Monthly Archives: November 2007

The Week-est Link, Nov. 30: The Greatest Band You Know Nothing About

1. As has been happening, there is only one link this week. It is to my new favorite band: Explosions in the Sky. For those who have not heard of EitS, it is a rock band with some very significant twists: 1) it does not have a singer (ever), 2) it plays a style that could best be described “cinematic rock,” and 3) it makes some of the most thoughtful, beautiful music you will ever hear. I’m not a big rock guy, so that last statement represents me going toward the end of a limb.

Here are some great videos to watch (sound quality not great, but will give you a taste):

If you don’t like rock, or you’re not really much into contemporary music, don’t write me off from the start. EitS plays long, melodic, haunting, intro-build-climax-soften-build again-peak again kind of music. The band dresses and talks like a normal hip rock group, but their music is nothing like much of the “radio rock” that you hear. It is music that asks the great questions of life, that probes the deepest, darkest areas of life. I get the impression that many people listen to this band expecting some kind of mindless punk/thrash music. What they get instead is a look into the higher things, the things most do not speak of, the things of the soul.

If I could have one group write the soundtrack music for my life (there is no danger of that happening, don’t worry), this would be the group. Music is a funny thing for many people. Many of us (myself included) confine ourselves to our narrow little interest group and never discover the beauties of common grace that are all around us. Well, I encourage you to discover Explosions in the Sky–innovative, unusual, haunting, beautiful.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Message of James: The Commentaries to Buy

One more day on James stuff, but this day doesn’t deal with the text. At least not directly. I want to suggest a few commentaries that preachers, seminarians, or interested laypeople should take note of and, in my opinion, consider buying as an investment in their biblical study.

Here are four.

  • Moo, Douglas. The Letter of James. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
  • Hartin, Patrick. James. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2003.
  • Laws, Sophie. Epistle of James. Black’s New Testament commentaries. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993.
  • Davids, Peter. James. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Let me attempt to shed some light on these commentaries. If you’re buying only one, I recommend Doug Moo’s. It is the most solidly evangelical and faithful to a conservative hermeneutic. Moo references the Greek text but in a way that non-Greek readers could follow with profit. He is a keen exegete and possesses a good idea for thematic composition. Patrick Hartin is a Catholic scholar. His inclusion on my list might surprise you, but he is a very sound interpreter of the Bible. If you can dismiss some of the liberal trappings of his work, then you will benefit from his surprisingly straightforward interpretation of the text. He interacts nicely with the Greek, so if that’s your bag, you’ll benefit. Sophie Laws I know very little about, but I found her commentary insightful. She was one of the few I read who picked up a theme similar to mine. Peter Davids is also basically unknown to me, though his work is critical and helpful. Together, these four commentaries would provide the preacher of James with a very solid base from which to cull insights and weigh ideas.

As I noted above, if you’re buying only one, buy Moo’s; if you’re buying two, get Hartin’s. Ralph Martin also has a solid commentary. There you go–that’s a start toward figuring out this fun and potent little letter.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Argument of James: Uncovering and Recovering the Double-Minded Man, Pt. 2

Here’s the conclusion of this series. I’m not switching to extra-long posts, though I am attempting to make the case that the letter of James is fundamentally about uncovering and recovering the double-minded man. Congrats to Al, who read the previous piece all the way through. If someone else out there did as well, feel free to leave me a comment–what do you think of this thesis? Oh, and if you read nothing else, read the conclusion.

3:14-16 The Double-Minded Man Is Externally Godly But Inwardly Corrupt

In this passage, James implicitly indicts the double-minded man by claiming that he is “false to the truth.” In order to be false to the truth, one must claim to be of the truth, and thus the double-minded man claims to be of the truth. In practice, though, his life is motivated by bitter, prideful, self-interest.[1] Though he is called to be humble and gracious to others, and to put them first, he is primarily and dominantly self-interested. The result is “disorder.”[2] Martin contends that “This characterization points to persons who are “double-minded” and double-tongued. The result is “anarchy.”[3] When members of the Christian community put themselves first while remaining in it, they will create disorder, as their motives will clash with the motives of true Christians, and cause the church to be at cross-purposes. Thus we see that James highlights the destructive nature of double-mindedness. As noted above, this way of life does not merely affect the soul of the one who adopts it. It affects the entire community and poisons true ekklesia. The true Christian is the one who operates out of care for others and creates harmony and love; the divided man operates out of care for self and creates disharmony and hurt.

