The Lifeblood of Fiction

My mom really wanted me to read when I was a kid. She taught English before I was born, then she stayed home to care for me (and my sister who joined us two years later). Summers included weekly trips to the public library where, as I remember, my sister would return her borrowed stack and collect a new tower for the following week while I thought about whether or not I really wanted to read the next McGurk mystery.

Maybe it wasn’t quite that pitiful, but after Encyclopedia Brown and McGurk and The Mad Scientist’s Club I spent my time reading things such as road signs. I don’t remember any book from my elementary school classes. I do remember much better the books I was assigned in Junior High and High School that I didn’t read. Somehow I graduated, and Lord of the Flies left the greatest impression. That’s what happens when you only read one.

Between my freshman and sophomore years of college I became a Calvinist. That got me excited about studying and reading but only so far as it concerned “the Truth.” The novels assigned in my Humanities class were for the “less spiritual” in my book. Through college and seminary I devoured works full of propositions and despised those filled with plots and characters. When I met Mo, she told me it was wrong that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I read it, earned the respect points, and then quit somewhere in the first chapter of Prince Caspian.

More than a decade later, not only did I realize I was missing out, I realized I needed to repent. My disdain for fiction was dumb. Willful neglect truncated my imagination, my worldview, and my relationships. It also pruned my theology and worship. There is more to say about all this, and I’m excited to say it at the Raggant Fiction Festival.

Fiction Festival

Our keynote speaker for the festival is Douglas Bond. He’s an actual author (!) and I’ve enjoyed The Betrayal and am almost finished reading the first of three in the Crown and Covenant series to our kids. His talks will make the day worth the cost. Also speaking will be our school’s headmaster, Jonathan Sarr. Among other things he teaches our Omnibus class which includes many of the shapers and staples of Western culture. Andy Bowers was our first full-time teacher and has covered all kinds of literature with our older grammar students. New to our faculty this fall is Leila Bowers who will teach another Omnibus class. She’s been teaching at a community college for several years and will bring more narrative mettle to the pot than most of us.

But I get to lead off. I am the least qualified to talk about the merits of all the fiction books that should go on one’s shelf, but I am definitely excited to talk about the need for fiction to be on the shelf. Good fiction is a lifeblood for Christian faith and faithfulness. It cannot replace the Bible nor does it intend to. It does help us think about how to live out the Bible and, done right, moves us to want to.

If you are a fiction hater, or ignore fiction, and especially if you hate or ignore with fussy theological reasons, then this Festival is aimed to bless you. If you already love fiction, then you will probably enjoy it as well. Check out the event page and consider hanging with us in Marysville on Saturday, September 26.

Not That Far Apart

Over the last couple days I’ve argued that the start of our cultural problems is when man rejects God as God. The Supreme Court and the cover of “Vanity Fair” are fruit from an unsubmissive root. Then I gave three things that Christians could do. And we really must do something.

If the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly. (Carl. F. H. Henry)

Of course we will be less effective if we are hypocrites. If we do not acknowledge God ourselves or adorn God’s saving doctrine, we set ourselves up as targets. Of course we will be less effective if we argue politics without tying our politics to God’s principles. There is no neutral way; everywhere is a God/god demanding service. And of course we will be less effective if we are unrighteous in how we address unrighteousness, if we are proud when we talk about grace, angry when we talk about mercy, unwilling to sacrifice when we talk about love.

I wish that I had done more in the fight before now. I don’t mostly regret a failure to teach, but more my failure to acknowledge the Trinity and the Trinitarian shape of life. I have sinned by limiting God’s interests only to the verses that talk about Christ and the cross instead of realizing how those verses require us to take our our crosses daily…in relationships and responsibilities on earth. I have not adorned doctrine; I have been angry and selfish. I need to pray more, love more, sacrifice more.

But now is a great time for growing. Doing the “normal” (right) things will shine more brightly as the darkness increases. Husbands, now is your chance! Mothers, do something! Today, on the 4th of July, “don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). I know Paul was talking about spiritual freedom not national freedom, but the two are not that far apart as it turns out.

