Monthly Archives: August 2006

Men and Earrings

In my humble opinion, it’s fine for a man to wear an earring or get a tattoo. Though the Old Testament has some words for men that relate to their dress and body decoration, these principles are nowhere found in the New. The principle in the New is that we are free in the Spirit to decide for ourselves what is good, provided it accords with standards of modesty, decency, and so on.

There is a strong cultural reaction against tattoos and earrings, especially amongst fortysomethings. The emphasis this generation places on such expressions of personal decoration is that of rebellion. In the eyes of these folks, one is bound to a certain cultural code of propriety that is determined by highbrow society. Failure to meet this code signals rebellion. In the eyes of my generation, however, such decorations are expressions of individuality, and are neither right nor wrong. They simply are. If one chooses to have a tattoo, and so express oneself, fine. If one chooses not to, fine. Neither individual is rebelling. Both are simply expressing themselves.

This may sound scarily like postmodern thought, and perhaps it is. But I would argue that the area of aesthetics has received some helpful input from postmodernism, and that the church would do well to recognize that. Not that everything postmodernism signifies has been helpful–not by a long shot. But the open-mindedness of postmodernism, while deadly to religion, is actually helpful and welcome with bodily expression. I do not advocate that people should disregard cultural standards, though. Far be it from me to say that. I would merely say that there is room for personal expression within conformity to social standards. One should not buck the system altogether, for to do so is rebellious, but one may certainly live by one’s taste and not the personal nuances of others. To my generation, then, I would say this: broadly conform but personally tailor. That’s my starting point. I see in it not rebellion but expression, and that makes all the difference.

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Do You Judge Men Who Wear Earrings?

What’s your response?

This week, I want to examine the question of contextualization in evangelism. That’s a forty dollar term meaning simply, “outfitting oneself to match one’s evangelistic target group.” When you contextualize yourself in a certain setting, you adopt the non-sinful cultural habits of the group in order to connect with them. So a missionary to India might wear traditional Indian garb; an evangelist in Greenwich Village might grow stubble and wear Birkenstocks; a pastor in New Brunswick, Canada might buy some winter fishing gear. All these cultural adaptations signal an attempt to connect with the home culture.

Is this good or bad? Right or wrong? Join me this week as we think this one through.

For today, though, think about it: is it wrong for a Christian man to wear an earring?

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We’re All Clearing Jungle Here

To be human is to engage in a long, laborious process of discovery. I’ve just started my third year of seminary at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and I was struck by this simple truth today. It is the nature of humanity to have to struggle to learn. We don’t download truths and concepts into our minds. We must effectively force them in there. Doubt me? Just ask a Hebrew student. You’ll get the plain truth.

It didn’t have to be this way. It’s just the way it is. God made us, in a sense, dumb. Or to be more polite, it is as if he dropped us in the middle of a dense jungle and said, “Clear it.” From that point on, the process of learning and acquiring knowledge is one arduous trek through the jungle. Today we clear a patch; tomorrow we’ll clear more. The cycle goes on; the knowledge slowly builds; the hours quickly pass; and then our journey is over. So much work for so many days simply to clear a little spot. Here’s eight hours for ten verses of Hebrew. Here’s twenty hours to do required reading for a certain class. When it’s all over, hopefully we retain at least a small portion–hopefully the jungle doesn’t grow back too quickly. Through it all, we are strengthened, tested, and changed. It didn’t have to be this way. But it is a fruitful process nonetheless.

All this said, it does strike me that we humans, even at the peak of our intelligence, are quite dumb. Yes, I know I’ve dropped my politeness, but that’s the honest truth, I think. It takes so much effort to get so little idea into our brain. We labor and labor for the little we know. We are created with an entire world to find out and figure out, and our lives are one long quest to do so. The task is immense, and we are frail. This reality makes the nature of God quite awesome, if we just think about it. For God, there was no immense task. There was and is and will be pure knowledge, complete and entire for all eternity. That’s an awesome reality. No jungle to clear for the Sovereign. How kind that in heaven, this jungle-clearing is done away with, and our knowledge will be perfect. Until that day, onward. We’ve all got some more land to clear, and a Kingdom to bring in.

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We’re All Clearing Jungle Here

To be human is to engage in a long, laborious process of discovery. I’ve just started my third year of seminary at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and I was struck by this simple truth today. It is the nature of humanity to have to struggle to learn. We don’t download truths and concepts into our minds. We must effectively force them in there. Doubt me? Just ask a Hebrew student. You’ll get the plain truth.