4:4 The Double-Minded Man Is a Friend of the World and an Enemy of God

Previous to this verse, James has sketched out a problem in the churches to which he writes: they are quarrelsome and self-interested. In living this selfish lifestyle, James says here that they have entered into “friendship with the world.” James is not teaching that these people have entered into actual friendships with lost people—though they may have done so—but is teaching that their principles are so worldly as to bring these double-minded people into close relationship with the spiritual realm of unbelief. This makes these people “adulteresses,” which implies that they do claim allegiance with God.[4] Dibelius points out the nature of this inconsistency, writing simply that “Love for God and love for the world are mutually exclusive.”[5] Rhoads concurs: “If God’s people become stained by the world and then are boastful and arrogant about it, they are confirmed an enemy of God.”[6] These commentators capture the increasingly sharp tone of James’s rhetoric. The double-minded are not merely doubters—they are God’s very enemies. God loves the true Christian, who lives for others and brings peace, not division, to the body. But He despises the double-minded man, the one whose love for the world and love for self so overwhelms his professed faith commitment that, in the end, his faith is not merely empty but is actually love masquerading as hate.[7]

5:12 The Double-Minded Man Speaks Duplicitously

In 5:12 James picks up a previous theme related to the double-minded man, namely, that this person possesses a word, meaning a way of speaking, that does not necessarily correlate with the truth. To put it simply, the divided man often says nai, “yes,” when he means ou’, “no.” He is of two minds, after all, and thus his speech reflects two minds. He has some measure of devotion to things of God, and some measure of devotion to things of the world. This dichotomous mindset results in speech that is anything but clear and trustworthy. We may infer here from previous texts that the bipolar nature of the divided man’s speech is likely due to a strong impulse toward self-perpetuation. To put it plainly, the double-minded cares for himself, and thus says whatever is most helpful for him at any given moment and in any given situation. In a contemporary culture that almost prides itself on being duplicitous (see the celebration of the “little white lie,” for example), the power of this verse may initially be diminished. But this is a high-voltage passage. The one who speaks duplicitously will “fall under condemnation,” following C. Freeman Sleeper’s translation.[8] The divided person will suffer a great price—the greatest price—for his duplicity.[9] Those who say yes when they mean no, and vice versa, will be damned for all eternity because of their sin.[10] One’s speech is no small matter. Indeed, it reveals the deepest issues of the heart. The true Christian says what he means, and intends to bless those around him by clear, trustworthy communication. The divided man says whatever serves him best, and will meet a fearsome end.

4:8 and 5:19-20 The Salvation of the Double-Minded Man

In these last two passages, James offers hope for the double-minded. In 4:8 he refers explicitly to these people and calls them to salvation—“purify your hearts.” This text represents James’s direct address to the double-minded of the congregation to be saved. This is a direct appeal to the people whom James has addressed repeatedly in this book. In 5:19-20, James does not use the term dipsuchos but is, one could argue, concluding his book by calling not to the double-minded themselves but to their peers to rescue the lost in their churches. James in effect calls the Christians among his hearers to evangelize those in their community who give evidence of double-mindedness. Luke Timothy Johnson captures this reality when he writes that the Christians who encounter James’s message “are to be a community of mutual correction, turning those who err back to the right path (5:19-20), in effect doing for each other what James in his letter has tried to do for them.”[11]
It is the present author’s contention that this understanding of 5:19-20 makes much better sense of this passage than does a reading of the text that is not driven by the supposition that James’s letter is addressed to the divided person. If the letter of James is indeed driven by James’s concern for the double-minded man, then this closing passage caps off his discussion perfectly. He has excoriated the sin of the man of the two minds, he has warned him, he has told him directly that he is hell-bound, and now he calls for his congregational peers to evangelize and save them. This understanding of 5:19-20 fits perfectly with the text’s language. The divided man, we have already established, has some connection to truth. He even believes himself to be a Christian. However, he is clearly one who “wanders from the truth.” This is the very definition of the spiritual state of the double-minded man.[12] He stands near the truth, but he wanders from it.[13] As a result, he is altogether lost. The man of two minds is, in the end, a man of one mind.[14] Tragically, this mind is devoted to sin and self, and will reap the awful results of this devotion for all eternity.

Conclusion

The book of James is a misunderstood text. The majority of commentators miss its true focus, instead construing the thematic principle of the text in the most basic of terms. Failing to see the common threads of the argument introduced in 1:6-8, they conclude that the book is a basic call to obedience. It is the contention of this author that James is not a book without a theme, or a book merely about one of the most basic themes of the Christian faith—the need for obedience to God and love for Christians. No, the book of James puts forth a much more significant argument than this. It is a book with a powerful, textured, multi-faceted message to the double-minded person who professes faith in Christ. In his letter, James seeks to uncover the true spiritual condition of this man, and he seeks to recover him, to see him saved. This is the message of James, and this must be the message of our churches, as we call both the pagan and the nominal Christian to find salvation in the gospel of Christ, the truth the triumphs over all foes and that brings rest and unity to divided minds.

