Monthly Archives: August 2018

A Catechism for Western Thought

Below is a catechism that I composed for my Western Thought classes last year.  I’ve worked on it some more and I hope to finish it someday, even if it is for other purposes.  One of the great memories from last years is my 9 AM Tuesday and Thursday class answering the questions with such great enthusiasm that they could be heard all down the hall.  Another moment of “what is

A Catechism for Western Thought

To be memorized and recited by students

The word “catechism” comes from a Greek word which is used in the New Testament to refer to teaching someone in an orderly and systematic way, by word of mouth, in the form of dialogue–question and answer. [1]  Catechisms have been used since early Christianity to teach the core beliefs of the faith.  Some catechisms were composed by individual pastors to teach their congregations the doctrines of the faith, or prepare adults or children to make public professions of faith.  Other catechisms have been adopted by entire branches of the Church as their official teaching, such as in my own denomination, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.      

      The catechism that we will learn this year will consist of the principles of conduct among each other, the virtues that we are inspired to attain by the literature that we study, and statements from that literature.  My reason for doing this is that our primary purpose in education is to become virtuous people.  I hope that through this tool, that I will hold myself accountable to the task of instruction in virtue, and for us in the attainment of virtue.

  1. What are the rules of our class?

The rules of our class are:  Do your work.  Don’t be a jerk. 

2.   What is the fruit of the Spirit?

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[2]

       3.  What are the seven virtues?

Kindness, temperance, love, self-control, humility, diligence, patience.

  1. What are the works of the flesh?

Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

  1. What are the seven deadly sins?

Envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, wrath.

  1. What is a Christian?

A Christian is a person who receives and rests upon Christ alone for salvation, as He is offered in the gospel, and follows Him as Lord and Master.

  1. What do Christians believe?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord.  Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead;  He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence He will come to judge the quick and the dead.

 I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen. 

  1. What is honor?

Honor is the value of a person in his own eyes and in the eyes of his peers. It is his estimation of his own worth and his excellence recognized by society.

  1. What is shame?

Shame is the absence of value of a person in his own eyes, and in the eyes of his peers.  It is his estimate of his own unworthiness and his disgrace recognized by society. 

  1. How does God reveal Himself?

God reveals Himself in general revelation and in special revelation.

  1. What is general revelation?

General revelation is God’s revealing of Himself in creation, nature, and providence.

  1. What is special revelation?

Special revelation is God’s revealing of Himself through His Word and His Son.

  1. What is conscience?

Conscience is the writing of God’s law on peoples’ hearts.

  1. What are the primary motivations for human action?

Honor and shame; fear and power; guilt and righteousness.

  1. What is honor?

Honor is an evaluation of a person’s actions, which determine a person’s worth, his position, or his value in a community.

  1. What is shame?

Shame is a negative evaluation of one’s actions, which undermine a person’s worth, his position, or his value in a community.

17.  What is power?

Power is the ability to act to control or influence people or things in a particular way.

  1. What is fear?

Fear is the terror that arises from the inability to control or influence people or things in a particular way.

  1. How is the fear of God different from servile fear?

The fear of God is the proper state of mind before a being who is altogether righteous, holy, powerful, omnipresent, who made this world, and who governs all his creatures and all their actions.  God has had mercy upon his people in Christ Jesus.  Thus, his children do not fear him from a foreboding of condemnation, but a recognition of his perfect character and his status as Creator and Governor of the universe, and Savior of all his people.

  1. What is righteousness?

Righteousness is conformity to God’s law in all our thoughts, words, and works.

  1. What is guilt?

Guilt is the awakening of the conscience to breaking God’s law in our thoughts, words, and works.

  1. Can human beings become righteous before God by their deeds?

Because we are corrupted in our whole nature through original sin, the corruption of the whole nature, and all actual transgressions, we cannot become morally righteous before God through our own deeds. 

  1. What hope do human beings have, as the Scripture tells us, “without holiness, no one will see the Lord?”[3]

God has provided a righteousness outside of ourselves in the gospel, the righteousness of God, which is from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’[4]

  1. What means has God provided that we might have the righteousness of God by faith?

Faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means through which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.[5]

  1. What was Socrates’ motto?

Know thyself. 

  1. How does John Calvin expand on Socrates’ wisdom in the Institutes?

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.[6]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]http://www.reformedspokane.org/Doctrine_pages/Doctrine_Intro/Doctrine_Intro_pages/Catechism.html

[2] Gal. 5:19-21

[3] Heb. 12:14

[4] Romans 1:17

[5] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 85.