The Supreme Court of Heaven and Earth has one Judge and He already revealed His ruling. We see the consequences of rejecting His categories and disobeying Him in the first few pages of the Bible. We also see God respond with both justice and mercy. May He have mercy on us.

Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms

Yesterday I wrote that the sins in our culture are not worse than the original sin in the Garden of Eden. That said, our sins are bad and getting worse, or they at least have better marketing. What can we do? Are we supposed to do anything? Who is the “we”? The church? Individual Christians? American citizens? Pastors? Parents?

Within the first twenty-four hours after the Supreme ruining on marriage, the most common response I saw among evangelical Christians went something such as, “We don’t care about politics, we still have the gospel.” Of course, if we really didn’t care about politics, why do we need to encourage ourselves that we don’t care? Is it because we lost? If the vote had been 5-4 the other way, would we care then? Would we have praised God for the (temporary) victory…inappropriately? Were we wrong to be praying for the decision before it was made? Are we not supposed to pray for our political representatives and judges, or are we just to pray that they would get saved? Even that requires care, though, because if God did save them, wouldn’t we expect them to leave their non-gospel jobs so that they could pray more…like us?

If Genesis 1-3 is true, then it is a false dilemma to say that we can only care about the gospel or we can care about our relationships and responsibilities on earth. We are not supposed to trust politics or politicians to save us, but neither do we trust gospel presentations to save us. We trust in Christ, presented to us in the gospel. And if a group of people trusted Christ, wouldn’t they want to interact with one another in a way that honors Christ? Isn’t that fundamental to government and law, that we will be rewarded or punished according to how we love one another?

Gospel and government are not an either/or. Christians put them in opposition because they don’t understand either of them. Gospel and government are a both/and, or better, a first then second, or better yet, a first and fifth (with family and work and church spheres in between). My investment in the gospel is an investment in government (though not always immediately visible, just as my investment in breakfast for my kids is an investment in my grandkids, though it’ll take some time for that to work out), and my investment in government is only worth what I’ve gotten from the gospel. I want a man to confess that Jesus is Lord. That has consequences that include his house, and his local court house, and the White House.

It isn’t the church’s job (or authority) to run everything. A pastor shouldn’t be the President or be the boss of the President. But it is the church’s job to worship God, and worship changes people. It is the church’s job to make disciples with dual citizenship who love their responsibilities to both countries. As those disciples are going, they should see all the world under the rule of Christ. Disciples should think and vote and tweet and talk with their neighbors. If a disciple made a disciple, and both of them were being transformed as they worshiped Christ, and then one of those disciples became a Senator or a Judge or a President, then that disciple should do his work under Christ and for Christ.

So we should do something. What should we do?

We should see fit to acknowledge God.

This is the first thing that the Bible teaches us to do in Genesis 1-3. This is the first problem Paul listed about a crumbling culture in Romans 1. We don’t work backwards from the fruit to the root, in our case, pouring all our energy into appealing to reverse the Supreme Court’s hauteur. When we see that the fruit is bad we need to get down to the root.

Christians have failed to acknowledge God everywhere. Unbelievers don’t, sure. But believers certainly should. We acknowledge God for a couple hours on Sunday morning, and maybe for a few devotional minutes during the week. But we tend to acknowledge Him as Lord of the Church, not the Lord of heaven and earth. We still tend to ignore the antithesis and accept neutral spaces. For example, the most subtle yet despicable part of my public schooling was the constantly unspoken lesson: who cares if God is there? But anyone who does not see fit to acknowledge God loses his mind (is given over to a “debased mind”). This can’t help but make a mess of business, family, education, and government. Believers must continue to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.

The root of homosexuality, and the root of our cultural loss of common sense, is unbelief. Unbelief doesn’t just affect personal morals, it affects public enforcement of morals. Christians are the first ones who need to believe that believing in God affects everything.

We should adorn the doctrine of God.

Paul wrote this phrase about adorning the doctrine of God our savior in Titus 2 to slaves.

