Open your doors, Christian School!

I send my children to a private, Canadian Reformed Christian school. For some time now, I’ve had some thoughts on how we should use the blessings God has given us through these schools to benefit others. Recently, an article in Reformed Perspective Magazine caught my attention, as did a reader’s response and the editor’s reply. I’ve since written a letter of my own, but wanted to publish something here too.

Currently, our schools welcome only members of the supporting church communities. Those are, naturally, Canadian Reformed churches, who founded and built the schools. Occasionally a school will make an exception for a family that attends a church with which we have ecclesiastical fellowship (e.g. NAPARC). But in general, our schools are for Canadian Reformed families only, and therefore closed to everyone else.

And I can’t squelch the nagging feeling that we’re missing something.

For some time I’ve had concerns about our schools. I grew up going to a Christian school and am thankful for the biblical worldview and solid education I received to this day. I want to maintain that. But I also know that sequestering our kids so completely can have unintended consequences too.

I’m not talking about sending them in the first place. Sheltering them for a time from what sometimes seems like a public education system gone mad is appealing. Moreso, teaching them, through each subject that they are God’s children and calling them to repentance and the Christian life are what I value most.

I think where I get most uncomfortable is with an attitude that sneaks up on us – children and parents alike – that we’re better than those who don’t go to our church or school. Put a different way, when our schools are closed off to everyone but us, we become scared of those around us. We know we’re called to follow Christ and that makes us different, but it sometimes gets translated into “they’re not like us, so we should avoid them.”

Taken too far, the closed system becomes entangled with a church cultural fear of our neighbours and a false assurance about what being in the covenant means.

God has blessed us with Christian schools
In my opinion, at the heart of the closed school model is the idea that we have built something and that it is ours. We want to protect it, which is good, but we’ve somehow decided that protecting it means not letting anyone else have it. This applies to unbelievers, and as I mentioned, to other Christians too. And I think that’s wrong.

The truth is, we haven’t built it. I hear this often at school meetings, but I wonder sometimes if we really believe that. If we did, we wouldn’t be so afraid to step out in faith, because we have an awesome God who does wondrous things. Instead of hoarding this blessing, I think we should consider what God’s purposes for the school might be. Did he really give it to us to keep it to ourselves? God has blessed us immeasurably with these schools, and now we’re going to stand before him and say, “we will not share them with sinners”. This may not be expressed out loud, but it seems to lurk just beneath the surface. We are worried that “they” are going to come into “our” clean house and infect it with all manner of sin and evil.

Which leads to a false sense of security about being in the covenant. The Bible teaches clearly that we are ALL conceived and born into sin. I don’t want to argue here about the timing of regeneration amongst covenant children, but we would all agree that each of us is dead in sin without God’s gift of faith through his Holy Spirit. Our children, like you and I, must contend with our sinful nature until we are fully healed and enter heaven. That means our biggest concern should be with the sin inside US, and inside our children. Does this mean we shouldn’t discern whom our kids play with? No. But thinking that only non-christian kids will be a bad influence on ours reeks of a false belief about our covenant children.

Let me speak specifically, to a few common arguments against opening our schools.

Our kids are not missionaries.
I’ve heard this often, and I agree. But classifying all Christian witness as missionary work is incorrect. Setting up a Christian school, with a Christian worldview, organized and lead by Christians, but open to all is not sending them out. We would be inviting others IN! When I let my kids play with neighbour kids or join the public soccer team, I do not expect them to evangelize per se. But I do teach my child to live like a Christian wherever they go, including at a Christian school. Letting our light shine in every sphere of our life is not the same thing as evangelism. Having them sit beside a non-christian in a school developed to teach from a biblical worldview is not asking them to evangelize. Living as a Christian in the world is simply the call on every believer at all times.

Other open Christian schools would prefer not to be.
Our churches have been faithful in prioritizing Christian education. We have sacrificed, volunteered and worked hard to make them not only available, but accessible to our members. Though I would consider Christian schools a privilege and a blessing, you need not be rich to come to our schools. Not all Christian schools have the ability to keep costs down, or to keep the doors closed to other denominations. They need wider support. Technically, we don’t. Not yet, anyway.

As a result, we look at schools that have opened their doors wider to other denominations and we see how over time, some have lost their distinctly reformed character. I understand this fear, which means we cannot stop prioritizing Christian education in our churches.

But I would like to challenge the belief that these other Christian schools would prefer to be “closed” if they could. Would they actually prefer that Christians of one denomination only would be best? As I mentioned earlier, I like that I can provide some shelter for my children, but it is never my intent to completely block them off from unbelievers and different Christians around us.

Bad Company Spoils Good Morals
This one actually gets me a bit hot under the collar. The Bible tells us to avoid sharing company with fools and unrepentant sinners because there’s potential that we might slide into an immoral lifestyle. And yet Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors and we’re called to share the reason for the hope that we have with those around us. How can we do that if we can’t hang out with sinners? Did we forget that we are too? (I’m not even going to entertain the idea that Christians from other denominations are considered bad company, even if some believe that to be true.) This way of thinking twists the warning of keeping the company of fools and assumes that bad morals are only found OUTSIDE our church community.

We all would agree that every school has church kids that we’d prefer your kids didn’t play with. And if we’re honest, we might also agree that sometimes (or maybe often) it’s our kid who’s being the bad influence. I too appreciate the protection our schools can provide from social-engineering elites who want to push a secular worldview, but sending them to Christian school does not absolve me of knowing who my kids are playing with and what’s happening on the playground. It’s my responsibility as a parent, in any school, to know what’s going on. MY child needs to hear the clarion call to repent at school. Non-christian kids need to hear that call too.

We can reach our neighbours in other ways.
This is the final argument, that attempts to find middle ground. It says, we should engage our neighbours at home, or on the soccer field, but we don’t need to invite them to our school to love them. While technically true, it rings false, because if we have the opinion that we can’t mix with them at school, there’s a good chance we’ll have the same view at home. There is so much irony in this idea. We would all agree that our greatest expression of love comes through telling them about Christ, and yet, we insist on keeping our schools out of reach. It’s as if we’re saying, “yes love them, but don’t share one of the richest resources God has given us to love them with.” Telling them about Christ is precisely what our Christian schools would do!

 

Open Christian schools are a more faithful use of our gifts.
For all the protection we want to provide and all the knowledge we want to instill, our children are not called to hide their lamps under a bushel during their formative years. In fact, if we teach our children that that’s how it works, they may never learn to let them shine. We send our children a strong message about who deserves salvation and who doesn’t when we teach them to be suspicious and afraid of their neighbours. At that point, with that attitude, I don’t believe we’re protecting our kids anymore. I think we may be harming them, and warping the full message of the gospel.

And if this is the prevailing attitude in our schools, then it’s likely a reflection of the church. An “us” verses “them” mentality is at least partially, if not completely to blame for why most of our churches rarely grow in any way other than from within. I don’t believe God has given us the great riches of the reformed faith, a robust church community, and schools founded on those things so that we can keep them to ourselves under the guise of “protecting” them. Because let’s be honest. It’s not just our kids we’re sheltering. We’re avoiding engaging those around us too because it’s just easier and safer to hang around with like-minded people. To paraphrase a quote from Rosaria Butterfield:

“In places where everyone thinks alike, I find that very little thinking actually takes place.”

A time of building and establishing our schools is over. It’s time to seriously reflect on what God has given us, and what he might want us to do with it.

How do the covenant and regeneration fit together?

In the previous article, I made a layman’s theological case for infant baptism. Much of what I wrote there, I already knew on some levels, but re-affirmed and deepened my understanding of it. The reason I didn’t post that article for over two years was because the content of this one was entangled in it. I believe the biblical case for infant baptism is quite strong and straightforward. The struggle, I have found, comes with what it means practically. When I realized this, I split the topic in two so that I could actually publish something.

In one sense, what it means is also straightforward – but I only saw it that way after wrangling with a whole host of “what if” scenarios, and “how do you view your kids at such and such an age?” type questions. Those have a place too, though where I ended up with them wasn’t exactly where I thought I would. But I get ahead of myself.

First, what does it mean that my child is baptized?

It means that my child is a part of God’s covenant with his people. The covenant is a relationship God enters with us – his church – and the children of believers are included in that. It means that God makes promises to the child to be their God. It means God has placed that child in a believing family, a family that will imperfectly, but with God’s grace, raise that child in the fear of the Lord. They will teach that child about His good deeds (Psalm 78). They will take them to church regularly. They will point to the child’s sins and they will lead them to the cross where they can find salvation from those sins.

These are the blessings of being born into God’s family. They are awesome and are one way God grows His church. He set this pattern of inclusion in the old testament and there is no reason to believe it changed in the new covenant (see previous post). But even with all those wonderful blessings, this inclusion into the covenant pictured in baptism is an outward inclusion. It does not guarantee salvation. Never does the inclusion of our children in the covenant give us the right to assume their salvation on that fact alone.

The Bible is clear in several places that we must be regenerated (born again), to enter the kingdom of heaven. I won’t be-labour this because I think it is something we can all agree on. An infant cannot be regenerated in this way, and so as parents we should not presume they are. So where do children stand? Can we have any assurance about their salvation, especially if they die in infancy?

Yes, but not because of their baptism. Not even because of their inclusion in the covenant. It is not the sacrament, nor the family they’re born into that saves them. It’s not the faith of the parents, nor their innocence. They’re saved by God’s grace alone. And in the case of children – all children – I believe God’s grace is sufficient to save them even if they have not been born again.

I often struggled with the assurance Christian parents claimed through the covenant, verses the uncertainty around children of unbelievers. I don’t think this was taught, nor do I find it in the three forms of unity, but it somehow found a way in to muddy the waters. While I felt assurance was scriptural, I had a hard time reconciling that it was for covenant children only. It doesn’t add up logically with what we read elsewhere in scripture. The case is often made on the idea that covenant children are holy (1 Cor. 7). I believe this does support the idea of baptizing children as part of the covenant, but this holiness is like the sanctification of the unbelieving spouse. It’s the blessing of increased exposure to the gospel.

It would seem that if the children of Christians are saved and unbelievers’ children are not, then the covenant, or the baptism, or the faith of the parents is doing the saving. And that goes against everything we believe about regeneration and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. God certainly gives great blessings to the children of believers by including them in the covenant, but that is an outward blessing. Instead, it would stand to reason that if God’s grace is sufficient to cover the unregenerate child of a believer, he would do the same for all children. In this way, a believing parent could have assurance of God’s saving grace for their child, and they could also be assured of it for their unbelieving neighbour’s child. The difference being that the unbelieving neighbour would not have assurance, simply because they don’t believe. That however would not change the status of the child.

I’ve come to this view over time and with humility. I believe it, though I don’t like to be over-confident in my understanding. I think you can support it with scripture, but feel it’s not as cut and dry as other assertions or points of doctrine. It became clearer to me as I reasoned through what we know about regeneration, alongside what being in the covenant does and doesn’t mean. I also found a strong foundation for this view in how the Bible speaks about a special love God has for children.

When Jesus talks about having faith like a child, or the need to become like a child to enter heaven, or when he welcomes the little children when the disciples wanted to shoo them away, we see that he considers them special. Another primary example often used to support this viewpoint is when David mourns a son who died (2 Sam. 12:23). In his grief, he consoles himself with the belief that he will see his son again in heaven. In the interest of levity, I point you to this helpful article from Randy Alcorn on this topic. It certainly helped me put into words what had been circling in my head.

Systematically then, when we’ve covered what baptism of children means, and the assurance we can have about our children when they are young, we head into the “age of accountability” discussion, and all those “what if” scenarios. You see if children are miraculously covered by God’s grace when they are unable to be regenerated, when do they become accountable? For certain, we cannot extend this assurance about their salvation forever, for at some point they will need to be reborn to enter the kingdom, right? So when does this happen?

This is where the conversation gets complicated, and where, as much as I’d like to nail it down perfectly, I can’t. In the end, I simply have to rest in the fact that God is a just, merciful and sovereign judge and he knows best. Trying to reason out where each child is destined at each stage in their life is beyond me, and rightfully so. As a parent, I have to be obedient about teaching my child about God and pray for them continually.

Joel Beeke speaks about parenting as an “enterprise of faith” in this great article about praying for our children’s salvation. When I read it, things hit home for me. Arguing about assurance, and age of accountability has their place, but in the end, we are not in control. So as much as I would like to unpack the spiritual path of all children neatly here to prove something, I simply can’t. The way God works saving faith in the hearts of His children is different for each one.

With that in mind, I would like to say a few things about regeneration in the children of believers. I feel like there are two ends of the spectrum that have merit in what they emphasize, but both have severe dangers closely associated with them.

In the infant Baptist camp, there is a confidence in God and his promises shown through baptism, and therefore a certain level of assurance covering the transition between being a child and being born again. The understanding is that for many children brought up in the faith, there is a gradual growing in it. There is no one moment, one time in life that they can say, “there, that’s when I was regenerated”.  I know many sincere, fruit-bearing Christians that would claim that as their experience. And they include Baptists too.

The fact is, there are Christians who can never remember being anything but. So how do we know if they are regenerated? I heard a sermon preached once that asked this question, and the answer was, well, how do they view the cross? Do they see Christ as their savior through his sacrifice there? Can we see fruit in their lives? If so, then “when?” is irrelevant. They have been born again, and for that we can rejoice! They don’t have to feel insecure because they didn’t have a life-defining single moment, but grew in faith and love over time. (Here too it becomes difficult to make a case for WHEN this believer should’ve been baptized, but this post is more about regeneration than the right age to baptize non-infants.)