It didn’t have to be this way. It’s just the way it is. God made us, in a sense, dumb. Or to be more polite, it is as if he dropped us in the middle of a dense jungle and said, “Clear it.” From that point on, the process of learning and acquiring knowledge is one arduous trek through the jungle. Today we clear a patch; tomorrow we’ll clear more. The cycle goes on; the knowledge slowly builds; the hours quickly pass; and then our journey is over. So much work for so many days simply to clear a little spot. Here’s eight hours for ten verses of Hebrew. Here’s twenty hours to do required reading for a certain class. When it’s all over, hopefully we retain at least a small portion–hopefully the jungle doesn’t grow back too quickly. Through it all, we are strengthened, tested, and changed. It didn’t have to be this way. But it is a fruitful process nonetheless.

All this said, it does strike me that we humans, even at the peak of our intelligence, are quite dumb. Yes, I know I’ve dropped my politeness, but that’s the honest truth, I think. It takes so much effort to get so little idea into our brain. We labor and labor for the little we know. We are created with an entire world to find out and figure out, and our lives are one long quest to do so. The task is immense, and we are frail. This reality makes the nature of God quite awesome, if we just think about it. For God, there was no immense task. There was and is and will be pure knowledge, complete and entire for all eternity. That’s an awesome reality. No jungle to clear for the Sovereign. How kind that in heaven, this jungle-clearing is done away with, and our knowledge will be perfect. Until that day, onward. We’ve all got some more land to clear, and a Kingdom to bring in.

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We’re All Clearing Jungle Here

To be human is to engage in a long, laborious process of discovery. I’ve just started my third year of seminary at Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY, and I was struck by this simple truth today. It is the nature of humanity to have to struggle to learn. We don’t download truths and concepts into our minds. We must effectively force them in there. Doubt me? Just ask a Hebrew student. You’ll get the plain truth.

It didn’t have to be this way. It’s just the way it is. God made us, in a sense, dumb. Or to be more polite, it is as if he dropped us in the middle of a dense jungle and said, “Clear it.” From that point on, the process of learning and acquiring knowledge is one arduous trek through the jungle. Today we clear a patch; tomorrow we’ll clear more. The cycle goes on; the knowledge slowly builds; the hours quickly pass; and then our journey is over. So much work for so many days simply to clear a little spot. Here’s eight hours for ten verses of Hebrew. Here’s twenty hours to do required reading for a certain class. When it’s all over, hopefully we retain at least a small portion–hopefully the jungle doesn’t grow back too quickly. Through it all, we are strengthened, tested, and changed. It didn’t have to be this way. But it is a fruitful process nonetheless.

All this said, it does strike me that we humans, even at the peak of our intelligence, are quite dumb. Yes, I know I’ve dropped my politeness, but that’s the honest truth, I think. It takes so much effort to get so little idea into our brain. We labor and labor for the little we know. We are created with an entire world to find out and figure out, and our lives are one long quest to do so. The task is immense, and we are frail. This reality makes the nature of God quite awesome, if we just think about it. For God, there was no immense task. There was and is and will be pure knowledge, complete and entire for all eternity. That’s an awesome reality. No jungle to clear for the Sovereign. How kind that in heaven, this jungle-clearing is done away with, and our knowledge will be perfect. Until that day, onward. We’ve all got some more land to clear, and a Kingdom to bring in.

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The Foundation For Dignity

It struck me in thinking about yesterday’s post that we should not be surprised by the shameful behavior of so-called “tolerateurs.” These folk claim to plant mighty trees of peace, but one finds a key question to ask in apprising the tree: where are its roots? Herein lies the reason behind the hateful behavior of those who claim peace above all else.

In the secularist vision of the world, there is no foundation for dignity. What do I mean by this? Well, secularists, like most of us, say that they want to treat all people the same, with respect and love and all that. But when you examine their beliefs, and ask them why they (and we, for that matter) should do so, they really have no answer at all. They will offer something like “it’s just right” and “that’s the way to live” and “all the great leaders of the world have pushed us to this end.” The last response begins to hint at a philosophical basis for dignity, but it is so loose as to give way at first probing. There really is no foundation for dignity in the secularist worldview. In fact, there is no foundation for anything, save nihilism, because there is nothing behind anything to guide humans. There is no revelation, no supreme deity, no Living Word to speak the decree to value all men as dignified beings. Where one searches for speech, one finds only silence.

Contrast this with the Christian view of humanity. We have a definite reason to treat others with dignity: our Lord has instructed to do so, having Himself made us in His precious and holy image. Now there’s a reason for dignity. Almighty God did and said so. Revelation lights the way. Informed with this truth, we Christians understand that we ought not to slander and defame and generally hate other beings, for they are created by God and invested with dignity. Thus, when someone makes a mistake, even someone with whom we have a world of philosophical and theological disagreement, we treat them with dignity, because they are beings made in the image of God, however flawed.

The world lacks this understanding. That is why it speaks tolerance out of one side of its mouth and spews venom out of the other. There are no roots to the tolerance tree; and so it is doomed to perish, or give way, when the earth rebels or the tide rises. Not so the Christian worldview. Ours is steadfast, rooted in a sure foundation, grounded on the unshakeable rock of revelation. There is a means to hope. There is a foundation for dignity.

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The Fruits of Tolerance Are Bitter

I attended secular schools until I was 23. During that time, I was exposed to the cardinal virtue of higher education in the late twentieth century: so-called “tolerance.” Broadly defined, this meant non-judgmental, non-prejudicial acceptance of all viewpoints as equally valid and personally meaningful. If those who advocated it had given it a metaphorical identity, tolerance would be a tree, producing fruit of the best and sweetest kind. Such promises have been made before.

A recent situation brought this to mind. Pastor Timothy LaBouf of the First Baptist Church of Watertown, NY, recently led the charge in dismissing a female Sunday School teacher for the reason that she was teaching men, a clear violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. The lady, a Mrs. Lambert, had taught the class as a volunteer for 54 years. This action -somehow- caught the attention of the national and global media, and prompted a scathing news segment from no less than CNN, whose reporter could barely deliver the news, so breathless was she from her skedaddle to the Church of the Stone Age. I found out the news today and checked out the church’s website by Googling it. Turns out the pastor has a blog on blogspot, and said blog has attracted incredible attention–89 comments post-news-story. Needless to say, the comments are scathing, malevolent, and just plain evil. People, it seems, breathe hatred for the Christian view of gender and church authority.

Take a look at the comments here. They are horrifying. Pastor LaBouf is called evil, a member of the Taliban, and a being desperately deserving of hell. From people who I am sure would profess to be open-minded and “tolerant,” he is excoriated. Honestly, check the comments out. They are frightening. I’ve never seen such vitriol directed at a Christian–and all from a very common stance on women’s roles.

We know this, but secular tolerance is no tolerance at all. It is a disguise for an anti-God, anti-Bible, anti-conservative program of hate and intolerance. The same people who will scream bloody murder when a derogatory remark is even hinted at by a Christian find no such derision available when a Christian does something they disagree with. Thus “tolerance” shows its true colors. Those who planted this tree promised peace and happiness. The fruit of this tree, though, has shown itself to produce anything but.

The fruits of tolerance are bitter indeed.

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Christians Doing the Arts: Creative

This ties in with an earlier post on excellence, but goes into new territory. One of the worst sins Christian artists commit in making their work is that of copy-catting. Christian record companies and film studios seem to take some sort of glee in making their products as close to secular influences as possible without the secular content. The end result is heartless art, art that is not its own but it is a poor knockoff of some truly innovative endeavor.

We have this backward. As those who believe in the Creator God, the one who created creativity, and embodied it in His work to create the heavens and the earth, we should approach our work with joyful expectancy, excited to see what artistic fiat we may bring to bear on our canvas, whatever it may be. There seems to be a notion in conservative Christianity that it is a bad thing to be creative, that all Christians do is memorize things and recite them back, preferably in a monotone. Where on earth have we gotten this idea? We need to respect the commands of God in reference to worship, and worship Him according to the clear decrees of His Word, but there is precious little in the Bible that would restrict us in the artistic realm. We know that we need to steer clear of sin and sinful creation, so we have that in mind, but there is obviously a great deal of freedom involved in making art. So far from being bound, we are loosed, loosed to fashion praise to the Creator and truth to the world.

I love hearing Christians who are artistically innovative, who are freed from the strictures of corporate policy and copy-catting, and who make original, interesting, sometimes bold music. Those who do so are modeling responsible art-making for the rest of us. Art should be a joyful enterprise. It is not grim; it is not pain-by-the-numbers; it is not off-limits. It is entirely our forum for expression, and God has graciously, kindly given us all kinds of freedom in which to fashion works that speak of truth and beauty. We are those who believe in an origin for our creativity, the Creator of all we see. I cannot help but believe that when we keep this in mind, we will indeed form works of joy, works of truth, that point to the author of these and all good things in the world.

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Christians Doing the Arts: Boldness

We don’t try to enter the room just to sit in the corner. That should be our philosophy as Christian artists. That is to say, we don’t involve ourselves in artistic culture, work to craft an excellent product, and then seek to speak our message only to ourselves and the tiny mass of people who already agree with us. We come into the room to speak with everyone.

This is a radically different philosophy than many Christians have today. Christian radio, for example, seems to consist largely of artists who are interested only in speaking their message to other Christians. Now, don’t jump on me for that one. Of course we need Christians to minister artistically to fellow believers. But you are hard pressed to find Christians making music to engage, challenge, and bless the culture. Most of us are content to sing the same songs to one another, pretending as we do so that there is not a great planetic (yes, I made it up, it’s my blog) mass of people who don’t know Jesus and are going to hell because of it. Christian art is never merely art; it is never merely message, either, but it is art with a purpose. When the vast majority of our talented musicians, for example, seek only to share with those who already have been shared with, the gospel stays bottled up and the culture remains unredeemed.

Far better to boldly take one’s music and message into cultural waters and see what happens. Do we expect great success? Well, it won’t surprise us if we meet with rejection. But one never knows. We simply do our art and leave the rest in the hands of the One who controls all publicity, press, exposure, and acceptance. That means we can make bold, true, and honest art. Now I’m not saying we just preach the gospel. I would advocate a more sensitive form of art-making, one that respects artistic conventions, and that aims both for potency and subtlety. I admit that it is difficult to achieve this balance, but who ever said that making beautiful works of truth was easy? It’s not supposed to be. When it comes to preaching, out with it–the whole counsel of God! But the arts are more subtle. Stories and songs and carvings and paintings are usually made more effective by the soft touch, not the strong hammer.

Do not understand me to say that Christians should not clearly preach the gospel–no! I’m not saying that. Preach the gospel. But don’t treat every cd like a Bible study set to music, or every piece of canvas as a future parable scene, or every movie as a redemption tale. Salt your work with the gospel, and speak boldly and completely unapologetically when you do. But encompass all of life in your work. Speak notes of sadness and triumph and regret and satisfaction. Paint real, vivid, truthful pictures of life that make all who engage your work say, “There is truth here. This is life as I know it. This is thoughtful art.” Our goal is to enter the room, and when we come in, to converse with others, and speak the words of Life to them, through whatever art form we love. In doing so, we should speak lovingly, carefully, and boldly, following the example of the One in whom all beauty and truth find their place.

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Christians Doing the Arts: Excellence

Wow. I wrote alot last night. Got on a tangent, I guess. Today’s post is shorter. Here’s the idea: Christians should make artistic works that reflect excellent craftwork. As the Lord fashioned a beautiful creation from nothing, so we take materials before us and make works of beauty.

Is anyone else tired of mediocrity in Christian artwork? I’m not talking only about music. I’m talking about paintings, movies, handcrafts, etc. We do things so poorly, and for no good reason. If we do a movie, it’s bound to be preachy and overwrought. If we do music, it’s bound to sound dated and exhibit little true songwriting ability. If we do artwork or handcrafts, it’s likely to be kitschy. Reason for the lack of good Christian artwork evade the intelligible mind. Think about this for a second. We are the people who claim to appreciate God, who is true beauty and excellence and perfection. We have been given the work of “salting and lighting” the world with our words and deeds. We have the power of the Holy Spirit in us and the promise of eternal rewards before us. Somehow, we take these factors, exert ourselves, and produce…mediocrity. How is this? How can this be?

I confess that I’m not sure why. I guess I could say that we Christians have long thought that art was good if it was true only. We gave no attention to whether it was beautiful or not. Truth is the main thing, but it is not a substitute for beauty. The two work together. The most beautiful work of art should be the most true, and the most true should be the most beautiful. God is the example of this for us. He is both absolute Truth and absolute Beauty. He is not simply philosophically right. And He is not simply radiantly wonderful. He is both at the same time, and we are the richer for it. Armed with this knowledge, we should make art that is both true and beautiful. Our songs should be written with excellence and composed with harmony. Our movies should be subtle, powerful, and engrossing. Our paintings and handcrafts should be solemn, reverential, and arresting. When our art is done in these ways, it will more fully witness to the reality of God and more fully reflect His glory. In turn, it will commend this God who is Truth and Beauty to a culture that knows neither in any meaningful way. The Lord has taken care and time to fashion us into creatures beautiful in His sight. How can we not do the same?

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