Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Watch out for Big Brother: British Freedom Under Attack

“Men must be governed by God, or they will be ruled by tyrants.” William Penn

William Penn's words have recently come to mind as England has been inundated in a wave of legislation removing basic freedoms. Things have got so bad now that even mainstream liberal journalists are taking note and commenting on the situation (For example, see Henry Porter's articles HERE and HERE and Booker's article HERE.)

Here are just a few examples of the recent assaults on our freedoms.


On the 30th of April, Janet Hutchison wrote to The Independent complaining that her 11-year-old son was arrested, convicted and reprimanded for criminal damage.

Given that the boy’s fingerprints were taken, along with DNA samples, we might suspect the child was guilty of a crime. Actually, his offence was to accidentally break a neighbour’s window.

Meanwhile, the police of Lincolnshire have invented their own way to deal with unruly children. A Lincolnshire paper has informed parents that children between 10 and 13 who are involved in ‘low-level incidents of nuisance and anti-social behaviour’ will be liable to receive a ‘yellow card’ at the hands of the police. A repeat offence results in a ‘red card.’

If the behaviour persists after both football-style cards have been issued, formal proceedings will be taken against the child which could lead to an ASBO (anti-social-behaviour-order).

It is unclear what childish behaviour will constitute ‘low-level incidents of nuisance and anti-social behaviour’ in the eyes of the police. Lincolnshire Police’s PC, Nick Hanson, has said that this could include being ‘too loud in the street.’

As the maximum penalty for breaching an ASBO is five years imprisonment, parents in Lincolnshire are more than a little worried, especially those with loud children.


It is not just parents with noisy children that have cause to worry. Anyone whose thoughts and political viewpoints run counter to the Government’s agenda have cause to be concerned.

In a Speech given to the House of Lords on 9th February this year, the Bishop of Durham observed that our police are increasingly patrolling ideas and beliefs. ‘People in my diocese’, remarked Bishop Wright, ‘have told me that they are now afraid to speak their minds in the pub on some major contemporary issues for fear of being reported, investigated, and perhaps charged.’ (Click
HERE to read the whole speech.)

The instances of citizens being investigated by the ‘thought police’ are, of course, legion. What has only recently emerged, however, is the way the Government has tried to impose thought control on local councils.

Consider the case of the parish council of Belford, in Northumberland. In January, this council voted unanimously to write a letter opposing the Government’s plan to increase the number of wind turbines in their area.

A month after this, another turbine proposal appeared and, with it, a letter. The letter was from Liam Henry, the monitoring officer of Berwick-upon-Tweed council. Henry said that because the Belford council had opposed the previous proposal, they were now disqualified from discussing the new one. This, he argued, was because of something called ‘the common law of predetermination.’

Belford has not been the only council to fall victim to this rather unusual law, the brainchild of John Prescott and enforced by the Standards Board for England. This law disbars local councillors from discussing or voting on any issue if they have already declared a view. The grounds for this exclusion is that the voter invalidates himself by having a ‘predetermined’ position.

The principle of ‘predetermination’ also applies to specific individuals. Cllr. Riley was elected by the villagers in Longstanton to oppose the Government’s scheme to build a new town next to the village. Riley was surprised to be told that he was forbidden to debate, vote or privately discuss the scheme with other councillors, on the grounds that he had already committed himself to a position. He is currently being forced to undergo a ‘training course’ on Mr. Prescott’s ‘Code of Conduct.’ Bob Mills, a Powys county councillor, was told he would be barred from the council chamber whenever the issue of windpower came up because he had written a letter to the paper questioning the benefits of wind turbines. No such ban applies to those who support official policy.


This law about predetermined viewpoints has not yet been extended to include the protocol of national elections. However, the
Identity Cards Act 2006, leaves open the possibility that certain voters could be ‘erased’ from the system (a point made by Henry Porter HERE.)

Section 11 of the
ID card Act allows the ‘The Secretary of State [to] cancel an ID card if it appears to him...that another change of circumstances requires a modification of information recorded in or on the card...’ (To read the entire ID Card Act, click HERE) Such ‘circumstances’ could include virtually anything since there is no specified limit on the amount of information the National Identity Register may be extended to include.

Evidence suggests that the ID cards may eventually be used for identity verification by banks, hospitals, register of electors, internet providers, doctor’s surgeries and all other civic functions. If that does happen, then when the Secretary of State confiscates someone’s card, he would be withdrawing that person’s ability to function in the state. It would act like a kind of civic eraser.

Section 1(4) and section 9 of the Identity Cards Act 2006 makes it implicit that the Home Secretary’s power to require surrender of an identity card at any time is not subject to the right of appeal and short-circuits the normal judicial process, as does his ability to secretly change an individual’s data.


If the Government wants to keep tabs on what their citizens are doing, you would have thought the ID Act was sufficient, especially since every transaction someone makes with their card can then be recorded on the National Identity Register.

Still, members of our Government are not satisfied this is enough. The latest plan is to get a satellite to spy on the people of Britain. The new Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander, reaffirmed Labour’s plan (announced last year) to introduce a satellite tracking system to charge road-users for every mile they travel. This would come into effect in 2010 and would exist in addition to the normal road tax and fuel tax.

An enormously expensive scheme, at least the UK doesn’t have to worry about putting up a satellite. The EU has kindly already done that for us. In fact, the European Commission has been talking about its own plans to rent out its roads ever since 2001.

Those who are concerned about the growing eye of Big Brother should take note: not only is he watching you…he’s listening. The police listening for people like Lynette Burrows, who happened to speak the wrong view on homosexual adoption, or Ann Robinson who had the misfortune to express the wrong opinion about the Welsh. Beginning in 2010, the police will be listening to the conversation at supermarkets.

In three and a half years, it will be a criminal offence, punishable by up to £5,000 for stallholders or shopkeepers to make any reference to pounds and ounces, feet and inches. As Baroness Miller of Hendon told the House of Lords, this means that ‘If someone goes up to a small shopkeeper or trader on 1st January 2010 and asks for a pound of apples, the trader will be committing a criminal offence if he supplies them.’

If shop owners are worried, so are UK farmers. Starting on 15th May, it will also be a criminal offence for UK farmers to carry out tasks involving ‘waste’, unless they first get a special certificate from the Environment Agency. Included in this category is spreading manure on fields, allowing vegetable stalks to rot down in the soil, burning the straw from a cattle shed, having a manure heap or letting an old plough rust in the corner of the farmyard.

One farmer, named Robin Page, will be applying for an exemption to allow him to continue burning hedge clippings. If he is granted the exemption, he will be committing a criminal act if he burns anything else, including paper, on the fire. He cannot even use old newspaper to help him light the fire.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fair, Clear and Terrible

I’ve just finished reading, for the first time, a very intriguing book by Shirley Nelson titled Fair Clear and Terrible: A Strange Fragment of American History.

The book is about a man named Frank Sandford and a religious community, known as ‘Shiloh’, that he started in Durham, Maine. Publisher’s Weekly had this to say about the book:

The colony of Shiloh in southern Maine was a movement in miniature of 19th century American religious extremism. Led by Frank Sanford, self-proclaimed prophet of the Second Coming of Christ--a man who may well have had a personality disorder--this repressively anti-intellectual, patriarchal community set itself apart from the world until its "scattering" in 1920. Novelist Nelson ( The Last Year of the War ), a descendant of Shiloh residents, tells the grim story in numbing detail enlivened by an "insider's" zeal. Over its 25-year lifespan, as the mission expanded, the anxiety of the members about their spiritual worthiness was exacerbated by Sanford's purging tactics. Ravaged by disease and deprivation, the colonists perdured, even after Sanford's imprisonment for manslaughter.”

I read this book with particular personal interest since I used to attend Fairwood Bible Institute, the very school Sandford started, though it has subsequently changed its name and location. (To read more about the movement Sandford started, which now calls itself 'The Kingdom', click HERE.)

