Category Archives: Faith

Will God ever give you “more than you can handle”?

Last night at Bible study, the question was asked, “is it true that God will never give you more than you can handle?”

Many of us in Christian circles have experienced people hoping to encourage us by saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  Christians commonly see this as an implication of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

I’d like to offer another interpretation, and one, I think, is more in keeping with the rest of the Scripture.

Certainly, no temptation that any of us face is unique to us.  And God’s faithfulness is unquestionable.

But God did not create us to be independent beings, able to fight sin and temptation in our own flesh.  We live “in Christ,” who says, in John 15:4-5:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Apart from abiding in Christ, even the least temptation will overpower us.  So in this sense, God always gives us more than we can handle!.  Because our sufficiency is in Christ, and not in ourselves.

Once again, Job is perhaps the paradigmatic illustration of this.  Could Job have faced his suffering and remained blameless if he had been content with the moralistic advice of his friends?  At best, it’s highly unlikely.  As he receives their counsel, he becomes more and more repulsed by their easy answers and platitudes.  As his torment grows, he rests in God more, and trusts in God more.

In a sense, Job is the “heroic ideal” turned on its head.  Job endures.  Job perseveres.  Rather than winning glory through heroic deeds in battle and overcoming his enemies through great force of arms, Job just stands there.

God is the hero.  It is God who vindicates Job.  It is in Him that Job endures trial.  Apart from the mercy of God, even the least dose of suffering would have overcome Job.  But Job stands there, and pleads his case before God, and God vindicates him.

Our flesh profits nothing. But Christ has overcome the world.  And it is only in Him, that we are able to overcome sin, temptation, and the devil.

 

Job and the Prosperity Gospel (3)

The Book of Job takes on the message of the prosperity gospel head-on.  Job’s counselors show us the effects of unbiblical theology.  Doctrine is not simply an intellectual matter, but it penetrates the heart.  A Biblical view of God leads to comfort, hope, and assurance.  A view of God that deviates from the Bible robs people of the knowledge of the love of Christ, that God is for us and not against us, that he who did not spare his own son, how shall he not freely give us all things?

Here are some of the effects of the theology of Job’s counselors.

1.  It brings God down to a human level.  One of the first things that I learned about God as a child is “God is great, and God is good.”  If God is not great, then he is at the mercy of human action.  If God is not good, then we cannot trust him, and we are at the mercy of our own devices against one much more powerful than we are.  Job’s friends alternatively speak of God as one whom we can please through mere human effort, and a God who is remote and uncaring.  If God is not great, evil may be greater than he is.  If God is not good, he doesn’t care about human suffering.

2.  It promotes human performance.  God cannot be a debtor to any human being.  Yet, by bringing God down to a human level, we can gain the impression that we either can please God by our own efforts, or that we can come to the bargaining table as equals with God.  Both the Creator/creature distinction and the holiness of God tell us otherwise.  God is pure being.  We are subsistent beings whose life is in God.  God is perfectly holy in all his person and in all his works.  In contrast to the holiness of God, we, as human beings, are radically damaged by the Fall.  We are “conceived in born in sin,” and we continue to reject God’s will for our will.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, properly presented, presents the sinfulness of sin in its fullness, which magnifies the grace and love of God exponentially greater than that which we can conceive, apart from the Spirit of God.  This puts God in his rightful place, us in our rightful place, glorifies God, humbles us, and shows us our utter dependency on the mercy of God in Christ.

3.  It deprives Christians of the comfort of Christ in the midst of suffering.  If the only function of suffering is to correlate with “what a man sows, he shall also reap,” where is the comfort of Christ in this.  Yet, through suffering, Christ conforms us to his image, which is the greatest good imaginable (Romans 8:28-29).  While we may never know God’s specific purposes in our suffering, this is far different than saying that there is no purpose.  The comfort that we are able to have is that Jesus promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us.  If suffering is merely “what we deserve,” the presence of Christ does not accompany us in our suffering, and our suffering is in vain.

4.  It destroys people.  Bad theology destroys people’s souls by giving them a false vision of God.  Humanly speaking, apart from the grace of God, how could one help but walk away from God when all one has heard is falsehood.  This is like being in a marriage and finding out that one’s spouse has been pathologically dishonest for the entire marriage.  It destroys marriages, families, and churches.  It robs Christians of the hope and assurance that is rightfully theirs through the finished work of Christ.

