“the redemption of reason”

The wise will be put to shame;
they will be dismayed and trapped.
Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,
what kind of wisdom do they have?

Jeremiah 8:9

In a challenging, but interesting article, Dallas Willard speaks of a crisis of reason not only in the universities, but right in our Christian schools. Aptly called, “The Redemption of Reason,” because Willard is making the point that sin through bad philosophy has shipwrecked reason, so that it is now essentially meaningless. And what has gone down with it is any idea of moral knowledge. All lost because it has been separated from its source and ground, or place, from God who is spirit, and why creation exists in the first place (my words in part here; I would highly recommend a slow read of that article).

The Bible is essentially reasonable, even when we can’t track with all that is happening entirely. Taken as a whole, then considered in its parts, we can say without a doubt that there is plenty of sense in the story, whether or not it jives with all of our sensibilities. The problem nowadays is that our outlook has been shaped from centuries of what amounts to essentially bad philosophy in different forms, which end up denying truth because they’re untethered from the one source of truth, God. And so we go gallivanting, who knows where.

Religion is looked down on as something like old school. Of course the one revelation is fulfilled in Christ and the good news in him as unfolded from the pages of Scripture. Reason is very much apart of our faith, essentially Christ’s resurrection in history at the center of that, along with the reality of God mediated to us in Christ by the Spirit.

Where does that leave us? In a crisis even in our Christian circles, because we’ve by and large retreated from reason because of how it is understandably failing in the secular universities. We have done so by placing our study and appropriation of Scripture in a separate category probably without knowing it, because we have to make do in the real world. And Scripture seems different, anyhow. Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s from God, but it’s right down to earth where we live in our humanity. And that certainly includes reason.

Again what’s needed is nothing less than the redemption of reason, according to Willard. And Christians must lead the way, or show the way, because reason itself loses all significance apart from God, and won’t stand on its own, completely dependent on the meaning assigned to it. It’s not like we have to figure out the problem; it’s in the air, just assumed, grounded somehow in whatever human endeavor, good things like science, which essentially can’t be the basis of meaning since God is not in their equation.

So we shouldn’t flee from reason, or be apologetic about it. Instead we need to demonstrate through faith the reasonableness of it all, while at the same time holding on to mystery as part of the story, what’s up, and what God is doing in our lives and in the world. And see the gospel in Jesus as essential in all of this, leading us to God and the new life in him.

what is important, what to be remembered for

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness…

2 Peter 1:5a

In the world in which we live, knowledge seems to be considered the end all, everything. And it’s assumed that if you know enough, you’ll do the right thing, or that this is true of society in general. What’s need is just more education. Ethics are considered quite secondary in education nowadays. If you start talking about ethics, then you’re pushing something beyond what is scientific or pure knowledge. The modern world has little regard for anything beyond what can be measured and verified scientifically. And so knowledge is on the throne, the kind that humans can gather especially in scientific ways, through ongoing hypothesis, testing, and observation. And a popular differentiation between knowledge and wisdom is all but ignored, at least too much of the time.

Actually in Scripture knowledge and wisdom are essentially synonymous. Both are revelatory, received from God for life. Knowledge might be somewhat for knowledge’s sake from God, but is never separated from who we are, who God is, and apart from the world in which we live. It is given for appreciation for and navigation through this world. And the proper term for this might be understanding. Knowledge and wisdom are given to us from God for our understanding of life both in reference to the world at large, and how we should live in it.

In the list from 2 Peter, we see that goodness precedes knowledge (click the above link). We’re to add to our faith, not first knowledge, but goodness, then knowledge. I know some Bible scholars say the order of the list is not important and beside the point, that they’re all to be added to our faith. I think that’s a fair point, but I also think their order is suggestive. Goodness carries the idea of what is helpful and fitting to be and do in love for others. God alone is good, but imparts goodness to his creation, particularly to those made in his image: humankind.

What the world needs, indeed what the church needs first of all is not more intelligence, but more goodness. Intelligence in and of itself does not automatically result or even tend toward goodness. But goodness does result in the kind of intelligence which is helpful to all. What is appreciated in God’s eyes, and truly godly, and what is really needed in the world is a high dose of goodness, then the intelligence that follows will be helpful. As God gives that to us in and through Jesus.

study and the intellect

I was once a pastor of a little church called “Faith, Hope and Love Gospel Center.” It was run down and not resurrected through my work there of only about a year. I look back on that and shake my head, partly because I really needed a mentor, someone to guide me through that time. And I had one, but due to my youth and lack of wisdom (and his use of Robert Schuller* just on the side with a book to encourage those discouraged like myself), I left that great opportunity behind. But after that time on my own with my new wife Deb, I had come to realize that I needed or at least wanted more training, precisely more theological education. And having been influenced by a Baptist pastor and church nearby, I headed off to Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary in Michigan (now called Grand Rapids Theological Seminary).

I was hungry for some intellectual food, and at the seminary, I certainly found it with some outstanding professors. That was a good season for me, I take it, laying a foundation for my life that was needed, although not enough of a foundation was laid on the church side to really get me going in the pastorate. My degree, following my Bachelor of Theology one (from Prairie Bible Institute) was a Master of Divinity. I wish I would have started on all of that when I was younger, and I wish I would have had the kind of mentoring I needed to become a pastor, or a teacher somewhere. And I wish I would have read and studied much more during my life. Some years back I thought the Lord gave me this one word: “Read.”

Study and the intellect is far more important than many of us Christians make it out to be. I am blessed in that where I work, RBC Ministries, such endeavor is valued, their/our mission being “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.”

