Education


I will admit from the start that I write much better than I speak. My speech is sometimes shaped by colloquialisms and I occasionally fall prey to the grammar of my upbringing, which is not always the King’s English, when I am my most relaxed. Unfortunately, I am often relaxed during my sermons and so will slip up and say something incorrectly. I often cover these situations by saying that “it might not be good English, but it’s Richlands English.” I well recall the anger I felt one Sunday after going back to collect my Bible from the pulpit and finding with it a note correcting some grammatical error I had made in the Sunday sermon. I wondered if that was all the person, a former school teacher, took from my sermon that morning. I work very hard on my homiletics simply because I believe in the high calling to deliver the message that God has given me. I know that there is a great deal on the line when I preach and I must bring my best effort every time. I have often thought about what I would do should I ever be faced with a similar situation again. I found my answer in a quote from St. Augustine’s “Confessions” that I came across in my preparation for next Sunday’s sermon on holiness. I leave it for your consideration.

“O Lord my God, be patient, as you always are, with the men of this world as you watch them and see how strictly they obey the rules of grammar which have been handed down to them, and yet ignore the eternal rules of everlasting salvation which they have received from you.”

Peace be with you.

Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History” is considered by many to be the definitive work on Joseph Smith’s life as it intricately details the events surrounding the creation of the Mormon religion.  Brodie’s work is by far one of the most intriguing religious biographies I have ever read and should be a must read for Evangelical pastors everywhere.  The Mormon faith is one of the fastest growing religions in the world and its strenuous morals and family values emphasis makes it attractive to many in America.  Evangelicals should realize that Mormonism is not just another form of Protestantism, but is a separate religion unto itself.  Brodie’s book details the almost God like status that Joseph Smith attained with his followers and provides light on the origin of many Mormon practices and beliefs.  People who believe they are finding the true church of Jesus Christ should be made aware of some of the more obscure of these beliefs such as the doctrine of eternal progression which asserts that ultimately a devoted Mormon will become part of the Godhead.  Brodie’s recounting the creation of the Book of Mormon, during a time of great religious upheaval in upstate New York, should give every Mormon adherent pause about the veracity of their faith’s Scripture.  Smith is portrayed as a grand storyteller who uses the events of the day to create the Book of Mormon’s masterful tales.  Indeed, Brodie points out that the Book of Mormon could be considered simply part of the canon of myths and tales New Yorkers spun to explain the existence of Native American burial mounds scattered across the Upstate.  I find it odd that given Brodie’s retelling of the Book of Mormon’s creation why one does not hear more about the same scrutiny being applied to it that is so often applied to the Christian Scriptures.  Do scholars simply find it fantasy and choose to ignore it?  If so, why do they not choose to treat the Scriptures in the same manner, after all I would think a person “deluded” in one religion deserves to be saved from their delusion just as much as one in another.

I think the greatest danger that Brodie’s book exposes is the that the Mormon religion is an American creation, grounded in the American dream.  Smith’s continued quest for power and fortune is often depicted to be central to his actions, as if he needs these things to find fulfillment.  True Christianity teaches that the pursuit of power is not what our Saviour intends for us.  We must remember to follow His example, that He came not to be served, but to serve.  Joseph Smith’s life tragically proves that to fight against Christ’s example will lead a person down a path of destruction.  It was Smith’s grab for power that ultimately cost him his life and forced his followers to barren Utah.  The American Church would do well to heed Smith’s warning before it follows him down the same path.  Finally, Brodie’s work should awaken within every pastor a desire to provide their flock with theological tools to combat Mormonism and other new religious movements.  Pastors are supposed to be God’s under-shepherd and part of our job is to protect our flock from outside attack.  A failure to teach the errors of Smith’s “taste like chicken” theology and those like it is a failure to protect our own.  For example, the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage, an essential plank in their very attractive family values position, flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in Heaven.  The average Christian I know would not even think about making that point and the blame for that starts in the pulpit.  Now, let me be clear, I do not mean that we should step into our pulpits and rant against these groups.  I think such actions are counterproductive.  I do believe though that we should once more teach clear doctrine from our pulpits to the point that people will know when they are hearing unorthodox theology.  We must recall that just as Joseph Smith will one day have to account for his misleading people, we will have to account for failing to simply lead people.

Peace be with you.

I picked up Ron Suskind’s “A Hope in the Unseen” while leafing through the current events section at Edward McKay and thought the story sounded compelling and well it was only $2 so I did not have much to lose.  The truth is that there is a great deal to lose by excluding Ron Suskind’s look at the high school and early college career of Cedric Jennings from your library.  Cedric Jennings is an African-American honor student being raised by a single mother in the middle of inner city Washington, D.C.  Cedric works mightily to attain his goal of being accepted in an Ivy League school and escaping both inner-city poverty and the prison fate of so many African-American inner-city males, including his father.  Cedric’s decision costs him popularity and leads to derision by many of the other students in his school.  One continuing thread of the book is the fact that Cedric’s decision impedes, severely I believe, his ability to interact socially.   Indeed, the roller coaster that Cedric experiences as he learns these skills is part of the driving force of the book.  There are other important threads such as the development of Cedric’s faith and his relationship with his mother that are at the forefront throughout that are also commendable.  Cedric proves that one can successfully have a deep and abiding evangelical faith while holding reason in tension.  I fear we lose that view far too often these days as Evangelicals either surrender their college students to the supposed terrors of a liberal arts education by failing to adequately equip them for the concepts they will be exposed to or we impair them by sending them to like-minded Evangelical institutions where open exposure to such concepts are muted.  Yes, as Cedric proves, there will be ups and downs to reach this tension, but it seems that Peter took a similar path in understanding the person and work of the Christ and it was to his benefit that he did.  The thing that disturbed me most about Suskind’s account is that it lays bare severe deficiencies in the American education system.  My heart broke as Cedric is sitting in one of first classes at Brown University and fails to comprehend a reference to Ellis Island.   Can you imagine anyone passing through the halls of an American high school and not being taught about the portal through which so many entered the American melting pot?  Cedric wonders if he has reached too far because of the difficulties he experiences during his Brown tenure, but I believe America and not Cedric’s reach is at fault.  We have too long thrown money at the education system while not demanding significant returns for our investment.  I am sorry, but what good is it to require our students to pass standardized exams when we have people teaching them who have no business doing so.  Please do not think I am bashing the education system.  My beloved wife is a teacher and I would defend to the death the right to public education.  I just think the Cedric Jennings’ of the world deserve better.  Additionally, if the majority of our congregations are supposed to learn the critical skills of reading, reasoning, and comprehension through the public education system the Church deserves better.  How do we expect folks to be transformed by the reading of God’s Word without these skills?  How do we expect them to begin to be able formulate the phrases needed to share their faith if they have never been taught how to expand upon ideas?  I cannot encourage you enough to read “A Hope in the Unseen” and gain inspiration from Cedric and motivation to fight for the countless thousands like him.

Peace be with you.