Thankful for the Fleas

The barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were kept in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested.

They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good.

Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas.

This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking Him even for the fleas.

Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks.

This meant that the women were not assaulted.

It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp.

Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.

Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks:

It was because of the fleas.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), but also thank Him for how He will use all things for good in the lives of those who trust Him (Romans 8:28).

In this time of declining home values and rising unemployment, in a time when many are facing physical and emotional challenges, there can be little doubt that such a trusting prayer of gratitude will be challenging to consider.

But when you feel that challenge, take a moment and remember the fleas of Ravensbruck.

And thank God anyway.

James Emery White


Sources

Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place.

Editor's Note
This blog is a favorite of the Church & Culture Team, and has become a Thanksgiving tradition. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The Declined Debate

I was recently asked to be on a national radio program debate that would pit being "seeker sensitive" against other models of church outreach.

They wanted me to be the "seeker guy."

I declined.

There were many reasons why.

First, it's an outdated argument. The idea of "seeker" anything is passé. Even those who led the way with all things "seeker" no longer use the term. The reason? Methods change with culture, and today people are no longer seeking.

For the last few decades, the key word in most conversations about evangelism and church growth has been the word seeker. As in "seeker churches," being "seeker-targeted" in strategy, talking about reaching seekers, or what a seeker might think about the service. All things seeker came on to the scene during the late 70s and were vibrant until the late 90s.

And it was an important concept to explore.

The term was used to refer (in a general way) to the unchurched who were turned off to the church of their childhood but open to spirituality and religion, therefore open to a new church home. Think back to the flood of baby boomers wanting to find a church for their kids but feeling freedom from the religious and denominational moorings of their youth. They weren't rejecting religion, per se; they just felt the freedom to explore other traditions. Which is why so many Catholics explored non-denominational evangelical megachurches.

And, more to the point, it was these very people who created the megachurch movement. These were people who were truly seeking—open to exploring the Christian faith for their life and often in active search mode for a church home to plant themselves.

They had rejected the church of their upbringing, not the idea of church or religion itself.

But they aren't seekers anymore. They're not looking for a religion that would be right for them. I read an article for the Atlantic Monthly, where a man coined a term to describe his own spiritual condition that typifies millions of others just like him.

After a couple of glasses of Merlot, someone asked him about his religion. He was about to say "atheist" when it dawned on him that this wasn't quite accurate.

"I used to call myself an atheist," he finally responded, "and I still don't believe in God, but the larger truth is that it has been years since I really cared one way or another. I'm…"

(and this was when it hit him)

… "an apatheist!"

He's not alone. Forty-three percent of unchurched Americans told LifeWay Research they don't even wonder whether they will go to heaven. It's just not on their minds.

A second reason I declined is because if they were using the term (outdated though it may be) to speak about being open and friendly to the unchurched, sensitive to their spiritual and biblical infancy, and desirous of their continued spiritual engagement, then heavens, what is there to debate? Every Christian church on the planet should be sensitive along those lines. If you're not sensitive in that way, then what is the alternative? Purposefully offensive? Intentionally dismissive?

Third, if they wanted to make the debate about whether a worship service should be about either evangelism or discipleship, then again, there is no debate unless we are erecting straw men on either side. Every church should be about both. The question is how best to go about pursuing both. The apostle Paul chastised the Corinthians for not being sensitive in their worship to outsiders who would be clueless about the activity (I Corinthians 14) and, likewise, took to task any devaluation of authentic worship that wasn't God-centered.

Here's the healthier conversation:

In earlier years, much about the "seeker-targeted" movement was not only healthy, but a much-needed corrective to the turned-inward culture of the typical church. When your supposedly evangelistic outreach is oriented toward the already convinced, it's no longer evangelistic.

Today, many of the principles behind the vanguard churches of the 80s – such as Saddleback and Willow Creek – remain both valid and effective. Some, not so much. Styles and emphases change with culture, but that is as it should be. Our message is timeless and never to be compromised; our methods are time bound and must be ruthlessly evaluated in light of ongoing effectiveness.

The dilemma has been when we have confused methodologies with orthodoxy. So let's talk about when and where we may have done that, and focus on being strategic in our endeavors.

Which means: go ahead and invite me to your next debate.

