The Power of Example
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Heroes, Villains, and Conversation Partners: A Call to Rethink Church HistoryBy Doug Ponder — 3 months ago
Three cheers for all those who approach church history looking for heroes and villains. May the tribe of passionately subjective historians increase, may their efforts always spur us on to love and good works (Heb. 10:25). Similarly, three cheers for all those who know the value of historically diverse conversation partners. May we all long to hear not just from God’s people around the globe, but from across the ages.
In a previous article I addressed the need to rethink how we teach and study history, especially the history of the church. I highlighted two pressing problems: First, a name-and-dates approach to the subject is both a failure to grasp what history is as well as a reliable way to ensure that most people will never care about it. (We’ll return to this presently.)
Second, a far more destructive problem is the fact that most people have drunk so deeply from the poisoned wells of progressivism that they have fallen prey to the smug fallacy of chronological snobbery.1 In this way, the point of history—if a modern man even cares about it at all—is simply to make sure he doesn’t repeat it.2 The solution to such a dim view of history is found in the biblical injunctions to “remember the days of old; consider the years of past generations” (Deut. 32:7). For all these things were recorded “for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), that we might “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and “hold fast to the traditions” of God’s people (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thes. 2:15) as we imitate their virtues (Heb. 11:2ff; 13:7) and avoid their errors (2 Chron. 30:7; Zech. 1:4). In this way, history is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16)—not an as an equal to the Scriptures, much less as a replacement for the same (μὴ γένοιτο), but as an interpretive assistant and an illustrative guide.3
This brings us back to the first problem. Christians of all people (should) know that history is not something mainly to be ridiculed and avoided but to be treasured and studied with humility and gratitude. This is precisely why the names-and-dates approach to history is such an abysmal way to teach the subject, for the main effect it produces is a listless yawn. Yet such apathy only furthers our ignorance of history, which, in turn, fuels our chronological snobbery in self-destructive ways. Here, then, is a proposal for a better way forward.
Heroes and Villains in History
Since the ultimate point of history is not merely learning ‘what happened’ but learning to imitate the good, we ought to approach church history from the explicit goal of trying to cultivate virtue. And that means history must have heroes and villains.
Unfortunately, such an approach is widely frowned upon. For example, when speaking of historical theology (a field of study closely related to church history), one prominent evangelical historian writes: “If it is to be of use, historical theology must be descriptive rather than prescriptive.”4 He further explains, “It is not the historian’s job to prescribe what should be believed theologically or done practically today.”5
Never mind the hopelessly modern notion of an objective historical record.6 The fact is that ancient historians cared very little for any sense of neutrality. They had some thoughts about what happened, and so should you, dear reader. To be sure, their interpretations might be wrong—as might ours. But at least they were spared of the terrible demon of dispassionate historical detachment.
Going Forward into Battle and Victory!By Kym Farnik — 5 months ago
Too many times, we only see partial victory when the Lord wants us to win completely. Sometimes we go through difficult times, trials, and tribulations. The Lord is always with us and even carries us in the most difficult times. His love for us is endless. Nothing we can do will make Him love us more than He does already. We just need to persist in loving and trusting Him; again allowing Him to reign in our lives so He can fight for us.
I sense it is a time of both transition and also overcoming obstacles and enemies. This is a word for this season: three things we need to go forward.
1. Agenda — Are We in the Lord’s Plans or Our Own?
Joshua is confronted by the Lord and comes to see that he needs be on the Lord’s side, i.e. it is not whether God is on our side, but that we are on God’s side of things. It is His agenda, not ours, that matters.
Joshua then worshipped on holy ground, which is where we come to hear the Lord’s agenda on issues.The Lord is calling us into deeper relationship, worship, and holiness; from this place, we have divine alignment for divine assignment.
We cannot hold on to our own agenda and goals, we must hear the Lord in all things and go with His plan, calling, and His purposes.
And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho,that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold,a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand.And Joshua went to Him and said to Him,“Are You for us or for our adversaries?”So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord, I have now come.”And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped,and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua,“Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.”And Joshua did so.~ Joshua 5:13-15
Insular Thinking About the American Nuclear FamilyBy Kaspars Ozolins — 12 months ago
For all his castigation of the nuclear family (complicit, according to Brooks, in the many modern American societal ills that he catalogs), he offers no real alternative means for achieving the goal he desires — complex and deep networks of individuals in extended families supporting each other. Though distorted in numerous ways by fallen mankind, the nuclear family has persisted through the ages as a mainstay of natural law. Far from being a parochial innovation of twentieth-century conservative America, the nuclear family is in fact the universal building block of every known society.
