Saturday, September 26, 2015

Debates on Religion

Every few weeks I happen upon an interesting article and then waste a few minutes looking through the comments to see what people have to say about the content. Sometimes this is slightly enlightening but it often just reinforces my belief that people have a long way to go in their ability to understand truth and communicate that truth in a graceful and convincing manner. And so, once again, I decide to not comment there but to consider people's arguments for myself and develop my own response...

Anyway, an Australian publication, ABC, published an article "If you want kids to be happy, try religion". First, I have a few problems with the title, but the idea was that studies seem to indicate that both young and old can benefit from contemplating and subscribing to a meta-narrative that instills a sense of purpose and hope in their lives.

But the comments of course turn very quickly to the debate between those who claim that religion is a detriment to society and those who don't. I think you are familiar with many of the arguments:
  1. The Bible cannot be trusted because of its dubious authorship and myriad errors and contradictions.
  2. If there is a god, he cannot be good because of what he allows now and because of the horror he promoted through the Mosaic Law and through the activity of the O.T. nation of Israel.
  3. Religion and especially Christianity has no connection with reality and scientific data and certainly cannot prove the existence of a god.
  4. There are many people who are good and kind and generous in the world without any commitment to a religion or a deity.
Then, there was a comment near the end which caught my attention:
Yes, you can argue that the teaching of religion might present some of worthwhile values, and hence wellbeing, to students, but so too should ethics classes. I think that this whole debate is missing the most important issue about the teaching of religion in schools. I firmly believe that the ability to think critically and rationally (or, indeed, just think) is the greatest benefit a student can gain from an education. Religion, by its very nature, is the antithesis of this and for that reason alone should not be taught in schools, unless in a course on critical thinking.

So, how can we respond to these claims and, in particular, the comment? Let me deal with the comment, because this calls into question the source of our ability to reason. It is also the great lie of secular society which purposefully ignores the foundation of education and critical thinking. Without the Bible and the worldview that it promoted, it would be hard to imagine what our society would look like. Certainly there would be very little cause to read or to question the decisions of our kings and tyrants or to help others through humanitarian efforts or technology or health care. There would be no respect for the individual or his ideas or desires or feelings. There would be little accountability as nations or people groups for the harm done to others and no retribution for wrong doing except in the most brutal fashion and by the people with the bigger army or most powerful weapons. We must remember that the very ability to question the intentions, actions or beliefs of others comes from an appeal to a higher authority. In some cases this is our own reasoning, which is entirely fallible and incomplete. In other cases, it is the authority of the Scripture, which has never been proven false either in authorship or in content. So our friend's comment above is true in that "the ability to think critically and rationally is the greatest benefit a student can gain from an education". But it is the Christian worldview, and the Bible in particular, that encourages this approach to life and even provides the foundation for what we call "critical thinking" in our society and in the scientific method.

But, there is a bigger concern which is almost never addressed in these debates, the concern of the heart. It is more difficult to put into a rational argument but it is unavoidable if we want to be honest. Am I loved, do I deserve the love of others and is it worth loving others? God has answered this question not in arguments but in the Word made flesh, God with us, Emmanuel. What is buried beneath the foundation of the Universe? The love of God for us. Jesus' death on the cross demonstrates His desire for us to be with him, our value to Him and our purpose in and through Him. Without this foundation, we have nothing and are less than nothing. Praise be to Him who has loved us with an everlasting love, not because of who we are or what we might do, but because He has made us to be His own, the recipients of His love and grace. That is the only real source of JOY and it has very little to do with 'religion' and everything to do with Jesus!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Real value in Christian Education

