Monday, March 12, 2012

Culprits for Biblical Ignorance

Today I want to talk about something that should be obvious to everyone in the conversation of Christian education but, sadly, is too often neglected at worst and merely assumed at best. What I am talking about is the practice of studying the Bible in order to gain a thorough knowledge of it. I’m going to leave off for now discussing the extent of and approach to the Biblical knowledge necessary for all God’s children. Here, I will examine the chief reasons for the dearth of Bible knowledge among God’s people, even among those raised in Christian homes and taught in Christian schools.

1. Worldview thinking

God has placed me among His people who love and promote “classical education.” One of the purported benefits of this method of education is its intellectual rigor. This rigor, coupled with a desire to be epistemologically self-conscious in a distinctively Christian way, is supposed to produce Christians who are able to “give an answer” to all forms of unbelief. This goal, while worthy in many respects, has been misapplied by its emphasis on “worldview thinking.” Of course, I recognize that the Christian faith is capable of providing a thoroughly extensive and intensive account of reality. But that desire to pass on such knowledge has minimized those disciplines (intellectual and otherwise) that are most valuable for Christians.

This fact came to my attention a couple years ago when I was at a teachers’ training provided by a leading school in the Christian classical school movement. I was surprised by the fact that at this intellectually demanding classical Christian school, Bible class met only three days per week. So I asked a board member about it, and he told me that they do so for two related reasons. First, they want to be careful that they don’t tacitly teach their students an improper compartmentalization of Bible from the rest of life. This avoidance is accomplished apparently, at least in part, by deemphasizing the formal teaching of the Bible proper. The second reason is that the Christian worldview is integrated into all school subjects. Thus, students will learn the Bible from their literature, math, science, and history teachers. The theory is that the Bible will so saturate the other classroom subjects that the students will complete their education with an adequate knowledge of it.

Worldview thinking has largely become a trendy buzzword for relevant engagement with the surrounding culture. Even at its best, it treats Christianity as a disembodied system of thought to be argued persuasively. This is a problem for many reasons, not the least of which is its deemphasis on the data of Scripture in order to engage in the realm of ideas. Christianity is “assumed.” It is a lens through which one interprets reality. But when treated merely in this way, my observation has been a neglect of actual Scripture and a very shallow understanding of its facts.

I would add as a parenthesis that Bible classes themselves also frequently tend not to deal with the Bible as much as theology or apologetics. There is a tacit fear of making Bible class too much like a moralizing Sunday School class, almost as if the Bible itself cannot be taught in an intellectually rigorous way.

2. Catechism

Catechism can be thought of as both method and content. I am not against the method of question and answer. Indeed, I regard it as a very effective pedagogical technique, especially in the early years. Rather, I am observing the drawbacks of the catechisms taught in the primary school years. When I began moving in the Reformed direction, I soon discovered that a distinctive of Reformed child rearing is the practice of catechizing. Debates ensue about the best catechism for children. Parents take as a mark of parental success the difficulty level or antiquated sound of their child’s questions and answers. A child who is equipped with a pea-shooter will learn only a purportedly watered-down “Catechism for Young Children.” Better, a child with a pocket pistol with have at his ever-ready disposal the answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But parents who want to go all out and equip their children with a bazooka that is sure to knock out all enemies of the gospel will teach their children the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Of course, I am speaking facetiously, but I am truly concerned that we are putting the cart before the horse. I heard of a dear friend of mine recently expressing concern about his four-year old’s inability to articulate the truth of the Trinity. My friend, of course, was not overly concerned, but I do think his prioritizing of the study of doctrine even at this early age illustrates my point. Catechisms are essentially systematic theology. And systematic theology should rely on a thorough knowledge of the Bible. Regrettably, my observation has been that a heavy emphasis on catechism frequently goes hand in hand with a shallow knowledge of the stories, types, symbols, terminology, and facts of Scripture.

Again, by way of parenthesis, I am not opposed to teaching children the language of doctrine. My concern is with how prioritizing it easily results in a deficient knowledge of the Bible itself. Additionally, teaching doctrine is important especially in later years after a strong foundation of Biblical knowledge has been laid. Pedagogically speaking, Bible content is an enormous amount of “grammar level” material. I regard theology and apologetics as essentially “dialectic” material.

3. Partisan spirit

Frequently coupled with catechizing is a partisan spirit that is more concerned about losing children to other theological traditions than producing people who know their Bibles thoroughly. I have heard parents, whose children, though remaining faithfully passionate about serving Jesus, now identify with a different type of church, lament their failure to catechize their children better. I have heard teachers object to my cautions concerning catechizing by saying that our children may not turn out Reformed if we teach them only the Bible. Oh, the irony! These concerns may be legitimate to a point, but they also reflect a divisiveness that has plagued Protestantism for years. It is as though our desire to keep our own types of churches full justifies circumventing a rigorous Bible education.

This partisan spirit also implies a lamentable misunderstanding of how to replicate our own. As parents and as educators, we must recognize that watertight theological arguments and meticulously qualified catechism responses are not sufficient to pass on our heritage. Our heritage is more than a list of theological distinctives. And Christ’s body is much, much bigger than our own particular convictions. And I speak as one who feels very, very strongly about my own!

4. The spheres

The final culprit for our general Bible ignorance that I will mention is, once again, sphere sovereignty. I have talked about the inadequacies of the spheres before, and so I will only touch on them briefly here. Many churches operate under the assumption that the intellectual development of Bible knowledge is the responsibility of the “family sphere” while the responsibility of the ecclesiastical sphere extends to the spiritual development of its members. Thus, pastors labor to persuade parents, especially fathers, of their responsibility to teach their children the Bible, and, once the job of persuasion is done, they try to equip them in their pursuit. Thus, they have book table, and they recommend Christian schools, which operate in the sphere of the family. But in an effort to maintain supposedly proper distinctions of roles, churches demure from offering a thorough and rigorous Bible curriculum.

Once again, I regard this neat, watertight theological construction as providing churches with a respectable excuse for not making the long-term, expensive, and inconvenient commitment to teach the data of the Bible in a systematic way (apart from the pulpit).

Of course, these criticisms do not apply equally to everyone, and there are churches out there who do a very good job in offering such vital programs. The bottom line of my concern is that believers of all theological backgrounds do not know their Bible. Teaching the Bible is a lot of work and takes years of diligent labor. But if we are to have a generation of men and women who can make a difference in the surrounding culture, then they must be saturated with Biblical knowledge. And that knowledge is possible only if we make the commitment to teach it thoroughly and rigorously.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Pathway to Freedom: Christianity Replaced by the Church

In his article, “Why Can’t We Have a Christian Republic,” Daniel McCarthy of The American Conservative highlights a phenomenon that has been recently brought to my attention, an understanding of which, I believe, is necessary for lasting systemic change in the American system. Some of the most basic values that Americans hold dear are the very ones that will continue our demise of any claim to moral superiority.

McCarthy calls our system, borrowing from Grant Havers, “federal majoritarianism,” which values self-government, while maintaining a sort of aristocracy rooted not in heredity but in education, connections, and, more recently, charisma. This premium placed on self-government comes clearly from the Colonists’ being predominantly Protestant, that is, within ecclesiastical traditions “in which congregations had great say over church governance.” Thus, McCarthy states,

It’s easy to see how men who were accustomed to managing their spiritual affairs might think that they could manage their worldly affairs without king or Parliament. The tradition — the practice — of self-government held more authority for Americans than such institutions as crown, Parliament, or Anglican hierarchy. When the two types of authority came into conflict, it was clear where the colonists’ strongest loyalties would lie.

Americans love their independence, their liberty for every individual person as an individual and not as a member of a group or family or race. This nation began as a Protestant nation that was always trepidatious about either Church or civil leaders who claim any sort of authority. For instance, McCarthy recounts that in the 19th century the Roman Catholic church, a thoroughly authoritarian tradition, was confronted with suspicion in the United States. He reasons, “because the Catholic faith subordinates the laity to a hierarchy, wouldn’t Catholics in politics subordinate citizens to the pope or a dictator?” I also presume that this suspicion has factored in to keeping the Catholic Church from exceeding 25% of the populace to this day. In ecclesiastical matters, like civil, Americans prefer their leadership to earn their rights by education, connections, or charisma.

The question posed by the (presumedly Catholic) author is this: “As Protestantism has mutated into less structured congregations… and as religious practice in general apparently declines, have Americans also lost the experience that made political self-governance possible?” American is sliding from a loosely structured “federal majoritarianism” to a “new plebiscitary majoritarianism, which is impatient with constitutional filters [and the limitations it places on the leadership] and demands a direct expression of the people’s will through the power of the president of the United States.” With this slide in view, are Americans willing to continue perpetuating their system while recognizing the possibilities inherent in a system of liberty of the individual accompanied by an almost irrational trust in charisma and celebrity?

One could hope for a “Catholic moment” in which authority and hierarchy play a greater role, despite their risk of abuse. But such hopes must be tempered by the reality that America’s “political structure at its core is Protestant.” Not only would such a move be resisted by the populace, the Catholic mindset rightly hopes too much:

Catholic political theory has a hard time dealing with the American political system — despite a great many modern modifications, the Catholic Church’s fundamental understanding of how politics works was shaped by the practices of Christendom, by the existence of stable authorities who formally acknowledged the moral authority of the Church and who at least pretended to heed the Church’s teachings. The American public, by contrast, is not a stable authority... and neither the public nor the Constitution acknowledges the authority of the Church in anything except the fuzziest or most utilitarian terms.

This, I believe is the heart of the matter. America was founded upon “a Constitution that rested exclusively on popular rule.” And this rule by the populace, rather than establishing religion, guarantees the equal legitimacy of all religions, though under certain transcendent limitations. Thus, as time has passed and the people have become less Christian in their individual thinking, “we have something closer to a mass democracy than a federal republic.” And “the influence of a landed well-read aristocracy has given way to what Aristotle would have recognized as a money-minded oligarchy.” McCarthy makes the scathing but true indictment that “commercial wealth speaks more loudly than the Framers had expected, and the 18th-century notions of character and reputation have fallen before modern concepts of charisma and celebrity.”

Daniel McCarthy has made an accurate assessment of where we are and how we got here. It is most certainly true that when men like Thomas Jefferson guaranteed the equal standing of all churches, he radically relocated the role and the realm of rule of religious institutions. By moving the work of the Church to primarily, almost exclusively, the inner, spiritual man, a movement with with the church itself was complicit, the American system established a baseline authority to which even the Church must submit. The Founders redefined the authority the Church could wield and established rules that must not be broken. Equal legitimacy of all religions is possible as long as each one abides by these higher and prior laws that transcend all others. John Locke knew that the biggest threat to liberal democracy was the Church and that the Church needed to be replaced with a internalized Christianity. But when the Church acts as an institutional body meeting the needs of the whole man, she is forced to break some of these transcendent rules, at times encroaching even upon the purported functions of the civil state.

In America religious freedom has come at the cost of internalization. Thereby the church has been provided with an excuse for abdication, and she has taken full advantage. Now, in this age of tolerance, it has been too easy to minister merely to men’s souls but not to the whole man. And being complicit in this internalization, the church has become largely irrelevant as an authority over and definer of culture. The civil community with its practices now transcends the ecclesial community and its practices. Thus, in the words of Rich Lusk, the cross has been replaced by the flagpole. We teach our children the pledge of allegiance but not the Nicene Creed. The practices of the church have been internalized and individualized. Baptism is for those who can comprehend the gospel. The Lord’s Supper is a time of quiet introspection and not a joyous, sensuous feast. It is no surprise that the largest denomination in the United States is the Southern Baptist Convention.

My burden is not primarily for the nation of the United States but for the Church. It is only as she recovers her understanding of her authority over the affairs of this world will the culture change. This understanding was more obvious in her early centuries when she was more clearly an alternative and counter culture. She now needs to awaken to the fact that she is in a situation very similar to those early days. She must recognize that rather than being her ally, tolerance of internalized, individualized religion is a grave enemy. She must reassert her transcendence above the limitations placed upon her by the mass, tolerant democracy in order to act as the Church.

Daniel McCarthy asks, “Why Can’t We Have a Christian Republic?” We can. But only when Christianity has been replaced by the Church.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why I Observe Lent (and other seasons)

With the coming and going of Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, we are currently in the midst of the season of Lent. Lent consists of the 40 days (not including Lord’s Days) leading up to Easter. It is traditionally a time of some sort of a fast or a foreswearing of something in which one would normally take pleasure. For example, devout Catholics typically do not eat meat during this time, with the exception of fish. (I have been fascinated by grocery stores’ awareness of this season by discounting seafood, at least in Seattle.)

During the Middle Ages, when Christendom reigned, the observance of Lent was essentially mandatory. Then again, when virtually everyone in your town or village practiced it, you would have been subversive to the life of the community to express your individuality by refusing to observe these practices. The practices were part of the community’s identity.

With the Reformation, fortunately, godly men searched out the Biblical justification of all the practices of the Christian community. They rightly observed that whereas in the older covenants, feasts and festival seasons were mandated, in the New, resurrected Covenant the specificity of obligation was different. Previously angels tutored men to act in specific ways. Heavenly bodies ruled over time. Leviticus 23 and other passages in the law outline very precisely the feasts that were to be observed.

But now, we are no longer under those elementary principles. We have grown past our childhood, and men, humans, are now entrusted with the decisions about times and seasons. Angels no longer rule us. We rule angels. The Holy Spirit resides in the Church to guide her in establishing practices that mark out the community of believers. The practices that are Scripturally mandated for the entire community include Lord’s day gathered worship, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. But as we observe the history of the Church, we can see the Holy Spirit work to create healthy, though not strictly obligatory, traditions that identify believers with Christ and with His body.

So why add more practices than those explicitly required by Scripture? (After, if it’s not commanded, it’s forbidden, right? or at least dangerous?) Is it not legalistic to do more than God Himself requires? Concerning Lent, is not the denial of the flesh gnostic or ascetic? If everyone else around me is fasting, and I know it, is that not contradictory to the requirement that fasts be secret (Matt. 6:16-18)? Recently, I have read online people caricature and criticize the observance of Lent for these reasons.

The discussion of the observance of Lent needs to begin with considering of the nature of observing any practice or ritual in the New Covenant situation. Too often the question of the relationship between the older covenants and the New resorts to battles of continuity versus discontinuity. And whereas those discussions are important, they often don’t tell the entire story. To fill out the narrative, we need to recognize that the relationship among the covenants is one of progression and growth. Over the course of her history, the people of God have matured, as was intended from the very beginning.

Under the older covenants, God’s community was in her infancy and childhood. She was treated like a child and was expected to mature to greater and greater glory. We clearly see this progression as we trace the history presented in Scripture from the priestly period of law to the kingly period of wisdom to the prophetic period of divine counsel. Now, in Christ, this body has grown into adulthood and is expected to act like adults.

Yet adults do not forsake the impulse to practice (good) patterns and habits, an impulse nurtured during their childhood. Practices, more than beliefs, are means of making adults into who they are, that is, of forming their identity.

Applied to the Church in the resurrected covenant situation, it would be foolish to throw off the establishment of regular rituals and seasons. For it is by those rituals that her affections are nurtured. It is by the liturgical practices of the Church that her doctrine is established and her desires are oriented toward Jesus. It is by practices that the community is defined. And it is in those liturgies that she lives within and lives out the life of Jesus her husband. If we are to love our husband as we ought, we need to establish grace-saturated rituals all throughout our life: daily, weekly, and yearly ones.

In other words, mature life, Church life is not dictated simply by the dos and don’ts of Scripture. We have grown beyond the mere avoidance of evil in order to be free from feelings of guilt. We also pursue our Lover. We seek to display that love not simply by doing “normal life” with the right heart attitude (as important as that is) but by increasingly incorporating grace-filled, joy-producing, love-evincing practices that deepen our wild and reckless love for our husband.

During Lent, by living in Jesus’ Passion, we exhibit our passion for Him.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Prayers for Friday, February 17, 2012

Matins: We give thanks to You, O Father, with all our hearts. We sing praises to you before the gods and judges of the land. We will bow our knees before Your throne and give thanks to You name because of Your steadfast love and Your trustworthiness. You have magnified Your word together with Your name. You have answered us on the day that we call. You have made us bold with strength in our souls. We yearn for the day when all the kings of the earth give thanks to You, O Yahweh, that is, when they hear and obey the words of Your mouth. Hasten the day in which they will sing of Your ways, O Yahweh, for great is Your glory (Ps. 138:1-5).

We praise You that Your kingdom is bigger than any earthly kingdom, that it spans boarders and cultures. Therefore, we pray for the other branches of Your church, who are gifted in different ways than we are. Fulfill the purposes you have for the other members of You body, that You kingdom would continue to spread and that the knowledge of Jesus would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14). (Chose one other denomination besides your own and pray for its specific needs and ministries.)

Midday: Our Father, examine us, and try us. Test us thoroughly, O Yahweh, for Your covenant loyalty is before our eyes, and we have walked in Your trustworthiness. We do not sit with men of falsehood, but we love Your truth. We do not go about with hypocrites, but we love the genuine brother (Ps. 26:2-4). We love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells (Ps. 26:8). Help us to walk in integrity. Redeem us, and be gracious to us. We bless You in the congregation of Your people (Ps. 26:11-12).

We lift before You today ministries of education. We pray today especially for Your people who have chosen to homeschool their children. Guard them against a tendency to elevate their earthly family above the family of Jesus. May parents treat their children as their younger brothers and sisters in Christ. May they provide for their needs as well as with opportunities to develop as complete servants of Yours. May their homes be filled with laughter and the cacophony that comes from many musical instruments being practiced at once. (Pray for specific homeschooling families.)

Vesper: We ascribe, O Father, the glory that is due Your name. We worship You, O Yahweh, in the majesty of holiness. Your voice is upon the waters. It is powerful and majestic. It breaks strong cedars, even the cedars of Lebanon. Your voice causes lightenings. It shakes the wilderness, even the wilderness of Kadesh. In Your house, therefore, we will lift up our voice and say, “Glory!” You, O Jesus, sit enthroned as King forever. You will give strength to Your people. Bless us, O Yahweh, with peace (from Ps. 29).

Let us Your people, live peaceful lives in this land. (Pray for the top news items that burden you.)

Antigua and BarbudaCompline: We praise You, O Yahweh, and give thanks to You because You are good. Your steadfast love endures forever. Though we are inadequate and incapable, we will speak of Your mighty deeds and show forth Your praise. Enable us to practice righteousness at all times, and bless us. Remember us, O Yahweh, in Your favor toward Your people. Visit us with Your salvation so that we may see the prosperity of Your chosen ones, so that we may rejoice in the gladness of Your holy nation, the Church, and so that we may glory with Your inheritance, even us, Your people (Ps. 106:1-5).

We lift before You tonight the tiny island of Anguilla. Though this people is largely Christian, we “pray that religious traditions might be infused with real spiritual life.” We ask that Your Spirit of unity would bind these people tightly together in the gospel.

We also lift before You the nation of Antigua and Barbuda, two small islands in the Caribbean. For this nation also, we “pray for a revival” among the many nominal and complacent Christians “that galvanizes Christians to prayer.” May Your church truly be a unified and focused light that makes a difference in their society. We also pray that you would break down the sophisticated structures of sin. Give “wisdom and discernment [to] the government in handling these difficult issues.” Also, bless the work of two Christian radio stations that serve many islands of the Caribbean: Abundant Life Radio and Caribbean Radio Lighthouse. Spread Your kingdom through these effective means.

Anguilla facts:
A British overseas territory.
Capital: The Valley
Governor: William Alistair Harrison
90% Christian (45% Protestant, 30% Anglican)

Antigua and Barbados facts:
Capital: Saint John’s
Prime Minister: Baldwin Spencer
92.5% Christian (34% Protestant, 34% Anglican)
(Quotations, statistics and picture are from Operation World and wikipedia.com.)

