Sunday, May 30

The Next Greatest Generation

This past weekend I spoke at the first commencement exercises for Rockbridge Academy. This young Classical and Christian school in Annapolis, Maryland has already established a remarkable legacy—the graduation ceremony was perhaps the best I have ever attended-and let me tell you, I have spoken at more than a few. The sound of bagpipes playing Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave is still ringing in my ears. I look forward to seeing the first fruits of this next generation of leaders.

I also had the extraordinary privilege of witnessing the commissioning of the 2004 United States Naval Academy graduates. One of my former students, Eric Scherrer, is now a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. I really was quite unprepared for the wave of emotions that washed over me during the three-hour-long ceremony. General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminded the new officers that we had best not “take it as a given that freedom and democracy will survive in this world.” Indeed, he said, “Our Nation has never faced a more significant test than the War on Terrorism. The stakes couldn’t be any higher. The stakes are the freedoms our predecessors fought so hard to defend for over two centuries. This is a long-term struggle between extremism on the one hand and freedom on the other. At its heart, it’s a test of wills.”

I looked out over the sea of fresh faces, crisp white and blue uniforms, and exultant families taking in what an enormous sacrifice many of them would soon be making—for me, for my family, and for my nation. Thus, I concurred with hearty “amens” as General Meyers concluded saying, “Our armed forces embody the absolute best of American values. That is the most powerful weapon that Marine carries with him on patrol. If someone in our armed forces steps out of line, we hold them accountable and responsible for their actions. We have a system that brings the truth to light, and an institution that constantly strives to improve itself. And you couldn’t ask for a more focused, dedicated, talented group of leaders, from the commanders to the ensigns and lieutenants to the seamen and privates and airmen. Graduates, you have the privilege of leading the nation’s next ‘Greatest Generation.’”

For some stunning photos of the occasion, as well as the full text of General Meyers’ remarks, visit the Naval Academy’s official web site.

Wednesday, May 26

Independent Film Festival

I am thrilled to have been invited to be a judge at a Christian film festival that aims to cultivate Biblical alternatives to the Hollywood cultural plutocracy. The timing couldn’t be better. This is a wonderful time to be a Christian engaged in the arts. The cultural antithesis between the City of God and the City of Man is as obvious as it has ever been. The enormous leadership vacuum within our culture has opened a world of opportunity for a new generation of Christian writers, thinkers, musicians, artists, and filmmakers to challenge the status quo presented by Humanist elites who would--if they could--banish Gospel truth from the public square.

The 2004 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival will be held November 11-13. The vision of the festival and its fabulous Jubilee Awards is to take the first of the many steps necessary to recover our culture for the Lord Jesus. The idea is to start in the area of film by encouraging, motivating, and rewarding those uncompromising, creative, and innovative filmmakers who are willing to take the narrow path.

During the festival there will be lectures by a number of prominent Christian thinkers, artists, and writers such as R.C. Sproul Jr., Doug Phillips, and Ron Maxwell. There will also be thousands of dollars in prizes and awards--including a $10,000 grand prize. And of course, if that were not enough, there is the wonderful city of San Antonio to entice you--think of the beautiful Riverwalk, the historic Alamo, Rudy's delicious BBQ, and Bill Miller's to-die-for breakfast tacos.

Early bird registration for this exciting event lasts only six more days. Visit the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival website for more details.

Tuesday, May 25

The Greater Depression

My good friend Ben House has written a trenchant analysis of the origins of our muddled modernity. Actually, he delivered the material in two addresses to families in Texarkana. Below is a revised transcript of his remarks--I thought that the connections he has made so valuable that I asked for permission to post them here for your illumination and edification. He kindly consented:

Popular histories usually focus on the wars, the politics, and the personalities of an era. For most people, popular history is history. By that I mean that it is what they remember of history. Often the events of greatest consequence do not happen in the chambers of legislators or the palaces of kings or on the battlefields. Often the greatest events of history are the theological struggles and the intellectual battles that occur. But since the battle of Gettysburg is more exciting than the growth of Nationalism and since the life of Hitler is more intriguing than the rise of Socialism, the historical attention will tend toward the frontline movers and shakers.

In American history, the story from the early 1900s to the mid-1900s generally revolves around the two World Wars and the Great Depression. It would certainly be hard to minimize these three events or to ignore their impact on subsequent history; however, three other events had an impact on this nation arguably as great, if not greater, than World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II.

Only one of these three events is well known. This was the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. Dayton, Tennessee was a small Southern town, and John Scopes was a substitute teacher who willingly agreed to confess to having taught the theory of evolution in the classroom. A Tennessee state statute forbade teaching the theory of evolution, so Scopes was guilty as charged. But the real story was the media event.

For the first time on a grand scale, a phenomenon occurred which has become a commonplace: The media spin on the story superseded the story itself. The Scopes Trial was an international media event. It did wonders for the local economy of Dayton, Tennessee. And it was great for the media. But the winners of the trial, the defenders of the Genesis creation account, were the losers of the media war.

According to most accounts, William Jennings Bryan--three time Presidential candidate, Presbyterian elder, and opponent of Evolution—botched the defense of Creation both on and off the stand. In the play and the movie versions of the trial, entitled “Inherit the Wind”, the “William Jennings Bryan-like” character was a complete buffoon and simpleton. The defender of Creationism in the film version brags that he never read Darwin, for he only read the Bible. In reality, Bryan read Darwin a good many years earlier and for a time had been sympathetic to a modified Darwinian viewpoint. Bryan and his defense team performed quite well in many of the exchanges in the trial. Perhaps more than many in his time and ours, Bryan saw the ethical and political implications of Darwinism. Nevertheless, his testimony as a witness was badly done and subject to decades of ridicule.

The end result of the trial was not just the publicity stunt itself or the challenge to the state laws of Tennessee or the issue of academic freedom. The results of this trial were that Christians lost face, lost influence, lost respect, and lost credibility in the public arena.

The media elites and the intellectual elites (but not the courts) ruled that Christianity was backward, superstitious, Medieval (meant as an insult!), bound to Dark Age myths, narrow-minded and opposed to science and learning. Darwinianism became not simply a view of science, but Science itself. The tenets of Darwinism were the keys to intellectual freedom. Evolution broke the chains of the past and freed the mind to understand the real world. A bright new day was dawning: In an Orwellian mindset, Evolution was Liberty. This optimistic Darwinianism still exists; in a recent edition of “The Griffin,” Senior Editor Robert Dreeson said, “Perhaps the best way to understand ourselves, the human species, is to visit the zoo. It’s there, rather than in a mirror, that we might get the best view of ourselves.”

A second event occurred around 1935. It is less well known than the Scopes Trial; it is less interesting in terms of the excitement generated or the personalities involved. It was, in certain parts of the country, headline news, but it was not a media event of the magnitude of the first event. This was the trial and suspension of J. Gresham Machen from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Machen’s trial involved no juicy stories. The issues at stake were theological, not moral. Machen contended for a particular theological dogma that was opposed by a faction that holding a different theological dogma. Now this may sound like just another case of Presbyterian denominational infighting. As such, it might be some high stake ecclesiastical wrangling among Presbyterians, but of interest to few others. But once again, bigger issues were at stake.

The theological issues were not fine obtuse points of theology or scholastic debates or differing theological perspectives on the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. Machen’s opponents were theological liberals who were denying such essentials as the virgin birth of Christ, the miracles of the Bible, and the resurrection of Christ. Among his better-known opponents was Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize winning author and child of Presbyterian missionaries. Miss Buck maintained that it did not matter whether Jesus Christ actually lived or not. What mattered was that ‘the spirit of Jesus lived.’

Machen did not exactly fit the image of the modern sensitive kind of guy. If he had of been, he could have responded to Miss Buck’s views by saying, “Hey, it’s okay, if that is what works for you, fine, let the spirit of Jesus live. For me personally, I dig the older theology, the real Heilig Geschichte kind of stuff.” Or perhaps, he could have allowed that the Presbyterian Church was big enough, inclusive enough, broad-minded enough, to include those whose credo was “I deny…” in the pew right next to those whose credo was “I believe.”

Instead, Machen was stubborn, narrow-minded, exclusive, not inclusive, and (forgive this bad language) intolerant. Having learned the Westminster Shorter Catechism on his faithful mother’s knees, he just could not overlook those Scriptural doctrines affirming the deity of Christ and His resurrection from the dead.

Machen lost to a coalition in the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. made up of a minority of theological liberals and a large number of moderates. The moderates tended to side with Machen’s theological preferences, but were guided primarily by their own 11th (or was it 1st?) commandment: “Thou shalt not make waves.” In this process—it did not begin or end with Machen—the loss was specifically Princeton Theological Seminary and more generally intellectual Protestantism.

It may be a bit too much of a stereotype, but in the 1800s and early 1900s, Episcopalians controlled the money in the nation, Presbyterians controlled the scholarship, and Baptists and Methodists controlled the numbers, that is, the majority of the Protestants. Baptist theologians like James P. Boyce received their theological training from the Princeton theologians like the Hodges and the Alexanders. Other theologians looked to Presbyterians and admired their scholarship. Taking out a Presbyterian theologian was a hefty coup d’tat.
Machen’s fall signaled the defeat of conservative scholarship. It was not, mind you, a defeat in the actual arena of scholarship. Machen’s book Christianity and Liberalism effectively trounced the arguments of the liberals. The defeat was the loss of institutions and the traditional reigns of power. Machen resorted to what became a tradition in Reformed circles--break away and regroup and hope to recoup the losses. Only the losses are generally never completely recouped and the regrouping group tends to suffer subsequent breaking away. John Frame’s work on the legacy of Machen’s children—that is, the in-fighting of Reformed Christianity since the 1930s—is both enlightening and saddening.

“Intellectual Bible-believing Christianity” became something of an oxymoron in the halls of academia and among the American intelligentsia. The original publication of the books known as The Fundamentals was recognized as a scholarly orthodox response to the theological currents. After Machen was exiled from mainline Presbyterianism into the hinterlands, the only Protestant theologians to be noticed were liberals or neo-orthodox. The most Protestant of nations, the most scholarly of denominations, and the most foundational beliefs—all suffered from Machen’s trial and suspension.

The third event actually occurred, or begin occurring, first in time. It is the least known, the least interesting from a popular perspective, and almost completely ignored in terms of media attention or inclusion in the history books. This was the abandonment of Classical education. The Founding Fathers of America were all the products of Classical education. Pastors, teachers, professors, and all educated people in America were trained in schools that in one fashion or another were Classical.

By Classical, we mean that the intellectual foundations of education were built upon the study of Greek and Latin languages and that the ethical objectives aimed at producing men of character. This Classical strand, tracing back to Homer, Aristotle, Virgil, and others, was reinforced by two millennia of Christian influences. Hence Augustine and the other church fathers were studied alongside of Homer and Seneca. Educated men were well versed in what Mortimer Adler would later call ‘The Great Conversation.’ When educated men wrote books and letters, they freely quoted from the Greeks and Romans in the original languages and did not assume any need to translate the quotations.

This education was being rapidly abandoned in the early part of the Twentieth Century. The greater story of this abandonment is beyond the scope of this essay. But at least a portion of it can be seen by the example of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Vanderbilt fit into the tradition of Christian universities that required incoming students to have been Classically educated and then advanced that education to an even higher level. Dr. Louise Cowan highlights the case of Southern poet and literary critic John Crowe Ransom: "In 1908-1909, the year Ransom graduated, all who were working toward a B.A. degree were required to study a year of Latin, a year of Greek (these requirements presupposed four years of Latin and three of Greek in high school), and a year each of mathematics, English, chemistry, history, and philosophy. A major in English literature required two years of Latin, Greek, French, German, two and a half of Biblical literature, and one of Anglo-Saxon.”

A few years later, when Ransom returned to Vanderbilt to teach, the program had changed. Cowan states, “By 1919, the classical languages had been dropped as requirements, although they were still recommended to English majors.”

Cowan says, “Utilitarianism was becoming the controlling attitude at Vanderbilt as it had become dominant even earlier, in most other universities in the nation…. The new philosophy of education shifted this basis, focusing on the recipients of knowledge rather than the disciplines themselves, with a consequent democratization of attitude, so that the aims of education were made subject to timeliness and opportunism, and standards began their long downward plunge.”

Here around 1915, “standards began their long downward plunge.” Long before all of our current education woes, the old school, the proven and tried method, the universal standards, the Greco-Roman-Christian heritage was abandoned.

It took awhile for all the old teachers to die off. Their required courses became electives as their hair turned gray and eyes grew dim. Small classical academies that had dotted the landscape of Tennessee and other states closed their doors. School consolidation promised to save the day. Learning Latin soon went the way of plowing with mules.

Now, here is a summary of this dismal history:

1915—The heritage of education abandoned.
1925—The authority of Scripture mocked and ridiculed.
1935—Christian orthodoxy and scholarship defrocked.

By contrast, the failed politics of Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt seem refreshing. By contrast, the dangers of World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II seem redeeming. By contrast, the writings of Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot seem optimistic.

If this story ended here, American history would be a great dark age for the rest of the Twentieth Century and beyond. But God is gracious. The next segment of this story will follow shortly.

The next segment follows shortly--and we are its actors.

