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.
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.
I just read this, and felt compelled to give my own "white-anglo-evangelical-quasi-independent-male" perspective to the contrary. Voting for Obama is a serious mistake because:
Abortion - If there is ever a chance for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, it won't be with Obama. The greatest moral tragedy of our age will continue under his administration and Supreme Court appointments. True, a vote for McCain is no guarantee that Roe will be overturned, but let's at least get clear on the odds.
Poverty / Prosperity - Government doesn't create wealth. It can and does redistribute wealth ala subsidies and entitlements, but it doesn't create it. I don't think Obama understands this - at all. His policies will only make it harder for the poor to break into the middle-class.
Iraq - Obama's not going to pull out of Iraq until we're good and ready, and we all know it. We can't afford to leave a vacuum for Iran, Syria, and the rest to wade into. It sounds great to say he'll end it, but we're in for the long-haul and we all know it.
European Allies - Has anyone noticed that France elected conservative pro-American Sarkozy? Sure, Tony Blair was tossed-out, but that's no real surprise. What are we really concerned about here? That Europeans won't buy iPods? This whole angle is completely overblown.
Education - Obama is a pro-establishment, pro-teacher's union guy. Need I say more? Our system is totally broken and can only be fixed by free-market tools like vouchers to promote choice and competition.
I'm going to bed now, but I just had to respond to that blog post. It just blows my mind.
It has been many years since I dealt with dispensationalism on a regular basis, but once in awhile I will make passing mention of it and someone will ask me what it is. I tend to fumble around and give answers that are overly technical or generally incoherent, so here is my quick attempt to answer the question, "What is dispensationalism?"
Dispensationalism is a two-hundred year old strain of Protestant theology that believes the establishment of Christ's kingdom is delayed until His second coming at the end of the age. Until Christ physically returns, the world remains in a general state of corruption as the playground of Satan. The Old Covenant promises of worldwide peace and restoration will only come when the nation-state of Israel (not the gentile church) is fully established and a new temple is built under Christ's direct rule. He will reign from Jerusalem for 1000 years as he brings the world under His control. After a final rebellion is crushed at the end of the millennium the eternal state will be ushered in.
Dispensationalism is the majority-report in American evangelicalism today, but represents a significant departure from historic Christendom's understanding of the already / not yet nature of the kingdom of Christ. While different branches of the church have different nuances of the what / how of Christ's kingdom, all of them believe there is a sense in which it is already here and awaiting final consummation. The church is not merely a temporary holding place for gentile believers, but a manifestation of the new Spirit-filled temple, Christ's body, and heaven on earth. Christ will indeed come again for His bride, but His promises to the world are already being realized through the agency of His people, the church, who have been grafted into the people of Israel.
I don't believe the differences between dispensationalism and the rest of Christendom regarding the kingdom are merely academic. What Christians believe about the nature of Christ's reign shapes how they understand their own piety and the role of the church in the world. Dispensationalism leads to retreat from the world because it sees it as a place of decay. Personal piety is therefore more about "quiet times" and soul-saving than earthly engagements and transformation. For the dispensationalist, the world is destined for fire, not for progressive renewal.
I want to believe that the practical implications of dispensationalism are eroding its foundations because it fundamentally opposes the work of the Spirit in and through the church. The kingdom is here whether folks want to admit it or not. The church is the Spirit-filled temple whether folks understand it or not. The body of Christ is present among us whether they realize it or not. Satan has been defeated and is being trampled even now despite ourselves. Dispensationalism is false and time will erode its influence as much as strenuous Biblical exegesis.
The word, "credit," comes from the Latin, "credere," which means, "belief / trust." To extend someone credit - or to lend money is to trust someone to pay it back. Our financial system is based on a belief that people will honor their commitments and fulfill their debts. America's "credit crisis" is therefore a crisis of trust and belief in our ability to make good on our financial obligations. Banks don't trust enough to lend to one another or to consumers, and consumers don't trust banks to safeguard their deposits. It is a meltdown of good faith across the system.
The background mechanics of our financial system have become very complex and are beyond the scope of this blog to untangle. However, I think we can wrestle with the foundational principles that are being exposed by the current credit crunch. Quite simply, personal responsibility and professional ethics have vanished in the face of greed. Lenders have extended too much easy credit on homes and unsecured debts because the rates of return look unbelievably rich. Getting 10% on a sub-prime mortgage or 15% on credit card debt looks like a great business to be in! Consumers have decided that failure to pay their debts back is no big deal because after all, the banks are gouging them anyway. So what if I don't pay my credit card?
Even though this doesn't characterize our whole system or even most of it - small problems have big implications because our financial system is so interdependent and over-leveraged. Our big toe is a small part of our body, but if the infection spreads to our leg, amputation and / or death may result. Time to stop with the creams and go to a major course of antibiotics. Kill the infection and make sure the patient takes care of his feet from now on.
