Introducing: The B-Sides

The last few years I have been in a bit of a conundrum about what to do with things I come across that are quick quotes, photos, or snippets of material. Usually it’s not enough for a long form post, or it’s the day after I publish a Rabbit Trail and it goes into the black hole of the Notes app on my phone.  Also, for those of you who are email subscribers to this blog, I don’t want to fill your inbox with every paragraph that I think worth sharing. So, I’m trying something new and have created a micro.blog to house quotes, paragraphs, and photos of things that I find interesting and want to share. There are a few reasons behind this for me (I am admittedly following suit behind a professor who I read on matters of habit and formation)—and here are a few hopes:

  • To share content and reclaim time from paying attention to how the content is received. I can admit the dopamine hit of likes, views, hearts, and favorites is a tricky thing to steward. I want to share things and let it sit on its own, not feel like I get rewarded for someone else’s work because of an algorithm and my neurobiology. That means these posts automatically are cross-posted to my Twitter profile, and I am making a deal with myself to check it once a week or so (read: maybe 2 weeks). Instagram will be a place either to share Rabbit Trails, happenings within TVCI, or something that just seems too good to pass up sharing—all within set days/limits thanks to Freedom App.
  • To curate my inputs more effectively. While being home during COVID, I welcomed social media back into my daily routine in order to keep up with people who I could not see day to day, and I am feeling the pull of the phone too much while I’m in the house with my family. I’m also feeling inundated with media due to a bit of doomscrolling.
  • To focus on my PhD reading which is coming like the boulder behind Indy in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • To push interactions to phone calls and emails rather than DM’s. Pastoring in COVID and with diminished embodied interaction means that every inbox I have is being utilized, and trying to maintain messages across 5 platforms is tricky. Hopefully this will help move things toward the main avenues of communication and increase the quality of it.

I’m calling this resource the B-Sides, where you might find odds and ends that interest you. It’s linked here, and in the menu bar up top for quick reference. I think one can subscribe via RSS (if that is a thing you still do?). I’ll try it through the summer and we’ll see how we do.

 

Rabbit Trails May 2020: Exhaustion, Becoming, Gentleness, & Art.

It’s the end of May, and I didn’t get to writing a Rabbit Trails last month. I actually haven’t gotten to a lot of things the last two months, which might be something you can relate to. There have been a list of things I normally can cross of my list, but it seems like my mental margin has been through a roller coaster while sheltering-in-place with my family. This last week our church launched landing page for TVC, and I wrote an article talking about the exhausting reality of COVID-19. As we make sense of our current experience and make choices for the coming year, I believe we’ll need to understand our bodies, acknowledge how our actions shape who we become, and find hope beyond returning to normalcy. A key part of this is moving from asking the question, “What do we do now?” to ask, “What kind of person do I need to become for what is ahead?” You can read why here.

Below are some thoughts and items from the last few months. Perhaps one will spark your imagination and lead you down a trail of you own. Enjoy.

§ Receiving Zacchaeus

During breakfast one morning recently my oldest two and I listened to God’s Big Story about how Jesus loved Zacchaeus. It was during the podcast where I started thinking about what isn’t mentioned in the text, about what happened when Zacchaeus made good on what he promised to do. I think about tax collectors, used by Rome, shamed by their own people, perhaps even shamed by themselves for the pleasure and stigma of the money they took.

Then I thought about Zacchaeus, able to meet the eyes of people around him because of the lightness of heart he had with Jesus. I saw him knocking on doors and handing over leather bags of coins before eyes full of judgement, fear, and suspicion. A trick, this is, what game is he at? Am I in trouble with Rome? What is this man doing? This is more than I owe.

And Zacchaeus, free because Jesus loved him, making amends from a wealth of joy. A joy that brought endurance through slammed doors, scorn, and disbelief as he made the wrong he had done become right.

I wonder how many doors he had to knock on, and what the gossip was in town that day.

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”  

How easy it is to grow weary in doing good, to falter in joy when faced with disapproving eyes. I wonder how his change of heart was received by those who allowed him no room to be other than he was before today.

How easy it is to grow weary in change, when our desire to be more today than yesterday is met with the record of who we were versus who we hope to become. I feel at one time both the man on the doorstep wanting to pay back more than what I owe, and the hand receiving actions I doubt based on memory alone.

Paul’s words settle my heart, as I look to give and receive grace as I have been given:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

 

§Gentle and Lowly

Dane Ortlund’s work, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers has received an immense amount of attention sense it was published. All of it is well deserved. There are plenty of reviews you can read about the book, there is even a two week podcast of 3-4 minute meditations on topics from the book.

I have greatly benefitted from reading this work, and it is one that I am reading slowly on purpose—because the truth therein is antithetical to the false stories I tell myself about Jesus. I am reading slowly in hopes that I believe the true stories Jesus tells about Jesus.

For the Christian in quarantine, frustrated with all in and outside of their control, fighting through waning patience and fraying self-control, Ortlund writes, “Your salvation is not a matter of a saving formula, but a saving person.” (91) This work is set to acquaint you with your Savior as he is in heart: gentle and lowly, a friend of sinners.

I’m 1/2 way through this book, and it is a treasure. Grab yourself a copy.

§ Scott Erickson

AKA Scott the Painter on Instagram. Here is his website.
I started following Scott’s work over the last year, and am thankful for his art. Spend a few minutes and look at his catalog. Here are a few pieces.

 

§ Miscellanies:

I’m deep into summer Church History PhD reading, (which means I could use your prayers!) and am reading a lot of things outside of the norm. Here are a few things I am into on the side:

 

 

Young Again – A poem I wrote for my friend, Lore.

My friend Lore Ferguson Wilbert has written a beautiful and needed book entitled, Handle with Care.

Before the book made its way into the world, she asked a few friends to consider writing poems based on portions of Scripture for a collection given to those who pre-ordered her work.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Mark 10, and then writing the poem found below. Lore was kind enough to let us share them publicly after the book released earlier this year, so I thought I’d leave it here. She also asked each of us to record the work, which you can listen to me read the poem below here.

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13–16 ESV)

 

Young Again

How young were you
when another broke trust
you felt the fool
and learned to guard off hurt
through self-reliance?

How old did you grow
when invited again
to depend upon another
and guided by memory
you withheld love?

How alone did you feel
when discipled by man
you distrusted the Maker
and believed him no better
than those who failed you first?

How childish it sounds
since you’ve learned the world
could His love be altogether different
and better than you’ve known
at the hands of others?

Now become young again
not of age, but of heart
feel the Maker’s touch
and restore hope’s stolen youth
heeding his true invitation:

How welcome you are!
push past the hurried and harried
hear the Maker’s words
all is yours in the Son
Let the children come.

Rabbit Trails – February

§ Bluey

When the family watches tv, we’re trying to make it a practice of all watching together, laughing together, and enjoying each other’s company. Carly and I have been talking about a show that we found on Disney+ called Bluey, an Australian produced cartoon about a family of blue heelers: Mum, Dad, Bingo and Bluey.

Here’s the thing – the show is really good. The family laughs, plays, and treats each other with kindness, dignity, and respect—which are three foundational words in our home. The creators have said, “The main thing we want to do is not go for a cheap joke…there is definitely slapstick humor in the show, but never at the expensive of the characters. We are really trying to keep the integrity of ‘this is what your parents are like’ and ‘this is what you are really like.”

While making dinner recently I was trying to describe a scene that I watched with the kids, and my wife put her finger on what makes the show so distinct from other things we’ve seen—it’s the dad, Bandit. “Yes!” I said, “you nailed it. It’s the dad.”

He’s an incredibly loveable and loving presence, playful and serious, tender and teasing. In loads of shows with a minimal family plot line, or an absent/oaf/inept father – Bluey presents a dad that loves his girls, owns his mistakes, apologizes to his children, takes himself less seriously, and does it all with a great accent.

Below is the scene I was trying to describe to my wife, I felt like it was the perfect representation of the joy of being out in public with young kids and having to burn time you didn’t account for. They’re picking up takeaway, but the spring rolls aren’t ready. Dad calls Mum, says they’re going to wait for them, Mum asks if he just wants to come home and Dad confidently says, no, we’re fine. It’s just five minutes.

A lot can happen in five minutes.

Here is a compilation of scenes from the season:

 

§ Instagram, Augustine, and the Self. 

The last few weeks I have been following the instagram account of a public speaker named Collin Kartchner who enters into middle and high schools to teach students about the danger of social media. Collin consistently shares DM’s from students at the schools he speaks at, where he pulls back the curtain on the actual cost of these free accounts: the vying for attention, exposure to pornography, and the dehumanizing effects of these technologies on young minds who are trying to form their identities as persons. Here are a few of the posts:

 

These middle and high schoolers are dealing with figuring themselves out in the middle of an onslaught of access, a buffet of distraction that hacks their dopamine driven desires and robs them of a shot at real life. It’s the trojan gift of progress through technology that we are offering our children, whose frontal lobes have another decade before maturity: the ability to try and have their needs met through connection on a screen.

The issue here is identity and desire. I need to know that I am loved, and I want to know that someone loves me. The core of this desire is to know that I am loved by my Maker, and the frustration of this desire is that I look for this love from the made. This ambition to be loved, devolves into, as James K.A. Smith puts it, “that our goal is to be noticed or to win, or both-we are actually lowering our sights. We are aiming low. The arc of our ambition hugs the earth, and we expect to find fulfillment from people looking at us, from beating everybody else in this competition for attention. But what happens when their attention turns away, fleeting as it is? What happens after you get the grass garland, the medal, the scholarship, the promotion? How many “likes” is enough? How many followers will make you feel valued?

What if you’re wired not to be “liked” but to be loved, and not by many but by One?” (On the Road with Augustine, p.83)

Smith’s question is the correct one. When we let micro-bursts of affirmation enter our days through  followers, likes, approval, dopamine, refresh, scroll, post, click, comments and the like, this is an addictive stream of noise in what is meant to be a quiet space: your mind before God.

If your mind is never quiet, and your heart is ever-looking for affirmation in the wrong place, you cannot know yourself. How could you? All you know is the mediated you, because to have a self is to hold space internally to differentiate yourself from the glow and the noise beckoning at your thumbs.

And how do you know yourself? Klyne Snodgrass tells us that, “you are the result of your mind, your internal self-interpreting, self-directing memory. Something internal gathers all other factors, filters them, interprets them, and uses them to direct life. Humans are the only self-interpreting animal, and identity is very much about memory. Without memory there would be no identity. But it is not just memory; identity is an internal ordering and synthesizing process framed by memory, and this internal ordering even chooses in part what will be remembered. Identity is not comprised just of all the boundaries, relations, and commitments; it is the result of our ability to think about ourselves, to be self-aware and to analyze our own thoughts and actions. At bottom identity is the internal me censoring, filtering, valuing, synthesizing, and interpreting how I stand with regard to all the realities of my life. What gets in, what gets valued as good, what is given importance and attached to, what receives commitment, what gets rejected or denied-even if true-and what has such force it cannot be ignored? What do I really care about, like, and dislike, and why? Identity is the result of the thinking me that interprets and concentrates my life and character.” (Who God Says You Are, p.19)

I find Collin’s work so interesting because these teens are all asking the same questions you and I have been trying to figure out, and we think we are doing better with it than they are because we are older. We’re not. Can you remember the strong emotions you felt during middle and high school? The sense of self that wasn’t fully formed, and that looked for meaning and acceptance in whatever you were good at or who would accept you? Can you imagine having the added social pressure of a smartphone added to that? How do you ever have the space to develop your self-interpreting, self-reflecting memory that helps makes sense of the world if you are making sense of the world through the responses of others to trivial things and you can’t sit still for five minutes without finding your phone your hand again? Endless exploration of meaningless content is idling the mind at the expense of settling the heart.

Technology is not neutral, and it offers a false story as the answer to your deepest need, which is to be loved by your Maker. Is there space in your life to be “the thinking me that interprets and concentrates my life and character”?

Later in his book, Smith says, “Late capitalism is the age in which everyone has a computer in their pocket and a gaping hole where a father should be.” (p.195)

This comes from his chapter on fatherhood, but we can easily recognize the true gaping hole is where our union with God should be, through friendship with God in Christ. Smith describes the ambition of friendship with God (which we were all made for) as “the only ambition that comes with security, with a rest from the anxiety of every other ambition. Because all other ambitions are fragile, fraught. The attention of others is fickle. Domination of others is always temporary; you can’t win forever (just ask Rocky) Attainment is a goddess who quickly turns a cold shoulder. To aspire to friendship with God, however, is an ambition for something you could never lose. It is to get attention from someone who sees you and knows you and will never stop loving you. In short, it’s the opposite of fickle human attention, which is temporal and temperamental. God’s attention is not predicated on your performance. You don’t have to catch God’s notice with your display. He’s not a father you have to shock in order to jar his attention away from the game, crying out, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ God’s attention is a place where you can find rest and where, ‘in the father’s lap,’ as Augustine later puts it, you don’t have to be worried about getting attention from anyone else. You can rest.” (p.88-89)

It may seem trite to say it, but you can put your phone down. Technology is not neutral, and it tells a persuasive false story. Social media is in big business to monetize your attention through the deception of meaningful connection. You live with more ambient and available noise than any point in history, and it is vital that you reclaim your self before God. You can’t keep fire in your pocket and not get burned. Affirmation won’t answer the deeper question, and it takes quiet to hear the still, small voice of God.

§ Currents

  • I really enjoyed this piece from Alan Jacobs on Reading Paul
  • My dear friend, Lore Ferguson Wilbert, just released her first book and I am so proud of her!
    Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry, made its way into the world this month. I read a portion during the writing process, and am eager to read the entire finished product. From following the release and chatter since, you should buy the book now.
  • If you follow me on instagram, you might have noticed that I have a reoccuring story series entitled, Sunday Night Proverbs with (George) Herbert. It’s my way of spreading really old english proverbs into the ether of social media. Here’s a little FYI that I am starting a new series of Life Lessons from (John) Hannah, one of my favorite DTS Professors. You can look for those sometime mid to late week each week if things are manageable. Below are two examples of each.

 

 

 

Thanks for reading! If these are helpful, or there are topics you’d like to hear more about, head to the contact page and drop me a line.

At some point you have to take responsibility for yourself.

 

 

 

This last weekend in our Residency Program, we discussed Who God Says You Are by Klyne Snodgrass. This is easily one of my favorite books from the last few years, as it deals with issues of identity from a distinctly Christian perspective, and with the reality that much of who you are is shaped by things you did not choose.

But there is a great deal you are able to choose that shapes who you become, and we are all becoming someone.

Below is a brief excerpt from the book, I recommend you grab a copy and dive in.

– MK

 

 

 


 

 

At some point you have to take responsibility for yourself.

You can blame your parents and your circumstances only so long; you are responsible  for who you are.

You deserve the chance to make an honest and critical analysis of yourself and choose with an honest executive self to be who you should be.

You deserve to be the real you.

Here is the really crucial point.

You do choose yourself, even though it is only in the context of the givens of your life.
Yes, there is the huge debate about your ability to choose, the limits to your ability to choose caused by sin, hardwiring, and other people’s sins and inabilities, but you still choose yourself.
You did not choose to be born, your family of origin, or where you were born.
You do choose if you will stay where you were born and how you will handle relations, even messy family relations.
You choose whether you will be honest with yourself about yourself and whether you are willing to be displeasing to yourself in order to become what you should be.
You choose whether you will be honest about and examine the society of which you are a part. You choose to accept or reject illusion.
You choose whether you will live an unexamined life. You choose whether you will take responsibility for your actions.
You choose how you will handle your urges and desires, especially your anger and your sexuality.
You choose whether you will give attention to and love God and God’s will or whether you will ignore God’s intent for your life and go your own way.
You choose how and where you will invest yourself and what interests you will pursue, whether your life will focus on really important issues and relations or on temporary pleasure.
You choose whether you will be self-centered.
You choose whether you will invest in your own learning and hold yourself accountable for learning.
You choose the people you allow to be models and mentors of your life.
You choose whether you will have good will toward people, even if they do not deserve it.
You choose how you will react to injustice.
You choose whether you will live from a sense of entitlement and privilege, so that you do not function from any sense of justice and fairness.
You choose whether you will blame other people for your failures and all that is wrong in life.
You choose how you treat people.
You choose what kinds of attitudes characterize your life.
You choose how you will steward your body and to what kinds of abuses and dangers you expose it.
You choose the communities-or at least some of them-that you allow to tell you who you are and that will be formative in shaping you.