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9–10)

The message of the chapter up to this exhortation to slaves has been about doctrine. Starting in verse 1, Paul exhorted Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Then in verse 10 he describes a life purpose to “adorn the doctrine.” Doctrine ought to be beautified by behavior. Decorate the doctrine by your deeds. The following paragraph reasons further about what the doctrine of grace does.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)

Grace trains us for living godly lives, grace purifies a people, grace makes us zealous for good works. In light of verses 1-10, those “good works” include older men having character, older women teaching younger women about being wives and mothers, younger men being self-controlled. It’s largely an in-house, among family work. Even slaves should slave in such a way to make the doctrine look good.

There was a time when more people in our country identified themselves as Christians. But, while many have been faithful, many others have not made the gospel look good. How many kids have grown up in “Christian” homes wanting to get away from, not be like, their parents? Instead of seeing that the problem is sin, they misdiagnose the problem to be “traditional” marriage.

If we do not want to be Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms, the conservative cranks who always rain on Rainbow Parades (there is irony there, right? And you saw the picture of the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow, not even realizing how the symbol they’ve chosen commemorates the fact that God promised not to flood the earth for such debauchery), then we must have something in addition to showing sinners that sinfulness is wrong. We must tell and show them how obedience to God is better. We are not saying No for No’s sake. We are saying No for Yes’s sake, but God gets to decide what is No for sake of Yes, something He started to do in the Garden. We ought to be able to give an account for our criticism beyond the fact that we are good at being critical Christians. Unless we give an account of God’s world from our joy in it, we are just condemning others for not following our course of unhappiness.

One of the observations about the dark lunacy of homosexual “marriage” is that it cannot reproduce itself. That’s obvious. Homosexual partners still want to be considered a family, and even do “family” things such as raise children. Where are those children going to come from? Heterosexual spouses, and some Christian spouses included, have made it so that it will be a long time before demand surpasses the supply of available kids. There will be plenty to adopt because we won’t live and love righteously as man and woman. Men have taken dominion to fight the physical pains of labor but not the spiritual judgment that keeps parents from caring about, or being able to care for, offspring. Homosexuals don’t care about where kids will come from because they know that we don’t care.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cynics. You are campaigning for the laws of the next generation, and you are more effective, one way or another, than any marketing guru could dream.

We should announce the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Were it not for grace, we would have more obvious sins than we do, whatever they might be. Grace opened our eyes to see sin, to seek forgiveness, to believe in Jesus as Savior, and to learn obedience to Him. All of it is by grace. None of it is deserved.

Grace is how we got all the good we have. Grace is the answer for everyone. Grace does not deny the need for grace; it calls sin, sin. It delivers from wrath, and it also straightens the perverse, brings dignity out of dishonor, restores what was being destroyed. Grace offers covering for guilt. And grace gives meaning to life, grace makes us free under God. Peter reminds us,

you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)

We who know Genesis 1-3 know the nature of man. We know better than men why they act self-destructively. We also know that every man will give an account to his Creator, and that his Creator offers salvation through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all who repent and believe, who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This must be our message to men blinded and enslaved by sin.

Our Cultural Garden

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled last Friday that no State has the right to make it illegal for a man to “marry” a man and for a woman to “marry” a woman. This is on the heels of national news and controversy over a man changing himself into a woman (adding some female parts to his male parts). Some women are mad that this defines womanhood according to bodily features, and pink nail polish. There is also outrage over the Confederate flag presumed to represent motives behind the murder of nine people in Charleston even though no outrage is directed over the US flag which flies over thousands of murders day by day, all claimed it in the name of “liberty.” And, of course, our celebration of Independence Day is a couple days away. Do we, as those who worship the LORD God, Creator of heaven and earth, have a way to explain what we see? Do we have any message in the midst of this?

I took a (sort of) break from Genesis last Sunday to preach about these questions. In fact, I think the ancient chapters of the Bible reveal decisive answers for now.

Let’s start with an argument from greater to lesser. If man entertains the idea that he could be God, then it is less difficult for him to entertain the idea that he could be not a man. He could fancy himself to be a woman. He could figure he could do with another man what he could do with a woman. The step from heterosexuality to homosexuality is shorter than the step from humanity into divinity. Jumping between genders is easier than jumping into deity.

If a pot toys with trying to be the Potter, it is less surprising if a pot toys with trying to be a plate rather than a pot. A man who believes he could be God could believe he could be, or do, anything.

The greater sin is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. The woman believed the serpent when he told her that if she ate of the fruit, her eyes would be opened and she would be like God (Genesis 3:5). She would be free from His throttle and restraints. Whatever it was exactly that motivated the man to eat, when he did, he claimed by his conduct that he knew better than God. He put himself in the position of judging God. He was all the god he needed.

Where does that end? Once a man decides that he doesn’t need to listen to God, why should he listen to “nature,” or science, or history, or court rulings, or neighbors? He trumps God; who can trump him?

Abortion and same-sex mirage (as Doug Wilson can’t help but continue to call it) under government license, or ESPN giving Bruce Jenner a “courage” award, each of these sins are found in seed form in Adam’s rebellion. The sins in our cultural garden are not worse than the sin in the first garden. All sins stem from denying the Creator’s authority.

Romans reveals this same chain of sin. A man who rejects God the Creator, who will not honor Him or give Him thanks, exchanges the glory of God for that of man. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). Men worship and serve the creature, including themselves, and

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27)

This is part of the reason why our attention to Genesis changes culture, even if that is only visible in the little cultures/communities of our life together. Genesis 2:24 is a great definition of marriage, but we first need a great understanding of God, the One who gives life and makes marriage. Seeing Him as the creative Giver of all our good, and seeing the serpent as a subtle deceiver, changes how we listen to our options.

Living together, fornication, easy (no-fault) divorce, adultery, are all forms of covenant breaking that disregard God’s word. Though there have always been some abnormally immoral, we are now in a time when that sort of immorality is claimed to be normal. In one sense we’ve worked up to the extreme cases, in another sense we still haven’t done anything as stupid as try to be God.

The original sin went contrary to nature. What should have been more obvious than that man was not God? Man’s defiance was perverse (deviating from what was right and good), dishonorable (shameful, not exalting), and destructive. So it is with every sin, and some are more obvious. Men and women act contrary to nature–as defined by nature’s Maker–and this is the inevitable consequence when men do not see fit to acknowledge God.

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.


If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

Baby Kittens Harnessed to a Bobsled

I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.


“Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” This is either a proverb for soldiers or smack talk between them. It’s probably both and that’s probably why I like it so much. It’s wisdom, it’s snark, both of which a man can use on the battlefield. We could also use more sages and smart-alecks in the sphere of education, so tonight I want to tell the story surrounding this salty sound bite and then see if there is any application for us.

In 1 Kings 20, the King of Syria, Ben-hadad–also known as “the son of Hadad” (since Ben means “son” in Hebrew), or we might call him, “Jr.”–gathered his troops together and formed a coalition with thirty-two other provincial kings. They all marched south to take over some new territory, and Ben-Hadad and this motley military clobbered Samaria. Feeling pretty good about himself, Hadad sent messengers into the city to inform the King of Israel, Ahab, that he was next in line. Hadad told Ahab the sticker price of peace up front: “your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children are also mine.” That’s quite a toll.

We should remember that Ahab was not a righteous king. According to chapter 16 Ahab did more evil than any previous king of Israel (verse 30). His wife’s name was Jezebel, that one and only Jezebel who cut off the prophets of the LORD, hunted Elijah after the fire showdown, and had Naboth murdered for his vineyard. Ahab himself abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals, including setting up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal in Samaria (verse 32). “Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (verse 33). Ahab was, however, king over God’s people and that’s important later.

For now Ahab agreed to Hadad’s terms. “As you say, my lord, O King, I am yours, and all that I have.” He offered zero resistance to Jr.’s list of demands. But, as usual with spoiled tyrants, giving in didn’t appease him, and Hadad served notice that he was going to come the next day, look around, and “lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.” Hadad was just rubbing Ahab’s face in a puddle of mean.

That was too much for Ahab. He called an emergency session of Israel’s congress and all the officials agreed that Ahab should not give in. Ahab sent word, “All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.” He’s still trying to mostly capitulate, but Hadad smelled blood in the weakness.

So with his most bloviating bravado Hadad sent the message back, “The gods do so to me and more also if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” He meant that he would pulverize Israel like such fine flour that there wouldn’t be enough for each of his soldiers to have their own personal scoop. It’s smack-talk oath style, with 33 armies worth of muscle to back it up.

I’m not sure what got into Ahab at this point. Knowing what Hadad did in Samaria and the resources at his disposal, Ahab picked up his spine and said, “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as one who takes it off.” A Roman might have said, “Ante victoriam ne canas triumphum,” “Before victory don’t sing triumph.” An actor in an 80’s Naval aviator movie might have said, “Your mouth shouldn’t write checks that your body can’t cash.” Or, as country singer Kenny Rogers might have put it, “You never count your money while sitting at the table.”

Ahab’s confidence was about to thicken from there. A prophet told Ahab that the LORD promised to give the great multitude into his hands. Uncertain about how that could be, Ahab asked by whom? The prophet said not by soldiers but by the servants of the governors. Ahab asked who was going to fire first? The prophet said, “You.” They found 232 servants and backed them up with all the remaining men in Israel, only seven thousand.

Jr. Hadad was out having a pre-victory party with the other kings and they were drinking themselves drunk in the middle of the day. Even though Hadad escaped, the servants of Israel struck down the Syrians and Israel was delivered (for the time) just as the Lord promised. Hadad had indeed counted his chickens before they surrendered.

Does a war story like this have anything to do with a school story? On a feast night like tonight, should we be talking about a fight? And if the account does apply, at least by analogy, which side are we on? What are the unit objectives for us?

Since the Garden of Eden the seed of the dragon (or “serpent” if you prefer) and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), whom Paul identified as Jesus (Galatians 4:4), have been in conflict. Everyone on earth wears army boots for one side or the other. Neutrality does not exist on the Internet, in courtrooms, and certainly not in class rooms. There are more than two fighting styles but there are only two fighting sides. We’re with Jesus or we’re against Him.

If we’re with Jesus then we’re against an enemy that, from the world’s perspective, doesn’t just outnumber our resources, he makes us look like baby kittens harnessed to a bobsled right after a bath. We don’t appear to be able to pull much weight and our bite is not much of a threat.

We don’t have the facilities, the subsidies, the salaries, or the rules on our side. It may be lopsided but it’s still a fight that needs fighting. What God will be recognized by the school board or on the white board? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, line diagramming and poetry? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, man? Or the Lord Jesus Christ?

Wisdom about war absolutely has relevant wisdom for a Christian school. Issues such as supplies, costs, personnel, tactics, aims, all overlap. So can we learn from the interaction between Hadad and Ahab?

When I first thought of this proverb as applied to our almost three year-old school, I read our part in the story wrong. It may seem as if we’re the ones who are putting our armor on, the ones who need to gird our lips with non-boasting duct tape. After all, what can we do? What have we done?

But the more I read the story the more I changed my mind. We have less reason to be humbled like Hadad and more reason to be feisty like Ahab.

Like Ahab, Christians have been willing to make too many compromises when it comes to giving our kids over to a godless system. Thankfully more believers are realizing that the State has overstepped it’s proper shoe size. Barak Ben-Obama cannot bully us into giving him whatever he wants. Even Ahab wouldn’t have sent his kids to a school accredited by Ben-hadad’s education commission.

Like Ahab we initially cower when the world crows about their success. They are turning the tassels of their standardized test scores and drinking themselves drunk. They mock, threaten, and parade over Christian homeschool and private schools. But they’re the ones who don’t know what they’re doing, which is part of the reason for endlessly-new and improved teaching models, which is part of the reason they need more money. They won’t get the best laugh, let alone the last one.

Like Ahab we do not deserve deliverance. The Lord gave grace to His people and it’s only grace that does us any good, too. In the fight of education we are not perfect but we are on the side of the Lord. The Lord blesses His people even in spite of themselves at times so that we may know that the Lord is Lord.

We are also like Ahab in that the Lord often uses servants to do His fighting. The weak of the world defeat the strong, the foolish confound the wise. In fact, we are more like the unskilled servants than trained soldiers anyway.

Unlike Ahab, however, we look back at the biggest battle. Jesus said, “It is finished.” When we stand with the Lord, we stand on the winning side. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to Me.” He has taken off His armor, having defeated sin and death and risen to the fight hand of the Father. We are His messengers, and though we don’t know everything, we know that the victory is His. “Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.” I’d like to imagine that one of Ahab’s God-fearing messengers had a sparkle in his eye when he told that to Hadad. So should we.

When our students sing and we eat meat and drink wine it’s in joy because the great victory is won. Tonight the Marysville Grange is our temporary Mead Hall where we feast because Jesus lives and Grendel and his mom are dead. Grendel’s modern day cousins keep attacking, and we wisely, and feistily, call them amateurs.

We also believe that He supplies His warrior-servants with equipment and training. We’re here celebrating what the Lord has been doing at Evangel Classical School, and we believe that more of His people want to see this feisty worldview enculturated to the next generation.

Every Lesson Is a Gift

What is missing most in most education? For me, my public schooling was more like a week-old donut hole: bite-size, dry, and missing much of the context. I missed many great books, in part because I didn’t read what I was assigned and in part because significant others weren’t assigned. I missed a definition of revolution and how our war against the British wasn’t properly one. I missed logic–formal and in blue jeans. These are just samples. But what I missed most was teaching to thankfulness.

We learned things but we didn’t have anyone to thank. To be consistent with the materialistic, evolutionary worldview that drove what we did, learning shouldn’t have been fun, it was merely in order to survive and advance. But if God created all things and sustains them by His Word, then every page of every lesson and every fact on earth is a gift. That’s how to get kids excited. Unwrap the present that is parts of speech and scientific classification and counting by tens and A Tale of Two Cities and see the tag “From: God.”

This is the advantage of Christian education. The Christian God gives. More than blindfolding students from unrighteousness in the world, teachers at a Christian school work to open eyes to see God’s glory in the world. We give thanks for Christ and through Christ and to Christ. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. It’s all His. He rules it. He cares about it. He gives it to us to enjoy and use.

So Christian education is not only learning the Bible but also learning how to see all the things we have to be thankful for. (And perhaps learning how to not end sentences with prepositions. Or split infinitives.)

How do we get all of it in? We can’t. We’re finite. But what kid rejects a gift because it is too big for his hands? We try to get a hold of as much as we can, and the process we use at our school is the Trivium. Here is the advantage of classical education as it follows the “three ways.”

The Grammar stage is nonstop collecting, ubiquitous capture, building mental shelves and loading them. During the elementary years we teach the ABCs and 1+1s and Genesis one and Romans one and details about wars and who won. The students drink up as much as possible from the ocean of knowable things. But it tastes sweet because it’s gift for which we can be grateful. The 10 Commandments, Egyptian history, Latin declensions, math investigations, Narnia, these are all notes and lyrics and parts for our songs.

At this age, one readily…rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. (Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”)

For example, this year our grammar students in Bible class are learning a ten minute song from Genesis to Joshua that includes events and dates and Bible chapter for the six days of creation, the call of Abraham, Joseph as a slave in Egypt, the plagues, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. Our kindergarten students are learning a rhyming rap about counting by tens. Our second year Latin students are translating Green Eggs and Ham (or Virent Ova! Viret Perna!). This is a lot of work, but it is not burdensome because we receive it as good from God.

