Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

The Problem of Christian Eductation

Ed Stetzer reminds Sunday School teachers to make sure that children know the story instead of just a bunch of Bible stories. He’s right, and that’s something the preacher needs to be concerned about too.

 

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The Seminary Bubble

From the Aquila Report, but I heard a UMC Bishop making essentially the same point 10 days ago:

Imagine an institution that requires its leaders to attend not only college, but graduate school. Imagine that the graduate school in question is constitutionally forbidden from receiving any form of government aid, that it typically requires three years of full-time schooling for the diploma, that the nature of the schooling bears almost no resemblance to the job in question, and that the pay for graduates is far lower than other professions. You have just imagined the relationship between the Christian Church and her seminaries.

Read the whole article. (Its title of the piece is a reference to the “Higher-Education Bubble,” the broader problem of which seminaries appear to be a piece.)

To complaints in this article I would add another. While I understand and approve of an educated clergy, the period of seminary education necessarily removes the student from the context in which his or her gifts for ministry were first manifested. Since we’re all about contextualization, a key aspect of the missional church movement, it hardly makes sense for the normal case to enforce decontextualization.

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Pray for Yousef Nadarkhani

Have you heard about Yousef Nadarkhani? He’s a Christian pastor in Iran who is facing state-approved murder for the “crime” of apostasy.

Apostasy is turning away from a belief, either to another faith or to atheism. It’s a crime punishable by death in some (all?) countries with Islamic legal systems. In civilized places, it’s a free choice people exercise daily.

As it happens, Yousef Nadarkhani isn’t even an apostate. He never was a Muslim. But Iran set its barbarism knob to “11” back in 1979. Their so-called judges say, that’s okay, because Nadarkhani is of Muslim ancestry. Even though he never was a Muslim, some of his ancestors were, and his “apostasy” consists of turning away from the faith of his ancestors. (Seems to me there was a fellow in Mecca in the 600’s who did that, PBUH.)

What can be done now? First, we can pray for Nadarkhani and his congregation. Pray for all Christians suffering under the heels of repressive governments, and pray that their oppressors develop a conscience.

Second, we can publicize his case. Jesus said “All who do evil hate the light” (John 3:20). The Iranian clerics judging Nadarkhani think they can perpetrate this evil in the dark, with nobody seeing. They’re wrong.

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Pat Robertson and Alzheimer’s Ethics

Well. Pat Robertson says it’s okay to get a divorce when your spouse has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. (To be fair, he does say there is an obligation to ensure that custodial care is provided.)

Now here’s the thing: I appreciate he isn’t just responding with a knee-jerk “God said it / I believe it / that settles it.” It’s a tough problem. I see people in church struggling to do what’s right when their spouse has dementia.

But “disability is vocation.” We believe that God is sovereign, and if the road we walk is a tough one, we should walk it nonetheless, because if God didn’t want us to, he wouldn’t have made the road that way. We say the road can be walked because God is with us on the way, and, if it comes to it, God will carry over the worst parts. We say that if (or when) we fall down, God will pick us back up and set us on our feet.

Difficult circumstances aren’t license to sin, they are our calling. Slaves are to obey their earthly masters, even when the master is cruel (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, 1 Peter 2:18).

That’s what we say to teens who are tempted to premarital sex. It’s what we tell homosexuals about any kind of sex. It’s why women should submit to their husband’s authority, and why men should should give their lives for their wives.

But do we believe it when the tough circumstances are our problem, or just when they’re other people’s problems?

(A separate observation is that Robertson seems to be using worldly wisdom here. How does the Gospel of Jesus Christ change the equation? I know a non-believer who is taking care of their spouse partly from residual affection and partly from a stubborn unwillingness to break their marriage vows. What are they to make of Christianity when a popular preacher holds them not to a higher standard, but a lower one?)

Finally, let me answer an obvious question about vocation. Must we bear up under whatever our circumstances, or may we seek to change them? If I’m born with poor eyesight, am I forbidden to wear glasses? If there’s a medical breakthrough that cures dementia, can I use it? I’d answer those questions no, no, and yes.

