God chose man-made products to represent something that man could not do for himself. Bread and wine are modest when compared to Solomon’s daily menu, yet bread and wine are too elaborate to be found in the world unprocessed.
Joe Rigney writes about this in chapter 7 of his book, The Things of Earth.
God mediates grace to us through created goods that have been cultivated and transformed by human effort. Bread is grain, but transfigured. Wine is grapes, but glorified. Human creativity and labor mingle with the stuff of God’s creation, and then God establishes the result as the church’s sacramental meal. (147)
God gave man grain and grapes, but men took those and developed more complex carbohydrates. This is the work of image-bearing, and God ratified the cultural advance by using bread and wine to honor the body and blood of His Son.
We can say that God gave us bread, but He gave it through agricultural and culinary discoveries. God continues to give to us through farmers and cooks. God also gave wine to gladden the heart of man, but no wineskin or bottle dropped from heaven. Other than the miracle in Cana, God has men plant and pick and press and wait. Communion, then, is a cultured meal.
Communion is also a meal that creates culture. This Table teaches us the way of love, of giving, of sacrifice. It also reminds us to depend on God and one another who share Christ’s body. The bread strengthens us and the cup gladdens our hearts, by faith, through earthly means that God ordained. Here the fruit of the field and the kitchen remind us of the fruit of the cross. Here is the seed that the Spirit will grow into more cultured fruit.
For all our Kuyperian talk about culture and cultural advances and the importance of the things of earth, we do want to take seriously God’s warnings about worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. One brick-through-the-window sort of warning comes in 1 John 2.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
The command is clear and so is the conclusion. Love the world or love God the Father, but don’t believe that both loves can coexist. Love your wife or love your mistress, it’s not a question of percentages. Saying, “I love you most” to your wife isn’t sufficient.
But, without trying to slip the hold of the warning, what exactly is the “world”? Genesis gives glory to God for creating it. Even most unbelievers know John 3:16, penned by the same author, which says that God loved the world. So we’re not supposed to love what He made and loves?
It would be inconsistent if we read verse 15 the wrong way. The easiest way to read it wrong is to read it without reading the next verse.
For all that is in the world—-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—-is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)
John has defined his terms and explained what he meant by the word “world” and “the things in the world.” The people and the stuff in the world aren’t the problems, the mindset of the world is.
The mortal flesh is fine. Eating and drinking are good and ways to glorify God until sensual pleasures rule us. The the “desires of the flesh” are corrupt. It’s similar with the eyes. Eyes are God’s idea. He wanted us to see so that we could avoid walking into walls and also to paint beautiful things to hang on the walls. But He does not want us to see and lust to grab what is our neighbor’s. Those are worldly desires. Owning things is also good, land and houses, flocks and 403(b)s. But it’s not fine if we say that that is our life, as if our pile of possessions could define our image rather than the Father who gave us His.
We must not love a world where we make stuff the god. We must also not love a God who didn’t make and give us stuff in the world.
There is a kind of worldling with whom believers can associate and another kind with whom we must not. We can appreciate all true image-bearing contributions from unbelievers and we can associate with them while recognizing their sinfulness. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians is clear on the matter.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—-not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9–10)
Unbelievers sin, they can’t help but sin, and we can still associate and mingle with them. That is, we can buy from and sell to, live next to, work with, and enjoy some of life with them. We can associate with non-Christians on the basis of common grace while proclaiming to them their need for redeeming grace.
But we must not associate with those who profess to be believing brothers, who claim to share redeeming grace but who give no evidence of redemption from sin.
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
We have different levels of association because we share different things in common with different people. Often our expectations reverse God’s Word. We disassociate with the world because they won’t act right while we continue to associate with any so-called Christian in the name of grace. This is our failure to understand the different types of communion God gives. We share likeness with all men, we share salvation with believers. Our time around the Lord’s Table means something because we have Christ, not because we have an appetite.
Mine will be a personal talk and there are a few reasons for it. It will be personal because I am a fiction amateur. I read fiction now because I love it, which is what being an amateur used to mean (from Latin amator meaning “lover”). I do not get, nor have I ever been, paid to read or write or teach about fiction. I don’t have a degree in literature or intentions to pursue one. I read to my kids, I read as an auditor in our school’s Omnibus class, and I read on my treadmill for fun. I read fiction out of enthusiasm not due to employment.
