E-Newsletter 7 // May 2016
I have been able to emerge from the grading cave long enough to fire off an update. Only 40 papers to go!
This newsletter marks the launch of a three-part series in which we will try to understand the "thought-language" of the Millennial Generation. Gallons of ink and tons of paper have been used in a worthy endeavor in order to figure out why so many students (high school and college) are abandoning the faith. Music, style, dress, culture, and relationships are some of the topics these books address. While all of these are important, perhaps we should be asking a different question. We should also consider what it is they think!
Francis Schaeffer wrote these words in the opening paragraph of Escape From Reason. "If a man goes overseas for any length of time, we would expect him to learn the language of the country to which he is going. More than this is needed, however, if he is really to communicate with the people among whom he is living. He must learn another language - that of the thought-forms of the people to whom he speaks. Only so will he have real communication with them and to them."
Indeed! Let us begin with the first tier of thought-language. I believe that these three areas are so foundational and embedded as to labeled as "solas".
SOLA TOLERENTIA: Tolerance Alone - All ideas are equal and valid.
I would like to think that the average person is taught to think like this, but I really believe it is more an issue of conditioning. We see it everywhere. Disagreeing with someone about a belief issue can result in being labeled "hate-speech". Our students (and us!) are constantly encouraged to compare ideas but we are disallowed to contrast them. As soon as you say, "no, I'm afraid you are incorrect", you are branded as a bigot and nobody wants that. Religion, politics, family, and history, to name a few, are all target-rich environments.
There are three key areas that will help us think through this issue.
1. Tolerance does not mean agreeing with everyone and every idea. I give this talk to my students within the first few days of all my classes. I let them know that their idea of tolerance is, well...wrong. In order to be tolerant of anything you must first disagree with it. I have a tolerance for pain. I tolerate my children when they are getting on my nerves. I tolerate days without sunshine. Simply because I dislike any of those things does not make them unreal. The Christian who understands this can readily employ the twin virtues of truth and love in a generation that appears to be going rogue.
Christians who have a place at the table of ideas understand they can disagree with respect and they have the good reasons to do so!
2. No two opposing truth claims can both be right. The basic gist of the Law of Noncontradiction is that something cannot both be an not be in same time and in the same way. If I were to say, "Jesus is God", and another were to say, "Jesus is not God", one of us is correct and the other not. Sure, we could go our merry ways thinking "what's true for you is not necessarily true for me" but that solves absolutely nothing!
This is where the idea of "contrast" comes in. We are not doing our students or our churches any favors if we make Christianity about belief only. Please don't take me the wrong way! I know that Jesus makes it plain that believing in Him is essential for eternal life. What we need to be able to do is demonstrate why we believe what we believe and not just the "what". Ok, back to the contrast. A good tactic would be having a discussion about the ramifications of Jesus' truth claim. If Jesus is God, what does that mean? There needs to be a significant difference between that and not believing in Jesus. One is correct and one is not. The ramifications have eternal consequences.
3. Nobody will consistently live a life where all ideas are equal and valid. Have you ever heard of mycology? Neither had I until I read Schaeffer's The God Who is There many years ago. Schaeffer relates an interesting story in chapter 4.
The reader is introduced to American composer John Cage (1912-1992). Cage did not believe there was a "right way" to compose music. He instead thought that music should be totally random. Cage was attempting to construct music from his worldview which said there is no order - everything is chaos. He even developed a machine that would randomly flip coins and he would use this technique to arrange his compositions. It was called "The Music of Change". You can listen to a sample here (enjoy!).
John Cage moved from New York City to a farmhouse in Rockland County in 1954. He was struck with the wild color and variety of the mushrooms that abounded in the area. Cage decided that some of them would probably be good to eat, but which ones? He then set out to discover which would be a delight and which would be death. John Cage became a very good amateur mycologist; with one of the best private libraries on the subject. He studied mushrooms! Why? I will let him tell you. "I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly...So I decided that I would not approach them them in this way!" (The God Who is There, 79). Good idea, John.
My philosophy class was having a week long discussion on the validity and equality of all ideas/truth claims. Many of my students begin the class convinced that there cannot be an answer. There is no "yes" or "no". Well, that is until tragedy strikes. It was during those discussions that we all heard the grim news of the suicide bombings in Belgium. The day after the attacks, I asked my students if they still wanted to hold the belief that all ideas are equal and valid. A young man from Saudi Arabia promptly raised his hand and said, "there is absolutely no way that can be true." Indeed.
In the Classroom - Ideas Have Consequences
The semester is all but over but there is one memory which will stay with me for quite some time. It occurred during our two week discussion of Christology (the doctrine of Jesus Christ).
I spent quite a bit of time taking my students through a biblical theology of why Jesus was and is a real person. I wanted them to see that he was at times hungry, thirsty, tired, tempted, and even sorrowful. The class needed to see that Jesus really does understand us because he became one of us (John 1; Hebrews 4:15).
We moved on to his divinity. I showed them how Jesus received worship, forgave sins, and performed miracles. But perhaps the most striking element for them was when we walked through the "I am" statements Jesus made about himself in John. Please allow me to list them for you.
I am the bread of life. John 6:48
I am the light of the world. John 8:12
I am the gate. John 10:7
I am the good shepherd. John 10:11
I am the resurrection and the life. John 11:25
I am the way, the truth, and the life. John 14:6
I am the true vine. John 15:1
At this point you might point out to me that I have missed one. Yes, we will get there! We talked about these seven and their significance. They saw that Jesus was not saying he would help us find what we are looking for, He IS what we are looking for - in every way!
Now for the one that I "missed". We ended with John 8:58. "I tell you the truth", Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am." Boom! If the first seven were not radical enough, Jesus just claimed TO BE GOD. "Yes, yes. All fine and good, Andy", some students were probably thinking, "but so what?" Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, I gave them their "so what?"
There are really only one of three possibilities to make sense of Jesus' claims. First, he was a liar. If this is the case, he knew he wasn't God and lied himself all the way to be executed on a Roman cross. Who would do that? What would be the point? The second is that he was a lunatic. He really thought he was God. He really believed himself to be the Messiah. That would be a level of delusion that is off the charts! Someone could indeed be that insane but how do you reconcile that kind of break with reality with the fact that Jesus was the greatest teacher the world has ever seen? There are even some who do not believe Jesus was God but still recognize his extraordinary teaching ability. How can you reconcile those two things? The last possibility is that he is Lord. He really was who he said he was. He accomplished what is reported in the scriptures. He is still ministering today! What if?
In one of those solemn classroom moments, I told my students that they have to decide what they are going to do with Jesus. There are no excuses now. Which is it? Liar, lunatic, or Lord? In the name of Jesus I confess to you that they were on the edges of their seats! One young man broke the silence by saying, "do we have to decide today?" I told them that the author of Hebrews thought that was a rather good idea (Hebrews 4:7, 14). To God be the glory!
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