The News Makes You Dumb (So, Read More and More Deeply!)

PleasureofReadingBkLast week Public Discourse (the Journal of the Witherspoon Institute) published an essay by Allen Mendenhall with a provocative title: “The News Makes You Dumb.” In it he challenges us not to seek mere information, especially the type produced in our day by the major news media and social media outlets, but to seek to be informed for intelligent debate by deep reading.

I found his essay searching and stimulating – and much needed in our time. I give you an excerpt here and encourage you to read the rest at the link above.

A pernicious notion seems to have settled into the minds of my generation (I’m 36) when we were little boys and girls. It’s now an unquestioned “fact” that “staying informed,” “staying engaged,” and “following the news” are the obligatory duties of sensible, responsible people.

They’re not.

Reading and watching the news isn’t just unhelpful or uninstructive; it inhibits real learning, true education, and the rigorous cultivation of serious intellectual curiosity.

…U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously refused to read newspapers. In The Theory of Education in the United States, Albert Jay Nock bemoaned “the colossal, the unconscionable, volume of garbage annually shot upon the public from the presses of the country, largely in the form of newspapers and periodicals.” His point was that a societal emphasis on literacy was by and large ineffectual if the material that most people read was stupid and unserious. Does one actually learn by reading the cant and carping insolence of the noisy commentariat?

“Surely everything depends on what he reads,” Nock said of the average person, “and upon the purpose that guides him in reading it.” What matters is not that one reads but what and how one reads. “You can read merely to pass the time,” the great Harold Bloom remarked, “or you can read with an overt urgency, but eventually you will read against the clock.”

The heart beats only so many beats; in one life, a person can read only so much. Why squander away precious minutes reading mediocre scribbling or watching rude, crude talking heads debate transitory political matters of ultimately insignificant import, when instead, in perfect solitude, you could expand your imagination, nurture your judgment and discernment, refine your logic and reasoning, and purge yourself of ignorance, by pursuing wisdom and objective knowledge, through the canon of great literature, with a magnanimous spirit of openness and humility?

Why let obsequious, unlettered journalists on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC shape your conscience, determine your beliefs, or develop your dependency on allegedly expert opinion, as if you were a docile creature lacking the courage to formulate your own ideas, when you could, instead, empower yourself through laborious study, exert your own understanding, and free yourself from the cramped cage of contemporary culture by analyzing past cultures, foreign places, difficult texts, and profound ideas?

And the author closes with this:

Do not misunderstand me: I do not advocate a Luddite lifestyle or a withdrawal from society and the workaday world. I just mean that too many of us, too much of the time, are enthralled by fleeting media trifles and trivialities, and ensnared in the trap of mindless entertainment disguised as vigorous edification.

Let’s stop telling little children what my generation heard when we were kids. They should stay away from the news lest they fall prey to its mania, foolishness, and stupidity. They should read books—difficult books—and be challenged to improve themselves and refine their techniques. Rather than settling on easy, preferred answers, they should accept tensions and contingencies, suspending judgment until all angles have been pursued and all perspectives have been considered. Let’s teach them to become, not activists or engaged citizens necessarily, but intelligent human beings who love knowledge and learning, and who pursue wisdom and discernment before mundane politics.

Published in: on July 30, 2020 at 10:24 PM  Leave a Comment  

New Book Alert and Review – Dating Differently: A Guide to Reformed Dating

dating-differently-JEngelsma-2019Just off the presses and at the warehouse is the latest Reformed Free Publishing Association’s (rfpa.org) title – Dating Differently: A Guide to Reformed Dating. It is with high anticipation and great excitement that we welcome this new book. And we may add that we are deeply grateful it has been written, as it not only fills a gap in the RFPA’s publications, but also in the writings of the Protestant Reformed Churches and in the offerings of the broader Reformed book world.

The author is Rev. Joshua Engelsma, a 2014 graduate of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and currently pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Northwest Iowa. It is evident from the outset that pastor Engelsma writes not only out his own life experiences in dating and entering into marriage, but also out of his own pastoral experience. The chapters breathe genuine concern for the young people of the covenant as well as love for God, the church, and his own wife (to whom the book is affectionately dedicated). As you read through the book, you feel that you are being addressed by a true friend (a tried and tested friend!) who cares about how you go about making one of the most important decisions in life: whom you will marry. Young people – even very young people – will find a faithful guide here. And so will parents, pastors, and counselors involved in nurturing the youth of the church and kingdom of God.