Next comes the Logic stage, a phase that trains for attentive assessment. We do not often think of a junior higher as distinguished, but we can help him to be a distinguisher. Students learn formal logic, a thing to be thankful for itself, as a way to spot lies in what the world says to be thankful for (i.e., personal autonomy) and what the world says not to be thankful for (i.e., God’s laws). Students take the store of information they’ve collected and dissect it, debate over it, and come to some conclusions about thankfulness.

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. (Sayers)

The Rhetoric stage is persuasive presentation, not learning to dress up like an insincere salesmen but rather learning to adorn the truth and win others to thankfulness for it. Not only can students avoid being manipulated by advertisers and media propaganda, they can articulate the truth better.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
(Proverbs 16:23)

This year our older students have read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and others to see what rhetoric looks like driving down the road. We recently read The Communist Manifesto and observed how it argued for a worldview of envy, not thankfulness.

Is this classical approach to education (the Trivium) particularly Christian? It is when it runs on the energy of gratitude and to the goal of gratitude. That said, we acknowledge that unbelievers can and do learn and teach many things. We even know how that’s possible.

Common grace is what happens when God allows non-believers to participate in and enjoy that which could not be true if their view of the universe were true. Common grace is the blessing that results when God allows non-believers to be inconsistent. (Doug Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education)

Non-Christians can give thanks, but they can’t give thanks consistently. And Christians can only give thanks consistently because of the evangel (a great name for a school). The gospel frees us from discontent and opens our eyes to see God. We are thankful for open eyes, and we are thankful for all the things our now open eyes see that God has given.

Thankfulness keeps us sharp, always receiving (from God who doesn’t stop giving), always discerning (from the world who doesn’t stop lying, or from our own sin that keeps whining), and always declaring. Following the Trivium we learn how to keep learning, in particular, how to keep growing in our appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Classical Christian education isn’t a bore or a chore. It keeps kids interested because it’s all for them and shapes their loyalties to the Father of lights who gives every perfect gift. For that we can be thankful.

To Force More Perfect Union

Abraham Lincoln did not have the chops to unite the Union peaceably. Part of his problem is that he loved the Union too much.

Caveats, qualifications, and disclaimer: I did not pay much attention in school as a kid. I am not a historian or a politician or a librarian. I have only read about 100 pages of Lincoln’s speeches in this collection. I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect those of my employer.

So I said that Lincoln did not have the chops to hold (or reunite) the Union together apart from force. He used the tool he had, the Army, and set a precedent of Federal preeminence. His example also demonstrates the failure of secular philosophy to consolidate a diverse people.

Lincoln was not a Christian. He spoke about God but he did not worship the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. He valued religion only to the degree that it wouldn’t alienate voters. He said,

I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. (55)

His first inaugural speech as President revealed that he didn’t serve God, he served the Union. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have served God by serving the Union, but that wasn’t true for him. He valued the Union above all and he vowed that he would do whatever was necessary to defend it. He personally wished for abolition but, as long as the Union survived, it didn’t really matter to him if every slave was freed or if no slave was ever freed. Liberty was a great idea until it threatened his precious.

When his god was attacked he fought back. The sovereign Union punished any who questioned it starting with South Carolina. The Constitution framers wrote of their desire “to form a more perfect union.” Lincoln chose to force one.

He took over a country in tension and he knew there were problems. Yet he used his rhetorical skills to persuade his opponents only for a while. Because Lincoln did not worship the triune God of the Bible, he did not have faith or hope in a good God which would have enabled patient work for a resolution that may (or may not) happen decades later. He could not see far enough ahead to pray for worshippers who would be Christlike disciples who would educate the next generation.

Lincoln said that he knew the appropriate political process.

[B]allots are the rightful, and peaceful successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. (314)

Apparently he didn’t even have time to wait for politics, let alone trust anything or anyone greater.

The idea of the Union was most important. He failed to appreciate that the Union consisted of States, and the States consisted of persons. He couldn’t see it, and ended up trying to build a Union around an abstract rather than on persons or God Himself. His “success” not only left us with a heritage of overreaching presidents but also of people expecting the Federal government to rule them regardless of the brutal measures used to enforce unity.