Thursday, May 20

What I'm Reading

The end of the academic year is an incredibly hectic time for me. But I always try to find snatches of time to read. I am gearing up for a more intense time of reading, studying, preaching, and writing this summer.

One of my college students gave me a copy of a wonderful biography of Ted Roosevelt, Jr. He was the amazing son of the famous president. Rising to the rank of Brigadier General, he won every one of the field battle decorations the American military awards—every single one in both world wars! He also served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of both Puerto Rico and the Philippines, as well as the first Military Governor of Italy after its liberation from the Fascists. He was the oldest man to participate in the D-Day invasion. Day Before Yesterday (Doubleday) was written in 1959 by his widow. It went through only a single printing before unfairly passing into obscurity. I’d seen copies before—but always in very poor condition or with a very high price tag. I'm thrilled I have it now. In fact, I have consumed most of its nearly 500 pages in just two days. I hope to finish it up today.

Several other students also gave me a beautifully rebound 1828 edition of Samuel Johnson’s indispensable Dictionary of the English Language. I’ve always wanted a copy of this too. It is an extraordinary classic. I have a modern abridged copy, but it is just not the same. Not even close. This is a marvel. I’m having a blast discovering new words, reading examples of usage from early English literature, and stretching my knowledge of etymology and vocabulary. Johnson was a genius and his achievement is beyond comprehension.

I’ve just started Ron Chernow’s massive, bestselling biography Alexander Hamilton (Penguin). Already I am a bit disappointed. The book is certainly literate, well-informed, carefully researched, and graced with full, epic proportions. But I can tell that Chernow is going to give Hamilton’s faith short shrift. Still, I will persevere because I am writing about the Founding Era this summer (my long overdue Forgotten Presidents book). Besides, I am used to that particular flaw--even in the finest books on that pivotal era.

I am three-quarters of the way through Charlie Peacock’s new book, New Way to Be Human (Shaw). It is marvelous. More than that, it is wise, witty, and theologically profound. What a great writer. I was blown away by his literary and hermeneutical take on the Jack and Jill quatrain--among many other things! Here is covenant theology, artful writing, and graceful apologetics all in one fell swoop.

I am also nearly done with Scott Roley’s wonderful testimony of God’s transforming work of grace in his life, his family, his community, and his culture. God’s Neighborhood (IVP) is far more than just a book about racial reconciliation. It is a book about both the comprehensive claims and the substantive power of the Gospel. The foreword by Mike Card is a hoot—I really could see these old coots twenty-five years from now, living out their legacy of shared lives, shared dreams, and shared accomplishments.

I’ve just begun to dip into Norman Cantor’s biography of John of Gaunt, The Last Knight (Free Press). One of the most important figures of Christendom—the protector of Wyclif, the sponsor of Chaucer, and the greatest kingmaker in all of history—I have always been fascinated with Gaunt. Because of my lectures at the upcoming ACCS classical education conference in Atlanta, I felt I really needed to bone up on this man and his place during the twilight of the Medieval Age and the initial stirrings of Modernity.

Oh yes, and just for fun I am reading Robert Benson's The Game (Tarcher). Ostensibly about baseball, it is really about baseball and spirituality and life. I have to read a really good, really literate, really fanatical baseball book every year at this time. This one is perfect. Next up on the fun-front, I think I will read Bobke II (Broadway). It is Bob Roll's over-the-top preparation for July's Tour de Lance. And of course, I've got Vince Flynn's Memorial Day (Atria) set aside for, well, Memorial Day.

Monday, May 17

Thankful for M'Cheyne

Robert Murray M'Cheyne was born in Edinburgh on this day in 1813. He would ultimately become one of the most remarkable servants of Christ ever to walk upon this poor fallen sod--and one of the strongest influences on my own life and work. I have read the classic account of his life by Andrew Bonar (Banner of Truth) three different times--always to great benefit. I've just recently read the new biography Constrained by His Love, by L.J. Van Valen (Christian Focus). I've read two collections of his sermons and followed his rather rigorous Read through the Bible plan twice. I never cease to be amazed at the impact of his ministry across all the years and all the miles--especially in light of the mercurial brevity of his life.

M'Cheyne was the youngest child in a family of five. His father was a prosperous lawyer and a man of some social importance. Their spacious home, with its gardens, commanded a glorious view from the heights of Edinburgh across to the shores of Fife. After passing successfully though the High School, he entered the Arts Faculty of the University of Edinburgh in autumn 1827. There he turned his attention to elocution and poetry as well as the pleasures of society. But he was the subject of his elder brother's fervent prayers, and the early death of this brother in 1831 was a stroke which was used to awaken Robert from his spiritual stupor. He began to be serious, and to sit under the evangelical ministry of Thomas Chalmers.

In the winter of 1831, he entered the Divinity Hall of the University to study under the great man. Under the leadership Chalmers--as well as men like David Welsh and John Duncan--an awakening swept across the whole of the Scottish Reformed world. And M'Cheyne was at the center of this amazing spiritual storm. He was a diligent student and after the completion of his studies was licensed by the presbytery of Annan on in 1835 and became an assistant to John Bonar in Larbert and Dunipace. His piety and eloquent preaching commended him the next year to his own parish and so he was ordained minister of St. Peter's at the busy port of Dundee, in 1836.

It was a new church built in a sadly neglected district containing some 4,000 souls. M'Cheyne poured himself into the work--often sleeping only three hours a night and never taking leisure at all. He visited, prayed, and preached like few had ever seen before in all of the rich Christian history of Scotland--and as a result won the hearts of even the most confirmed skeptics and doubters in the parish.

Though he had so quickly achieved a measure of success, he was deeply concerned to deepen his ministry by continual study. Few ministers had ever maintained such an unwavering passion for the advantages of study, preaching, and discipleship. Though always conscious that souls were perishing every day, he never fell into the error of thinking that a his main pastoral work consisted of mere outward activity--and as a result he devoted himself even more to the work of intercession.

By the end of 1838 the course of his furious ministry was suddenly interrupted by serious illness--probably the effect of his unstinting labors. His doctors ultimately insisted on a total cessation of work. Accordingly, M'Cheyne with deep regret returned to his parents home in Edinburgh, to rest until he could resume his ministry. This separation from his people occasioned some of the richest pastoral letters in all of church history.

Though his condition had hardly improved, he returned to his flock a year later and a tremendous revival broke out almost immediately. Aware that his time was short, he threw himself into a renewed hectic schedule. To the very end, he was relentless in pursuit of holiness and the proclamation of the doctrines of grace. At last, in the spring of 1843--the year of the great Disruption that saw the creation of the Free Church of Scotland under Dr. Chalmers--he succumbed to his lingering illness.

His death was the cause of grievous mourning all throughout the nation. It was said that the brief ministry of Robert Murray M'Cheyne--just seven-and-a-half years--had stamped an indelible impress on Scotland, and though he died in just his twenty-ninth year, more was wrought by him that will last for eternity than most ever accomplish in a lifetime.

As my own testimony attests, even today, though dead, he yet speaketh. For that, I am ever so thankful.

Thursday, May 13

Expecting Adam

Aaron Sands is a voracious reader, cogent thinker, and dear friend. He plays a mean stand up bass--as well as the more portable electrified version--for the very fine band Jars of Clay. This week he told me about a remarkable book he had just read and reviewed, Expecting Adam. I was so taken by the story that I asked him if I could post his review here. He kindly consented. So, here it is:

A month ago I dined in Boston with a group of about 10 people. A variety of backgrounds and worldviews were represented in this room as we discussed the topic of social justice. In particular, we were focused on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and all of the issues surrounding it. We considered the vital roles of the global church regarding HIV/AIDS, and looked for ideas to help connect the church body to this opportunity to see God’s hand of mercy firsthand. One of the Harvard students shared how he is currently exploring Christianity because knowledge and reason were coming up short in and of themselves when considering social justice in this world. If one is to ignore the problems in society and simply dismiss them as defective and disposable, then why should he desire to change the world (recognize and work with the problems and find solutions) and make it a better place?

Later that evening I was challenged by another of the students to read Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. I was given a brief synopsis of the book: a true story about a family that has its world turned upside down, about the way real life events shape our view of the world more than the highest acclaimed education. The author and her husband have walked the Harvard road for years, caught up in an environment that gradually shuts out more and more of what they want to hold most dear. Despite the challenge, they are intent on surviving and winning the prize, breaking convention by investing in family and other “outside” interests while maintaining their path to certain success.

I tracked down a copy of the book and read it over two days, taking advantage of hours sitting in airplanes and airports, and I must admit that I devoured the book. It was difficult to put down, to remove myself from the beautiful and mysterious story of this family. Their Harvard journey took an unexpected turn as they found out they were expecting another baby. They were already looked down upon by faculty and peers for having of the distraction of one child at home, not to mention a marriage to sustain. The pregnancy also brought with it horrible effects on her body that she had experienced with the first pregnancy, greatly hindering her studies and ability to function in all parts of life. Then the still point arrived: Early in the pregnancy they were told that the baby had a high probability of having Downs syndrome.

For any mother and father this must be conflicting and confusing news. Why? How? What does it mean? The questions are endless and without much resolve. Considering all of their knowledge and learning, this family dealt with an extreme amount of pressure from all sides. Without a moment’s pause they should have an abortion, said the assumptions of faculty, mentors and colleagues. There should be no feeling involved because it is a matter of principle. Emotions only cause illegitimate confusion and headaches.

But the story is broader than simple facts and words. The subtitle is A Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Magic. From the first chapter Beck expresses the mystery and all-encompassing scope of this life-altering crisis. We learn about the love shown forth, often without provocation, by some new friends. There are visions and unexplained experiences that connect both parents to this baby before he is born. This is real life with real people in real time in a real place, and the answer is not cut and dry like it should be.

During the intense strain on her body during the pregnancy, Martha writes, “I am amazed at how flat-out stupid I was not to acknowledge, or even recognize, my body’s desperate attempts to communicate to me that something was seriously wrong. The only self-defense I have is that our entire society celebrates people who push themselves to extremes, who force themselves onward through pain, fatigue, and injury to achieve all kinds of improbable objectives…if you just try a little harder, bear a little more agony, ignore a little more of your desire to quit, you would be fabulously rich and successful and get away from the bad guys every time.” (150-151) The only thing on her mind was a story about a Harvard student who was told by his professor (and future Harvard president), “My boy, you will find that most of the great deeds in human history were accomplished by people who weren’t felling well.” (149) Harvard joins society in celebrating the Stoic, the unmoved in the midst of struggle and pain. Weakness is not an option. Failure is unacceptable.

But here are some glimpses into her journey from reason alone to her newfound faith: “In the face of such uncertainty, the only things that seem to us worth doing are the ones that allow us to experience the strange and eventful journey of life in its full richness.” (109) Further, “This is the part of us that makes our brief, improbable little lives worth living: the ability to reach through our own isolation and find strength, and comfort, and warmth for and in each other. This is what human beings do. This is what we live for, the way horses live to run.” (136) She has come to a conclusion that collides directly with everything she has treasured in her education and worldview thus far: “The meaning of life is not what happens to people…The meaning of life is what happens between people.” (186)

So perhaps it is cut and dry, just not the answer they expected. From the moment the news came from the doctor, Martha had little doubt about what to do…any doubt had more to do with the surrounding issues than the actual decision. Her husband John eventually felt the same, and not just because he wanted to support his wife and avoid confrontation. He too went through a transformation that personally changed his view of the situation and of the world.

Though the journey is not necessarily safe, often uncomfortable, and very disorienting, it is hard to picture the story without all of its contents. Every small piece of the puzzle contributes to the end result and complete picture, and the reader embarks on the journey hand-in-hand with the Becks. Martha shares an early moment with Adam: “He looked back at me with steady eyes, and I knew what I had known—what I should have remembered—all that time: that his flesh of my flesh had a soul I could barely comprehend, that he was sorry for the pain I felt as I tried to turn him into a “normal” child, and that he loved me despite my many disabilities.” (71) Only the story as it is told in its fullness can explain such a worldview shift. Imagine the look on her professor’s face as she shares how this “defect” has brought her new life, not to mention other people as well.

This story of birth and rebirth is familiar in scope and effect to the experience of any human. The magic some may have difficulty with, since the supernatural can be an uncomfortable territory. Rightly so, perhaps, as Martha herself claims to fear the exclusivity of Christianity and sees her decision apart from the opinions of anyone else, possibly even God. “What mattered was that I had made a choice that felt as though, in the end, it would bring me to the place I needed to go.” (242) Later she adds, “the way back to my real environment, the place where my soul was meant to exist, doesn’t lie through any set of codes I will ever find outside of myself. I have to look inward.” (289) In light of her Harvard education and family background (which is explained in depth), turning inward is contrary to all that she has known her entire life. Yet only turning inward can be just as misguided as only looking outward.

The enchantment added tremendous validity and vulnerability to the story. There is a sense that even Martha doesn’t always understand the who, the why, the how; But she sees the mystery and magic as a valuable element of the story, the “real” aspects of the story. There is a unique and beautiful relationship between mother and fetus that no one except for the mother understands. Expecting Adam enhances that relationship while truthfully retaining the unknown and mysterious.

The Becks do pray for a miracle, especially towards the final days of pregnancy. Without losing joy and excitement even if the child has Downs Syndrome, they plead with God to “fix” their baby in the womb, recognizing that anything is possible and believing that God hears and answers prayers. After the child is born, John and Martha realize a miracle has taken place: “Maybe he didn’t need fixing. Maybe he’s the only one of us who was never broken.” (310) Their lives have been changed forever. The lives of family and friends surrounding them will never be the same. The power of love has been experienced and held fast. “Whoever said that love is blind was dead wrong. Love is the only thing on this earth that lets us see each other with the remotest accuracy.” (220)

If you'd like to read more of Aaron's writing, visit his blog. You might also be interested in the Blood:Water Mission, the organization Jars of Clay has established to mobilize and equip individuals, churches, and communities to effectively respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Wednesday, May 12

What America Is Really Doing in Iraq

While accounts of isolated abuses by a handful of prison MPs continues to send shivers of hope through the ranks of the political shaman class in Washington and New York, the real story about what America is doing in Iraq is all but ignored. Ray Reynolds, is nearing the end of his tour of duty in Baghdad with the Iowa Army National Guard, 234th Signal Battalion. According to SFC Reynolds, here is what we've actually been up to in the year since the war in Iraq toppled Saddam:

Over 400,000 Iraqi children now have up-to-date immunizations.
School attendance is up 80% from levels prior to the war.
Over 1,500 schools have been renovated and cleared of weapons previously stored there.
The port of Uhm Qasar has been refurbished so grain can be off-loaded from ships faster.
The country has begun exporting oil again--some 2 billion barrels a month.
Over 4.5 million people now have clean drinking water for the first time ever.
The country now produces 2 times the electrical power it did before the war.
100% of the hospitals are open and fully staffed, compared to only 35% before the war.
Elections have taken place in every major city, and city councils are now in place.
Sewer and water lines have been installed in every major city.
Over 60,000 police are patrolling the streets.
Over 100,000 Iraqi civil defense police are securing the country.
Over 80,000 Iraqi soldiers are patrolling the streets side by side with US soldiers.
Over 400,000 people have telephones for the first time ever
An interim constitution has been signed by every major faction of Iraqi society and culture.
Girls are allowed to attend school throughout the country.
Textbooks that don't lionize Saddam are in the schools for the first time in 30 years.
Ideas of freedom, opportunity, and hope are the new currency of the land despite the best efforts of al-Qaeda to instill tyranny, oppression, and fear.

Heard any of that on the nightly news? No? Gee, I wonder why? Do you think there might be a political agenda at work here? Could it be that our elite political priesthood just wants to inoculate us all with a liberal dose of Scary-Kerry?

Knowledge Is Just Not Enough

Knowledge can be transferred. Facts can be memorized. Curricula can be mastered. Information can be gathered. Disciplines can be learned. Data can be catalogued. Skills can be gained. But traditional education techniques can only go so far—wisdom is not so easily obtained.

For decades our educational system has emphasized gaining knowledge. We want our children to have knowledge of the world. We want them to have knowledge of the basic academic categories. And perhaps most importantly, we want them to have knowledge of the skills necessary for the job market. Ours is the information age after all. So, communicating information—or knowledge—has been our primary aim and objective. We have assumed that if our children had a good grasp of the knowledge they need, they would be able to make their way in the world.

As renowned educator Leo Brennan has rightly observed that, “we Americans are enthusiasts for education.” Though there may be an underlying “anti-intellectualism” in a few isolated circles, by and large we Americans place a heavy emphasis on the education of our children. We demand good teachers. We demand good textbooks. We demand good facilities. We demand good supplemental resources. We demand the best and the latest and the snazziest of everything academia has to offer.

Thus, we have spared no expense or effort in order to pour knowledge into the minds and lives of the next generation. Ours is one of the most extensive and expensive school systems the world has ever seen. Spending—in inflation adjusted dollars—has increased some 400 percent per pupil in the past thirty years. Teacher salaries have more than doubled—again in inflation adjusted dollars. And the per capita number of support personnel has nearly quadrupled. Education has, in fact, become the second largest industry in the nation, spending more than a quarter-trillion dollars every year, with nearly three million teachers and administrators. School reform issues top the list of concerns of both taxpayers and public officials during nearly every election cycle.

So what do we have to show for all this? Alas, not nearly enough.

With all of our emphasis on knowledge, it is the height of irony that we seem to know so little. We are swimming in an ocean of 24/7 information. But precisely because there is so much undifferentiated and undistinguished data in that vast ocean, we are often overcome by its waves and swells. And now, all too many of us are actually drowning in it.

As many as 90 million adults in this country are functionally illiterate. An additional 35 million are alliterate—they can read a few basics with difficulty, but that is about all. Unadjusted SAT score comparisons reveal essentially an unbroken decline from 1963 to the present. Average verbal scores have fallen over fifty points and mathematics scores have dropped nearly forty points. In a recent study of the member nations of the United Nations, the United States ranked 49th in basic literacy levels.

Sadly, most Americans are so poorly educated that they don't even know they are poorly educated. According to former Education Secretary Richard Riley, "Such data paints a picture of a society in which the vast majority of Americans do not know that they do not have the skills to earn a living in our increasingly technological society and international marketplace."

We have spent the money, established the commissions, surveyed the problems, initiated the reforms, rewritten the curricula, hired the experts, and overhauled the entire educational system. And yet, nearly 45 percent of all the products of that system cannot even read the front page of the morning newspaper.

How could this have possibly happened? If we live in the information age, why is so little information getting through? If we’re so intent on imparting knowledge, why do we know so little?

Part of the reason may well be that we simply forgot that education is more than simply the transfer of knowledge. However important knowledge may be, true education involves something more. As the prince of the preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, once wrote, "I would have everybody able to read and write and cipher; indeed, I don't think a man can know too much; but mark you, the knowing of these things is not education; and there are millions of your reading and writing people who are as ignorant as neighbor Norton's calf."

Those ignorant masses of whom Spurgeon speaks are not those who failed to finish their lessons. They are instead those who did finish--or rather those who naively thought that lessons were the sorts of things that could be finished. Education does not have a terminus, a polar extreme, a finish line, an outcome. Instead it is a deposit, an endowment, a promise, and even a small taste of the future.

All talk of education is for us a reminder that we have only just begun to learn how to learn. It is an affirmation that though our magnificent heritage has introduced us to the splendid wonders of literature and art and music and history and science and ideas in the past--we have only just been introduced and that a lifetime adventure in these vast and portentous arenas still awaits us. Indeed, the most valuable lessons that education can convey are invariably the lessons that never end. That is actually at the heart of the Christian philosophy of education—a philosophy which provoked the most remarkable flowering of art, music, literature, science, and progress that the world has ever seen; a philosophy rooted in a desire for wisdom and understanding, not just knowledge; a philosophy focused on putting knowledge in context.

The English novelist and etymologist J.R.R. Tolkien once told his students that all true education is actually "a kind of never ending story--a matter of continual beginnings, of habitual fresh starts, of persistent newness." Similarly, his great friend C.S. Lewis said that education is "like a tantalizingly perpetual verandah--the initiation of unending beginnings."

Sadly, minds dulled by the smothering conformity of popular culture cannot plumb the depths or explore the breadths of the distinctively Christian virtue of hopeful contentment in the face of perpetual tasks. Thus they rush toward what they think will be the termination of this, that, or another chapter in their lives. They cannot wait to finish school. Thus for instance, graduation is not a commencement for them, but a conclusion. Afterward they hurry through their lives and careers: they plod impatiently through their work week anxious for the weekend; they bide their time until vacation and plod on toward retirement--always coming to end of things until at last things come to an end.

Hopeful contentment in the face of never ending responsibilities is a virtue that continually breeds in us anticipation for new beginnings not old resolutions. It is a virtue that provokes us to a fresh confidence in the present as well as in the days yet to come.

Monday, May 10


The latest issue of the webzine Counterculture has been posted. The subject is worship and the contributors include the unfailingly insightful John Frame, as well as Harold Best, David Peterson, Melvin Tinker, Nancy Scott, Rob Schlapfer, and Nathan Buttery. As always, this publication's self-professed "dangerous pursuit of Reformed theology" is incisive, creative, and provocative.

Friday, May 7

Gleanings in Blogdom

Today on his Blog and Mablog site, Douglas Wilson has a sobering reflection on the effects of abortion on education and the fabric of a culture.

Bruce Green's Dean's Blog today affords readers a timely reminder of the relationship between education and unfavorable conditions--especially in light of all the upcoming commencements.

Peter Leithart's always enlightening Blog offers a fascinating suggestion for Masters or Doctoral research: Luther and Islam.

Thursday, May 6

By Faith Online has now become The first issue of this new webzine for the Presbyterian Church in America includes profiles of two wonderful ministries: Harvest USA and Desire Street Ministries. Just as I did with the old site, I plan to keep this site bookmarked so that I can visit it regularly.

Augustine Quotes

This morning I gave my final lecture of the academic year on the subject of Augustine. I ran out of time and was unable to run through all my favorite quotes from this remarkable "Father of Western Civilization." So, I'm posting them here:

“You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.” Confessions

“Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” City of God

“Love God, and then do what you like.” Confessions

“Too late I love you, beauty so old yet always new. Too late I loved you. And lo, all the while you were within me—and I, an alien to myself, searched for you elsewhere.” Confessions

“Where there is not that justice by which the One Supreme God rules over a city obedient to His gracious will, there is not a fellowship of people united in a common sense of right and community interest. And where that does not exist, there is not a people—nor is there a state, because where there is no people there is no commonwealth.” City of God

“It is all too possible to want gifts from the Lord, but not the Lord Himself—which seems to imply that the gift is preferable to the Giver.” Commentary on Psalms

“He could have come down from the cross, but He preferred to rise up from the tomb.” Enchiridion

“To see God is the promised goal of all our actions and the promised height of all our joys.” City of God

“The things of the Spirit do not come naturally to us like our mother tongue. We are fallen, and the things of God are therefore strange to us. Of course, interest, joy, and delight will help me learn, but behind them there needs to be the divine compulsion, the pressure of the Holy Spirit’s firm but loving discipline.” Confessions

Greed Kills

It has an appetite that can never been satisfied. It has a thirst that can never be quenched. It has an ambition that can never be exhausted. It makes demands that can never be fulfilled. It has needs that can never be met. It has passions that can never be quelled. Its aspirations are limitless. Its hunger is ravenous. Its yearning is boundless. Its craving is voracious. Its longing is inestimable. It never has enough. Greed is insatiable.

Greed always wants more. More money. More possessions. More power. More pleasure. More leisure. More prestige. More fame. More influence. More accomplishment. More food. More drink. More toys. More gadgets. More than the last guy. More than the next guy. More. More. More. Always more.

The dictionary defines greed as “an excessive or rapacious desire.” It is the root of both avarice and covetousness. Though it is often associated with an inordinate obsession for economic gain, it is not exclusively a fiscal vice. Rather it can be a consuming desire for absolutely anything. It is a peculiar form of pride which can lead to gluttony, drunkenness, contumacy, lust, envy, anger, or sloth just as easily as it can to opulence or miserliness. It can drive a man mad with alcohol, sex, drugs, and rock and roll just as surely as it can with stock options, mergers and acquisitions, and investment portfolios. It may seek its fortune just as ardently among the wild and the free as among the rich and the famous. Greed is a thrill seeker which it may get its kicks just as well by conquering the X-Games as by conquering Wall Street.

Essentially what that means is that greed is less about the things that we have than it is about the things that have us. It is less about what we possess and more about what possess us. There are men and women of great substance who are free of greed’s entanglements while there are innumerable poor men and women who are so ensnared by greed that they are no longer able to function in any area of their lives. Greed is less about dollars and cents than about discernment and sense.

Greed is ardent, fervent, and voracious.

Greed’s professed credo is “waste and want.” When we succumb to greed we always find that getting is better than having. After all, when we get something it is new and exciting. But once we have it, we invariably begin to take it for granted and we become bored by it. Of course, everything we get ultimately turns into something we have. That is why greed perpetually compels us to get new things. It is a mad, unending, and vicious cycle.

Because it is never satisfied, it is never gratified. Because it is never gratified, it is never thankful. Because it is never thankful, it is never at rest. And because it is never at rest, it is never gain a sense of proportion, perspective, or purpose. Greed defeats every purpose, including its own.

Greed is a particularly virulent vice. It wrecks havoc in the lives of its possessors as well as all those who cross paths with its possessors. It is no respecter of persons. It is an equal opportunity destroyer. It cuts off its nose to spite its face. It slays the goose that lays the golden egg. It robs Peter to pay Paul.

And it is all too common. Greed has always infected humanity in epidemic proportions. It has brought down the great and the small. It has caused the demise of men and nations. It has disappointed great promise. It has undermined great ambition. It has squandered great opportunity.

It has conquered more kingdoms than all the armies ever amassed. It has robbed more men than all the thievery ever devised. It has unsettled more happiness than all the pestilence ever unleashed.

The poisonous effect of greed is thus one of the most common leit motifs in the literature of the world. It plays a prominent role in the myths, legends, epics, tales, songs, proverbs, and stories of nearly every culture and every time throughout history.

The story of Midas is among the most famous. He was the son of Gorgias king of the kingdom of Phrygia. Once, while playing in the royal hunting grounds as a boy, he stumbled across a massive chest filled with gold, silver, and gemstones that had been hidden there by soldiers of fortune returning from the Trojan War. He quickly appropriated the hoard for himself. This fabled largess then became the basis of his extraordinary wealth and opulence.

