Speech & Literature Appreciation Class for Children

Last fall, I had the wonderful privilege of teaching a literature appreciation class to 7 students between the ages of 4 and 13. Over seven weeks they memorized the poem “Daybreak” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and become familiar with seven of Aesop’s Fables. At the end of the course, I hosted a tea party for all my classes, and my students had the opportunity to show their parents what they had learned. They each recited their favorite Aesop Fables and quoted the poem together. Some of my students even dressed up in full costume for their “speeches.” We all had a blast.

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The Guardians of Reputation

This is the fourth post in a five-part series on Aesop’s Fables. You can read this post independently from the others or you can read the introduction here for more background on the history and use of Aesop’s Fables and catch up on the other two fables I examined here and here.

GENIUS, VIRTUE AND REPUTATION

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Genius, Virtue, and Reputation, three great friends, agreed to travel over the island of Great Britain, to see whatever might be worthy of observation. But as some misfortune, said they, may happen to separate us, let us consider, before we set out, by what means we may find each other again. “Should it be my ill fate,” said Genius, “to be severed from my friends—heaven forbid!—you may find me kneeling in devotion before the tomb of Shakespeare; or rapt in some grove where Milton talked with angels; or musing in the grottos where Pope caught inspiration.” Virtue, with a sigh, acknowledged, that her friends were not very numerous; “but were I to lose you,” she cried, “with whom I at present so happily united, I should choose to take sanctuary in the temples or religion, in the palaces of royalty, or in the stately domes of ministers of state; but as it may be my ill fortune to be there denied admittance, inquire for some cottage where contentment has a bower, and there you will certainly find me.” “Ah, my dear friends,” said Reputation very earnestly, “you, I perceive, when missing may recovered; but take care I entreat you, always to keep sight of me, for if I am once lost, I am never to be retrieved.”

There are few things that can be so irreparably lost as reputation

I have no need to recite to you specific examples of great leaders who have irreparably lost their reputations. Regardless of your social circles, you can supply names just fine on your own. But take note here what the parable quoted above states is the surest–indeed, the only–safeguard against a loss of reputation.

It’s three-fold:

(1) genius which we could also call “wisdom”
(2) virtue
(3) and (implicitly) community

The loss of these three naturally leads to a loss of reputation. Virtue and Wisdom–companions of Reputation–must keep careful watch over him because isolation from them will prove his ruin.

When we understand the true nature of fallen man we will come to understand that isolation is one of the greatest dangers a man can face. Isolation can be physical, authoritative, emotional, theological or spiritual. The dangers of an unaccountable government are ingrained in the minds of my fellow Americans due to our history with fighting against a despotic monarch whose power was unrestrained but do we also see the dangers of theological or spiritual isolation where a man decides for himself–arbitrarily and independent of scripture or any church body or tradition–what is right and wrong, what is sound teaching and what is not?

THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE WORD OF GOD

The Bible describes itself as the very words of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16 the apostle Paul writes that “All Scripture is inspired [or “breathed-out”] by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

Keith Mathison writes “…a claim to greater authority than that of Scripture is a claim to greater authority than that of God. Such a claim is nothing short of blasphemy.” (pg. 47) [1]

Man is not free to create his own moral code and do “whatever is right in his own eyes.” He is subject to the transcendent, eternal, law of God–a reflection of God’s unchanging character.

For further reading on the infallibility of Scripture I recommend:
Why We Believe the Bible by John Piper

But if the Word of God is our final authority, our only sure, certain and infallible guide, why do we need anything or anyone else to help us discern truth? If we all just read our Bibles and our Bibles alone, wouldn’t we naturally come to the same conclusions? And yet, as many Bible scholars have pointed out, that already begs the question, “which Bible?” “with or without the apocrypha?”. Many resort to: “Well we should just love Jesus.” –but which “Jesus”? The Mormon “Jesus”? The Jehovah’s Witness “Jesus”? They all read the same Bible as we do yet come to vastly different conclusions about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Thus, there are necessarily three Divinely instituted guardians of the Truth:

(1) THE CHURCH

“Protestant evangelicals have often made it clear, when discussing the doctrine of sola fide, that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. We are justified by faith alone, but a faith that does not produce spiritual fruit is a dead faith that cannot save. Similarly, our final authority is Scripture alone, but not a Scripture that is alone…Scripture is certainly sufficient, but it is only sufficient for certain things. It cannot read itself. It cannot preach itself. It cannot interpret itself. That is the duty and responsibility of the church.” (Keith Mathison, pg. 43) [1]

“…authority has been given to the church in order that she may preserve the unity of the faith and reject the errors of heretics….Any person who has been a Christian for more than a few days is aware that there are numerous competing interpretations of Scripture. There are disagreements and debates on virtually every major issue. How are these disputes to be resolved? If we adopt the individualistic doctrine of [“no authority but the Bible”], it is not possible to settle any debate because the final authority is each individual. Each individual decides for himself and by himself which arguments are stronger. If the next person judges differently, who determines which of them is correct? …this…has led to endless division in the church.” (Keith Mathison, pg. 50-51) [1]

In our highly individualistic, post-modern times, we are urged to “be Bereans” but what exactly does it mean to “be a Berean”? Yes, “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11) but where and how did they examine the Scriptures? Your layman church member did not have private access to the Scriptures. They had to go to the synagogues to read the Old Testament scrolls and this would have been a topic of public and communal discussion. It is for this that they are called, “more noble than those in Thessalonica” who in contrast, rejected the public exposition of the Word of God (Acts 17:2). [3]

1 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” NOT individuals. Covenanting with a local church body and submitting to its teaching and leadership protects individual believers from the dangers of their own isolated, private interpretation (1 Peter 1:20), supplying the communal companionship of wisdom and virtue.

For further reading I recommend:
Keith Mathison’s essay Sola Scriptura

(2) CHURCH ASSOCIATIONS

But it is not a single, local church, that is entrusted with guarding and interpreting the truth revealed in the Bible. “Just as no man is an island, so also no church is an island.” Dr. Renihan writes in his contributive essay in “Denominations or Associations?” (pg. 94).

“Imagine…a church that has ‘no creed but the Bible,’ where the minister one week is convinced that baptism should be restricted only to professing believers and the next week changes his mind and thinks babies can be baptized too. Can he be held to account? There would seem to be no way of doing this; in practice, whatever he thinks is the truth on any given matter at any given moment–that is the position of his church. This is surely a recipe for chaos in that it places the congregation completely at the mercy of whatever the current opinion of the pastor might be. He has, in theory, unlimited power, and the Bible would seem to mean whatever he decides that it means.” –Carl Truman, pg. 162-163 [2]

Whole churches, as well as individuals, have distorted truth and promoted error throughout two-thousand years of church history.

In Chapter 2 of “Denominations or Associations?”, Mr. Earl Blackburn walks through numerous passages of scripture that demonstrate communication and cooperation between churches, such as when the epistles were being circulated, that presupposed an existing and organized relationship between the autonomous churches–how else could these things be accomplished?

This network of churches is what we Baptists call an association of churches.

The Apostle Paul repeatedly wrote to churches to warn them of false prophets and teachers (many of them “pastors”) or of other groups of believers that were pressuring them to surrender “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” as Jude put it. There are rogue churches just as there are rogue members and just as the church is a gatekeeper trusted to mark heretical and unorthodox individuals, so associations are trusted to mark heretical and unorthodox churches. New Testament churches warned other churches, supported other churches, and held other churches accountable.

For further reading I recommend:
Denominations or Associations?
I have written a summary outline of it here
and a review here

(3) TRADITION AND CONFESSIONALISM

But certainly, an entire group of churches can and have erred, what then is the handrail to grasp hold of to prevent a theological tumble off a cliff? It is at this point we need to step back even further and observe that it is not the association of churches in each respective generation that determines and defines the central teachings of the Word of God but the church throughout all the ages, spanning from now back to its first conception. The means of the church for preserving the truth is confessionalism or the summary teaching of the principle truths of scripture as tested, refined, and prioritized throughout church history.

Jaroslav Pelikan wrote, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

Words are central to the Christian faith. God spoke the world into existence (Gen. 1:3), He spoke to His people through the prophets (Heb. 1:1), He called His Son “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1:14), and He speaks to us today through the Written Word (Heb. 4:12) and the Written Word confessed and explained through preachers (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Tim. 4:2, Rom. 10:14, etc. etc.).

Christ founded His Church on a confession (Matt. 16:17-18) and the church has been confessing Christ ever since.

The Words of God, by Divine command and Apostolic example, are to be openly confessed, repeated, summarized, and explained. Paul urged Timothy and Titus to uphold “trustworthy” and “sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9; 2:1) and to refute what was contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3-11). With this as our foundation, we must understand Paul’s qualification for Elders to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2b) as describing not only skill but content and the stipulation “above reproach” as requiring not only moral excellence but doctrinal excellence. [3]

Because, to return to our fable, there is more than one way a man can forfeit his reputation.

Identifying with historic confessions of the faith is the greatest way we can identify with the church–and thus, with Christ. It is our surest safeguard against heresy and heretics both, for order and precision are the terror of agents of chaos whose chief weapon is to distort, dilute, and deny.

To ask “what have the saints confessed, upheld, and defended for two-thousand years?” is to link arms with Virtue and Wisdom.

May you never be parted from them.


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For further reading I recommend:
The Credal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman

Footnotes:
[1] After Darkness Light, a collection of essays; Sola Scriptura by Keith A. Mathison
[2] The Credal Imperative by Carl R. Trueman
[3] I don’t have a proper citation for this observation, but it and many others in this essay are properly credited to my daddy who has studied, sought council from other pastors, and preached on these topics. In keeping with the spirit of this essay, I have sought out the wisdom and virtue of my pastor (who happens to also be my daddy), have listened eagerly to the men of my church’s association teach on these topics, and pulled down from my daddy’s library shelves the careful words of saints gone before me. Nothing in this essay is “new” though it may be new to you, as it has been to me as well over the last couple years. I hope it to be a fair and accurate summary of the writings of those before me that encourages you to deeper study, utilizing the four means God has given.


Read the rest of the series here:

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

The Man and the Lion – Revisionism and Reductionism

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

The Redbreast and the Sparrow – To Imitate the Strains I Love

The Injudicious Eye

This is the third post in a five-part series on Aesop’s Fables. You can read this post independently from the others or you can read the introduction here for more background on the history and use of Aesop’s Fables and catch up on the first fable I examined here.

THE SNAIL AND THE STATUE

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A Statue of the Medicean Venus was erected in a grove sacred to Beauty and the Fine Arts. Its modest attitude, its elegant proportions, assisted by the situation in which it was placed, attracted the regard of every delicate observer. A Snail, who had fixed himself beneath the molding of the pedestal, beheld with an evil eye the admiration it excited. Wherefore, watching his opportunity, he strove, by trailing his filthy slime over every limb and feature, to obliterate those beauties that he could not endure to hear so much applauded. An honest Linnet, however, who observed him at his dirty work, took the freedom to assure him that he would infallibly lose his labor: “For although,” said he, “to an injudicious eye, thou mayest sully the perfections of this finished piece; yet a more accurate and close inspector will admire its beauty, through all the blemishes with which thou hast endeavored to disguise it.”

It is the fate of envy to attack even those characters which are superior to its malice

Many applications could here be drawn but I would like to focus on just three:

(1) the glory of God in essence
(2) the glory of God manifested in Man
(3) the glory of God manifested in the Earth

(1) The Glory of God in Essence

The fable of the Snail and the Statue reminds me of a quote from C. S. Lewis, in his book, The Problem of Pain:

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”

This is both a sobering and liberating thought–we can’t mess up the glory of God and neither can anyone else. Yes, we pursue holiness. Yes, we defend the Word of God when it is reviled. Yes, we desire for the glory of God to be manifested in all the earth. But the pressure is off. The fear is gone. We can listen to the blasphemous venom of a man like Richard Dawkins, spewing hatred and slander against Yahweh and walk away with our chins up, knowing that no slime he can manufacture will deface the beautiful image of God and that there will come a time when all the slime shall be scraped away and all shall see Him as He is.

2. The Glory of God Manifested in Man

I have written elsewhere:

It has been said: “To err is human, to forgive divine.

But by what authority do we redefine humanity? When we sin, we do not merely dishonor God in the same way that the stranger at the department store dishonors the woman behind him when he allows the door to slam shut in her face. When we sin, we blaspheme God’s image branded on us, we violate and misrepresent the humanity God created good like an ambassador speaking other than the words given to him to deliver. It is not in human nature to err but in corrupted human nature.

Sin is the ugly slime that sullies the image of God in man but it does not deface it, only obscures it. The “accurate and close inspector” will see beyond the slime, looking to Christ as the spotless representation of of Manhood as God designed it to be and look forward to the day the distortion will be removed.

3. The Glory of God Manifested in the Earth

As again, I’ve written before:

“…by what authority do we declare God’s good creation, the Earth, “evil”? Who are we, forgiven wretches, to declare something irredeemable? Will not the Earth, upon whom we brought a curse by our own transgression, also be finally liberated from corruption?

{Romans 8:19-22} For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

There is much confusion among Christians as to what “worldliness” is. Many mistake physicality and pleasure for worldliness. But worldliness does not reside in things or places but in affections. “You lust and do not have”, James tells us, “so you bite and devour one another”.

The problem is not with “the world” as in “the physical Earth”, but what depraved human beings do in it.

Dr. Bob Gonzales makes the following point:

“John describes “the world” and “all that is in the world” not primarily in terms of “things” or even “deeds” but in terms of heart affections and attitudes.

This is seen in at least two ways. First, John’s prohibition is directed toward the heart, not toward a particular object or activity. He doesn’t say, “Don’t touch such and such” or “Don’t drink such and such” or “Don’t listen to such and such.” The Greek word translated “love” refers to an attitude, affection, or inclination of the heart. Second, John’s description of “all that is in the world” does not refer to material objects or to human activities per se but to the way in which we view such objects or activities. Movie theaters, electric guitars, sports cars, dancing, drinking beer, smoking cigars and card playing are not the real problem.

The real culprit is the human heart: “For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world” (emphasis added). This is not to deny that worldliness manifests itself in “worldly” behavior. Verse 17 implies that behavior is a component of loving the world. But John zeros in on the essence of worldliness and defines it primarily as a matter of the heart.”

So “loving the world” is about loving the sinful-world system: its measure of success, its value-structure, its aspirations of self-glory–not a list of physical activities.

It’s a subtle form of Gnosticism (the belief that matter is evil and anything spiritual is holy) that urges for separation from external manifestations or associations of evil as the sum of godliness.

The Devil has no power to create–only to pervert, no power to design anew only to misappropriate the old. To an “injudicious eye” the image of many of God’s gifts are sullied. But the Devil didn’t create sex–God did. The Devil didn’t create alcohol–God did. The Devil didn’t create music–God did. Don’t give the Devil more credit than he deserves. His chief power lies in making good things ultimate things and in offering good things in wrong ways and wrong places. “A more accurate and close inspector will admire its beauty, through all the blemishes with which [the Devil] hast endeavored to disguise it.”

The material earth is not something we must flee in order to be godly.

We should look forward to the day when at the passing of this present earth, a New Heavens and Earth are created, the Earth and its gifts living once more in harmony with the dwelling place and character of God, a living portrait of what God first created the natural world to be. It will be a day when the Earth too, and all her gifts, shall have the slime wiped away from her name.

What other applications do you draw from this fable?

Revisionism and Reductionism

This is the second post in a five-part series on Aesop’s Fables. You can read this post independently from the others or you can also read the introduction here for more background on the history and use of Aesop’s Fables.

THE MAN AND THE LION

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A Man and a Lion once argued together as to which belonged to the nobler race. The Man called the attention of the Lion to a monument on which was sculptured a Man striding over a fallen Lion. “That proves nothing at all,” said the Lion; “if a Lion had been the carver, he would have made the Lion striding over the Man.”

One story is good, till another is told

Most homeschoolers have run into this problem at one time or another in their education: revisionist history.

It’s what distorted Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery and evangelism into a revolutionary attempt to prove wrong the flat-earthers.
It’s what distorted the Pilgrims into Indian land-thieves.
It’s what distorted “the War of Northern Aggression” into “The Civil War”.
It’s what distorted the long legacy of creation scientists into an embarrassing lineage of frauds and anti-progressives.

The list could go on and on. True is it said that “he who wins the war writes the history books”.

And those who have been a faithful student of history will also have recognized a sub-category of revisionism that is subtler, and that is: reductionism.

Revisionism is the complete refabricating of a historical event. In brief: it’s making things up. The men of Christopher Columbus’ crew did not believe in a flat earth–no one did–they were starving to death and feared their supplies would run out before they reached land. So much for battling against Christian anti-progressives.

But reductionism on the other hand, involves the telling of true facts…selectively.

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This problem plagued me when I studied American History in homeschool. “Founding Brothers” by Joseph Ellis, demonstrated by many proofs and direct quotations from the founding fathers the heavy influence of the enlightenment on their ethics, values, and worldview, but also quietly discredited the Christian faith of these men. This wasn’t a prominent discussion in the book–more like something running in the background. There was one section where the author claimed that Jefferson and Adams looked forward to Heaven not because they would be with God but so they could continue to debate. The author quoted several of their letters. Then there was one off-handed, unsupported comment about George Washington believing that Jesus had possibly been buried alive. I almost missed the comment because it seemed to come out of nowhere. I kept thinking that Joseph Ellis would bring it back up later but he never did. So I looked it up online. Though I could not find any source material about George Washington’s stance on the resurrection I did discover that Joseph Ellis believes that George Washington was not a Christian.

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George Washington in Prayer at Valley Forge (public domain)

I then pulled out “Christianity and the Constitution” by John Eidsmoe, thinking to lay the matter to rest once for all. But I was shocked to find that one of Mr. Eidsmoe’s primary sources for his statements about Washington is the Rev. Weems! Weem’s biography on George Washington is where “The Cherry Tree” and other anecdotes originated.

In “Rediscovering George Washington” Richard Brookhiser points out that “the only problem with these stories is that, in order to tell them, Parson Weems had to first make them up, since we know very little about Washington’s education or his father.” He said that Weems responded to the needs of the public for an emotional bond to the austere president and that he assumed, like many people over the course of history, that George Washington was born with the qualities we so admire rather than that they were cultivated over a lifetime. “We treat what was a result as a natural condition, as if Washington had been carved from the same stone as his monument” says Richard Brookhiser.

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Gilbert_Stuart,_George_Washington_(Lansdowne_portrait,_1796) Public Domain

Yet, John Eidsmoe uses Parson Weem’s book as one of two primary sources for his chapter on George Washington, arguing that just because Weem’s account is unsubstantiated does not mean it is false.

This is an unpardonably sloppy assertion for a historian to say, an argument that would hold no ground amidst serious historians. Yet John Eidsmoe’s book remains a popular source among many Christian homeschoolers because it gives them the Christian nation they desire to claim as their heritage and uphold as a precedent in modern politics.

I am just as wary of Christians with an agenda as I am with secularists. When you have an agenda, you will always see what you want to see.

But this is an instance of reductionism not revisionism because there were, in fact, enlightenment thinkers and Christians both among the Founding Fathers. I believe that there is no denying the strong humanistic convictions of Thomas Jefferson and the lesser influence humanistic ideals had on others of the Founding Fathers. But, that is not all there is to the story because you also find Christian men seeking to apply their Christian principles to the constitution and establishment of America. It’s not one or the other but both. Any position that denies the influence of either Christianity or humanism in our nation’s founding is guilty of reductionism.

History is rarely as clear-cut as we’d like it to be.

My favorite book on George Washington ended up being “Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington” by Richard Brookhiser quoted above. Though written by one whom, as far as I can tell, is a secular author, I found in it the historical integrity I was looking for. The author pointed out the opposite errors of historical traditions in making George Washington the epitome of piety on the one hand and on the other, renouncing all marks of a Christian worldview on the man.

It did not personally matter to Richard Brookhiser that many historians say George Washington “never referenced the Bible” but because he desired truth, Mr. Brookhiser took these historians to task for their suppression of the truth–then went on to discuss the famous president’s lesser-known affiliation with the Freemasons, a back-door entry to enlightenment principles blended with Christianity, a fact which best explains the duality of ideas present in George Washington, evidenced by this famous quote:

“[Americans] are, from this period, to be considered as the Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity.” GW, First Farewell Address, Circular to the States, June 14th, 1783

Christians leap on the references to Providence and the stage metaphor but sail over “the display of human greatness and felicity”, a statement which, if closely examined, demonstrates the blending of enlightenment ideals with Christianity that marked both the man and his time.

What is the solution to overcoming revisionist and reductionist history? –Reading the history books of both man and the lion. Read original documents. Look for historians who love the truth too dearly to sacrifice it on the altar of their agenda. This gives them credibility because it demonstrates integrity. If a man defends a lion’s show of strength though he ultimately disagrees with his mission, mark him, for that is a man of integrity.

In addition to the proverb: “the story depends on the teller,” I would also add: “An honorable man acknowledges the truth even when it’s not in his best interests.”


You can read the rest of the series here:

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

Wisdom, Virtue, and Reputation – The Guardians of Reputation

The Redbreast and the Sparrow – To Imitate the Strains I Love

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

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Most of you have probably heard the classic tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare” but do you know where the story came from and that there are more pithy anecdotes where that came from?

The Tortoise and the Hare is actually one of more than three hundred short stories compiled under the title “Aesop’s Fables“.

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