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This article was helpful to me. It would be nice to have a list of the "research-based education" whims that have passed through American public schools. For instance, I wonder if this explains the origins of the "Bell Ringer" - a small bit of busy work that students are supposed to work on as class is starting so as to eliminate milling around time and make it impossible for kids on the autism spectrum to make a good grade on their daily work:
After the ineffective year of effective schools came SPONGE. UCLA professor Madeline Hunter’s model for teaching sought to soak up every second of class time with so-called SPONGE activities to keep students focused and “on task.” I’ve never thought students should be focused — or could be focused — every moment, and I’ve always abhorred mindless, condescending busywork. But we had assistant principals coming through to make sure we applied the model.
When I asked one administrator about the origin of the SPONGE acronym, he couldn’t tell me, but he warned that it would be “teacher’s risk” not to keep students “on task,” unless there was a clear “teachable moment” that would allow me to deviate. (SPONGE, I later learned, meant: “SHORT, intense, vivid activities, which provide PRACTICE of learned material, which students can do ON their own, and which will also include NEW arrivals or those finishing an assignment early, by keeping the GROUP involved, and designed to ELICIT an immediate response.”) I don’t think that lasted more than two years.
Via: Washington Post
Reformed and Lutheran, our forefathers simply spoke about baptism and the church in words with which we American heirs of revivalism have grown uncomfortable:
Westminster Larger Catechism:
Q. 153. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A. That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.
Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.
Q. 161. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted.
Augsburg Confession, Article IX: Of Baptism:
Of Baptism they [Our Lutheran churches] teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
“The fact is, and it is useful to recognize this in the first place, that there is nothing in the Augsburg Confession which is not in agree- ment with our own teaching”
- John Calvin, 1556, Writing to Laski, a Polish Reformer
Can you read these excerpts without cringing? If not, then what is your plan for making peace with your own tradition? How will passages like these dispose you towards brothers and sisters in Christ who speak this way? Is brother Calvin not fit for the PCA? Is brother Luther compromising the gospel of salvation by faith that he also simultaneously recovered?
Good Thought from George Gilder
“One area where the information theory really applies is public opinion. I think one of the real problems of our politics is politicians are governed by public opinion polls, and thus they try to tell the public what they already think, and this means zero-entropy communication, zero-surprise communication. It makes politicians boring and focuses the attention of the press on their mistakes. The only surprises that come out of a political debate are missteps and misstatements. What we need is high-entropy politics and politicians who are willing to be leaders and transform public opinion. Public opinion is mostly a phantom — as Walter Lippmann said a century ago, The Phantom Public. If politicians are doing market surveys and public opinion polls and fear to make clear, coherent statements of their goals and purposes, they will fail. They will earn the contempt of the public. That’s what they’ve done. That’s why we need to have a new era of leadership that Reagan really epitomized. I think the Reagan coalition of low-entropy conservatism and high-entropy creativity needs is the hope for the future of America today ... You can’t just figure out what the public already thinks, and then tell them that and expect them to be thrilled by your leadership." Source
The Liturgical Role and Context of a Confession of Faith
Reciting a Confession of Faith, such as the Nicene Creed, during a church service has several vital liturgical purposes. For a visitor it answers these questions:
- v1. Are these people orthodox Christians?
- v2. Closely related, is this place a Cult?
- v3. Are these people overly or narrowly sectarian or do they believe in the unity of Christ's body?
For a member:
- m1. It allows all disciples (especially children and the illiterate) to memorize a summary of faith (discipleship)
- m2. It gives people orthodox language with which to express complicated truths
- m3. It reminds people that they are member of a larger church and are not the only game in town
- m4. It focuses them on the essentials comprehensively and not sectarian concerns or individual doctrines
So, with the above values in place, these conclusions follow:
- c1. We should use an ecumenical creed to confess our faith (v1,v2,v3,m2,m3,m4)
- c2. We should use the same creed every week (m1,v1 - after all, every Sunday is some visitor's first)
- c3. We should not use a sectarian statement like a Westminster Catechism Question that covers one aspect of doctrine (v1,v2,v3,m3,m4,c2)
Q: Should we use the word “catholic” or substitute “Christian” or “Universal” in the Nicene Creed?
We should use the terminology "catholic" because most churches use this terminology (v1,v2,v3,m2,m3). In general, we should be wary of innovation, especially in liturgical matters. The language of prayer becomes the language of belief very quickly and without notice and it is hard to anticipate the effect of small changes. We would not want us to give up the word "orthodox" or "catholic" even though both words have been shorthand for "Eastern Orthodox" and "Roman Catholic" respectively. We Christians are the catholic church, and the Roman branch of the catholic church was an offshoot, just as the Presbyterian branch was. Plus, the word "universal" may be just as prone to abuse - universalism, universal education, universal health care, etc. The word "catholic" raises questions and that's good. Those are the questions a pastor wants to answer. I also wouldn't put an asterisk in the bulletin either. Just lowercase it and move on.
Q: Which ecumenical creed should we use? Apostles? Nicene?
This is a harder question. The Apostle’s creed is allegedly older, but murkier. The Nicene Creed comes from the Nicene and Constantinopolitan church councils and has a very good claim to being the most catholic creed. Both creeds have wrinkles, though. With the Apostle’s Creed a pastor has to navigate the odd “decensus clause” where we confess that Jesus “descended into hell” prior to ascending into heaven. This clause has a life of its own and has probably not always been part of the creed. Some interpret the decensus clause to be a literal descent into the “realm of the dead” while some see it as another way of saying that Jesus really died and experienced the pains of hell on our behalf. Either way, this is a potentially distracting clause and not all churches use it, so it is harder to fulfill our goals of having a non-distracting, catholic creed that doesn’t raise questions about the sanity of the church using it. The Nicene Creed also has a wrinkle - the filioque clause (“and the son”) was added by the Western church as a sort of polemical gesture towards the Eastern church. The Western church believes that the Spirit’s eternal procession was not only from the Father but also from the Son (“and the son.”) So when you say the Nicene Creed in church, you are engaging in some good old fashioned polemics. Fact is, almost every clause of every creed is in some fashion a polemical shot at some heretic or sect that cropped up between the rooster’s crowing in Jerusalem and the early middle ages.
If you’re in the presbyterian tradition, your confessional documents already contain the “filioque” idea:
Westminster Larger Catehcism #10:
Q. 10. What are the personal properties of the three persons in the Godhead?
A. It is proper to the Father to beget the Son, and to the Son to be begotten of the Father, and to the Holy Ghost to proceed from the Father and the Son from all eternity.
And so, like it or not, the Nicene Creed isn’t as ecumenical as it could be. Some good Presbyterians recommend dropping the filioque from the Nicene Creed. After all, it just gives offense to the East and it is in our other doctrinal statements anyway where higher levels of doctrinal precision make sense. This is probably a good idea given that a main point of the creed is to prove and nourish our catholicity. However, leaving the filioque out of the creed now is just as much an active statement of belief as including it. The former abandons the tradition in the West and the latter gives a cross-fingered affirmation of our Eastern brothers.
In the end, I think we just have to own up to the fact that the East / West split is not going to be influenced that much by what Presbyterian churches decide to do about the filioque controversy. Either the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son or he doesn’t. Hopefully our eastern brothers will understand that we Presbyterians are neither the ringleaders for adding the clause nor are we going to assume the banner of being the driving force for removing the clause in the West. The bottom line is that using a creed that expresses Western catholicity is better than never saying a creed at all.
'Keeping it Real' vs. English Reticence
Recently, some of my friends were discussing Thabiti Anyabwile's article about how we discuss homosexuality in public. Here's a link to a pastor who responds to Anyabwile and it contains a link to the original article.
Just the other day, I ran across a passage in Bonhoeffer's letters from prison that speaks very well to this issue. The context is that Bonhoeffer had written earlier to the same person and was a little more open about his fears than he later thinks he ought to have been. Now, he's writing to the friend to talk about the virtues of reticence:
I’ve been thinking again over what I wrote to you recently about our own fear. I think that here, under the guise of honesty, something is being passed off as ‘natural’ that is at bottom a symptom of sin; it is really quite analogous to talking openly about sexual matters. After all, ‘truthfulness’ does not mean uncovering everything that exists. God himself made clothes for men; and that means that [in our state of corruption] many things in human life ought to remain covered, and that evil, even though it cannot be eradicated, ought at least to be concealed. Exposure is cynical, and although the cynic prides himself on his exceptional honesty, or claims to want truth at all costs, he misses the crucial fact that since the fall there must be reticence and secrecy. In my opinion the greatness of Stifter lies in his refusal to force his way into man’s inner life, in his respect for reticence, and in his willingness to observe people more or less cautiously from the outside but not from the inside. Inquisitiveness is alien to him. I remember once being impressed when Frau von Kleist-Kieckow told me with genuine horror about a film that showed the growth of a plant speeded up; she said that she and her husband could not stand it, as they felt it to be an impermissible prying into the mystery of life. Stifter takes a similar line. But is not this somewhat akin to the so-called English ‘hypocrisy’, which we contrast with German ‘honesty’? I believe we Germans have never properly grasped the meaning of ‘concealment’, i.e. what is in the end the [state of corruption] of the world. Kant says quite rightly in his Anthropologie that anyone who misunderstands or questions the significance of outward appearance in the world is a traitor to humanity.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to Eberhard Bethge Advent, 5 Dec. 1943. English Edition, pg. 158
Related Post: Keeping it Real
Think I will get a Response?
@StarkvilleSD Does the Starkville School District have a philosophy of pedagogy document? Which educational philosophy guides the district?— Jon Barlow (@barlowjon) August 19, 2013
The Freeing Power of Structure
"Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best--if you like, it 'works' best--when, through long familiarity, we don't have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance."
From: C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
The recent attempt to give asylum to the German homeschooling family has publicized some of the German government's reasons for disallowing homeschooling. A German court says "the general public has a justified interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated 'parallel societies' and in integrating minorities in this area." Germany's peculiar history makes it (understandably) concerned about the possible rise of parallel societies, societies not founded on the particulars of liberal democracy that motivate European states.