News about Antigua and Barbados:
Caribbean's high crime rate is hindering development, report says

About Abundant Life Radio: “Abundant Life Radio is committed to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world through the preaching of the Word and the very best in gospel music.” (From their website)

About Caribbean Radio Lighthouse: “As a missionary radio station, the Caribbean Radio Lighthouse broadcasts the good news of God's word to the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Located on the tropical island of Antigua, and operated by Baptist International Missions, Inc., the station has been used by the Lord to strengthen local churches by teaching and encouraging individual Christians through sound, Bible-based programming. Reaching from Eastern Puerto Rico south to the northern Windward Islands, our AM station covers over twenty islands with a population exceeding one million, and FM reaches a growing Spanish-speaking audience in Antigua and nearby islands. The Lighthouse brings Biblical teaching to islands not reached by any other Evangelical radio station which conforms to the fundamental doctrines of God's word.” (From their website)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Prayers for Thursday, February 16, 2012

Matins: O Father, our refuge and strength, You are abundantly available for help in times of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though everything around us is changing and though Your enemies rage against us. We are glad by the river that flows in Your church out from the throne of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1; Ezek 47:1). From that river You cleanse and nourish Your people. You feed us in Your sanctuary and enable us to bring healing to the nations (Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:2). You are in the midst of Your people, and so Your church will not be moved. You, O Yahweh of Armies, are with us. You are with us, O God of Jacob (Ps. 46:1-7).

Today we bring before you the other churches of our presbytery (named). We pray for the teaching ministries of these churches, that they would effectively communicate the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Enable Your people to worship You richly and skillfully through a knowledge of You. Protect their ministers. Purify their worship. Guide their decisions. (Pray specifically for the needs of your presbytery, especially their teaching ministry.)

Midday: The whole earth is Yours, O Father, and all its fullness. The world is Yours, O King Jesus, and all those who dwell in it. You founded the land on the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who may ascend from the seas unto the highest part of the land, even the holy hill of Yahweh? How can we dare to stand in Your holy place? Clean up our works, O Father. Purify our hears, O Jesus. Fill us with a loyalty to Your truth. Give us Your blessing, O Yahweh, even vindication, O God of Our salvation. We seek Your face (Ps. 24:1-6).

Give our co-workers today the fullest gift of Your Spirit. Where there is death, bring life. Where there is sorrow, bring joy. Where there is impurity, bring cleansing. Cause us, Your people, to bring life, peace, joy, and hospitality to all those around us. (Pray specifically for the needs of co-workers.)

Vesper: Our Father, the Creator, we bless You. You are very great. You are clothed in splendor and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak and stretching out heaven like a curtain. You lay the beams of Your upper chambers in the waters. You make the clouds Your chariot. You walk upon the wings of the wind. Angels are Your flaming messengers and ministers (Ps. 104:1-4). Let Your glory, O Yahweh, endure forever. May You be glad in all Your works. Look upon the earth, and make it tremble. Touch the mountains, and make them smoke. We will sing to You, O Yahweh, as long as we live. Let our meditation be pleasing to You. Let unrepentant sinners be consumed from the land, and let the hardened wicked men be no more. We bless You, O Yahweh! Hallelu-Yah! (Ps. 104:31-35)

We lift our prayers to You now on behalf of the federal government. We ask that You would guide the hearts of the legislature, as You guide the rivers of water. May they make righteous laws and enforce them. May they promote life, honesty, and peace. May they not be influenced by greed or bribes, but may they rule in integrity and faithfulness. (Pray for the federal legislators from your state.)

Compline: We give thanks to You, O Father, and call upon Your name. May Your great deeds be known among the peoples. We sing praises to You, and we talk of all Your wonders. We glory in Your holy name, and our hearts are glad because we seek You and Your face continually. We call to remembrance the wonders which You have done and the marvels and judgments of Your mouth. You are Yahweh our God. Your judgments are in all the earth (Ps. 105:1-7).

Tonight we continue to pray for the uttermost part of the earth, the country of Angola in Africa. We pray for the young people and children of this country. Solve, we pray, the problem of a high mortality rate for children under five (26%) and of chronic malnutrition (45% for the same group). May schools be rebuilt and staffed. Bless ministries that target students, like the Scripture Union.

Also, we thank you that through the years of suffering and war, foreign missionaries remained as a powerful testimony of Your love and grace. Bless humanitarian ministries, like Samaritan’s Purse, as they “focus on primary health care, education, vocational training and disease prevention.” Give other missions wisdom and resources as they “work holistically, ministering to both physical and spiritual needs of Angolans.” Additionally, please provide more workers in this field that they may share the love of Jesus to this needy nation. (Quotations are from Operation World.)



About Scripture Union: “Today, Scripture Union is in over 130 countries around the world and is still working to introduce children and young people to Jesus. Although the gospel never changes, each culture expresses it in a particular way and so the work is carried out through local people in ways which are appropriate to the country, culture and situation in which a movement is based. This includes running camps, school seminars and student groups or producing resources for Bible reading, family counselling, AIDS education, urban children and youth ministry and ministry to the handicapped.” (From their website)

About Samaritan’s Purse: “Samaritan's Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan's Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God's love through His Son, Jesus Christ. The organization serves the Church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (From their website)

Prayers for Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Matins: Our Father, who answers the afflicted and needy, incline Your ear and answer us, O Yahweh. Preserve our souls, O You our God, and save Your servants who trust in You. Be gracious to us, O Master, for to You we cry all day long. Make glad the souls of Your servants for to You, O Master, we lift up our souls. For You, O Master, are good, ready to forgive, and abundant in steadfast love to all who call upon You (Ps. 86:1-5). There is no one like You among all the other gods that people worship, O Jesus, nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Master, and they shall glorify Your name. Hasten that day! For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God (Ps. 86:8-10).

How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You (Ps. 84:4). We lift before You today the needs of our denomination. Keep us pure and blameless. Keep us steadfast in Your Word with a fierce desire to uphold it and obey it. Keep us aware of and burdened for the true needs of the people all around us. Guard us against looking for immediate fruit, but cause us to remember that “one sows and another reaps” (John 4:35-37). May we be content to sow patiently, and when given the privilege to reap fruit, let us give glory to You who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:7). (Pray specifically for the needs of your denomination or broader church affiliation.)

Midday: You have placed Your foundation in the holy mountains, O Yahweh. You love the gates of Zion, Your holy city (Ps. 87:1-2). From the heights of the high mountains, we see the great city, the holy Jerusalem, even Your church, the wife of the Lamb. She has high walls with twelve gates shining with precious stones (Rev. 21:9-13). Glorious things are spoken of the city of God, O Father. We will tell all the peoples that we have received new birth into the city (Ps. 87:3-4). We are citizens of Your city, whose builder and maker is You, O God (Heb. 11:10). Count us, O Yahweh, among the myriad, a multitude from every tribe, people, and tongue, whom You register and declare that we were born from above into Your city. We will sing and play our instruments because all our joy is in You (Ps. 87:6-7).

Draw your people into Your city and give new life to more and more people, even those who live closest to us. (Pray specifically for your neighbors who do not know Jesus.)

Vesper: O Father of our hope. You are the God of our salvation. We cry before You day and night. Let our prayer come before You. Incline Your ear to our cry. Our souls must endure troubles. All around us lies the death of Sheol (Ps. 88:1-3). Yet, though we were baptized into the death of Jesus, we are also risen in Him to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4). Now we sit in heavenly places in Jesus the Anointed, Ruler of the earth so that in the ages to come, You, O Father, might show forth the exceeding riches of Your grace in the kindness You have shown to us (Eph. 2:6-7).

We pray now for the state rulers You have placed over us. May they rule in wisdom and in the fear of You. May they recognize their utter dependence upon You, who are the source of all wisdom and truth. (Pray specifically for your state government officials that they bow their knees to the true King who is ruling this land and thus make righteous decisions.)

AngolaCompline: Where, O Father, are Your former acts of steadfast love, which You swore to David in Your faithfulness, O Master? Remember, O Lord Jesus, how Your servants are reproached in this world, even how we, Your church, bear in our bosom the reproach of all the many peoples. It is Your own enemies that have reproach Your people, O Yahweh. They have reproached those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus Your Anointed. Yet, we will bless You, O Yahweh, forever for we know that you will not hide Yourself forever. You will deliver us even in this life (Ps. 89:46-52).

This night we bring before You the African nation of Angola. We thank you that after 40 years of war (1962-2002), the people of this nation now live in peace and stability. We ask for continued healing from the war: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. Provide protection for those “seeking to alleviate physical suffering by clearing landmines and rebuilding infrastructure, homes, hospitals, schools, and churches.” Bless the agencies involved in these efforts “including WVI, Tearfund and several consortiums of churches and agencies such as Church Action in Angola.”

We ask also for the condition of Your Church in Angola. May the Church “be at the forefront of activities aimed to overcome the longstanding tribal loyalties and partisan politics.” May Your people be willing to extend forgiveness even to those “who perpetrated crimes against Christians and Christians who compromised under pressure.” Additionally, we request the purity of the Church there, with her newfound liberty, that they avoid dangerous syncretistic cults. Finally, we pray for visible unity among believers so that they would display to the world the love and grace of Jesus in spite of differences and difficulties.

Angola facts:
A longtime colony of Portugal.
Capital: Luanda
President: José Eduardo dos Santos
94% Christian (64% Catholic)
(Quotations, statistics and picture are from Operation World and wikipedia.com.)

News:
Angola: Long-Serving President Seeks New Term
Africa: CPLP Moving Towards Establishing More Democratic Societies

Agencies for rebuilding and renewal efforts:
World Vision in Angola
Tearfund in Angola
Church Action in Angola

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weekend with James Jordan: NSA Disputatio

Last weekend my beloved wife nearly made the ultimate sacrifice for me: she allowed me to skip town and travel to Moscow, ID in order to attend a short conference (held by Trinity Church pastored by Peter Leithart) featuring James Jordan, whose topic was officially “Christian Warfare: Wine, Women, and Song.” In the end, my wife and kids will benefit from their own sacrifice because the quick trip was refreshing and inspiring for me. Rather than giving a complete synopsis of the sessions I attended, I just want to give a quick overview along with the thoughts, responses, and questions that haphazardly come to mind as I reflect. These sessions, while completely Biblical and in keeping with the work of the Holy Spirit throughout church history, are provocative and quite out of step with many of the practices performed and promoted by today’s church, both among broadly evangelical conservatives as well as among Reformed communions of all stripes. Yet, we ignore these teachings to our detriment.