Let's just make it one worth having.

James Emery White


Sources

Jonathan Rauch, "Let It Be," The Atlantic Monthly, May 2003, read online.

"Research: Unchurched Will Talk About Faith, Not Interested in Going to Church," LifeWay Research, June 28, 2016, read online.

What Real Men Should Do

Let's talk porn, shall we?

It dominates the lives of too many men (and not a few women), sabotaging the sexual lives they share with their spouses. It degrades and objectifies women. It injects spiritual Novocain into their souls, deadening them spiritually.

I have two sons.

Years ago, we agreed to load accountability software onto our various mobile devices and computers in such a way that if we were to visit a sketchy site, the others would know.

To this day, every week I get reports about their online activity and they, I assume, get mine. They are not middle schoolers, high schoolers or even college-age men any more.

They are both married with children.

Yet we still do it.

Does this seem extreme to you?

It shouldn't.

First, I hope it speaks volumes about the kind of relationship that exists between my sons and me. We are honest and open with each other, authentic and vulnerable, and willing to be real about our temptations. We need each other, want each other, and welcome each other. Men need this with other men. Ideally, it should be between fathers and sons, but at the very least, it should exist between Christian men who are bound as spiritual brothers.

Second, I hope it speaks volumes about what it means to be a man. It's not about maintaining a facade of having it all together, but being real about needing support and accountability. For me, when I feel tempted to visit a site I have no business visiting, the thought of my two sons knowing about it stops me dead in my tracks. And rightfully so. And for them? Knowing that their father would know stops them dead in their tracks, too. Real men know they need to be stopped dead in their tracks from time to time. It's part of the stewardship of our strength. The Bible says that men should interact as "iron against iron" sharpening one another.

When did we lose that?

Finally, I hope it speaks volumes about how women should be viewed and treated. They are to be cherished, valued, respected and revered. They are not to be objectified, much less preyed upon. The #MeToo movement has been devastating and demoralizing. Surely we can see the connection between the ubiquitous nature of porn and sexual abuse?

All to say, I am so proud of my sons.

They are guarding their lives, sheltering their children and honoring their wives. And doing it in ways that many might deem extreme.

I don't.

I just think they are doing what real men do.

James Emery White

The Call for Public Intellectuals

I had the privilege of speaking last week to a gathering of the entire faculty and staff at Colorado Christian University (a terrific school with an on-target new president) on the importance of developing a mind for God.

I ended with what might seem like a surprising challenge: don't be academics! Or, more to the point, don't just be academics.

In his seminal book The Last Intellectuals, Russell Jacoby coined the term "public intellectual." He used the term to lament the lack of such individuals—how younger intellectuals had given themselves over to professionalization and academization. Unlike earlier intellectuals who tended to write for the educated public, Jacoby observed that thinkers in his day flocked to the universities where "the politics of tenure loom larger than the politics of culture." Jacoby contended that younger intellectuals became professors who geared their work toward their colleagues and specialized journals.

In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reflecting on the heart of his original thesis on its 20th anniversary, Jacoby wrote that, "The new thinkers became academic – not public – intellectuals, with little purchase outside professional circles." Or, as he wrote in his original work, "Campuses are their homes; colleagues their audience; monographs and specialized journals their media."

His conclusion?

"Big brains, small impact."

Now, Jacoby had then – as now – his fair share of critics, mostly coming from academia (not surprising). He has been accused of prizing an anti-intellectual simplicity.

But as I told my fellow academics, I think he has a very important point to make. We need public intellectuals! Men and women who are neither anti-academic nor purely commercial. Scholars who engage the rigors of the academy, but refuse to bow down before its altar and become academics alone.

My concern is that evangelicals are increasingly polarizing between a populist camp or a purely academic camp. The populist camp is atheological and devoid of any semblance of a Christian mind, often led by charismatic speakers who enter their pulpits armed with a few out-of-context verses slapped on to a manuscript that could have been copied from the musings of Oprah.

This has been widely condemned, and rightly so.