Over time however, Midas grew discontent. He had heard that in the far flung lands around the Mediterranean there were other kingdoms more resplendent than his, other palaces grander than his, other armies greater than his, other marketplaces busier than his, and other treasuries richer than his. Sullen and forlorn, he railed against the gods for this seemingly capricious challenge to his supremacy. His weeping and wailing went on for days. He was inconsolable.

Dionysius, the god of wine and feasting heard this hue and cry—and because Midas had done him good service in the past, he granted the king the fulfillment of any wish he might choose. Midas had the impudence to ask that from that day forward, whatever he touched might turn to gold. Dionysius could not help but think that it was a foolish, greedy wish. But, he had already promised the king whatsoever his heart might demand. The wish was granted.

Immediately, Midas thought himself to be the most blessed man on the earth. He was utterly delighted. He danced a jig as he departed from the god’s presence and the very soil he trod upon turned to gold. He plucked a twig from a tree—twig, leaves, and all immediately turned to gold. He touched a boulder by the side of the way—it too, turned to gold. He patted his favorite dog as he entered his palace gates—the dog at once froze into a golden statue. Midas did not know whether to be glad or sad.

That evening he ordered his servants to prepare a great feast. When the meal was ready, the courtiers, the royal retinue, and all the favored men and women of the kingdom gathered at their places. Midas opened the festivities by raising a goblet of wine and toasting the assemblage. The goblet was gold already but as soon as the wine touched his lips, it turned into liquid gold. Surprised, he spat out the wretched stuff. He took up a piece of bread—and it too was transformed. By this time his guests were eating and drinking to their hearts content. But to his horror, he realized he could eat none of it. “I shall starve,” he cried out.

At last, the king left the presence of the revelers and spent a very unhappy night alone in his bed chamber—it was also a very uncomfortable night for golden pallets are hardly as comfortable as his old feather mattresses. His greed had consumed every natural pleasure he had ever had.

He could never kiss the ones he loved—his wife, his children, or his grandchildren. He could no longer grasp the hand of a friend. He could not eat or drink. He could not pluck up a flower or swim in the sea or walk through the tall grasses. He could no longer enjoy his life. Indeed, he could no longer live. Greed had greedily taken away everything.

Such tales of woe abound. There is Smaug, the fierce dragon in Tolkein’s modern fairy tale, The Hobbit, whose hoard proves to be its undoing. There is Pahom, the ambitious farmer in Tolstoy’s morality play, How Much Land Does a Man Need, who dies trying to expand his holdings far beyond his capacity. There is Dives, the covetous rich man in Christ’s Gospel parable who ultimately gained the whole world but lost his own soul. Each of these stories—and a thousand others just like them—illustrates the destructive power of greed.

Even more, they give voice to a universal moral: attempting to satisfy the cravings of greed is not only futile, it is certain to impose a smothering sadness and futility upon those very people the world sees as the most accomplished and richly blessed. Indeed, as the contemporary poet Tristan Gylberd has quipped, “There is nothing more depressing than reading a copy of People magazine while waiting at the doctor’s office—page after page of rich, beautiful, and talented celebrities, each more miserable than the last.” Similarly, Hollywood actor Martin Sheen confessed that in all his years among the most glamorous and admired people in the world, “I never saw a satisfied rich man. They were never happy with themselves. They always wanted more.” Interestingly, in the late eighties, Sheen starred in the blockbuster hit, Wall Street. The most famous line from the film was passionately pronounced by his nemesis in the film, a character named Gordon Gecko. This corporate shark asserted, “Greed is good.” The entire film was a profound demonstration of the fact that Gecko was wrong. Dead wrong. But amazingly, the phrase endures while the message it was meant to belie is now forgotten.

Such is the power and effect of greed.

But greed is not just dangerous to those like Midas, Smaug, Pahom, Dives, and the Hollywood starlets who harbor it. Greed affects whole communities. It can unleash its destruction on whole populations. It can spread its deleterious effects around the entire world.

And indeed, it has. The annals of history are strewn with the sad evidence that greed destroys. It destroys everything it touches. Its golden touch starves the aspirations of fulfillment, satisfaction, and freedom.

Greed has no thought of justice. It does not seek to care for the needy, the poor, the despised, or the rejected. It gives no thought to the problems of social stability, cultural enhancement, or national security. It also has no interest in the future—its concern is only for the moment. It is single-minded in its obsessive compulsions.

Greed never looks to others. It is heedless about the victims strewn in its wake. It is entirely incognizant and unconcerned about the people, the principles, or the prospects it must trample on the way to the top of its self-designated vista. It cares only for its own cares. It cares only for itself.

That is why when greed is wed to ideology, the results are so devastating.

Marxism is greed wed to socialism. This is the horrific philosophy that gave the world Communism. It is what gave us the tyranny of the Soviet hegemony. It is what gave us the genocides of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It is what gave us the crushing deprivations of Eastern Europe’s collectivist economies. It is what gave us the wrenching conflict of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, and the Tiananmen Square. In Das Capital and the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx tied to harness the revolutionary rage of the have-nots against the haves. He tried to yoke socialist structures to anti-social ideals in an effort to create a materialistic dystopia. It is greed run amok.

Mercantilism is greed wed to capitalism. This is the horrific philosophy that gave the world monopolism. It is what gave us corporations without conscience. It is what bestowed upon the business world the profits-at-any-cost-mentality. It is what gave us economics as a science—a series of cold and impersonal calculations—rather than as an art—a series of intimate interpersonal relationships. It is what gave us the commodification of the community—where everyone and everything is defined and valued solely in terms of dollars and cents. It is what gave us commercialized globalism—with its sweat shops, its exploitive labor practices, and its vast disparity between owners and workers. Capitalism is merely an economic structure designed to ensure free and open markets. But mercantilism transforms capitalism through the collusion of big business and big government so that those markets actually become less and less open and free. It is greed run amok.

Imperialism is greed wed to colonialism. This is the horrific philosophy that gave the world the great international empires of Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Rome, the Western European powers, the Soviets, and the Chinese Communists. It is what gave us the oppressions of the Raj. It is what gave us chattel slavery. It is what gave us world war. Adventurism, exploration, commercial expansion, settlement, and aculturation can be the quiet harbingers of great progress. But superceded by greed, they can be—and have been—the leading edge of great oppression. It has reinforced the divide between the rich and the poor. It is greed run amok.

Unfortunately, confronting greed is not as easy as simply identifying and condemning it. It is endemic it seems, to the human condition. We are all prone to its bewitching wiles. It continually beckons to us all, disguised as progress or ambition or diligence or accomplishment or entrepreneurial zeal.