There is more to life than just the mind, but the mind is part and parcel of the fullness of life we are to have in Jesus. Of course how that works out for each one of us will be different. Not all of us will want to head off to school to study more, or read books, one after another. But every one of us needs to have a thirst to read and study scripture, and try to understand God’s will as it applies to our own lives as well as the mission to which we are called. I would suggest as a minimum that each of us needs to be on a Bible reading (or Bible listening) plan or agenda. At least once a year through the Bible would be good, although what is essential is to be regularly in the habit of doing it. And we need to study and meditate on various books and passages in scripture. Any and every one of them over time would be a good goal.

At the same time, we also need to read those who are gifted in communicating something of God’s full will in Jesus. In all kinds of genres. And I think we need to learn to read widely over time. Read those who are not of the faith. Learn in areas that interest us. Again, we are all wired differently so we will all go about this differently, which doesn’t make whatever we do any less of a gift than whatever anyone else does.

Back to my own story, a bit. I wish I would have been much more faithful in reading and studying.  It is over years of doing such that wisdom is developed. And the aspect of study and the intellect is underrated and therefore underplayed in the quest for a Spirit-filled life. As Jack Levison pointed out in an excellent book I recently read, Daniel is a good case in point. He studied with some of his friends in the best education of his day, even that which was not of the faith, and surely was well versed in the Hebrew scriptures as well. And it was noted repeatedly in the book by those outside the community of faith that he was one in whom was the spirit of the gods.

And so read, and study as the Lord would lead you. As we seek to follow our Lord together for the world.

*This is not meant to put down Robert Schuller. I find good along with what I see as not so good in his message. I think he would say it’s grounded in scripture, but it seems to me to be in some line with Norman Vincent Peale’s positive thinking. In my view, scripture taken out of context to support something which in the proper context is true.

the best education

Education as we know it here probably has its roots in the western stream somewhere. Learning, as in the sciences seems to have primacy of place, but place is given to the arts, as well. Education is practically considered the key to the good life for most everyone. It’s supposed that knowledge is the key to a better society. If people just know enough, everything will be better. And especially so, if they know in a way which meets life where it’s lived, both as an individual and within society. That last point is getting warmer toward the truth, I think.

One of the major problems of public and dare we say, private education (though some of that may be able to do better) is that the learning is not necessarily tailored well to the individual. We all are at different places and stages for one reason or another in our development and growth. And we all have different bents and aptitudes. Education has done well to help students within the system. The problem might be the system itself, which does not flex enough to do well by every student, I’m thinking.

Of course we talk about the education of hard knocks. Simply meaning learning the ropes “the hard way.” Breaking the rules and paying for it, facing the consequences. We’ve all been there and done that to some extent.

In none of this do we really graduate. Life goes on, and with it a continual learning, all the more in today’s fast changing world. And this is true in what I consider the best education.

The best education in the world is one of becoming and being a disciple or follower of Jesus. Jesus brings into the world a new way of being human within a new order, the kingdom of God. This new order is not only spiritual, but material and transforms all of life. Nothing at all is excluded.

To learn from Jesus is to be committed to God through him, through his death and resurrection. It is a dynamic lived within the community of the church by the Spirit of God in and through Jesus. It is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week proposition. Scripture is an important part of it, read individually and within community in the church. This kind of education does not necessarily negate other kinds. For us in Jesus it transcends everything else, but it includes all that “is true, …noble, …right, …pure, …lovely, …admirable …excellent or praiseworthy.” There is much within “common grace” we can learn and benefit from. But even those areas, –every one of them– is transformed by the kingdom of God in Jesus, active and at work in our lives, both in our outlook and activity.

Yes, everyday, today is included. What does the Lord want to teach me/us today? What is he teaching us lately? And how are our lives changing in conformity to God’s will in recent times through this? Just some of the questions we can ask as we continue to work this out together in Jesus and for the world.

are we communicating clearly?

Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?

When I went to seminary, I often found myself speaking over the heads of people in church. Really, I hardly knew that, except the people would tell me. I think my own wife told me. Of course we were reading books which were hard for us to understand, and we were hearing lectures that at times were steeped in theologically technical language, known only to those who had studied it.

I had the blessing of doing children’s church for a time, and that helped me speak concretely in simple terms. I think I remember even then a helper remarking that I was speaking over the children’s heads. And so between all of this, and being (still true) a firm believer that scripture should be translated in the (heart) language of the people, over time I learned to speak with simplicity and clarity.

I think it is good to stretch people a bit, intellectually. But pastors and teachers in churches are supposed to feed the sheep with the teaching of God’s truth from scripture and in Jesus. So that must be first and foremost, front and center. If anything else is added, it should be secondary to that in any church setting.

Of course an academic setting is another story. Some good intellectual challenge is important there, indeed essential, although I also think that the best academic setting will bring the students along. And in a pastoral or church-oriented context, the best education will work at helping the students speak in a way that is understood by the hearers. Otherwise, as Paul remarked in the scripture cited above—what good is it? To be honest, I need to translate in my mind the technical language I am reading in such education, so as to try to understand it well, myself. This does open up other subjects, beyond the scope of this post.

Yes, I think those in my culture seem averse, or not trained to think well, logically. And we are not adept in critical thinking. In a church setting there’s a place, hopefully, to help people love God with all of their minds, as well as in every other way. We are so easily given to laziness, and to not being able to think well critically. Hence the sound bite culture we live in.

But when it’s all said and done, we must all speak to God, and listen for his word to us—in our own heart language. It must be kept simple, where we live (and beware of information overload, as well, another subject I suppose, beyond this post).

As we go on together in Jesus for the world.