But less critiqued are those in the purely academic camp. I remember attending an annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, and writing down the names of some of the papers that were presented, such as:

"The 16th Century Basel City Council"

"Isaiah's Leviathan in His Near Eastern Context"

"The Story of the Bulgarian Bible"

"Aristotelian Anthropology and Melanchthon's Shift on Free Will"

"The Sixth Century Debate over the Shape of the Earth"

… and…

"Jesus and Jewish Menstruation Traditions"

Yes, there were many good and noteworthy addresses. But let the point at least be entertained: academization can be as vacuous as commodification. We need the middle-ground of the public intellectual.

Consider the greatest apologist for the Christian faith of the 20th century and its most influential intellectual. He was an academic, but it wasn't the academy that gave him influence. In fact, C.S. Lewis was discounted by his fellow academicians first for his less than serious focus of study. As Alan Jacobs has noted, when Lewis began his career as an English literature don he was entering a field that was quite popular among students but highly suspect among other dons, almost like pop culture programs in today's universities. Not to mention his effort to write popularly for mass consumption.

It didn't help that what he was attempting to popularize was Christianity.

Jacobs writes that it began to be "said regularly that Lewis was wasting his time on cheap popular sermonizing and science fiction, time that would have been better spent on scholarship." It is not that Lewis was not an able academic—just read his book Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century. But in many ways, that is the point. How many people know that this work, considered by many the greatest of all of Lewis' academic writings, even exists?

Lewis' brilliance lay in the popular communication of ideas, which can be argued is the work of the academy at its most impactful. And this was very intentional on his part. In one of his letters, this one to a priest who wanted Lewis to write a book commending Christianity to the "workers," Lewis offers the following:

People praise me as a 'translator,' but what I want is to be the founder of a school of 'translation.' I am nearly forty-seven. Where are my successors? Anyone can learn to do it if they wish... I feel I'm talking rather like a tutor—forgive me. But it is just a technique and I'm desperately anxious to see it widely learned.

We need more translators, which means we need more public intellectuals. This doesn't mean fewer academics, but it might mean fewer who are academics alone.

James Emery White


Sources

Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals.

Alan Jacobs, The Narnian.

Five "Leadership 101" Principles

I was recently briefed on a church situation that left me shaking my head in complete disbelief. The details aren't important. Suffice it to say that the attempt to accomplish a strategic goal was being severely mishandled, and it was resulting in complete failure. As I listened, it was as if every elementary understanding of effective leadership was at best lost in ignorance, or at worst being purposefully ignored. This wasn't a case of immorality, just folly, which is the more typical form of spiritual malpractice.

It feels like I hear about a different case like this a week, but with this latest occurrence dancing around my mind, here are five quick principles I wish I could breathe into those leaders that may apply to many others:

1. Whenever possible, give authority along with responsibility. One of the most frustrating (and ineffective) ways to manage people is to give the responsibility to do something, but not authority to make decisions. The truth is that the people closest to something—the ones actually doing it—are usually able to make the best decisions about it.

2. Include the people most affected and most knowledgeable in the decision-making process. If you are going to build an auditorium, include the arts team in the planning process. If you are going to build a new children's ministry wing, have children's ministry staff and leaders on the front lines of development. This should just be common sense.

3. The one who casts the vision has to be the one who funds the vision, and the one who is attempting to fund the vision must cast the vision. You cannot cast the vision for something and not follow through with the leadership work of raising the resources necessary for its fulfillment. And, conversely, if you're trying to raise resources for something, you must cast a compelling vision for why it is strategic.

4. If you try and promote everything, you end up promoting nothing. I once heard it said that if you have five priorities, you have no priorities. The point was that you can only prioritize so many things, and if everything is a priority, nothing is. This is also true for promotion. If are entering a season where you are trying to raise money for three things at once, promote four key events at once, and raise awareness for two areas at once, it will all fall on deaf ears. Need to raise money for a specific challenge or campaign? Only talk about that one challenge. Need to promote a key church-wide event? Only promote that event. If your response is that you have to promote and raise money for multiple things because of the calendar and scheduling and what had already been initiated, then there is another leadership mistake. Poor planning, and the need to simplify.