That is why greed must not only be identified and condemned; it must simultaneously be resisted. It must be resisted not just in word but in deed. It must be resisted by a whole series of choices—decisions woven continuously into the very fabric of our lives.

We must not only wisely order our fiscal affairs, our consumption patterns, our work relationships, and our investment strategies to mitigate against greed, we must also take care to guard our eyes, our hearts, and our appetites. We must practice the healthy habits of gratitude, thanksgiving, charity, service, and giving. We must develop life plans, mission statements, and vision for our callings. In other words, we must not allow nature to take its course; we must not allow the force of moral entropy to drive us into the maws of greed.

Wednesday, May 5

A flurry of new books on Islam and its prophet, Mohammed, has led to a surprising revelation among historians: most of what we thought we knew about the fierce tribal cult is probably false. Indeed, according to I.M. al-Rawandi, the life of Mohammed chronicled in the Sira and the Hadith is likely “baseless fiction.” It was made up. The prophet never lived in Mecca. He never fled to Medina. He never instituted the haj. He never taught a group of disciples principles of faith. He was never really a religious leader at all. Instead, al-Rawandi argues in The Mythic Origins of Islam, Mohammed (which was originally a title not a name) was probably "just a bandit chieftain named Ubu’l Kassim who lived in what is now southern Jordan."

But that is not all. Scholars are beginning to realize that the Koran was probably made up as well. It may simply be a series of stories and quotations from scores of varying sources and authors stitched together over the course of a century or two by succeeding sultans and caliphs--for the purpose of justifying the terrifyingly brutal conquests of their militant Arab imperial armies. According to a host of historians, including Mohammed Ibn al-Warraq, John Wansbrough, Kenneth Cragg, Michael Cook, John Burton, Andrew Rippin, Julian Baldick, Gerald Hawting, and Suliman Bashear, the evidence is more than a little compelling.

The very first sources for the Sira, the Koran, the Hadith, or any of the other early Islamic texts actually appear no earlier than two to three centuries after Mohammed supposedly gathered his motley followers under the shadow of Mount Hira. According to Patricia Crone, formerly Lecturer in Islamic Studies at both Oxford and Cambridge and currently Professor of Near Eastern History at Princeton, "textual and historical evidence for Koranic authenticity is altogeter non-existent. The documents were cobbled together many centuries after the events they purportedly describe." She argues in The Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, that Mecca was not the center of the Arab world at any time within two hundred years of Mohammed's life, that it was chosen simply for symbolic and mythic reasons much later, and that the militant ideas of ji'had are thus merely aspects of a much more recent "propaganda effort created by Caliphate militarism."

If these suppositions are true, they would certainly help to explain Islam's perpetual impulse to violent, revolutionary, and imperial terror. According to Craig Winn the narratives compiled by Islam's founding ideologues in the eighth and nineth centuries were essentially tools of war, inducements for further conquest, and thus are purposely "immoral, criminal, and violent." In Prophet of Doom, Winn takes the words of the prophet, as recorded in the five primary Islamic holy texts and shows that instead of portraying Mohammed as a great and godly man, "They reveal that he was a thief, liar, assassin, mass murderer, terrorist, warmonger, and an unrestrained sexual pervert engaged in pedophilia, incest, and rape. He authorized deception, assassinations, torture, slavery, and genocide. He was a pirate, not a prophet." Osama has quite some model, eh?

So, is Islam a pernicious myth after all? It appears that a growing number of reputable historians around the globe are actually beginning to think so. Gee. Waddaya know!

For more information on these ideas visit these sites: Ji'had Watch, Dhimmi, Daniel Pipes, Prophet of Doom, To the Point, Islam and the Church, and Tell the Truth.

Monday, May 3

Many Hats

Over the past few years, I have had the propensity to wear several hats simultaneously. Indeed, that has often been the most distinctive aspect of the work of King’s Meadow. I do lots of different things--all aiming at the same end. The work with our schools in Iraq and Indonesia, the projects developing curricula for American homeschoolers and African missionaries, the strategic publishing plans, and the conferences and seminars are all part of the overall mission of discipling and equipping the church for the work of service in the world.

Now, I am adding another hat. Two weeks ago I officially accepted a call from Christ Community Church (PCA) in Franklin to serve the congregation as Teaching Pastor (I waited to say anything here until after congregational approval, acceptance by presbytery, and all the other little details had been settled). Starting late this summer I will be working alongside the existing pastoral staff in the areas of leadership development and adult discipleship--moving our congregation to ever more mature expressions of the Reformed faith and life. I will also have regular Sunday morning preaching opportunities--of which I am very excited.

But I wanted you to know that these new responsibilities will not hinder or sideline the ongoing work of King’s Meadow. If anything, they will only enhance our important efforts and our upcoming projects. Everything we are doing with Servant Group International, African Leadership, Gileskirk, Classical Development Services International, and Franklin Classical School will continue. And now we will have the added weight of the local church behind us. We will also be able to free up additional funds for the projects themselves--because now I will not need to draw a regular salary from the Study Center budget. The biggest change in my day-to-day activities will be that I will not be traveling and speaking outside of Franklin nearly as much as I have in the past--which Karen, Joel, Joanna, Jesse, and I all enthusiastically welcome.

It is my prayer that many of you will continue to support the ministry with your sacrificial giving. We have some big projects coming up this year after all: I hope to finally be able to publish the two Chalmers books I’ve been working on for the past three years; the first couple of Gileskirk unit studies should soon be available; and our curriculum development program for the schools in Iraq, Indonesia, three countries in East Africa, and perhaps soon, Peru, will slip into high gear. Greg Wilbur will be undertaking a number of exciting new projects. And I also hope to be able to package and make available several hundred of my teaching tapes, which have been sitting around in boxes for years.

For all this and more, we will need your help like never before. I may be wearing yet another hat, but the vision, the mission, and the determination is the same as always.

Getting Older

Someone at church asked me if all this training for marathons and preparing for triathalons business I've been engaged in of late was actually evidence of some sort of some sort of pathetic mid-life crisis--a preacher's equivalent of a little red sports car. Hmmm. Nope. I don't think so. Indeed, there are so many distinct advantages to having arrived at the half century mark, I can hardly enumerate them all. Today is my youngest son's twenty-first birthday and his mother and I are thrilled! We love watching our kids grow up, mature in faith, and take on new challenges. I love the way adult children become friends and confidantes as well sons and daughters. I can't think of anything much better than having my daughter work with me every day running our ministry office. My eldest gets married this summer--and already I'm thinking about spoiling any grandchildren the Lord may send our way. I'm thinking: this is the time of our lives! Why would anyone assume that somehow such joys would need the compensations of little red sports cars or marathons? Are you kidding? Mid-life crisis? No way. More like mid-life party-time!