NSA Disputatio, February 10, 2011

I arrived in town with the purpose of attending the disputatio at New Saint Andrews College, something they do every Friday to close the week (and not officially a part of the conference). As introduction Mr. Jordan humorously reminded the students that the purpose of his time there was to present something disputable and controversial. Of course, he has no shortage of topics that would fall into that category. This particular talk opened by asking the question (I paraphrase), “Have we all become Mormons now?” He then went on to demonstrate that roughly beginning with the rise of Mormonism, a distinctly American heresy, the church underwent types of changes that were strangely resonant with Mormonism. He described at length the seating arrangements in a church service. Rather than being organized by families, churches assembling for worship used to sit according to sexes, not because of any denigration of either but rather as a way to distinguish roles in the body: men frequently sat at the floor level because they, with lower voices, provided an undecorated foundation. Women and children, on the other hand, having higher voices like angels, sat in a balcony (or matroneum) in order to decorate and glorify the words. Alternatively, in some churches they sat on opposite sides in order to provide for antiphonal or dialogical worship.

In fact, sitting according for family was unheard of throughout all of church history before the mid-nineteenth century. To do so has resulted in (caused, perhaps, by Mormonism) and perpetuates the faulty maintenance of familial ties before God. Mormonism’s emphasis on a family in which the husband and father is the “head” has entered into the church and has subverted a very fundamental truth about the nature of God’s gathered people. When a person is baptized, he is no longer identified primarily by his role in his earthly family. Rather, the family of God supersedes that earthly family, especially during the time of gathered worship. Thus, in order to picture the liturgical roles of all of God’s children (brothers and sisters) during worship, the entire church sits as equals who carry on differing liturgical roles based on differing gifts. When the seating arrangements were changed according to earthly families 150 years ago, certain notions about the role of the family crept in and are now passionately maintained by even those committed to Biblical truth.

For instance, there is an overemphasis on the role of the father as the head of the household. Jordan contends that, being one flesh, both the father and the mother are head. In the worship of some churches, fathers are even given the elements of the Lord’s supper to distribute to their families. But, conversely, fathers must never step in between any child of God and Jesus, who feeds them bread and wine. Jordan did not suggest any specific strategy for reversing this patriarchal mindset. He didn’t explicitly declare that churches should separate the men from the women. Yet, he strongly contended that a mindset that causes familial relations to rival the relations between Jesus and each of His people individually is detrimental and must be combated. I strongly agree with Jordan on this point as well as on the harmful manifestations and effects of it in the life of the church today, besides those that I already mentioned. Thus, what follows is a mixture of my own wording and expansion of further observations on this issue made by Jim Jordan.

One such manifestation is the diminished view of the role of women in the church and in the family. The idea that a woman exists at the behest and for the pleasure of her husband is prevalent in the church. Though officially disavowed, conservative Bible believers tend to practice a sort of inferiority of women to men, rather than simply a difference in roles based on the equality and difference within the Trinity (which Mormons deny). One does not have to buy into the modern wholesale disavowal of differing roles between husband and wife to elevate the role of the woman to its proper place. Eve was created not primarily to help Adam fulfill his kingly role of dominion. Rather, she was necessary as a liturgical partner, to beautify, enhance, and respond to the truth. Hebrew poetry and antiphonal Psalms, for instance, would be impossible without the creation of the woman.

Jordan also made the observation that homeschooling feeds the idea of the centrality of family life. As a committed homeschooler, I completely concur with this assessment. It is an unwise and unhealthy basis for homeschooling to claim that the family should be the central source of a child’s education. Again, whose child is he or she? This observation goes hand in hand with Jordan’s further contention that the prevailing understanding of sphere sovereignty is misguided and harmful. This construction provides justification for the church’s remaining largely out of the business of education. I’ve made a similar observation elsewhere.

In response, I have one observation and one question. First, I want to continue the conversation about the church’s role in education. I have made brief and undeveloped observations before about this topic, but I think it is time for the church to step up. The church is the first family of all of God’s children, and she must nurture those children. Elders, as representatives of Jesus, must seriously consider their role in constructing plans for educating God’s children. Certainly, this is not to say that fathers and mothers have no part in education. It is, rather, to contend that perpetuating the church’s policy of minimal involvement in education amounts to abdication of God-given responsibility. Churches must do more than simply persuading and motivating fathers to accomplish something that more appropriately belongs within the primary jurisdiction of the church.

Finally, I have one question to consider and attempt to answer. Perhaps the fact that I was raised as a credobaptist makes me curious about this. It seems to me that the basis upon which many churches place baptizing infants is the central role of a believing parent over the covenantal status of the child. Arguments for paedobaptism tend to go hand in hand with arguments for Christian education and family worship. In response, I don’t think that Jordan would deny the importance of these activities, but I do think he would reorient the argument. Parents bring their children to be baptized because, being part of their earthly family, those children are sanctified. Jesus has set apart children of even one believing parent for Himself. Thus, the parents bring those children to be identified with Christ and His body through the waters of baptism. And by that act of baptism, Jesus places His identity upon the child and incorporates them into His body. At that point, the child has a new source of identity. Whereas before, his primary identity was found in his earthly father (and thereby ultimately in Adam), now his identity is defined by Jesus. Now he answers first to Jesus and second to his earthly mom and dad. Now God is his father and the church is his mother primarily. Now, his earthly father and mother are most basically his brother and sister. Thus, if a church wants to administer vows before a baptism (which are really unnecessary because the obligation always remains), they should be taken by all the church body who, in the context of the church, have a equal responsibility to train up the children (that is, their younger brothers and sisters).

The disputatio ended with a brief time for questions. The students asked some excellent questions and provided Jordan the needed opportunity to nuance some of his statements in helpful ways. By the time disputatio was over, I knew I was in for a treat for the weekend. So much to think about already!

Prayers for Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Matins: O Father of grace, defender against the enemy who would trample us down, whenever we are afraid, we put our trust in You. We praise You for Your word. With a trustworthy God like You, what can mere man do to us? You notice all our wanderings. You put our tears in Your bottle and record them all in Your book. In You, our God; yes, in You, O Yahweh, whose word we praise, we put our trust. We will not be afraid. What can mere man do to us? Let us, therefore, walk this day before You, O God, in the light of the living (from Ps. 56).

This day, we lift before You the ministry of teaching in our church, (name of church). Grant the teachers wisdom and understanding as they prepare the material that is needful for us, Your people. Give them a passion for a people who knows Your Word of truth, and burden them with a long-term vision and commitment to make that come about. Bless the Sunday School teachers, the youth leaders, and everyone else who is tasked with the responsibility of teaching Your people. (Pray specifically for those in your church who are teachers of Biblical truth.)

Midday: Our gracious Father, our souls take refuge in You; under the shadow of Your wings we take refuge until destruction passes by (Ps. 57:1). Our hearts are steadfast, O God, our hearts are steadfast. We will sing praises to Your name, O Jesus. We will bring glorious praises to You upon stringed instruments among the surrounding peoples. Your covenant faithfulness is as high as the heavens, and Your trustworthiness extends even to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; and let Your glory be above all the earth (from Ps. 57).

We pray now for those in our family who live among those peoples who do not bow their knee to Jesus as their King, Savior, and Master. (Pray for unbelieving family and extended family members.)

Vesper: Our Father of deliverance, set us securely on high away from those who rise up against us. Deliver us from workers of iniquity and from men who would shed our blood (Ps. 59:1-2). You, O Yahweh God of armies, are the God of Israel, even of Your church (Gal. 6:16). Awake to visit the nations. Deal justly with those who are treacherous in iniquity and unrepentant. Laugh and scoff at them (Ps. 59:5, 8). If they will not turn to You, let them be caught in their pride because of the curses and lies of their mouth. Let men know that You, O Jesus, rule to the ends of the earth (Ps. 59:12-13). We, Your people will sing of Your strength. We will joyfully sing of Your covenant faithfulness because You have been our refuge in the day of our distress. Because you are our strength, we will sing praises to You. You are our stronghold, even the God of covenant faithfulness (Ps. 59:16-17).

Visit our county, we pray, that we may live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence (1 Tim. 2:2). (Pray for the county government, specifically for the councilmember of your district.)

(Pray also for a cultural issue for which you are particularly burdened.)

American SamoaCompline: Our forgiving Father, let Your ears be attentive to the voice of our supplications. If You, O Yahweh, should take account of our iniquities, then O Yahweh, who could stand? But, blessed be the name of Jesus our Savior, with You there is forgiveness so that we fear Your name. We wait for You, our souls wait, and in Your word we hope. With You, O Yahweh, there is steadfast love, and with You is abundant redemption. You will redeem Your people from all their iniquities (from Ps. 130). Continue to call our Your people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9).

We petition tonight on behalf of the people of American Samoa in the South Pacific. Thank you that You gospel has made inroads among these people, and we ask that this trend would continue. Guard Your people from materialism that easily results from material prosperity. We also praise You for “evangelical ministries and churches [who are] making an impact” for Your name. Make the YWAM base there successful in their faithful work. And last, we ask that you would overthrow the cults, which have become very numerous there. Bring an awakening among the mainline churches whose members, being largely nominal followers of Jesus, are vulnerable to the deception of the cults. May Your church in American Samoa be a strong beacon of light for Your name.

American Samoa facts:
(These islands in the south Pacific are an unincorporated territory of the United States.)
Capital: Pago Pago
Governor: Togiola T.A. Tulafono
95.1% Christian (65,000 people) with a growth rate of 1.7%
(Quotations, statistics and picture are from Operation World and wikipedia.com.)