5. Align your resources and efforts along strategic growth paths. There is no end to the good that can be done, but there are very few things that actually result in advancing your mission. Most churches allocate time and money in an "inch deep, mile wide" manner. What would serve churches better is to have an "inch wide, mile deep" approach where they do significantly less, but with significantly better results. For example, if your mission is to reach the unchurched, what will make that increasingly happen? For most churches, it's simple: they should invest in what gets people there (which is being invited by a friend) and what gets people to come back (friendliness, weekend messages and children's ministry). Yet few churches invest significantly in serving the invitational process on the front end or in children's ministry on the back end.

Okay, maybe not the most "electric" of leadership lessons,

… but they sure are ones that will keep the power on.

James Emery White

The Answer Is Evil

Editor's Note: This blog was originally released in 2012. We thought it was appropriate to share again following the string of recent tragedies, including the Las Vegas slaughter and yesterday's tragedy at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

A teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, reflecting on the carnage and tragedy of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, posed a question to the world:

"Who would do this to our poor little babies?"

The initial answer was a 20-year-old man named Adam Lanza.

The larger answer seems harder for us to grasp but is, nonetheless, more to the point.

The answer: evil.

When the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine killings took place, we were able to look back with new insights into the event on the morning of April 20, 1999, that forever changed our national consciousness.

We learned that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not goths. They weren't loners. They weren't in the "Trenchcoat Mafia." They were not disaffected video gamers. They hadn't been bullied. The supposed "enemies" on their list had already graduated a year earlier. They weren't on anti-depressant medication. They didn't target jocks, blacks or Christians.

They just wanted to kill.

Two seemingly normal, well-scrubbed high school boys went to their school in a prosperous suburban subdivision with the goal to kill thousands. Their bombs didn't work, so they proceeded to kill 13 classmates and wound another 24.

By 2002, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Education Department had completed a study on school shooters and found that no single profile fit them all. What was clear was that few simply "snapped" at the time of the attack. They had usually planned it with meticulous detail.

Conclusion?

"They are rage shootings," says David Osher, a sociologist and vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

And the rage has continued.

Does the name Byran Uyesugi ring a bell? Robert Hawkins? Mark Barton? Terry Ratzmann? Robert Stewart? In an article titled, "Why Are Americans Killing Each Other?" Ted Anthony writes that "each entered the national consciousness when he picked up a gun and ended multiple lives."

Forty-seven were killed through mass shootings in the month before the Columbine anniversary alone.

As Anthony notes, we now live in a society "where the term 'mass shooting' has lost its status as an unthinkable aberration and become mere fodder for a fresh news cycle."

But then he asks the pivotal question, "Why are we killing each other?"

The only answer that he could muster was the loss of the American dream. Eight years of terrorism angst, six years of war in Iraq, months of recession. He lamented that 663,000 lost their jobs in March 2009, and he worries how many might be angry about it—and might have a gun.

With all respect, that is no answer.

In his book Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum surveys theory after theory regarding the Nazi leader's atrocities. In the end, all of his explanations fail to confront the "laughing" Hitler—the bloodthirsty dictator who was fully conscious of his malignancy. He didn't have to kill the Jews; he wasn't compelled by abstract forces. In truth, he chose to, he wanted to.

Here was simply an evil man.

And that is the answer.

Evil.

But this is precisely the word we seem unable to own.

It brings to mind Jean Bethke Elshtain's experience on the first Sunday following the attacks of 9/11. She went to a Methodist church in Nashville. The minister, who she describes as having a kind of frozen smile on his face, said, "I know it has been a terrible week." Then, after a pause he continued, "But that's no reason for us to give up our personal dreams."

She thought, "Good grief! Shouldn't you say something about what happened and how Christians are to think about it?" But then she realized that if one has lost the term evil from his or her theological vocabulary, then it is not easy to talk about such a thing.

But a robust and deeply theological discourse on "evil" was precisely what the world needed to hear at that moment and would have been uniquely served in hearing. Millions flooded to churches across the nation to hear a word from God, or at least about God, to make sense of the tragedy. Sadly, many were left as empty and lost as before they entered—which is one reason why the millions who came left just as quickly.

And why we, as a culture, have no framework for the tragedy of events such as Newtown.

So let me repeat what I tweeted on the day of the attacks.

I am heartbroken for the parents, furious at the evil and more resolved than ever to give my life to Christ's mission.

Which, by the way, is the war against evil.

James Emery White


Sources

James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons.