In our day and age, it is easy to just write someone like Frank Sandford off as a religious fanatic and megalomaniac. As Shirley Nelson wrote, “In our present-day fascination with the surface of things, we tend either to denounce a religion like Sandford’s or sentimentalise it or tolerate or ignore it – unless some tragedy results. Too often we fail to understand it…” I want to understand where this man went wrong. I want to understand what compels a man to pass by numerous ports where he could have purchased provisions before sailing into the North Atlantic with a boat full of starving women and children? What compelled Sandford to insist that loyalty to himself and God meant the men in his movement couldn’t seek employment, even when their children were starving? Why did he demand that the people in his community refuse medical treatment, even when such a refusal could (and did) lead to death?

There may be many answers to these questions. Certainly one of the areas Sandford went wrong was that his religion chopped life into a plethora of false divisions. One of these was an unbiblical division between means and ends.

Reformed theology has always recognized that if God wills an end, then He wills the means to that end. So if God wills that we be provided with daily bread, He also wills the means for that provision, which is that we work. If God wills that we should have health, he provides the means for that health which is medical treatment. Though sometimes God may provide money or healing through extraordinary or miraculous means, normally He works through the channels of vocation, as people fulfil the dominion mandate given to Adam. This gives a unity to our experience in the world and enables us to reject the divided field between the sacred and the secular, between vocation and ministry.

Frank Sandford, on the other hand, constantly lived in a divided field with a radical disjunction between the sacred and the secular. Thus, he expected the (spiritual) end result without the ('secular') means. So if money was required, he wouldn’t send his people out to work, but would send them into the chapel to pray. (At one point he expected his people to pray everyday from 9:00 AM to midnight, seven days a week for three whole months. No one ever suggested the problem might be solved by seeking employment – that would have been to compromise.) If someone was sick, praying for healing was antithetical to seeking medical treatment, the former being ‘God’s way’ and the later being the secular way.

Even with things like seeking God’s guidance, Sandford set up disjunctions, expecting the end result without the means. Guidance was not sought through the means of scripture but, rather, by waiting for God to drop the words into his head. Thus, when he did finally instruct his men to start providing for their families, it was not because scripture said “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8), but because God had given him the word ‘Work’. Even that was only in response to litigation from people who were concerned about the starving children.

Like the evangelist Finney who thought he could schedule when a revival would occur just by pouring enough money and energy into his projects, or the numerous Christians who try to bring revival through revivalism, Frank Sandford thought he could achieve God’s work by sheer force and determination alone. For example, he conducted numerous ‘prayer drives’ in which he often set a deadline for when the Lord had to provide. God became subservient to man’s control, so that anything could be achieved if only you prayed long and hard enough.

It’s true that a lot can be achieved by force and determination, especially with someone as dynamic as Frank Sandford. As I read Fair Clear and Terrible, I was struck by the hypnotic power Sandford was able to wield over people, to get them to do almost anything. Yet this power was necessarily limited by the fact that although he was good at controlling people, he was not good at organising them. A good organiser is cognisant of the small needs as well as the big needs, because he recognizes that it is the collection of small problems that eventually threaten the bigger project. The numerous setbacks, failures and defections Sandford sustained normally always arose because of his legion small-scale oversights. He could raise funds for huge buildings, yet he couldn’t provide tooth brushes for his women; he could finance two yachts and a voyage around the globe, yet he couldn’t provide money for the basic needs of the children back at home. He could preach grand sermons about turning the hearts of fathers to their sons and restoring families, but in practice he was impotent at keeping relationships together (and, in fact, numerous times he championed divorce, separation and division between parents and children). Thus, when the community did eventually collapse, it was destroyed from the inside out like a diseased tree that can no longer bear its own weight.

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Emotional Purity and Broken-Heart Syndrome

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

—C. S. Lewis[1]

There is a lot of talk in Christian home-schooling circles about 'Emotional Purity.' Just put that phrase into google and you'll be amazed how many websites come up. Although there is no single monolithic definition that everyone agrees with, in most formulations it refers to the idea that romantic emotions should not occur prior to commitment.

“Purity…” writes John Thompson, “means no physical affection or romantic emotions prior to God’s approval.”[2] By 'God's approval' Thompson means parental authorization. Emotional purity, for him, represents a complete absence of romantic emotions, thoughts, desires or aspirations, until the father says ‘Go!’ Other teachers may agree with the idea of emotional purity but not with the idea of such strong parental control. For them, it might be the young people themselves who decide to make the commitment that then authorizes the emotions.

I have a friend named Emily who had always accepted the teaching about emotional purity and believed that to have a crush on a boy amounted to nurturing an idol in her heart. However, when Emily actually found herself being attracted to a young man, she was helpless to know how to handle it. Nor were matters helped when friends began to come up to Emily and say, “Don’t you know that you are committing emotional fornication? You’re being promiscuous and I think you should be careful to save yourself totally for your future husband.”

Jonathan Lindvall manages to find scriptural justification for this odd behavior in the most unexpected parts of the Bible. He appeals to the example of Adam. When, through naming the various animals, Adam realized that he, alone among all the beasts, had no partner, God put him to sleep. Likewise, argues Lindvall, when we get to the age when our interest in the opposite sex is stirred up, God asks us to "go to sleep emotionally!"[3]

The goal here is an ideal of emotional virginity, so that when the marriage finally occurs, both people will not only have never had physical relations with anyone else, but will also be emotional virgins, having never felt anything towards anyone else. “Not only are we to be physically pure,” says Lindvall, “but we need to be emotionally pure in our hearts.”[4]

I would argue that this reasoning represents some very confused thinking. Just because a person feels an attraction that will not culminate in marriage does not make those emotions impure, unless we start by assuming our conclusion. ‘Emotional purity’ is a bad term since it presupposes that there is something impure or wrong about these emotions, as if to have such feelings defiles a person in the same way as sexual immorality.

It must be understood that this ideal of 'emotional purity' does not simply mean that young people should reserve the expression of romantic feelings until after a commitment has been made, but that the emotions and thoughts themselves must be stifled prior to commitment (which, in Lindvall's case is equivalent to parental authorization). As Lindvall clearly states,

"I have concluded that God's best for me is to teach my children not to allow themselves to cultivate romantic inclinations toward anyone until they know God has shown them this person is to be their lifelong mate...Ideally they don't even allow themselves to dream about romantic relationships. Certainly there will be struggles, but to the degree that they allow me to protect them from the emotional scars my wife and I bear, they will be spared the regrets we suffer."[5]

Lindvall explains, always with enthusiasm, his success in getting his daughter to adopt this system.

"At age twelve, I took Bethany out to dinner one evening and presented her with a golden necklace with a heart-shaped pendant formed like a padlock. There was a small keyhole and an accompanying key. I presented the pendant and necklace to her and asked her to "Give me your heart" (Prov. 23:26). 1 explained that I wanted to keep the gold key as a symbol of her trusting me with her emotions. I specifically asked her to not entertain romantic thoughts toward any young man until she and her mother and I together conclude that he is God's choice to be her husband. (There is scriptural precedent for the young people involved to be consulted and consent to a marriage arrangement.) I explained that at the beginning of her marital engagement I would give the gold key to her betrothed, and that although she might not yet love him, she would then be free to aim her heart toward him. Bethany unreservedly entrusted the symbolic gold key into my care, and with it, her heart."[6]

Some young man is going to come to me and say, 'I believe God wants me to marry your daughter.' And I'll pray about it. And if God shows me the same thing, I'm going to give him that key, and I'm going to say, 'You are authorized, and I'm going to help you woo my daughter, as she will be your help mate forever.'

In that conversation I asked Bethany to take it a little further. I asked her to commit to me that she would not be friends with any fellows. I asked her not to even be friends with boys."

Lindvall started a trend here, and now there is a website that sells “’Heart Necklace with Key’ designed for this very purpose. This is a meaningful symbol of a daughter giving her dad the key to her heart until he gives it to the man selected to be her future spouse. The inscription on the heart is ‘He who holds the key can unlock my heart.’”

One gets the feeling from all this that romantic emotions are something that can be turned on or off like a light switch. Obviously our will does play a part in the process as with everything else, however, very often the romantic feelings, crushes, and infatuations that young people experience are things that, to a large extent, cannot be controlled by the will. What can be controlled is how the person responds to these feelings that can come and go like the wind. To try to tamper with the emotions themselves, however, is bound to be unproductive. The only way to prevent such ‘unauthorized’ emotions from happening would surely be to build monasteries and nunneries to house our youth. When the time for wedding vows does arrive, the vows can directly follow the introductions.

Let us consider what happens when a child reaches puberty. As the whole person struggles to adjust to the hormonal changes that are happening, it is natural that the child will be bombarded with an array of feelings, thoughts and sensations connected with their sexuality. As the body develops, gradually things settle down, though in the case of our sexuality this may not occur for many years.

If a child's first awakenings to the world of sexuality are accompanied by an atmosphere of guilt and negativity, this will almost inevitably effect how that child responds to his or her sexuality later in life. If, however, the child can be helped to view sexual awakening and these intense inner experiences objectively and in an atmosphere of understanding, this may help not only to prevent the child from developing an unnecessary guilt complex, but also deter him or her from thinking that these sensations demand an outlet for gratification and expression. Although children should be helped to see that it is not helpful to voluntarily entertain unhealthy sexual fantasies, this needs to be done in a way so that it does not become more serious in the child's mind than it really is. There is a risk of a phobia developing about sexual or romantic thoughts which could be self-defeating, following the principle that the attempt to obliterate something from our minds necessarily involves making that thing an object of concentration. In the same way that the words, "Do not think of a purple elephant" immediately arouse in the mind the very image we are being told we must not think, so the prohibition of sexual thoughts and feelings can do more to arouse the imagination in these areas than simply ignoring them ever could.

As a young adult I went to a Bible college where a similar mentality operated. I was one among only nineteen other young adults under the burden of over a hundred written and unwritten rules. One such rule was a universal taboo on anything to do with romance. The staff of this school did their best to prevent the young people from anything that might excite them romantically. Every cassette and CD that a student brought to the school was carefully previewed, and if any love songs were found then the album or the song would be banned. The administrator of the school encouraged us to make fun of kissing when it appeared on videos, even mocking the act with disgusting lip noises like prepubescent boys tend to do. When springtime came the young men were given instruction to be extra careful, as this was the season when nature causes the hormones to play up. There was a ban on private letters and phone calls across the sexes, and Lindvall’s lectures were often played at the beginning of term. If one of the staff members noticed that a man and woman were spending too much time together, they would step in and do something. In one such case, where two people actually fell in love, the staff decided this young man and woman shouldn't be allowed to communicate at all with each other, even from their homes during the summer holidays.

The result of so much concentration on not being tempted by love was interesting. The young women often seemed to treat romance as if it was a big joke and could be flirtatious in a flippant way. The consequence of not treating love and romance seriously in the right way, meant that it was treated flippantly in a totally wrong way. I found that there was not the appropriate care taken by the girls concerning how their actions might hurt the males. On the other hand, whenever any interaction with the opposite sex was at all serious, it was pregnant with self-consciousness, introspection and guilt. Furthermore, a psychotherapist has noted that the percentage of sex abuse cases among those who had been to that school was phenomenal - far higher than the percentage among the average non-Christians sector of the population.

Why did these problems arise among those who are instructed so intensely to view romance so cynically and negatively? A similar question might be asked concerning the huge sex scandal that rocked Gothard's Illinois based organization and nearly forced Gothard into retirement.

I believe part of the answer lies in the way these concerns were handled. The devaluation, even the mocking of romance prior to the appropriate time, led to a general misconstruction of romance and love in general. Because these feelings were not aligned to a model of the high and good value of romance, it was very easy to treat them - whether consciously or unconsciously - as things that were sinful; to try to bury them in a dark closet and hope they reemerge as infrequently as possible. Often when a person has undergone this kind of unhealthy repression, it causes the thing that has been repressed to be displaced onto another area of his or her experience, so that the thing that was repressed reemerges with a new shape - a shape that the person does not recognize as stemming from the very area they thought was killed.

Another factor was the false dichotomy between the things of the spirit and the passions of the body, as if they are in competition to each other. You didn’t pursue romance because that took your mind off Christ. We thus had no idea how to give the Lord control of these areas because we expected Him to take them away. These areas were not as important to God as things like Bible memorization, study and prayer meetings and if God was interested in them at all, it was in helping us overcome them.

We also find this false divide between the spiritual world vs. the earthly realm of romance and emotions throughout Lindvall’s teaching. In Lindvall’s newsletter he shared a letter from a young man who confessed to “struggling with thinking about a girl” whom he might marry. The man wrote,

"I have prayed that God would take these thoughts from me, and have tried to stop thinking them myself, once I become aware that I am thinking about her again…. I am just frustrated, and am feeling powerless against these thoughts. (Even though my mind tells me that I'm wrong, and I do have the power to control them)."

Lindvall’s advise to help this man achieve ‘victory’ was that he turn totally to Jesus, fast, pray and try to channel his emotional energy into reading and memorizing scripture. Additionally, Lindvall quoted Colossians 3:2: "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth."[9] Since the world of romantic emotions is seen as belonging to the inferior realm of “things of the earth”, it is at variance with our pursuit of heavenly things above. A divided field of experience ensues in which a false competition is set up between the spirit and the emotions.

As I found at the Bible college already mentioned, this fragmented and compartmentalized view of our humanity meant that Christ was not Lord of our entire person, and consequently the area of our passions remained outside of His Lordship. Because we were made to feel guilty for even having such emotions, we tended subconsciously to assume that there must be something unclean, dirty, naughty, or impure about this area of life, or else treat it clinically as mere animal instincts. Romance and passion were not viewed as something in which our whole person participated, but treated instead almost like a ‘thing’ external to us that we take on and off. It is always dangerous when life is divided into compartments like this since Christ’s Lordship should permeate all areas of life.[10]

In the rest of essay I want to explore one of the main arguments used to compel young people to cultivate this negative and unhealthy view of their emotions.

Broken Heart Syndrome

In the book Best Friends For Life, we read that "one of the great benefits of courtship is that it minimalizes as much as is humanly possible the broken-heart syndrome so many young people experience."

As this quotation indicates, the need to avoid ‘broken-heart syndrome’ is one of the primary motivations behind the courtship method. But to what exactly does ‘broken-heart syndrome’ refer?

This term, ‘broken heart syndrome’ was popularized by Lindvall to describe the painful side of romantic emotions when a person feels that their “heart is broken.” Like the term ‘emotional impurity’, it is a pejorative description that unfairly typifies certain experiences. If these people can get us to think of emotional heartache as a ‘syndrome’, then they have nearly won the argument, in so far as a ‘syndrome’ usually implies neurosis.

This is really what we should expect. When romantic love comes under censor, the next step is to take a dim view of the experience of heart broken-ness. For what does a broken heart indicate other than that one has made the fatal mistake of losing control of one's emotions in an experience of romance: that one has extended oneself too far, put too much hope or confidence in another person, slipped from the safe platform of self-control into the unpredictable sea of emotional involvement?

Similar reasons have led counsellors in the secular climate to despise broken hearts. The self-centred consumerist mentality of today has no understanding for an experience which signifies the capacity to lose yourself or feel disappointed - an experience which presupposes that there is a soul that can feel hope, rejection, betrayal, and, yes, love as well.

Sharon Thompson tells us that many girls are unhappy with the casual sex they are expected to have, and the reason for their unhappiness is because they are still "'condition[ing] sexual consent on romantic expectations.'"[11] When one girl was so traumatised by her first experience of premarital sex, the girl vowed to save sex until marriage so she could be sure the relationship meant as much to the man as it did to her. Thompson concludes that by this decision Tracey "'had gone back...to the very same convictions that had set her up to become a victim of love in the first place.'"[12] In other words when we enter into sexual experiences with romantic expectation, we become a victim of our own illusions. Because the romantic 'illusion' has at root assumptions about gender differences, a young girl experiencing a broken heart does not require sympathy – at least according to Sharon Thompson - but instruction, since such a person is engaging in "bids for sympathy and absolution based on assumptions about gender differences so conventional that whole genres turn on them.'"[13] As a solution Thompson suggests girls learn to treat love as something ephemeral and play the field with the kind of emotional detachment that will save them from heartbreak. This is called 'unencumbered sex'.

Although the context is different, the motivation is the same as we find in the emotional purity movement. Those who push emotional purity (and its corollary 'courtship') begin the discussion of broken hearted-ness at the same point as Sharon Thompson, namely, the need to avoid being a victim of the heartache and disappointment that romantic expectation can create. The solution of the former is to encourage all manner of loose behaviour but without the expectation of a secure relationship; the solution of the latter is to try to eradicate any behaviour that might give vent to romantic expectation prior to the security of marriage. In both cases they are trying to avoid what Capon calls “the indulgence of the ultimate risk of giving oneself to another over whom we have no control.”[14] Let's have a closer look at what is being proposed as a solution.

The Solution: Emotional Sterilization

Lindvall draws our attention to the fact that in the typical dating pattern when a person enjoys a series of temporary dating relationships, each relationship must endure a breaking up process before moving on to the next. “However,” writes Lindvall,

"As their hearts are wounded, and then heal after each episode, they develop emotional calluses as a defense against the depth of grief that would be useful in motivating married couples to shore up the performance of their union.[15]

"The more often they experience this [breaking-up], the more scared their emotions are, and then we wonder why when we marry we have a difficult time becoming vulnerable and open with our husband or our wife.[16]

Israel Wayne has argued similarly, comparing the emotional pain of breaking off a relationship to sticking on and then ripping off a piece of tape on your arm: at first it hurts, but eventually, if you repeat the process long enough, the hairs that originally acted as pain sensors eventually cease to register pain to the brain. Similarly, it is argued, the more we experience the emotional pain of breaking up a relationship, the more desensitized we become. Eventually our emotions become hardened as an instinctive defense against future pain. “It may seem good to have our emotions hardened,” Wayne writes,

but this doesn’t work very well in a marriage. Who wants to have a spouse who is uncaring, unfeeling, and guards themselves so they won’t be hurt? We all want spouses who can freely give and receive love. [17]

The solution that both Lindvall and Wayne give is to reject the typical dating pattern of in/out relationships for the model of emotional purity. Emotional purity guarantees that you won’t get hurt since you don’t release your emotions until it’s safe.

Not for the first or last time, Lindvall and Wayne have presented us with a false dilemma. The choice they give us is between a series of in/out dating relationships vs. shutting down the emotions completely until it is completely ‘safe.’ This gives them the perfect platform to persuade young people to be emotionally ‘pure’, since the young people they are addressing already have an antipathy to the typical pattern of irresponsible relationships. Forced into this false choice, the model of emotional purity is clearly the only option for a biblically-minded young person or parent. It is only after you go deeper into the system that you find that this solution not only excludes irresponsible dating but any unguarded emotions even when experienced within in a biblically responsible relationship. They are not teaching young people that within the context of being honorable towards those of the opposite sex, you are not being sinful, unspiritual or defiled if you have growing feelings for someone; nor are they teaching young people how to approach and deal with such feelings. Instead, they are teaching that romantic feelings, emotional desires and expectations are wrong if felt at anytime while there is still a risk that the object of those desires may not become our future spouse. We must safeguard our life against the potential of any emotional pain in the very first place.

It is interesting that this basic argument hinges, not on an appeal to scripture, but on pragmatic and utilitarian concerns, as it promises to maximize the agent’s future happiness in marriage. (It is not surprising that their basic argument would be utilitarian rather than theological, seeing as the Bible directly refutes the doctrine of emotional purity. See my article 'Betrothal & Emotional Purity: A Biblical, Historiographical Approach') We are being told that marriages will be happier and more emotionally liberated if both parties have practiced these principles prior to engagement. We would do well to question this basic assumption. Surely those who go through youth trying to avoid emotional pain, trying to prevent the possibility of suffering, trying to protect their emotions, are not as a result suddenly going to be emotionally vulnerable and open as soon as they get married. If anything, they will be the ones who have developed the emotional hardness.

Imagine a young girl who is first learning to walk on her own two legs. The father notices and realizes that there might be falls, and the potential of physical pain, before she can finally walk without error. Suppose the father, wanting to prevent his girl from the possibility of this pain, comes and offers her a wheel chair for her to sit and be pushed around in until she is nine. At nine years old, he thinks, her mind will have developed a level of control and sophistication to enable her to learn to walk without the errors that invariably confront the toddler. Now if a father really did that, what would happen when the girl finally reached the day where he authorized her to walk? She would be a cripple since her legs, through continual neglect, would have lost the ability to function.

In a very similar way, a father who successfully disallows his daughter (or son) from experiencing natural human emotions until she is able to do so without the possibility of hurt will very likely have damaged her very ability to experience normal emotions.

I’m not a neurologist but I've read enough neurology to know that during a person's formative years the brain has a placidity which allows certain patterns to be established in the infrastructure of the brain. During these years the brain is like flexible putty. The older one gets, however, the more the brain gradually solidifies. This means that if one part of the brain has been deprived from growing normally, it is very difficult to go back and cut new grooves since the brain does not have the same neuro-plasticity. Now the brain controls the emotions, and an adult's ability to experience healthy emotions is contingent to a large degree on how his or her emotions were handled during the formative years. For example, if a baby or child senses parental disapproval every time they cry, they quickly learn to repress such feelings and expressions. As an adult such a person may find it difficult to express or even to feel spontaneous emotion since the brain has been trained to do the opposite.

Similarly, when it comes to romantic emotions, if an adolescent is influenced to greet the arrival of such emotions with suspicion, repression and guilt, they will likely find it difficult to experience these emotions properly when they are suddenly told it is legitimate. The positive side is that the Lord is able to heal and make whole, but this can be a torturesomly difficult process if one has years of opposite brain patterns to contend against.

The Young Person’s Point of View

It will be worthwhile now to consider the issue of emotions from a young person’s point of view. For nearly every young person, the intensity of emotions is perhaps the hardest thing to work through. The sensation that life is unbearably happy one minute and unbearably sad the next is a common experience. In retrospect we may forget how real and meaningful our feelings were to us back then, and we are left with little or no understanding and sympathy to offer our children.

The 'emotional purity' pioneers have taken it one stage further to question whether this age of passion and intensity is really necessary, or whether it is a sort of appendage which lack of true perception, together with cultural pressures, make us subject to.

It must be realized that a broken heart of the sort that has a teenager sobbing into his or her pillow one day but heals into hope the next, is a basic part of a young person’s life. As adolescents we need the love, support and guidance of our parents, not the censor and subsequent guilt of being told we have done wrong or have been too weak. It is in learning that we grow, not in becoming so emotionally contrived that we become hard and unemotional.

Often the broken heart is a private affair - we secretly like a boy or girl but never tell anyone, least of all the person in question! - but our heart skips a beat when we pass them. Then that person leaves the neighborhood and our world comes crashing down. Or we 'fall in love' with a wonderful person in a film or book, and at the end of the story the beauty of it breaks our hearts, we hardly know why. Such are the experiences of most young people: crushes, fantasies, dreams and feelings which are very real to us at the time.

In time, however, such feelings fade and we grow to see things more objectively. But if, at the time, scorn or ridicule had been meted out to us in our vulnerability, we would in fact have closed up our heart, thoughts and feelings when we may actually need to share them with someone. Or if our parents had brought us up to feel there was something intrinsically wrong with these experiences, something they disapproved of, then we might have hardened ourselves emotionally and formed a crust around our heart out of desperation to be 'correct.' Others, unable to do this, may live in a perpetual guilt-ridden state, too ashamed to share their 'sinful feelings' with anyone.

If a young person's feelings are not seen in perspective by the adults who should be helping them through these years, namely their parents, then the normal emotional intensity has added to it the parents’ unrealistic notion of life. Things, which in time would die a natural death, are given an extended life of prolonged guilt. It is all very counterproductive.

The Trade-off

Parents who have this destructive mentality will not only prevent guilt-prone youths from falling into the 'sin' of having a crush on someone, or of admitting it if they do, but they will prevent that child from the natural healing of that broken heart. The parent who is trying to tie up their youth's emotions is not at the same time able to help that youth come to terms with those feelings, to face them, accept them, grow from them, and grow out of them.

I am not saying that having a broken heart is an inherently good thing because we can grow from it, or that we should try to get our hearts broken in order to learn lessons. Far from it! A boy who is learning to ride a bicycle will likely have a few falls to start with, and learn from the painful experience of falling how to properly manage the bicycle. It would be stupid, however, if the boy took this fact and fell off the bike on purpose in order to learn from it. The parent who says his teenagers mustn’t have individual friendships with members of the opposite sex because there is then the possibility of the emotional pain of a broken heart, would be like a parent who didn’t let his son learn to ride a bicycle because of the possibility of the physical pain of falling off.

What I am suggesting is true of any kind of suffering, that although it is not something that we should go out of our way to try to experience, neither does God want us going out of our way to try to prevent suffering.[18] Creating a plan for life that will safeguard us from pain, from our own emotions, and those of others, likewise does not help us grow. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants a relationship to end in tears, but if that does happen, does that automatically mean we were sinning? Does that mean we should make sure we protect our children from such an experience by attempting to exercise tight control over their emotions? Does it mean we should allow fear to turn us into something like a computer that automatically backs itself up at every point?

It is the job of a parent to help growth, not to dictate it, to help young people approach relationships with integrity and honor and to help them if things go wrong. It is the job of parents to help young people grow from their suffering and broken hearts, not to try to artificially create situations to prevent any possibility of broken hearts. The only way to prevent the possibility of a young person getting a broken heart is to prevent that child from ever feeling love, and that is the most tragic thing a parent could do to a child. (See the quotation by Lewis at the beginning of this entry). It is not sensitive and caring when Lindvall talks about wanting to spare his children the suffering of a broken heart, for if you want a heart that cannot be broken, what you need is a heart that cannot love. C.S. Lewis puts this well.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness... We shall draw nearer to God, not be trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.[19]

When the New York Times did a front page feature on the courtship movement they quoted from a 'betrothed' man who said, "I can begin to emotionally connect because it’s safe." Safe? What in life is really safe? If these people are looking for an emotionally safe existence, they need to go a lot further to guard themselves. Hell is the only place where you are perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love, as C. S. Lewis brings out in the excellent passage I cited at the beginning of this entry.
With regard to the particular pain of a broken heart, if this must be avoided at all costs, why stop at a prohibition on relationships with the opposite sex? Why not also prohibit all friendships with members of the same sex since it is always possible that someone we have grown to love - perhaps a best friend that we have shared our heart with in a special way - may die, may change, or may do something that leaves us hurting?

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center my wife was talking to a woman about it. The women mentioned that she had heard on the news that a boy had telephoned his mother from the airplane just before the crash to tell her that he loved her. My wife's friend said that she would not have been able to cope with that sort of thing if she was a mother. She has chosen not have children in order to avoid the potential pain. It's certainly true that if you're not prepared for the possibility of a broken heart, you shouldn't have children. After all, children may die, they may suffer, they may go through experiences that make the parents weep. If God were somehow against broken hearts, He surely would not have given parents the ability to have children.

In the end, if we really want the security of knowing our heart will not break, if we really want a life that is emotionally safe, we must carefully guard our heart from becoming attached to anyone - man, woman or animal.

No true relationship is safe, whether it be a love relationship or just a relationship of friends. That is why the philosophy of safeguarding ourselves against emotional hurt can only lead to the death of relationships. Indeed, if the principle which courtship and betrothal is based be consistently applied to its full extension, then all forms of relationships must be denied us, for that principle is that the possibility of emotional pain must be removed whatever the cost. (Paul Shippy has some good comments about this sort of thing HERE)

I am reminded of Christ’s parable of the talents. Recall that the man who was given one talent feared lest he lose it. While the other servants were out trading with their capital and seeing it increase, the fearful servant dug a hole and buried his talent in the ground. It was his fear of losing it that prevented him from using it. As a friend of mine recently observed, fear of failure is the greatest motivation to failure that ever existed. Every trade involves a risk. It is only by overcoming our fears and risking something of ourselves that we ultimately get anywhere.

We have seen the way certain teachers have attempted to create a pain-free world, where one never gets heart-broken and every element of risk and unpredictability is systematically eliminated from the equation of human relationships. In this way, what is created is a world where ostensibly you have nothing to fear, yet the paradox remains that it is fear that drives people to submit to such regimes in the first place. As with the man who had one talent, something is buried in the ground. In this case, however, what is buried in the ground is not money…it is our own hearts.

C. S. Lewis himself confessed a struggle with this very issue. In The Four Loves, Lewis says that in one sense it seems like perfect advice not to give your heart to anyone but God.

“Don’t put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I do to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as 'Careful! This might lead you to suffering.'

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liability. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less.”[20]

Lewis goes on to suggest that the most lawless passion that prefers the beloved to happiness is more like ultimate Love Himself than this search for safe-investment-relationships. Lewis points out that even our love for God does not offer safety and security. Was Christ’s love for us a ‘safe investment’? It cost Him His life! And as Christ lay dying for us, did He not feel that the Father had forsaken Him?

So what happens when one of these ‘safe’ relationships does lead to marriage? Presumably it is imagined that the resulting marriage will be an emotionally safe frontier. Marriage can be emotionally safe, but only in the same way that pre-marital relationships and life itself can be made emotionally safe. Remain in the safety of the shallows and do not allow yourself to be discovered, to be known by yourself and the other in all your nakedness, vulnerability and weakness. Harden up when that little voice says, “Watch out, you might get hurt.” Such a marriage may be free from pain, it is true, but it will also be free from intimacy and joy.

For more on this subject and on Biblical courtship in general, see:

Betrothal and Emotional Purity: is it Biblical?

Emotional Purity


The Way of a Man With a Maid

Bill Gothard and ATI

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[1] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, in The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1960), pp. 278-9.)

[2] John Thompson, “God’s Design For Scriptural Romance Part 1: Rediscovering the Timeless Truths”, op cit.

[3] Jonathan Lindvall, The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance, Hope School Digest, ibid.

[4] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[5] From the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, (Springville, CA: Bold Parenting, 1992).

[6] Jonathan Lindvall, from the tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, ibid

[7] From the taped lecture, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, ibid.

[8] Shamefaced Romance, ibid.

[9] From Bold Christian Living E-Mail Newsletter, Issue #99.

[10] Susan Schaeffer Macaulay is very good on this idea of the Lord permeating all aspects of life. See, For the Family’s Sake, (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 1999), especially p. 34.

[11] From Sharon Thompson's study, Going All The Way: Teenage Girls Tales of Sex, Romance, and Pregnancy, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1995) Cited by Shalit, op. cit., p. 64.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Cited by Rodney Clapp in "What Hollywood Doesn't Know About Romantic Love: Celebrating Valentine's Day in the spirit of the Song of Solomon". Christianity Today, Feb. 3, 1984 issue.

[15] Bold Christian Living catalogue, article titled ‘Do Teen Dating Practices Prepare Young People For Marriage or Divorce?’ (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[16] Jonathan Lindvall, from the taped lecture, "Scriptural Betrothal: God's Design for Youthful Romance." (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living).

[17] Israel Wayne, “Don’t Kiss Before The Wedding!”, The Link: A Homeschool Newspaper, Volume 4, Issue 2.

[18] Edith Schaeffer is very good on this point, and I would highly recommend her book Affliction (Hodder and Stoughton, 1978), particularly chapter eleven where she addresses the temptation to abort affliction.

[19] C. S. Lewis, op. cit., p. 279.

[20] Ibid, p. 278.

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Thoughts on Proverbs 5 for Young Men

Proverbs 5 gives strong warnings to young men on the dangers of seductive women. These warnings should be understood in the broadest possible terms. When we are told to “remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house,” (5:8), this is more than simply an injunction not to frequent the town’s red light district or to fornicate. Of course, we can draw these obvious applications and I don’t want to minimize the importance of that. But we also need to be aware that these principles can be applied in a far broader way. In particular, we need to understand that “[removing] your way far from her” involves the rejection of all seductive material and images from our environment.

Our society has numerous sexual temptations that never existed in the Ancient Near East when the Proverbs were written. In those days, the vehicle for sexual temptation would have been specific women acting in a seductive manner. We still have that, to be sure, but we now have the added situation where seductive images and stimuli reach us, against our will, through hundreds of additional means: advertising, entertainment, billboards, shop windows, magazine racks, the internet, etc.

When viewing this wider plethora of temptations, the danger is for Christians to miss the most relevant point. It is easy to think that seductive images are harmful because they might lead to a liking or addiction for such things, or that the libido might be charged up, or that one’s sexual appetite might be stimulated, or something like that. These are all areas of possible danger and should not be treated lightly. But the real hazard such things pose is more subtle and, therefore, hardly ever recognized.

The greatest danger is that after constant exposure - often against our will - to seductive images, we cease to find such things seductive. With the class of temptations I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the more seductive something is, the more of a danger it presents. But with this temptation I am now talking about – the tendency to stop finding things seductive - it is usually the mildly seductive images that are the most hazardesss. It is the borderline cases we will be most willing to consider benign, which means that a new set of borders will have to be drawn until the same process repeats itself (see my article How Worldviews Change). But this is exactly what we should expect, seeing that seductive images give the message about dress and behaviour that advertising gives about a product: this is good, this is okay, this is normal.

Worldliness has made it seem normal for women to be seductive and strange for them to be modest. The principle here is that which applies to any kind of sin. David Wells has pointed out that “worldliness…is that set of practices in a society, its values and ways of looking at life, that make sin look normal and righteousness look strange."

The protection from the seductive woman of Proverbs 5, and from the corresponding temptations of our own day, is Proverbs 1. Here we are warned not to be simple, but to love knowledge (see my sermon Sermon on Romans 12:2-3). A young man who is simple, in the sense of being naïve, will be unaware of the qualifying undercurrents that saturate the contemporary world. In his naiveté, he will act as if he alone is insulated from the evaluative overtones that permeate the advertising, media and entertainment industries of today - overtones which tell us, in thousands of subtle ways, ‘This is the good life, this is what is normal.’ Such a person will only sit up and take heed of the most direct assault on his value system, not realizing that all the while his values are constantly eroding at the edges through subliminal messages.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

DaVinci Code Lecture

Dr. Grant recently spoke in an informal faculty meeting about the DaVinci Code book and movie phenomena. He dealt with some of the basic issues of their lack of historicity as well as the implications and opportunities they present to the church. Click HERE to listen to the lecture.

The approach Dr. Grant takes is the best I've yet come across concerning the DaVinci situation.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sermon on Romans 12:2-3

Transcript of sermon given on 18th February, 2006

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Rom. 12:2-3

Paul tells his readers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Before such a transformation takes place, every person is conformed to the pattern of this world by default. The word for world is ‘age’ in the Greek. In any age, there are various assumptions, modes of thought, unspoken axioms of worldly commonsense, fashions, etc., which run counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ. You do not have to do anything to have your mind conformed to such things, just as you do not have to do anything for your house to get dirty. But it does take effort and constant upkeep for our minds to be transformed to the pattern of Christ. That is something only the Holy Spirit can achieve in us, for a fallen mind can no more transform itself by itself than a car that is out of petrol can fill itself up by itself and then start driving down the road.

Of course, we wonder, if our minds can only be transformed by the Spirit working in us, then what is the point of doing anything about it? I knew a man once in America who took that approach. When I challenged him about areas of sin, he said, “if the Lord wants me to think like that, then he will initiate; He will put the thoughts into my head.” But it doesn’t work like that. Scripture teaches that God is in complete control of everything that happens, and it also teaches that man has free will and responsibility. Scripture teaches it is the Holy Spirit that has the power to renew and transform our minds, yet Paul can confidently tell his readers to go and be transformed by the renewing of their minds, with the implication being that they have the ability to do this or not to.

In our age it is difficult for the mind to be transformed since the mind is often hardly functioning at all. If a car is heading down the road in the wrong direction, it is easier to turn it around and make it drive in the right direction than it would be to get a car to drive in the right direction that cannot even start. Much work must be done on the car that cannot start before it is ready to drive in the right direction: you must check the oil, perhaps add some petrol, maybe even change the battery, and so on. But the car that is driving in the wrong direction just needs to find a suitable place on the side of the road where it can turn around. Similarly, the great challenge of the gospel today is to renew minds that are not working at all – minds that have been amused to death; minds that have been made passive through the endless action of external stimuli; minds that have been lulled into inactivity by the constant stimulation of external activity; minds that would prefer to enjoy entertaining distractions than struggle to think coherently.

In the late 19th century, Charles Spurgeon lamented the way people would not think, and the barrier this created for the gospel.

…thinking. That is a great preparation for coming to Christ just as you are, to be set a-thinking. We have always hope of men when they once begin to think about religion and the things of God. See how the bulk of them hurry on with their eyes tightly shut, rushing fast and yet faster still down to destruction. You cannot make them stop and think. There are thousands of men who would almost sooner be whipped than be made to think. The last thing to which they will ever come of themselves is thoughtfulness. Let me appeal to some here who are still unconverted. Did you ever give the affairs of your soul the benefit of an hour's serious consideration? You have your regular time for stock-taking, those of you who are in business; do you ever take stock of your spiritual estate? I know that you are not such fools as to neglect your ledgers, you cast up your accounts to see whereabouts you are financially; but do you cast up the account between God and your own soul, and look the matter fairly, and squarely in the face? Oh, if we could but bring you to do this, we should feel that you were being prepared for coming to Christ just as you are, for no man will come to Christ while he is utterly careless and thoughtless! Faith is a matter of thought; it requires a mind aroused from slumber, a mind that has taken wing....

So thinking is crucial to the right exercise of faith. Peter told his readers to “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pet. 1:13) while Paul, when writing to the Ephesians, used language very similar to the Romans passage, telling them to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” (Eph. 4:23)

What does a renewed mind look like? How is a renewed mind different from one that is conformed to the pattern of this world? Beyond the obvious areas, such as the fact that a renewed mind has a conviction of sin and views things through the lens of God’s spirit, the book of Proverbs shows us numerous features of the renewed mind. Let’s read from Proverbs 1:2-7

To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgement, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion – a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The main idea here is not to be simple. To be simple is to be a fool. In a minute we’ll consider what ‘simple’ means in this context, but first let’s just just jump down to verses 20-23 of the same chapter.

"Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: ‘How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you."

This import of these passages are lost on us if we don’t understand what is meant by simplicity. When the Proverbs refers to people who are simple, this is not about people who are uncomplicated, unintelligent or who are not intellectuals. One can be a complicated, intelligent and intellectual yet still be simple in the Proverbial sense. In one of
Steve Hayhow’s lectures he explains that the word ‘simple’ in these verses is really more in the sense of someone who is naïve - someone who is so open-minded that they are gullible to all the influences that work upon the mind. Steve goes on to explain that someone is naïve when they are unaware and unable to evaluate, criticize and be discerning about the things they hear, the things they’re exposed to and the things they see. To be simple is to have one’s mind soak up the assumptions, values and priorities of this world as easily as dry ground soaks up water. “One of the goals of Christian education,” Steve said,

is to stop us from being what we naturally are which is naive and simple. Simplicity and naivety are not virtues in the Christian religion; they are the enemies to wisdom knowledge and understanding. Because, in a sinful world to be a simple person, to be a naive person is to be the person who is taken it; it’s to be the person who is deceived; it’s to be the person who is led astray… The problem today is that many people don’t care about what is happening to us or our culture. And the problem then is that if you don’t care then you don’t notice; and if you don’t notice then you’re naïve; and if you’re naive then you’re open to all kinds of influence, indoctrination and subversion and you won’t even know.

Wisdom is thus partly defined in terms of its antithesis: simplicity. Simplicity is the truest form of ignorance and foolishness, yet exists in many people who think they have good learning. “I would have everybody able to read and write and cipher” Spurgeon once said. “Indeed, I don’t think a man can know too much. But, mark you, the knowing of these things is not education and there are millions of your reading and writing folk who are as ignorant as neighbour Norton’s calf.”

Paul doesn’t stop with the renewing of our minds but continues to its logical consequent. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The one thing leads to the other. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may then go on and prove what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. In this context, prove is obviously referring to what is outworked in our lives. Our lives are to be the proof of the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. This happens when we put into practice the truth that we know in our minds. Theology comes out our fingertips, so if you want to know what a person really believes, don’t listen just to what they say but watch their lives. James wrote about the need to be doers of the word and not just hearers. I think that’s the same kind of thing Paul is driving at here.

The mind is crucial, for we can no more live for Christ without a renewed mind than the CD player can play music without first putting in a CD. But if you want to hear the music, you need to do more than just put the CD into the slot: you also have to hit the play button. Similarly, it’s no good just thinking about our minds being renewed, we need to press play so that what is in our minds can translate into action. The truth that is in our renewed minds must play the music of holiness throughout every aspect of our lives. Quoting again from Spurgeon, “Unless our religion makes us holy, it has not done anything for us that is really worth doing. Unless we hate sin, and love righteousness, our religion is a sham and a lie.”

Putting the same truth in a slightly different way, Thomas Chalmers wrote:

Let us be clear about this: there can be no partial gospel application just as there can be no partial gospel. We do not have the prerogative to take up one thing at a time. It is all or none. The claims of the Christian paidea are all encompassing – they are universal; they are comprehensive…

Let’s move onto verse three now. “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

If one fails to find, live out and prove the acceptable will of God, then the result will inevitably be thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, because our own will becomes the centre, the starting point. Having told his readers to bind themselves to the will of God, Paul is not expounding on the result of that: which is humility. Humility is also the result of not being conformed to the pattern of this age. Worldliness usually always results in pride.

We would do well to reflect on some of the ways that the virtue of humility, like the virtue of love, has been misunderstood and twisted out of shape in today’s world. I once had a debate with my father who, under the banner of intellectual humility, refused to commit himself to any position. Julian Rivers refers to “the spurious humility that refuses to be dogmatic about anything and then goes out and does what it likes.” Chesterton complained that

…what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt -- the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new sceptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. Thus we should be wrong if we had said hastily that there is no humility typical of our time. The truth is that there is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether. At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.”

And that was even before postmodernism!

Carrying on from Chesterton, I would suggest that the essence of biblical humility is to submit to the authority of God, and that means that when scripture tells us to believe something or to be strong and uncompromising in a certain area, to shy away from that in the name of humility is actually a form of pride.

Humility involves the realization that I am not at the centre. It involves an orientation that is continually aware of one’s own finiteness and frailty. One of the ways we achieve this sense is to become educated, to increase in the kind of wisdom we were reading about from Proverbs. Arthur Quiller Cooch taught that the more educated we are the more humble we should be because we know how much we don’t know. Truly educated people do not take themselves too seriously yet they know when serious things ought to be taken seriously. Cooch wrote

"The more deeply a man explores his subject, the further he will be led to consider the views of those who have studied and thought about it before him. The more conscious he will feel of his own fallibility and the fog of ignorance encompassing us all. He will read on and on and a growing modesty will deter him from seeking such positive assertions as are made by hastier less informed men."

When we explore our subjects, when we read the great authors of Western civilization, we begin to imbibe a worldview that is neither liberal nor conservative. Being liberal or being conservative are simply the effects of not having all of history to draw upon. Conservatives who dogmatically lock into imitating how things were done in the last two hundred years, or liberals who dogmatically lock into imitating how things were done in the last two hundred minutes, are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of both these wrong approaches is confessional approach that relies on the whole of time, using the lens of what is good, right, true and beautiful as the standard of what things should be aspired to. "The first use of good literature,” Chesterton wrote,

"is that it prevents a man from being merely modern. To be merely modern is to condemn oneself to an ultimate narrowness; just as to spend one's earthly money on the newest hat is to condemn oneself to be old-fashioned. The road of the ancient centuries is strewn with dead moderns. Literature, classic and enduring literature, does its best work in reminding us perpetually of the whole round of truth and balancing other and older ideas against the ideas to which we might for a moment be prone."

So by reading widely, or at least by listening to people who are widely read (which is often the best I can do), gives one a sense of perspective, releasing one from the bondage of present fades. This kind of humility-producing education is opposed to two other educational models. On the one hand, there is the pragmatic kind of education that addresses itself only to the areas perceived to be useful for getting on in life. What is defined as useful for getting on in life is the kind of training that leads to a good career or well-paying job. This leads people to think in terms of specialization and to learn only what they need to manage one small area, rather than being able to draw on what is good, true and beautiful in all areas. This approach to education is antithetic to the kind of learning that assists us to follow the apostles injunction not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. The pragmatic approach never sees the need to walk up to the reservoir of wisdom from throughout the ages and beginning drinking drafts that cause our own puny thoughts and opinions to pail into nothingness next to the great minds of the Western tradition. What is worse is that those who have not availed themselves of this reservoir, begin to believe that their foolishness is wisdom and that they are well-informed because of what they watch on television.

On the other hand, there are other people who let education breed intellectual snobbery, where knowledge is restricted to a privileged intellectual elite, and is intentionally not integrated with the affairs of every day men and women. For this sort of person, learning becomes just as irrelevant to everyday life as in the pragmatic approach. Also, the intellectual snobs are really just as anti-intellectual as the pragmatists, since they want to restrict and limit knowledge to only one segment of society: their own. Rather than wanting to apply the principles of knowledge to every area of life and society, they make knowledge into something obscure, obtuse and detached from everyday life. They want to draw from the reservoirs of wisdom throughout the ages, not so that they can take the water to all who are dying of thirst, not so that they can water the plants of our culture to grow again, but so they can store it in tanks and keep it for their own to look at it and talk about and grow stagnant. They want to gain wisdom but not to practice it. Yet the Bible shows that it is impossible to have the one without the other. Orthodoxy (right belief) without orthopraxy (right practice) will degenerate into either heterodoxy (wrong belief) or idolatry. The way to understand is to do. Jesus said that if anyone would know of His doctrine, whether it came from God, he must practice the will of the father. (John 7:17)

Thus, a renewed mind is a mind that puts its knowledge into practice by proving what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. A renewed mind is ready to soak up knowledge because, not thinking too highly of itself, it is hungry to learn and listen. The more it learns, the more humble the mind becomes, and the more protected it is against that naïve simplicity that conforms automatically to the latest pattern of thought.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Music and the Bible

Not too long ago my family had the privilege of visiting a family of traditional Mennonites. One of the features of this family’s religion was the rejection of worldly practices and objects that might serve as a distraction in the pursuit of holiness. As a principle, that sounded scriptural and I agreed with it. However, I was concerned when I learned that the pursuit of holiness excluded the use of musical instruments. When I questioned the father of the family on this position, he explained that it was because the New Testament does not tell us to use musical instruments. Fortunately, not too long ago I had done a Bible study on ‘music appreciation in the Bible’, so I was able to share with this man all the New Testament verses that do support musical instruments.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament provide a strong basis for the importance of music appreciation. The first place we see this is right in the beginning of the Bible, where God made man into His image (Gen. 1:26). Now what in the world does that have to do with music? Well, being made in God’s image means that we are innately musical just as we are innately linguistic. Some people are more musical than others, but all people have the capacity to recognize and appreciate music. Because this capacity for musical appreciation arises from our being made in the image of God, it is not something our animal friends share, at least not in the same way.