This also will be a personal talk because I am a fiction noob, an inexperienced and possibly incompetent student of fiction. I have only been a lover of fiction for at most three years, and considered over my lifetime reading fiction has only played a meaningful part during the last five years. A Vegas bookie would offer a generous over-under to say that I’ve read 50 fiction books more than 50 pages long. Teachers assigned me more than that, and I suppose there is irony in my ability to write fictional answers to all the non-fiction comprehension questions those teachers posed.
So I love it but I am new to it. And the last reason I’ll give for why this is a personal talk is that I am a recovering fiction hater. I despised it like a mime despises small talk. I am an unlikely covert because I didn’t merely believe that all fiction was worthless, I believed that all fiction dishonored God. It was a waste of time and resources best spent on reading the Bible and making disciples of the nations. Even more than that, it was a distraction from truth, from worship, from God Himself.
But I was wrong. I was the one dishonoring God. I will go so far as to say that my hatred of fiction, and the convictions that I used to justify it, were sinful. Mine is a personal testimony of a fiction hater who repented.
I could wear this quote from C. S. Lewis like a man of letters jacket.
Because I resisted so intensely and accepted fiction into my heart so recently, I can’t wait to pay years’ worth of lost tribute in thanks to God for the gift of fiction.
What I have to offer is a sort of, I hope, “helpful unprofessionalism” on the subject. In fact, because I’m not an authority on fiction perhaps that means that I’m in a good spot to submit to it. I don’t have to say good things about fiction for my job. If anything, I risk alienation from my own pastoral guild by even caring about such a festival.
Why a Testimony?
Christians appreciate testimonies as fire appreciates oxygen; we feed on them. Each one of us can tell the story of how God saved us as we recount what our life was like before He caused us to be born again and how He’s grown us in Christlikeness since. God often uses a testimony to encourage His people and sometimes even to prod an unbeliever to see his own similar need.
I am not saying that fiction is a gospel or that I wasn’t saved until I started appreciating fiction. I’m noting God’s pleasure in using personal stories to raise the flag of His goodness.
I’d like to think that my testimony will, first, challenge fiction fussers to stop their fussing. I’m an argument from the greater to the lesser: if God can cause me to change my mind then it shouldn’t be harder for Him to nudge a doubter through the library door. If someone produces a show called “Behind the Bookshelf” someday, I would be a good candidate for the first fool-to-fiction episode. Besides, many Christians seem to think that more problems makes for a more dramatic narrative arc. Let me tell you, I’ve got problems.
Not everyone shares my issues, and aren’t you glad? So a second reason for a testimony like this is to encourage those who have friends that are fiction fussers that it is possible for the hate to stop. Is it one of your children? Do you have students who struggle to appreciate the gifts you’re trying to give them?
Repentance, or Why I Was Wrong to Hate
I don’t want to criticize bad fiction as much as I want to criticize those who won’t read fiction for fear that it all is bad. I want to criticize former me (and maybe present-day you).
Why did I hate fiction? How did I defend my hate? I can look back on two stages of my hatred, an immature stage of ignorance and then a better informed, more mature stage of ignorance. The defenses for both stages were different and both were problematic. An autopsy on the former fiction hater may help others to see and subdue their own excuses.
When I was a child, I read as a child, or at least I read like a boy who preferred to hold any type of ball over any type of book. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. We had books at home. My mom took my sister and I to the county library almost every week during summer breaks. My mom had been a high-school English literature and drama teacher before I came along, so one might think that I had narrative in my blood. But I resisted sitting still and I suppose my inner contrarian took pleasure in resisting whatever good things people put before me. While there is nothing wrong with shooting hoops and hitting wiffle balls–activities my nine year-old son also enjoys–I was lazy.
Only if it was raining and the car was in the garage and I couldn’t come up with any new ways to annoy my sister, would I read chapters of Encyclopedia Brown and The Mad Scientist’s Club, along with another detective series about a boy named McGurk. Otherwise I preferred that my entertainment take the least amount of mental effort. I defended myself by claiming that I was just a kid, I was a boy, I was an athlete. Really I was a sluggard. And I missed out.
I kept up this game through high school. The only assigned book I remember reading in its entirety was The Lord of the Flies. I must have read more because they did finally award me the highest order of hall pass: a diploma. During my freshman year of college I switched after one semester to Milligan College which required a 24 credit Humanities course, eight hours a semester for the first four semesters. Here was just one of the essay questions on the final exam.
Goethe, Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, and Melville are sitting at a round-table discussion. The three latter each offer their opinions of Goethe’s Promethean character, Faust, and recommend improvements in the character and/or story. Goethe responds to each in turn. Provide a transcript of the conversation.
I knew enough to know that I was going to need to transfer again to get out of taking this course.
Something positive was about to happen, though. That summer between my freshman and sophomore years I became a Calvinist. A new light shone on all my studies and, for the first time (in forever), now I wanted to read. Alas, I only wanted to read books about the Bible and theology. I wanted true books, the ones that would help me know God better. Because I was studying to be a pastor, stories were only as good as they were potential sermon illustrations and, in my circles, the shorter the illustration the better. After all, a preacher ought not draw attention away from the truth.
I believed that what mattered most, if not what mattered only, were spiritual things. Paul said not to set one’s mind on the things of earth but instead on the things of heaven (Colossians 3:1-2). He said don’t get entangled in the affairs of this life as a soldier of Christ (2 Timothy 2:4). He urged Timothy to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2), not novels, and told the Corinthians that the wisdom of the world was nothing compared to preaching the gospel. “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
At this point in my life I wasn’t being lazy. I wasn’t trying to avoid books or using my brain. But now I was a dualist. I believed that God cared about celestial things more than bodily, earthly ones. I railed from my heart through my mouth against immature believers who didn’t grasp the priority of truth and the urgency for us to know it and explain it to others. Truth comes in propositions, not epic Greek poems. Truth advances in formulas, not fables. Truth demands clarity, not creativity. Truth may by mysterious but it is not mythical. Truth is, above all, non-fiction.
But I was wrong. That’s not to say that truth is imaginary, but good fiction can and does carry truth. I made false divisions and, what’s worse, I asserted untrue propositions in doing so. I was lying about truth, cropping the truth to my preferred, more comfortable, and more personally benefitting forms, the ones that made me seem more spiritual.
Both my childish laziness and developed dualism were image-bearing problems. That’s why the target audience of this festival is anyone fussy enough to complain about reading fiction.
Stages of Restoration
Maybe you’ve been standing on the side of the pool and need someone to tell you that the water is warm. Jump in. What helped to show me the errors in my hatred of fiction? There are five ingredients that God used to bless me into good fiction as He restores His image in me. They are sort of in order with overlap on the timeline.
First, I got married and we had kids. When Mo and I met and got engaged she was appalled that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She encouraged me to read it, which I did, but didn’t get past the first chapter in Price Caspian. A few years later God gave us Maggie and that raised questions about raising her, especially what sort of education we wanted to give her. Mo’s parents homeschooled her, Mo loved it, and at the time I was glad to delegate all of that to her. But the questions kept coming up though I hadn’t come to answers yet.
Second, I started to study and teach Genesis. I was a youth pastor at a church where the New Testament was 95% of the Sunday sermon diet as well as the staple for home Bible studies. I was more comfortable with epistles, but believed that some Old Testament study would benefit the youth and challenge me to expand my arsenal. I had no idea.
In the first chapter of Genesis the Bible confronted me with God’s gladness in stuff. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). The non-spiritual things are His idea. Out of all the ways that He could have communicated His glory and reveal what He liked, He chose dirt and then made man from it to work it.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
He created and then He created mini-creators, image-bearers. Men and women are made in His image to reflect His likeness which means among other things that we were made to make. Dorothy Sayers summarized it this way in her book, The Mind of the Maker:
[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.
The cultural mandate, if you’re okay calling it that, included science and technology and art. By chapter four of Genesis we see music and instruments and gangster rap poetry from Lamech. All of this started to step on the toes of my dualism, and it hurt in a good way. Then I came across Tolkien’s idea of sub-creators.
Although now long estranged, Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed. Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned, and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned: Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light through whom is splintered from a single White to many hues, and endlessly combined in living shapes that move from mind to mind. Though all the crannies of the world we filled with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build Gods and their houses out of dark and light, and sowed the seed of dragons- ’twas our right (used or misused). That right has not decayed: we make still by the law in which we’re made.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker. (Tolkien on Fairy-stories)
Not only are story-makers allowable, they are necessary. Writing, and by good and reasonable implication, reading, are ways that men truthfully emulate God. Characters, plot, battle, love, loss, battle, magic, return, these are all God’s narrative devices and good fiction imitates His patterns. The Bible says so.
Third, I drank the classical education Kool-aid. About this time our oldest daughter had started school at home and we were trying this thing called the “classical” model. Mo had given me a book or two to read about it. I read The Lost Tools of Learning and wrote some of the nastiest comments in the margins. Because I wanted to be an involved dad, I kept reading. After the first couple years the curriculum for all the classes got harder, and then both Mo and I realized that we needed a school to help us.
We found Providence Classical and Christian School in Lynnwood the same year that our son Calvin started Kindergarten. We loved Providence and I kept seeing the benefit of books, even fiction ones, for shaping thinking and worldview and loyalties. By this time we had started a church and wanted this sort of exposure and enculturation for more than just our family. So we started thinking about starting a school in Marysville. That meant even more reading, more thinking about why and what we wanted for students and their families. It meant most asking what we as parents wanted to get first for ourselves so that we could give it to our kids and the next generations.
Fourth, I was bit by the Abraham Kuyper bug. His oft-quoted comment about Christ’s lordship over every thumb’s-width in the universe fit with Genesis and confirmed that my dualism dishonored God’s Son. It also affirmed the classical and Christian model of education. Kuyper didn’t write fiction himself but his testimony of salvation credits a Victorian novel, The Heir of Redclyffe, as a key in his conversion. His eagerness for men and women and children to use all of the world as a way to honor Christ applies to good stories.
Fifth, I tasted the sweetness of fiction itself. I started to read it. I read the Narnia series to my kids and I liked it. I wanted to sail with Reepicheep to the end of the world on the Silver Sea into Aslan’s Country. I saw too much of myself in Eustace Scrub, fussy and unfamiliar with the right sort of books. I read The Pilgrim’s Progress. I read the 100 Cupboards series by Nate Wilson to the kids and loved it. Our school mascot is, after all, the raggant.
I read Omnibus books along with the first three secondary students like The Odyssey and now in year four The Iliad. We read how Virgil gave real meaning (through a mostly made-up story) to Rome in The Aeneid and how the right kind of laughter makes Grendel and his mother furious in Beowulf.
Nate Wilson encouraged me to read Lewis’ Space Trilogy. Specifically he said that That Hideous Strength was without question the greatest English novel. I couldn’t imagine stomaching science fiction but he said that skipping the first two books was for cheaters. Not only did I read them, not only do I agree with his assessment, but the power of the categories Lewis gives in THS have shaped my thoughts on peer pressure, dualism, the dangers of human “progress” without God, ironic acronyms, Aurthurian legend, and Merlin’s magic. It even made me want to drink tea.
A Luxury I Can’t Live Without
Not every fiction book that I’ve read has been so much fire in my belly. But I have tasted and seen that good fiction is good. I would even say that over the last few years during times in between fiction readings, I’ve felt malnourished. I would say that I need it like food.
Growth requires food. Multiple times every day, throughout my entire childhood, I was fed. How many specific meals do I remember? How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches do I remember uniquely as distinct from all the others? I remember meals in the same way that I remember story times. The atmosphere and aura of feeding—-goblets and goblins, milk and villains, ice cream and orcs. I was fed. I grew. Inside and out. We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—-narrative catechisms. (Death by Living, 11)
Good fiction puts flesh on the skeleton of the past. It makes names, dates, and places warm. This is a specialty of our keynote speaker. For example, I’ve appreciated John Calvin for more than twenty years. I’ve read books by him and biographies about him. Mo and I named our son after him. But this summer I read The Betrayal which colored a unique hue on Calvin’s life that made his life more vibrant.