Footnotes (for the truly dedicated)

[1] Manton summarizes the passage helpfully: “James proves that such devilish wisdom as serves envy and selfish ambition cannot be good wisdom, for it brings about quite contrary effects—the one for holiness and meekness, the other for confusion and profanity.” Manton, James, 208.

[2] Timothy and Barbara Friberg offers three different types of disorder which this word can signify: political unrest, social unrest, and community disruption. Friberg, The Analytical Greek New Testament, Version Two [CD-ROM] (Cedar Rapids, IA: Parsons Technology, 1998), 862. The third seems the most appropriate definition in this context.

[3] Martin, James, 132. Also Moo, The Letter of James, 174.

[4] Barclay Newman defines the word as “unfaithful,” underscoring the relational nature of this adjective. Newman, A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament [CD-ROM] (New York: United Bible Societies, 1993), entry 4080.

[5] Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, 220.

[6] Rhoads, “The Letter of James: Friend of God,” 483.

[7] J. W. Roberts captures this point when he opines that “A pleasure-loving, covetous, worldly Christian is a contradiction. Demas was in love with this present world and left Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).” Roberts, The Letter of James (Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Company), 128.

[8] C. Freeman Sleeper, James, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), 139.

[9] Past commentators have focused too much in their interpretation of this passage on the meaning of the oaths that are sworn. James may well have a formal oath in mind here, but this is not the most important aspect of this passage. The most important facet is the fact that this verse speaks to the behavior of the man of two minds.

[10] Hartin, James, 262.

[11] Luke Timothy Johnson, “An Introduction to the Letter of James,” Review & Expositor 97.2 (2000): 165.

[12] Davids, James, 167.

[13] Moo thoughtfully notes that “to allow “the world” to entice us away from total, single-minded allegiance to God is to become people who are divided in loyalties, “double-minded” and spiritually unstable.” Moo, The Letter of James,194.

[14] Mayor, The Epistle of St. James, 146.

11 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Argument of James: Uncovering and Recovering the Double-Minded Man, Pt. 1

Since I posted on my James paper this week, I’ve had so many emails come in requesting the paper that I decided to post the textual part of it on this blog so that all can read it. Note that the following texts reflect the key theme of James, being the uncovering and recovering of the double-minded man, and that this is in no way an exhaustive summary of relevant texts but is merely a quick walkthrough of several key passages that relate to the suggested theme. Part 2 will be posted on Monday.

1:6-8 Portrait of the Double-Minded Man

In this section James introduces the concept of the double-minded man. In arguing that this passage forms the thematic basis for all that follows, we note that James apparently coined the Greek term dipsuchos (“double-minded man”).[1] His original thesis thus rests on an original term.[2] The fundamental characteristic of the double-minded man is that he is has his mind focused on two completely opposite realms. On one hand, he has some measure of faith in God and thus wishes to ask Him for things. On the other, he struggles with severe doubt of God and likely trusts himself more than a god who seems not to answer him. The result of this dichotomous thinking is that the double-minded man is “unstable,” in everything that he does.[3] In the passages to come, we will see that this introductory portrait does indeed describe the person James is targeting, as he is fundamentally characterized by a lifestyle that exists in tension between God-driven obedience and self-centered disobedience.

1:22-24 The Double-Minded Man Hears But Does Not Do

One of James’s central concerns is that his hearers would not only physically hear the word but that they would translate it into action. Not surprisingly, the double-minded man is the very antithesis of such desired behavior. The man of two interests is likened here to one who cannot focus long enough to even remember what he looks like. James’s tone here is clearly negative, and he views such mental flightiness with disdain. His focus here is on the immediacy of the double-minded man’s forgetfulness. He focuses on this immediacy by using the aorist tense first and then following it with a perfect tense, which according to Alexander Ross reveals both “the suddenness of the action and the permanence of the result.”[4] James’s frustration is built on past experience. The first and third aorists are both gnomic and thus convey not a one-time event but a timeless truth.[5] This condition of double-mindedness, characterized here by forgetfulness of the preached word, is no passing trend but has been a problem since faith was required of man.[6] The true Christian hears and does; the divided man hears and forgets.