Peter Applebome and Michael Wilson, "Who Would Do This to Our Poor Little Babies," The New York Times, December 14, 2012, read online.

Greg Toppo, "10 Years Later, the Real Story Behind Columbine," USA Today, April 14, 2009, read online; Greg Toppo and Marilyn Elias, "Lessons from Columbine," USA Today, April 14, 2009, read online.

Ted Anthony, "Why Are Americans Killing Each Other?," Associated Press, posted Sunday, April 5, 2009.

Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

Jean Bethke Elshtain in the afterword to Evangelicals in the Public Square, edited by J. Budziszewski.

Truth, Grace and Lesbian Fans

Many people read the opening verses of the gospel of John and focus on the theology of Jesus as being the second Person of the Trinity, the Word become flesh. And this is certainly important. But in verse 14 of that deeply theological prologue, we find what the incarnation was to be about: the second Person of the Trinity came to bring grace and truth.

There are few things more important to grasp.

As Henry Cloud has written, grace is accepting relationship. Truth is what is real; it describes how things really are. Therefore, truth without grace is just judgment, and grace without truth is just deception.

The opening chapter of John's biography foretells how John would relay the life of Jesus. In its pages are story after story, told nowhere else, of Jesus fleshing out that grace and truth. For example, the woman at the well was met with radical acceptance, yet also confronted with her sexual promiscuity. The woman about to be stoned was protected, but then encouraged to leave her life of sin. Grace and truth, grace and truth…

It was this combination that made Jesus so winsome and compelling. It was because truth and grace were inextricably intertwined that Jesus could thunder a prophetic word and then be invited to an evening keg party by the very people he had confronted earlier in the day.

Somehow we've lost this dynamic. We either confront the world with a caustic and even abusive spirit (as in "God hates fags") or we water things down in the hopes of goodwill (as in the embrace of same-sex marriage). Neither will engage a post-Christian world at the point of its deepest need. Again, truth without grace is just condemnation; grace without truth is mere license.

What the world needs is Jesus.

And what Jesus brings is both truth and grace.

"Neither do I condemn you… Go, and sin no more." (John 8:11)

I had a strong reminder of the importance of this early on in my life as a pastor. I was in a series on sexual issues and the final installment was on homosexuality. It was the first time I had ever spoken on the matter to our (then) very young and relatively small church. But even in those days, we had a significant percentage of spiritual explorers in our midst, and I knew of several from the LGTBQ community in attendance.

I prayed and prepped, then prayed some more. I so wanted to extend radical grace and an uncompromised vision of God's dream for human sexuality.

I gave the talk, and after the service was over I noticed a woman waiting to speak with me. I could tell she was waiting for the crowd to thin out enough to speak with me privately. She had four or five cassettes (yes, it was cassettes back then) of that day's talk in her hand that she had purchased from our fledgling resource center.

When she had me to herself, she smiled and said, "Well, I am one of your lesbian fans."

I smiled back and said, "Thanks!"

And then I put my hand on her shoulder and said: "How was today for you? And please, be honest."

She said: "Well, I had a pretty good idea what you were going to say. I just didn't know how you were going to say it."

And then she gave me a big hug and simply said, "Thank you."

Then she walked off, tapes in hand to share with others.

That is a moment I will take to my grave as one of the greatest Kingdom victories God has ever allowed me to experience, and it whet my appetite for a lifetime spent pursuing both grace and truth with every fiber of my being.

I don't always pull it off.

But it's worth every hug from a lesbian fan to keep trying.

James Emery White


Sources

Henry Cloud, Changes That Heal.

About Halloween

I grew up in a day when Halloween was little more than pumpkins, fall festivals, hayrides and dressing up as a pirate or a farmer to go trick-or-treating. And that's also what it was like for my (now) very post-Halloween-age children.

I know its history, but few celebrations in our day are free from pagan roots—almost all had a pagan heritage that was later seized and transformed by a Christian culture. So that doesn't matter much to me. On the Christian calendar, October 31 is actually to be celebrated as part of Reformation Day, in remembrance of when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church sparking the Protestant Reformation.

So while I still hold to the childlike fun the night can hold, I no longer view the day itself as innocent.

But it's not because of the occult.

It's because of the sex.

