On the Profundity of Marriage

Our culture, even in the church today, has a very shallow and anemic understanding of what marriage really is, should and can be. R.C Sproul, Jr., on the recent death of his wife:

The Bible says that husbands and wives are one flesh. Christian marriage pundits turn this too into “Be nice to each other.” That is, we are told about the importance of open communication. We are encouraged to be as concerned for our spouse as we are for ourselves. We, in rephrasing what God has said so that we might understand it, end up further from the truth. We are not commanded to live as if we were one flesh. Instead we are told that such is the actual truth. The one-flesh reality means that I haven’t just lost the love of my life, but half of me. How could I recognize me, when I am now only half the man I once was? It isn’t quite accurate to say that when she drew her last breath a part of me died. Instead, half of me died.

It reminds me of a poem I once read, based on Genesis 2 among other things, which ends like this:

My life now complete, one flesh now formed
The wound in my side now staunched.
This glorious creature, perfectly fashioned by his hand,
Silenced the wound’s echo forevermore.

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22–24, ESV) Marriage, in Christ, is a one-flesh reality and is meant to be lived out this way, not as a metaphor of love and companionship, as profound as that is, or only as a sexual metaphor. God joins and knits together husbands and wives into a new union: spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. He completes them. He creates something new. How much holier, happier and healthier, richer and stronger, would marriages in our churches be if we better grasped, meditated upon, and taught this reality. This would also be a far more helpful basis for understanding sexuality (and an antidote to what our culture says) than even what many in the church are teaching today (see here and here for critiques).

Plantinga Takes On Science and Naturalism

Most Christians, if they know him at all, know of Alvin Plantinga because his work on epistemology (the science and philosophy of knowledge and how we know what we know). I suspect Christians familiar with his work are either scientists or advanced seminary students. (I know of him because of my interest in epistemology, especially when I was investigating the philosophical foundations of science and medicine). He has spent his career as a noted philosopher, often dealing with the existence of God.

Now Dr. Plantinga has turned his attention to science and naturalism, and particularly the writings of the “new atheists” Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, and explains how belief in the existence of God, even the God of the Bible, and science are not incompatible. In fact, belief in God is what makes science possible. A review from the New York Times summarizes it well:

Theism, with its vision of an orderly universe superintended by a God who created rational-minded creatures in his own image, “is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism,” with its random process of natural selection, he writes. “Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’ ”

That is very true and has been clearly demonstrated by others. Maybe someday I’ll have time to actually read the book and write a proper review.

Physicists Advance Cosmological Theory Consistent with Biblical Creation

Back in my agnostic/atheist days I did a fair amount of reading and dabbling in popular physics, including quantum mechanics and cosmology. I have to admit I have always been a little skeptical about theories such as the Big Bang and the existence of dark matter, which is necessary to make current theories work out mathematically. After becoming a Christian, as a scientist I studied the philosophy of science, mainly from secular sources, with the realization that most, if not all, theories in science are based on assumptions and presuppositions that are not provable. These presuppositions form the basis of theories, influence which experiments are performed, and force some rational conclusions to be considered impossible even if they best explain the data. Intellectually honest scientists, even evolutionists, openly admit this to be true. They understand science.

Now physicists, not all of them Christian, have gone back and looked at the data on our universe and the assumptions that formed current theories, such as the fact that our solar system cannot be the center of the universe even though by all appearances the universe is expanding away from us in all directions. Apparently, going back and assuming that the universe is expanding away from us, and applying Einstein’s theories and quantum theory, shows that time was affected as the universe expanded away from us, allowing for the earth to be young and the starlight coming to us from far away to appear very old. It also explains the distribution of galaxies and eliminates the need for dark matter and other “fudge” factors in the current mathematical formulas.

I am excited that someone has gone back and challenged the fundamental assumptions and presuppositions that were made and tried again to explain the data. I am even more excited that the theory explains how what we see and what we read in Scripture can both be true.

You can read a brief review of the book at the Aquila Report.

What the Church is All About

The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life —no, all the length of human history —is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth — no, all the wonders of the starry heavens —are as the dust of the street.

An unpopular message it is — an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life.

— J. Gresham Machen. Quoted in DeYoung & Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church?

Khan Academy Allows Homeschool Benefits in Public School

Khan Academy screenshotHave you heard of Khan Academy? In case you have not seen it, Khan Academy is a collection of video-based, short lectures by one man, Salman Khan, on a variety of topics. That description does not make it sound very noteworthy. How about the fact that there are over 2,400 videos now, mostly on math and science but also some history, economics, and even current events like explaining the economics of the bailout? More notable is the fact that it is changing the lives of countless children and adults and transforming education because it is so successful. (Of course, there are those who argue that it is harming students rather than helping them).

Why is it so successful? The videos are rather simple, with only drawings and a voice-over. There are no fancy animations, games or engaging lecturer. Perhaps it is the ability of Khan to break-down complicated topics and to explain them extremely well so that a child can understand them. Perhaps it is his simple motive to help tutor children learn, starting with his cousin, which is how all this got started. Or maybe it is the system being designed around the videos, which advance students only once mastery is attained, and give rewards (badges) to students to reward and to encourage them.

Regardless of the reasons, it seems to work very well. Adults use it, homeschoolers use it, and we are planning on using it this year with our own children in some of their courses. I have been using it to prepare to teach physics this year, and it has been tremendously helpful. But the fascinating thing is the effect it is having on public school children, and what this says about child education and the success of homeschooling.

According to this article in Wired, it can have a profound effect on kids in public school. The article describes one class where 10 year-old children are doing advanced trigonometry, which is not normally done until high school or college. The teacher notes that children are allowed to proceed at their own pace and do work that is at their individual level. That is one of the main benefits to homeschooling; children are not chained to a grade level or a class level. Each child can go at his or her own pace, and can do work that is exactly at the right level. Students in this classroom are using Khan Academy to do the same thing, with amazing results.

The instruction is individualized as well, essentially providing one-on-one instruction. That, too, happens when children are educated at home. The article notes that educators have long known that this is a more effective type of instruction, one that is almost impossible with our current model of education. It also “flips” the educational process, with the students learning the materials themselves, then coming to the teacher for specific guidance and any problems. This reverses the model where the teacher lectures and students have to figure it out on their own at home, perhaps with parental help, and the teacher has little time to explain things to individual students and help each individual student attain mastery of the material. Now, children can learn the material on their own time and do their “homework” in class, working problems with the teacher present to help them learn. This, too, is what happens in many (but not all) homeschool models. Most children who are educated at home not only learn at their own pace, but learn much of the material on their own, either from books or multimedia sources, then discuss the information with a parent and work problems with a parent present to assist and to ensure mastery of the material.

Both the teacher and the author of this article, in noting how Khan Academy has revolutionized education in at least this one classroom, essentially list as reasons things that are features and benefits of the homeschool model of education. And it works. It would be fantastic if children in public school could progress at their own pace, work at their own level, and receive individualized instruction and assistance. Khan Academy and others like it may or may not be the answer. But it is intriguing. For the sake of children in public education, I hope that teachers and school administrators are open to exploring ideas and methods like this.

See also this Wall Street Journal article.

Carl Trueman on the Need & Effect of Biblical Worship

Carl Trueman in the latest edition of Themelios:

…there is one aspect of liturgy which has come over the years to mean much to me: the confession of sin and the assurance of salvation.

At some point prior to the sermon each Sunday in my church, the minister or elder leading the service will read a passage of Scripture designed to expose the moral failure of fallen humanity before God. Then he will lead the congregation in a corporate prayer of confession. Finally, when he closes the prayer, he will read a short passage (often just a verse or two) which speaks of the forgiveness of sins in Christ. The dramatic theological movement of the service at that point is profound: the congregation goes from being reminded and convicted of their sin, to calling out to God for forgiveness, to being reminded that in Christ God has acted in a startling and decisive way to cast our sin as far away as the east is from the west. We are reminded of the entire gospel, from fall to redemption to consummation, in the space of just a few minutes.