[6]  John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 1:1.1 accessed August 15, 2018. https://www.biblestudytools.com/history/calvin-institutes-christianity/book1/

 

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In Retrospect: First Day of Classes

9780226470498For the first time in over a decade, I will not be teaching Homer to tenth grade students.  In leaving my teaching job, I will miss my students the most.  Teaching them, talking with them, listening and giving guidance, and hanging out with them has been the bulk of my work.  In remembrance of my students, I’m posting an article that I wrote last year called “Can Virtue Be Taught.”

Can Virtue Be Taught?

As I write this, another academic year looms ahead.  Instead of sleeping late, taking naps, going to the gym, and travelling, I’m now spending my time on creating welcome letters, updating supply lists, adjusting assignment sheets, and answering emails from parents who want to ensure that their “little darlings” are adequately prepared for their first foray into PEP.  I’ve taught long enough so that if all I did was change the dates of the assignment sheets from previous years, I would have coherent lesson plans for each class, and nobody would ever know the difference.  A decade is a long time to teach the same class with the same books.  It’s almost as long as my students have been alive!  But this begs the question:  Why?  Why assign readings from texts that are three thousand years old?  Why assign weekly study questions on the reading material?  What’s the point of writing essays, taking tests, or even coming together for class?  Certainly, the writers at Spark Notes have done an adequate job of summarizing the texts we read, performing literary analyses, and bringing out the important themes of the texts that we read.  Perhaps they do a better job than any of us will.  So, what is it that brings us together each class day to discuss these texts?  Surely people have read these texts and mined the depths of them over the last millennia so that we have nothing to add that has not already been written by someone else.

Some peruse the multitude of readings assigned at Providence Extension Program (PEP) and conclude that we are trying to fill the heads of our students with facts.  Again, if this were the case, would not the memorization of Spark Notes be a more efficient strategy to accomplish this end?  Why waste the time that it takes to read Homer, Plato, Virgil, or Augustine?  Why come to class to discuss these works, if this is our goal?

A number of parents enroll their children in PEP desiring that their offspring be well read and well rounded, chiefly to compete well for college admissions and scholarships.  Others desire for their children to earn “high school credits,” whatever that means.  To be sure, there are as many reasons for enrolling at PEP as there are families who enroll.

One reason that I never hear for requiring students to complete the lists of readings and assignments is for the student to acquire virtue.  There may be several reasons why this goal rarely comes up in conversations.  First, we read mostly non-Christian authors who arrive at different conclusions about the “permanent things” such as God, man, the problem of evil, the purpose of life, government, and ethics than the Scripture teaches.  That is, that the ancient writers may disagree with the Biblical writers on what constitutes virtue and vice. This objection is fair enough.  But when one compares what Homer, Virgil, Euripedes, and Sophocles illuminate as virtuous actions through their characters and actions, one easily recognizes virtue and vice.  One sees what the Apostle called, “the law written on their hearts,” even though these writers did not have access to the Holy Scriptures (Rom. 2:15).

It may be that the most consistent objection to the idea that the purpose of education is to acquire virtue is a spiritual objection.  The argument is expressed something like this:  The Bible teaches that apart from Christ, no good thing dwells in us.  Therefore, to attempt to teach virtue apart from the gospel is at best, ineffective, and at worst, to substitute moralism for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  In other words, people will become self-satisfied with their own performance, or that they will despair of acquiring any goodness whatsoever. What we may infer from this argument is that to teach virtue apart from the gospel is to put our ladder up against the wrong wall.  Once we arrive at the top, we find that we have arrived on the roof of the wrong building.  According to this line of reasoning, apart from regeneration, virtue will not take hold.  So, this makes instruction in virtue a waste of time until the new birth takes place.

However, we are happily inconsistent on this point.  Parents pray with and for their children, and teach them to pray before a child makes a verbal profession of faith in Christ.  Such parents want their children to see prayer as the natural activity of the Christian, and to build habits and encourage in their children the delight of communion with God.  Prayer works, not only as a discipline for those who are self-professed believers, but it inculcates the mentality of dependence on God. The habit of prayer brings about the desire to know God and enjoy communion with Him.  In praying, we recognize and acknowledge that we are dependent on God for our every need.  As we pray, we build the habit of prayer, and we trust that through the due use of the ordinary means of grace, that God will save and sanctify our children, not because these actions accrue merit with Him, but from His promise that He will bring all into His sheep fold all who are appointed to eternal life.