The hardest Scripture on this subject is probably 1 Corinthians 7:20, which says:

Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

Here’s how John Calvin and I interpret that:

Now it were a very hard thing if a tailor were not at liberty to learn another trade, or if a merchant were not at liberty to betake himself to farming. I answer, that this is not what the Apostle intends, for he has it simply in view to correct that inconsiderate eagerness, which prompts some to change their condition without any proper reason, whether they do it from superstition, or from any other motive.

Farther, he calls every one to this rule also — that they bear in mind what is suitable to their calling. He does not, therefore, impose upon any one the necessity of continuing in the kind of life which he has once taken up, but rather condemns that restlessness, which prevents an individual from remaining in his condition with a peaceable mind and he exhorts, that every one stick by his trade, as the old proverb goes.

If you’re not a fan of Calvin, here’s what Wesley said:

Wherein he is — When God calls him. Let him not seek to change this, without a clear direction from Providence.

(It’s amusing that the Armenian says to do nothing except if God directs you, and the Calvinist says you’re free to act. But that’s a completely different topic for another day.)

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The Church and Working Class Americans

Here’s an interesting finding, reported by LiveScience today:

In the 1980s, the researchers found, there was little difference in religious participation between high school- and college-educated whites. But by the 2000s, a gap appeared. Today, 46 percent of college-educated whites go to a church, synagogue or equivalent institution at least once a month, compared with 37 percent of high school-educated whites.

Whites without a high school diploma were the least likely to attend church in the 1970s and remain so today. In the 1970s, 38 percent attended church at least monthly. Today, only 23 percent do. (Blacks and Hispanics do not show the same declines.)

I wonder why this is. Are better-educated people more responsive to outreach? Do churches seek out and minister to better-educated people? And is there a difference between those questions? How can churches be more effective at communicating the gospel to people who aren’t as well educated?

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Pew Religious Knowledge Survey

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just published the results of a survey they conducted to gauge people’s level of general religious knowledge. I’ll post more about the survey later, but first, let me invite you to take the survey yourself.

P.S.: the question I missed was about an eastern religion, and I didn’t know which one it was. Like Reverend Lovejoy, I had to file that question under “miscellaneous.”

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Home From My Retreat

What do you call it when you come back from a retreat? — an attack?

Serra Retreat Center

Well, technically, I wasn’t on a retreat. I was at the 2010 Academy of Missional Preaching (Southwest). But it was held at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, and there were retreat-ish aspects to it. If you needed to work on a sermon, you could go sit in a garden like the one above and think about what you were trying to say. It was a pretty harsh existence, but we must all be prepared to sacrifice for the Kingdom. 🙂

Of course, it was not only about preaching, it was about missional preaching. (Missional is the idea that the church exists as an instrument used in God’s mission to the world. See John 20:21, Acts 1:8, etc.) In addition to preaching, we also got to hear various speakers including John Dally (Choosing the Kingdom) and Darrell Guder (Missional Church).

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Checking Our Heads

Yesterday, I enthused about the PC(USA) website’s makeover, and one of my Facebook friends went to see it. He’s a Southern Baptist, and he wasn’t impressed with this quote on the home page:

Check Our Heads!

The pull quote you see here isn’t quite a quote; if you watch the video you’ll see they “punched it up” a bit. What he actually said was,

“It’s a reasoned faith. I don’t believe we should check our heads at the door when we go to church. That’s one of the reasons I’m a Presbyterian, I guess.”

I sighed when I read that, but the way the page looks, you can hope it’s dynamic content and different visitors will see different quotes. But so far, it appears to be stuck on this one. That’s regrettable.

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Robes

“Pastor, when are you going to start wearing your robes again?”

Several of you have asked me that question. As you know, I’ve worn a minister’s robe in worship since arriving at Desert Hills. But I quit this summer. Now fall has come, and soon winter will be here, and I haven’t resumed wearing the robes. Why not?
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Codex Sinaiticus is online

If you’d like to see what a manuscript of the New Testament looks like, you can now see the entire Codex Sinaiticus here. For more information about Sinaiticus, more information is here and (always) Wikipedia.

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