If we reflect on God’s attributes, we see that music arises out of His very nature. We learn in the Bible that the triune God is both a unity and a diversity. We learn from the Bible that God and His purposes have continuity while also being dynamic. We read in the Psalms that the Lord is a God of beauty. The flow of Biblical history shows us that the Lord is a God of order and purpose. Now all these divine attributes are also characteristic of good music: good music has unity and diversity, continuity and dynamism, order, beauty, purpose. All the ingredients of good music arise out of God’s being. Therefore, good music has the capacity to draw us closer to God. But music also has the potential to draw us further away from the Lord, in so far as it departs from the divine characteristics of order, beauty, coherence, etc..

So to summarise my first point, music arises out of who God is, and because we are made in the image of God, we are capable of appreciating music. This does not mean that our appreciation of good music will be automatic, any more than our appreciation of language is automatic. We need to be trained to learn how to enjoy the language of music just as a young child must learn to enjoy verbal language.

The second reason music is important for Christians is again found in Genesis 1. The Lord instructed mankind to take dominion of the earth and to keep/guard that which He had given. This dominion mandate was a challenge for man to develop the earth, which was rich with cultural, aesthetic, intellectual and technological potential. Music, like all the arts and sciences, is an area where we can take dominion as God’s image-bearers.

Even before the fall, Adam must have known that he was incapable of completely fulfilling the dominion mandate by himself, even with the help of his wife Eve. He must have been aware that it would be through His offspring that the dominion mandate would be progressively fulfilled. Even the simple job of naming the animals is something Adam would not have been able to do alone. Scientists are still finding new animals to name, and in many cases it has only been because ultra high-tech equipment has been invented that they can discover and name certain microscopic species. Similarly with music, it falls on Adam’s descendents to take dominion of the earth’s musical resources. As we read through the Genesis narrative, we find different family groups taking dominion of different areas. We are told in Genesis 4:21 that Jubal who was descended from Cain was “the father of all those who play the harp and flute, just as Jabal was “the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” (Gen. 4:20). Exploiting the earth’s resources to build pianos, cellos and recording equipment is a way of fulfilling the cultural mandate and is, therefore, part of our spiritual worship. (See Denis Alexander's article 'Worshiping God with Technology'.)

These principles are not nullified when we come to the ‘dispensation’ of the New Testament, as was suggested to me by my Mennonite friend. The New Testament affirms the continuing relevance of the Old Testament and, moreover, it shows that man still has the vocation to act as God’s image-bearer. As the community of Jesus’ people, the injunction to proclaim the Lord's dominion into every area of life and culture is increased not diminished. (See my article The Power of the Gospel Part I and Part II)

Another reason why music is important for the Christian is because music is a tool for praising the Lord. All of the Psalms were originally songs to be sung, and references to praising the Lord on musical instruments permeate the Psalms from beginning to end. The Psalms enjoin us to “sing to the Lord a new song!” (Ps. 98:1), to “Come before His presence with singing” (Ps. 100:2), to sing of mercy and justice to the Lord (Ps. 101:1), and on and on. Even when we play, sing or listen to music that is not directly praising the Lord, God is praised indirectly when the Christian does it to God’s glory. There is a great line in the film Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell said that when he runs he feels God pleasure. Similarly, when I listen to good music, and especially when I start analysing good music, I feel God taking pleasure in it.

The next reason why music is important for a Christian is a bit more complicated, but bear with me. Listening to music critically helps to interpret scripture. This is because critical music appreciation exercises the brain’s capacity for abstract thinking. Because music, unlike all the other arts, is made up of pure sound, it is invisible. If you listen to classical music critically, there isn’t any concrete immediacy. You have to use your abstract mental muscles to notice patterns, themes, coherence, connections, differences, etc.. You have to recognize the flow: where is this coming from, where is this going, how does this fit with that, and so on. Now the ability to recognize patterns, themes, coherence, connections, differences, flow, etc., is a mental skill that is also necessary for critical reasoning and Biblical interpretation.

One of the problems with Bible teaching in a lot of evangelical churches is that there is an inability to notice the patterns, themes, coherence and connections in scripture. People don’t have a sense of the overall flow of where things are going and how everything in scripture fits together in an overall theological scheme. Often the Bible gets reduced to so many isolated proof-texts or stories, with no understanding of the grand meta-narratives. Now the ability to make connections and identify features of continuity is only possible with people who can think abstractly, even creatively. Music trains the brain in these areas. Therefore, I believe it is essential to teach Christian children to classical music critically because it trains their brains in these areas.

Now listening to classical music critically is not the only valid way to listen to music. For example, some people listen to music for a purely physical effect, such as to enjoy a driving beat or syncopation, or the uplifting feeling of hearing lots of brass in a big orchestra, or something like that. Or you can listen to music to invoke a certain mood, maybe to relax you or to cheer you up or to create a certain emotional atmosphere. But the kind of listening that leads to the greatest enjoyment is when you can listen critically or intelligently. This is the kind of listening where we know what’s going on in the music, and we can pick out some of the interesting features.

Most of the music that was written in the Western tradition that we broadly call classical music (which some people also call ‘art music’), was written to be listened to in this way: it was written to be interesting. Thus, getting to know this kind of music is like getting to know a person. Just as you might find a person boring before you get to know them, so we sometimes find certain music boring before we get to know it. With music, like with people, you have to work at it and then you are rewarded by enjoyment. Now, of course, it is always possible that you might come to understand what is happening in a piece of music and still not enjoy it. But very often when you do come to understand what is interesting about a piece of music you do then enjoy it. It’s the difference between merely hearing and listening.

There is an excellent article ‘Thoughts on Worship Music’ on the Christ Church’s website (in the section 'free literature'). In that article, the authors emphasize the Biblical importance of working to learn to appreciate certain musical forms.

“…modernity has prejudiced us to count only surface-level beauty as real beauty. In other words, we discount things that aren’t immediately beautiful to our personal tastes. We can tend to want everything to be immediate and automatic, and we cast off whatever doesn’t instantly please. That is one reason why non-Christians treat Scripture lightly; they refuse to look deeply. They can’t see the beauty in the story, though it jumps out at those who love God.

We also tend to think that if we’re merely regenerate, then we can easily discern between what is beautiful and ugly. But wisdom always takes time and discipline and pruning. Scripture orders us to ‘incline your ear to wisdom’ (including musical wisdom) and ‘apply your heart to understanding’ . . . If you seek her as silver, and search for her as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 2:2-5). Mining takes great labor and exercise. Discerning beauty is like that. It often takes great effort to train ourselves to see profundity….

We rob ourselves of wisdom if we judge a hymn or psalm after one singing. We don’t even truly know it at after only a month of singing. It can require a long period of meditation and work.”

Another reason why music appreciation and instruments are important for the Christian – and this was the main argument I used with my friend who was as suspicious of the Old Testament as he was of musical instruments - is because Jesus is Lord of music. In Colossians we read that by Jesus “all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible… All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Col. 1:12-17) All things, of course, includes music. Jesus is the Lord of music.

When Jesus died on the cross, He died to redeem everything that was affected by the fall. Now music was affected by the fall just like everything else. Christ died to redeem music, and it is only because of Christ’s blood that music can now glorify the Lord.

This same point can be made by considering Christ’s role as the second Adam. Because the sin wrought by the first Adam affected every aspect of life, it follows that the work of the second Adam must be at least qualitatively and quantitatively co-extensive to that of the first (Rom. 5:12-21 & 1 Cor. 15:21-22). When Christ died on the cross, He died for every nation, every institution, every person, every discipline, and every blade of grass affected by the fall. Jesus died for the restoration of music, education, painting, technology, economics, poetry, politics, philosophy, literature, dance, and on and on. It is sadly ironic how many evangelicals are ready to admit that the work of the first Adam affected everything, while hesitating to believe that the work of the second Adam also affected everything. There is an excellent by Derek Carlsen HERE which explores the full implications of Christ’s redemptive work.

So Jesus is Lord of music. One of the ways we can glorify the Lord is through music appreciation. Music is not separate from the Lord, for when one has a Biblical understanding of music, the more you appreciate music, the more our appreciation for God Himself is expanded. Music is spiritually important, and part of what is involved in learning to glorify and enjoy God is learning to enjoy the music He has given us.

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