According to YWAM’s website: “Youth With A Mission is an international volunteer movement of Christians from many backgrounds, cultures and Christian traditions, dedicated to serving Jesus throughout the world. Also known as YWAM (pronounced "WHY-wham"), our purpose is simply to know God and to make Him known.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Prayers for Friday, February 10, 2012

Matins: Our Father, who has forgiven our sins, we have called upon You, for You will answer us. O God, incline Your ear to us and hear our speech. Wondrously show Your lovingkindness, O Jesus, Savior of those who take refuge at Your right hand. Keep us as the apple of Your eye; hide us in the shadow of Your wings from wicked men who would devastate us, deadly enemies who surround us. As for us, we shall behold Your face in righteousness; we will be satisfied with Your likeness when we awake (Ps. 17:6-9, 15). Guard Your people this day. Protect them and strengthen them as they are about their Father’s business. Bless our sister, likeminded churches as they serve You in Your vineyard. As You have placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as You desire, heal the divisions in Your Church. May each part have the same care one for another, rejoicing when others are honored (1 Cor. 12:18, 25-26). And may each one fulfill the specific calling for which You have specially gifted each one. (Pray for the needs of other presbyteries in your denomination or likeminded churches outside your locality.)

Midday: Our Father, to whom all creation bears witness, we thank you for your perfect law, which restores the soul; for Your sure testimony, which makes the simple wise; for Your right precepts, which make our hearts rejoice; for Your pure commandment, which enlightens our eyes; for Your clean fear, which endures forever; for Your trustworthy judgments, which are altogether righteous. We desire them more than much fine gold. They are sweeter to us then honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. (Ps. 19:7-10). Guard us, Your servants, from presumptuous acts. Make us blameless. Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable before Your face, O Yahweh. You are our Rock and our Redeemer (Ps. 19:13-14). Let us drink from the Rock, even Jesus Christ, who quenched the thirst of your people in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4). Teach us, O Living Bread, the word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). Bless all who educate Your people that they may become skilled in worshiping before Your throne. (Pray for educational ministries.)

Vespers: Our Father, whom we love because You hear the voice of our supplications, we will call on You as long as we live (Ps. 116:1-2). You are gracious, O Yahweh, and righteous. Yes, You are compassionate. You preserve the simple, and You save those who have been brought low (Ps. 116:5-6). We walk before You in the land of the living. We trust when even when we are greatly afflicted (Ps. 116: 9-10). We will make and pay our vows to You in the presence of all Your people. We will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and will call upon Your name. We love and seek the courts of Your house. We long for Your courts in the New Jerusalem that we may praise Your name, O Yahweh (Ps. 116:17-19)!

(Pray for the top domestic news stories for which God has burdened You.)

Guard Your people from wicked government policies that try to force ministries of Your church to fund and sanction murder. Give the Catholic Church the fortitude to stand against a civil body that seeks to force its authority over them. Protect us in this nation from those who would overturn the freedom of Your people to obey Your laws and to worship You as we ought. Frustrate and defeat those would push an agenda, well-intentioned as it may be, that subverts Your holy laws. (The President, the Pill, and Religious Liberty in Peril)

We also lift before You Your church in New York City as many have recently been displaced from their places of worship. Give them success as they seek alternatives to the government school buildings. Strengthen them during this difficult time, and may these circumstances result in greater unity among Your people as they fight a common enemy and rally around a common gospel. Bind Your people together and cause them to find alternative locations in which to worship You. (New York City Churches Find New Homes)

AfghanistanCompline: O Father, who sent Jesus Your Son to be the ruler of the nations, may all peoples praise and laud Your name. Your steadfast love is great toward us, Your people. And Your truth, O Yahweh, endures forever (Ps. 117:1-2). We pray once again for the nation of Afghanistan. We ask on behalf of Your church, which “remains almost entirely underground.” We thank you that the number of Afghan believers “are increasing, as are the resources available to help disciple them.” We pray that more Afghans would be reached by the gospel and that the believers would embrace their identity as both Afghan and Christian. Please bring about “an expression of faith… that allows them to be truly Afghan while truly following Jesus.” And finally, we pray “that no attacks of the enemies of the gospel might discourage or destroy the Church, but that in the crucible of suffering, the body of Christ might mature and even grow.”

Afghanistan country facts:
Capital: Kabul
.05% Christian (<15,000 people) with a growth rate of 14.6% (All these numbers are “high” because of resident foreigners, a population that has grown in recent years.)
(Quotations, statistics and picture are from Operation World and wikipedia.com)

Top News: Peace negotiations with the Taliban

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prayers for Thursday, February 9, 2012

Matins: Our Father, You are Yahweh who reigns. The peoples tremble before You. You are enthroned above the cherubim, and the earth shakes at Your presence. You, O Yahweh, are great in Zion. You are exalted above the peoples. Let all the peoples praise Your great and awesome name, for You are holy. When Moses and Aaron were Your priests, when Samuel called on Your name, You answered them. You spoke to them in the pillar of cloud. Yes, You answered them, You forgave them. Therefore, we exalt You, O Yahweh our God. We worship with Your people on Your holy hill, for holy are You, Yahweh our God (Psalm 99:1-9). We, Your people, ask for grace and help on behalf of our presbytery and its leaders. Give them knowledge and insight as they shepherd Your people. (Pray for the needs of your presbytery or your local network of churches.)

Midday: Our trustworthy Father, our eyes are upon the faithful ones in the land. They are the ones who are permitted to dwell among us, even he who walks in the way of integrity. But the one who practices deceit shall not dwell long within our house. We will not entertain the folly of the one who speaks falsehood (Ps. 101:6-7). Make us good companions to those who walk in integrity of heart, those who set not worthless things before their eyes, and those who hate the work of apostates (Ps. 101:2-3). Give us carefulness and wisdom as we perform our daily work among others. May the rivers of living water flow out of our hearts (John 7:38) and provide grace to all around us. (Pray for the needs of co-workers, both superiors and inferiors.)

Vespers: Our Father, we bless You. Our souls bless You. All that is in us bless Your holy name. We remember all Your benefits: pardoning our iniquity, healing our diseases, redeeming our lives from the pit, crowning us with steadfast love and compassion, and satisfying our desires with good things. You renew our youthful energy like the eagles (Ps. 103:1-5). We thank You, O Father, that you have established the throne of Your Son, the Anointed Jesus, in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all (Ps. 103:19). May all the works of Your hand, all creation and all men in all places of Your dominion, bless You, O Yahweh (Ps. 103:22). Let those who sit on the highest thrones of the earth bow their knee at the name of Jesus. You, O Father, have exalted Him and have given Him a name which is above every name. Let the tongues of the highest rulers of this land confess that the Anointed Jesus is the highest Master to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). (Pray for specific needs of the federal government.)

Father, this land is under Your judgment because justice is perverted toward the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deut. 27:19). Your church has failed You our king by neglecting to give food to the hungry, to give a drink to the thirsty, to take in the stranger, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and prisoners (Matt. 25:32-46). We have not taken upon ourselves the burdens of this world, for which we are responsible as Your priestly nation (1 Pet. 2:9). Forgive our presumptuous excuses. And teach us, Your Church, to amend our ways and to care for the world around us. (Pray specifically for the needy in your immediate location.)

Compline: Hear our prayer, O Yahweh! And let our cry for help come to You (Ps. 102:1). We thank you that you have created a new people to praise You, even Your church (Ps. 102:18; Eph. 2:15). You looked down from Your holy height; from heaven You gazed on the earth. And You heard the groaning of the prisoner and set free those who were doomed to death. All nations may tell of Your name, O Yahweh, in Zion and of Your praise in the New Jerusalem. We, the peoples, have assembled together; we, the kingdoms, have been delivered to serve You, O Yahweh (Ps. 102:19-22).

This night, we pray for Afghanistan, “one of the least reached countries of the world.” Though that land has 48,000 mosques, there is “not a single church building.” Of the “70 unreached peoples of this land,” we pray especially for the Pashtuns with its approximately 46 million people and over 30 major sub-tribes. We pray that “multitudes might be released from fear, prejudice, the strongholds of Islam, and pride in pashtunwali (their tribal code of honour).” We thank you that “there is evidence of an intense spiritual battle for breakthrough among this people” and pray that the gates of hell would not withstand the onslaught of the gospel.

We pray also for other tribal groups, namely, the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, the Turkmen, the six Aimaq tribes, the nine Nuristani tribal groups, the five Ismaili Muslim Pamir people groups, the Kyrgyz, the numerous Dardic people groups, and the nomadic Gujjar and Jugi/Kuchi/Ghorbat people groups. Gather all these nations and tongues that they would come into Your Church and see Your glory (Is. 66:18). May these ends of the earth turn to You and be delivered from their darkness. May they bow their knees and swear allegiance to You. May they say, “Only in Yahweh are righteousness and strength,” and may all who are angry at You be put to shame (Is. 45:22-24). (Quotations from Operation World)

News and information about three of the above mentioned tribes:
Pashtuns: Do the Taliban represent Pashtuns?
Hazaras: Helping the Hazara of Afghanistan and Pakistan
Nuristan: First, Take Nuristan: The Taliban's New Afghan Plan

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Prayers for Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Matins: O Father, who relieved Joseph’s shoulder from his burden and freed his feet from the brick load (Ps. 81:6), to You we call in our trouble. You rescue us, You answer us, You prove us. We desire You alone and not foreign gods (Ps. 81:7-9). We open our mouths wide, and we ask You to fill it (Ps. 81:10). Give us grace not to be like Israel of old. Rather, let us listen to Your voice, obey You, and walk in Your ways. Give us not over to stubbornness of heart to walk in our own devices. Subdue our enemies, and turn Your hand against all Your and our enemies. Satisfy us with the finest of wheat and with honey from the Rock (Ps. 81:11-16). Just as we hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6), we seek to be fed by the pastors and elders of Your Church (Acts 20:28). Today we lift before you the leaders of our denomination. Guide them as they shepherd this entire communion and guard Your flock from attack from the outside and corruption from the inside. (Pray for specific needs of the denomination and of its leadership.)

Midday: Our Father, who gave Your Son as the husband of Your Church in order to sanctify, cleanse, and glorify her to the end that He may in turn present her to You without spot, wrinkle, or blemish (Eph. 5:25-27), we thank You for proving us. In our testing, forget us not forever. Hide not Your face from us too long (Ps. 13:1). Consider and answer us, O Yahweh our God; enlighten our eyes before we sleep the sleep of death and the enemy is exalted (Ps. 13:3-4). We trust in you covenant faithfulness. Our hearts will rejoice in Your deliverance. We will sing to You because You have truly dealt bountifully with us (Ps. 13:5-6)! Give us, we pray, a heart for our neighbors around us (Luke 10:36-37). Give us grace to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Let us embrace them in hospitality and thus live the gospel before them that they may glorify You in heaven (Matt. 5:16). (Pray for specific needs of your neighbors.)

Vesper: Our Father, who in Your perfect plan has placed us in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Is. 6:5), do not be silent! Do not remain quiet, O God, nor be still. For behold, Your enemies make an uproar, and those who hate You have exalted themselves. They make shrewd plans against Your people and conspire together against Your treasured ones (Ps. 83:1-3). Deal with them as with Midian, as with Sisera and Jabin at the torrent of Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor and became as dung for the ground (Judg. 4:7; Ps. 83:9-10). Let them be ashamed and dismayed forever, and let them be humiliated and perish if they do not repent so that they may know that You alone, whose name is Yahweh, are the Most High over all the earth (Ps. 83:17-18). We request particularly against the rulers in our state who legislate abominations and seek to overthrow Your law of truth and justice. (Pray for the needs of your state.)

As Your people, we have set a poor example to the world. We lament the naming of good as evil and of evil as good (Is. 5:20). Cleanse this land of sexual abominations. Rid us from all provisions of law that would provide equal marital status for those entrapped in their sinful addiction to homosexual acts. May we, Your people show compassion and love for those so ensnared, yet make us bold to fight against the destruction that this blight makes upon this land. (Pray specifically for the cultural disease of homosexuality and for the battles currently being fought.)

Compline: Our Father, who forgave the iniquity of Your people, covered all their sin by the blood of Jesus Christ, withdrew all Your fury, and turned away from Your burning anger (1 John 4:10; Ps. 85:2-3), hear our prayer. Surely Your salvation is near to those who fear You to the end that glory may dwell in the earth (Ps. 85:9). Give the earth what is good so that it will yield its produce (Ps. 85:12). Your church in the Pacific has largely “failed to meet the mission challenge on its own soil” and to take the “mission opportunities afforded by immigration.” Give them grace to “train church and mission leaders in effective evangelism, church planting and discipleship skills.” Send your Church “awakening… in training infrastructures that can meet the growing challenge.” (Quotations from Operation World)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prayers for Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Matins: Our faithful Father, who delights to hear the prayers of Your children, let us, Your people, not live as fools, as if there were no God (Ps. 53:1). Let us, rather, not only seek You, Your kingdom, and Your righteousness (Ps. 53:2; Matt. 6:33) but also find You (Matt. 7:7-8). And as You in turn are seeking faithful people who worship You in Spirit and truth (John 4:23), may we be found by You. As a people who would be filled with Your Spirit, we ask You to fill us with the word of Christ that overflows in song (Col. 3:16). We lift up to You the ministry of music at our church that it would flourish. Through our singing and our instruments, may we, Your holy army, bring down the strongholds of Your enemies (Josh. 6:20). (Pray specifically for the ministry of music at your local church.)

Midday: Father of the fatherless and judge of widows in Your holy habitation (Ps. 68:5), we ask You on behalf of our extended family that you would make them glad in Your righteousness (Ps. 68:3). Fill them with songs of praise to Your name, even Yah (Ps. 68:4). Rid their homes of loneliness, and lead them into prosperity (Ps. 68:6). Be to them a burden-bearing Master, the God of their salvation (Ps. 68:19). Show Yourself strong on their behalf (Ps. 68:28) that they may praise You in Your sanctuary. (Pray for specific needs in your extended family.)

Vespers: Our Father, who opens the lips of the forgiven that they may declare Your praise (Ps. 51:15), let not the tongue of the wicked work deceit like a sharp razor nor boast in their evil deeds nor devise the destruction of the righteous (Ps. 52:1-2). Break them down forever that the righteous may see and fear and laugh (Ps. 52:5-6). May the governing officials of our county (name of county) defend the righteous that they may grow like green olive trees in the house of God (Ps. 52:8). (Pray for the specific needs of your county government.)

This nation is contaminated with idols that cannot speak nor see nor hear nor smell nor feel nor walk (Ps. 115:5-7). Yet people within and without Your church worship and trust the gods of comfort and convenience, isolation and independence, liberty and license. We place our trust in these things and turn our trust from You. Turn our hearts to trust in You, O Yahweh, for You are our help and shield (Ps. 115:9-11). Cause us to bless only You, the Maker of heaven and earth, the only true God, who brought us out of the house of bondage (Ex. 20:2). Rid us of all other gods before You.

Compline: Our Father, before whom the earth trembles, turn for us the Rock, who is Jesus Christ, into a pool of water, even the living water (Ps. 114:7-8; John 4:10). You brought Israel out of Egypt, out of a strange land in order to make Judah Your sanctuary. You made the sea flee and the Jordan turn back. You caused the mountains to skip like rams and the hills like lambs (Ps. 114:3-4). By the same powerful hand, establish Your sanctuary in the islands of the Pacific. “Revive a vision for evangelical cooperation and mission.” Span the “geographical distances and the lack of unity.” Bless such gospel works as the South Pacific Evangelical Fellowship and the All Pacific Prayer Assembly that they may see You “move in new and effective ways in the Pacific.” May the gates of hell not withstand the onslaught of gospel truth. (Quotations from Operation World)

The South Pacific Evangelical Fellowship is part of the World Evangelical Alliance, which according to their website, “is a global ministry working with local churches around the world to join in common concern to live and proclaim the Good News of Jesus in their communities. WEA is a network of churches in 129 nations that have each formed an evangelical alliance and over 100 international organizations joining together to give a world-wide identity, voice, and platform to more than 600 million evangelical Christians. Seeking holiness, justice and renewal at every level of society - individual, family, community and culture, God is glorified and the nations of the earth are forever transformed.”

A movement with a strongly premillennial vision, the All Pacific Prayer Assembly is part of the Deep Sea Canoe Movement, which, according to their website, is “committed to flow with the move of the Glory of God in restoring the Kingdom of God on earth and saturating the earth with 24 hours a day Worship and Prayer.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Prayers for Monday, February 6, 2012

Matins: Our Father of truth, we lift before you today the leaders you have placed over us at (name of church). Please keep them above reproach. Cause them to remain temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine nor pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, and free from the love of money. Protect them in their homes as able managers of their own households, keeping their children under control with all dignity. Guard their reputations with those outside the church (2 Tim. 3:2-7). Give them joy as a watchers of our souls and ones who must give an account (Heb. 13:17). Through their work, cause us, Your people, to grow in grace and in a knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). (Ask specific requests on behalf of pastors, elders, deacons, and other church rulers.)

Midday: Our kind Father, please extend your grace to our extended family. Keep them steadfast in Your word, unmovable in Your truth, and continually abounding in Your work (1 Cor. 15:58). Give them a delight in the law of Yahweh on which they meditate day and night (Ps. 1:2). Quicken them in Your word and comfort them in all affliction (Ps. 119:50). May they never forget Your precepts (Ps. 119:93). (Ask specific requests for members of the extended family.)

Vespers: Our powerful Father, we bring before your throne the government of our city, the city of (name of city). Give the leaders here an honest fear of You, O Yahweh, that they may attain true wisdom, knowledge and instruction (Prov. 1:7). Cause them to make just decisions by finding their counsel, wisdom, understanding, and power in You (Prov. 8:14-15). Under their oversight, let not the wicked vaunt themselves, nor crush Your people, nor afflict Your heritage, nor slay the widow and stranger, nor murder the innocent (Ps. 94:3-6). Make them to understand that He who planted the ear does hear, that He who formed the eye does see, and He who instructs the nations will rebuke (Ps. 94:9-10). Through their work, give Your people freedom to worship You and serve You as You require. (Present specific requests for the city council and mayor.)

We also cry out to You for Your people in this land for we have mingled with the wicked and have learned their practices. We serve their idols, which have become a snare to us. We even sacrifice our sons and daughters to their gods. This land is polluted by innocent blood because your people play the harlot in our deeds (Ps. 106:35-39). Cleanse Your people, we implore You, of the blood of the innocent, and thereby rid from this land the abomination of abortion. The blood of the innocent is crying out to you. Provide victory for those who work to defend the lives of the unborn. Make a way of escape for those who are tempted to murder their own child. Cause Your people to show compassion to those in desperation.

Compline: Our Father of judgment, we ask You on behalf of the countries in the Pacific. In this region that largely calls itself Christian, we ask that Your church would make disciple-making a key priority. Give Your church the ability to “move beyond Christianization, and into making mature believers” in order to hold back the decline of the church in Australia and New Zealand and to negate the “vulnerability of the Church in the Pacific Islands.” Give the faithful leaders of Your flock “a mentality… that places priority and focus rightly on shaping disciples.” (Pray for specific missionaries attached to you and your local church.) (Quotations from Operation World)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Prayers for Lord's Day, February 5, 2012

Matins: Our Father, today we request that you send to your church a reformation of worship. May she as a body return to the actions of covenant renewal, as we, Your people, once learned to perform in our childhood while under tutors (Gal. 4:1-7). May your church return to the ancient practices of abundantly reading, reciting, praying, and singing Scripture (Neh. 8:1-8); of frequently offering our thanksgiving and petitions to You; of weekly enjoying our eucharistic communion with You at Your table; and of enthusiastically singing from your Psalter in its entirety as it was written (Neh. 12:8; Ps. 105:2). May your servants boldly preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-28). And by means of this liturgical reform, we ask that you would purify your church and make us more able to shine more brightly as a city on a hill (Matt. 5:14-16).