But let’s find out a bit more about Dating Differently. What is it about and what makes it different from other Christian books on dating?

The publisher gives the following as a brief description:

We’re bombarded with antichristian messages everywhere in life, and from casual hookups to casual sex, our culture’s messages on dating are no different.

But Christians don’t have to follow these norms. The Bible gives us a better way.

It’s a way of chastity and wisdom. A way that understands that marriage—the end goal of dating—is for life. The person you marry will shape who you become spiritually. And that person will also be the father or mother to the children God is pleased to give you some day.

Pastorally and accessibly, Joshua Engelsma answers the practical questions of Reformed, Christian dating based on the truth that we must date differently—with marriage as the goal and scripture as the guide.

That description reveals the antithetical nature of this work – so vital in this age in which we and our young people are living! The author strives to guide the young people of the church in spiritual separation from the godless world in which we live, as well as from the apostate church world and its false guidance about dating. Rather, he shows them how to be devoted to God and to Jesus Christ as they date and prepare for marriage, or are called to singleness in their Christian lives.

With regard to the specific content, Dating Differently is comprehensive, as the chapter list indicates:

  1. Preface
  2. Is there help?
  3. Where’s this headed?
  4. When should I start?
  5. Who’s the one?
  6. What’s there to do on dates?
  7. What’s the place of my parents and others?
  8. What about sex?
  9. What if I’m single all my life?
  10. When do I get married?
  11. Conclusion

You will note from these chapter titles that Pastor Engelsma covers all the basics of dating with a view to marriage, including that question about being and remaining single, which he shows is also a good way of the Lord. And you will discern from this content that the author does not shy away from the tough issues involved with dating as a Christian – issues such as recreational dating vs. dating with a distinct purpose (marriage); who takes the lead in dating (male headship and male leadership while maintaining the full spiritual equality of the woman); the role of parents (maintaining parental authority over against the autonomy of the young man/young woman); and the place of sex in dating (none – it must be saved for marriage!).

While reading through the manuscript the publisher sent me, I was also struck by the practical nature of this book. In some cases, with very personal and practical subjects like this, pastors write out of principle (as they should!) but fall short on being practical, and the result is a book that is sound but not in touch with the real world of its main objects. That is not true of Dating Differently. Pastor Engelsma writes about dating in a most principled manner (grounded in Scripture) while also being personal and practical. Being not that far removed from the dating years, he writes as one who knows that world well and relates it practically so that young people can relate to his wise counsel. That means the book is also clear and direct without being condescending or condemnatory. Young people will receive the practical guidance because they sense the author knows his subject – and them.

Need an example of that principled practicality found in the book? Here’s a snippet from chapter 4, “When should I start?”

If you are fifteen or sixteen and consider yourself ready to date, take a moment to stop and think about the future. If you start dating now and continue to date the same person, when you graduate from high school you will have dated for two or three years. Two or three years is a long time to date, enough time for you to know whether you can marry this person or not. Are you ready at eighteen, freshly graduated from high school, to get married? As a young man, are you going to be ready to support a wife and family? As a young woman, are you ready to be a wife and possibly a mother? Or do you have plans of going to college and getting a degree? If so, do you think that after three years of dating in high school you are willing to wait through four more years of college before getting married? Is that really wise?

Perhaps there are some of you who at sixteen are ready for all this. But as a general rule, most are not. If you are going to date, be sure that you are spiritually mature.

But the book doesn’t simply cover these varied dating topics in a general or vague way. The author is Reformed and approaches all these subjects in a Reformed way. That means, first of all, that he is committed to showing young people how they must date according to the Word of God. That’s the guide he uses and points the reader to throughout. Each chapter is replete with Scripture references, and the study questions at the end of each chapter also point the reader to the Bible. Such an approach shows that the author is interested in confronting his readers with God and His way, not man and his way.