In an article in the New York Times titled, "Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day," Stephanie Rosenbloom writes of the changing nature of women's Halloween costumes in the last several years.

Little Red Riding Hood, in her thigh-highs and miniskirt, does not seem en route to her grandmother's house.

Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone's bed.

And then there is the witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria's Secret, and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a—well, you get the point. As Rosenbloom notes, the images "are more strip club than storybook."

No wonder Halloween costume stores have signs out front that say: "No one under 18 allowed without a parent."

So my take on it all is pretty simple.

I think Halloween as an American cultural event for kids is no big deal. Dress them up as one of the minions from Despicable Me and have fun. It's just not a big deal from the paranormal or occultic perspective on things. In my opinion, this is an area where a lot of people are majoring on the minors.

It's not the kids and Halloween that are the problem…

… it's the adults.

I think Halloween, as far as the kids go, can still be something innocent. But a word to you adults who have made it "dress like a porn star and act like one" night:

You're the ones making it dark.

James Emery White


Sources

Stephanie Rosenbloom, "Good Girls Go Bad, For a Day," New York Times, Thursday, October 19, 2006, p. E1 and E2.

Michelle Healy, "Sexy teen Halloween costumes: What's a parent to do?," USA Today, October 28, 2013, read online.

Editor's Note
While first published in 2013, the Church & Culture Team continue to find this a relevant word at this time of year.

A Mind for God

In 1995, Thomas Cahill came out with the provocatively titled book How the Irish Saved Civilization. "Ireland," contended Cahill,

"had one moment of unblemished glory... as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of Western literature."

Then missionary-minded Irish monks brought what had been preserved on their isolated island back to the continent, refounding European civilization.

And that, Cahill concludes, is how the Irish saved civilization.

But there is more at hand in Cahill's study than meets the eye. Beyond the loss of Latin literature and the development of the great national European literatures that an illiterate Europe would not have established, Cahill notes that something else would have perished in the West: "the habits of the mind that encourage thought."

Why would this matter?

Cahill continues his assessment, "And when Islam began its medieval expansion, it would have encountered scant resistance to its plans—just scattered tribes of animists, ready for a new identity." Without a robust mind to engage the onslaught – and a Christian one at that – the West would have been under the crescent instead of the cross.

Never before have the "habits of the mind" mattered more. As Winston Churchill presciently stated in his address to Harvard University in 1943, "The empires of the future will be empires of the mind." Oxford theologian Alister McGrath, reflecting on Churchill's address, notes that Churchill's point was that a great transition was taking place in Western culture, with immense implications for all who live in it. The powers of the new world would not be nation-states, as with empires past, but ideologies. It would now be ideas, not nations, that would captivate and conquer in the future. The starting point for the conquest of the world would now be the human mind.

But this time we may need more than the Irish to save us.

"We may talk of 'conquering' the world for Christ. But what sort of 'conquest' do we mean?" writes John Stott. "Not a victory by force of arms...This is a battle of ideas." Yet there are surprisingly few warriors. Those who follow Christ have too often retreated into personal piety and good works or, as one BBC commentator I heard said, Christians have too often offered mere "feelings" and "philanthropy." Speaking specifically to the challenge from Islam, he added that what is needed is more "hard thinking" applied to the issues of the day.

What remains to be seen is whether there will be any hard thinkers to do it. The peril of our day is that when a Christian mind is most needed, Christians express little need for the mind and, as a result, even less resolve to develop it. There is even a sense that an undeveloped mind is more virtuous than one prepared for battle. Richard Hofstadter, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, identified "the evangelical spirit" as one of the prime sources of American anti-intellectualism. Hofstadter points out that for many Christians, humble ignorance is a far more noble human quality than a cultivated mind.

Such devaluation of the intellect is a recent development within the annals of Christian history. While Christians have long struggled with the role and place of reason, that the mind itself mattered has been without question.

Even the early church father Tertullian (c. A.D. 160- c. 220), who had little use for philosophy and was famed for his statement "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" never questioned the importance of the mind. Tertullian's conviction was that Greek philosophy had little to offer in terms of informing the contours of Christian thought, akin to the apostle Paul's quip to the Corinthian church that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men (I Corinthians 1:25). But Tertullian, as well as Paul, would have held any anti-intellectualism that celebrated an undeveloped mind in complete disdain.