For parents with a rebellious or struggling child, it can be difficult to know where or if their child is growing, or simply un-regenerated. For growth includes pain, and there are times of fervour and times of less enthusiasm. Here is where I think parents in this camp can go down a scary path towards presumptive regeneration. Instead of urgently praying for their child’s salvation, and continually presenting the gospel, they might lean back and assume salvation until the child outright rejects the faith. Although I think there is room to trust in the promises made in their baptism, along with giving them time to mature in their faith, I believe it incorrect to always assume everything is fine. These parents need to trust, yet be active. They need to accept that only Christ can transform hearts in his timing, and yet they need to continually, deliberately, point their child to Him.

The other end of the spectrum struggles in a similar place. In the believer’s Baptist camp, with no outward inclusion in the covenant to give hope – real or imagined – these parents emphasize evangelism to their children because they are un-regenerate. While I balk a little at the wording because I believe my young child saved, and may never see signs that they are unsaved as they get older, I agree with the urgency of presenting our kids with the gospel and encouraging them to respond to God’s call.

This view, intentionally or not, places a lot more emphasis on a conversion moment. Whether it’s a single day or a short period of time, there is pressure here to make a decision, or come to saving faith. While a public profession and a specific time of serious growth are good, and in fact, quite common, waiting for this seems like demanding that moment from everyone. And that is where I think it gets dangerous.

Parents that are always on the lookout for good fruit, could go the opposite way of assuming their child is saved, and assume that they are unsaved because there hasn’t been a moment yet, or the child is not maturing at the speed they think is appropriate. This can be a scary place too, and could push a parent into hyper-evangelism. I once read an author who urged his fellow baptists not to hold the standard of fruit too high for their children as they watch for it so hawkishly. When they do that, they might hold it higher than they hold it for themselves. To be sure this is not only a Baptist thing, nor do all Baptists do this, but this is the dangerous, unsettling place this thinking can take someone. Yes, we are all born un-regenerate, but God may choose to work it over time so as not to notice one specific moment, or he might bring it about dramatically. Again, in this place, the parent has to trust and pray. They have to let God work, but also continue to remind their child of the gospel.

I think we get into all sorts of trouble when we expect to always know, with complete certainty, at any given time, the eternal destiny of our children. For what is the value of faith in light of complete certainty? While I think there is a lot of assurance to be had when a child is included in the covenant, raised in the faith, says they believe and shows no signs of rejecting the gospel, there is never a time in their upbringing where we as parents should stop praying for them and pointing them to the cross. No matter how sure we get based on the fruit we see, the moment they describe, or the profession they give, we can only transition into running the race beside them. And as we run together as brothers and sisters in Christ, we continue to pray for them and point them to the finish line.

Looping back to the beginning, where I asked what it means that my child is baptized, I find that the questions about when they are regenerated clouded my understanding of this sacrament. Baptism is an amazing lesson from God about how he works and the promises he makes. It does not save in and of itself in any way, and so the fear of giving it to children, is misplaced. I heard one pastor call it simply, “an invitation to the banquet”. I like that.

When it comes to new converts, I would call myself a “believer Baptist”. And yet I think that expecting the same conversion experience an adult goes through to fit children who grow up in the faith is faulty. How we as believers view our children, baptized or not, in many ways should really be no different. They are all sinners in need of God’s grace. They are also privileged. Every child born into a believing family has been given a great gift. Let’s not make that more than it is, but let’s not discount it as inconsequential either.

My prayer for my children at their baptism, and ever since, is that God will transform their hearts, the way he did mine. It’s an honour to think that he might even use me as a tool to bring that about.

Why I baptized my kids

This post began more than two years ago. Earlier in 2012, a conversation with a friend who was recently re-baptized as an adult, challenged my belief in infant baptism. Having two young baptized children at the time, and another one on the way, I was passionate about my views, but the discussion made me squirm. I thought I knew why I believed in infant baptism. Yet I stumbled in our discussion. I was sure that I had done it for the right reasons, and with the right knowledge of Scripture. Yet I found myself trying to explain infant baptism logically, rather than scripturally, and for that, my friend took me to task.

Over the course of the past two years I have read countless articles online and off, for and against infant baptism from viewpoints as varied as reformed, baptist, catholic and lutheran authors. Truth be told, a good number of authors I read on a daily basis are “credobaptists”, believing in baptism with profession of faith only. They are wise, earnest, scripturally-grounded men and they have made me think. Hard.

And then there have been the frequent chats with a close friend who is a Reformed Baptist. Until I met him, I never associated the doctrines of grace, the solas, God’s sovereignty and the whole ball of reformed wax wrapped around a baptist. It has been enlightening to say the least.

In the end I found clarity on infant baptism, but then I kept going. The “kept going” part caused me to not publish this for more than two years. For now, I will lay out what has become clear. By the title of this post, you will know that I have re-affirmed my belief in the practice of infant baptism. Another post, that explores the “but what does it mean now that your child is baptized” will hopefully follow soon.

And finally, before I begin I want to say that I subscribe to the thinking that if you can’t explain something simply, you likely don’t understand it yourself. Having said that, not everything can be said in only a few words. We can say something simply, but sometimes, you simply need more time. Maybe that’s a dodge of my own assertion, but I’m sticking with it. Here is my attempt to put into simple language, the reasons for baptizing my children. I’ll need many paragraphs to lay this out.

______________

A systematic explanation is one in which you start at the beginning, with the simplest statements. From there you build on each statement, moving forward, leading you to conclusion. I began with what baptism is. The majority of Christians will agree that baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant. We do it because he commands us to, not because it saves us on its own. I’ve heard baptism described as the ultimate object lesson about God’s promise of grace, and no matter whether we are born again, or just born, we all need His grace. Covenant theology plays heavily in reformed theology, but I haven’t always fully grasped it’s richness. Since baptism is about God’s covenant with His people, then I need to begin there. When we look at the covenant as the underlying principle that baptism is pointing to, we realize the Bible says a whole lot about it – and not just in the new testament.

In the old testament, God mandated circumcision as the visible sign of His covenant with His people. He commanded Abraham to be circumcised AFTER he believed. He also commanded him to circumcise everyone in his household including his newborn son Isaac – BEFORE he believed. This is evident throughout the OT, and God is very clear. His covenant is for believers AND their children. He even comes close to killing Moses for delaying the circumcision of his son (Ex.4:24). Therefore, in the OT there is precedent for being included in the covenant after AND before belief.

In the new testament, Jesus fulfills this covenant as the embodiment of God’s promise. He came to make the ultimate payment for the sins of those who believe because payment was a necessity of God’s promised salvation. As the old covenant was fulfilled, God ushered in a new covenant. This one is better because it rests on the one-time sacrifice of Jesus, not the keeping of the law, and it’s sign was extended to both genders. It was also extended to all nations in a way it had never been before. With this new covenant He abolishes the requirement of circumcision and instead, baptism with water becomes the sign of God’s covenant with his people.

With circumcision no longer required, and baptism only mentioned in regard to adults, it might seem fair to think that children of believers were no longer included. Yet the cry for a “smoking gun” verse where God tells us to baptize children is just as easily flipped by asking for the verse where he says not to. God’s track record showed something far different.

If children were not to be included, this would mean that there is no continuity between the two testaments. What God did in the old, was irrelevant to the new. But the old and the new testaments show a lot of unity, and God is unchanging. In the OT, the way to salvation was through the law, but God gave them that way. It pointed to the sacrifice that would end all sacrifices and needed to be constantly repeated, but it was by faith that God’s people kept the law and were therefore saved. Being a part of Israel and in the covenant was not a free-ticket to heaven. We don’t know who the elect were, but often God grew angry with his covenant people and punished them. Not every Israelite is in heaven, yet they all received the sign of the covenant and God said their children should receive it too.

Each instance of baptism in the NT is the story of a new convert. They were not raised in the faith from birth, therefore as adults they believed and then were baptized. But follow those stories further and you’ll see that in every case where they had a family, their whole household was also baptized. In some cases it says that those in the household believed. In others it does not. It’s quite likely that these households included children, but we don’t know. Neither can we be sure that they did NOT include children. What’s evident is the way in which God works. He brings people into His covenant, and he extends his promises to their families as a way of furthering His kingdom.

So we see that God enters into a covenant with his people in the old and new testaments. We see that he commands baptism as the sign of the new covenant instead of circumcision but we don’t see that children should now be excluded from it. He sends the apostles out to baptize and tells us that the promises are for us and for our children. Since there is no mention of what to do with children in the new covenant specifically, we must look elsewhere to discern what to do with children of believers when it comes to receiving the sign of the covenant. Both old and new testaments together strongly imply that children too are part of God’s people. As such, they are to be baptized because that is the sign of God’s covenant with His people and that is how God works.

Now, with 3 daughters and a fourth child on the way I’m comfortable saying that I baptized my children because I believe it replaces circumcision. I do so because God says His promises are for them too. He extends those promises to them, not because of my faith, but because he has chosen to do so. As God moved from the old covenant to the new covenant, he continued to work through the generations, through families. And he echoes the promises he made to Abraham (Gen. 17:7) through Peter as he addresses the crowd at Pentecost (Acts 2:39).

So now what?

How do we square the inclusion of children of believers in the covenant with the straightforward declaration that no one can enter the kingdom unless they are born again in John 3? I assert that baptism and rebirth are irrevocably linked, and yet in the case of children of believers, the former doesn’t demand the latter. Especially when most of us profess that baptism does NOT save us. To me, in the case of children who grow up in the faith, regeneration is an important topic that can be discussed apart from baptism. But what we believe about baptism and the covenant colours how we view our kids moving forward. That, is the topic of my next post.

The Creation Debate (part 2) – What Really Makes Us Irrelevant

This is part two of an article on the creation debate. Part one lays the groundwork for the thrust of this post.

Knowing the real issues of the debate between theistic evolution and creationism helps me to make a choice. Where do I stand on this issue? I stand on the side that rejects theistic evolution’s attempt to reconcile the claims of science with the Word of God. You might ask, what more is there to say then?

A lot.

Just because we know what we don’t believe, doesn’t mean we can sit back and put this to rest. This debate is going to continue raging, and we need to meet it, rather than flee from it.

My belief in a 6-day creation is not iron-clad from a physical proof perspective either, and I need to remember that.

I think what unsettles me most about this debate is the “who cares?” attitude bible-believing Christians take to the whole discussion, and conversely, acquiescence by other Christians in the name of “keeping Christianity relevant”. For those of us who aren’t scientists or theologians, this may be the question we’re really asking. Does my faith become irrelevant if I reject modern science’s claims, or, by accepting a form of evolution that includes God, does it become more relevant?

Christians who are used to being a minority voice might proudly declare “I don’t care if we’re relevant.” Although I accept faith to be something that can’t ultimately be proven to satisfy science, I wholeheartedly believe that my faith is rational and logical. We are rational creatures, and our God is rational. Therefore I think the gospel is always relevant. Relevant does not mean popular, it means “fitting”. Our faith is always appropriate to the matter at hand (especially when it is counter-culture). By not bending in the winds of public opinion, it speaks truth that is unchanging and exists outside of our sinful selves. The more truth becomes relative, the more relevant the gospel becomes.

Where the gospel becomes irrelevant to the world outside the church is when we fumble it and fail to know it and live it. I believe that how we handle the creation debate very much affects the perception of the relevance of our faith. In this context, we become marginalized when we get lazy, or scared. Let me explain.

Accepting faith “like a child” is prized in the Bible, but so is wisdom and understanding. We are encouraged not to remain on milk like infants, but on solid food (1 Cor 3:2, Heb. 5:12). We have to be honest about the real reasons we accept something in faith. Is it because we have searched it out vigorously and came up to the edges of our abilities to understand? Even if we realize something may not be revealed to us in this life, does that give us permission to stop studying it? Simple faith can be held up to cover complacency in which we absolve ourselves of using our minds and seeking the truth. It can make us lazy, and when we’re lazy about our beliefs, we become poor witnesses, and even worse, our faith becomes hollow. Do we believe in 6-day creation because we’ve never given it much more thought, or because we’ve read the Bible, studied it deeply and have come to a stronger understanding of it?

I’ve heard many Christians gasp in horror at the idea of theistic evolution and then answer the questions science is trying to answer with, “ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the gospel is about Jesus”. That’s not an answer, that’s avoidance, and the reason we avoid it is not just because we’re lazy. It’s also because we’re scared. If we probe it too deeply, we worry that we might be showing a lack of faith. If we ask questions about things we always considered fact, we’re afraid we’re doubting God and at risk of reasoning our way out of our beliefs.

Fear is keeping many of us away from this topic. We cling to what we’ve always believed in the name of steadfast faith, but really, we don’t want to have this discussion and avoid it all costs. The truth is we don’t know all the answers and we worry that THAT will make us irrelevant. We don’t like to be ostracized, or ridiculed or made to look like a fool when really we are trying to cling to the truth.

We have a responsibility to know this topic. And we can’t know it, if we avoid it. We also don’t advance the discussion by only pointing out why it fails, and then considering the case closed. I am all in favour of beginning here. We should test everything by the scriptures and theistic evolution comes up short. But is that the end? What do we do with all the questions that are unanswered? I disagree with the conclusions science draws from it’s findings, but the findings themselves are real. We have to engage this topic and to do that, we must leave room for discussion and learning instead of turning away from it and telling others to do the same.

There is much we don’t know, and we have to be careful about putting things into the Bible that aren’t there. How long a day was seems obvious, but the Bible does NOT say it was 24 hrs, nor does it say it was a thousand years. The fact is we don’t know. We may never know, but that doesn’t give us license to bury our head in the sand to drown out the discoveries found in His creation.

I believe in a 6-day creation and will teach my kids the same. But I am open to the idea, that it may not be exactly as it sounds, that God has left room in His story for His purposes. He may lead us to answers, he may not. But patience and trust need not be mutually exclusive from a curious mind. We can leave room for this discussion, while clinging to a literal reading of the Bible and the whole gospel story.

Resolved on where I stand, I pledge to continue learning and I encourage others to do the same. Let’s be firm about where we stand, but honest about what we know and don’t know. Though the polls might show a decrease in those who uphold 6-day creation, the relevancy of the gospel will not be determined by the stance we take. Instead, the gospel will be declared irrelevant when we’re too lazy or afraid to have the discussion.

The Creation Debate (part 1) – Discovering The Real Issue

There is much to be said, and much that has been said on this topic. I hesitate to throw my hat in the ring because I am neither a scientist or a theologian. And yet, precisely because I am neither of those, I wanted to think through this issue, and share it with others in the same position.

My post became too long and too varied, so I’ve decided to split it into two parts. Keeping with my “thinking-through-writing” agenda, I’ve summarized the debate and have attempted to drill down quickly to what the real issues are. I have many great writers and thinkers to credit for helping me to this point. Lest I am misunderstood by the direction I take in part two – does six-day creation make us irrelevant? – I will end part one with my personal stance on the issue.

The ongoing debate over the creation account has had my attention for some time now. The heat on this topic is growing – online, in magazines and off pulpits. Some are calling this a major issue for the church of our times, and I tend to agree. How this is handled, and what viewpoints people adopt will affect the church and Christianity for years to come.

A recent study published in Christianity today noted that 70% of evangelical Christians worldwide believe in theistic evolution. Though there is variation within that camp, generally, the theory seeks to harmonize the “evidence” of modern science with the teachings of the Bible. The theory affirms the existence of God the creator, but also the laws of evolution. In other words, evolution is fact, but so is the existence of God, so the two must come together. Many respected scientists are declaring theistic evolution as a credible way to come to terms with their faith, and with what they know about our universe.

Not far behind, theologians worldwide are backing away from the traditional creation account. Some state their case rather convincingly, while many seem to be capitulating to the overwhelming flow of public opinion, rather than honestly seeking the truth. Christian thinkers, pastors and lay people alike are slowly accepting bits and pieces of this thinking.

As more Christians tune into the debate, the steady buzz – until recently mostly within the Christian community – has spilled over into the mainstream. With wider exposure, the world is watching, and those sitting on the fence must see their position through to the end and make the logical leap. To accept evolution and believe in the God of the Bible is not as simple as saying that God created the world through evolution. That statement by itself seems almost harmless.

What’s really at stake is whether there was an historical Adam and Eve, through whom all sinned, OR, there was no paradise, no Adam, no apple, no serpent, and NO FALL. Refined to these two opposing statements, the implications become much clearer.

By flushing the issues out to their logical conclusion, we now know what the debate is really about. Because to be honest, by itself, the idea that God created the earth in six days, or did it over billions of years seems almost a non-issue to me. Both give Him the credit. Both point to an awesome God. One might seem to affirm His sovereignty over creation more clearly, but I think a case could be made to support it in either theory.

What’s really at stake is the whole Gospel story. As Albert Mohler states clearly in a recent post,

“…the denial of a historical Adam means not only the rejection of a clear biblical teaching, but also the denial of the biblical doctrine of the Fall, leading to a very different way of telling the story of the Bible and the meaning of the Gospel….

If we do not know how the story of the Gospel begins, then we do not know what that story means. Make no mistake: a false start to the story produces a false grasp of the Gospel.”

With no Adam, and no fall into sin, we completely lose the connection with Jesus Christ. Other authors in the Bible (both old and new testament) reference Adam as an historical person, and talk about the result of his sin – our sin. Isaiah prophesies about the coming Christ as redeemer and Paul talks about the first Adam. The entire story-arc of the Bible (Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation) falls apart when Adam is a symbol, the fall is a metaphor, and neither really happened. Without sin, why would we need Christ?

Faced with this, what I now consider to be the litmus test for the debate, I believe that theistic evolution fails to properly interpret the findings of science in a way that supports the whole gospel. I believe in a six-day creation, because that’s what the Bible says, and thus far, I cannot reconcile what science has declared with God’s word. There are many unanswered questions, and so I need faith and patience. This is not the end of the debate…

Read part two of this post that wrestles with the question of our relevance in a world that overwhelmingly supports evolution.

Genesis is His-story

Genesis is about beginnings. The first book of the Bible, it lays the foundation for everything that follows and is fittingly titled. It literally means “the origin of something”. It contains the stories of the creation of the world, Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. It has been and still is the subject of much discussion and debate over the millenia…

Re-reading these stories, I was reminded of my early years in elementary school. Laying the foundations for christian education, these stories were the staple of the primaries. Yet reading them now, as a unit, I tried to look at them with fresh eyes. As an historical narrative, it reads factually, almost like a plot-driven novel. The author (Moses) never minces words and sticks to the facts, laying out the story in a straightforward manner. Yet unlike a plot-driven novel (think John Grisham) Genesis manages to go deep into character development. We learn much about the patriarchs – these sinful yet righteous men – but even more about God’s character and nature. This may seem obvious – after all the Bible is GOD’s Word – but aside from the creation account, I typically viewed Genesis as stories of God’s people. This time, in reading the stories of people, my focus shifted to Him. The not-so-clever pun in the title sums it up. Genesis is His-story.

I don’t want to pretend I was hit by a thunderbolt of new revelation. I read slowly, reviewed many footnotes, and made my way through over the course of a week. I digested what I read afterwards and in my free moments to think. By looking at bigger pieces of the narrative, I began to string together themes around the character of God. There is way too much in Genesis to fit into one blog post, and I want to stay to true to my goal of reading the whole Bible, book by book and looking at each as a whole. What follows are a few of God’s character traits that stood out.

Awesome

I’m not going to enter into the debate on creation here (though I do want to write about it in the future). There’s not enough time, and it will hijack my review. The creation story is awe-inspiring whether you take it at face value or consider it a poem or an allegory. I’m not saying both interpretations are acceptable, I’m simply saying that the first verse is undeniable. When I began, I actually stopped almost immediately to let the first sentence sink in.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

For so long, I have taken that for granted. There is no way to misinterpret that fact. Regardless of how you think He did it, HE DID IT. It’s indisputable. That simple fact should have me on my knees in awe. Too often, regardless of what side of the debate we’re on, we lose sight of this. I could spend eternity praising the majesty of the created world, and all the science and debate won’t even scratch the surface of our limitless creator. That fact alone gave me perspective when some of mankind’s oldest questions reared their heads. Why he did it (if he knew about the fall in advance) and how he might have done it are the top two that I’ve always wrestled with. Those questions are not going away, but there are times when I simply need to be still and know that he is God. Accepting that I may never fully know these answers but resolved to explore them deeper (likely for a lifetime), I moved on.

From the creation account I was humbled by the awesomeness of God. Even more inspiring to me is His creativity. He is the original artist, the one all imitate whether they realize it or not. His masterpiece was good. Not “pretty good”. Good because he is the source of all good. It’s amazing. I find these words fall short of describing the sense of awe we’ve all felt when gazing at a starry night, or panning the vista of a mountain range. God’s original and unique nature was revealed in the creation account, and continues to stop us in our tracks today. I think it might be good to read the creation account fairly regularly, to remind me of his majesty. To remind me to praise and worship him in light of true creation.

Incomprehensible

I was taught long ago that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were always a part of the trinity, and that the trinity was always there. Like God – and being fully God themselves – they were present at creation. I’ve known about that small two-letter word in Genesis 1:26 for a long time, but reading it never ceases to give me pause. Just before creating man, God says “let us…” and we learn about the triune God. This impacted me the first time I read it, and it still does. The doctrine of the trinity is cemented for me in this verse, and binds the Old and New Testaments together. Jesus was not an afterthought. He was not a backup plan. He was always there, and all of history points to him. Granted, I may not get all that from reading Genesis for the first time, but I can’t disregard the knowledge I already have. This is an important verse for my faith, my view of the Bible and God’s character.

While Genesis marks the beginning of history, I was still reminded of the obvious – there is NO beginning for God. Creation is our beginning, but not His. In a world that is inseparable from the concept of time, I can’t imagine something without a beginning. The eternal nature of God is another reason for awe, but also one that comforts. Rarely do I feel comfort in not understanding something, but I feel comfort because being eternal, he is unchanging. If God has always been there, and is the source of all that is good, there’s no way he’s going to stop being that. In a world where everything changes, the unchanging, eternal and triune God is an immovable anchor.

Reliable & Trustworthy

Throughout Genesis, God makes bold moves. Not all are easy to learn about or accept. We have a different sense of fairness, and sometimes we want to judge God by our earthly worldview. In Genesis he bans Adam and Eve from the garden and proclaims how man will have to live by the sweat of his brow and woman will have pain in childbirth. Shortly after we read about a curse on Cain. In many cases, other nations split off from the line that will produce the Messiah and they fall outside of His grace. Why is one person, one nation chosen over another? I can’t answer that. At times it troubles me. It may seem like I’m dismissing it too easy, but I have to trust in his wisdom. He has a plan. I don’t do this easily either, but because of Christ, I do not abandon God as an unfair tyrant, but reach out to Him and am welcomed.

He also makes beautiful promises. Later, after destroying the earth with a flood, God makes a promise to mankind, and enters into a covenant with Noah. Abram becomes Abraham as he walks with God and enters a covenant with him as well. He is promised children, and that his descendants will be like the sand on the beach, or the stars in the sky. God keeps his promise, granting Abraham and Sarah a child, and continues building that great nation out of Isaac, then Jacob, then Judah. He saves his people from starvation through Joseph. Along the way we learn about those that do not find favour and the punishments they receive. Lot loses his wife, Ishmael his home and family, Esau and Reuben their birthrights. Time and time again, God gets personal with his people. He guides and protects them. He tests them. He disciplines and strengthens them.

The patriarchs could count on Him to be their God. That didn’t protect them from hardship, but it saved them forever. From this opening book, we learn that we can trust that he will draw near to us, and that he will do what he promises.

Unpredictable

When the culture of the day puts prominence on the firstborn, the Lord chooses to carry out his promises through Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, Judah instead of Reuben. I’m not sure why he did this, but it’s clear that God is not beholden to human constructs of hierarchy and birthorder. He will do as he pleases and works in ways that we often wouldn’t choose. That tells me to keep my eye on him, to be prepared to follow against the flow. This trait might appear to contradict his reliability and trustworthiness. God’s unpredictability is not that his nature changes (for he is unchanging) but rather that we can’t hem him in. We can’t predict how he works his will or when he will return. He doesn’t follow trends. He is above culture, a creator of men who manufacture culture. My original idea for this trait was mysterious. He truly does work in mysterious ways. But the more I thought about it, the more I marvelled at his unpredictability.

This character trait is an appropriate place to end. The mystery surrounding God can perplex us at times. It’s also comforting to know that we won’t be able to figure him out. There are many traits of his that we can trust and rely on, but ultimately, he cannot be completely fathomed. Genesis leaves me with as many questions as answers and the Bible will not answer them all. Academia and science will continue to try. Regardless, I am left with sufficient evidence of God’s true character, and how that impacts his relationship with His people. The evangelical world and scientists continue to debate whether Genesis is historical fact or allegory. From this recent reading, I will remember Genesis as His story.

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This post is the first review of 66 – all the books of the Bible. To learn about the project read my introductory post.

Read, Think, Write – 66 Times

The Bible is inexhaustible. This is something I know to be true, and hear often. I know it in my mind and in my heart, and yet I struggle to develop the habit-forming discipline of studying it regularly and with purpose. Blessed with years of Christian education, church life, and believing family and friends, I might even say that I have a pretty good knowledge of the Bible. But I know it’s lacking. I know there is so much more that I have yet to learn.

But unlocking that treasure can be difficult at times.

From past seasons of prolific Bible reading, the benefits and the closeness to God come to mind. Still, a certain de-sensitization to the Bible haunts me from time to time where I can’t help but feel that I’ve “been there, done that”, as if I have nothing else to learn. I know this is false, and I know I need to work harder, so I’m attempting a different strategy for personal study.

I love to read, and in particular, I love to read novels. I believe stories have tremendous power to teach, and the Bible is no exception. My education and Christian environment have taught me the central and sometimes complex doctrines of my faith, yet I frequently fail to grasp the wonder of the Bible story. There are themes and ideas and concepts that run through the individual narratives, making up the larger story. This I want to re-explore.

The Bible is not fiction, and I don’t intend to treat it that way – but it is a story. To look at it again with fresh eyes, I want to read it through, in that context, book by book and then write a review for each. By review, I don’t mean a critique, but rather a summary of what I’ve learned, or noticed, or rediscovered. My faith, upbringing and existing knowledge will no doubt colour and frame my reading and writing. I’m okay with that. I do not consider this to be a quest for a new world, but rather a taking stock of the one I live in, which will inevitably lead to greater appreciation, deeper understanding, fresh insights and revitalized familiarity.

I realize that it may seem odd to step away from close intense study to a more overview type of approach, when what I want to do is dig deeper. There will be a time and a place for that kind of study too, but this particular exercise will be different. In this strategy, I want to allow time to think. Incubation. Time to digest and chew on what I’ve read. Time to hold it up against the larger story and what I already believe about God and his word and his will. I want to leave room to pray and listen. And as I write I will test my thoughts, spend time trying to articulate them, and in a different way, dig deeper than ever before.

It’s unlikely I will uncover anything someone else hasn’t uncovered before me. I don’t even pretend that my personal thoughts will be original for others. It’s a personal journey first. But if you can learn something, or better yet, share something yourself, I make these posts public.

Does God Speak to Us Beyond Scripture?

Have you ever spoken with other Christians and been amazed at their ability to converse with God? Phrases like “God told me…” are spoken naturally, like they’ve been chatting with their neighbour. They seem to have a direct line to God. I have to confess I’ve always cringed a little at these statements, wondering if they’re true. The reality is that I’m really wondering why I am not experiencing the same thing.

While thinking and writing through this question, I relied heavily on my reformed background. There’s good, rich theology there. In layman’s terms, it goes something like this:

God generally no longer speaks to us in a physical manner. This applies to audible voices or in visions or in the form of other people. He does not intervene in our daily life to communicate the way he did in the Bible. The stories in the Bible of prophets, or a light on a road to Damascus were for a time when God’s full revelation was not complete. It’s not that he can’t or won’t do this. Instead, he has given us the Bible, his Word, and that is sufficient. It is our standard, our guide and it is infallible. All personal experiences with Him must be weighed against it because there is too much opportunity for us to twist or outright hijack a NEW revelation. We simply CANNOT trust ourselves completely and always need a benchmark (scripture) to test it’s truthfulness.

This is a sound theology in that it points us to the Bible, of which we can trust completely because we know it’s from him. When we grapple with specific scenarios that are not outrightly dealt with in the Bible, we interpret based on the principles in the Word, and we pray for guidance and wisdom.When those prayers are answered, and we come to a decision or an understanding, that is how God speaks to us. The key is that conversation with God must be grounded in Scripture. God speaking to us through his word and spirit is not so much about new revelation as it is about communion. The more we “listen” to his word, the more it guides us in our thinking. The more our thinking is in tune with God’s will, the more God speaks to us through his spirit.

I know that the Bible doesn’t work as a magic eight ball, allowing us to close our eyes, flip it open and randomly find the answers. But finding answers there takes work. If I’m honest, it’s work I don’t always feel like doing. I’d rather God just spoke the answers to me. Reading the Word, along with prayer is about obedience and trust BEFORE I hear any voices or sense the spirit moving. It’s a discipline that has great benefits.

With that understanding as a foundation, I’d like to ruminate a little about culture and judging others. Because believing all that, I can still feel that my conversation with him can be sterile. Hollow. Communication with God becomes a head game, not a heart game. My cringing when others speak about conversing with God is not just a healthy skepticism, but also an unhealthy one that questions whether God speaks to us at all. I’d love to blame how I’ve been taught for this lack of connection, but as I stated before, I’ve been taught well.

While there are people who take this too far, abandoning the Bible for personal revelation, I do believe how we speak about our faith is influenced heavily by our faith culture. Solid Biblical doctrine aside, our churches are also made up of people, who grew up in different environments, with different traditions. We’ve been taught in a way that is impacted by the unique small worlds we live in. Sometimes we may believe the same things but articulate them in radically different ways. On this particular topic, the problem I think, lies in how people explain something that is perhaps unexplainable.

Think about it. Without personnifying the Spirit, how do we describe it’s guidance? How do we explain that because of the spirit, we are able to accept Christ, and seek to honour him? Does the spirit “tell” us these things? I find it near impossible to articulate how God communes with us without saying something along the lines of “God told me” even if I append it with “through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit”. Avoiding the “God told me” language, judging it immature or superficial, has twisted my thinking. My wariness for being too “touchy-feely” has sometimes shut the door completely to listening to what God has to say, or what the answers to my prayers are.

What I’m learning is to stop pushing away intimacy with intellectualism. I have to stop getting hung up on conversational language, and I encourage any other skeptics out there to go easy on those who describe their personal conversations with God freely and easily. Better yet, listen to them, test what they have to say, but also learn from them. Whether I use language like “God told me…” or not, I can truly say I have felt God leading, urging, guiding. At the very least, God’s presence and intimate involvement in my life is seen in hindsight. Not all of us are comfortable describing it as a conversation, but maybe that is a failing of language and tradition, not a misunderstanding about how God works.

The takeaway here is that there’s a distinction between sensory revelation and communion with God. But what about those who DO claim a physical presence, voice or dream?

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a story of a literal two-way conversation with God, nor have I seen a vision or physically heard his voice. Revelation in these forms has NOT been my experience. Even as I learn to accept the way others speak about their faith, (and even try it out myself), I believe in studying God’s Word, prayer and obedience over seeking new experiences with the creator. Still, that doesn’t mean they can’t happen.

First, it’s incorrect to debate whether it’s possible or not, for how can I put God into a box (or a book) and say that there is no other way he could communicate? I am just not able to rule it out completely. Second, I have to place the story in the category of personal revelation. Personal revelation is exactly that, personal. It’s not necessarily meant for everyone, and it’s not going to be something”new” for everyone, but rather a confirmation of a biblical principle.

I have heard stories and spoken with Christians living and/or working in the mission field that sound similar to the workings of the God of the Bible. From what I can discern, they do not contradict scripture. As I view them as a whole, common in many of these stories is a noticeable push towards Scripture. We can’t imagine never having heard the story of Jesus, or ever laying eyes on a Bible, but there are many who have lived that existence. I believe God still intervenes in some of these cases physically. The pattern in many of these stories is that the personal revelation leads that person to the living Word. It may lead them to a missionary who can teach scripture, or a non-profit with Bibles in their language, and it may even take years to connect the two, but the Word is always what seals the deal.

My conclusion is that revelation that doesn’t lead us to the Word is suspect at best. Also, when we already have the word, it’s also likely that God will not appear or speak in a very physical way. He can – it’s possible – but I don’t need to chase that experience. He speaks to me every day, even though I am often too distracted to hear it. Regularly putting myself in a place to hear him – with the Word, in prayer, without distraction – is the best bet I’ll hear from him more often.

God does speak to us outside of reading the Bible. He does it daily. It’s called the Holy Spirit. And he’s pointing us back to the Bible so he can speak to us more.

Planning for Post-Retirement

In the wake of the recent recession, or “economic downturn” of 2008, I’ve heard, read and thought a lot about my financial future. Watching my RRSPs plummet 35% overnight made me question the security of that future. Will I have enough to retire? When might that be? Will I be able to avoid being a burden to my kids as they get established with their own families? In addition to that, this video encouraged me to explore the whole concept of retirement:

Before heading to the Bible, I wanted some historical background and a definition. Wikipedia describes it like this:

In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the 19th and 20th centuries. Previously, low life expectancy and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until death. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement in the 1880s… Today, retirement with a pension is considered a right of the worker in many societies, and hard ideological, social, cultural and political battles have been fought over whether this is a right.

What I suspected was confirmed. Retirement is a recent construct, a concept only 130 years old. As a new concept it has made heavy inroads. Many consider it a right, and demand that the government make it so. In western nations, the idea has become infused with capitalism, going deeper by addressing our wants and desires. We now believe “we deserve it”. Actually, we don’t just deserve retirement, we deserve a great one. A retirement filled with leisure and the finer things in life. I hear and see this message everywhere and as appealing as it is, it just doesn’t sit right.

When looking at what’s really important in life, most will agree that “stuff” doesn’t matter. I imagine that many would spout “you can’t take it with you” quickly. Yet these principles removed from faith make them meaningless. If there is no life after this one, then I want to enjoy the best of this life. If the money I make is MINE, then my retirement need only be about me and what I want after I’ve hung up my work boots. My own discovery is that I often view retirement this way and am recently more aware of how seriously flawed that view is.

I’m aware that as someone who faces another 30+ years of work before retirement makes me less qualified to write on this topic. It’s easy for me to point to others and judge their retirement without even being close to that milestone myself. At the same time, if I’m supposed to be preparing for it already, then I should know my goals.

My current situation is very different from those in or nearing retirement. I’m in my early 30’s and life just seems to get more and more expensive. We try to save, and even put a little away for our retirement, but as I look ahead, I see our expenses only rising for the forseeable future. No matter how stewardly or responsible we try to be with our money, I still can’t help feel we’re failing in the “save for retirement” category.

Like most worries, they are a result of me trying to control the uncontrollable. So I’ve made a conscious decision to stop worrying about it. I know I need to plan and save for the future. I also should not squander what I’ve been given for that future on fleeting pleasures today. I’m not advocating for ignoring responsibility, but there has to be something more than a comfy living after work with no purpose other than self-enjoyment. Something bigger and better than any retirement I could ever dream up. I catch a glimpse of that vision in this verse:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
Matt 6:19-20

To accept this means I have to look beyond retirement. My energy, effort and focus should point towards a future in heaven, not here on earth. Yes, I have to work to make a living, and yes I need to save so I can slow down or finish work when my physical body can’t continue. But beyond that, do I really think about making deposits into a heavenly account? Can I really “save” for my future in heaven? The Bible says we can.

I think it’s clear if you believe in grace, that this verse is not about earning your way into heaven. Getting there is not about what I can do. But once I believe in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, God gives me His spirit and good works are the fruit of my faith. They are always tainted by my imperfection, but they, like me can be redeemed. They are not worthless. And notice they are called good WORKs? How do these fit in with the concept of retirement?

I’ve come to believe that retirement as we see it in the west, is an unbiblical concept. It takes one thing – money – and makes it the ultimate focus. Money will provide security. Money will allow me to do the things I want. Money will take care of me. All of that says “it’s mine”. What I’ve earned. What I’ve saved. What I’ve worked hard for. But none of it’s mine. And if none of it’s mine, and I don’t deserve any of it, then that’s going to change how I manage it – on his behalf. It’s going to impact both accounts at the same time – my retirement savings, and my treasures in heaven.

Earthly retirement separates life from work. As if when we’re working, we’re not living. But nowhere does God tell me that I will rest from my labour by relaxing until I die. Nowhere does it mention that my work will be done and I can live a life of leisure. Life is made up of all different kinds of WORK and it will never be done. We were designed for work, not leisure. Rest is important, but only so much as it enables us to do our work. If we’re able at some point to be able to stop working to make a living, that’s a blessing. The question is, what will I DO with it?

My life’s goals cannot hinge or rest on making my future comfortable. They need to be so much bigger than that. I need to stop separating work from life. My whole life is work. There’s important work to be done. At my job, at home, in the church, in the community… Retirement is one-dimensional, and largely self-serving. When we consider our whole lives and our purpose, we will never retire.

In that context, finishing with official employment is only another phase in the race. Retirement is more of a milestone than a state of being. It’s not the finish line. It’s another chapter. Some will reach it sooner. Others may never reach it. Like all phases, we should prepare as best we can. But maybe a better question is, what is my post-retirement plan?

In Defense of Novels

My biggest motivator to write comes from my love of reading. I read a lot, though I can’t say I’m very fast. I enjoy it, so I make time for it, and therefore I consume a decent amount of words on a regular basis. I read magazines and blogs regularly, partly because I can digest them in short snippets. Books are my true favourite, and in particular, novels. I make room for plenty of non-fiction as well, but nothing compares to a great story in novel form.

From some writers and academics, I sense a subtle undercurrent of mild disapproval for novels. It’s not spoken, but only hinted at. If you were to press them, they would say they read novels too. What I’m feeling is that in the context of “bettering yourself” or “strengthening your faith” the novel doesn’t stand up. In and of themselves, they’re not bad, but there are more important things to do. I realize I’m exaggerating to make my point, but it appears that novels are relegated to “play time”, and non-fiction is held up as a wise choice for how we spend our time.

In defense of novels, I’d like to offer a different perspective. I believe that novels are fine for leisure time, but I also believe they have greater value than simply entertainment. Novels teach us about people, places, history, experiences and relationships. They teach us in story form and for many, this helps us retain information, concepts, morals, really well. I need only point to Jesus’ habit of speaking in parable to make this point.

What’s great about novels is that they make learning enjoyable. It’s likely that few choose a novel because of what they want to learn, and yet the side-benefits of enjoying a great story is knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and more. I say embrace them, and choose widely and wisely.

Inevitably, these thoughts lead me down the path of “if novels are okay, what kind are good and what kind are bad?” I refuse to make a sweeping judgement here, but this line of thought is closely tied to my case for novels as a good use of our time (leisure or otherwise). What novels does the Christian choose to read? Should they be by Christian authors? about Christian topics? Can they be about immoral people with a different worldview and a viewpoint with which I totally disagree? What I’m driving at is can we enjoy a book (and learn from it) when the contents might be offensive to what we think is godly?

We’re treading into some grey territory here so I found some clarity:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

I am a firm believer in the concept of “garbage in, garbage out”. By that I mean, what we take in, consume, read or watch influences what lives in us. If we spend all of our time consuming trash, we will produce trash. We will care about trash, we will crave trash, and we will speak trash. A good Bible verse for this is:

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart,
and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.
For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45

With all that in mind, I do not advocate for even a little trash in any form of entertainment or otherwise. And yet, I do believe that we can exercise discernment within our Christian liberty to read things that may offend us or with which we disagree. I believe there is value in reading things that oppose our worldview. The problem arises when we consume this in the form of a novel, and novels are considered entertainment. Can we enjoy a story even though we don’t agree with the author or the behaviour of the characters in the book? I believe in some cases we can.

Following the concept of garbage in, garbage out, if we ONLY read things that offend us, or oppose our worldview, we will read ourselves out of the faith. In contrast, if we ONLY read things that confirm what we already believe, do we learn anything? Remember, I’m only talking about novels here. Stories. I’m not talking about books that are intentionally trying to teach us something new about the world or what we believe.

We all read through the lense of our worldview. I view the world as created by God, fallen, and being redeemed by Christ. This colours everything I take in. Fortifying that worldview is imperative and if ever there was a case for Bible study and learning from other resources this is it. To be able to discern, we need to be strong in knowledge and faith. While wisdom is not exclusive to a certain age, it makes sense that the older we get, the better we are at discerning.

There’s a fine line here, and I know that we must tread carefully. I’m avoiding a set of rules or guidelines because I think everyone has a different definition of “trash”. Some of us may be too jaded, others completely unwilling to step outside our protective bubble. As I thought through this argument, I realized that discernment is a tricky thing. If left to my own devices, I would never discern the right thing. I rely on the Holy spirit to guide me to the right decisions and choices. I fail miserably on a regular basis. Therefore I need to rely on God’s wisdom for my discernment. I don’t believe that makes all our choices easy, but it gives me a solid starting point and a compass facing north.

My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Proverbs 3:21-22