The Illiad shows rather than defines a worldview where glory-seekers and shame-haters will kill. It also should make us glad that the true God doesn’t have a sulking daughter forever complaining and manipulating. A Tale of Two Cities and Macbeth exhibit the senseless self-destructive nature of revolution and revenge. Uncle Tom’s Cabin may play too much on the reader’s emotions, but how we deal with others must not be unemotional.
Good fiction also puts perspective on the present. It lets you look at yourself as from a telescope rather than a mirror on the cool side of the car sun visor. The Inferno may not paint even one accurate stroke about hell except that hell is just and it is bad. We do well to realize that we get what we deserve apart from God’s grace. Likewise, The Screwtape Letters may not even be close to the way principalities and powers and rulers and authorities communicate. Everyone knows they text message these days. But how it is not gives us insight into the temptations and battles we are in. And the general liturgical value of reading stories reminds us that we are all characters in a bigger story. We are being read. What do the critics think about us?
Finally, good fiction puts gas in the tank as we fight into the future. One of the best parts about a book is the final page. If we enjoyed the book we may not be glad that it’s over. But we often need the encouragement that the story will be over someday. Life is not a movie. The valley and the climax doesn’t resolve in two hours, or even in the 15-20 hours of reading a Russian novel. But the positive part reminds runners to run for the prize, kids to make and pursue goals, soldiers to fight for victory, disciples to be with Him where He is.
Fiction also expands our imaginations for sake of holiness. The Bible provides much clarity on do’s and don’ts. But sometimes we encounter new situations. Wisdom is more than being able to regurgitate facts on command. Wisdom is being able to anticipate and see what the proper response would be.
1984 (which, by the way, I’d love to contrast with That Hideous Strength if we do this festival again next year), written in the future to Orwell’s first readers, is still a scary prophecy of the kinds of tyranny we vote over ourselves. The Ashtown Burials series gives confidence that spending your life to death will bring life. I love watching characters battle the criticism and pain. There are true stories, biographies, that encourage us to be unbroken, but so do hobbits coming back to the Shire who won’t accept the new way.
As Sam Gamgee said, “No welcome, no beer, no smoke, and a lot of rules and orc-talk instead. I hoped to have a rest, but I can see there’s work and trouble ahead.”
Bringing Good Things to Life
We have too many non-fiction problems not to read fiction.
What then is the good of—-what is even the defense for—-occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person?
The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. And even when we build disinterested fantasies, they are saturated with, and limited by, our own psychology….We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own….We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is “I have got out”. (Lewis, C. S., An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge University Press, 1961, 137-138)
The name of this organized celebration is the Raggant Fiction Festival. The raggant is an animal that doesn’t exist and yet he does. We want to bring him to life, but differently than Pinocchio. We want more than a graduating class of raggants, we want generations of them. N.D. characterized the raggant as a creature with one sense who interprets everything in the world through that sense. It’s what fired up Jonathan to see the analogy with classical Christian education in which we equip students to interpret all of life through the grid of Jesus Christ as Lord. It is a make-believe creature that we believe is worth making.
Thanks for being here to celebrate, or at least to consider why Christians should be the least fussy people, about non-fiction and fiction. Maybe you’ve been given reason to repent, or hope, or to grow bigger than you were when the story started.
The early chapters of Genesis call for significant attention not only on God’s command to men to marry and multiply and make but also on our imitative nature as multipliers and makers. When we worship we see what God is like and what our reflections of Him should look like. From the beginning it has been so. We glorify God by consuming in thankfulness what He’s given and also by producing in reflectiveness. This is a more positive approach to the things of earth than most of us are familiar with. More than that we can enjoy and do things in the world, we must enjoy and make things if we want to glorify God.
That said, there is a reason why so many Christians are suspicious of the world. It’s because many who call themselves Christians have become idolators of the world. Jesus told a parable about some who are almost-Christians like the seed that grows until choked out by the cares of the world (Matthew 13:22). Jesus also offered this inerrant valuation: What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26) The given is that the soul matters most and that your soul is a poor trade for temporary glory that is stuck in the world.