Because Lincoln did not worship the triune God he could not see all men of all skin colors as image-bearers of God. Slaves were still property to be priced and restitution provided to their owners. Slaves only counted as 3/5th of a free man for representation purposes. Free men themselves served to fight. If they were ground up in war on behalf of the Union, so be it.

Lincoln talked about using tools other than force in order to avoid more bloodshed (363) but he couldn’t pull it off. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Spirit can create true and willing unity. We will not have a perfect union apart from submission to the Lord first. This means that obedient Christians are free to be the best citizens whether the Lord grants us obvious success, sooner or later or never. Lincoln had no such confidence.

The Laziness That Be

Reading the Foundational Documents and seeing how natural it is for some men to take advantage of others, I ranted a bit in our last Omnibus auditors’ session. For weeks we’ve been observing (and kvetching) about our current political slough of despond, and the question comes up, “What are we doing about it?” Are we just reading and watching cable blues and fussing? Maybe praying more for Jesus’ return?

It is true that we have much more to do, hopefully–in the future–changing the kind of characters who are on our ballots, let alone enculturating the kind of Christians who cast ballots. But as we dream about repealing laws, or even push to practice consistently the good laws we already have, we’re trying to train students how to be good citizens of two countries, both heaven and earth. How are we doing that?

First, we teach them to love God with all their hearts and to believe in Jesus Christ as the only Savior. God is sovereign. He rules the nations. We must submit to Him. Because His nature is Triune, He calls us to relationship and family and society and calls it good. We must bear His image in these bonds. When we sin and break fellowship, His Son offers forgiveness and peace. That is the evangel. We must repent and believe and receive and walk in Christ. Any attempts at peace among men without Him will not work for long.

Second, we teach them history. We’re learning where we came from and the many blessings that we all enjoy because men in previous generations worked and served to give us a good foundation. As Samuel Johnson put it,

A contempt of the monuments and the wisdom of the past, may be justly reckoned one of the reigning follies of these days, to which pride and idleness have equally contributed.

We benefit from their wisdom, watching them work through why they wanted what they did and what problems they envisioned. It profits us to read their arguments about states and nations and what forms of government would make a better union and what challenges come to those governments.

But beyond the content of the curriculum, we also make them read a lot of it. We ask them to memorize Latin and write multiple papers each week and participate in the discussion. And then we tell them that they are not entitled to a good grade even if they work hard. They are not entitled to graded papers which are red ink free zones. They are not entitled to have everything exactly the same as their fellow classmates. This isn’t mean, but it is surprisingly political. This is part of what it means to be free.

The solution to our national woes starts with the Spirit. We can glean wisdom from history. And the responsibility for it is individual. We cannot keep expecting others, especially experts or professionals or legislators or judges or presidents, to fix it for us. We must work on what is in front of us, be faithful in the little we’ve been given, and a generation of willing workers will, by God’s grace, at least challenge the laziness that be.

The Rounds Are Live

Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher wrote in 1704:

Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws. (quoted in Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed, Location 99)

Well then, no wonder we are so weak. We war over worship songs instead of having war songs for worship. Our music reveals our relative thinking and irreverent affections rather than faithful roots in truth.

The goal at our church is not to sing only Psalms. It is our goal to not not sing any Psalms. That is, we want to at least add some to our arsenal for sake of applying Colossians 3:16. I’ve now preached through the first 13 Psalms (and plan to preach more in the future) in order to encourage and persuade and better prepare us for edification when we sing them down the road.

What sort of inheritance do we want to leave for our grandchildren? What sort of preparations should we make for standing around the hospital bed of someone who is dying? Yes, take Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, the Gettys, and maybe even Lecrae with you, okay. But take more. Take Psalms.

May these songs become an always playing soundtrack behind our theology, worldview, corporate worship, private devotion, prayer, singing, and art. The rounds are live, the blood is red. Let’s turn the volume up.

Is any (among you) merry? Let him sing psalms (ψαλλέτω). (James 5:13, KJV)