1:26 The Double-Minded Man Is Religious But Not Godly

James returns again to the divided man in 1:26. Here he examines personal spiritual division through the standpoint of the tongue. James’s denunciations of the divided man grow increasingly specific as the letter progresses. The problem with such a person here is that he professes to be a godly person but takes no practical action toward that end. The end result is that he tricks himself. We should thus understand the divided man to be unconscious of his dangerous state. James teaches us that the man of two minds thinks that all is well and that he is religious. What he cannot see, though, is that his faith, his religion, is “worthless.”[7] Laws notes that this “adjective [was] often applied to pagan religion…which may give an extra pejorative thrust to James’s condemnation.”[8] Not only is the divided man’s “faith” nonexistent, it is inherently ungodly, and no better than pagan belief. If this is true, this is a strong condemnation indeed of the divided person, who fancies himself a Christian but is in reality a godless pagan.[9] It is as if God-glorifying religion had never entered his mind. Thus we see that the true Christian bridles his tongue and lives for God, while the double-minded man speaks freely and lives in deception.[10]

2:1-4 The Double-Minded Man Claims Impartiality But is Biased

This is a bone-chilling section, if one reads it carefully and from the standpoint that James’s burden is to expose the double-minded man in the midst of a congregation of true believers. We say this because the double-minded man does not merely affect himself for ill, but he spreads his poison among the church members. Here, James points out this dimension of double-mindedness in relation to partiality. James implicitly teaches that the true believer is impartial and peace-oriented in the congregation, while the divided man is partial and conflict-ridden. The divided man here is not explicitly spoken of, of course, but he is pictured through this disturbing scene. The facet of double-mindedness that James is pointing out is that it professes to hold faith in the barrier-shattering faith of Christ, but that it actually operates according to worldly standards of wealth and power. James says to the divided persons that they are “judging” and are controlled by “evil thoughts.” Hartin observes that diekrithete “refers to being divided within oneself and also “contains the concept of actively making distinctions among people and discriminating against others.”[11] The double-minded man, then, is one who, despite being a part of a community that exalts impartiality and embraces all, actively promotes discrimination in the church.[12] The true Christian acts in the same kind way towards all men; the divided man treats the rich with kindness and the poor with contempt.

2:14-17 The Double-Minded Man Claims Faith But Has No Works

The double-minded man is discussed in this section, though he is not named. Again, it is the present author’s contention that James has the divided man constantly in the front of his mind as he writes this letter, and thus there are numerous sections that illustrate spiritual division even if they do not make use of the term dipsuchos. Here double-mindedness shows itself in a faith that is alone and that has no works to buttress and prove it. The test is not impartiality, though it is related to it, but generosity. The double-minded man says that he loves those he claims as brothers and sisters, but when it comes time to demonstrate that generosity, his faith shows itself to be “by itself.”[13] Mayor concurs and notes that the “absence of fruit shows that it is not merely outwardly inoperative but inwardly dead.”[14] This is the correct meaning of this phrase—it is not that James is in fact suggesting that compartmentalization of faith and works is possible, but rather that faith without works is no faith at all.[15] This is the state of the divided man. The true Christian both believes and acts generously toward others based on his belief; the double-minded man produces no practical evidence for his faith, even while surrounded—and even approached—by the needy.

3:8-9 The Double-Minded Man Blesses God But Curses Man

James offers his strongest attack on the double-minded man in these two terse verses. The dipsuchos is not mentioned, but his fundamental mindset is described. Possessing a tongue that, like his heart, is not truly redeemed, he simultaneously blesses God and curses man. This is not the mild problem we might initially think it to be in a quick skim of chapter three. Unlike our irreverent society, in which even many Christians take the Lord’s name in vain, in the Christian community of James’s day, blessing God was a serious matter indeed. Hartin notes that “To bless and praise God is the most important prayer one can make in the Jewish and Christian traditions,” and it is also quite possible that James is referring to an actual liturgical blessing of God in the synagogue.[16] If so, this blessing would have been a public declaration, an act that would have made a private cursing of fellow men all the worse by its hypocritical nature. The double-minded man of James’s conception is not only forgetful, partial, and greedy, but he is deeply hypocritical. A major test as to whether one is double-minded, then, is whether one is publicly godly—all smiles and amens on Sunday morning—and privately wicked, such that one curses one’s fellow man and savages those whom he does not like. The true Christian blesses both God and man, not only in word but in motive; the double-minded man blessed God and curses man, and shows the true nature of his heart.

Footnotes

[1] Joseph Thayer rightly indicates that the word has a different meaning here—“wavering”—than in 4:8, where it means “of two minds.” Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament [CD-ROM] (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997), entry 1450.

[2] Though Marie Isaacs helpfully points out that James’s concept of double-mindedness “echoes Jewish tradition in which “doubleness” was thought to be the very essence of sin.” Isaacs, “Suffering in the Lives of Christians: James 1:2-19A,” Review & Expositor 97.2 (2000): 187. See also Peter Davids, James, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 74. Virgil Porter, Jr. points out the connection to Christ’s teaching: “This concept of double-mindedness relates directly to Jesus’ words about being divided between two masters (Matt. 6:24).” Virgil Porter, Jr., “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162.647 (2005): 360. Thus we see that there is a rich background to this initial concept and statement by James.