Midday: Our Father, who pities us as Your own children (Ps. 103:13), grant grace to the children in this household (named) that they would be faithful to You. May each one honor and obey their parents (Ex. 20:12; Col. 3:20). May they be committed to knowing Your word and Your ways (Josh. 1:8). And may they truly seek to follow in the steps of their parents insofar as they themselves seek to do Your will; indeed, may they go beyond and teach Your ways to their children that they in turn may teach theirs (Ps. 78:5-8). And, thereby, we ask that their way would be prosperous and they would have good success (Josh. 1:8), living long on the earth (Eph. 6:3).

Vespers: Our heavenly Father, we ask that by the service of Your people, Your heavenly army, around Your throne this day, You would continue the increase of Jesus’ government (Is. 9:6-7), putting each of His enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25). With fingers trained for battle, may your people ride forth this new week and witness peoples being subdued to Jesus (Ps. 144:1-2).

Compline: Our caring Father (Ps. 27:10), this night we bring before you the needs of Europe, “where committed Christian remnants are small in number, low in confidence and marginalized.” We ask that Your body would win “the battle against secularization and social irrelevance,” that faith would not be merely “private belief,” and that vast regions, which are mostly “devoid of spiritual life,” would be re-evangelized. Rekindle the light that once shined so bright (Matt. 5:14-16). Purify your church (Eph. 5:27), and may she see Jesus conquer all her and Your enemies (Heb. 10:12-14). (Quotations from Operation World)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Participating in History

In my recent post on the practice of family prayers, I mentioned that the biggest deficiency of our liturgies is the portion dedicated to the extemporaneous prayers. Because traditional liturgies have been filled primarily with praying and with Scripture, any attempt I make of imitating those liturgies in our family prayer times can only improve by doing the same.

Goals

I have been working on a system of prayers that will accomplish several goals. First, our prayers need to encompass God’s entire creation. Paul urges believers “that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (2 Timothy 2:2). In order to accomplish this large task, we need to rid ourselves of spontaneity and become systematic the task.

Second, our prayers need to be specific. Though prayers should be all-encompassing, we need to avoid simply generalized prayers. Common prayer books are very helpful in reminding us of all the occasions for which a believer must pray as well as in giving us general ideas for prayer, and we would do well to be well-versed in those prayers. Yet, we also need to incorporate specific names and circumstances into our prayers. Specificity provides us the ability to anticipate specific answers to our prayers.

Third, our prayers must be knowledgeable. We need to inform ourselves of the contexts of needs, the offices of rulers, and of histories behind problems. We must seek to develop a vested interest in the needs of the whole world. The world depends upon our intercessory work. As a priestly kingdom, we exist for the life of the world. Thus, the more we understand the needs that be bring before God, the more powerful our prayers will be.

Last, and related to the previous two, our prayers need to be toilsome. Prayer is an awesome burden that we bear on behalf of the world. No doubt it is truly miraculous that simply by bringing requests before God changes the world. Yet, our efforts of prayer can also include real work in seeking to bring them to pass. Thus, we can perform activities that deepen our connection to needs as we strive to see them met.

Strategy

In an effort to accomplish these goals, I have developed a strategy for prayer. As a family, we have four times of prayer each day, corresponding to each meal and before bed. Each of these offices of prayer has a particular focus. During matins, we pray for needs pertaining to Christ’s church. During midday office, we pray for the needs of individuals and families. Vespers focuses on the needs of the civil governments and of the culture all around us. And the prayers during compline relate to the spread of the gospel into the whole world.

We have a chart (or two) for each separate prayer office for every day on which we write down specific requests. As we pray, then, we record the dates on which we pray for each request. We also update the requests or cross them out as they get answered.

Matins

As I mentioned, the matins prayers focus on Christ’s church. On Sunday, we pray for the church universal. Requests are particularly related to the participation, as the church catholic, in Lord’s Day worship, the greatest work of God’s people in the world. We pray that God would use the worship to transform this world. We also pray for liturgical reform in all Jesus’ body as well as for other requests that pertain to the one holy catholic church.

On Monday, our matins prayers focus on our own local church, especially its leadership (elders, deacons, musicians, etc.). Tuesday morning prayers relate to other ministries of our church, like Sunday School and choir. Wednesday focuses on our church’s denomination as a whole, its leadership, and its needs. Thursday relates to our church’s particular presbytery, its leadership and needs. Friday morning carries to God petitions regarding the leadership and needs of other presbyteries in our denomination. And Saturday focuses on other denominations and churches throughout Christ’s body.

Midday

Midday prayers relate to needs of families and individuals. Sunday focuses on our own family; Monday and Tuesday on our extended family. Wednesday midday prayers relate to our neighbors; Thursday to our co-workers; Friday to educational institutions; and Saturday to our community group and closest friends.

Additionally, during midday office we have pray for a list of “Promised Prayer” requests. We maintain a chart of prayer requests including those requests that we have promised to others that we would take before God. I think it was C. S. Lewis who lamented that the most frequently broken promise among believers is the promise to pray for someone about a specific need. Yet these prayers are vital! So we write these needs down, pray for them, and constantly monitor God’s answer.

Vespers

Our vespers prayers relate to civil rulers and to the culture that surrounds us. On Sunday, we pray for the one-world government, that of Jesus sitting on His throne putting all of His enemies, one by one, under His feet. These prayers are similar to the morning prayer, but being Sunday, that’s okay. We simply pray that through the church and her faithful worship and service in the world, Jesus’ kingdom would come more and more and that His will be done more and more on earth as it is in heaven.

On Monday, we pray for our local city government; on Tuesday, for our county government; on Wednesday, state; and on Thursday, federal. On Friday, we pray for the needs inherent in the top domestic news items, and on Saturday for the international ones.

Additionally, on Monday through Thursday vespers, we pray for specific cultural issues, like abortion and idolatry, that drag down the society in which we live.

Operation World
Compline

The prayers of compline include requests pertaining to the spread of Jesus’ kingdom. Under the fantastic guidance of Operation World, we pray for the countries of the world, making it around the globe in one year. That book provides a lot of valuable demographic information and provides specific requests regarding the gospel and the church in each country. We also will inform ourselves about the key issues each nation is facing at this time. Also, Sunday through Tuesday, we pray for different missionaries; Wednesday and Thursday for missions agencies; and Friday and Saturday for charities and ministries.

By means of this system, I have attempted to cover all realms for which a Christian should pray. If you detect any glaring holes, please let me know!

Additional Benefits

In additional to the primary benefit of lifting the world before God’s throne, these exercises also provide other benefits.

First, the practice of corporate prayer itself is significant to our development as believers. This is an ancient practice that has been eclipsed in many ways by individual, devotional prayer. Yet, as we pray corporately, we develop an appreciation for the intensive connection within Christ’s body.

Second, by means of this practice, God is nurturing our affections. Our day would be incomplete without prayer, and it would seem downright odd. We gain an awareness and a burden for the needs of all people around us. It is difficult to maintain animosity toward someone for whom we pray! Due to constant exposure to it, we develop a sensitivity for the needs of our society, our neighbors, our governments, and our family. Our prayers are an act of laying down our lives for our friends, neighbors, and enemies.

Third, whereas the previous benefits focus on the primary task of formation of believers, if this system works right, it will have significant informative benefit. Each capable member of the family will be tasked to perform research about the specific realms for which we pray. By necessity, we will need to understand the workings of government, the leadership of churches and denominations, and the crux of the cultural and newsworthy issues of our day. And to gain this understanding, we all will develop our skills in research and presentation.

Additionally, as part of our procedure in maintaining our mindset of connectedness with others, all who are able will write letters to other people: missionaries, governors, judges, pastors, and family members. This will increase our urgency in prayer as well as develop our skills in writing and communication.

We can also volunteer our time and energy in seeing our prayers answered. Because of our praying, we develop a longing that ills be corrected and needs be met. Our prayers give us the impetus to make meals for those in need, to volunteer our time and resources for the defeat of wickedness, and to present the gospel to the lost.

Finally, each of these persons and issues for which we pray are rich in discussion topics. Meals and other family times will be filled with discussion of current events, ethical dilemmas, Biblical relevance, and the ebbs and flows of history. We will become more developed and informed individuals who can converse about a variety of topics with others.

My family is still in the beginning stages of carrying out this plan, but already we are pleased with what God is doing. We trust that by His grace, God will mold our hearts and make us people of prayer and of the Word. And by our frequent prayers, we can participate in the course of history.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Selective Review of Teaching and Christian Practices

Ever since I read James K. A. (Jamie) Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy years ago, I have had a deep appreciation for his perspective and, indeed, have been greatly shaped by it. Though he speaks more from the perspective of a philosopher than a Biblicist, his critique of modernism and advocacy of essentially premodern ecclesiastical solutions must be heard. While not confined to ancient history, he counters modernism with old resurrected ideas in a manner that echoes the scathing assessments made by postmodernism, as is evinced in his excellent Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?

Formative Education

Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom is a must read for everyone involved in Christian education and in the raising of children for that matter. In it, Smith makes a case that truly Christian pedagogies must take into account the fact that humans are desiring, affective beings more than they are thinking beings. Thus, education is more about formation than information, and educators must pay closer attention to the modes of education than its content. While subject matter is important, the practices used to teach it are even more.

The fountainhead of all Christian practices is Lord’s Day worship in the sanctuary in the community of God’s people.

Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and LearningSo, as a father and an educator, I was greatly interested when my pre-ordered copy of the book Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning edited by David I. Smith and Jamie Smith arrived on my doorstep. For it is in this book that presentations are made of what I would describe as experiments that test his aforementioned hypotheses. These experiments consisted of college-level teachers integrating historic Christian practices into their classrooms in order to focus on the formation of the individual in concert with the requirements of the course material.

An Introduction to Christian Practices

The introduction of the book sets the stage of the project by describing its theoretical impetus, clearly echoing Smith’s work in Desiring the Kingdom but bringing in other material specifically geared to education. Written by both David I. and Jamie Smith, this introduction states that “these scholarly conversations represent, among other things, a move away from the notion that rational deliberation on ideas is the primary shaper of the self, and toward a more contextual and embodied understanding of how what we do with and among others shapes who we become” (6).