Job corrects our vision, and points us, as Francis Schaeffer writes, to “the God who is there.”  This is the God who cannot fail his people.  He demonstrates this through sending his son to take on the sins of his people at the cross, and granting his people the righteousness of Christ.

On Books and Reading

     If I am at all successful in keeping up the writing habit, you will see that I make many references to the books that I am reading.  I recognize that I am a prodigious reader.  I’m not sure if I count this as a virtue or not.  Most of my friends do not have the kind of reading habits that I do.  They add much-needed balance to my life.  But I really do enjoy opportunities to talk about the books that have made an impact in my life.
     So, why do I keep this habit ?
     As a “knowledge worker” (I hate that phrase!), I need to be constantly learning and growing.  The 2008 recession precipitated a change in the labor market.  The trend since then is for employers to hire “younger and cheaper.”  In order to continue to be relevant, I need to continually push myself that “my progress may be evident to all.”  Resting on one’s past achievements is not an option in today’s market.
     Books are tools, rather than collectibles.  As much as I love books, I’ve never gotten into the hobby of book collecting.  I don’t need first editions.  I would even say that “paperback is better.”  It takes up less space.  In some ways, it’s easier to write in.  Yes, I write in my books rather copiously.  If somehow, my former students happened to acquire one of my books, they said that it was “more valuable” that way.
     When we lived in Cincinnati, I had a friend who was an auto mechanic.  He and his family lived frugally.  Yet, he had a “tool payment.”  He needed the right tools to be able to do his job.  For students and teachers, books are your tools.  Don’t skimp on them.  For most students, learning and studying is hard enough as it is with the tools that they need.  Don’t handicap them.
     The book habit is cheaper than going back to school.  Also, no tests, no essays, no term papers, no restrictions.  I’m reminded of Ray Bradbury, one of my favorite writers.  He couldn’t afford to go to college, so he got his education at the library.  It served him quite well.
     As tools, I’ve learned to hold books lightly.  My desire is to have “an open heart and an open hand.”  I used to be quite possessive about my books.  Then, I had to give many of the away when we went through a period of life when we had limited storage space.  This was good for my soul.  Most books, even out of print ones, can be replaced.  Hopefully, people who borrow my books and don’t return them are more blessed by them than I am.
     I recently went through my library looking for a couple of books that I had purchased some time ago that I really wanted to read.  Then I remembered that I had lent them out.  At first, I was a little peevish.  But then, I realized, “what an opportunity to pray for that person.”  Not imprecatory prayers, or prayers that this person would “repent and acknowledge the depth of their sin,” but that that person really would be blessed, and that I may be able to be a blessing to them, and that the Lord would make his face shine upon them, lift up his countenance upon them, and give them peace.
     That prompting and opportunity for prayer was far more precious than those books.  That sign that God is working in my life, turning the vice of covetousness and acquisitiveness into a desire to pray and a genuine prayer for another’s well being, giving me a generous spirit when I’ve previously  had a tight-fisted spirit, was a priceless gift to me.  I pray that would be able to continue to recognize that I possess nothing that has not been given to me, that I brought nothing into this world, and that I will take nothing out of it.  Blessed be the name of the Lord our God.

What I’m Reading Now

     There are many things that I cannot do while I am recovering from surgery. But I am resolved to do all the good that I can while I am laid up.  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to engage in some concentrated study;  Here are some of the books I’ve been reading.
     Blessed: A History of the Prosperity Gospel, by Kate Bowler, is an academic history of the Word of Faith movement.  Dr. Bowler is a professor of church history at Duke Divinity School.  This is an important book that I’ll write a separate post on.  I say that it’s important, because Texas and Oklahoma are the centers of the prosperity gospel.  What this means for us is that many of our neighbors have been taken in by this aberrant teaching.  As I will point out in the future, this should not make those of us who are Evangelical and Reformed feel superior.  On the contrary, we need to be patient and compassionate with those who have experienced t his faith tradition, and who have felt betrayed by its false promises.
     The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life,  by Albert N. Martin.  As a pastor, it’s always good to reexamine your call and your fitness for it in terms of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  Having pastored a single congregation for forty-six years, Pastor Martin is a master of pastoral theology.  Any minister or interested church member would profit by reading this book.  This is the first of four projected volumes of pastoral theology.  It’s wonderful to be able to “listen in” on the wisdom of such a godly servant of the Lord.
     Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon, by Tom Nettles.  This is perhaps the definitive biography on Spurgeon.  It’s refreshing to read a biography of a man whose holiness matched his immense gifting and effectiveness in ministry.
     Job.  I’m continuing to work ahead on sermons from the Book of Job.  I had anticipated being able to preach through the book in about ten or so sermons.  In doing so, I had forgotten the counsel of Dr. Hughes Oliphant Old, who was the pre-eminent scholar of the Reformed faith in the twentieth century.  He said, “every time you preach through a book of the Bible, it will take you longer because you find more depth.”  However, I do not plan to preach 157  sermons on Job, as Calvin did, or 576, as Joseph Caryl did.  I’m working through Matthew Henry’s commentary and Derek Thomas’ doctoral dissertation:  Calvin’s Teaching On Job:  Proclaiming the Incomprehensible God.   I feel like I’m trying to bail out the Atlantic Ocean with a coffee cup.  But it’s good to read over your head, and some of it will stick.  
     Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be, by Sinclair Ferguson.  Dr. Ferguson has spent a lifetime in the pastorate.  In this book, he writes on lessons learned from John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray.  
Latin. Having taught Latin for ten years, I may be functional but have a long way to go.  I’m pushing myself to stay sharp and improve.

