commented on the bleak outlook of much of his writing and alluded to him as pessimistic. He laughingly rejected the adjective. “I am neither pessimistic nor optimistic,” he said, “but I am hopeful.” And hope, of course, is not optimism.

Things may get better. Things may get worse. But we know the end. Jesus wins. Death is dead. And we must share our hope with the world.

If this summary intrigued you, please go read the full post, or even better, buy Trueman’s book where he explores these ideas in depth.

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Keep Your Mind on Things Above

I will be praying for you this week.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
— Matthew 11:28–30 (CSB)

Joel Fischer