Marking and Remembering

The eternal God, who forgets nothing, calls us with binding address to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

I need symbols to focus my awareness on what matters. Cellular telephone alerts to do not suffice. Despite my bibliographical and philosophical memory, I am a forgetful man.

On Ash Wednesday, we have ashes rubbed into our forehead so we can remember. In Advent, we light candles to remember. Since we are to pray for one another, we need to remember to pray for one another. “Pray without ceasing,” says the Apostle.

This summer, as I agonized in sympathy for an earnest and betrayed sister in Christ, I took out a sharpie and made a large cross on my inner calf. I added rays coming from it. As it faded, I re-inked it several times.

When I walked into a mountain restaurant, several teenagers laughed at me. I wondered why for a split second, but then I realized. Since I had shorts on, they could see my sharpie cross—and I did not care. I remembered again.

Whenever I saw my sharpie cross on my skin, I was first a bit surprised, but then I remembered to suffer with and pray for. It later faded out and was not re-inked. But my friend is not forgotten. I may ink up for her again.

A few days ago, I was talking to another suffering soul. I saw my inner calf and my sharpie. I made a large cross and a small one underneath it. I re-inked yesterday. She came through surgery with a good report so far. When I see it, I remember and pray.

These are temporary, sacred tattoos—aids to prayer, love, and memory. May the Cross be ever before us.

How Christians Can Take Back Their Minds

Americans are being lied to every day. Popular culture tells us that deep thinking and reflective living is pointless. Instead, we must move faster. We need faster cars, faster food, and faster computers—now. We need more things, more toys, more power, and more perks. We need more hair (if baldness threatens), but we don’t need more knowledge or more wisdom. We need less wrinkles (hence Botox parties) and less pounds, but not less vices (as long as we can get away with them). Our media are dominated by celebrities who are not wise, learned or godly people. They are usually over-paid and ego-driven athletes or movie stars. Next to nothing in popular culture encourages us to slow down and cultivate a contemplative life before the God “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Instead we are tempted to believe that God has nothing to do with our most valued activities and dreams. We can do fine without him. Or, we may redefine the God of the Bible and godly religion to fit our designer preferences. Either way, worldliness reigns, world applauds, and the mind is deadened.

The myriad messages of popular culture have been sticking to and deforming our souls. American men and women are not known for their reasoned convictions about those things that matter most. Polls show that Americans are very “religious” concerning belief in God and church involvement. Yet they watch an average of four hours of typically mindless and violent television per day, are terribly ignorant of basic biblical truths, seldom read thoughtful books, and are theologically confused on basic doctrines. Some of the most popular Christian teachers and writers today often lapse into heresy or aberrant doctrine. (Hence the need for The Christian Research Journal’s many articles correcting these errors). Few Christians share their faith regularly or wisely. If they do, they are often stumped when faced with skeptical questions and challenges, since their evangelism is not grounded in solid apologetic arguments (see 1 Peter 3:15-17; Jude 3). Pollster George Gallup found that many of the same people who say, “Yes, Jesus is the only way,” also affirm that “Yes, there are many paths to God.” But this is logically impossible. Jesus cannot be one of many ways—and the only way! Gallup comments, “It’s not that Americans don’t believe anything; they believe everything.” Here Proverbs give a word to the wise: “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15).

So-called “spirituality” is on the rise, but spiritual discernment—even among Christians—is languishing. Many feel free to combine ideas and practices from various religions with little or no concern for logical consistency or allegiance to any received religious tradition, let alone biblical authority. A kind of smorgasbord mentality prevails. One might, for example, consume servings of happy Christian thoughts (“God loves you”), self-effort (“God helps those who help themselves”), and some yoga for physical wellbeing and inner peace—and feel no pain of inconsistency. This is despite the fact that God’s love is not an amorphous energy that permits everything (including Hindu practices such as yoga), ratifies works-righteousness, and condemns nothing. Quite the contrary, God’s love is manifested concretely through the gracious work of Christ who alone liberates us from counterfeit spirituality and the futility of self-salvation. Yet these radical and world-changing truths are easily lost in fogs and bogs of our worldly environment.

The Media Fast: Breaking Free and Reaching Up

The Lord Jesus Christ does not want us to believe everything—only the truth (John 14:6). He commands us to love our God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37), to know the truth that sets us free by following him (John 8:31-32) and to make that truth known to others (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:15). The Apostle Paul commands us to “test all things. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalions 5:21). Rather than letting culture conform us to its mold, we should be transformed through the renewing of our minds so that we know and accomplish God’s will in all of life (Romans 12:2). Similarly, the Apostle Peter wrote his readers to stimulate them to “wholesome thinking” (2 Peter 3:1) and to admonish them to prepare their minds for godly action (1 Peter 1:13). In his Pensées, Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal issued a strong indictment: “Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought.” Yet instead of pondering God and the soul, the world inclines us to think more about diversions, such as “dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, fighting, and becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or what it means to be a man.”