Job and the prosperity gospel

It’s been quite an education reading Kate Bowler’s Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel alongside studying the Book of Job.  One church member offered the observation that the counsel of Job’s friends sounds much like the prosperity gospel.  The prosperity gospel is also known as the “health and wealth gospel” and the “Word of faith” movement.  A more crass description of this teaching is “name it and claim it.”  Here are two errors that are prominent in both the prosperity gospel and much of the counsel of Job’s friends.
An Unbiblical Anthropology.  Both Job’s friends and the Word of Faith teachers bring God down to the level of humanity.  Both the Creator/creature distinction and the holiness of God are slighted.  Both create a world in which God can be placed in man’s debt.  The reason why I point this out is that apart from the Creator/creature distinction and the holiness and justice of God, there is no room for the gospel.  In this paradigm man, on his own, can achieve the righteousness of God apart from being born again, apart from a changed heart, and apart from the gracious enabling of the Holy Spirit.  Having minimized “death in Adam,” they preclude “life in Christ.”
An Over-Realized Eschatology.  Eschatology is the study of the “end times,” the “last things.”  Both Job’s friends and the prosperity gospel bring all the blessings and judgments of the world to come into this world.  There is only immediate blessing and immediate retribution.  Our Lord Jesus first suffered, and then entered into glory.  As those who are in Christ, this is what God has called us to as well.  Suffering precedes glory.  This was Peter’s stumbling block in Mark 8:32-33.  He saw the glory of our  Lord, but could not imagine the necessity of the suffering of our Lord.    This paradigm makes the process of sanctification, which is a vital element in the Christian life, superfluous.  “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.
In future posts, I’ll add more thoughts to this.

Health Update

Some of you know that I suffered a recent knee injury at home.  I’d like to say that I was pushed, but the truth is that I fell down the stairs carrying laundry and ruptured my patellar tendon.
The first emotion that I felt over this was overwhelming gratitude.  Though I will be laid up for a while, it c460b05d6af33bbd54b02055cdc61e5daould have been much worse.  I could have easily sustained a brain or spinal cord injury that would have been irreparable.  Though it will take some time, my knee should get back to full mobility.  I can’t say that I’ve maintained this frame of mind the entire time I’ve been set aside, but thankfulness is the dominant emotion.
Two weeks out from the surgery, my pain is mostly manageable.  My knee will be in an immobilizer for another month.  Then, I will graduate to a hinged brace.  So, most likely, it will be another month before I can drive.
While I’m laid up, I’m seeking to do all the good that I can.  While it is difficult for me to go to people, they can come to me. I’ve also been able to take the time to do some extended prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, and focused study.
My injury is not in vain.  Along with the Psalmist, I can say, “it was good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).  For his own purposes, the Lord has chosen to slow me down.  My times are in his hands.  I am completely at peace with getting back to public ministry in his timing.