In addition, the author is Protestant Reformed, and writes from the precious and precise perspective of the PRC’s teaching on marriage – the Bible’s teaching! – often lost and forsaken in the Reformed world today. He explains that particular position in the Preface:

There are plenty of other books on dating on the market, some worthwhile, others not. In part what makes this book unique is that it is written from the viewpoint of the biblical, historically Reformed view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life, with divorce permitted only in cases of fornication and all remarriage forbidden while one’s spouse is living. This precious truth, still maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches in which I serve, is applied in the pages that follow to the practical subject of dating.

It should be evident by now that I highly recommend this short but trustworthy Reformed guide on dating. I encourage our young people – and their parents – to get this book and read it promptly. And then apply it, personally and practically. Use the wisdom found on its pages. And, of course, the book will also benefit pastors and teachers, elders and grandparents, and single believers. Add it to your personal or family library. Get one for your church library. Think about giving one as a gift to your local community library. Reading and following God’s way of dating as outlined in this title will reap a beautiful and blessed covenant harvest.

The book retails for $16.95 but can be purchased at a discounted price by joining the RFPA Book Club. Visit the RFPA website for more information and for ordering.

Nota bene: I plan to return to this book in future posts for some choice quotes, demonstrating the truth of what I have posted here.

Itching Ear Epidemic

But this [a lack of solid biblical, expositional preaching] doesn’t seem to bother many churchgoers. In fact, if given the option between a systematic, verse-by-verse exposition of a book of the Bible or a more topical message where verses are plucked from all over Scripture and combined to create a special series on practical issues like marriage, parenting, sex, money, work, dating, stress, etc., most churchgoers would pick the topical series as their favorite because in their minds it in easier and more enjoyable to listen to and is seemingly more helpful to their everyday lives. This should come as no surprise since the charge Paul gave to Timothy was given with a view to the future when the church ‘will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears fro the truth, and will turn aside to myths’ (2 Tim.4:3-4). We are living in that time period about which Paul warned Timothy.

There are lots of people in churches today who will not put up with sound, doctrinal preaching. They are intolerant of anyone who gets up behind a pulpit and preaches truth that confronts their sinful lifestyle or makes them feel uncomfortable. They flat-out refuse to sit there and listen. If they feel like the preacher is stepping on their toes, they either run him out of the church or find another church where the preacher strokes their ears and makes them leave church feeling good about themselves. They successfully insulate themselves from what they consider the offensive truths of the Bible by surrounding themselves with preachers who caress them rather than confront them, who tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. They evaluate preachers based not on whether their teaching lines up with the Scriptures, but on whether it tickles their fancies, scratches them where they itch, and satisfies their craving to always be encouraged and entertained. It seems most people these days prefer listening to light, uplifting, entertaining messages. If given the choice, they would rather hear fictional stories than biblical truths.

ExpositoryListeningTaken from chapter 4 of Ken Ramey’s book, Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word , (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010). This chapter treats Paul’s warning to Timothy in 2 Tim.4:1-4 and is titled “The Itching Ear Epidemic” (pp.51ff.). In it the author speaks both to preachers and to listeners.

in light of what Ramey writes here, we may examine ourselves concerning our own propensity for “itching ears.” Have we been affected by this epidemic found in the churches about us? May God give us a hunger for the pure preaching of the gospel according to His Word and make us faithful listeners of such spiritual food.

Reading Secular Literature through the lens of …Common Grace?!

GuidetoClassics-LRykenAs we continue working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we are up chapter 9, where he treats “secular classics” (pp.80-90).

Of late we have examined the section where he considers “how not to read a secular classic.” He made some valuable points and we benefited from his thoughts.

The next section takes on the positive side of this –  “How to Read a Secular Classic,” and the author’s opening  paragraphs will be of interest to our PR readers – and we hope, to others too. The reason being that Ryken introduces the doctrine of common grace here, a doctrine the PRC rejects, and for good reasons (for more on that, read the material on common grace on the PRC website, such as on this page).

But, first, let’s allow Ryken to explain why he thinks we need the doctrine of common grace in order to properly read a secular classic:

My first piece of advice may surprise some of my readers, but it is a settled conviction based on years of experience. To read secular classics we need to be thoroughly convinced of the doctrine of common grace. This doctrine is explicitly (though not abundantly) stated in the Bible and has been championed by the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition. The doctrine of common grace holds that God endows all people, Christian and non-Christian alike, with a capacity for the true, the good, and the beautiful.