This moment in the church service has come to mean much to me. This is the point where, after a week of failure—of not living up to the standards I set myself, let alone those set for me by my Creator—I am reminded once again that all is well: Christ has dealt with my sin; my failings were placed on his shoulders on the cross; and my heavenly Father has annihilated them there. It is not, of course, that I do not know this Monday to Saturday; it is not that I do not read the gospel every day in my Bible; it is not that I do not confess my sins during the week and look then to Christ. But this is a word from outside, God’s work spoken to me by another human being, which lifts my head once again and assures my conscience that I am clean despite the filth I so often choose to wade in. So often I enter church weighted down with care; when I am once again reminded of God’s rich forgiveness in Christ, the weight is wonderfully lifted from my shoulders.

So often Christians can tend to think of the church worship service as something we do: we sing praise to God; we respond to the gospel; and we rejoice in our Saviour…. Yet church is, first and foremost, something which God does. It is primarily and in origin an act of his grace, not an act of human response. He calls us out to be his people; he gathers us through his Spirit; he speaks to us through the reading and the preaching of his word. There is far more passivity in worship than we care to imagine, a passivity that is often belied by our concerns to make sure ‘everybody is involved.’ When the law is read, sins are confessed, and forgiveness declared, we are all involved because we are all included under the words of condemnation and the words of promise and mercy.

… to put a new—and, I think, biblical—twist on the current consumer mentality, I think we need to go to church to expect it to do things for us. Not to provide us with a good social network or a context where the kids can have wholesome friends and stay out of trouble or where I can find the best coffee after a sixty minute worship session; but rather to provide us with the oxygen of our spiritual lives—those words of rebuke that cut down our pride and self-sufficiency, those words of brokenness that allow us to call out to God for his mercy, and that word that comes from outside that assures us that all of our sins have been dealt with in Christ and that we are thus liberated to give ourselves in lives of service to our brethren and to our neighbours because our own debt has been paid.

That word which should be spoken in every church service is still what gives me the energy to get out of bed in the morning. Praise God for the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read the whole article.

Hope and Encouragement for Teens and Their Parents

John Piper posted a letter he wrote several years ago to a teenager in his church about the slow transformation from insecure teenager to spiritually mature adult. It is mostly autobiographical but also includes some wise advice. The most encouraging thing to me was the fact that our teenagers do usually transform into spiritually mature adults, but it is a process, not a transformation:

My experience of coming out of an introverted, insecure, guilty, lustful, self-absorbed adolescent life was more like the emergence of a frog from a tadpole than a butterfly from a larva.

Larvae disappear into their cocoons and privately experience some inexplicable transformation with no one watching (it is probably quite messy in there) and then the cocoon comes off and everyone says oooo, ahhh, beautiful. It did not happen like that for me.

Frogs are born teeny-weeny, fish-like, slimy, back-water-dwellers. They are not on display at Sea World. They might be in some ritzy hotel’s swimming pool if the place has been abandoned for 20 years and there’s only a foot of green water in the deep end.

But little by little, because they are holy frogs by predestination and by spiritual DNA (new birth), they swim around in the green water and start to look more and more like frogs.

First, little feet come out on their side. Weird. At this stage nobody asks them to give a testimony at an Athletes in Action banquet.

Then a couple more legs. Then a humped back. The fish in the pond have already pulled back: “Hmmm,” they say, “this does not look like one of us any more.” A half-developed frog fits nowhere.

But God is good. He has his plan and it is not to make this metamorphosis easy. Just certain. There are a thousand lessons to be learned in the process. Nothing is wasted. Life is not on hold waiting for the great coming-out. That’s what larvae do in the cocoon. But frogs are public all the way though the foolishness of change.

(The rest is really good, too…)

tadpoleWhat parent of a teenager does not wonder and worry about this? I have been encouraged in the past few days by some comments my 15 year-old son has made. Like the tadpoles on our porch right now, the slow but definite process is happening, and it is fascinating to watch.

Together With All the Saints

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14–20

In Paul’s prayer here for the Christians in Ephesus, which is a good one to pray for any Christian that you know, Paul prays for their spiritual growth. He prays that they would be rooted and grounded in the gospel, that they would be strengthened, that they would realize more and more the love of Christ for them. But he adds an interesting phrase that struck me this morning as I was praying this passage for my family: “together with all the saints.”

Continue reading “Together With All the Saints”