Deep within the worldview of the biblical authors and equally within the minds of the earliest church fathers, was the understanding that to be fully human is to think. To this day we call ourselves a race of Homo sapiens,which means "thinking beings." This is not simply a scientific classification; it is a spiritual one. We were made in God's image, and one of the most precious and noble dynamics within that image is the ability to think. It is simply one of the most sacred reflections of the divine image we were created in. It is also foundational to our interaction with God. As God Himself implored through the prophet Isaiah, "Come now, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18).

This was certainly the conviction of Jesus, who made it clear that our minds are integral to life lived in relationship with God. When summarizing human devotion to God as involving heart, soul and strength, Jesus added "and mind" to the original wording of Deuteronomy, as if He wanted there to be no doubt that when contemplating the comprehensive nature of commitment and relationship with God that our intellect would not be overlooked. The apostle Paul contended that our very transformation as Christians would be dependent on whether our minds were engaged in an ongoing process of renewal in light of Christ (Romans 12:2-3).

All the more reason to be stunned by the words of Harry Blamires, a student of C.S. Lewis' at Oxford, who claimed that "there is no longer a Christian mind." A Christian ethic, a Christian practice, a Christian spirituality, yes—but not a Christian mind. More recently, historian Mark Noll concurred, suggesting that the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. "If evangelicals do not take seriously the larger world of the intellect, we say, in effect, that we want our minds to be shaped by the conventions of our modern universities and the assumptions of Madison Avenue, instead of by God and the servants of God."

And even if we do not lose our own minds, we will certainly lose the minds of others. This is the double-edged threat of our day, apart from a Christian mind: Either we will be taken captive by the myriad of worldviews contending for our attention, or we will fail to make the Christian voice heard and considered above the din.

Either way, we either begin to think, or lose the fight.

James Emery White


Sources

Adapted from the introduction to James Emery White's A Mind for God.

Serious Times

"My friend," John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson toward the end of both their lives, "you and I have lived in serious times."

Indeed, they had.

The American colony was embroiled in a contentious relationship with its mother country, Britain, which would erupt into a declaration of independence and eventually war. Instead of swift and immediate defeat at the hands of the British, the conflict birthed a new nation that in just over two centuries would be unrivaled in power and influence.

But I will confess to being equally taken by another dynamic: that Adams, Jefferson and the other founding fathers led serious lives. Had they not, the course of history would have taken an altogether different turn.

John Adam's life was integrally involved with the Continental Congress, the American Revolution, the writing of Massachusetts' constitution and the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris. He served as the first American vice-president under George Washington and then became the nation's second president. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and then served as the country's first secretary of state, second vice-president and third president. He fashioned the Louisiana Purchase and founded the University of Virginia. It is fitting that these founding fathers of America – Adams and Jefferson – died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the fledgling country's 50th anniversary.

Serious times met with serious lives. This is the anvil on which history is forged. More important, it is the means by which the Kingdom of God is advanced and the life of a Christ follower measured. Paul Helm rightly notes that according to Scripture "the whole of a person's life is fundamentally serious, something for which he is responsible before God, and for which he will have to give an account… He is individually responsible to God for what he 'makes' of it."

This brings me to a confession.

I'm taken by this because there is nothing I want more than for my life to matter.

I want to be used profoundly by God, to be seized by His great and mighty hand and thrust onto the stage of history in order to do something significant. With as pure of a heart as I can muster, this isn't about fame or prestige. It's about wanting my life to count where it is needed most. There is a great movement of God that has been set loose in this world, and I want to be on the front lines.

Between college semesters in the summer of 1980, I went out to Colorado to work on a project for a company my father was managing. I took some time off one weekend and went into the city of Fort Collins. I walked around the campus of Colorado State University, then made my way to a theater. A new movie had just been released—the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.

As I am sure you know, the entire Star Wars saga is about the cosmic battle between good and evil, with the first three films focused on a young farm boy named Luke who becomes swept up in a galactic rebellion against an evil empire.