“The Nuclear Family was a Mistake.” So reads the provocative title of a relatively recent essay published by David Brooks in The Atlantic. The attention-grabbing headline was perhaps overshadowed by other, more immediately pressing headlines at that time (ironically, Brooks’s essay was published in the same month that the whole Western world suddenly began to lock itself up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic). Yet while pandemics (and wars) come and go, the secular West’s continual spiritual decline has proceeded apace, ever more rapidly accelerating in the decades since the sexual revolution.
David Brooks is certainly not alone in his assessment of the “nuclear family,” a term which has now become an epithet of opprobrium in our culture. One thinks of certain sitcoms, such as Married with Children, which mock the dysfunctional nuclear families they depict with a kind of bemused apathy (or by turns even a concealed hatred). The academy as well has worked diligently to stereotype this family model as a historical novelty, deeply tied to social conservative ideals in North American society.
Yet what is most surprising, perhaps, is the degree to which the American church in many quarters has thrown in its lot with the culture in criticizing the emphasis that earlier generations of evangelicals placed on family. Note, as well, that this critique is by no means exclusive to left-leaning evangelicalism. Indeed, both the left and the right increasingly have framed their critiques of “purity culture,” and the preoccupation with marriage and procreation, as distractions — even a form of subtle idolatry — that too often sidetracks from the gospel.
There have been numerous recent re-examinations of the virtues of evangelical mainstays such as Focus on the Family and The Promise Keepers. There has also been a reconsideration, to some degree, of the traditional evangelical emphasis on young people avoiding secular dating practices, and instead marrying early and seeking to form a family unit as soon as possible. Significantly, some of the major players in a bygone era of evangelicalism have renounced their previously held views (such as Joshua Harris, author of the wildly popular 90s classic I Kissed Dating Goodbye), or else proven themselves to have been deeply morally compromised (such as Ravi Zacharias or Josh Duggar). These factors (as well as others) have, in one way or another, recently served to slam the brakes on the traditional evangelical emphasis on the family in the context of Christian discipleship. Just as the 1950s were for the broader American culture, the 1990s are increasingly viewed, in the popular imagination of much of contemporary evangelicalism, as a kind of idealistic, unrealistic, imbalanced high-water mark of the “nuclear family.”
Countervailing Arguments Against the Family
The trends described above have coincided with some new opposing emphases in American evangelicalism. In reaction to a perceived overemphasis on the family unit, there has been growth in recognizing singleness as a gift from God and as something to be aspired to. Especially significant here is the rise of “Side B” Christianity and the encouragement, even celebration of, celibacy for same-sex attracted Christians (in place of marriage, which is sometimes viewed as “inauthentic” for such persons). As such, one potent strategy in the effort to equalize the perceived unfairness between married Christians and other Christians struggling with homosexuality is to downplay the importance of marriage and procreation in the Christian life itself. Some have gone even further than this. The founder and president of the Revoicemovement, Nate Collins, asked openly in a 2018 conference address: “Is it possible that gay people today are being sent by God, like Jeremiah, to find God’s words for the church . . . [and] shed light on contemporary false teachings and even idolatries?” This he characterized as a “prophetic call to the church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family.”
Rather surprisingly and counterintuitively, the nuclear family is now subtly associated with the modern American preoccupation with individualism and materialism. Advocacy for traditional families is even stigmatized (though usually not overtly) as a selfish undertaking that tends to cannibalize other equally legitimate extended and non-traditional familial bonds. The family, consisting of a husband, a wife, and their children, is thus effectively stereotyped as being the privilege of well-to-do white middle class families.
The argument in Brooks’s essay is illustrative of this. His piece does not necessarily read in the way one might expect (to judge by its attention-grabbing title). It is not a screed that directly assaults biblical marriage or ridicules procreation. Rather, his critique of the nuclear family is couched more in terms that present this family model as a somewhat utopian ideal which only flourished for around a decade or so in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to a constellation of chance historical circumstances (what Brooks terms “The Short, Happy Life of the Nuclear Family”).