Smith’s appreciation for Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue is clear in the descriptions of a “practice.” Summarizing MacIntyre’s argument, the introduction describes practices basically as habits, which are “acquired dispositions and inclinations that are absorbed over time by participating in the routines and rituals of a tradition, as well as by imitating the models upheld as ‘exemplars’ by the tradition” (8). The outcome of practices is incorporation into a community.

Christian practices, thus, are those activities performed by the historic church community that form the “dispositions and inclinations” (i.e. affections) of a follower of Christ.

The underlying purpose of the book’s project is clear: “[We] want to push back on reducing Christian education to the dissemination of Christian ideas.” They are in harmony with authors Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass, who “have contested the reduction of Christian faith to intellectual assent to a set of propositions.” Educators especially must experience a “shift from considering Christianity as an intellectual system to (re)emphasizing the church as a community of practice” (14).

In exploring the relationship between particular historic Christian practices and the modes of pedagogy, the participants in the project discovered that the possibilities are nearly endless. Through the experiments recounted in this book, the authors seek to further the conversation about specific questions about this relationship, questions like: “Since Christian practices are themselves… pedagogical devices to help form the self in particular directions, then are there ways in which they can function as models for, analogies to, or guiding metaphors for educational practices?” Or consider, “Can an involvement in learning experiences built around Christian practices provide some degree of counter-formation to the secular cultural liturgies that otherwise shape our lives and perceptions?” Or, “Are there present patterns of educational practice that are in tension with the kinds of formation implicitly aimed at by Christian practices, such that we need to consider restructuring teaching and learning lest their rhythms be in competition with Christian formation” (18-19)?

Christian Practices in the College Classroom

The book is worth its introduction alone, and my enthusiasm for what remains is tempered by the nature of the project. The strengths of the book lie in anecdotal successes and in the possibilities they subtly intimate. But when a college professor creatively applies key ideas about Christian practices to one class, which is only one of several in which each student is enrolled, the results are necessarily limited and modest. The episodic nature a college class that meets three times per week (and in at least one case, only once per week) works against the very ideas of what a practice is supposed to be and do.

My favorite successes are as follows.

Philosophy professor Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung elucidated Aquinas’ teaching on the virtues and vices through the historic practice of silence. She modified the practice for her particular goal, which was to demonstrate experientially the vice of vainglory by requiring the students not to talk about themselves for a week:
[No] commenting about your feelings, no offering your opinions or judgments, no wry witticisms or clever criticisms, no long-winded narratives about how your day went and what frustrated or elated you, no interrupting with ‘bigger and better’ stories, no fishing for compliments, no calling or texting to share what you’re doing, no blogging about your opinions or favorite movies or annoying neighbors or pet peeves, no complaining. And perhaps hardest of all, no defending what you did, no pre-emptive spin to prevent others from getting the wrong impression of what you’re doing, no rationalizing, no excuse-making. No nothing. Instead, be still. Listen. Let other people talk. Let your actions speak for themselves (32-33).
By means of this exercise, the students sought a sanctifying, deliberate practice which served the dual purpose of understanding a Thomist concept as well as demonstrating its immediate relevance to our time. While not advocating that this particular application be permanent, Professor Konyndyk DeYoung was able to communicate the very unfortunate fact of most people’s self-absorption in a much more memorable and poignant way than simply reading and lecture (though, of course, those practices also have a laudable history).

David I. Smith, one of the editors of the book and professor of German literature, incorporated practices involving what he calls “spiritually engaged reading” (43) or “religious reading” (44). He describes this type of reading in this way:
The kind of reading in which religious people become practiced is repeated and ongoing, revisiting texts multiple times. It seeks to be slow and attentive, drinking in the details of the text and approaching it reverentially. The reader comes to the text expecting it to make moral demands, and is willing to submit and be changed. Reading takes place in a communal context with a shared tradition of interpretation, and faithfulness counts for more than creativity. The act of reading seeks personal transformation through attentive encounter with significant texts (44).
Though in his chapter Smith does not specifically tie the practices in his class to the historic Christian reading practice of lectio divina, his previous exploration of that connection, which he develops elsewhere, is clearly in the background. As a teacher of literature, I appreciate Smith’s focus on reading a text charitably, which means slowly, deliberately, and attentively. This is particularly difficult in the high school survey-style literature class because of the temptation to read widely rather than deeply.

I further enjoyed Adolescent Psychology professor Caroline Call’s incorporation of the traditional practice of hospitality (including food) into her once-per-week, two-and-a-half hour class. Even with her extremely limited venue, she learned valuable lessons. She took the simple step of providing food for the short break in the middle of the class period and discovered that “students found the sharing of food to be the central element of a shared sense of community” (73), unsurprisingly confirming the sacramental nature of eating. But the greatest lesson she learned, however, was that “hospitality does not happen in single, isolated events, and it is not expressed simply by discrete actions” but instead “flows out from an individual’s orientation of heart and requires constant reflection, monitoring, and support” (78).

Jamie Smith’s limited application of the liturgy of divine hours to a midday class he taught on “Philosophy and Social Sciences” had what I regard very modest results. But because this practice is one I strongly advocate, I appreciated the time he took to expound the formative nature of “Christian timekeeping,” applied both in the daily offices of prayer as well as in the church calendar. He expands:
I wanted the received practice of fixed-hour prayer to function as an example of alternative ‘world-making‘ — a way of subtly rewiring their imaginations by means of an alternative story repeated over time in the mode of a prayer. The liturgical year is constructed narrativally, re-enacting the life of Christ in rhythms of repetition, inviting the people of God into that story such that the story of God in Christ becomes the story of the people of God. As Christian Smith suggested more generally, the liturgical year is a liturgical, narrative dramatization of a moral order; its unique timekeeping is an alternative practice of meaning-making and world-making (147).
Again, Smith’s ability to achieve these lofty purposes in a class that met for 75 minutes, two days per week was, unsurprisingly, meager.

Other practices that participating professors implemented in their classrooms include communal meals, pilgrimage, journaling, prayer labyrinth, conversation, meditation, and confession.

Liturgy: Reorienting the Shape of Christian Learning

Besides the Introduction, the one chapter that made the entire book worth the time to read was the one by Paul J. Griffiths, the subtitle of which is “Catechizing the Appetite for Learning.” His project is to reorient the whole conversation about Christian learning:
One of the directions in which Christians must catechize the appetite for learning in a time like ours is toward radical redirection, so radical that it may look like extinction: to understand and to seek learning as Christians do is very different from understanding and seeking it as pagan academicians do — sufficiently different that we approach equivocation in calling both “learning” (105).
Making a careful historical and conceptual distinction between “curiosity” (bad) and “studiousness” (good), Griffiths’s descriptions beg certain questions: What is it about Christian “learning” that makes such a reorientation necessary? How is Christian “learning” distinctive? His response is unequivocal: liturgy.
Christian thinking about preparatory, ancillary, and informing practices must begin from thinking about the liturgy. That is because Christian life is lived most intensely and most fully in the liturgy. It is there that the church is most fully herself as sponsa Christi… Attending to the liturgically given shape of the Christian life is of great help in seeing what ought to inform a fully Christian pursuit of learning (113).
He continues by describing key elements of liturgy that ought to carry over into all learning and life, including a “sacrificial gift-exchange,” eagerness to give a sacrificial gift solely out of love, “confession of our incapacity” and “unworthiness,” and repetitive “wastes” of time (113-115). Applying these elements to learning, Griffiths advances the Christian tradition of prayer before study, careful “attention to particulars” (akribeia), and relative indifference to outcome in favor of learning as “a gesture of loving intimacy (119). The final appeal in his essay is for grace and humility in the action of learning:
Liturgical agents stammer and lament. So, and for similar reasons, do studious learners. First, we lament our own incapacities: we are in various ways and to different degrees, stupid, inattentive, lazy, domineering, and blind. Being catechized in the direction of studiousness rather than curiosity does not by itself remedy these defects… Lament is not, for the curious, a value, but rather a sign of weakness. For the studious, lament at one’s own incapacity for study and one’s failures as a student is intrinsic to learning (120).
Understanding the complex arguments of Paul Griffiths that he advocates in his brief essay is indispensable to reorienting our understanding of distinctively Christian learning and teaching.

A Broader Scope Necessary for Success

The successes of the book mentioned above (and many more) make it worth its perusal. It is rich in ideas and tips that can be implemented at any level of education. However, the episodic nature of the applications made by college professors shows limited fruit: they demonstrate truths on a small scale, like an experiment in a petrie dish. In order to be truly successful, the ideas of the book need to be tested in a context that is broader than a laboratory.

The ideas advocated in the introduction are much, much bigger than simply techniques that certain college professors may attempt in one of their students’ many classes. To demonstrate their validity, which I emphatically affirm, these ideas need to be implemented with a broader scope.

But by “broader scope,” I don’t mean to overhaul any particular institution, though that would be a fascinating project outside of a monastery. Rather, the scale I am talking about is the comprehensiveness of these ideas to an individual’s whole life. By the time a student achieves his freshman year at college, his community and the practices associated with it are fairly intrenched. To begin a radical shift in educational paradigm at that stage is very, very late in the game. (Several of professors in this volume expressed a need even to be sensitive with students who may not buy into their project or who might not even call themselves Christians.)

To demonstrate the contentions about Christian practices most convincingly, one must start at the very beginning, with children. The authors would agree that the issue is not the presence or absence of a community of identity and its accompanying practices but rather which community and which practices are being nurtured. Through the practices that they instill in their children from the earliest age, parents nurture the inclinations and affections that shape their children’s identity with certain types of communities.

The educational overhaul needed is not just altering pedagogical techniques but a more comprehensive reorientation of the goals of education. Christian practices are not techniques (and I’m not saying that these college professors would claim that they are) but are real, historical actions that demarcate the historic Christian community. I concur with the author who expressed the need for an accompanying “church community beyond the classroom to provide a place for continuing apprenticeship in such practices” (34). The church needs to to take an active role in perpetrating those distinctively Christian, liturgical practices, applying them when needed in an academic environment, and nurturing all her children’s affections toward Jesus and His kingdom.