[3] Moo nicely summarizes the point being made in this section: “It is what we might call “spiritual schizophrenia” that James criticizes in these verses explicitly and implicitly throughout his letter: a basic division in the soul that leads to thinking, speaking, and acting that contradicts one’s claim to belong to God.” The Letter of James, 63.

[4] Ross, The Epistles of James and John, 40.

[5] Following Hartin, James, 99 and Dibelius, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, 115.

[6] Thomas Manton pointed out long ago that “Many go from sermon to sermon and hear much, but do not digest it in their thoughts.” Manton, James, The Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1995), 98. This is clearly true of the divided man.

[7] Or “futile.” J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, (United Bible Societies [CD-ROM] 2003), entry 4124, 65.37.

[8] Laws, Epistle of James, 88.

[9] Davids gets to the heart of the matter when he notes that “Religion which does not have ethical results, particularly in this case control of the tongue, is totally useless before God: such faith is God, not salvific, as James will say later (2:20, 26).” Davids, James, 102. See also Virgil Porter, Jr., “The Sermon on the Mount in the Book of James, Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 162.648 (2005): 480.

[10] Hartin, James,110.

[11] Hartin, James,118.

[12] Martin concludes along similar lines. “It may well be that James is tracing the sinful behavior described in vv 2-3 back to its source, namely a divided mind. The double-minded (1:8; 4:8) Christian is the one who fails to love and obey God wholeheartedly.” Martin, James, 63.

[13] Davids, 122.

[14] Mayor, James, 99, and Doerksen, who says sternly that “A compassion that consists only of words is sheer mockery.” Doerksen, James, 66.

[15] Stulac, James,109. Addison Eastman puts this problem eloquently: “in the matter of faith and works, as in the traditional marriage ceremony, we need the reminder, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Eastman, A Handful of Pearls: The Epistle of James (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 54-5.

[16] Hartin, James, 179.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Developing a Social Conscience, and How World Magazine Can Help

Do you care about the world? Honestly?

I can truthfully say that I personally do not care about people around the globe. I naturally care about my own country, about people who look and talk like me, and that I do not naturally have a great concern for others in foreign lands.

This is a problem. It is a problem, for example, that when I get a newspaper, I am far more drawn to the sports or arts section than I am the world section. This is not good. I am a quintessential American in this regard. I have a strong appetite for entertainment, for things that, in the end, really don’t matter, while I have a very weak appetite for global events, for pain and suffering and genocide and famine, that in the end matter very much.

If you are like me, I would encourage you to subscribe to World magazine. World is an evangelical answer to Time or Newsweek that approaches world events from an evangelical (actually, reformed) perspective. It has a decidedly global focus, but this focus is, as I just noted, from a Christian worldview, and thus the magazine seeks not simply to report news, but to inform Christians on how to think and pray about them. In the most recent issue, for example, there is considerable coverage on the Darfur genocide. Reading this coverage helped me to know how to pray for the region. This is invaluable. It is so very easy to hear about Darfur for a flickering moment on tv or the web and then completely forget it. But thousands–millions–have been killed in this region, and we Christians need to pray and to give to reputable organizations to fight evil and advance the gospel.

If you are like me, then you struggle to care about what really matters. The first step to solving this problem is to square with it, to admit that you don’t really care about world events. The second step is to repent before God, and the third step is to take action. A key part of that third step can be subscribing to an evangelical magazine that is well-written, well-researched, and gospel- and mission-oriented. World is 50 bucks for a year, which comes out to a dollar to a week, which is a very small price to pay to be informed on how to pray for the world. Subscribe to World (they’re not paying me to say this–in fact, they don’t even know I exist), and join me in seeking to develop a conscience for the world and for the billions of people who suffer in darkness each day.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Just How Basic Is the Textual Theme of James?

These are serious time for your friendly neighborhood seminary students. We’re in “reading week,” and next week is finals week. I have just written my last seminary paper, and let me tell you, it feels incredible. Fellow seminarians, if you’re wondering if finishing seminary really is all cracked up to be, consider this a news flash from me to you: it is. Riotous celebrating aside, here is an excerpt from my last seminary paper, an exegetical and theological look at the theme of James. My thesis is, to my knowledge, somewhat original, and I think that the paper is an interesting read. Email me at owendstrachan [at] yahoo.com if you want to read the whole thing.

“The book of James has long presented a battleground on which scholars have fought to determine what exactly the book means and whether James has a coherent message. Recent interpretation by scholars proves particularly interesting. Speaking generally, one finds that it breaks down into three schools: one group says that James has no message, another group emphasizes that James has a message, but that it is very basic and obedience-oriented, and a third argues that the letter deals with the rather focused theme of double-mindedness.

Though the first two schools have spoken loudly and have been received broadly, it is the purpose of this paper to argue that the book of James is written according to a clear, textured argument. James reveals that the community to whom he writes is filled with double-minded people who profess faith but fail to practice it consistently. His purpose in writing, then, is to expose this double-mindedness through numerous examples and illustrations and then to call for the salvation of these people, whose professed faith ultimately ends up being no faith at all.