At this point, the author states that he does not want to try and prove the doctrine from the Bible, but he does quote Calvin to the effect that “the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts,” and “all truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.”

Now, I might pause right there and say that Calvin is not talking about common grace. He doesn’t use the term, for he understood that grace puts one in the camp of salvation (and the work of Jesus Christ, God’s Savior), and that’s anything but common; it’s particular, reserved for those to whom God sovereignly wills to show and give His saving grace (cf. Romans 9 and Eph.2 for starters). Calvin speaks of “gifts,” and with that we fully agree. Don’t confuse God’s “gifts” with “grace” and call it common, because grace is always highly special and limited in its scope, while also being efficacious – it saves those on whom it is bestowed.

But, yes, of course, God is the source of all the wicked’s talents and abilities too. His mind, his skills, his ability to write good stories that reflect real life, even with its bitter taste of sin in all its dimensions and consequences, are gifts from God, bestowed through God’s general providence, not through His particular grace.

There is much more that could be said in that connection – about why God gives the wicked these gifts and what purpose they serve, both for them and for believers. But we stop here for now, and let Ryken have the “last word” – at least for now:

The importance of common grace for the literary enterprise is immense. It means first that we do not need to inquire into the religious orthodoxy of an author before we can affirm what is worthy in an author’s work. Wherever we find the true , the good, or the beautiful, we can applaud it. This is far from universally accepted by Christians. Among earnest believers I often sense an uneasiness, if not outright hostility, toward works of literature authored by non-Christians. The doctrine of common grace leads us to conclude that we can and should spend time reading secular literature as well as Christian literature for our edification and delight [pp.86-87].

How Not to Read a Secular Classic

GuidetoClassics-LRykenAs we continue working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we are up chapter 9, where he treats “secular classics” (pp.80-90).

The next section has the heading “How Not to Read  a Secular Classic,” and tonight let’s take a look at his thoughts on this. Ryken has three points on this subject – three “errors,” as he calls them. I will list them and then we will let him expand on them in his own words.

  • “The first is the error of avoidance.” He simply means that we would exclude secular classics from our reading material, and in that way waste a good opportunity for learning and growth.
  • “A second way not to read secular classics is to read with what scholars call ‘a hermeneutic of suspicion’ – looking for trouble at every turn.” Ryken has this in mind: “To read with suspicion means to presume that an author ‘got it wrong’ and that the only possible function of a book is to prompt us to disagree with it.” I think we can understand why we would easily fall into this when reading a non-Christian writer. That is not to say, however, that we must not “be wary and on guard, but we can be alert without assuming that an author or work is our opponent on every count.” That’s good counsel for us to remember.
  • “A third error is the exact opposite of the second. It consists of giving automatic preference to non-Christian writers, on the assumption that they can be trusted to be more truthful than Christian writers, at least in the portrayal of human experience.” The argument is that unbelieving authors know evil character and conduct better than Christian writers, because they write from an unregenerate experience. But, as we well know, Christian writers know evil too, from their own experience as well as from the revelation of God in the Bible, where the truth about all evil is set forth, including the only answer to man’s evil – the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Is there anything you would add to these three “errors” in reading secular literature?

 

The Origin and Presence of False Teaching – April 2018 “Tabletalk”

A week into the new month of April, we are due to take a glance at the latest issue of Tabletalk magazine.

The April issue has the timely subject of “False Teaching” as its focus, with four main articles on it: the one in the heading to this post (which we will get to in a few lines); “False Teaching and Out There and In Here” (by Sean M. Lucas), “False Teaching and the Peace and Purity of the Church” (by Eric Landry), and “Teaching the Truth” (by John Macarthur).

Burk Parsons  introduces this important subject with his editorial “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” from which we quote this portion:

False teachers creep into the church not because they look like false teachers but because they look like angels. They disguise themselves just as their master Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. When false teachers attempt to creep into the church, they typically don’t look like wolves because they wear sheep costumes and use some of the same language that the sheep use. They regularly quote Scripture, and they are often able to quote more Scripture than the average Christian. False teachers are not always argumentative or divisive; often they are some of the nicest people we know. They usually creep in not with scowls on their faces but with big smiles. They don’t normally creep into churches and teach obvious heresies and falsehoods; they usually subtly question the truth and teach partial truths, and they are not always identified by what they actually teach but by what they leave out of their teaching. They often speak of Jesus, salvation, the gospel, and faith, but they twist the words and concepts of Scripture to fit their own versions of the truth, which is no truth at all. They typically don’t attempt to creep into churches where the Word of God is preached boldly and passionately, in season and out of season, and where the people are eager for the sound preaching of Scripture and are growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, they usually target those churches where people are indifferent to doctrine and apathetic about the preaching of the Word of God.

Those chilling words (they should send chills down our spines!) set the stage for the serious, informative articles that follow. The one we headline tonight is “The Origins and Presence of False Teaching” by Fred Greco, senior pastor of Christ Church (PCA) in Katy, Texas. I reference two places in his considerable article on the subject – one at the beginning and one at the end.

At the beginning of the article Greco makes a powerful point about not ignoring the seriousness of false teaching, no matter how sound our church is and we are as members. Hear him out on this point:

False teaching is a real threat to the church. False teaching is not a threat only in certain circumstances, or only in churches with certain governmental structures, or only in certain places and cultures in the world. We must recognize it as a threat because the Bible continually warns us that it is a threat.

And then after quoting several Scriptures proving this, he writes further:

The Bible’s testimony about false teaching should make it clear that we are not invulnerable to this threat. When we are tempted to think we are beyond such threats because we have it all together, we will do well to remember the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church, which thought it was beyond the errors that had sprung up during the days of Old Testament Israel: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). If doctrinal aberrations can spring up in churches that were nurtured with the teachings of the Apostles, what makes us think we are immune? Paul had to warn the Galatians about false teaching on the central doctrine of the faith—how man is justified before God—when the generation of disciples that were taught directly by Jesus was still walking the earth. How, then, can we afford to be complacent?

Subsequently, Greco makes good points about how false teaching can enter the church: “the desire for new teaching;” “overreaction to error;” and “the desire to avoid criticism.” But with that he also points out why false doctrine “takes root,” directing us to three things: “lack of Bible knowledge and discernment among the people;” “failure to hold people accountable for their false teaching;” (in other words, a lack of discipline) and a lack in the leadership of the church.

It is that last point that we reference in our second quote from this article:

There is a third contributor to the advance of false teaching in the church, and it is related to leadership. Even when the people of God are eager to study His Word and the church is prepared to exercise discipline, false teaching can flourish when the leadership of the church is ill prepared and poorly trained. The lower we set our standards for training pastors and elders for the ministry, the less prepared they will be to recognize false teaching. Pastors and elders who are untrained in historical theology will miss the reappearance of ancient false teaching in modern clothing. Those who have not been trained well in the Bible, its languages, and principles of its sound interpretation may fall prey to novel teachings that seem to explain away problems or contradictions. To combat false teaching, the church needs pastors, elders, and teachers who are both willing and able to confront falsehood (Titus 2:8; 1 Peter 2:15).

That too should give us reason to pause and ponder the state of our church(es) and of ourselves personally. Are we and am I prepared to detect and refute false teaching when it comes at us?

Yes, only by grace, through Christ, but also using the means He gives us by that same powerful grace.

By all means read the rest of the article at the link below, as well as the others on the subject on this month’s issue. They will help you whet your sword and raise your shield for the fiery darts that are sure to come.

Source: The Origin and Presence of False Teaching

Reading the Christian Classics: Milton’s Epic Poem – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenOver the last few years we have been working our way slowly through Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015). Of late, we have been in chapters 7 and 8 where the author treats the great classics of literature that may be identified as Christian.

Having completed our look at Ryken’s thoughts in chap.7, we turn to some of his thoughts in chap.8. Here he continues to consider various categories of Christian literature, including one that he classifies as “the Christianized secular text.” This is how he explains it with a true Christian classic – Milton’s Paradise Lost:

…There are some Christian classics that were intended by their authors to serve the polemical or argumentative purpose of refuting a non-Christian tradition. The technical term for this is intertext – a situation in which a work is designed as an interaction with an already-existing text or body of literature in such a way that the meaning of the enterprise can be viewed as existing between the two texts. The dialogue or refutation is an important part of the meaning.

Milton’s Paradise Lost is the best example. Milton participated in a tradition that began relatively early in the Middle Ages to determine how the Christian faith related to the classical tradition in which the authors and readers had been educated. There is evidence within Paradise Lost that Milton intended his epic to refute the epic tradition that he inherited, not at the level of epic form but at the level of ideas and values.

paradise lost-milton

That last point Ryken explains and develops further in the next paragraphs:

The classical epic tradition was humanistic in orientation. Its heroes were not irreligious, nor were the gods absent from the action, but the heroes achieved their feats mainly through human self-reliance. The goals that these heroes pursued were earthly fame, success, and empire. The epic feat was winning a battle, and it was axiomatic in this tradition that the crucial events of history happened on the battlefield.

Milton introduces aspects of this into his poem only to expose their deficiency. For example, he introduces a boastful warrior – Satan – only to show how evil he is. Overall, Milton’s anti-epic strategy… consisted of replacing the epic hero with the Christian saint as hero, and replacing military values with pastoral and domestic values. Milton made the garden rather than the battlefield the scene of his epic feat. And what is that feat? Eating an apple – not an act of glory but of shame, thereby exploding classical and humanistic illusions of human greatness. The setting for the epic feat was not the battlefield but the human soul, and it was not a physical act but a spiritual one.

And so Ryken finishes this point with these thoughts:

Epics always represent the author’s verdict on what constitutes heroic (exemplary) action. Homer assumed that human self-exertion and earthly success constitute heroic action. Milton’s version of heroic action is seen in Adam and Eve’s virtuous life in Paradise and consists of devotion to God, perfect married companionship, harmony with nature, contentedness, and living the simple life. These virtues are virtually the opposite of the virtues of classical epic [pp.74-76].

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (3)

listen-up-ashWe are wrapping up Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January, February, and March of this year), and have one more post to go.

As we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well.

You may recall that at the outset of this appendix section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” Having considered “dull” and “biblically inadequate”sermons, we turn to the final subset of bad sermons – “heretical” ones. Yes, Ash deals with these too, and so must we.

Ash begins by defining what a heresy is, giving us three points:

  1. “First, it is an error in something central to Christian faith and not something peripheral” (he mentions as an example not a difference in church government but one who denies Jesus as the Messiah).
  2. “Second, a person is not a heretic if they get something wrong by mistake [or weakness], and then put it right when they are corrected. They are heretics, however, if they hold obstinately to teaching which the Bible shows to be wrong”[and we would add, contrary to the historic Confessions of the church].
  3. “Third. it is only heresy when the person actively seeks to teach this error in the church. A private opinion is not heresy. The mistake of a Christian is not heresy. ..A heretic is not only a false-believer but also also a false-teacher.”

So, what is our responsibility in cases where a minister of the Word is teaching heresy? Ash’ counsel is simple and direct:

The way to listen to these sorts of sermons is to stop listening to them! That is to say, we ought to move away from that kind of church and find a church where they believe and teach the Bible faithfully. We will not look for an exciting church, where the preaching entertains; we will look for a faithful, Bible-teaching church [p.28].

I am thankful to belong to such a church and denomination. Do we appreciate the good sermons we hear from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day? Are we praying for our pastors and, specifically, for their sermon preparation? And are we praying for our listening and for that of our fellow believers?

Ash ends with a good word for all of us:

Not all poor preaching is entirely the fault of the preacher; the congregation has a vital part to play. When a congregation makes it clear that they are reluctant to hear faithful preaching, that they want the sermons to be shorter and play a more marginal role in the meeting, when they listen stony-faced and give no word of encouragement, it is very hard for even the most faithful preacher to persevere (although they ought to, as Jeremiah had to). By contrast, a congregation eager for faithful, challenging Bible preaching is much more likely to get it [p.29].

To that, let’s give a hearty “Amen.”

Listen Up! How to Listen to Bad Sermons (1)

listen-up-ashWe have now finished going through the seven main points of Christopher Ash’s booklet, Listen Up! A Practical Guide to  Listening to Sermons (Good Book Co., 2009), on how to listen to good (that is, biblically faithful) sermons (cf. my Saturday and Sunday posts in January and February of this year).

But, as we pointed out at the beginning of this series of posts, Ash also has an “appendix” section in which he deals with “how to listen to bad sermons” (pp.24ff.). Ash recognizes that sometimes God’s people are subjected to bad sermons, and he wants us to understand  that in these cases too we have a responsibility to listen well. So, it is worth our time to face this as well, since we have all heard at one time or another bad sermons.

At the outset of this section, the author divides “bad” sermons into three types: sermons that are “dull,” sermons that are “biblically inadequate,”and sermons that are “heretical.” I believe this is a fair and important way to distinguish “bad sermons.” And these distinctions will also properly help us know what our responsibility is in each case.

We begin where Ash does – with “dull” sermons. This is a sermon “that leaves a lot to be desired in its style or presentation,” to which he adds some more detail. But then he also goes on to say,

Let us suppose, however, that this dull sermon is biblically faithful and accurate, and delivered by a preacher who believes the truth, has prepared as best he knows how, and that the sermon is surrounded both by his prayers and yours. If this is so, we ought to do all we can to listen with the aim of profiting by it (p.25).

The author does grant that there is a place here for encouraging the preacher to “get help with his presentational skills” and to pray for improvement – and express appreciation when there is some.

But what I like is the fact that he puts the onus on us listeners to listen better in these circumstances. Listen up to this counsel from Ash:

But above all, we must search our own hearts and come to the sermon praying for God’s help to listen as attentively as our bodies will let us…. My advice is not to worry that quite a bit of the sermon may go over our heads or bypass our consciousness, but to ask God that some part of it may stick and be turned in us to repentance and faith.

Isn’t that a proper, spiritual response to “dull” sermons? That’s a sign of maturity on our part, a mark of being willing to submit to the authority of the Word of God even when it comes through weak means (which it always does).

In addition, Ash has some practical advice:

Try taking some notes, or at least having paper and pen with you, with the aim of jotting down a verse or truth that you can take home and respond to. Try going with a friend and agreeing together not to spend lunch lamenting the preacher’s inadequacies, but rather, sharing positive Bible truths that you have learned or been reminded of, and praying together for God’s help in putting them into practice (p.25).

Since we are accustomed to worshiping and hearing the Word with our spouses and families, this should not be difficult to carry out. Instead of “roast preacher” for Sunday dinner, let’s have “discerning, delightful, and delicious milk and meat” – the milk and meat of our Savior’s gospel (look up Hebrews 5:12-14 and 1 Peter 2:2).

Identifying the Classics: (2) Bible Reading as a Model – L. Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenIn chapters 7 and 8 of Leland Ryken’s recent book, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), the author begins to identify the great classics of literature by breaking them down into categories (literary “taxonomy”).

And he starts with what he calls “the leading categories of literature that make up the domain of the classics” (p.61), by which he means the category of Christian literature (which is why chapters 7 and eight are titled “Christian Classics, Part 1 and Part 2”).

Last time we began to look at that seventh chapter and took in some of Ryken’s thoughts on what makes a classic work of literature a Christian one (including that its content is distinctively Christian and that its viewpoint is decidedly Christian).

In the second half of “Christian Classics, Part 1” (Chap.7) Ryken looks at the “Bible reading as a model.” Here are his opening thoughts on this – well worth our reminder as we daily read God’s Word:

..There is a big difference between reading the Bible and reading the classics: the Bible is without error and is not on trial. It is our authority and not a book whose truth claims we need to assess. Its role for us as we read other classics is that of a standard by which we weigh their themes and moral vision. But in other ways our reading of the Bible provides good answers to the question of how we should read a Christian classic.

After which he goes on to say:

The first thing we can say about Bible reading is that, as Christians, we begin with the liberating knowledge that we will be nurtured by what we are about to read. These are the words of life, and we can find that exhilarating. Related to that, we know that reading the Bible is more than a purely literary experience. It is not less than that, but it is more. We know with our minds that reading literature of any kind is valuable to us as a potential source of insight into human experience, but often we need to work hard  to make sure that we are gaining and appropriating that insight. When we read the Bible, we are completely aware that this is the source of light for daily living. When we read a Christian classic, we experience something similar [pp.66-67].