Monday, August 18, 2014

Dads: Education is Just Like Land Surveying, Only Different

A land surveyor from the perspective of an eight-year-old

How do we evaluate progress in our children? Whether we are measuring academic progress, spiritual progress, progress in their chores, progress in their sibling/social interaction, how do we surmise that they have gone from a position of relative immaturity in an area to a place of more maturity? I am not a trained educational expert, nor am I a child psychologist, nor am I a pastor or certified counselor, but I am a land surveyor. I am a professional measurer. People pay me to measure their real estate to a very high degree of precision, culminated by a rubber stamp on a plat by which I stake my livelihood on the fact that I’m right.

I am also a father—have been for 15 years. I never finished college, but I’m working very hard on my PhDad. By God’s grace we’ll graduate these six young people into godly adulthood.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"String of same-sex marriage rulings broken"

"Roane County Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr., of Kingston ruled in a case of two gay men who were married four years ago in Iowa and are now seeking a divorce in their home state of Tennessee.  Unlike every other court ruling — federal or state — since the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor in June 2013, the judge rejected the idea that the Windsor decision undercut state authority to ban same-sex marriages."

Read the entire article here:

Classical Education: The Spirit of Inquiry

“Classical education is not, preeminently, of a specific time or place. It stands instead for a spirit of inquiry and a form of instruction concerned with the development of style through language and conscience through myth. The key word here is inquiry. Everything springs from the special nature of the inquiry. The inquiry dictates the form of instruction and establishes the moral framework for thought and action. Classical inquiry possesses three essential attributes. The first of these is a general curiosity, as opposed to the systematic or specific interest of modern science. One does not launch a classical inquiry with a preconceived methodology or from the point of view of an established academic discipline. Consequently, the field is open for all sorts of questions, whether regarding the true nature of happiness, the cause of the Persian wars, or the source of the Nile. Second, one responds to these questions by forming imaginative hypotheses. The very nature of the questions, being far-flung and wide-ranging, often makes impossible what qualify today as scientific hypotheses. Third, one completes the inquiry by devising methods for testing the hypotheses. Again, the restrictions placed by modern science upon methodology are not adequate. The method used to test the hypothesis formed in a classical inquiry may involve reason or observation, logic or experimentation. The inquirer may even seek confirmation for his hypothesis in an emotional or religious experience. How else, ultimately, does one test the value of a poem or the validity of God’s love?

General curiosity, imagination in forming hypotheses, and method in testing them, then, mark the classical spirit of inquiry. This bent of mind allows the educated man to go on educating himself or extending the realms of knowledge for his fellows.”
David V. Hicks, Norms & Nobility, p.18

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Role of Heretical Christianity in the Rise of Islam

Image taken from
Although North Africa enjoyed the blessing of the presence of Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage and Augustine of Hippo, the impact of these great Catholic leaders was unable to maintain a long-lasting effect. The influence of Vandal Arianism supplanted Trinitarian Catholicism to the point that when the Muslims invaded from the East, there was no sufficient, theological base in the North Africans to resist the new Islamic heresies. Through a series of events, over a couple of centuries, the Byzantine people, and their Catholic culture, had become undesirable to the North Africans. When Vandal Arianism arrived on the scene, the North Africans were emotionally and psychologically prepared to have their Catholic dogma replaced. They did not specifically seek it out, but they were unprepared to repel the Vandal Arian heresy. Upon the acceptance of Vandal Arianism, the North Africans rejected Chalcedonian Christology and therefore, had no problem with the Islamic idea that Jesus was only a great prophet and that Mohammed had come as an even greater, and final, prophet. It was this religious difference between North Africa and the rest of Europe and southwest Asia, rather than any economic or socio-political differences, that opened the door for Islam to nearly eradicate Christianity from northern Africa.

Vandal Arianism developed in the Teutonic regions of northern Europe where Christ was viewed as a step above the average man, rather than a “second degree” God as he was viewed in Hellenic Arianism.  Jesus was a hero, a commander, or king, but not God like the divine All-Father.  This is as clearly heresy as the Hellenic version, albeit distinctive in the details.

In the early 430’s, the Teutonic general, Geiseric moved down through the Iberian Peninsula across the Straits of Gibraltar into North Africa.  By 439 he had conquered North Africa from present-day Mauritania to Tripoli in Libya.  He had become “master of North Africa”.  As surely as modern politicians show favors to those who will be favorable to advance their campaign, Geiseric, a Vandal Arian, promoted his religion in all the cities of his dominion.  Things were much easier for adherents to Vandal Arianism than for those who maintained the Trinitarian Catholic faith. Many clerics were exiled to Italy and the treasures of the local churches confiscated for Arian use.  To portray Geseric and his successors as merely religious zealots would be to oversimplify the matter, for politics played an important role in establishing their rule over the Berber people of North Africa.  With little to no religious allegiance to Rome or Constantinople, a North African ruler could count on that much more fidelity from his constituency. These anti-Catholic moves by the North African leaders, as well as some dumb moves by the Byzantines and Catholics themselves, solidified the shift from Trinitarian Christianity to Vandal Arianism.

Mohammed crafted his vision in 610 A.D., and within 80 years of his death in 632 A.D., his followers had spread the Muslim religion and kingdom throughout the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa and Spain.  Although the Byzantine generals and troops put up a fight every step of the way, the Arian predisposition of the Berber peoples in North Africa made them prime candidates for conversion to the Muslim faith.  This predisposition to a subordinate Christology aligned them more closely with an Islamic view of Jesus than a Catholic one.  The Quran refers to Jesus as a Prophet and the son of the virgin Mary but also says that Mohammed was a greater servant of God than Jesus. The Vandal Arian heresy had primed the pump for the next greater one than Jesus to come along.  As C.J. Speel surmises,
“Conversion from Teutonic Arianism, the faith of the bulk of North Africa’s population from ca. 450 to ca. 670 A.D., to Islam was an easy step.  In Teutonic Arianism Jesus was not God; neither was He the “Second degree” God of Arius, a philosophical logos.  He was a great tribal leader, or healer, or commander, an historical figure, a man who was manifested as the Son of God. Islam did not seriously alter this picture of Jesus; it simply added another and even more distinguished figure—the Prophet of Mecca to whom was revealed in most recent times the will of God.”
By 698 A.D. Carthage had fallen to Muslim invaders and has not yet risen from the ashes.  This is not simply an accounting of things that happened a long time ago on a continent far, far away.  We are not only concerned for the conversion of North Africans to Christianity, but we must take note of the current state of Christianity in our own land.  If a shift from the Trinitarian Catholic Faith of the historic creeds of the church is a tell-tale sign of what is coming, then we need to hang on tight.  This ride is about to get a lot bumpier.

For example, we are not too far removed from the Republican Mormon that was offered to us for consideration last presidential election.  He was weighed in balances and found wanting, but the sobering thing is that he accomplished being the last “conservative” on the scale.  What are conservative Americans attempting to accomplish if a Mormon is the man for the job?  Trinitarian Christianity cannot be anywhere but on the fringes of American culture if Mitt Romney made it as far as he did.  Not to mention the support he received from overtly Christian organizations like Billy Graham’s, who removed Mormonism from its list of cults on their website a few months before the election.  “Christian” leaders like Joel Osteen, the pastor of a Houston church, with tens of thousands of members, says that “Mitt Romney is a believer in Christ like me.”  If Osteen was the exception rather than the rule, it would be different, but American Christians bought it hook, line and sinker, and sent Romney up against Obama.  As least the Vandal Arians imposed the rule on the North Africans as their conquerors, as opposed to the GOP, who has willingly traded Nicaea and Chalcedon for some golden plates found buried on a hill in New York.

This is not meant to be a harsh judgment of folks who view the General Election as a zero-sum game, and therefore felt compelled to vote for one of the two options, however abhorrent the choices were.  It’s not the individual’s vote in November that is as disconcerting as the fact that Romney was ever considered viable by the conservative populace.