How do Christians break free from the deceptive temptations of popular culture and reach up to receive with open hands all that God has for us? We need first to disengage from worldly distractions and then engage our God-given minds in constructive and rewarding ways. As the Psalmist cries to God, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

“My mind cleared. I had fewer lustful thoughts. I started to think more deeply about life. I prayed more. I spent more time with my family and friends. I want to be this way more often!” Hundreds of students at Denver Seminary offer testimonies like this after completing a required “media fast” for my class on ethics and contemporary culture. For at least one week they abstain from at least one popular medium (usually television) and meditate on various Scriptures, such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-18). Reading their reports is a rewarding task for me, because they reveal that God is at work renewing my student’s minds and liberating them from subtle snares.

Why should anyone fast from media when they are everywhere and so easy to use? Should we become cultural hermits, who spurn all of popular culture? No. This spiritual discipline follows from the spirit of Jesus’ teachings on fasting from food. For a time, we deny ourselves something that is routinely part of our lives in order to focus more intently on God and his Kingdom (Matthew 6:16-18, 33; see also 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 for another application of fasting). In our media-saturated, self-focused, and dumbed-down culture, a media fast is often a tonic for the beleaguered and benumbed mind. Some of my students initially suffer from withdrawal symptoms. The silence roars in and the mind races after they unplug. They automatically reach for the remote control and have to stop themselves. Something must fill the “empty” time. But they soon find there is much to do that refreshes the soul and renews the mind. These principles apply to any Christ-follower, not just seminary students who are doing an “assignment.”

First, the media fast allows for—but doesn’t automatically produce—more reflection, prayer, and a deeper life before God. Instead of being yanked along at a breakneck pace by television, movies, radio, or video games, we can slow down, “be still,” and remember God in all our ways (Psalm 46:10). We can listen to the voice of conscience, repent of our sins, and seek a more godly and peaceful life (Matthew 7:7). Just as King Hezekiah had the temple purified by priests and Levites after many years of defilement and abuse (2 Chronicles 29), so should we purify ourselves from the habitual sins so readily encouraged by popular culture, since our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Second, we discover time to pursue intellectually challenging activities, especially reading. Christian author Larry Woiwode notes that television is a “Cyclops that eats books.” Many Christians don’t read a single thoughtful book in a year because they are too occupied with a myriad of mind-numbing media. If they do read, the are often short, simplistic, or sensational and of dubious theological and intellectual substance. (Consider most Christian bestsellers.) But a deeply meaningful life in Christ cannot be experienced without consistent exposure to and enjoyment of great thinkers. The Bible ranks first in great thoughts since God is its ultimate Author, and because it is the truest and wisest book ever written (Psalm 119). Because it is God’s own word, it cuts to the quick and teaches us the truth we need to know in order to love God and others aright (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 4:12).

We should also seek out and savor thoughtful books and articles about the Bible, theology, apologetics, history, art, ethics, literature, and so on. Great books can be good friends, and for a lifetime. The writings of C.S. Lewis are a treasury on many topics, from apologetics to ethics, to science fiction. He was a delightful and arresting writer, a dedicated Christian, and a brilliant thinker whose works stand the test of time. I have read his apologetic classics—Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, and The Abolition of Man—many times and with great profit. You can also stay abreast of contemporary culture from a Christian perspective by receiving Charles Colson’s daily “breakpoint commentary” (www.breakpoint.org) and by listening to Ravi Zacharias’s radio program, “Let My People Think”—as well as by reading their thought- provoking books.

Getting Down to Business

Compare the time you spend on entertainment with the time you spend reading and reflecting on Holy Scripture and profound books. Then compare it with the time you spend in prayer and biblical meditation. Prayerfully seek God for the necessary adjustments in thought, word, and deed. Engage in a media fast for yourself. Instead of languishing in front of the TV with your family and friends (or by yourself), read a meaty book together and talk about it. Invite your family and friends to resist the hollow enchantments of worldly culture and to instead glorify a holy God in their thinking, speaking, and doing (Colossians 3:17). But be sure to begin the process with yourself as you resist worldliness and pursue godliness (Matthew 7:1-5).

A Recently Recovered Screwtape Letter

My Dear Wormwood:

I lick my parched lips with delight that our propaganda efforts are going splendidly well. Good things come to those who wait—and growl in anticipation. We may have won the battle of words. Not that we have won any arguments—that is expecting too much. But we may have succeeded in eliminating arguments entirely. Oh, the delight in it!

How careless these vermin are with words—words, the very thing that separates them from the rest of the Enemy’s ridiculous menagerie. With our promptings and manipulations, they readily substitute words for thoughts. These talkative bipeds spew out a million words and few of them make up rational assessment or argument. As I said in a previous letter, we must never move the contest into the world of true and false, good and evil, rational and irrational. No, those silly dichotomies are tools of the Enemy—narrow-minded, dualist, rationalist that he is. These categories quicken the mind. We must numb it.

You must push forward a trend already set in place. Take heed to my tips, my young charge, since my words have meaning, and ignoring them will not advance your infernal vocation.

  1. Always substitute untutored emotion for conceptual clarity. Thus, vilify those speaking for the Enemy. They are so many bad things: narrow-minded, bigoted, reactionary, phobic (how we have profited from that!), and more. Never let them see that, according to the Enemy, reason and emotion should work in tandem, even shake hands with jolly goodness and resolve. Keep them away from that pseudo-intellectual and word-monger, C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Abolition of Man:

No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical, but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

  1. Attenuate their vocabulary, since the fewer words they have to capture thoughts, the less able they are to make distinctions. It is the philosophers that obsess on distinctions, especially that Nazarene. He outwitted all the rhetoricians and theologians we threw at him during that egregious episode they call The Incarnation. His distinctions dispatched our dialecticians.

But we are advanced in the art of retarding thinking, you know. Reading is considered a luxury or even a vice. Emotive utterances and lazy superlatives—awesome, epic, perfect—have replaced the love of words and books.

  1. Make the most of slogans that applaud the loss of precise wording for important arguments. Here are a few delicious ones: “You are over-thinking this.” Of course, we know, from thousands of years of amusing experience, that few humans do this—or are even capable of doing this. “It is a matter of the heart, not of the head.” Jump in here, since this expression excuses all manner of cheap emotion, baseless opinion, and fuzzy thinking. Here is one more (there are many others): “It is what it is.” This may be used to mean “It cannot be changed.” But often it means something more helpful to our cause, such as “I cannot think it through. That would be too tiring.” Or this sentence may endorse a mindless fatalism—Stoicism, but without the intellect. You have to love that: Keep a stiff upper lip and a mind unfit for thought.

You should get the idea, Wormwood.  Claptrap is our snake pit. Keep an eagle eye on their words, especially when they don’t.

Your Ever-so-insightful Uncle,

Screwtape

 

 

 

 

Christian and Eastern Silence

“The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” exhorts the prophet Hosea (2:20). Our world is famished for silence, but does not know it. Our needs often hide from our wants. We want more noise—music piped in everywhere, talking screens in multiple rooms of our homes and work and public spaces, words assailing us by displays in stores. Magic phones speak to us even as we attempt to speak to others. Our ears should be ringing, but only our phones do.

But some are waking up from the roar of words and noise. Several books warn us about the noise that is disquieting our souls. Some are secular, but give good advice. Other books, articles, and teachings are spiritual, but in an unbiblical sense. They seek to still the din within by emptying the mind through yoga and other forms of Hindu or Buddhist meditation. Buddhism is seductive, since it promises inner peace, required no worship, and is usually adopted by Americans in a piecemeal and uninformed way. Mindfulness is pursued, but the temple is ignored.

Humans, as fallen mortals, have a limited ability to sort things out. We often hurry through instead of think about. Then, not surprisingly, we act ignorantly—if quickly. But God gives wisdom.

Christian silence carved an opening to quiet the buzzing mind and twitching body in order to hear from The Word (John 1:1). This God is a God who speaks truth and reveals us our condition before “the audit of eternity” (Kierkegaard). But we are often deaf to God himself because of the noise that assails us on every side. Scripture commands us to listen to God, to harken to his speech.


Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).


Listening is done best without distractions. Silence creates that space. As Kierkegaard wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century:


The present state of the world and all of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today.


The great melancholy Dane wrote this before the advent of telephones, radio, television, or the Internet. Needless noise has emanated ever since the Fall. There is no need to keep silence at all times. There is a time to speak and a time to be enmeshed in noise for the sake of the Kingdom. However, we need to be replenished and rewarded with solitude and silence. Although it is not explained, and is difficult to interpret, the following passage may spark some needful reflection:


When he [Christ] opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them (Revelation 8:1-2).


Even in heaven, silence had its place. It should have its place with us now as well.

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part III

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If you missed the last list posted, catch up here and here.

  1. Carefully and prayerfully consider your use of all electronic communications media. These often sap our knowledge and divert us from godly habits of the heart. Consider engaging in a protracted media abstention in which you eliminate a commonly-used electronic system for a week to ten days. It will profoundly change your view of technology. See my book, The Soul in Cyberspace. For my more recent thoughts see my interview with Tim Challies at: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/challies/the-soul-in-cyberspace-an-interview-with-douglas-groothuis-11603254.html Consider also the thoughtful, secular book, Hamlet’s Blackberry. For a broader historical and culture critique read Neil Postman’s magisterial work, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. The best book on television is Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. See also my article in The Christian Research Journal, “Understanding Social Media” at: http://www.equip.org/PDF/JAF2333.pdf. For a more scholarly paper, see Douglas Groothuis, “Christian Scholarship and the Philosophical Analysis of Cyberspace Technologies,” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 4 14 (December 1998): 631-640. This is on line at: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/41/41-4/41-4-pp631-640-JETS.pdf.
  1. Listen to thoughtful radio programs and podcasts. Many gifted Christian teachers and preachers can be heard in this manner. Redeem the time by listening to them in your car or while exercising or when you cannot do anything else, such as when you are ill. Of the talk radio, hosts, Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew, is probably the most civil and intelligent. He is refreshing in that he addresses more than just politics. Another excellent source of cultural criticism from a Christian or Christian-friendly viewpoint is Mars Hill audio, hosted by Ken Myers, author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Some audio books of thoughtful books are available for purchase or from a library.
  1. Take periodic times of silence, for either short or long periods of time. Our culture is too noisy and over-stimulated. We need quiet to compose our bodies and souls before God in cognitive meditation, prayer, and rest. As Ecclesiastes says, there is

a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak  (3:7; see also Habakkuk 2:20).

  1. Consider Denver Seminary for further education. I head the MA in Apologetics and Ethics. We also offer a Certificate in Apologetics and Ethics (10 semester hours). See: denverseminary.edu

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part II

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If you missed the last list posted, catch up here.

  1. Develop your skills at speaking and teaching and conversation. American linguistic culture is ugly, sloppy, and lazy. Instead of blending with the inarticulate herd, broaden your vocabulary, work on articulation, and listen to the people with which you are speaking. On writing see the classic Elements of Style by Stunk and White. On public speaking see Stand Like Lincoln, Speak Like Churchill by James Humes. Consider joining a Toastmasters club to refine your speaking skills.
  1. Read thoughtful Christian books, both classic and contemporary. While we often emphasize popular books, we should not forget time-tested classics written by Augustine, Calvin, Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards. Twentieth century writers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Os Guinness make for hearty and rewarding reading as well.
  1. Certain periodicals are edifying as well. For keeping the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism, see Christianity Today. Political and cultural issues are carefully addressed in First Things, which now has a rather strong Catholic focus. To stay abreast of cults, religious movements, apologetics, and ethics read The Christian Research Journal.

4. Be aware of secular culture and non-Christian religious expressions through your reading of periodicals and books. I also read the Sunday New York Times and The New Yorker for sophisticated secular views—in, in the latter case, for their superb cartoons. Commentary is excellent for conservative Jewish views. Books and Culture reviews significant Christian and other books. This is a resource for discerning what non-Christian books you should read, as is The New York Times book review. I also check Harpers, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, and Wired to look for significant articles. I find browsing at bookstores especially helpful, if you can find a brick and mortar bookstore left. We should be grateful that the Denver area has three locations of The Tattered Cover.

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part I

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

  1. Remain faithful in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, which are God’s cognitive revelation of himself and the ways of salvation (2 Timothy 3:15-16). Acquire and use study aids such as one or more study Bibles. I recommend The Apologetics Study Bible, The Reformation Study Bible, The NET Bible, and The NIV Study Bible. Of course, there are many other tools such as commentaries and other helps. The excellent commentaries of John Calvin and Matthew Henry are available on line for no charge.

2. Discern your unique calling as a Christian. No one can do everything, so we must concentrate our energies where we are gifted and in accordance to God’s leading in our day. I highly recommend Os Guinness book on this vital topic, The Call. See also John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life.

3. Be involved in a Bible-believing local church and seek to serve through what you have learned. Biblically, we are responsible to use what we know wisely and for the glory of God. We should not hide our gifts under a table, but employ them to build up the church and witness to the world (Matthew 5; Ephesians 4:15). Specifically:

A. Develop adult education classes on the Christian worldview, biblical interpretation, theology, apologetics, and social issues.

B. Make sure your church has some way of preparing high-school students for college. Many churched teenagers either put aside their Christian convictions or lose them during this time. For how high-school students in the church tend to think, see Christian Smith, Soul Searching. Also consult the essay “Faithful Christianity in College” by Douglas Groothuis and Sarah Geis at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/04/09/faithful-christianity-in-college

C. Be involved as a mentor to those who can benefit from your gifts and what you have learned through The Centurion program. Try to find a suitable mentor for yourself as well (Proverbs 27:17; 2 Timothy 2:2).

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