The Game of Christian Education

Martin Luther

Carl Trueman, in his lectures on the Reformation, points out that though Luther said in 1520 that liturgy should be in the vernacular, he didn’t make that change until 5 years later, in 1525.

Why wait 5 years before making a change Luther was convicted was necessary?

Trueman:

“People are disturbed enough by what’s going on. The game of Christian education is to get people to where they need to be. It is not to disturb them, it’s to draw them gently to where they need to be.”

Trueman says that for Luther, the pastor should:

“use the language with which people are familiar, but we fill it with new content, in a new context. If you like, we slowly but surely subvert them…

…You don’t go in and hammer people with the new jargon. What you do is use the language they’ve got, but you slowly and surely transform it into meaning what you want it to mean.”

Advertisements

The Benefits of Providence in The Hobbit

the hobbit

At the insistent urging of my wife (who loves all of Tolkien’s books) and wanting to read the book before I saw the movie, I finally read The Hobbit this December. It was, of course, great.

Reaching the end, I was struck with the book’s final lines:

“‘Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!’ said Bilbo.

‘Of course!’ said Gandalf. ‘And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’

‘Thank goodness!’ said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar.

Besides being a fitting and sublime ending, the passage is a terrific illustration of the Christian doctrine of providence.

The doctrine of providence is the doctrine that God is the sovereign ruler over all of earth and all of history. He guides history and His plans for it are ultimate and unstoppable. There is plenty more you could say about this, but I think that’s a true, if brief, definition. It is this doctrine that The Hobbit as a whole, and the ending in particular, brings to life. Here are fulfilled prophecies, adventures and escapes that are not the result of “mere luck”, and the reality of a greater purpose at work in the world: providence at work in middle earth.

But what struck me most was the picture of the healthy balance in an individual life resulting from believing in providence.

Notice: the individual is very important!  The greater purpose at work in the world does not happen apart from human beings (or hobbits), but through them. Though God’s purposes are certain – so certain that He alone can speak truly about what the future holds – He accomplishes these purposes using us. He makes His plans and then He gives us a role “in bringing them about”. And so our adventures and our escapes are not the result of coincidence or dumb luck, but are the result of the work of God Himself on our behalf, as He gives us a role in the world’s great story. What significance! Meditate on this for long and we’ll be in awe like David: “What is man that You should make so much of him?

Yet notice also: the individual is really rather small and unimportant! Come now, Gandalf says to Bilbo – you don’t really believe it was your own goodness of character, cunning, and skill that caused all your accomplishments? And you don’t really believe that all your successes were really “just for your sole benefit?” I mean, who do you think you are? “You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!’

The reader, after journeying with Bilbo through many adventures, there and back again, comes to the end only to see in these final lines the thread of providence that ran through the whole story. The thread is illuminated, and the doctrine springs to life. And whether or not you believe it is true, don’t you see the beauty of the doctrine? Don’t you see the healthy balance that comes from it?

On the one hand, your actions really matter as part of a bigger plan, and you are a subject of the attentive care of God Himself.

But on the other: you really shouldn’t get that big of a head about it, shouldn’t be triumphalistic, and shouldn’t walk around with the weight of the world on your shoulders.

You don’t really think the ultimate outcome for this wide world depends on you, do you?

the changing of large social phenomena

Mary Eberstadt, author of “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution”, interviewed in The City:

“whenever you start saying something is inevitable, some series of facts are going to come along and clobber you. If you think about all the predictions of inevitability: Marxism, communism, claiming that they have inevitable victory on its side. That didn’t work. Think of things in your own lifetime that seemed inevitable.

When I was a kid it seemed inevitable that almost all adults would smoke and smoke a lot. That changed. That changed drastically. What I’m saying is that, when you have large social phenomena you can’t ever take for granted the idea that they are there to stay, for better or for worse. And my point about the sexual revolution is that it hasn’t been looked at that way yet, but the empirical record is such that it is high time that it get looked at that way – that is, get looked at as something that does not necessarily govern the world of 100 years from now the way it governs our world.”

The spiritual origin of worldly action

Rodney Stark, in his book Cities of God:

the Christianization of the [Roman] empire was not the result of ‘reactions to public calamity,’ but to religious influences per se. That is, religion did not merely offer psychological antidotes for the misery of life; it actually made life less miserable!

…The truly revolutionary aspect of Christianity lay in moral imperatives such as ‘Love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ and ‘When you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.’ These were not just slogans. Members did nurse the sick, even during epidemics; they did support orphans, widows, the elderly, and the poor; they did concern themselves with the lot of slaves. In short, Christians created ‘a miniature welfare state in an empire which for the most part lacked social services.’

It was these responses to the long-standing misery of life in antiquity, not the onset of worse conditions, that were the ‘material’ changes that inspired Christian growth. But these material benefits were entirely spiritual in origin.

You might have led

Currently reading A.J. Langguth’s Revolutionary War history, Patriots. It’s excellent – fast-paced, full of memorable character sketches, and considering the time span it covers, quite clear in laying out the causes and context of the events.

Langguth writes memorably about Colonel William Prescott, one of the heroes of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Prescott was clearly a bold and courageous man. He led the troops that dug in on top of Breed’s Hill (mistakenly called Bunker Hill and so inshrined in our history as such), and though he lost that battle, inflicted terrible losses on the British forces, who outnumbered the Americans more than 2 to 1. Langguth writes that prior to the battle, the British General Gage was examining with a looking glass the American preparations on top of the hill. He noticed a figure on top who seemed to be in command, and handed the glass to his aide to see if he could identify the man. The aide could; it was his brother in law, William Prescott.

“Will he fight?” Gage asked.

“I cannot answer for his men,” the aide responded, “but Prescott will fight you to the gates of hell.”

Prescott believed he could have won the battle that day if he had received the support of other American officers, who had either fled from the scene or refused to rally to his side. One such officer was General Israel Putnam, whose regiment was only about 600 yards away and yet who never joined the battle.

Following Prescott’s retreat, he confronted Putnam. “Why did you not support me, General, with your men?”

Putnam responded, “I could not drive the dogs up.”

Prescott would have none of it. “If you could not drive them up,” he said, “you might have led them up.”

Rising in humble confidence

 

James Edwards, in his excellent Pillar commentary on the Gospel of Mark, writing on Mark 4:26 – 34:

The faith that Jesus requires of disciples is to sleep and rise in humble confidence that God has invaded this troubled world not with a crusade, but with a seed, an imperceptible “fifth column” that will grow into a faithful harvest.

He quotes Helmut Thielicke (pictured above):

One day, perhaps, when we look back from God’s throne on the last day we shall say with amazement and surprise, ‘If I had ever dreamed when I stood at the graves of my loved ones and everything seemed to be ended; if I had ever dreamed when I saw the specter of atomic war creeping upon us; if I had ever dreamed when I faced the meaningless fate of an endless imprisonment or a malignant disease; if I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through all these woes, that in the midst of my cares and troubles and despair HIS harvest was ripening, and that everything was pressing on toward his last kingly day – if I had known this I would have been more calm and confident; yes, then I would have been more cheerful and far more tranquil and composed.