This argument is based in the idea that James’s chief protagonist in this book is the dipsuchos, “double-minded man,” as introduced in 1:6-8. Of course, James is writing to this troubled soul even as he addresses the believing church body. He directly addresses the divided person but does so in the midst of a letter that is directed to true believers. James is thus seeking the salvation of some in the church who claim to possess a living faith but who in actuality possess a dead faith. The body of James’s letter includes the majority of this content, and his calls to salvation in 4:8 and especially 5:19-20 offer a fitting conclusion to the letter. Despite the fact that the body of the letter is less structured, and thus cannot be neatly grouped by theme, common themes of identity, action, and speech will emerge, revealing the double-minded man to be one who honestly thinks he is a Christian, but who in thought, word, and deed acts for himself and lives like the world, ultimately showing his profession to be just that: a mere profession, one that carries with it a sentence of eternal death.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Week-est Link, Nov. 16: Remembering Summer Camp

1. There is only one link this week, and it is to Disney chief Michael Eisner’s memoir Camp. Eisner has been a controversial figure in the recent past, and I have little to no knowledge about his controversies and thus can say little about his personal character. What I can say, though, is that his remembrance of his summer camp experiences at Camp Keewaydin in Vermont connected with me on a profound and moving level. If you have been to summer camp and were impacted by it, you will be stirred by Camp to remember your own experiences. The book is entirely clean, elegantly written, and in the end, quite moving. I recommend it, and you can find it on Amazon for very cheap.

Eisner’s experiences at Keewaydin were shaped primarily by the camp director, a man called “Waboos” at camp, who cast a large shadow over the camp. Waboos oversaw every facet of camp life and personally invested in seemingly every child and counselor who came his way. The end result was a camp experience that markedly shaped those who had it, and that caused generations of families to go to Vermont each summer for a four-week stint. This resonates with my own experience and has prompted me to want to share my reminisces of summer camp (perhaps you’ll do the same in the comments?). I went to a small Child Evangelism Fellowship camp in Maine called Camp Good News for the whole of my later childhood years. CGN was a Christian camp, and I was profoundly changed by the experience. I adored CGN and, from the time I was nine years old until the time I was twenty-one, missed only one summer, for reasons I cannot recall.

Like Keewaydin, CGN was run by a camp director, Mr. John Romano, who was the lifeblood of the camp. Mr. Romano was an Italian-American pastor from southern Maine, and he was a giant of a man. It’s not that that he was tall (though he was, and is, a little thick). No, he was a moral presence, one of the old male guard who could pierce you with his eyes, make you sit up straighter just by entering the room, and cause you to lose all semblance of vocabulary if you acted stupidly. Yet he rarely showed this side, because he rarely had to. Children–and adults–revered Mr. Romano, and I was one of them. In a world of nasty peers and vivid disappointments, Mr. Romano was a man of rock, a good man, one by whom you could set your compass. He taught us kids to love God and to obey Him, he led the camp in the weekly game of Capture-the-Flag, he knew all our names, he impacted all of our lives.

Camp was a blurry rush of activity back then. It was a setting out of the 1950s, a purer era, a kinder era, one not dominated by media and bad attitudes. The ladies who worked on the camp staff always dressed nicely and always exuded dignity and composure. They were the type who would cause even worldly children to watch their language. Miss Melanie and Miss Vernell–they were the mainstays. They taught the Bible lessons and led the singing and the nightly Quiz-Down–an event invested with great solemnity at which quizzing on the daily Bible lesson took place. As I’ve said, they were women from a different time, and we all respected them and sought to please them, even if we feared them, just a little.

When we weren’t shuttling around the campus–a rustic mix of cabins, concrete buildings, forest and fields–we were resting, or cleaning. Mr. Romano ran a tight ship, and he wished to teach children not only to be godly but to be orderly and responsible. The campers–usually 40 boys and 40 girls, each grouped into six “tribes” led by college students and adults, called either “Aunt” or “Uncle” (I was “Uncle Owen,” which I never really got used to)–had daily chores and daily rest times. At rest hour and at night someone from the staff crept around the boys’ and girls’ cabins and listened carefully to see which cabins were quiet and which were restless. All the tribes, you see, were engaged in a competition by gender–boys were trying to earn points by their decorum, cleanliness and completion of certain projects, and the girls were doing the same. I can still remember the excitement of being in a cabin that was in the race for “honor cabin.” It was thrilling, and we took it seriously, with an earnestness alien to a fallen world.

I loved CGN. I always went to “Sports Week” and played basketball. So much basketball. I loved the counselors and the staff and fellow campers and Quiz-Down and the swimming pool and showing off for the girls and maybe getting an address to write to at the end of the week from some fetching young lady (sometimes I even heard back). Above it all, though, the camp taught me to love God, and I deeply enjoyed the daily devotions and the seriousness with which faith in God was taken. CGN was a refuge for me, a place of safety and love and hope, and I yearned to go each year. My counselors exerted a great impact on me, and to this day I still look up to men like Anthony Romano and Brian Brunk. They were only five to ten years older than me, but they were giants in my eyes, as I suppose I probably was to the young campers I led when I worked there all summer just five summers ago.

Now, I live in Lousville, far away from Livermore Falls, ME, where CGN still stands and where it still exists. I’ve spoken about it in the past tense, but it’s doing well in the current day. It’s just that for me, it will always exist in my mind in some idyllic past. My childhood was shaped in some part by CGN, and I want to preserve that. I can easily recall how it was awkward for me to grow up and to be on the same staff as Mr. Romano. It never quite felt right. Then as now, I saw myself as the exuberant camper and he as the benevolent patriarch. He’s aging now, as I am, but in my mind, he will always be the strong man of God who pointed me to Christ and who oversaw a camp that contained a little bit of magic for a boy in Maine.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Piper on Extended Adolescence and the Gift of Vision

My lovely mother-in-law emailed me a link to a recent piece written by John Piper about the phenomenon of extended adolescence. The piece is helpful and represents a good pastor-centered perspective of this problem in American society. I am glad that Piper is not simply sidestepping this cultural event, as too many pastors do, but that he is addressing it. His thoughts got me thinking on one cause of the “adultolescence” phenomenon: a lack of vision.

What do I mean by this? Many fathers have failed to give their children a vision for their lives. This is of course only one factor among many that contribute to the aforementioned problem. Chief among other factors that one could cover (indeed, that I have and do cover on this blog) are personal laziness and immaturity on the part of young people. With that noted, though, the lack of a life “map” is an overlooked factor in this discussion, I think. I would love to know how many of you out there had a father who gave you a vision for your life–in any form. I don’t mean that he prophesied over your life, or that he told you exactly what you should do with yourself. No, I’m referring to any kind of vision at all. Did he encourage you? Did he point out gifts in your life that you could channel to positive ends? Did he say, “Here’s what you should be thinking about for the future”? I’m guessing that many out there had fathers who failed to provide this vision. Many others were raised in broken homes, and dad was either absent or not around to even begin to provide a vision for life.

This is one reason why so many young people today obsess over the idea of calling. This is why so many twentysomethings bounce from job to job and worry about never finding the right work. This is why many Christians struggle with fear of failure when it comes to vocation. Such people never had a father who gave them a clear picture of the future, who sat them down and talked through their predilections, abilities, interests, and goals, who attempted to provide guidance and support before launching their children into the world. I’m dealing with this problem from a masculine standpoint in this article, but this is also why so many Christian women struggle to figure out their place and role in the world. For whatever reason, dad never came alongside them and instructed them as to what is truly important in the world. This absence has left a generation of women alone in figuring out what to do in life and how to make sense of it all. With such a picture, it is unsurprising that we are in a cultural maturity crisis. As parents lost sight of their roles and responsibilities in twentieth century America, so too did their children. Now, they are drifting, and America is scratching its head, and our civilization is slowly tipping into the sea.

So here is the remedy, as I can see it: we need a generation of men to teach themselves to have vision. We need these young men to set out to do something big with their life, something challenging, something calculated to bless and help as many people as possible according to their gifting and interest. We need these young men not to drift around and fool with girls’ hearts and play at life, but to assume responsibility, seek out challenges, and strategize to mature as men. Then, when these men are married, as most should be, we need these men to raise families and to avoid the last generation’s mistake. These men need to look into the eyes of their children and say, “Here is a plan for life. Here is a vision. I will not leave you alone in the world. I will answer to God for your soul, and for the way you live your life.” In doing so, these men will give their children a gift. They will give their children direction in life, guidance, a foundation from which to launch. They will ennoble their sons and daughters and lead them into the world with purpose and hope. Then, one day, their children will look back into those same eyes, and call these noble men, virtuous women by their side, blessed.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Power of a Good Sunday School Teacher

From Truett Cathy’s book It’s Better to Build Boys Than to Mend Men:

“I was thirteen years old when God worked through Theo Abby, my Sunday school teacher, to change my life. In a real sense, I had been “fatherless.”

My father was alive. In fact, he was home every night, and I never knew him to gamble or drink or cheat on my mother. But he never told me, “I love you.” And when I needed help, like the time when I was sick on a rainy Sunday morning and had to get my newspapers delivered, I knew not to even ask him. As I grew toward manhood, my father and I never discussed the difficult issues of life.

Then Theo Abby became my teacher and my friend. Occasionally he visited the federal housing project where I lived to see me and other boys in our class, and he invited us to go with him and his son Ted to his lakeside cabin. There he modeled with Ted a loving father-son relationship.

As an adult I remembered Mr. Abby’s example and decided to teach boys in Sunday school. Like Mr. I kept in touch with the boys through the week by in­viting the entire class to be my guests at the Dwarf House, my first restaurant, one night a week. I soon began to see how children bursting with potential can wither on the vine without adequate guidance from adults.

Eleven-year-old Harry Brown, whose quiet de­meanor reminded me of myself as a child, had a father like mine, distant and hard to please. When Mr. Brown abandoned the family altogether, Mrs. Brown was left alone to bring up five boys. She did a remarkable job, and I tried to give Harry special attention in class or during our weekly dinners. I set goals for my class in their Bible reading, and Harry met every one. His mother and I encouraged him at every step. Then my wife, Jeannette, and I moved from the neighborhood, and I didn’t see Harry for more than twenty years. By the time we met again, he and his wife, Brenda, had become foster parents, providing the fatherly love and two-parent stability for oth­ers that Harry had missed as a teenager.”

A couple of days ago I mentioned how I had been impacted by my Sunday School teacher, Miss Elsie Dennison. Here’s more testimony of the power of a teacher. Something to think about for those out there who invest week by week in the lives of children. Your efforts may seem small and worthless, but they can change and profoundly influence the course of young lives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Adults, Video Games, and the Liberating Power of Limitation

I recently had the opportunity to be on a fresh new podcast, Christ and Pop Culture. This podcast is hosted by my fellow church members Rich Brooks and David Dunham. Rich (his group blog) and David (his blog) are talented, fun guys (with well-done blogs), and I would encourage you to regularly listen to their show. If you desire to know what is going on in American pop culture, and you want that knowledge filtered through a reformed lens, I can think of few better places to send you than to Christ and Pop Culture. They were very kind to have me on as we discussed my blog posts from several weeks back about youth groups using Halo 3 for evangelistic means. Download the show directly here–it’s about 30 minutes long, and it’s a worthwhile listen.

In the course of our conversation, we talked about adults and video games. The issue was introduced, “How much should adults play video games?” Now, while acknowledging right off the bat that video games are not necessarily sinful, and that it can be fine to play them at times, I noted that video games are fundamentally rooted in a fantasy world. They have little ties to the real world, even if they replicate real-world experiences. There is little in your average video game, furthermore, that you can transfer to the real-world in a meaningful way. Essentially, video games are pure entertainment. There is not anything wrong with pure entertainment, of course, but it is my contention that for the Christian, the person invested with the responsibility to bear the image of God, subdue the world, preach the gospel to the lost everywhere around us, and advance the kingdom of God, pure entertainment should be limited. In fact, in a society that idolizes entertainment, recreation, fun, and self-indulgence, we should provide a clearly countercultural picture of a life devoted to higher things, to important things, to causes that last for eternity.

Do not misread me. I enjoy sports and movies as much as the next guy. I am not an ascetic. However, like any man, I have alot of important things to do. I have a family to provide for, a career to build, a faith to cultivate, a church to serve. I love spending some time on TrueHooop (the best basketball blog in the world, hands down), but I get to do so very rarely, maybe once a week if I’m lucky. I love watching movies, but I watch only a few (if that many) in a given week. I love pleasure reading, but since the summer, when I read Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full, I have not even attempted to read a book for fun. Am I unique? No, there are tons of men just like me, no, doing more than me, and we realize that there is simply too much of importance to do in the real-world than to rack up high scores and defeat towering enemies in the virtual “world.”

Christian men who devote large portions of time to recreation and fun would be well served by trading investment in ephemeral things, things that will not last and that are of little lasting consequence, for investment in things that truly matter. Don’t waste your college years goofing off. Serve your church, work hard in your classes, provide an income for yourself. Post-college, don’t follow Zach Braff and the immature men-children and waste your life away. Seek a wife, use your gifts and talents in employment for God’s glory, build a church through faithful service, share the gospel with hell-bound people, and generally live for things that matter and that last. Limit your pursuit of pleasure and fun. If you’re dragging your feet about children, and your wife really wants to have them, but you don’t want the extra work burden and personal responsibility that comes, because you don’t want to give up all those sports games and video games, it is time to limit yourself. It is time to be a man, to dig in, to work yourself hard, in order that your wife would be happy and you would become what God has in store for most of us: a father. If this sounds repressive, the Bible shows us it’s not. Indeed, it is in limiting ourselves–in terms of our pleasure pursuits–that we free ourselves to do things that matter and to become the men God intends us to be. In limiting ourselves, we liberate ourselves.

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized