Monday, February 1, 2016

The Student's Calling

"The Student's Calling" by Leland Ryken in Liberal Arts for the Christian Life edited by Jeffry C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken, Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

Ryken says, "the time has come to revive an idea that once seemed natural: the student's life as a Christian calling. By calling I mean vocation--the occupation of being a student" (15). Have you ever thought that being a student is a calling? I have and it has made a big difference. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis' lecture on learning called "Learning in our Time." Lewis presents good ideas on how being a student or a scholar is a calling.

What kind of education should those pursuing learning as a calling seek? Leland thinks that some methods of education will not work for this student. T. S. Eliot said, "We must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem" (15).

First, Ryken asks the question, "What is Education For? Have you asked this question? What was your answer? Ryken states that a Christian student's calling "is the same as it is for a Christian in any situation of life. Its central focus is the individual's relationship with God. Loving and serving God should be the foundation for everything else you do at college" (16). You do not want to graduate from college with intellectual skills and knowledge, but still be a baby or infant in Christ. You need to grow in all areas while in college. John Milton said, "The end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love Him, to imitate Him" (16). In other words, we need to do as Saint Peter said, "grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ." We are either going forward in our walk with Christ or we are going backwards. There is no standing still. God is more concerned with the person you are becoming that the career you will choose. Our goal should be growth towards Christian maturity. Jesus said, what does it matter if we gain the world, but lose our soul. This requires soul care.

A second point made by Ryken in his lecture "is that all of life is God's" (17). There is no dividing our lives by sacred and secular. God is over it all. A related theme is that all truth is God's truth no matter where it is found. Calvin said this in the Institutes of the Christian Religion and others have stated it too. Ryken observes, "the integration of every academic discipline with the Christian faith is an essential part of the Christian's calling" (18). I think in some sense, every Christian is called to be a Christian theologians. We need to know what we believe.

The author believes there is a strong relationship with the idea that all of life belongs to God and the idea of liberal arts education. He believes that liberal arts education is a "comprehensive" education. Ryken notes, "Fit for everything: that has always been the goal of liberal arts education, as distinct from vocational training in a specific field. Milton's definition is even more famous. He defined 'a complete and generous education' as one that 'fits man to perform . . . all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war" (18-19). That definition is hard to beat. Mortimer Adler might say that a liberal arts education prepares one to use leisure wisely. It might be added that a liberal arts education not only helps one live life, but to live it well.

Friday, January 29, 2016

How to Read a Book

"How to Read a Book" by Alan Jacobs in Liberal Arts for the Christian Life edited by Jeffry C. Davis & Philip G. Ryken. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4335-2394-6

This essay is out of a book on Christian Liberal Arts Education dedicated to Leland Ryken. The authors of the essays are professors at Wheaton college from various disciplines. The whole book is worth reading, but I want to highlight some of the essays in it. I wanted to start with this one because it stood out to me. Of course, the title, "How to Read a Book" probably brings to mind Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. This essay is somewhat since it emphasizes practices for the Christian reader. The virtues highlighted by Jacobs are discernment, attentiveness, responsiveness, charity, and whim.

Jacobs begins the essay with discernment: "The first point we will want to note is that not all books deserve the same attention from us. Readers must be discerning in this matter" (124). Francis Bacon said, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention" (123). These are words of wisdom that all readers need to take to heart. This is why my goal is not to read the most books possible. I do want to read many books, but more I want to read a few books over and over till I cannot retrieve any more nourishment from it. For example, the Bible is a perfect example. We do not read the Bible through once and put it down to never be picked up again. That would be plain foolishness. Why is it so hard to recognize there are books that can be called greats and that it takes a life-time to read them. These books might be different books for different people. Some of these books for me have been Saint Augustine's Confessions, Sermons, On Teaching, and the City of God. Others have been Plato's Dialogues, Aristotle's Ethics, Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. How do you know if a book is worth reading? One of the best ways is by skimming it or reading portions of it.

A second practice mentioned by the author is attentiveness. This is a very important practice for the reader. I do this by keeping a pen and pencil in hand while reading. I underline key parts, circle words, writ comments in the margin, and so on. It is like we are having a conversation with the author. Jacobs says we should treat a book as our neighbor: "What do you have to say to Me?--and then stay for an answer" (127).

Responsiveness is the third practice that the reader need to practice. Jacobs says we practice responsiveness by responding to the author. That could be by writing notes in the text. Or it could be by asking the text questions. The last practice is charity. better known as love. The author kind of hinted at this when he said we should think of a book as a neighbor. The idea follows from the love commandment--we should love our neighbor as ourselves. The author says charity begins with two traits already mentioned: attentiveness and responsiveness. Jacobs notes, "We show our willingness to love by our active, alert awareness of what's going in a book" (130). I think another idea that this could be associated with charity is hospitality. Showing hospitality is welcoming the stranger. It is making room for them.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life

J. Oswald Sanders, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1992.

This post will interact with two works: Sander's book and Roger Olson's post on his blog a couple of years ago. They both deal with a topic that seems never to get old or fails to spark controversy. Of course, I am speaking of discovering God's will for one's life. First, I will start with a quote from Olson's post:

"There is probably no more important and confusing issue for Christian young people than 'finding God's will for life.' Many have heard that 'God has a wonderful plan for your life' and been urged to seek God for his will. Whether told or not, many have concluded that they should wait until God revealed his will or pray fervently for a revelation of his will before making any important life decisions. Many become all tied up in knots wondering what God's will is for their lives and attempting to find it. Some are paralyzed by uncertainty and miss opportunities; others rush into rash decisions because someone prophesied over them or they dropped their Bible open, pointing to a passage at random and interpreted that as God's will. Others have followed Gideon's example and put out 'fleeces,' tests to determine God's will. 'God, if you want me to marry Becky, make it rain tonight.' "

These words sound quite to familiar to me as I am sure it does to my reader. Why do so many people struggle to find God's will? Why does it seem to be hidden from us? Does God have it already all planned out before we do it? Is there a perfect blueprint for our life. J. Oswald Sanders' book, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life seems to imply by the title that God has a perfect plan for our life even before we seek it. We will need to examine the book to see this what the content of the book actually teaches. The question could be phrased this way, "Does God have an ideal and detailed will and plan for every life? What do you think?

This is not the first book I have read by Sanders and I have enjoyed his other books I have read. I have great respect for Sanders as a Christian leader, author, and teacher. He published such classics as Spiritual Leadership and Leading Like Paul. For many years he was the general director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. He authored more than forty books on the Christian life. It is interesting that he wrote Every Life is a Plan of God near the end of his life. Sanders notes, "In the course of more than sixty-five years of Christian work in the homelands and overseas, I have had many opportunities to prove the Lord in the matter of guidance, I have not always been sensitive and obedient to the Lord's leading, I regret to say. But I can say with truth that there has never been a time when I have sought guidance from the Lord with total willingness to do what He revealed that I have not received clear and satisfying guidance from Him" (120-21). It is wise to listen to experienced saints who have followed God in obedience for many years.

There are many strengths to this book. It is quite balanced. It pays attention to the intellect in God's guidance. It warns again expecting miracles on a regular basis in seeking God's guidance. It emphasizes the importance of scripture in seeking God's will. Sanders shows practical wisdom in the principles he declares and he acknowledges that God's guidance might be different with different individuals. A helpful chapter is for those considering missionary work is chapter 6, "Guidance in Missions." In addition, it provides useful information on seeking God's will in vocation in many different areas. The author believes there is a "divine plan for our lives," but he does not think it is "like an architect's blueprint" (12). He believes we have free choice. Every day we make choices that will affect our life. In a sense, we are co-creators with God. I do not see our lives as a sheet of paper  already filled in. I see it more as empty space waiting to be filled in by us in partnership with God. It seems God gives us freedom in many of our choices. God is more concerned on who we are than where we live or who we marry. It does seem we often worry needless. Here are two quotes on how others see seeking God's will:

" Isn't the matter of God's will not so much about what God wants me to do (find a job, get married, which school to go--all of which have their importance) as it is about discovering God's overall, eternal will, that is what He wants from creation to the New Jerusalem?"

It seems God is more concerned about our relationship with Him and how we are growing in Him. Are we growing in our faith in and our love for Him?

The second quote is one I have been thinking about:

"Forget the blueprint. Toss it because the only reason we want it is we don't like taking risks and learning the 'will of God' through the school of hard knocks, failures, mistakes and miscalculations." This does seem true to me. We want absolute certainty. We want guarantees that this decision will work perfectly. Maybe, God wants us to learn from our mistakes. Isn't that how growth occurs.

Overall, I think Sanders' book is well balanced. He provides different methods that God uses to guide us. Some of these are: Scripture, counselors, prayer, reason, circumstances, our desires, gifts, talents, and temperament. He warns us the danger of following impressions and seeking fleeces and forbidden practices like astrology. He provides excellent help on how to know if you are called to be a missionary. In the last two chapter he provides practical wisdom on how to choose wisely. He distinguishes between personal decisions that affect lifestyle or vocation, straightforward decisions, non-moral decisions,and indeterminate matters. In the last chapter he provides cautions about guidance. One is "paying more attention to the mechanics of guidance than to the leading of the Gide" (149). Understand that we are not infallible. We might discern God's guidance wrongly. I think he would say that when many methods point in the same direction, we can be confident with our decision.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?

Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? Eerdmans, 2002. 187 pages. ISBN: 0-8028-3974-6

Bruce Waltke begins his book by asking the question, Is finding God's will a biblical idea? This might sound like a crazy question. However, Waltke's point is that many people seek for God's will in a way condemned in Scripture. Early on in his book Waltke defines the term, the will of God. Waltke states, "The will of God can refer not only to His immutable decrees and His pleasures but also to His general providence" (9). It also refers to "His specific choices in perplexing situation" (10). This idea relates to the title to finding God's will. It is in perplexing situations that people seek God's guidance. One of the problems is that people fear of making a mistake. He shows how many Christians search for God's will is similar to practices of pagans described in the OLD Testament.

Finding the Will of God can be divided into two parts. In the first part the author discusses whether seeking God's will is a biblical idea. In the second part Waltke shows us how God guides us through His Word, godly desires, the counsel of others, circumstances, and good judgement. The chapter on good judjement provides five principles for discerning God's guidance. First, you are to make your decision "in the light of Scripture." Our decisions must not contradict the teachings of scripture. Second, we are to make our decision in "light of our giftedness." We are to pay attention to our gifts and abilities. I have seen this point in many books about God's will. Our decisions should not go against our giftedness. It is wise to make decisions in line with our "gifts and talents, our temperament and circumstances." Third, we are to make our decision in light of "according to our ability." We need to know who we are. Waltke believes "Christians must know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and they must be content within those limitations." It is sad when Christians do not accept themselves and try to be something that they are not. Fourth, make your decision in light of your circumstances. Circumstances should not make our decision for us, but it is foolish to ignore them. God is often at work in our circumstances. Fifth, we are to make our decision "according to an overall strategy." We need to evaluate decisions according to our priorities and our long-range plan. How will this decision help us to accomplish our overall plan? Usually we have a sense where God is directing us and how He has directed us in the past.

These are excellent principles that will help us in making good decisions. We should not allow fear to hinder us from making decisions. We learn from our mistakes and failure. Even when we make bad choices God is able to work through them. We can trust that our lives are in God's hands. Overall, this book guides us to apply God's wisdom to make decisions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning in War-Time

"Learning in War-time is one of my favorite short pieces by C. S. Lewis. It was originally delivered to Oxford students in England on verge of war. In it Lewis asks how can we pursue learning when war is going on? Lewis asks another question to bring the question in context: How can we pursue learning when people are dying and going to hell? This is an important question? It is a question I have asked myself.

I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was ten and before that time the home was not stable. In middle school I became involved with the wrong people and eventually dropped out of school in ninth grade. When I was eighteen I became a Christian. Soon after I went to college. During my first year at the college I began asking myself the question, How can I be pursuing learning when people are going to hell? I had not read Lewis yet. It would be several years before I would read "Learning in War-Time. After a few years in college I discovered that learning was an end itself. It is interesting that when I first read "Learning in War-Time, I discovered I had come to similar conclusions on my own. Lewis gives not only reasons for pursuing the intellectual life, but important truths about calling itself.

Lewis hits a home-run from the start: "A university is a society for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, into what the Middle Ages called clerks: or to start making yourselves, into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians." He notes that this might seem an odd thing since they might not have time to finish before called to the war. So why begin something we cannot finish? Lewis tells them there is a even greater question, How can we pursue learning when people's lives hang in the balance.

Lewis explains that this is really no situation: "The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun." The war did not create any new situation. Should learning be pursued or not? If so for what reasons. I will now list some of the reasons Lewis gives.

First, there is a deep desire for knowledge and beauty inside us. God did not create this desire needlessly. It is part of who we are. Lewis shows how people in the past "wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable time that never comes."

Second, we will pursue lesser things if we do not pursue more excellent things like truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis states, "If you attempted. . . to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, (he was not aware of our own time period)either in the church or in the line: if you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions, you will fall into sensual satisfactions." How many hours to we spend before electronic media vegging out? How often do we read a book to improve our learning? What do we spend our money on?

Third, we can pursue learning to the glory of God. Lewis notes, "All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not." God calls us to different stations. God's will is for us to do our very best wherever He places us. Lewis describes how we can know and fulfill our own vocation. Lewis says, "We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man's upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God is the learned life." The intellectual life is not the call for everyone, but it is the call for some. God calls us to be obedient to our vocation.

Fourth, the intellectual life supports the church. The church needs learned people to defend it against attacks. In addition, it needs scholars to teach and preach. Lewis notes, "If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now--and not be able to meet the enemies on their own ground--would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have under God, no defense against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."

These are some of the reasons Lewis gives for pursuing the Intellectual life. When Lewis is speaking of learning he is speaking of the liberal arts. He believed that truth and beauty must be sought for their own sake, not that they are not sought for God's sake. He also thought that being faithful to the vocation of learning is not the idea of working things out to "edifying conclusions," or "to offer to the author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie." We are simply to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty and to follow where they lead.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-given Potential

Gordon T. Smith, Courage & Calling: Embracing your God-given Potential, IVP Books, 2011, Revised and expanded, 269 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3554-6

Gordon T. Smith mentions three types of calling in his book, Courage & Calling: Embracing your Potential. First, there is the general call to be a Christian. Second, there is a specific call--"a defining purpose or mission . . . . Every individual is called of God to respond through service in the world" (10). Third, is the call to respond to daily duties and responsibilities. Courage and Calling focuses on the second of these calls. What I like about this book is how it shows that our call(s) may change during different transitions in our life. Another focus that was helpful is the author asserting, "we are called to be stewards of the gifts and abilities and opportunities that God gives us" (28). A third point the author makes is the distinction between sacred and secular calling is false. All callings are "inherently and potentially sacred" (44). In addition, he distinguishes between vocation and career. He notes, "We may be called to a particular work that is reflected in a career," but they are not the same thing. "The language of vocation is a reminder that our work is given to us by another, by the God who is our creator" (47). The purpose of the book is to help the reader to achieve his potential in God's service. I have become convinced that our giftedness shows where our calling lies.

Gordon T. Smith has been an academic administrator and missionary in Canada and the Philippines. He is now the president of reSource Leadership International, an agency that fosters excellence in theological education in the developing world. He also teaches part time at Regent College in Canada.

The book includes twelve chapters that can be divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the characteristics of calling. The second focus on elements needed to fulfill our calling. Chapter two provides a theological understanding of work. The authors states that good work is work that agrees with God's purposes for our lives. He shows how work is a means of service which is a religious act. The author assumes that our work "is done in response to the calling of God. God calls us to the work we do, and thus our work becomes something that we do as an offering to God" (43). Chapter two shows how our call should match us with our personality, gifts, and opportunities. He shows how our calling could be either payed or volunteer work. In addition, he provides help to the reader to discover her calling. Our calling will have something to do with how God has made us. Smith believes that our calling is discerned and lived out in community.

I particularly enjoyed chapter four which discussed the different stages of adult life. He dives these stages: From adolescence into early adulthood, early to midadulthood, Midadulthood to our senior years. He shows how our calling might change in different stages. He believes as young adults the major challenge is to take responsibility for their lives. Midlife adults' task is to accept themselves. Senior adults need to let go and bless and offer wisdom.

Courage & Calling is recommended for any reader who is interested in discerning God's will for his/her life. The author has a lot of experience and provides much wisdom on how to achieve our "God-given potential."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Called to Study

I am re-reading Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith. I am about half way through. In the first half Gordon describes general principles on knowing God's calling in our life and the need for courage to fulfill it. The chapter I am now reading takes these principles and apply them to four different occupations or vocations: business, the arts, teaching and scholarship, and the ministry. I was reading the section on the arts this morning. The author made some interesting comments. One point was the need for excellence in the arts. Christian artists should not accept mediocrity. A second point was the importance of beauty. Third, the need for dedication to the craft and not commercialization. This mean not producing just because it sells. The author does realize the artist must make a living. Of course, this can come from his art, but he lists two other ways. One was is having a patron that will support your craft. Another way is to have an occupation that would allow you to be your own patron. The author also states how many artists get barely by economically, so they can practice their craft. This brought to my memory to my own calling.

Early on in college I realized that learning was an end in itself. Learning was worthwhile even without any utilitarian end. Over the years I realized I had a calling to study. Reading, studying, and thinking brings me great joy. My desire to follow a calling to study motivated my future decisions. I wanted to choose a career and lifestyle that would be centered around study. I wanted my life to make study possible. I did not want to work 60-80 hours a week that would leave no time for study. Through different circumstances and a sense of calling I became a librarian. Librarianship is my career, but it is not necessarily my calling. My work is a calling and a ministry. It makes it possible to do many of the things I enjoy doing, like research, writing, reading, and teaching. However, my passion is study. I make it a practice to get up before 5 a.m. in the morning for the purpose of reading, studying, and thinking. Some people think it strange that I do this. All I can say is woe is me if I did not do this.