What is Christian Education and why is it important? From much study and experience it seems that the real difference is the focus on character, the heart of the person, not just the brain or the thought processes. Character formation is integral to learning because a person of character is one that is prepared for life and finds real purpose in both learning and in serving others. As we prepare for life we need to see the big picture of what life is and how we fit in. We know that we have been created by God to be 'image bearers' (Genesis 1:26-27), this means we reflect the character of God; but sometimes we are able to reflect it more clearly than at other times. Rick Warren says:
God wants you to develop the kind of character described in the beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5:1-12), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), Paul’s great chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13), and Peter’s list of the characteristics of an effective and productive life (2 Peter 1:5-8).
But how can I develop this kind of character which is a real reflection of who God is and who He wants me to be? This is the essence of the Christian life and what God is constantly working toward through my walk with Him, through my relationships, through my family, through my church, through my daily circumstances, trials and learning experiences. This is preparing for life and living out my purpose! So the calling of the Christian school is to support both the family and the church in this process of understanding and applying Truth from a God-centered perspective!
Now, why doesn't public education develop this character in our children? First of all, this character is not the stated goal of public education. Character is simply outside the scope of an academic approach to life where people "learn to earn", although there are schools that attempt to address character without a biblical foundation. But more importantly, there are several conflicting issues in modern society which directly impact the public education environment: a disparity between religious belief and popular belief, a secular vs. sacred concept of life, relativistic morality, and the false assumption that some people have more value than others. These concepts can be summarized in the differences between a God-centered worldview and a self-centered worldview.
In the self-centered worldview, I am my own purpose. I exist as a product of the chance fusion of genes from my parents. My character is formed by my circumstances and how I react to those circumstances based on my predisposition and my attitude. My choices are determined by what I think is best for me. Doing the right thing means doing what is right for me or maybe benefiting someone else (usually someone I value). If I am religious, I may make some choices based on how God may or may not punish me as a result, but the focus is still on my own well-being.
In a God-centered worldview, I exist for God's purposes. I exist because God has planned for me to be born with certain genes in a certain place at a certain time. My character is formed because of the people that God puts in my life to teach and train me and I learn to recognize His hand in this process. Often my attitudes and actions do not reflect the character He desires, but I am learning to do this through the difficult things He brings my way. My choices are determined by what God says is best for me as I learn Truth from His Word and by His Spirit living in me. When I don't make correct choices, I need to deal with the natural consequences and trust Him to use everything for His glory.
So the Christian school, ideally, has an approach to life and learning which results in beautiful and purposeful connections in the following areas:
  1. God-centered education connects faith to life (God's law is central to all learning and to all decisions because I know He desires what is best in the long term.)
  2. God-centered education connects work to service and ministry (Work is a process of using what God has given me to bless and serve others, to care for His creation and to communicate a knowledge of Him.)
  3. God-centered education connects morality to absolutes (Right and wrong is not determined by the limited scope of what is right for me or my community but because God is Holy and God is Good.)
  4. God-centered education connects people to purpose (My life has purpose because I am part of His big plan. But, just as important, each individual around me has purpose too and our interactions need to communicate their God-given value!)
We can take a look at these connections in more detail later, because they are unique to the Christian school. But remember that we as parents and as teachers are an integral part of highlighting these connections in how we live and in how we teach. What a joy and privilege God has given us!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Called to Lead

There are many reasons to answer God's call. The first might be very clear to you if you think about the events of world history and then look around at our society today... We are the connection to the next generation of Christians! Every generation is responsible to reach the next generation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We know that Christianity has been a huge movement that has impacted billions with the blessings of modern society. Most of the advances in science, medicine, social work, music, education, government and many other areas of study are based on the premise that there is an absolute Truth and an order to our universe because of our Creator God. Even many of the most notable advances in these areas were made by people who understood this premise of Truth and acted out of Christian love. God has made our universe for a purpose and we have the capacity to discover the laws of nature and understand how things work - there is no randomness or purposeless activity in God's Creation. We also see that Christianity focuses on the dignity of human life, whether you are female, from another race, unborn, poor, sick, old or disabled, each person has value and potential for a meaningful and fulfilling life. Of course this has not always been practiced, but it is the reality of Biblical teaching and Jesus teaching, life and death in payment for our sin.
As Christianity spread through Europe, Europe became the center of faith and the base for spreading the Gospel to the rest of the world. America took its turn and now east Asia, even with countries dominated by Communism and religious persecution, is the center of the missionary movement. How can this be? Because the real Truth of the Gospel is a living hope and freedom that brings dignity and purpose to human life. God has shown His love to us in the giving of His Son in our place to restore an eternal relationship with those who previously rejected Him. (See Ephesians 2!)

So even though Europe had been the center of Christianity, it eventually became spiritually dead and did not teach grace or forgiveness but a social conformity to religious rules. So we see the result of that in modern society: knowledge without wisdom, good deeds without love, things without thankfulness, health without happiness, leaders without values, ethics without morality, social programs without sacrifice, relationship without commitment, even religion without Jesus!

But true Christianity does exist and it does not depend on us; it depends on the reality of God and His gift in Jesus Christ! God will use people to be a part of His plan to reach everyone but I must choose to be a part of it. I want to answer His call to live in such a way that others can understand His love and want a restored relationship with Him. We must become students of Christian leadership because there is a world we must lead to the foot of the cross of Jesus. (This comes from my post on another of my blogs: