Christian Thinking–Help Is Here

Thankfully, a trickle has turned into a flood.  For a period of time, we might say from the 1920s through the early 1970s,  Christian thought in America retreated.  It retreated from the academy, from politics, from culture, from economics, from art and literature, from philosophy, and other areas devoted to the life of the mind.

I stand behind the sentence stated above, but also note that it is full of holes.  The decades of the 20th century were the years that God raised up J. Gresham Machen, Herman Dooyeweerd, T. S. Eliot, Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, Graham Greene, Carl F. H. Henry, R. J. Rushdoony, Christopher Dawson, and a host of other Christian thinkers.  The problem was not the lack of Christian thought or Christian scholarship and certainly not the lack of Christian scholars and intellectuals.  The problem was that the main body of Christians didn’t engage in Christian thought, and the part of the world that did produce scholarship didn’t tend to recognize or interact with Christian thinking.

It was this empty chasm that led Harry Blamires to lament “There is no longer a Christian mind” in his book titled The Christian Mind.  Mark Noll recast the idea in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by stating, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”  Sure there are plenty of Christian musicians (some of whom are reputed to be good), Christian fiction writers (some of whose book covers do not feature Amish girls),  Christian cookbooks and diet plans, Christian wall art replete with Bible verses (some of which actually apply to the pictures), and Christian kitsch.

There are also lots of truly good Christian books dealing with personal, family, relational, and church related matters.  We are also blessed with having some theological heavy weights in our own time along with easy access to the theological writings from all the past centuries.

That being said, the Christian mind is often found to be flabby or starved.  The well-toned muscular Christian mind is still in short supply.  Professor Digby’s concern in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was “Why don’t they teach logic any more?”  That is one concern among many.  There are still far too many Christian ministries that are fluff-centered.  There are far too many churches that are more user-friendly than God-centered.  There are far too many Christians happily retreating into being a clueless witness in a pagan arena (public schools, for example) than in being a cutting edge in a true cultural confrontation.

To say that help is on the way is already passe.  Help is here.  God has always equipped His Church and His People with tools for dominion and conquest.  The Bible itself, of course, is a primary source weapon for any and all cultural battles.  And the Bible didn’t come off the presses and hit the book racks yesterday.  2000 years of interaction with language studies, theological wrangles, cultural confrontations, philosophical interactions, and even outbreaks of screaming and hollering have left us with an embarrassment of riches, Biblically and theologically speaking.

I am all in favor of putting Christian kids through a weight-lifting program with hefty copies of Augustine’s City of God, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and about 6 dozen novels, 2 dozen histories, 20 to 30 works of virtuous pagans–ancient and modern, and a healthy dose of Shakespeare’s plays and Southern poetry and fiction.  But we have to balance out and help refine the work of the “greats and classics” with some specialized worldview thining skills.

I admit that I am a Christian-worldview addict.  Show me a book on Christian worldview thinking and I want it.  The first time I heard the word “Christian World and Life View,” I had no idea what it meant.  Within a short season, that phrase changed my life and redirected my teaching career before it ever actually began.  I have never looked back.

All this brings me to the key point of this blog:  Two books that were published this past year on Christian thinking.

Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians was written by Bruce Riley Ashford and published by Lexham Press.  Dr. Ashford serves as Professor of Theology and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ashville, Kentucky.  That seminary, by the way, is under the leadership of Dr. Albert Mohler and is becoming a center of Christian thought and ministry training.  Lexham Press, a relatively new publishing house, is rocking Christian scholarship with a combination of short, powerful books like the one above, along with some other heavy-weight works such as their translation and publication of Reformed Dogmatics by Gerhardus Vos.

Every Square Inch is a book for square one; that is, it is a book for beginners.  (I am an old grizzled warrior in these matters, but I, too, profited greatly from the book.)  The title is taken from Abraham Kuyper’s defining phrase:  “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ who is Sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine.'”  Kuyper, a Dutch Christian who is the father of much of our Christian worldview thinking, is one of three key thinkers that Ashford credits and recommends.  The other two are Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis.  If the only thing a reader got from this book was the recommendation to ready Kuyper, Schaeffer, and Lewis, that reader would do well.

Abraham Kuyper was noted for his unusually large head. What the mind inside that head produced was far more astounding.

C. S. Lewis produced a wide variety of books from fiction and poetry to apologetics and literary criticism.

It is hard to imagine where the Christian community would be if it had not been for Francis Schaeffer.

Ashford devotes chapters to such topics as culture, calling, the arts, the sciences, politics, economics, education, and mission.  For sure, each chapter is incomplete, but this book is a starting block.  Each chapter ends with recommended readings.  The chapters themselves makes the cases for Christian pursuit of each of the areas of thought and life.  Key authors, and not just the three above, are quoted.  Summaries and thought questions are found at the end of each chapter.  There is also a whole chapter devoted to six case studies of Christians, including the blessed trio, who actually did apply the faith in their academic lives or life missions.

This book is a necessity for grounding students in Christian thinking.  It can also be used as for teacher training in a Christian school.  It is also useful for discipling or mentoring.  Since it is short, affordable, hardback, and easily readable, I hope it is soon found on many Christian home bookshelves, book stores, Christian school classrooms, and Christian colleges.

Nancy Pearcey is just plain intimidating.  She is a short, petite middle-aged lady you might expect to encounter in the grocery store, but don’t be fooled.  She has become a virtual Christian version of Achilles, minus the vulnerable heel.  I was blessed by getting to hear her and meet her at the Association for Classical Christian Schools conference in Dallas, Texas in June of 2015.  She was at the back of the meeting room when she was introduced to speak, so she hurried to the front, looked frantically for the steps, and seemed a bit out-of-breath when she began her talk.  That was just a glimpse of this fiery brain that is undaunted by whatever piggish legions unbelief has put in her path.  Dr. Pearcey serves as drill sergeant, or rather as a teacher at Houston Baptist College (where the incredible Louis Markos is also a professor).

She has authored and co-authored some really useful books in the past, such as The Soul of Science, How Now Shall We Live, and Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity.  Her most recent book is Finding Truth:  5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes,   which is published by David C Cook, a long-time publisher of Christian books and resources.  This book is, like Ashford’s book described above, a beginner book.  In this case, however, the book is for beginning to analyze and counter non-Christian thought.  It is heavy on method with the intent being the training of Christian students in apologetic thought across the spectrum of thought.

Nancy Pearcey’s personal experience was that of a church-raised girl who came to a point of unbelief or agnosticism.  Like many a potential unbeliever of the past, such as Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis, the Divine Chessplayer gave her a brain concussion.  The tool God used was Francis Schaeffer and his ministry known as L’Abri in Switzerland.  In short, Dr. Pearsey repented of her unbelief, embraced Christ, and devoted herself to loving God with all her mind.  Her pilgrimage has taken her to and through the works of Christian thinkers such as Herman Dooyeweerd and Phillip E. Johnson.  Her target audience consists of people like the man who told her “I lost my faith at an evangelical college.”

This book provides a 5 step program or 5 tests for students and Christian apologists to use in confronting unbelief:

  1.  Identify the idol  (meaning that unbelief is not belief in nothing, but belief in a false god of some sort; in other words, an idol)
  2.  Identify the idol’s reductionism (an idea borrowing heavily from Dooyeweerd and the brilliant Roy Clouser on all non-Christian thought being reductionistic)
  3. Test the idol: How does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: How does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: Make the case for Christianity

Complete with a study guide, extensive notes, and sample test-thought questions, this book is a college level course for Christians.  An eager high school class could do well with this study as well as college students.  Teachers, preachers, and study groups could also enjoy the book.

Help is here.  Let’s keep pressing on.

Men Wanted for Church Jobs

Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, Jim Grassi  Jim Grassi, in the book Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, writes,

“Growing and dynamic churches seem to have four things in common:

  • passionate pursuit of God,
  • compulsive care for people,
  • emphasis on home groups,
  • and a strong and vibrant ministry to men.

It is men who will lead the church to a new reformation.

It is men who are accountable to strengthening families by modeling God’s Word.

It is men who can support and connect with assisting widows (single moms) and orphans (41 percent of children with no biological father in the home) of our day.”

Mentoring for the Growth of the Kingdom

Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, Jim Grassi

I review lots and lots of books these days.  I review in a year about a tenth of the books that Tim Challies reviews in a week.  One of the things that a reviewer learns is that the book publishing world is massive.  I end up with whole stacks of books on all sorts of subjects.  I confess to not getting every review book read.  The very good ones are not read deeply enough.

But a reviewer is a scout.  He rides way out front and discovers what lies ahead.  Speed is essential.

A book reviewer or reader has to know what niche to place a book in.  Books fill a number of purposes, some greater or deeper than others.

One of my recent reads, in order to post a review, was Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring by Jim Grassi. This is a good second or third book to read on mentoring.

I have been increasingly convinced for several years now that spiritual mentoring is vital to the health of individual Christians and the church.  I preach sermons.  I love preaching and the impact of sermons.  But sermons are not up close and personal enough.  Sermons speak to all, while mentoring addresses the individual.  Mentoring is an indispensible complement to sermons.  Paul mentored Timothy.  That mentoring took them to many lands and situations.  Paul continued mentoring Timothy via his letters after Timothy was assigned to the church in Ephesus.  Paul exhorts Timothy to preach the Word, but also to mentor a core group who will then mentor others.  “And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

No man is an island.  Every man will be mentored.  A mentor is a teacher, a personal trainer, a guide.  The culture around us, the values of the unbelieving world, the sinful human nature, and the devil are all out there offering mentoring at discount prices.  It is highly questionable whether someone can be saved, but not mentored, or discipled.

No doubt but that women and girls in the church need good and godly sisters-in-Christ to guide them along the way.  Paul tells Titus that the older women (and “older” is relative to the average age in a church) are to be teachers of good things to younger women.  Women’s ministries are vital, absolutely essential, to the life of the church.  In an effort to offset the feminist and egalitarian impulses in the church world, some Christians (alas, many of us Reformed folk) have overly limited the teaching role of women.  The motive was to prevent women from being pastors and exercising authority over men.  The excess was in stifling the needed role of women mentoring women.

But men are the biggest potential failures and losers in Christ’s kingdom.  Satan has many disguises that lure men toward passivity and feminization or to a warped masculinity and ungodly totalitarian style.  Men are posers and are masters of deceit.  Even though Jesus came into this world a male and gave us a model of true Masculinity, we men fail.

Hence the importance of mentoring.  This book, Building a Ministry of Spiritual Mentoring, contains lots of guidelines, suggestions, and methods for implementing successful mentoring programs in the church.  That is why it is a good second or third book.

Jim Grassi’s prior book is titled The Spiritual Mentor.  That book, along with many other current books, give more of the content and methods of spiritual mentoring.  One doesn’t have to get a book with the word “Mentor” in the title for instruction.  Any book or Bible study that faithfully lays out patterns for Bible study, doctrine, prayer, and practice will work.  

 

The Spiritual Mentor, Jim Grassi

After one has actually either started mentoring or found a mentor, then books on building these programs in the church can be used and implemented.

For several years now, I have been burdened with the topic of mentoring.  Part of what the Lord has shown me is that I may not be the one who will be doing the mentoring in a way that I want to see it done.  Pastors and preachers cannot always be the personal training mentors for every man and boy in the congregation.  We preach to equip the saints for works of service.

I have also been reminded that as a teacher in a Christian school, I am doing mentoring work.  I don’t teach books and information.  I teach children.  I teach boys and girls, young men and young women, who are growing in mind and spirit.  As a teacher, I experience strong connections with some students and not as much connection with others.  That is fine.  The student who comes alive in literature class will bond with me more than the mathematicly or scientificly inclined student.  (Saying that, I also realize that students don’t line up in such rigid categories.)

All in all, I recommend this book.  I received it free of charge as a review book and am not obligated to endorse it.  Mentoring or being mentored is more important than reading books about mentoring.  But thankfully, we are seeing more and more books to help us wherever we and our churches are in this matter.