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As Solomon Used the Cedars of Lebanon

Cedars of Lebanon Common Grace

Let’s talk common grace.

The earth is the Lord and its fullness. When talking about the doctrine of common grace, Van Til makes the point that this fullness includes the cultural works of man. As Solomon uses the cedars of Lebanon to build the temple, Christians are called to subject the stuff of the world to the gospel and use it for God’s fuller purpose in the service of Christ:

It is in this program of God, it is in connection with this work of Christ by which the world that was cursed of God should be reconciled unto him for the greater glory of God, that common grace must have a part. All things in history must serve this glorious consummation…

For those who reject the Christ and those who have never heard of Christ, but who have sinned in Adam, are still laborers, even though unwillingly, in the cultural task of man…All the skills of those who are artificers in iron and brass, all the artistry of painters and sculptors and poets, are at the service of those who, under Christ, are anew undertaking the cultural task that God in the beginning gave to man…

It is the meek who shall inherit the earth. The earth and its fullness thereof belong to the Lord and to those to whom in his sovereign grace he gives it.

To them therefore belong all the common gifts of God to mankind. Yet that it may be the earth and the fullness thereof that is developed, the covenant keepers will make use of the works of the covenant breakers which these have been able and compelled to perform in spite of themselves. As Solomon used the ceders of Lebanon (1 Kings 5:8-10), the products of the rain and the sunshine that had come to the covenant breakers, and as he used the skill of these very covenant breakers for the building of the temple of God, so also those who through the Spirit of God have believed in Christ may and must use all the gifts of all men everywhere in order by means of them to perform the cultural task of mankind

-Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel, pp. 136, 137, 138

Fiction in a Buffered World

I’m slowly making my way through Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age.

One of the interesting distinctions Taylor makes about our culture versus past cultures is this: He says before the Renaissance, Western people lived in a “porous universe.” This means that they were vulnerable to outside spiritual forces, They were vulnerable to God. The universe, and the self, could be penetrated by things outside it.

He argues that we are now living in a “buffered universe.” In the age of the ‘self,’ we are isolated and cannot be penetrated by external forces in the same way.  We are not vulnerable to “the world of the spirits and powers” in the same way that our ancestors were.

To put it in another way: Western culture was once enchanted. Now it is disenchanted.

Think of Martin Luther praying to St. Anne during a lightning storm. Most modern Westerners now attribute lightning to merely natural causes. What’s the use of praying to anybody? Just check the weather report before you head out next time.

Let me tie this thought to something else. A while ago, I watched a talk by Alan Jacobs that related to his. You can watch it HERE. He makes a lot of points about fiction in the talk. I’ll let you watch it if you’re interested. I just want to give him credit for the line of thought.

In the age of the buffered self, people do not want to be told what to do. One of the hallmarks of post-modernity was/is rejection of authority and institutions. With this being the case, there were more and more instances happening of people coming to faith, or their faith being sustained, through fiction. C.S. Lewis reading George MacDonald’s book Phantastes is the classic example of this.

In a buffered age, God often uses means other than preachers to penetrate people’s souls. And preachers should take note of this and try to use those things as well. This is no different than the prophet Nathan using a story about someone stealing a sheep to confront King David’s adultery. David was buffered. He was most vulnerable (or porous) while he was listening to a story.

Entertainment (whether fiction books, or movies, or documentaries, or whatever) is a tool through which the buffered self can become porous. It is our primary means of enchanting the disenchanted. This means we need to look for ways to take the things we are consuming and use them to point people to the truth. To point people to Christ. That’s what Seeing Christ in Fight Club is going to focus on.

Important Update: I’m moving


My friend Jeremy and I are launching a new site called Recognizing Christ (click HERE). We are working with a publisher and are hoping to launch a book in the next year or so. In light of that, we’re focusing our efforts on the new site. I will continue to monitor Tides and Turning, and probably make a post once in a blue moon, but my focus will be on the new site.

The new site is a work in progress, but in the coming months it will feature blog posts and a podcast focused on ‘Christ and culture’ primarily.

But here’s the main thing: You can also sign up for our insider updates where we’ll give updates on the progress of the book project, share what we’re reading and watching, and even let you read the first chapter of the book right before it goes to the publisher.

Want to know what the book is about? You’ll have to head over to www.recognizingchrist.com.


Blogging through Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper

After spending the better part of a month chewing on John Owen’s doctrine of the Sabbath, and a previous month thinking about Arthur Boers’ points in Living Into Focus, we’re now going to take up and read Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by the German Roman Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper.

The publisher’s synopsis says this:

One of the most important philosophy titles published in the twentieth century, Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture is more significant, even more crucial, today than it was when it first appeared more than fifty years ago…

Leisure is an attitude of the mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world. Pieper shows that the Greeks and medieval Europeans, understood the great value and importance of leisure. He also points out that religion can be born only in leisure — a leisure that allows time for the contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.

Pieper maintains that our bourgeois world of total labor has vanquished leisure, and issues a startling warning: Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture — and ourselves.

For the next few weeks we’ll discuss the book and I will make some posts trying to meditate upon and distill some of the content.

Enabling the Student (C.S. Lewis)

Alister McGrath comments on C.S. Lewis’s teaching style:

Lewis did not see it as his responsibility to impart information to his students. He resented and resisted what some then called the ‘gramophone’ model of tuition, in which the tutor simply imparted the knowledge that the student had so signally failed to discover for himself.

Lewis saw himself as enabling the student to develop the skills necessary to uncover and evaluate such knowledge for himself.

C.S. Lewis – A Life, p. 164

This type of teaching philosophy is something I contend for, and something I’ve had to debate and defend for the past couple of years in my studies in Instructional Technology. I always go back to a Wendell Berry quote I came across a while back:

‘Information,’ which once meant that which forms or fashions from within, now means merely ‘data.’ However organized this data may be, it is not shapely or formal or in the true sense in-forming. It is not present where it is needed; if you have to ‘access’ it, you don’t have it. Whereas knowledge moves and forms acts, information is inert. You cannot imagine a debater or a quarterback or a musician performing by ‘accessing information.’ A computer chock full of such information is no more admirable than a head or a book chock full of it (Another Turn of the Crank, p. 96).

My contention is that the true teacher, that is the good teacher, is not someone who sees his or her task as merely imparting information; rather, he or she is the one who sees his or her task as the work of in-forming – that is, actually working to inwardly form the student. Another way of saying that is this: the teacher’s job is not simply to teach the students what to think, but to teach them how to think. In practice, this takes a thousand different forms. For the Literature professor, for example, it means that you don’t simply make your students learn facts about Shakespeare and his plays and sonnets; rather, you teach them to read Shakespeare profitably for themselves. You want them to be able to pick up Hamlet for themselves, even if it’s a year from now, and actually be able to read it and enjoy it. I am having almost daily discussions with a young friend of mine who is taking a summer Lit course at the moment. His daily quizzes involve the remembering of names and places primarily. This is precisely what McGrath says Lewis was against. Teach them to engage the story, not to remember facts about the work. Stop niggling over the data and teach them to engage the actual narrative.

Another example: For the Bible teacher, this means that you aren’t content to teach content; instead you want to impart your students with tools that will enable them to engage the Bible when you are not around. I teach a Sunday School class on a semi-regular basis. I am not the least concerned whether my students can recite all 66 books of the Bible. If they can, that’s great. I’ve never asked them to. I’m more worried about their grasp of the narrative of the Scriptures and their engagement with the Law and the Gospel. If they get those points down, they will essentially be able to engage any passage they come across in their own reading.

I’m tempted to give more examples of how this can play out, but Literature and Bible are my own areas of interest. I’ll leave it to others to make applications in those areas for the time being.

The world around us is in-forming us. Movies are catechisms for our imaginations and impulses. Technology is shaping the way we learn and look at the world. If teachers, especially Christian teachers (and preachers), are content to see themselves as so many shovelers of data, then we are really only digging a hole. If we actually are shoveling something, it probably doesn’t smell too good in terms of pedagogical aroma. Don’t be content to inform. in-FORM.

The Difference Between a Blink and a Wink

…There is an irrevocable difference between a blink and a wink. A blink can be classified as a process; it has physiological causes which can be understood and explained within the context of established postulates and theories. But a wink must be classified as a practice, filled with personal and to some extent unknowable meanings and, in any case, quite impossible to explain or predict in terms of causal relations.

-Neil Postman, Technopoly, p. 148

If you think science can explain a blink, fine. But if you think it can explain a wink, you have entered into the world of Scientism. As my French teacher used to say before our exams, ‘Bonne chance’ with that.