Monthly Archives: December 2007

The Goof on the Roof, and the State of Contemporary Masculinity

I was reading the Sunday edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal when I came across this news nugget in the sports pages (I googled it to find out more). Apparently, some guy in Baltimore (he doesn’t deserve to be named here) camped out on the roof of a Baltimore bar as a publicity stunt until the Ravens, the city’s football team, either broke their nine-game losing streak or fired their head coach. The stunt crashed when the ex-wife of the man called the police due to the man’s failure to pay multiple years of child support.

So let’s get this straight. This guy cares so much about the Ravens that he will sleep on the roof of a bar for weeks–in the bitter Baltimore winter–but he can’t rouse himself over a multiple-year period to pay his child support? This is a situation for which no comment is worthy.

However, this is a blog, and I want to write, and you expect me to do so, and so I will. This little episode, I think, shows a great deal about the state of manhood in the current day. We have here a man so devoted to his sports team–his hobby–that he does not even support his child. This is an extreme situation, but does it not tell us something about men in the current day? We are so interested in games–the fixation of boys–that we neglect the things of men. This man is a particularly depressing spectacle, but he is one of many men in the current day who idolize games and pastimes and who neglect the basic duties of manhood, the responsibilities upon which love is held constant, children are cared for, and societies are built upon.

Not many Christian men will take their love of games to the extent that this man did. However, a story like this should cause men who very much enjoy sports–men like me–to take stock of the extent of their passion for games. It is not wrong to enjoy sports; sports can be a good gift to us if held in proper perspective; but we Christian men, who have families and churches and jobs, should take care that we do not allow sports to dominate our waking hours. We should make sure that our families come way before our pastimes. Most of us should probably turn the television off for a number of hours each week and dig in to the Word, play with our kids, and serve our churches. We cannot allow sports and games and hobbies to devour our lives, our homes, our families, as they do for so many men in America today. We have a family to lead, a wife to love, and a Lord, a Savior who gave His blood for a kingdom cause, to magnify.

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The Week-est Link, Dec. 28 2008

1. There’s a new Death Cab for Cutie album coming out very soon. Follow this link to watch a little video that gives a few details about the record. Death Cab is one of those cutting edge bands who everybody talks about. Sometimes these bands aren’t really that good, but Death Cab is quite good, and they make haunting, melancholy music that is well worth your time.

HT: Ethan Meadow

2. Reid Monaghan commented yesterday about my description of science as a “double-sided blade.” He questioned whether there is any scientific inquiry that is negative or harmful. I cannot perfectly answer that question, though I can point you to an interesting article that my boss Al Mohler wrote covering this topic. It will provoke thought, and I think it does show that the phenomenon of unbounded scientific inquiry is as morally complex as it is exciting.

3. An insightful profile of billionnaire Paul Allen. I’ve long heard about Allen, as he owns the Portland Trail Blazers (my friend Aaron Menikoff’s team), but I knew little about him. Apparently he’s something of a media recluse. The profile is an interesting study of a strange, talented, and ultimately unsatisfied man. It’s always profitable to read secular articles from a theological standpoint–you can see biblical themes in most every life story. Allen’s seems to be Ecclesiastes.

Have a nice weekend, everyone (and thanks, Rick and Ethan, for the “I Am Legend” info).

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A Theology of Ambition: Concluding Synthesis

We conclude our very brief theology of ambition with a concluding synthesis of the material laid out so far. How, then, should we understand ambition from the texts considered?

There’s a great deal to say here. We can start by pointing out the biblical ambition is never to be understood as using God to get what one wants in a worldly or secular sense. In the texts I’ve examined, biblical ambition emerges as an exercise in getting God maximal glory through the expansion of one’s capacities. Spiritual boldness, then, should not be understood as praying for wealth, or praying for power, or praying for fame for the sake of these things. One is to be ambitious for explicitly spiritual ends. We saw this in numerous examples. Nehemiah’s plan was so bold as to be almost audacious in its nature, but Nehemiah was not punished for his verve, he was richly rewarded. We saw the same process work itself out in the lives of Solomon and Jabez. These men, however, did not merely make request of God, they made request of God for explicitly spiritual ends.

Biblical ambition, then, should be gospel-focused. We should ask God for things and undertake work that furthers the work of the kingdom and the advancement of the gospel. Living in the era of the new covenant, we are to work to take spiritual dominion of the earth. This is our central motivation in life, not any other motive. Biblical ambition is assertive and aggressive in attempting to bring this present darkness under a reign of light. You and I, then, should pray toward this end. We should ask God to maximize our abilities and to sharpen our skills and expand our influence in order that the gospel would go forth, men would be saved, and God would be glorified. It is right–no, it is imperative–that we be ambitious for the kingdom, and put all our skills, abilities and proclivities to use for the good of God’s name.

Spiritual boldness will involve our own personal lives, and we should not shy away from this. We should ask God to make us better Christians, holier people, more capable believers in order that we would be fully consecrated and put to use in kingdom work. We should ask God that the Spirit would do mighty things in us and embolden us and change us and shape us for the unique endeavors that God would have us to do. Businessmen should seek the betterment of their companies in order to glorify God in their work and to contribute to gospel endeavors. Teachers should seek to be the best teachers that they can be, in order that God would give them more influence with their unsaved peers. Homemakers should pray that they would perform their tasks with excellence, in order to glorify God and to be available for volunteer work and church work and mentoring of young women. We could go on and on, but I hope that you get a glimpse of how a spiritually ambitious local church can change itself and its community for the glory of God. Indeed, when a pastor models a life of godly ambition, and teaches his people to live boldly for the Lord, the congregation is set up to, like the apostles, take their own world by storm. Men will be better laborers and leaders of the home, women will follow the Proverbs 31 woman in taking dominion over their sphere, young people will be ambitious to evangelize the lost and take on a sin-crushed world. A theology of ambition, then, is no mere exercise in t-crossing and i-dotting. It is an essential part of being a Christian in a world that will gladly welcome and accomodate lazy, passive, visionless Christianity, to the detriment and death of us all.

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A Theology of Ambition: Biblical Considerations, Pt. 2

Update on December 25th–Merry Christmas to all consumed readers. Enjoy the holiday!

We pick back up in our biblical consideration of ambition. On Wednesday, I’ll give a concluding synthesis.

1. Gen. 1:26-28 the call to take dominion
2. 1 Chron. 4:10 Jabez’s bold prayer
3. 2 Chron. 1:7-13 Solomon’s ambitious prayer for wisdom
4. Nehemiah an example of godly ambition
5. Matthew 28:18-20 the call to take spiritual dominion
6. 1 Cor. 10:31 life as an exercise in biblical ambition
7. Hebrews 4:16 the invitation to pray with boldness

The story of Nehemiah is incredible. Hearing that Jerusalem and its people are in shambles, Nehemiah prays to the Lord and asks Him to bless Nehemiah as he seeks to rebuild the city and reconstitute the people. We have no indication of divine prompting of this prayer. Like so many biblical characters, Nehemiah sees a lack and prays boldly that he might be used to address it. Read chapter one of Nehemiah to get the full vision of his prayer. What transpires after the prayer is equally inspiring. To make a long and invigorating story short, Nehemiah and the Jews prevail over their enemies and in an incredibly short period of time rebuild Jerusalem. It is clear from Nehemiah’s example that the Lord is richly honored by Nehemiah’s faith and by his bold request. Nehemiah asks God for Jerusalem, and the Lord gives it to him.

Skipping ahead to the new creation call to dominion, Matthew 28:18-20 teaches us that Christians are to be ambitious for the spread of the gospel. Jesus Christ’s final recorded words in Matthew’s gospel propel His disciples away from ensconcement and ease and push them to all the ends of the earth in order that sinful men might be recreated for the kingdom through the gospel’s transforming power. If you follow up the new creation call to dominion by reading the book of Acts, you will see that Christ’s disciples were nothing less than zealous for the publishing abroad of the euangelion, the good news. They prayed, planned, and acted, and they didn’t do so in bite-sized bits. They went out and took the world by storm with the gospel. The disciples and apostles were fearless and ambitious, and their efforts, borne out of that spirit, changed all history.

There are so many texts that cover this theme, but we cannot skip 1 Cor 10:31, where the apostle Paul instructs us to do all to the glory of God. We commonly reference this text in other discussions, but it has an important place in a biblical consideration of ambition. We don’t simply rubber stamp our actions as “Christian.” That’s not what Paul is encouraging us to do. Paul is encouraging us to be active in finding things to do that bring glory to God even as we respect the consciences of our fellow Christians. As opposed to those who prescribe a code of respectable actions, Paul pushes the Corinthian Christians to realize that all of life is an exercise in glorifying God, and thus to act boldly toward this end. We should do the same.

The final text I’ll cover deals with the matter of prayer. In Hebrews 4:16, the author exhorts us to come boldly before God and to make our spiritual requests known to Him. Many of us know this text (and other passages I’ve covered), but I think that we sometimes fail to construct a broader theology of ambition. We are to be bold in prayer, but we are also to be bold in all of our lives. This does not and must not preclude the steady exercise of supplication to God, but just as we are to pray boldly and courageously, so we are to live boldly and courageously. The author of Hebrews makes this very clear on the matter of prayer as he pushes away from our natural hesitations to make big requests of God and tells us that such prayer is the very prayer God desires. We can of course make selfish, worldly requests of God, and this is not right. When we pray with right motives and for spiritual ends, however, God is well pleased with us. Let us live, then, as we are called to pray: boldly, courageously, passionately.

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The Week-est Link, Dec. 21

Okay, so it’s not actually December 21, but I was out of town the past few days taking care of job stuff so I’m giving you my links a couple of days after they were originally scheduled to hit. The “Spiritual ambition” stuff picks back up tomorrow.

1. I highly recommend this strange and at times hilarious video depicting the internship program at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. I did this internship under Dr. Mark Dever, and I can only say that the interns are a good deal more technologically savvy than my group I ever was. If you’ve ever wondered what the CHBC internship is like, you won’t find out in this video. You will, however, watch something very funny, and that’s worth your time. Funniest line: Mark Dever saying, “Where did you get the idea I would answer that question?”

2. I just read God’s Harvard by reporter and writer Hanna Rosin. Rosin is a liberal Jew. Her book is about Patrick Henry College, the home-school haven in Virginia. It’s an academically challenging school and has a young but tumultuous history. Rosin’s work is valuable primarily because it allows evangelicals to see how liberals view them. Rosin makes some good points along the way, and some of her critiques land, even if she is as heavy-handed as she accuses evangelicals of being. I’m hoping to write a fuller review of this book on this blog. Fascinating stuff if you like pop sociology as I do.

3. If you don’t have Michael Buble’s “Let It Snow” Christmas ep, you have a couple of days to buy it and enjoy it. Our family gave it to Bethany and me, and we play it constantly, in part because it’s only six songs long and in part because Buble makes every room warm with his rich voice.

That’s it for now–I’ll be back tomorrow, and hope that everyone has a nice Sunday.

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A Theology of Ambition: Biblical Considerations, Pt. 1

I’m going to give you several different texts to think about in relation to my topic. Today and tomorrow, we do a study of biblical material. After that, we synthesize the material.

1. Gen. 1:26-28 the call to take dominion
2. 1 Chron. 4:10 Jabez’s bold prayer
3. 2 Chron. 1:7-13 Solomon’s ambitious prayer for wisdom
4. Nehemiah an example of godly ambition
5. Matthew 28:18-20 the call to take spiritual dominion
6. 1 Cor. 10:31 life as an exercise in biblical ambition
7. Hebrews 4:16 the invitation to pray with boldness

These texts should not and must not be understood as the only texts that speak to my topic. They are not. However, these texts when taken together give us a bare framework by which to begin to understand the Bible’s view of ambition. With that said, we proceed to look at what this framework is and what it means for us as Christians. We will work quickly through these texts, and you can think of more on your own (and suggest them in the comments, if you would).

The call to take dominion over the earth in Genesis 1 is fundamentally a call to theological ambition. Those who think that ambition has little place in the Christian life find an opposite ideal in this first chapter of the Bible. From the beginning, God intended man to subdue and rule over his environment. It is clear from the lack of instruction recorded in this text that God did not spell out all the details of this dominion-taking. Rather, he left it to Adam, His vice-regent, to figure out what needed to be done and to do it. Such action necessarily includes an aggressive mindset that seeks to glorify God through action pleasing to God. The race of men, then, was not created to be passive and weak, but to be active and strong, assessing their domain, ruling over their territory, glorifying God by virtuous, godly action.

It’s silly to pass up all the examples of Old Testament believers who acted ambitiously for God’s renown, but time and space is limited. So we skip ahead to the much-discussed Jabez. Now, let me say a word here. Bruce Wilkinson took the whole Jabez thing a bit far, if you ask me, but I still think he had a point (one made by men like Spurgeon well before prosperity theologians). His point was this: Jabez was spiritually ambitious. Wilkinson was no genius in understanding this, but he was right. Jabez prayed that the Lord would bless him. The Lord did bless him. Jabez had a desire to glorify God through a blessed life. God answered this desire. We could take this text and run, but we should not do so. Instead, we should simply make the point that God rewarded Jabez’s spiritual ambition, and leave things there. Clearly, it is no terrible thing–far from that, it is a good thing–to be spiritually ambitious before the Lord.

The story of Solomon is the same. Solomon made an incredible request of God, that he be given incredible wisdom, and God gave it to him. God was not displeased with such a bold request. The biblical picture of God is not that which many of us hold in our minds, a miserly, angry, bitter father who despises giving out blessings. No, the biblical picture of God is that He often graciously rewards the seeker and gives them the righteous desires of their heart. Solomon’s desire was righteous–this is a crucial point–and thus God granted his request. The Lord does seem to be like the great leader Alexander in a story I’ve heard Tim Keller tell. One of Alexander’s generals made a very bold request of his lord, asking him to finance an extravagant wedding ceremony for his child. Upon hearing the request, Alexander’s right-hand man urged Alexander to cruelly discipline such a boorish man. Alexander demurred, and instead granted the man’s request. His reasoning? The man, by his massive request, showed that he thought Alexander to be a man of massive means. Thus his plea, so far from dishonoring Alexander, actually honored Alexander in the extreme. So it is with us when we ask God for great things. A right sense of ambition, one devoted to the Lord, shows just how great we think our God to be.

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A Theology of Ambition

In some evangelical circles, piety is equated with passivity. The holiest person is the one who sits the stillest, waits the longest, and does the least. Somewhere along the way, godliness became equated with doing very little, with sitting on one’s hands, with praying for hours while sitting for the same. This version of the Christian life leaves much to be desired.

Christians have always struggled with the tendency to pit prayer and meditation on Scripture against action. Those who do so always lose. If we emphasize prayer to the detriment of action, we overspiritualize life and become passive. If we emphasize action to the detriment of prayer, we live as practical atheists. Neither option is sound, and both will lead to a damaged way of life. Far better to couple prayer with action, to bathe action in prayer, and so to live in a combination of trust and dependence. Though this idea seems pretty basic, it has lost its place in certain Christian circles. I’m not sure of the exact origins of this tendency (and it is probably is old as the earth itself), but in terms of a codified way of Christian living, I would guess that its presence in much Christian thought traces back to pietism and its experientialist dimensions. There is of course much good in such strains of Christianity, but there can also be a tendency to misread the Bible along hermeneutical lines and to think that God speaks and communicates to Christians today just as He did in Old Testament times. The result of such thinking is that godly people fail to act until they receive an impression, a sign, a voice, a call that is from God Himself. Praying to God and living patiently is biblical, but it is my contention that our way of discovering and living out the will of God is quite different today than it was in Old Testament times. We have the Spirit, yes, but the preponderance of New Testament teaching (and much of the Old) teaches us to act in wisdom out of a backdrop of prayer, counsel, and courage.

As I noted above, Christians tend to break up into two camps. It is my opinion that there is an abundance of literature out there that teaches believers to depend on God and go often to Him in prayer, so I’m not focusing on that side of things in this brief series. Instead, I am targeting those who overspiritualize their lives and who end up living passively instead of actively. The specific casualty of such living that I want to target is the death of ambition that such a philosophy of life brings. Many Christians who fall in the “pray and don’t act until absolutely certain” camp live without a strong sense of personal ambition and in fact tend to view those with ambition and vigor as ungodly and dangerous. As we will see, there is some truth to this concern. However, there is also falsehood, for the Bible itself commends a certain kind of godly ambition that involves praying to God, trusting God, and acting for His glory and the good of one’s life, family, church and even society. In the coming days, we’ll seek to construct a very basic theology of ambition in order to reclaim a sense of Christian agency that is inextricably related to the foundational command to Adam and Eve to take dominion of the earth. As we will see, it is well nigh impossible to take dominion of the earth, let alone one’s finances, or marriage, or work, without some sense of ambition. A theology of ambition, then, allows us not to chase a spiritual goose through the Bible, but to understand in a fundamental way how it is we are to live as Christians on God’s earth.

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Interesting Books I’m Reading; Also, a Time of Transition

1. Richistan–A pop sociology book on America’s “new rich” economic class. I’m just a little ways into it, but it looks very interesting. I’m not sure why, but I love pop sociology stuff. The study of culture has always drawn me, and I enjoy finding out what the broad mass of people are doing and why they’re doing it. I don’t really enjoy sociology as a discipline, as I think it gets a little out of hand and is rather nonacademic at the core, but I do enjoy the pop sociology stuff which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

2. Bonfire of the Vanities–I’m not actually reading this yet, but I will be soon. I love Tom Wolfe’s writing. He takes on these massive social shifts and movements and writes a tome about them. Few other contemporary authors are as ambitious as Wolfe is, and few have his talent for description and anthropological insight. This will be a fun one to read.

3. American Shaolin–A very strange book about a Princeton student who went to China’s Shaolin temple to study martial arts for a spell. Not far into it, but thus far it’s an interesting portrait of confused, spiritually drifting masculinity and what life looks like for a person of this type, particularly when such a person is from a wealthy family and can afford to do such things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I have very recently decided to take a position at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. I’ll be working at the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS and will also do a PhD in Theological Studies with an emphasis in historical theology. Bethany and I are excited about this new stage of life, and I am quite happy that she will now be able to do pretty much what she likes with her time. The MDiv is a grind, and it (and other degrees) take the greatest toll on wives and families. I am so thankful to the Lord for this neat position, for the opportunity to work with and study under a pastoral scholar like Doug Sweeney, and for the change in life situation it affords my wife. However, we will miss Louisville when we move next month, and our time here has been richly blessed and filled with sweet memories of family, friends, and profitable experiences. Soon, then, we will be saying goodbye to Louisville and hello to Deerfield.

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Interesting Books I’m Reading; Also, a Time of Transition

1. Richistan–A pop sociology book on America’s “new rich” economic class. I’m just a little ways into it, but it looks very interesting. I’m not sure why, but I love pop sociology stuff. The study of culture has always drawn me, and I enjoy finding out what the broad mass of people are doing and why they’re doing it. I don’t really enjoy sociology as a discipline, as I think it gets a little out of hand and is rather nonacademic at the core, but I do enjoy the pop sociology stuff which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

2. Bonfire of the Vanities–I’m not actually reading this yet, but I will be soon. I love Tom Wolfe’s writing. He takes on these massive social shifts and movements and writes a tome about them. Few other contemporary authors are as ambitious as Wolfe is, and few have his talent for description and anthropological insight. This will be a fun one to read.

3. American Shaolin–A very strange book about a Princeton student who went to China’s Shaolin temple to study martial arts for a spell. Not far into it, but thus far it’s an interesting portrait of confused, spiritually drifting masculinity and what life looks like for a person of this type, particularly when such a person is from a wealthy family and can afford to do such things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I have very recently decided to take a position at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. I’ll be working at the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS and will also do a PhD in Theological Studies with an emphasis in historical theology. Bethany and I are excited about this new stage of life, and I am quite happy that she will now be able to do pretty much what she likes with her time. The MDiv is a grind, and it (and other degrees) take the greatest toll on wives and families. I am so thankful to the Lord for this neat position, for the opportunity to work with and study under a pastoral scholar like Doug Sweeney, and for the change in life situation it affords my wife. However, we will miss Louisville when we move next month, and our time here has been richly blessed and filled with sweet memories of family, friends, and profitable experiences. Soon, then, we will be saying goodbye to Louisville and hello to Deerfield.

Leave a comment

Filed under american shaolin, doug sweeney, richistan, tom wolfe, trinity evangelical divinity school

Interesting Books I’m Reading; Also, a Time of Transition

1. Richistan–A pop sociology book on America’s “new rich” economic class. I’m just a little ways into it, but it looks very interesting. I’m not sure why, but I love pop sociology stuff. The study of culture has always drawn me, and I enjoy finding out what the broad mass of people are doing and why they’re doing it. I don’t really enjoy sociology as a discipline, as I think it gets a little out of hand and is rather nonacademic at the core, but I do enjoy the pop sociology stuff which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

2. Bonfire of the Vanities–I’m not actually reading this yet, but I will be soon. I love Tom Wolfe’s writing. He takes on these massive social shifts and movements and writes a tome about them. Few other contemporary authors are as ambitious as Wolfe is, and few have his talent for description and anthropological insight. This will be a fun one to read.

3. American Shaolin–A very strange book about a Princeton student who went to China’s Shaolin temple to study martial arts for a spell. Not far into it, but thus far it’s an interesting portrait of confused, spiritually drifting masculinity and what life looks like for a person of this type, particularly when such a person is from a wealthy family and can afford to do such things.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

I have very recently decided to take a position at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. I’ll be working at the Henry Center for Theological Understanding at TEDS and will also do a PhD in Theological Studies with an emphasis in historical theology. Bethany and I are excited about this new stage of life, and I am quite happy that she will now be able to do pretty much what she likes with her time. The MDiv is a grind, and it (and other degrees) take the greatest toll on wives and families. I am so thankful to the Lord for this neat position, for the opportunity to work with and study under a pastoral scholar like Doug Sweeney, and for the change in life situation it affords my wife. However, we will miss Louisville when we move next month, and our time here has been richly blessed and filled with sweet memories of family, friends, and profitable experiences. Soon, then, we will be saying goodbye to Louisville and hello to Deerfield.

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