America is following in the footsteps of the North African culture, which has not known Christendom for over 1300 years.  She walked away from orthodoxy and God let her keep walking.  America is just a flash in the pan compared to many cultures, and we’ve already walked away.

Speel II, C.J. “The Disappearance of Christianity from North Africa in the Wake of the Rise of Islam.” Church History 29, no. 4 (1960): 379-397. Accessed February 1, 2013.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tolkien's Beowulf: Forth Sped the Bark

For my 40th birthday this year, I received a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf. I was blessed to be the recipient of such a fine book, as we are all blessed that this translation has been added to both the published works of Tolkien and the array of Beowulf translations available. It was a "win-win" for everyone.

I read the text of the poem this morning and began the commentary, though it remains highly unlikely that I will finish the commentary anytime soon. The reading of the great Geat's tale in Tolkien's words led to many favorite quotes, but the following paragraph impressed me with its ease in reading and simplicity in content. It is about the return trip to Geatland from Denmark, and it reads with the rhythm of the rise and fall of the sea: the form and the content are one in the passage.

"Forth sped the bark troubling the deep waters and forsook the land of the Danes. Then upon the mast was the raiment of the sea, the sail, with rope made fast. The watery timbers groaned. Nought did the wind upon the waves keep her from her course as she rode the billows. A traveller upon the sea she fared, fleeting on with foam about her throat over the waves, over the ocean-streams with wreathed prow, until they might espy the Geatish cliffs and headlands that they knew. Urged by the airs up drove the bark. It rested upon the land." (lines 1595-1604)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is Alan an Angel?

Is Alan an angel?  No, he’s not an angel.  But he is a saint--a saint with an extra 21st chromosome.  For God’s own glory, for Alan’s good, and for mine, He gave Alan an extra one.  I don’t know exactly what a chromosome is, but God has decided to create a fairly exclusive club amongst the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve in which only a select group of folks are included (about 2% of the world’s population). Here are some of the official distinctive traits that get you in this particular club:

  • Eyes that have an upward slant
  • Low muscle tone, small stature and short neck
  • Flat nasal bridge
  • Single, deep creases across the center of the palm
  • A single flexion furrow of the fifth finger

Those are just some of the physical traits.  There is also a tendency to learn information more slowly. However, we have noticed that, like most children, he’s prone to learn what he’s excited about and apt to forget that which he doesn’t really care about.  Hence potty training seems interminable, and his ability to read a book is probably several years away. Of course, I don’t say all this to bemoan his Downs.  I write this to extol the Lord for this intricately designed individual that He’s placed in my household—a young man that was never meant to have the same number of chromosomes as most of us, because he was uniquely called, and therefore designed, to be exactly who he is.

Vanity Fair: Not Buying What They're Selling

This article was originally published in Every Thought Captive magazine.

1-bunyan-pilgrims-progress-grangerAs Pilgrim and Faithful passed through the town of Vanity Fair, they created a “hubbub.” Pilgrim and Faithful dressed and spoke differently from the townspeople and refused to purchase the fleeting pleasures being peddled there. Upon being asked, “What will ye buy,” the Christians responded, “We buy the truth.” (Proverbs 23:23) At this answer, the people of Vanity Fair railed against the Christians, beat them, caged them, arraigned and tried them, and eventually murdered Faithful.

Why did the people of Vanity Fair react so violently at Faithful’s response? Why all the hubbub? The answer lies in the fact that the assertion for truth necessarily implies an assertion against falsity. The Deceiver is happy with any deception at all, for all lies point away from the single truth, and it is also true that anyone who speaks the truth necessarily condemns all falsehoods. Truth and lies are as mutually-exclusive as light and darkness.

John Bunyan points this out through three examples as Pilgrim and Faithful walk through Vanity Fair: their garb, their speech, and their refusal to buy what the Vanity Fairians are selling.

Their garb: Christians are clothed in “white garments” in the eternal, justificational sense, but for the moment let’s look at how this spiritual reality is manifest in the here-and-now. We are not to be like the world, but being in the world, we need to wear clothes, just like the world does. I wear my jeans on the lower half of my body and my shirt on the upper half, just like everyone else on earth, whether Christian or not. As America publicly undresses and Christians continue to cover themselves, no one will think twice about Christians wearing modest apparel unless and until some bold Christian asserts the truth that everyone should cover their nakedness. At that point, the Christian will encounter opposition. The “Truth” will be spoken, and the citizens of Vanity Fair will cry foul. While the world around us exults in their freedom from all constraint, the Christian, who loves their neighbor enough to step into their lives, will find that the particular freedom of speaking the truth in love has been vilified and must be constrained. “We’ll have none of that truth-telling here. Thank you very much,” goes the rule for that crowd that has “no rules.” Jesus said there is freedom in truth. The world wants freedom from truth. I doubt there will ever be a law prohibiting modesty, but there are, and will be, plenty denying the fact that modesty even exists.

Their speech: Many words can, and ought, to be spoken regarding coarse jesting, idle words, slander, gossip, etc., but the battle lines are not drawn on any of these minor skirmishes. The enemy will send out the berserkers when the Christian begins asserting that all of the issues of man’s tongue are judged against God’s single, unchanging standard of Truth. The world truly believes that there is no contradiction in imposing their maxim, “What’s true for you is true for you” on everyone, while also maintaining that it is wrong to insist upon one truth for everyone. Whenever they speak, they are implying that there is a meaning behind their utterances, all the while stating that no inherent meaning lies behind their vehement tongue wagging.

Christians in America speak English; secular humanists in America speak English, too. We do not need a new alphabet, new words, or new syntax to be holy; in fact, the vulgar vernacular is the only tongue that will be any use at all. It will not be different words that get us in trouble; it will be the ordinate use of the ones we have, asserting such a thing as an ordinate use that will cause a fuss.

Their investments: Christian and Faithful would not buy what was for sale in the markets of Vanity Fair. In order to be “relevant,” many American Christians are not only saying that we should buy what they’re selling, but we should slap a fish on it and sell it too. The issue at hand is not about silk-screened t-shirts, trendily-embossed Bible covers, bumper stickers, or WWJD bracelets (or whatever the current trends are); the issue is about where Christians go to find the answer to the question, “How can I best keep the two great commandments: to love God and neighbor?” If we seek to faithfully keep these two commandments before the watching world, we will be cities on hills whose lights cannot be hid, no matter what t-shirt we have on. As the world cries, “be yourself,” what they mean is “be trendy.” As the contemporary church around us cries, “be like them for the sake of the gospel,” we should respond, “no thank you, thank you very much.” We should want to be like Jesus for the sake of the gospel, not be like those who look like they’re all about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong—if you want to wear a “Jesus fish” while loving God and loving your neighbor, then go for it, but it will not be the uniform of a “relevant” Christian that makes you relevant. It will be the steady application of the two great commandments. On these hang ALL the law and the prophets. Christian love, exhibited through the keeping of the two great commandments and all subsequent corollaries, is unmistakable. They will know we are Christians by our love: love of God and love of neighbor.

May God preserve us from being “different” by Christianizing the garb, speech, and baubles of American Vanity Fair; may God gives us grace to speak this truth in love.

Friday, August 1, 2014

C. S. Lewis: The Poison of Subjectivism

christian reflections“Shortly after his conversion in 1929, C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend: ‘When all is said (and truly said) about the divisions of Christendom, there remains, by God’s mercy, an enormous common ground.’ From that time on Lewis thought that the best service he could do for his unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times–that ‘enormous common ground’ which he usually referred to as ‘mere’ Christianity.” Thus begins Walter Hooper’s preface to his collection of C. S. Lewis’ essays entitled Christian Reflections, published in 1966, just three years after Lewis’ death.
The essays concern sundry topics, but are united under the banner of Lewis’ pristine logic and unswerving commitment to the Christian faith. Here’s an excerpt from the essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism":