Seeking the City That Continues in 2019

sb-logo-rfpaThe first issue of the Standard Bearer in the new year is now out (Jan.1, 2019) and the opening meditation by emeritus PRC pastor Rev. James Slopsema contains many good thoughts for us as we stand at the beginning of this new year of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The meditation is based on Heb.13:13-14, which reads, “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”

Among Rev. Slopsema’s profitable words of exposition are these:

Here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come.

To seek something speaks of an earnest desire for something. It also implies that one does all in his power to attain the thing that he desires.

So also we seek the continuing city that is to come.

The “we” includes all the true seed of Abraham that have the same faith as Abraham.

The fact that the true believer seeks the heavenly city of God arises out of his faith.

Faith does not seek the things here below but the things that are above. That is, faith is not interested especially in things earthly and physical – earthly riches, pleasures, position, power, and so on. Faith is interested in the things that are eternal – the continuing city that God has reserved for His people in Jesus Christ with all its spiritual riches and pleasures. Faith is interested in the earthly only in so far as it is necessary to serve the Lord God and enjoy a foretaste of the eternal riches that are to come.

And so the believer is one that seeks the continuing city that is to come.

And this truth leads him to make this final application in terms of our calling in 2019:

This seeking of the eternal city of God must control our lives for the New Year and for every year the Lord gives us during our earthly pilgrimage.

Interestingly, what is stated as a fact in this passage for the true believer is also given as an admonition in other passages, although using different language.

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Col 3:1-2)

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:31-33)

The necessity of these admonitions is the sad fact that the believer in weakness of faith does not always seek the things that are heavenly and eternal but the things here below. His desires are too much earthly and not enough heavenly. He becomes distracted by the things that perish, losing sight of the things that continue. This also hinders him from going outside the camp to be sanctified in the blood of the Lamb.

Let us this year and every year that remains live in the faith of our spiritual father Abraham who looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

WORLD’s Top 25 articles for 2018 – WORLD

As we near the end of the year of our Lord 2018, it is good to reflect on all that has transpired according to the sovereign plan and providence of our almighty God in this year. That, after all, is what we believe all the events of history are – the unfolding of our God’s perfect plan through His mighty providential hand. And, we also add this, that all these events of history – of 2018 too – are for the salvation of Christ’s church and the good of His redeemed and renewed people.

Many news sources produce year-end summaries of the year’s major stories, which are useful in helping us to reflect on the more significant events of the year. World Magazine (a Christian news source) has also produced its summary of the major stories it reported online throughout 2018. It included this list of 25 items today as part of its “Saturday Series” (which often feature books, writing, reading), and I thought it worth your while to point you to it here.

What follows here is the little blurb that introduced the list; after that I post here the last five news items (which were published at the “top” of the list on their website).

In 2018, WORLD’s online readers were drawn to major cover stories and timely features from the magazine, daily news reports from The Sift, and insightful Saturday Series essays. But issues related to marriage, family, and sexuality were often foremost in the minds of our readers this past year, as the website’s weekly Relations roundup makes multiple appearances in our countdown of the 25 articles that grabbed your attention the most.

25. A long way from home

Before getting lost in a cave, Adul Sam-on found direction for his future at a Thai church and school

by Angela Lu Fulton
July 13 | WORLD Magazine | Features

24. Moody Bible Institute leaders resign amid turmoil

Moody Bible Institute announced Wednesday the resignation of President J. Paul Nyquist and Chief Operating Officer Steve Mogck amid ongoing turmoil following staffing cuts

by Leigh Jones
Jan. 11 | WORLD Digital | The Sift

23. Willow Creek elders respond to new Hybels accusations

The elders of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago said in a letter Saturday they could have done a better job holding former Senior Pastor Bill Hybels accountable for inappropriate behavior toward women

by Lynde Langdon
April 23 | WORLD Digital | The Sift

22. Facing cultural storms

Six trends that are rapidly reshaping the lives of American Christians

by John S. Dickerson
Nov. 24 | WORLD Digital | Saturday Series

21. Turkey seeks life sentence for U.S. pastor

Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for a U.S. pastor accused of participating in the 2016 coup that attempted to oust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

by Leigh Jones
March 13 | WORLD Digital | The Sift

Find the other 20 top stories at the link below.

Source: WORLD’s Top 25 articles for 2018 – Media – WORLD

Evaluating the Christian’s Engagement with the World – James D. Hunter

Change-world-Hunter-2010In this essay, I consider the ways in which Christians in much of their diversity actually think about the creation mandate today, examining the implicit theory and explicit practices that operate within this complex and often conflicted religious and cultural movement. Let me emphasize that I am not just talking about Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, in spite of the fact that they have been the loudest, most energetic, and most demanding of all Christians in recent decades. This essay and the ones that follow are concerned with Christianity in its variety – at least much of it: conservatives as well as moderate and progressive, Protestant as well as Catholic. The subject of these essays is the social imaginary that serves as a backdrop for the ways in which the majority of those in America who call themselves Christian engage the world. I contend that the dominant ways of thinking about culture and cultural change are flawed, for they are based on both specious social science and problematic theology. In brief, the model on which various strategies are based not only does not work, but it cannot work. On the basis of this working theory, Christians cannot ‘change the world’ in a way that they, even in their diversity, desire. But that is just the beginning; the entry point for a longer reflection on the Christian faith and its engagement with the world.

Such is the way James Davison Hunter introduces his main subject and theme in his significant book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010), p.5. His opening chapter, the end of which is quoted above, is part of his first essay titled “Christianity and World-Changing.” A friend and educator put me on to this book (a copy of which we have in the PRC Seminary library), so I have begun to dig into it. It is not a light read, but that is good; I will enjoy the challenge. This is worthwhile “meat” to chew on.

After reviewing the contemporary models for “changing the world,” the author ends the second part of that first essay with these words:

At the end of the day, the message is clear: even if not in the lofty realms of political life that he [the British social reformer William Wilberforce] was called to, you too can be a Wilberforce. In your own sphere of influence, you too can be an Edwards, a Dwight, a Booth, a Lincoln, a Churchill, a Dorothy Day, a Martin Luther King, a Mandela, a Mother Teresa, a Vaclav Havel, a John Paul II, and so on. If you have the courage and hold to the right values and if you think Christianly with an adequate Christian worldview, you too can change the world [p.16-17].

But here’s the rub according to Hunter: “This account is almost wholly mistaken.”

How so is what we will examine with him in the months to come. Be prepared to put your “thinking caps” on! 🙂

Reading for Virtue’s Sake: A Conversation with Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs | Public Discourse

The authors of two new books on reading agree: reading good literature well is not only enjoyable, it is also a veritable school of virtue. The pleasure to be gained by reading well is a skill that, like virtue itself, is achieved through practice.

Such is the brief description of this instructive interview with authors Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs. Both present an interesting perspective on the power and purpose of good reading, by which we also mean reading good literature, books that teach universal virtues and, of course, book that teach distinctively Christian virtues.

We post a portion of the interview here; there is plenty more to read and digest in the rest of it. Follow the link below for that.

David Kern: Both of your books are about the ways literature can cultivate virtue in readers, so I have been thinking about the extent to which a teacher should explicitly state that the books she is teaching have been chosen for that end. Should a teacher directly tell her students that she is teaching, say, Persuasion, because of its capacity to make readers virtuous? Or should she let the book do its work secretly, if you will?

Joshua Gibbs: I think it depends on the audience. When I read my little girls The Velveteen Rabbit or Frog and Toad Are Friends, I don’t tell them that I want these books to help them develop virtue. Similarly, on the rare occasion that I teach a room full of adults, I don’t often lay all my cards on the table and say, “All right, people, let’s learn to be good.”

High school students are a little different, though, because they are more apt to believe that the value of a book depends on its being entertaining, enjoyable, thrilling, funny. If a lit teacher passes out copies of Augustine’s Confessions to high school sophomores and pretends the book is going to be a page-turner, he is deceiving his students. If you give a high school student a book that is difficult and dull (when compared with, say, The Maze Runner), you need to explain why these qualities should not turn them off from reading it. “When the book is difficult to read, the book is doing its work on you.” Acknowledge that the difficulty comes from the moral gauntlet the book throws down. A book suited to virtue often requires multiple readings, although exciting books generally do not. That is what makes them exciting. But explaining that a book is hard to read (yet worth reading) will usually lead to a discussion of virtue.

What you do not want is for high school students to believe that adults find Augustine’s Confessions as enjoyable to read as they find The Maze Runner, and that once you’re forty, Augustine is downright titillating.

Karen Swallow Prior: When I teach general education courses in English, the students are usually first- or second-year students who are not majoring in English. I like to begin these classes with something that I refer to as the biblical basis for the study of literature. I’ve found that students, especially Christian students, are so utilitarian and pragmatic in their worldviews that describing the sheer goodness of literary study helps them overcome barriers to reading literature and reading it well that they don’t even realize they have. I cover over a dozen points in this lecture, and only one of them addresses virtue directly. In other words, there are many, many reasons to read good literature (particularly for the Christian), including the joy of it. Yet all of these reasons contribute to cultivating virtue in the reader who reads well.

How do you respond to these initial thoughts about reading and virtue? Would you consider this a goal of your own reading? What type of books are going to help you accomplish this goal?

Source: Reading for Virtue’s Sake: A Conversation with Karen Swallow Prior and Joshua Gibbs | Public Discourse

An ‘Ordinary’ Life Driven by Our Hope in Christ

There are two kinds of prosperity gospels. One promises personal health, wealth, and happiness. Another promises social transformation. In both versions, the results are up to us. We bring God’s kingdom to earth, either to ourselves or to society, by following certain spiritual laws or moral and political agendas. Both forget that salvation comes from above, as a gift of God. Both forget that because we are baptized into Christ, the pattern of our lives is suffering leading to glory in that cataclysmic revolution that Christ will bring when he returns. Both miss the point that our lives and the world as they are now are not as good as it gets. We do not have our best life or world now.

…The difficult place to stand is at that precarious intersection of this present age, which is captive to sin and death, and the age to come, which is the fruit of Christ’s victory that the Spirit is planting, tending, and spreading in our hearts and in our world through the gospel. The garden is growing, but like a bright patch weather-beaten by the conflict between these two ages. The hot winds blow hard against us, but the Spirit’s cool breeze of grace keeps the garden blossoming and spreading across the desert.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 11,  “After Ordinary: Anticipating the Revolution” (p.205) of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I have now completed, having received great profit and rich satisfaction.

This last chapter deals with our Christian hope in connection with that ‘ordinary’ life the author has been at pains to explain in this book. But, as this final chapter shows once again, the believer’s ‘ordinary’ life is anything but, in view of what is to come when Jesus returns. Living the “already/not-yet” paradox of our glorification, we learn that our life in Christ now and in the future truly is ‘extra-ordinary.’

Perhaps we shall cull one more gem from this book and chapter before we take leave of it.

Benzonia in 1916: “Requiem for the Homemade”

waiting-train-catton-1987For our Thursday history post today we return to Bruce Catton’s Waiting for the Morning Train (Wayne State University Press, 1987), the multifaceted story of his life growing up in northern Michigan, specifically, Benzonia and the Crystal Lake area.

Chapter 11 is our next chapter to reference, and in “Requiem for the Homemade” Catton indeed gives us a funeral message (dirge for the dead!) as he sadly reflects on the passing of one era in American history – the “homemade” life of its early settlers, of which his life in Benzonia and his education at its little Christian Academy were a small part and picture – and the entrance of a new era – the “industrial age” with its “applied technology,” ushered in by the lumber barons and WWI. Life was changing, and with keen perception Catton puts his finger on the change. Fundamentally, it was a spiritual one, as he notes in these paragraphs:

I had been growing up with the notion that life’s problems, although often difficult, were at bottom simple. To confront them took courage, ideals, high principles and unwavering faith. The heroes of the 1860s [he is referring to the Civil War men] had these qualities; the crisis of their day had been met and passed, and a permanent gain had been made – which proved that the world was becoming progressively better because the advance of man rested on a simple exercise of a few ancient virtues. This was one of life’s certainties, as revealed on a Michigan hilltop in the early years of this century. But if today’s crisis had to be met in an entirely different way than the earlier one, all certainty was gone.

And it seemed clear that it was being met differently.

War does one thing pitilessly: it holds up, before the eyes of the society that is waging it, the essential reality on which that society is based. It is a cruel mirror, apparently as distorted as the mirrors in an amusement park, actually (on the long cold glance) not distorted at all. And what it showed in 1916, for that and subsequent generations, was that the race had entrusted itself to a new belief. Its highest faith was now in the machine rather than in the spirit; in the mechanical devices man’s brain could invent rather than in the illimitable miracle that originally set that brain free to speculate, to plan, to dream and to hope. The only reality worth mentioning is the one that can be seen, touched, tinkered with, improved – or, at times, exploded. Get into the machine you have made and ride wherever it takes you. There is no other road to salvation; or to damnation either, if that makes any difference.

To which Catton adds these words about this “harsh gospel”:

So man can do anything if he tries hard enough, and to try hard enough is not simply to furrow the brow and flex the muscles but to make unlimited use of every resource at hand. Moderation becomes impossible,and if it were possible it would be regarded as sinful. The new theology had borrowed, without credit, one of the fundamental planks in the old religion: despite his disclaimers, man stands at the center of the universe. It was made for him to use, and the best and wisest men are those who use it most lavishly. They destroy pine forests, and dig copper from beneath the cold northern lakes, and run the open pits across the iron ranges, impoverishing themselves at the same time they are enriching themselves: creating wealth, in short, by the act of destroying it, which is one of the most baffling mysteries of the new gospel.

You don’t have to fully agree with Catton’s analysis to understand his main point. The old era had the religion of faith in God, embracing the supernatural and solid virtues, while the new era had the religion of faith in man, embracing what can be seen and pinning all its hopes on man’s abilities and technologies, while at the same time discarding the old virtues.

And we now know where this “new” religion has taken us. Indeed, we cnm well understand Catton’s “requiem for the homemade.” But, at the same time, we also know the true, abiding, trustworthy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He and His saving work are the source of all our hope and confidence as we face the future. Not man, not ourselves, not our technology, but Jesus is our hope.

What Justification Does the Christian Have for Reading Secular Literature? A PR Perspective

litclassicsYou may recall that a few weeks ago we examined another section of Dr. Leland Ryken’s valuable book on the Christian’s reading of literature, A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015). That particular section dealt with the Christian justification for reading secular literature (classics), and you will remember that Ryken grounded this first of all in the doctrine of “common grace.”

We took issue with this position, even though Ryken appealed to Scripture (without any specific texts) and to Calvin (with a couple of quotes that only proved that God also gives unbelievers “excellent gifts,” which may be of use to the believer – something with which we agree; we just don’t call it “grace”, not even if you call it “common” and not “saving.”). But it is not enough to say we do not ground the Christian’s right to read secular literature in common grace; we must state the justification positively, with Reformed and biblical grounds.

And we Protestant Reformed people do, even though many think we do not. To be sure, we do unashamedly affirm the antithesis, that spiritual “line in the sand” (separation) God by His sovereign, saving grace makes between the Christian and the ungodly world, between our renewed thinking and their perverse thinking, between our good works and their evil works (of literature too), between our Christ-directed purpose for living and their self(-ish)-focused purpose for living. That means that there is filth that the world produces that the Christian has no use for and may not use, including in the realm of literature (cf. 2 Cor.6:14-18; the first part of Eph.5; I Jn.2:15-17, e.g.).

But we also believe that God puts us in this world to live out our faith fully, to use this world and its things, including the works of fallen, unconverted sinners, to the glory of God and for our development in grace as His people. That includes their works of literature – with limitations and discernment, of course – but also with a free and good conscience governed and informed by the Word of God. That’s the key to the Christian’s use of this world – we view it and employ it through the “lens” of God’s Word (Calvin referred to this as living and learning through the “spectacles of Scripture.”).

What I want especially to point out to you tonight is that the Federation of PR Christian School Societies has produced various guides for the teachers to use in the areas of instruction that they teach. And one of these is a “Literature Studies Guide,” available on the page linked above. Part of that guide specifically addresses the Christian’s reading of secular literature, and from that part I would like to quote. These are the thoughts of Mr. Fred Hanko, a now-retired but long-tenured Christian school teacher. Let them be a guide to you as you make use of the classics of unbelievers:

In exploring the problem of what the Christian can do with the literary works of the unbeliever, there are a few basic ideas with which I would like to begin.
First it must be understood that there is an objective reality which includes God Himself, all things in the universe which He has created, and all the works that God has done in history.
Second, the Christian is called upon to know and understand this reality as far as his limitations and capacities allow. Third, the Christian is required to respond to this reality. The response must be of acceptance of the good and rejection of the evil, as well as belief and worship. Further, the response must include behavior toward God, toward men, and toward the earth.
Now the business of literature is communication. The objective reality is the material with which the author works. He explores this reality, he responds to it, he interprets it, and he uses the written word to communicate the results to the reader.
Note that the special feature of literature that makes it differ from other writings is that literature bears the imprint of the writer. The author himself appears in all works of literature. It may appear in his selection of materials, his interpretation of reality, in his response to reality, in any or all of these. The job of the author is to explore reality and to communicate the results to us. The author says to us, this is what I see. Do not you see it too? This is what I feel. Don’t you feel as I do? This is what we ought to do. Go forth now and do it.
When the author is a Christian, we have no problem in dealing with his works. We see reality as he sees it and we respond as he does. From his work we gain knowledge, insight we have never had before, feelings that are new to us or deeper than we have ever had before. We become better Christians than we have ever been.
Our problem, however, lies with the work of the unbeliever. Can he know reality? Can he interpret it correctly? Can he respond to it as he should? And if he can do none of these things, why should we study his work?
The answer to the first of these questions seems to be the most difficult. It seems clear that just as the scientist can observe a flower and report accurately its structure, and function, so the poet can observe the flower and say accurately, This is what I see, and this is how I feel about it. Does either the scientist or the poet speak the truth? Or both? Or possibly neither?
Since we are dealing here with the work of man, it seems proper before we try to answer that we say a few things about the nature of man. We are agreed, I think, that with the fall of Adam man lost the image of God. The loss of the image of God means that man lost the true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. From that time forward his knowledge was only that of evil, his works were all unrighteousness. Man is opposed to God and in league with Satan. “All the thoughts of man’s heart were only evil continually.” Without the grace of God which restores the image of God man remains only the creature created to be an image-bearer of God but now bearing the image of Satan.
There is in man and in the works of man no neutrality of thought or actions. He is for God or he is against Him. As one created to be an image-bearer, however, he has the faculties of intellect and reason which make it possible for him to know what is true, but this truth he will not acknowledge. (Cf. Romans 1)
The unbelieving author, then, can observe reality correctly and can report it accurately even while his purpose may be to serve his idol gods. He may even be more shrewd in his analysis than the God-fearing man is. The unbelieving poet may see something in the flower that we would never see of ourselves. By reading the work of the poet, we also may see, and by our special knowledge we may gain a better understanding of God. Although the writer may have done his work in sin, we may use His work to the greater glory of God. Even the Apostle Paul used the learning of the Greeks quoting from one of their own poets in his speech at Athens.

There are more to these thoughts, and you may find them at the link above. By all means read the entire guide. You will profit immensely. And then go read, with your spiritual “eyeglasses” on.

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].

The Deficits of the iPhone Generation | Public Discourse

Members of iGen suffer from serious intellectual and moral deficits: they are ill-informed, uninterested in pursuing relevant information, passionate without being active, afraid of debate with those who disagree, and uninterested in learning or exploration.

Such is the summary of this revealing book review posted yesterday on The Witherspoon Institute’s website. The author introduces us to the book he reviews in the opening paragraph:

“iGen” is both the title of Jean M. Twenge’s most recent book (subtitle: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy, and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood), and the name she has coined for the generation succeeding the Millennials. Twenge, who has been studying generational differences for a quarter century, includes within iGen those born between 1995 and 2012, plus or minus a bit. What ties this generation together? It is their hitherto unknown relationship to social media and its technological platform: they are “the first generation to enter adolescence with smartphones already in their hands.”

Today’s parents and educators must pay attention to what Twenge and other social and cultural critics are now saying about this “iGen.” It is troubling, showing again the harsh reality of what Marshall McLuhan said years ago (1964!) when he wrote, ‘The medium is the message.”

Here is just a small part of the troubling fruits of what smartphone technology has done to our generation:

Mental Health and Meaninglessness

First, as Twenge argues extensively, there is a mental-health deficit, one clearly correlated with screen time: “teens who spend more time on screens are more likely to be depressed, and those who spend more time on nonscreen activities are less likely to be depressed.” This, in turn, leads to a higher risk of suicide. One reason for the connection between smartphone/internet use and depression is the predominance of cyberbullying. Another is the negative impact that excessive smartphone use has on sleep. And surely yet another is the simple disconnectedness from real things and real people that is experienced by those whose primary forms of personal interaction are mediated by a screen.

Twenge’s advice in response to this is admirably direct: “Put down the phone.” This is exactly right. But this will never happen unless parents are smarter about when to introduce smartphones in their children’s lives. I was interested recently to hear of a “Wait Until 8th” movement, attempting to convince parents not to allow their children to use smartphones until at least eighth grade. That is a start, but what eighth-grader really needs constant access to the internet? “Nein until 9th” or “When? 10th” would be even better.

And this:

Second, there is a deficit of meaning. This deficit shows up in several places in Twenge’s book. The smartphone and its virtual spaces seem to be the primary place where teens spend time together. Their capacity for and interest in serious personal relationships with others is deeply impaired. Another example: Twenge devotes a chapter to the declining religious participation of iGen. According to Twenge, by 2016, “one out of three 18-24 year olds said they did not believe in God.” Twenge attributes this in part to “American culture’s increasing focus on individualism,” and this seems plausible.

Are we still living with the illusion that all our technology has no effect on us and our children? Think again. Better yet, read on at the link below and learn the dangerous effects of the tools of our age. And then commit to using today’s technology in moderation, without having it control you and your life. And, finally, return to the “quiet” life of reading and reflection. That is much better for the soul – and for the body.

Source: The Deficits of the iPhone Generation | Public Discourse

Ordinary Callings: Cultural Transformation or Loving Service ? M. Horton

ordinary-MHorton-2014The above is the heading of a section of Michael Horton’s book Or-di-nary (see details below), in which he contrasts the gospel’s call to “ordinary” Christian service in the church and in the world, based on Christ’s saving work for believers and the Holy Spirit’s work in them, with the popular idea of transforming society or culture.

Here are a few of his significant thoughts (He makes five of them):

First, the call to radical transformation of society can easily distract faith’s gaze from Christ and focus it on ourselves. Such people hold that the gospel has to be something more than the good news concerning Christ’s victory. It has to expand to include our good works rather than to create the faith that bears the fruit of good works. The church has to be something more than the place where God humbles himself, serving sinners with his redeeming grace. It has to be the home base for our activism, more than being the site of God’s activity from which we are sent and scattered like salt into the world.

…Far too many people hold that it’s not who we are that determines what we do, but what we do that determines who we are. Community service becomes something more than believers simply loving their neighbors through their ordinary callings in the world. It becomes part of the church’s missionary task. It’s not what we hear and receive, but what we are and do that gives us a sense of identity and purpose. We need something more than the gospel to trust in – or at least the gospel has to be something more than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners Apparently, Jesus got the ball rolling, but we are his partners in redeeming the world.

Instead of following the example of John the Baptist, who pointed away from himself to ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29), we offer our own lives and transformations as the good news. But this is to deny the gospel and therefore to cut off the power of true godliness and neighbor love at its root.

And in his next point he makes this solid point:

Second, radical views of cultural transformation actually harm our callings in this world. The most basic problem is that it reverses the direction of God’s gift giving.  According to Scripture, God gives us life, redeems us, justifies us, and renews us. He does this by his Spirit, through the gospel – not just in the beginning, but throughout our lives. Hearing this gospel, from Genesis to Revelation, is the means by which the Spirit creates faith in our hearts. United to Christ, our faith immediately begins to bear the fruit of evangelical repentance and good works. We offer these not to God for reimbursement, but to our neighbors for their good. If we reverse this flow of gifts, nobody wins. God is offended by our presumption that we could add something more to the perfect salvation he has won for us in his Son. We are therefore on the losing side of the bargain, and our neighbors are too, since our works are directed to God on our behalf rather than to our neighbor on God’s behalf.

Taken from chapter 8 of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I am currently making my way through. The chapter is strikingly titled “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.155-57.