Friday, February 12, 2016

Quote: The Proper Defense of Truth

I know today’s quote is long, but I found it fascinating, as it provides a different reason than I normally hear for Christian apologetics and the need to address controversies, both inside and outside the church. How would our treatment of controversy change if this were our attitude?
 
“All proper defence of truth must aim after this positive result: more clearly to define and more accurately to set forth, that which is certainly believed among us. And this, in the good guidance of our God, is the higher meaning and issue of theological controversy. As every schism and separation indicate some truth which had been neglected, or temporarily ignored, by the Church, so each controversy marks some point on which the teaching of the Church had been wanting in clearness, accuracy, or fullness. And so every controversy, however bitter or threatening in its course, ultimately contributes to the establishment of truth—not merely, or even principally, by the answer to objections which it calls forth, but by the fuller consideration of what had been invalidated, and the consequent wider and more accurate understanding of it. . .We may have only partially succeeded in our effort; we may have even failed of success. But every defence and attempt at clearer elucidation, unless wholly ungrounded in reason or criticism, at least shows that defence and a clearer and higher position are possible, even though we may not have reached to it; and it points out the direction which others, perhaps more successful than we, may follow.”

~ Preface to Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah, by Alfred Edersheim.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Three Advantages of Fiction

Fiction falls into one of four main categories:

Good craft and good content
Bad craft and bad content
 Good craft and bad content
Bad craft and good content
 
The first, obviously, are must-read stories that are safe to read. The second is dangerous theology, but the writing is so bad that no one would want to read it anyway. But, for better or worse, most fiction falls into one of the last two categories—into a gray area. So what’s a Christian supposed to do?
 
One possible solution is to completely shun all fiction, film or book. After all, if fiction is so dangerous, wouldn’t it be safest to cut it completely from our diet?
 
I admit, fasting from some story types for short periods can be wise. I also know you might have to limit some stories, like a diabetic limiting sweets. But to cut all fiction all the time—it would be like eating bread and water three meals a day, 365 days a year: You can survive, but why would you eat only that if you don’t have to? Besides, eating bread and water isn’t exactly the healthiest menu.
 
So why am I convinced that fiction is necessary to a balanced diet? Consider these three advantages:
 
Entertainment: In short, fiction allows us to escape. For a few short hours we enjoy people we’ve never met and experience places and events few of which we will ever know, allowing us to leave behind our ordinary world of stress, conflict, and unpredictability. Then we return to the real world, refreshed from focusing on another’s problems as if we’ve taken an emotional nap.
 
I know some people think fiction as escape is a great evil, and yes, taken to an extreme, it can be dangerous. But so is food. Eaten in excess (gluttony), it can lead to obesity and to death. But that doesn’t mean food isn’t good and necessary.
 
Perspective: Closely related to escape’s emotional nap is the provision of fresh perspective. Just as sleeping distances us from a problem (hence the old advice to “sleep on it”), fiction lifts us above our daily lives. It reminds us those mountains may be mole hills and grants us hope that despite our current problems, our story will end well too. After all, Frodo had to pass through Mordor before he could destroy the ring, and the Pevensie children had to fight the great battle before they were crowned king and queen of Narnia.
 
Experience: Ever been told to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Nothing beats real life experience, but in a limited way fiction also allows us to do that without having to directly experience the pain: We watch events unfold, often from multiple perspectives; feel a character’s frustration, pain, and joy; and glimpse the why behind the decisions. For a moment we see the world through the eyes of God, you might say. And while fiction cannot represent reality perfectly, it lets us gain a shade of understanding as to why a bereaved parent, rebellious child, and antagonistic lover react the way they do.
 
More than that, should you find yourself in the same position as a character, your situation may not seem so overwhelming: You’ve already “experienced” this once before and have some idea of what to do—and what not to

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The ABC’s of Discernment: V is also for Visible

As you practice applying discernment, its use generally falls in two areas: visible actions and internal worldviews. Today, we’ll tackle the visible, and next week we’ll work through the internal.

Now the visible deals with anything we can witness firsthand, primarily actions and words. We often find applying discernment to these easier because they are specific and obvious.

But therein a danger exists, because we often make a snap decision as a result, without considering the whole context. Is an action truly wrong—or only wrong for you or for this specific time? Are the words offered truly upbuilding to another—or are they empty platitudes that only soothe the conscience of the speaker?

So how do you apply discernment to visible actions?

First ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Philippians 4:8, already reviewed in this study, provides a great shorthand tool: Does the action conform to reality, show respect, conform to God and His word, cause another to sin, move the heart toward love, add to a good reputation, go over and above what is expected, bring praise to God? But remember there is much more to Scripture than this! On more complicated issues also delve into what the whole Bible says, both specific commands as well as how Scripture portrays people who act that way.

Then ask, “Is an action truly wrong—or just wrong for me, due to maturity or personal limitations?” Very little in this world is intrinsically evil or good. Rather, much of the rightness or wrongness of an action has to do with the specific circumstances. Is this the right thing done by the right person at the right time and at the right place in the right way for the right reason? Many times, most disputes have less to do with what is being done and more with who, when, where, why, and how something is done.

Finally, ask, “Does this action display love for God and man, and if so, how?” This is the ultimate measure of any action, for as Jesus said, in those two commandments the whole of Scripture is summed up. So if an action truly conforms to these two, then it is right, fulfilling the Law of the universe. If it doesn’t, then no matter how good it may seem, it is still wrong in some way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The ABC’s of Discernment: V is for Vigilance & Vanity

As you start to develop your discernment, you must be on your guard. For as your discernment grows, it is easy to forget that discernment primarily deals with the gray areas of life, those things that aren’t necessarily right or wrong in of themselves. It is easy for pride to be stirred up and dissension to grow between those of differing levels of discernment. It is easy to think that you have it all figured out and squared away, and therefore, what you have “discerned” must be right to the exclusion of all others.

But while absolutes exist, discernment isn’t primarily about rules. It is about guidelines, about experiencing freedom in Christ while setting appropriate guardrails to protect you personally from falling into sin.

Except we tend to prefer rules over guidelines, don’t we? For rules provide a measuring stick with which to judge others. Rules allow us to condemn those who exercise more freedom than us. Rules allow us to sneer at those who regulate their lives more strictly than us. And pride spreads its insidious tendrils through our hearts and lives. Beware of such vanity! It will only bring discord where God intended harmony, much to Satan’s pleasure.

For we are not each other’s master. It is God to whom we must give account. So yes, stand firm in your personal convictions. But in doing so, remain vigilant over your own heart and extend grace in abundance to others.

Stirring the Pot:
Who do you see as exercising great freedom—perhaps “too much” freedom—in their lives?
Who do you see as overly restricted?
How can you extend grace to both while standing firm in your personal convictions?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Brainteasers


Can God be too good, too forgiving, too loving? Why or why not?
Is love an emotion, an action, an act of the will, or something else?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Colors of Story

What makes a good story “good”? In my post of that title, I decided that a good story (based on Genesis 2:9) consists of two parts: excellence in the execution of the writing (good craftsmanship) and biblically sound themes and their proper treatment (good content).
 
Having two standards, however, means that stories are no longer only right or wrong. That is, if you will allow the color analogy, the issue isn’t black and white. The black and white can also combine, and we must now deal with black and white and a new third color, gray.
 
So what makes a story black or white or gray? Let’s look at each of them separately.
 
White—good content, good craft: This is the ideal. It meets the standard God used, giving us a story that is a pleasure to read and a benefit to the soul. Therefore, these stories can be enjoyed without fear or worry. Nothing meets the standard perfectly, of course, but some authors have come pretty close.
 
Black—bad content, bad craft: These are fairly rare. A secular publisher might release a book with bad content, but usually the craft is excellent. A Christian publisher might release a book with bad craft, but often the content is powerful. But nonetheless, occasionally one gets through and should be avoided at almost all costs, since it is completely opposite God’s standards. Thankfully, we rarely are tempted to read them—if the craft is truly “bad,” you’ll most likely stop reading before page fifty, unless it is required for school or something similar.
 
Gray—bad content, good craft or good content, bad craft: Ah! Here we reach the rub. Most books fall into this area and what a friction they cause! We want to read the first (bad content, good craft) because the writing is so engaging—but we read the latter because it’s healthy and “safe.”
 
 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The ABC’s of Discernment: U is for Use

As we start to reach the end of our alphabet discernment study, all the principles I’ve put forth here may seem overwhelming. How do you even begin using everything I’ve noted here?

First, learn to ask questions—many of them. The why question is especially useful as it doesn’t allow for a yes or no answer, but forces you to think out your reasoning. How is also effective, because it encourages you to practically apply the theoretical.

Second, apply in sections. A kid usually doesn’t start out reading full sentences or paragraphs, but begins with letter and sound recognition. The same is true here. Focus, for example, on applying one or two characteristics of Philippians 4:8 to your life and build from there.

Third, practice with fiction. Story is life in a compressed space. Therefore, nearly every problem or issue in life can be found somewhere in literature or film. But unlike life, books can be put down and movies paused; they can be reread or rewound. This gives you valuable time to think through a situation or problem and apply these principles to that particular circumstance.

 
Stirring the Pot
What can you use as a prompt to remind you to ask questions?
Which piece of discernment do you need to start working on today?
When will you practice your discernment with fiction this week?