All education is necessarily moral.  No matter what a teacher or curriculum intends to teach, something is taught.  If a teacher in the classroom of a secular school does not mention the name of God for the duration of an entire school year, something is being taught about God, despite the efforts to maintain neutrality in matters of faith.  When a Christian school tacks on Bible verses to areas of study with no apparent connection, something about the Bible is being taught.

James K. A. Smith has written several books about what he calls “cultural liturgies.”  Some of his more important insights are, first, virtue is “more caught than taught,” and second, virtue is acquired as a habit.  Through continuous practice, one grows to prefer the good to the bad, the genuine to the counterfeit, and truth to falsehood.  While disciplines, including studies, consist of outward acts, performing these acts changes us from the inside out.  One of the most frequently heard examples of this is the person who takes up running who perceives herself as unathletic. At first, she loathes the activity. She may have fallen victim to a sedentary lifestyle for which even a fast walk is a ‘big ask.”  Perhaps her experience with running is that it was punishment for dropping fly balls at softball practice.  Or, she’s self-conscious about how she looks in Spandex, and feels defeated about having to walk every quarter mile.  But she perseveres, and soon begins to feel better, to have more energy and confidence.  She becomes liberated from being concerned about how she looks in Spandex.  Along the way, her loathing of exercise is transformed into enjoyment.  How did this happen?  She dragged herself out the door, day by day, and persevered until running became a habit that not only brought about physical benefits, but transformed her attitude about exercise, and ultimately, her self-image.

Virtue is cultivated by habit.  Through training and repetition, one learns to love what is good, and true, and beautiful.  While stories aren’t written as morality place, they take us into worlds where we experience truth, beauty, and goodness.  J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a fantasy adventure story.  But in his story, Tolkien shows us heroism, friendship, courage, manliness, self-sacrifice, and the power of love to destroy hatred and evil.  Tolkien shows us what is good, and this goodness resonates with our spirit in such a way that we would desire such goodness to be part of our lives.

So while literary analysis, philosophical argument, and Biblical apologetics will be the bulk of what we do in class, these activities are tools.  These disciplines are instruments to prod us to acquire virtue, to learn to love what is good.  The Apostle Paul admonishes us in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.”  We are to train ourselves in the truth, in goodness, in righteousness, to hate what is evil and love what is good.

If I achieve any success this year, you will be different from your peers.  The relativism and privatization of faith and morality gives the impression that virtue is unnecessary for human flourishing.  The monetization of every form of public space — from Google to Facebook to Twitter to YouTube and even the credit card swiping machines at the grocery store imparts the lesson that we are first and foremost consumers, and that our happiness does not consist in acquiring virtue, but in consuming goods and services.  The connection that we make from the monetization of public discourse to education is that education is consumption.  Texts are consumed to pass on information that can be regurgitated on tests or in essay.  In this way of thinking, we become what we buy.

However, this perception of the human being as primarily a being who consumes misses the mark.  The educational version of this is to see people only as “thinking things,” containers who hold information.  In this view, the job of the educator is to fill the container of the “thinking thing” with facts and information.

Writing in the fourth century AD, St. Augustine spoke of sin as “disordered loves.”  Because of the Fall of Man and indwelling sin, we love the wrong things, or we love the right things but not in Biblical proportions.  We are told to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” but our self-love predominates over every object of our love.  We love the gifts of God’s creation more than the Giver.

Augustine’s message is, “you are what you love.”  We love, not simply with our emotions, but as the Apostle John writes, “in deed and in truth.”  It is my hope that we will not only see how our loves are disordered, but how we can rightly order our loves for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.

 

 

 

Moving to Houston

church pic    After twelve years of living in Jacksonville and serving the Lord at Providence Extension Program and Ortega Presbyterian Church, Amy and I are starting on a new adventure.We are moving to Houston, where I have been called as an Associate Pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church.  So far, they have already lined up many preaching and teaching opportunities for me.  We are excited about beginning this new chapter in our lives, but we have made many dear friends here, and have had the privilege of being involved in the lives of many students, parents,  teachers, and church members.  We’re looking forward to serving the congregation at Covenant.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to write and post on a more regular basis while serving in this next calling.

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