Is God present in your choices? Of course, buy Madeleine Boucher makes a scary point: God assists people in the choices they make. God helps us choose life with him or lets us go our own way and even ignore him, Why God is so tolerant I do not know, but I do know choosing to ignore God is a dangerous path. Romans 1:24-28 makes the point three times that in response to humans turning from God, “God gave them over.” That is not a final giving over, as the rest of Romans makes clear. Despite human rebellion, God still seeks to live with us, nurture us, and participate with us. God still assists our choices to return to him, Even our choices are not ours alone.

Snodgrass, pp.224-6

Rabbit Trails: On the Fives at Year End.

It’s the time of year when everyone is putting out their lists of favorites. Usually these lists are bad for my book habit, and they are fun to peruse and see what people enjoyed. This year two of the books we’re using in the Training and Residency Programs were voted books of the year by Christianity Today: both Senkbeil and Earley have written books that I’ve already seen bear fruit in my own life and those of our students. I am thankful for their work (which means I can point to them here and leave them off the lists below! See what I did?)

As my own contribution to the list-making season, I’ve tried to share some things that I’ve enjoyed this year across a few categories, meaning few are brand new works—more so just new to me. Maybe you’ll find something new for yourself to interact with in 2020. Also, as part reflection, I’ve included a few thoughts that in another year might have been blog posts, and for now are sentences at best.

10 is a lot, and it turns out, sometimes 5 is too. Here are 5 (or 4) things in each category.

-MK

 

Reads I Really Enjoyed

  • Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra by CS Lewis
    I’ve often heard that people find this trilogy to be among their favorite of his work. These two books felt like I seeing a new side of an old friend, a secret talent that had long lay hidden away. His work, The Great Divorce, is among my favorite works I’ve ever read—and sections of these two books are now right there with it. Lewis has a way of describing ordinary things in ways that make one feel like they’re seeing it for the first time, and thus need to reinterpret previous experience. These were treats to read.
  • Theology as a Way of Life: On Teaching and Learning the Christian Faith by Adam Neder
    This little book is punchy, full of help, and a needed gut check for the learner and teacher. Since I teach multiple times a week now, there were many parts of this work that gave insight and corrective toward how to steward the classroom, and my own heart in the process. Last week I shared a few quotes from the work here.
  • The Fabric of Theology by Richard Lints
    This was certainly the densest and most helpful book I read this year in regards to understanding culture. Written in the early 90’s, Lints walks through the patchwork nature of the modern evangelical theological vision, and illustrates the need for comprehensive thinking regarding one’s own theological worldview which makes one wonder how he could read 2019 so well 25 years ago. This book explained postmodernity and its impact upon modern evangelicalism in a single chapter that is worth the cost of the book itself. For the 14 Residents that read it this fall, each found it eye-opening and helpful in understanding the last century of our faith, and the challenge ahead of us.
  • How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs
    This book introduced me to Jacobs, and I immediately began to follow his work. I signed up for his newsletter, which I enjoy regularly, and try to keep up with his blog. Jacobs is a regular contributor to Mars Hill Audio, and I constantly learn new things from his work. This is a handbook for how to look at our current moment and resist the urge to fight on its terms. Pair this with The Coddling of the American Mind, and you’ve got quite the combo of thought.
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer
    I stayed up late in a quiet house last night to finish the last few chapters of this book. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve got a shelf of books in my office that all have the theme of sabbath / rest / hurry in their titles, and Comer seems to interact with most of them in this single work, meaning he weaves pieces of arguments together in a way that is readable, relatable, and helpful. This is a good book. It is the why, the what & the how, leaving you with practical steps to think through enacting what he’s talking about: living in the way of Jesus with a more present minded rhythm of life. This is the last full read of 2019 for me, and I am thankful for it.

Things I Will Re-Read

  • Who God Says You Are – Klyne Snodgrass
    I will read this book for the third time in January with our Residency Program. My D.Min supervisor first pointed it out while I was researching virtue formation. For a better part of two years I read the field on emotional health and identity formation. I carried four books out of that season, Snodgrass being among the top of the list. The final chapter is his plea to “become a real person.” For a media saturated, digital native age, I can think of fewer necessary calls than that of becoming who God says we are. Not our culture, not ourselves, not our experience, but our Maker. This is true humanity.
  • An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling
    This book is a slow burn. It does some category-shifting for the performance addicted, and is a needed corrective to leadership that is based on task instead of people. Fadling has great things to say. I read this slowly the first time, and can tell that his lessons are born out of living the thing rather than merely talking of it.
  • The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson by Stanley Hauerwas
    I first heard of this book on a Mars Hill Audio interview with Ken Myers. The work is a collection of letters that Hauerwas wrote to his godson on the importance of different virtues. So a tenured professor writes to an 8 year old about the importance of constancy. Seventy years between them, and the reader walks away grateful for the reminder of the character we hoped for at 20, lamented at 30, and long for in the years ahead. This book gave language for virtues that I will use with my children, and myself.
  • The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and The Wingfeather Saga (Peterson) – Here’s a short film of The Wingfeather Saga.
    My father read the Hobbit to my sister and I when we were young. I’m doing the same for my children now, and my son is captivated by Smaug the Dragon. He’s four, and I wanted something to capture his imagination. He asked me not to make the Gollum voice any more when I read it, so I think we’re there. We’re big believers in reading out loud in our house, and it has been so pleasant to hear this story in the again. I figure we’ll start in on Middle Earth when it’s time. The LOTR trilogy were the first books I read after my masters, a kind of baptism back into fairy tales from the land of academia. It’s time again. Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga is being re-released this year in a new hardback edition, and we’ll be purchasing them for our library. I’ve listened to the series via audiobook twice through, and am thankful for an epic tale for a new generation that has much depth and beauty within. These are excellent reads.

Things I Want to Finish Reading:

  • The Pastor in a Secular Age by Andrew Root
    I must have picked up 8 books this year that began with a reference to Charles Taylor. He was in EVERYTHING. Root is charting the pastoral vocation through the ages, and so far it’s really intriguing, albeit a bit technical in places. I bought it in conjunction with building a lecture around post-modernity and secularism.
  • Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang
    At a recent conference, this book was mentioned by a friend as a go-to for pedagogical methods and how to move from lecture to active learning environments in specific, concrete ways. I scanned and found an exercise to practice for our closing lecture in the Training Program this fall and it led to fruitful discussion. I’m eager to read more.
  • Invitation to a Journey: A Roadmap for Spiritual Formation by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
    This book keeps getting referenced and footnoted in a lot of my reading, and so I would like to read his complete picture of being conformed to the image of Christ. It’s a little like Taylor, meaning it’s always in the footnotes.
  • The Man of God: His Calling and Godly Life: Volume 1 of Pastoral Theology by Albert N. Martin
    This series is the print version of a decades-old pastoral training course, one that used to be on cassettes for those looking to be mentored in what it meant to be an under-shepherd and overseer. Martin pastored a local congregation for 46 years, forming these thoughts through experience and then among those in the classroom. These are the kind of books that I love to sit with, the collected written fruit of a lifetime faithfulness and the call of the Scriptures to get wisdom.

Things I Learned a Bit More This Year: 

  • Communicating clearly with people takes a lot of patience, perseverance, and grace. Then there is the other person involved.
  • I overcomplicate most things. Life is more simple than we make it. Love people, be honest, work hard. Take people seriously, yourself less so. Rest and play on repeat.
  • In order to be good at anything, I’m convinced I need to do less, better. The lie of this age is that you can do increasingly more equally well.
  • The Christian life is a fight to live in reality at every turn. This world offers us fantasy and distraction as a means to escape our inability to be still. The road out of fantasy is the way into true life.
  • Mostly, I am praying these days that I would not confuse being well-read with well-lived. These are not the same thing.

Here’s to a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends. May God bless you and keep you, may he cause his face to shine upon you.

Theology as a Way of Life by Adam Neder: 10 Quotes

Adam Neder has written an excellent book, and I think you should read it.

It’s called, Theology as a Way of Life: On Teaching and Learning the Christian Faith.

The title is pretty helpful, and he’s to the point from cover to finish.

It’s 145 pages of thoughtful, punchy, and winsome calls to the learners and teachers among us.

Here’s 10 quotes that stuck out to me. Buy this book and take it in.

…If the reality of God’s reconciling love for the world in Christ teaches us anything about our students, anything at all, it teaches us that they are always already insiders to God’s grace. Each one of them is at every moment personally addressed by God in Christ. God continually calls them them not merely to listen but to act—not merely to reflect on the truth but to become truthful. Indeed, recognition of this truth (who they are in Christ) is inseparable from responsiveness to the truth (becoming who they are in Christ), and helping students perceive this—or perceive it more clearly‚is a distinguishing feature of all good teaching. (92)

Paul’s great exclamation, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20). implies that we are never more fully human, never more fully ourselves, never more free, than when our lives become transparent to the life of Christ. That is how the Spirit liberates us to become who we are—not by turning us into the kind of people who automatically know and do the good, but by granting us faith to entrust ourselves again and again to Christ, whose power is made perfect in our weakness. (29)

Of course pedagogy matters; everyone knows that. But competence alone is not enough, since “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). Thus progress in the art of teaching Christianity necessarily includes progress in the art of prayer. (36)

According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ wants followers, not admirers, and while following him involves thinking about him, thinking about him is not yet following him. (40)

And yet it seems to me that many of us who teach Christian theology are better and more comfortable helping students “look at” Christian doctrines than helping them “look along” them—better at helping students understand theological ideas and arguments than helping them reflect on the difference theology makes for life. (44)

We are responsible for thinking with students, not for them. To do otherwise is to confuse education with indoctrination. And while some students will want to hand their freedom over to us—after all, it is far easier when someone else thinks for you—allowing them to do so is lethal to theological education. (52)

In the classroom, we are never not teaching. Everything we say and do (and do not do) communicates something to students. An unguarded and revealing casual aside can falsify an entire lecture, indeed an entire semester.  Kierkegaard is relentless on this point. No matter how informed, articulate, and engaging someone happens to be, “it is actual existence that preaches.” In other words, your life is your final answer to the question of who you think God is. And there is no good reason to hope students will be persuaded by what you say if, when they examine your life, they conclude that you do not believe what you say. (73)

To become honest, to tell the truth, to teach in your own voice, is not merely a choice you make. It requires an ascetic impulse to examine and acknowledge our weaknesses and insecurities, the vast gaps in our knowledge, the specific defects of our character, and especially the ways our frailties apply pressure on us to compensate for them by manufacturing false personas. Ironically, learning to point away from oneself to Jesus Christ requires sustained self-examination. (78)

[Our students] struggle to see what difference our courses make for ordinary life and ministry. And the really unforgivable thing is how little time we spend helping them imagine these connections. Maybe we even have some convoluted rationale for why doing so is not our responsibility. We operate as though training students to trace the repercussions of the material in their lives is ancillary to our important work—if we think it is part of our work at all. But in addition to describing and examining theological ideas, a fully Christian approach to teaching Christian theology will involve helping students perceive some of the concrete implications of the material, and thus help them live less divided lives. (91)

The first group of students, those seeking to submit to an authoritative teacher…Rather than engaging in the struggle of real theological education, these students expect their teachers to do the hard work for them. Since second hand knowledge of God is impossible, since God is always known in the context of a living relationship that never passes over into human control, since theological knowledge cannot be reduced to pieces of intellectual data that teachers accumulate, organize, and dispense, teachers are incapable of offering these students what they want. We cannot give them what we do not possess. Real theological education is a process of continual confrontation with God. To receive it, students have to fight for it themselves. The most teachers can do is participate in this apprenticeship alongside them. (107-8)

 

There are two dozen more passages I’m typing for my own notes, and won’t share here—because you should read this book. The final chapter is around conversations: how to frame them, how to facilitate them, and how we can’t learn (or effectively teach) without them. This chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

For those learning (who isn’t among us?) and for those teaching (Lord, who is sufficient for these things?), Neder has words for us. I’m circling back for a re-read so I make sure to hear them.

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