Which brings us back to true glory, eternal glory, God’s glory. How do we share in His glory? It isn’t by rejecting what He has made but by being able to keep it in the proper place. Many people have not done that. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). “Demas, in love with this present world” deserted Paul and the gospel (2 Timothy 4:10). “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). These warnings are real and must not be minimized. The question should test us regularly: are we living in the world for God or are we living for the world as god? As image-bearers of God and disciples of Christ we need to get that right.
I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.
“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.
Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.
However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.
As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.
You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following in her book, The Mind of the Maker:
[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.
The reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.
God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.
ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.
Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.
Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.
It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.
But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.
One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.
These were my notes from the ECS convocation assembly.
Last week I pointed out that God’s call to love one another started in Genesis not with Jesus. The apostle John wrote that this message was “from the beginning” and illustrated how not to do it via Cain’s example. “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12a). Getting mad and murdering is an old story.
Cain killed his own brother. The second half of verse twelve asks and answers: “And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” More is happening than bad guy versus good guy. Cain’s evil deeds came from Cain’s evil heart, but not because evil is simply absurd and unpredictable. Sometimes sin is senseless, but more often it has an explanation.
John is not making an argument based on the absurdity of Cain’s murder. “He was of the evil one, so of course he would kill.” John answers the Why? question with a reason, a “because.” Cain’s deeds were evil when he looked at Abel’s. Cain’s hatred was driven by jealousy not by stupidity. Cain wanted Abel’s blessing from God but without the hassle of Abel’s sacrifice to God.
Envy-killing is serious business. John is warning all his readers, meaning that he’s warning the Christians. Watch out especially for envy, even envy of believers who are blessed by God. “I wish I could be [adjective] like him.” “I wish I could have [noun] like her” are dangerous desires. They take the life out of fellowship, unity, gratitude, and joy, even if they don’t put a brother in his grave.
Do not let roots of bitterness grow up into a harvest of jealousy, hatred, and death.
Blood speaks. God made the world in such a way that the shedding of blood reverberates.
Cain killed his brother Abel in a field far away from earshot. No one knew because no one could hear Abel yell, or so Cain thought. But God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” The blood cry isn’t a certain pitch, like a dog whistle, that only certain ears can hear. The blood cry is an inescapable principle, even if men try to ignore it.
Life is in the blood and shedding blood is destroying the life of an image-bearer of God. God does not condone when we mar our own image or when we mar another’s man’s reflection. Blood witnesses that worship has gone wrong somewhere, even if the blood is a sacrifice of atonement for sin.
More than a deterrent against shedding blood, the principle that blood speaks is the reason that we are not pessimistic about the world. Yes, hatred and murder and abortion and other evils run rampant. But Jesus shed His blood and His blood makes a cry that will never be forgotten. This is the good news.
The author of Hebrews wrote about Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” and how we who worship Him have come “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). Abel’s blood cries out for justice. Christ’s blood cries out for for justice and also for justification. God hears the blood of all murdered men, but none more loudly than the blood of His own Son.
Even as we eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood by faith, the “better word,” the saving word of Jesus’ death is proclaimed until He comes.
When it comes to offerings that please God, Abel’s was the first, but Jesus’ was the greatest.
Abel offered the first and fattest of his flock. He brought more than leftovers and whatevers like his brother. The cost of Abel’s sacrifice was great, the cost of Christ’s even greater. The offering was “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Our High Priest was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). His own body and blood were the price of atonement.
Abel made sacrifice as worship in thankfulness. Jesus made sacrifice as substitute for unthankful sinners. Abel’s sheep expressed his obedience and communicated personal affection for God. Christ’s sacrifice redeemed the disobedient and reconciled spiritual adulterers to God.
Cain killed Abel because he was jealous that God received his brother, not him. Christ was killed because His brothers were jealous and God received that death as a sacrifice. We know that when Christ “gave himself up for us” it was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). God not only regarded His offering but also His offspring. In Christ, the Father receives all of us who believe as justified for eternal life.