I am a self-professed ideologue. I like big ideas, theories, systems, and meta-narratives. As it relates to parenting, I like the thought of my kids learning Latin and Greek in elementary school, focusing on the great texts of western civilization, and having a curriculum that tracks with the "classical" Trivium. All good stuff. I like it and we're pursuing it by putting our kids in a local Classical Christian school.
Problem is, raising and educating good kids is not about third declensions and Homer - or even about learning a certain catechism.
In "The Tipping Point," Malcom Gladwell points out several studies on parenting that show "peer groups" turn out to be the most significant contributor to behavior and attitudes in our development - over and against "nature" or "nurture." He doesn't discount the role of genetics or of family environment, but points to studies of twins and non-twins that demonstrate that our peers are the biggest influence on our trajectory into adulthood. I was fascinated to learn that kids in bad / broken homes but good neighborhoods did well into adulthood, and vice versa. If you grow up in a strong family, but you fall into the wrong crowd and are surrounded by bad examples the risk of peril is much higher.
I don't think this is quite as simple as the "socialization" argument that anti-homeschoolers make. The socialization argument seems to be more about protecting kids from geekdom. Gladwell's point is bigger than that. The point is that we are communal beings and we will adopt the standards of the community we find ourselves in - or want to be a part of.
At one level, this is not a big surprise. We all know that "bad company corrupts good character." And yet... for so many ideologues like myself, we need to think very hard about what lengths we go to pursue certain educational goals while potentially isolating our kids from the community they NEED to have with their own peers. This is not easy, as many readers will readily acknowledge. We can't let our kids roam the neighborhood anymore. Public schools are overrun with children raised by the State. Little leagues are used as incubators for professional atheletes. Finding peer groups for our children is not an easy task at all.
As my children grow older, I know that I need to focus more on this "tipping point" in the lives of my boys. I may have to sacrifice some of my educational / catechetical ideals to pursue what they need in a peer group. After all, our kids are not ideas.
As you may have noticed, I've been reading a couple of books by Malcolm Gladwell, specifically, "The Tipping Point" and "Blink." His working thesis in both books is that the major movers in behavior and thought are not grand / macro schemes and theories, but small catalysts and subconscious reactions. Both are fascinating reads that I commend to you all.
I have to confess that I tend to agree with him - and yet I find his project unsettling. I've always been a big-picture / from 50,000 feet kind of guy. I've always leaned towards Gestalt, but Gladwell is shattering that lens. Instead of trying to see the totality of something to assess it, I need to look for smaller clues at a much lower level.
The implications of this are huge in business / marketing, theology, raising my kids, and pretty much every other area I operate. Making the switch from the macro-strategic to the micro-tactical is going to take awhile - and it scares me because I have always found comfort in meta-narratives and integrative frameworks.
Next post will be on how this is impacting my view of parenting. Stay tuned...
I was once taught that there are three levels of theological error - technical error, serious error, and fatal error. (These categories may not be the most helpful, but we'll use them for the moment.) So for example, someone who confuses God's aseity with His ubiquity is making a technical error that is simple and definitional with little or no consequence. However, someone who believes that drinking alcohol is always immoral for everyone is in serious danger of being unnecessarily divisive and legalistic. It is theological error with serious consequences.
Unfortunately, distinguishing serious error from fatal error is really tricky. How much theological error is too much? Can you reject God's immutability in favor of "process theology" and be a Christian? Serious or fatal? How about a mechanistic understanding of the sacraments? Serious or fatal? How about being a universalist? Serious or fatal? The list goes on and on.
In my dotage I am much more reticent to identify fatal error in someone who heartily affirms the Trinitarian and historical-Biblical-theological tenents of the Nicene Creed - even if they aren't familiar with the creed(s) at all. Heck, I think you could potentially strip-down what it takes to be a Christian even more. Hebrews 11:6 reads, "...because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Now clearly, Hebrews teaches a robust understanding of Christianity and the kind of faith that it entails. And yet... faith is simple and should not be overly complicated with theological nuance. Yes, we should pursue orthodoxy and Christian maturity, but we should be very cautious about citing fatal error in those who are simply immature and / or ill-taught.
I once had the opportunity to spend three hours with the Reformed theologian, John Gerstner. I asked him, "Is believing in the tenents of the Apostles' Creed enough to be a Christian?" He became very animated and said, "No! Not anymore!" He went on to say that the early creeds only dealt with controversies of the early church - there have been many important issues since then that simply must be affirmed and / or denied. I agree that there have been many issues that need to be wrestled with, but I would put almost all of them in the category of serious error and not fatal error.
Perhaps the reason for my reticence is that I am fearful of my own error(s) - and trusting and hoping for mercy now and in judgment. I willl be shown mercy as I show mercy, so I am in no hurry to condemn error as fatal if there is any hope or room for diagnosing serious error.
Is this not the practical outworking of "sola gratia?" How can those who hold to this be so quick to cite errors as fatal? Perhaps I am just a liberal afterall...
Over the last several months I have heard quite a few Christians question the authenticity of Barack Obama's Christian faith. The comments tend to fall along the lines of, "I don't care what he says, he can't be a Christian."
I understand where this comment comes from, but I think it reveals a flawed and destructive perspective. Barack Obama has made a profession of faith and since he attended a Baptist church I'm going to assume he has been duly baptized. His own theology may be deeply uninformed and full of serious errors, but no matter how you slice it, he has made a credible profession of faith. I have personally heard him say that his sins are forgiven by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can't look into Barack's heart or the eternal mind of God and know whether or not he is "truly regenerate." No one can. However, we can see what God has given us to look at - and based on those things, we are called to extend a judgment of charity to him. Last I checked, he hasn't been excomminucated or put under any kind of ecclesial censure.
Barack's political philosophy is deeply problematic in my opinion. I think his position on "pro-choice" is a major, major problem to which he will be held into account. But that doesn't make him a non-Christian as far as I can tell. We should be very thankful that he is NOT a professing Muslim, atheist, or Wiccan. What we need to do is pray that he would seek God's wisdom through His word and come to greater Christian maturity.
If Obama suffers some series of major moral lapses or explicit denials of the faith, we'll have to take that into account at that time. Until then, let's pray for our Christian brother as a Christian brother.