I believe the bailouts of recent days were probably necessary and that a certain level of regulation is absolutely in order. No argument here. However, no regulation can fix the root issues of personal responsibility, professional ethics, and greed. Those are problems government CAN'T and WON'T solve. Our free-market system is utterly dependent on the "good faith" and trust of its participants. If our culture continues to drift towards Godless secularism, this will only continue to happen on a larger scale. The American capitalist experiment is ultimately dependent on the morality of its culture. As with so many issues, it is an issue of "credere." It is our collective crisis of faith.
Stop! Don't get angry with me yet. This is meant to be provocative. I will acknowledge upfront that Jesus is NOT a Republican or Libertarian. Jesus is The Monarch, and is not partisan - or even a free market capitalist for that matter. Heck, I am a quasi-theocrat relative to most American Christians these days...
Okay, we have that out of the way. Let's get to my quandary here. I have a lot of evangelical friends and acquaintances who are Democrats. I get it, but I have to confess that I don't "get it." I empathize with the desire for a "new" morality that is not solely defined by abortion, but includes issues of social justice, poverty, and mercy to those in need. I increasingly understand that Republicans can be unprincipled, corrupt, and selfish jerks with no compassion or wisdom. Being identified with talking-heads like Rush, Hannity, and Coulter can be a little rough sometimes because of the lack of nuance. Being a Republican is not the answer I am proposing.
However, I just don't "get" how an evangelical person can be a committed or principled Democrat - or even vote Democrat for that matter. Let's put two issues on the table. First, abortion. It is murder, plain and simple. The Democratic platform is committed to allowing infanticide. How can a party or platform every truly be committed to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with murder at the base of its platform? I just can't get over it. We're talking 10 commandments here, not affirmative action. Just plain and simple love thy neighbor stuff. How can a Christian vote for someone who will advocate the perpetuation of this criminal behavior?
Second, it seems to me that Democrats are basically Statists. They look to the State as a pseudo-messianic entity that solves our individual and collective ills. That blows me away in light of Scripture, history, and common sense. Social justice and mercy flow from the Kingdom of Christ, not a secular government, right? Yeah, yeah - common grace, blah, blah. You know what I mean. Is the secular State going to eradicate poverty and make everyone healthy, wealthy, and wise? Is that its role? Can a secular entity of any kind accomplish that? It just seems to me that Democrats unScripturally, ahistorically, and irrationally look to the State for WAY more than they should. Republicans may pay lip-service to limited government, but at least it is part of their platform.
I could go on of course, but that is my dilemma. Help me here.
This whole election cycle is even more interesting than I thought it would be. I still think Obama will probably pull it off, but McCain is going to make it much tougher than I ever thought possible. I had the opportunity to attend the Rick Warren / Saddleback forum two weeks ago, and McCain was surprisingly and undeniably strong at that appearance. He won over many conservative skeptics that evening and left at least some liberals shaken. I can say this because I was sitting around a handful of Obama supporters who kept looking over at me during McCain's part with a certain befuddled shock. They saw that McCain was a formidable and even likable opponent.
But on to more important matters - why would McCain pick Palin? I believe McCain acted according to his maverick leadership style and decided to reframe the debate around "reform" instead of "experience." If he would have picked a Tom Ridge type of character, the debate would have been about experience (McCain) vs. change (Obama). McCain clearly believes that this is a losing framework. In this political climate, change / reform is what independent voters are looking for. Experience in politics can work against you if it ties you to the status quo. McCain distanced himself from that argument by bringing on a VP that would focus the issue around who could bring real reform to Washington.
I think viewing Palin as cheap pandering to Hillary supporters is a simplistic half-truth. On the one hand, yes, McCain is targeting as many swing Democrats as possible. On the other hand, Palin is no Hillary. The personal differences between Palin and Hillary are enormous. I don't even know where to begin. 5 kids. Guns. Basketball. Beauty Queen. Governor. Ideological conservative all the way. This is not simple pandering, folks. No way. This is a bold way of reframing the issues and the identities that America has to choose from.
The election is riding on a razor's edge now, and the better campaigners and debaters will win. I have to give Obama a slight advantage, but not much. The Palin choice makes a lot of sense... And check-out the McCain ad after the Democratic Convention. Genius.
The symbolism of the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing was unmistakable - "We're going to blow you away because we're going to work together as a unit. Watch out rugged individualists."
No, I'm not a Commie. Give me a break. BUT. I was left asking myself, "Could we pull something that spectacular off in the United States?" Maybe we could. Maybe I am just not enough of a showman to understand how that stuff works. But maybe we all need to sit up and pay some attention to what's happening in China. It is not business as usual over there and the opening ceremonies underscored that for me. They were sending a message, and the message wasn't "Welcome Friends." The message was, "World, here we come." Yowza.