Do all the good that you can

Several years ago, I taught an American History class.  One of our primary sources was a series of excepts from Cotton Mather’s “Essays To Do Good.”  During my period of convalescence, Mather’s essays have come back to haunt me.  I’ve recognized that while I will be physically limited for a while, there are still many opportunities to do good.  So, I’ve resolved to do all the good that I can.  I hope that this resolution will carry over to when I am able-bodied.
Mather’s proposal in these essays is: “That we resolve and study to do as much good in the world as we can.”  He goes on to speak of the necessity of good works, that good works follow justification, and to exhort his readers not to miss opportunities to do whatever good they can, whether temporal or spiritual.
Here are some gems from these essays:
“Every one of us might do more good than he does.”
“Let  us try to do good, with as much application of mind, as men who do evil.”
“A power and opportunity fo doing good not only gives a right to the doing of a thing, but makes the doing of it a duty.”
“Those who devote themselves to good devices (works), and who duly observe their opportunities to do good, usually find a wonderful increase
of their opportunities.  The gracious providence of God affords this recompense to his diligent servants, that he will multiply their opportunities of being serviceable.”
“The firstborn of all devices to do good is to be born again.”
“Our opportunities to do good are our talents”

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.

 

 

 

The Harlem Renaissance: A Model For Cultural Engagement From Within The Benedict Option

Rod Dreher’s much acclaimed new book, The Benedict Option is being released this week. Having been a regular reader of his blog at The American Conservative, I’m somewhat familiar with his proposal. I’ve also just finished reading Nathan Irwin Huggins’ The Harlem Renaissance. While it would appear that the Benedict Option proposal and the Harlem Renaissance have nothing in common, there is much to learn from the Harlem Renaissance from Benedict Option devotees.

For the uninitiated, Dreher’s Benedict Option proposes that what some Christians term the “culture war” has been lost. The Christian faith is no longer the predominant worldview in the West. Christians have accommodated to this development largely by allowing themselves to become absorbed by consumerism and what sociologist Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which is a counterfeit of historic Christianity that reduces God to a divine butler. Dreher’s concern is that current Christian practice has accommodated the culture to the extent that professing believers have lost their distinctiveness. In Jesus’ terms, the salt of the earth has lost its savor, and is good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men (Matthew 5:13 KJV). The tradition that the fathers are to hand down to their children has become so diluted, that much of the Church has nothing substantial to pass on to the next generation. Dreher’s proposal is for Christians to “strategically withdraw” for the purpose of returning to the roots of the faith so that Christian practice regains its distinctiveness and has the “weight” to be passed down intact to future generations. Dreher is looking to the past, to the efforts of the monks in the early Middle Ages, who by strategically withdrawing from the world, preserved early Christian literature until such as time as people saw its worth and desired to read and study it and return to the faith of the Fathers.  Thomas Cahill tells this story ably in How The Irish Saved Civilization.

The Harlem Renaissance is a literary and artistic movement that fanned the flames of a robust black cultural identity beginning in the 1920s. While this movement, called the “New Negro Movement” at the time featured Harlem as its epicenter, its influence spread throughout America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. Historians typically see the waning of this movement beginning with the Great Depression, but its influence continues today. The artists of this period sought to create a distinctive black culture and to foster pride in black identity through the media of literature, drama, music, and the visual arts.

I raise this comparison because the Harlem Renaissance may be a possible sort of template for Christian culture-making within the Benedict option. The Harlem Renaissance was such a diverse movement that not all who were a part of it subscribed to all of the tenets that I mention below. Rather, these are general characteristics that summarize the philosophical distinctives of many of its voices.

First, in the Harlem Renaissance, blackness was promoted as a source of pride rather than a source of shame. Even while living within the constraints of Jim Crow and second-class citizenship, many of the voices of this movement promoted pride in black identity. Faith-shaming has made many Christian wary of coming out or living openly as Christians. Even if Christians are destined to be treated as second-class citizens, we need to develop a sense of the right kind of pride in our faith and in our identity, to not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but to publicly live out our God-given identity in Christ.

Second, the Harlem Renaissance highlights the importance of community.The Harlem of the 1920s created an incubator of culture through a network of artists, patrons, and causes. While there were certainly artists who flourished outside of this community, living in a community that fostered a shared identity and cultural aspiration created symbiotic relationships that enriched the quality and distinctiveness of artistic expression. Not all Benedict Option-minded Christians will be able to relocate to residential communities of like-minded people. But it is necessary to encourage and be encouraged by like-minded people who believe that mining the treasures of the past and appropriating them for today is the way forward to further distinctive Christian living.

Third, while not every creator who was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance attained higher education, W. E. B. DuBois promoted the necessity of African-Americans being education classically, as free men, rather than only being apprenticed to a trade. In order to pass down the traditions of the faith, our children must be taught to think broadly, deeply, critically, as free people, hence the importance of a liberal arts education rather than an almost exclusive focus on scientific, technological, and vocational education.

Fourth, the artists of the Harlem Renaissance produced “high” culture and “folk” culture, rather than mass culture. Claude McKay, James Weldon Johnson, and Count Cullen were poets who strove to be great poets, rather than great Black poets. Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston incorporated elements of black folk culture in their works. Jazz and blues, the only genre of music indigenous to America, originated from folk culture, then spread to popular culture and high culture. Popular culture, as we know it, was just beginning to develop during this period, so it’s difficult to know to what extent practitioners would have created art for mass or consumer culture. In today’s Evangelical tradition, most literature, music, and visual arts are geared toward mass or consumer culture rather than high or folk culture. Such works are here today and gone tomorrow. Those of us who are practitioners of the arts must aim long-term and seek to create works that will stand the test of time.

Last, the Harlem Renaissance had their own “house organs” to publish and proliferate their works. The Crisis, perhaps the best-known magazine of this period, was the official magazine of the NAACP, and Opportunity, the magazine of the National Urban League, published and promoted the work of African-American writers. The Messenger and The Negro World were political publications that also published poetry and essays of interest to their audiences.

Print media runs on tight margins today. First Things, Touchstone, and World are fine publications. Alas, Books and Culture ceased operations last year. While web publishing is incredibly cheap (it cost me nothing except for my annual subscription fee to WordPress to publish this essay), putting an essay, a poem, a story, or a novel into print makes a statement. It announces to the world that this work is worth reading and taking up space on one’s shelf. Publishing on the web has enormous advantages in terms of reaching both a targeted and diverse audience. Print is not going away. Certainly, Benedict option writers should seek to publish with the publishers who will give their work its greatest reach. But if the marginalization of Christianity has come, Christians will need to publish and promote their own work, and will need to develop the institutions and organizations necessary to do so.

Injury Update

Below, you can see the carnage of our recent auto accident.  We are blessed to have survived and to have the assurance that we should fully recover.  In the meantime, there are daily difficulties that arise from being limited because of injuries.  I don’t want to write this in an ungrateful spirit, because my wife and I are so thankful for the kindnesses, meals, rides, errands, and many other tangible expressions of love from the Providence Extension Program (PEP) community where we both serve.

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Perhaps I’m reading the wrong book for this time in our lives, but I’m listening to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  Broadly speaking, Gawande writes about the intersection between medicine and aging, and often finds that treating aging and its complications according to a medical model results in a tradeoff between safety and quality of life.  Gawande’s narrative is mostly comprised of the stories of people as they age, and are confronted with physical, medical, and lifestyle challenges that accompany growing older.

The experience I’m sharing with those in Gawande’s narrative is that because of the injuries sustained by my wife and me, everything takes longer and is much more complicated.  Even daily tasks such as laundry, finding clothes to wear, driving when I’m sufficiently between doses of pain medicine, making sure that Amy’s medications are within reach and organized, and having to take frequent breaks from working guarantee that productivity is a dirty word to me.   A couple of experiences have really surprised me about all of this.

I’m surprised by the amount of joy that caring for my wife gives me.  Amy and I took care of my sister for over a year.  Much of that time, Cathy was more dependent on others than Amy is.  Being in a position to help my wife has been the greatest joy of the accident, and an experience that makes me hopeful for the years ahead.

I’m surprised at how easily little things can upset me.  People have cooked for us and brought us dinner almost every night.  Most of the meals have been delicious, and even people who live far away (45 minutes or more!) have gone out of their way to help us.  But last night, I almost broke down because I wanted to have the foods that we used to cook before the accident.  Since the accident was right in the aftermath of our trip to Peru, we haven’t eaten a meal that we have cooked in five weeks.  Again, the sheer generosity of people is overwhelming!  Most of us would love to be in this position!  But the combination of missing the foods that we have made in the past and my inability to prepare them almost caused me to have a meltdown!

Unfortunately, I’ve been difficult to live with.  The last thing Amy needs is a cantankerous husband!  I need to pause and take a deep breath more often.  Amy and I are well cared for.   Our children couldn’t be more sympathetic or helpful.  But pain and loss of function are difficult realities.  I’m hoping that this isn’t a foreshadowing of what old age will look like for me.  God is showing me how much I need to grow in grace for us to have a gracious, happy, and peaceful home, which is something that with His help, we can achieve no matter what our limitations are.

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