Seeing that movie long, long ago in a city far, far away at the tender age of 18 was a defining moment for my life. I walked out of the theater profoundly moved. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot, overwhelmed with a single thought: That's what I want for my life. To be caught up in the sweep of history. To be in the center of things. To be making a difference. To be at the heart of the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. My heart was almost breaking at the thought of a life of insignificance. Then I recall thinking, But where can that happen in the real world? How can I be a part of something that is bigger than I am? Where in life can something so grand be found?

Then it came to me as startlingly sudden as a rip of lightning, and as poundingly affirmed as any thunder that could follow: That's what God's invitation to the Christ-life is all about! There is a galactic struggle going on, and I could be a warrior. I could give my life to something that was bigger than I was, that would live on long after I was gone. What I did mattered and could impact all of history—even into eternity. The reality of the spiritual realm, the struggle for men's and women's souls, the cosmic consequences that were at stake… it became so clear to me: I could give my life to that! And there was nothing that would ever compete with its scale or significance.

Nothing.

I'm not going to assume you felt the same way following Star WarsBraveheart, Lord of the Rings or any of the scores of other films that have moved me to want to spend my life in great and noble pursuits. But this is more than a man's emotional equivalent to chick-flicks.

Because you want your life to matter, too.

The moment may not have come seeing William Wallace in full face paint at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, or Aragorn wielding the sword of Elendil that had been forged anew. But you have been moved, and it was to give your life away to something bigger than you are. To make a difference. To change the world. It may have been seeing Les Miserables on stage, reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, standing on the beach at sunset watching the sun paint its way out of the sky, or sitting on the crest of a mountain at dawn when the blazing newness of the day felt like it was enveloping your very soul. It may have been the stirring that came to your spirit when you first read a speech by Winston Churchill, or heard an altar call during a Billy Graham crusade, or saw a film showing Mother Teresa ministering in the slums of Calcutta.

Sadly, for most it ends there. The feeling comes and then fades. If it was a film, the closing credits are quickly followed by the trip to the car in the parking lot. If a book, the final chapter lingers only until the phone rings. Even the physical pilgrimage to the historical monument can be quickly eclipsed by an invading horde of schoolchildren.

But we let it happen!

We allow the movement of God on the surface of our spirits to become lost amid the stones the world tosses thoughtlessly into our waters. As a result, we lose the vision God could give us of our world and our place in it. Too quickly, and often without struggle, we trade making history with making money, substitute building a life with building a career and sacrifice living for God with living for the weekend. We forego significance for the sake of success and pursue the superficiality of title and degree, house and car, rank and portfolio over a life lived large. We become saved, but not seized; delivered, but not driven.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

During the serious times of Adams and Jefferson, it was unclear whether men and women would rise to the moment. In light of this, Thomas Paine authored a series of patriotic tracts called The Crisis papers, which appeared in print from 1776-1783. The first of these so stirred George Washington that he ordered it read to his troops late in December 1776 when the American cause seemed to be faltering. "These are the times that try men's souls," Paine's opening sentence began. "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country." He was right. But Paine also understood what would happen if men and women did not shrink from a life so spent. So he wrote on: "... but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Paine's words proved decisive for Washington's troops. Many soldiers whose terms of service would expire that January 1 were inspired to reenlist. Later that same month the Americans won at Trenton, and the tide of the war was turned.

Another revolutionary figure, engaged in a struggle more compelling than the mere birth of a nation, saw the choice men and women make at such moments in history with equal clarity:

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men..." (Matthew 5:14-16, NIV).

Jesus saw the world as a great cosmic contest between good and evil, with the eternity of human souls wavering on the line. He charged those who followed Him with the task of engaging the contest in such a way as to make history. We often talk blithely of "seizing the day" as if it was little more than savoring a moment. For Jesus, seizing the day meant responding to the challenge of the moment.

But where does one begin?

In the ancient Scriptures, a group of men known as the men of Issachar were heralded for two things: understanding the times and determining how to live in light of those times (I Chronicles 12). This is the combination that we must pursue: understanding the serious nature of our time and living intentionally in light of those times. We can deepen our awareness of what is happening in our world – the flow of history to this point and the pivotal moment our day represents – and then explore the key areas of life that need to be developed to live a life of consequence.

And doing it now matters.

James Emery White


Sources

Adapted from the opening pages of James Emery White's Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day.