It is a happy oversight, for now, that America is allowing homeschooling and a flourishing of parallel societies. In the Federalist Papers, the authors dealt head on with the possibility that factions would derail societal stability, but Madison and the fellows pointed out that these factions cut across each other. You may be united with Bill against Joe on X but united with Joe against Bill on Y. Slowly but surely, however, factions are forming in the USA that mark out differences too important to recede into the confusion of cross-hatching loyalties.
Christians have to start consciously building a parallel society within the United States before a parallel society is built for us. We need to define our own "neighborhoods" before we are shuffled into ghettos. We will find it harder and harder to support our convictions in the public square and may even lose religious liberties. It may be that the secularist triumph will be short lived. As we see the dying, atheist old guard's committing suicide in France, both literally and by their self-limited fecundity, the secularists in America may achieve only a few decades of utter triumph before Islam or something else intrudes. But things are changing pretty rapidly, and we should be laying the foundation for a peaceful witness instead of waiting for the violence of the state to force a witness upon us.
Peter has posted an essay this week that argues the point in a much fuller way. Here's an excerpt:
"All this means that Windsor [the recent supreme court ruling] presents American Christians with a call to martyrdom. In Greek, martyria means "witness," specifically witness in a court. At the very least, the decision challenges American Christians to continue to teach Christian sexual ethics without compromise or apology. But Windsor presents a call to martyrdom in a more specific sense. There will be a cost for speaking the truth, a cost in reputation, opportunity, and funds if not in freedoms. Scalia’s reference to the pagan Roman claim that Christians are "enemies of mankind" was probably not fortuitous.
Many churches have already capitulated to the Zeitgeist, and many others will. Some Christians and some churches won't be up to the challenge. For those who heed Paul’s admonition not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, things are going to get sticky. But we are servants of God. He opens our ears to hear, and he gives us tongues to speak truth. If that means we are insulted and marginalized, if it means we yield our back to the smiters and our face to those who spit on us, so be it.
This will force a major adjustment in conservative Christian stance toward America. We've fooled ourselves for decades into believing that Christian America was derailed recently and by a small elite. It's tough medicine to realize that principles inimical to traditional Christian morals are now deeply embedded in our laws, institutions and culture. The only America that actually exists is one in which "marriage" includes same-sex couples and women have a Constitutional right to kill their babies. To be faithful, Christian witness must be witness against America.
God has his winnowing fork in his hand, and he's ready to use it. There's likely to be a lot of chaff, blown away like mist. But there will be a harvest. We’re being sent into an oven, but Jesus will crush the grain of the harvest so that, baked in the fire of the Spirit, it will become bread for the life of the world."
On this Independence Day, we must stop worrying about our religious freedoms and start worrying about our religious duties.
Update on BSA
Well, the discussion has been difficult; my essay is being read, which is very humbling, but at the same time, people cannot abandon the lure of "Nature's God" as some kind of foundation for an organization. You can see how the discussion has advanced here. That site is in reverse chronological order, so the newest posts are first.
The OnMyHonor.net people are meeting this weekend in Kentucky. I'm praying that the Christians there will make an impact. I'm becoming skeptical that a national organization founded on Mere Christianity can be possible. I've started looking into the Calvinist Cadet Corps even despite their odd name.
Christians and the Boy Scouts of America
Because of my own involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, I have lately been forced to think through the recent controversy. As you probably heard in the press, the BSA voted in June to admit openly homosexual boys to membership with the implication that homosexuality would now be considered "morally straight," in the words of the scout oath.
Placing my own boys in Boy Scouts was always a practical move for me. I knew that the organization was deeply compromised by a murky spirituality. Thus, the new policy didn't really change things for me all that much. I was happy for them to gain woodcraft skills and learn teamwork. But the silver lining has been that many Christians are waking up to something that it is very difficult for American Christians to grasp easily - that the world has changed and we are in a post-Christian country. That all the consensus based civic organizations are threatened by the religious diversity that didn't exist when they were founded. That public ethical discourse is now almost completely impossible to conduct.
Given this, and the courageous public resignation of a scoutmaster in my area and the urgings of one of my elders, I spent some time last weekend thinking through what a Christian approach to these matters ought to be. I came up with the following essay:
Christians and the Boy Scouts of America (PDF)
I would love to know what you guys think of the case I make. It is exciting to think that something new and positive may come out of this. There is no reason why the new scout handbook can't be as interesting as the "Dangerous Book for Boys." A merit badge for memorizing the first twenty Psalms? The second twenty? Badges named for the four animal symbols of the evangelists - angel (Matthew), lion (Mark), bull (Luke), eagle (John). Cool stuff is potentially on the horizon.
Never Talk to Cops. Ever.
I probably posted this before, but this is really good advice:
Only Irony Works to Respond
NPR Story about Scalia's dissent today:
"Make no mistake about it: Because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason," Scalia said in a sharp dissent which he read aloud in the courtroom. "This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure. But so would taking your DNA when you fly on an airplane — surely the TSA must know the 'identity' of the flying public. For that matter, so would taking your children's DNA when they start public school."
I only hope that future generations aren't so intellectually diminished that they interpret that last part non-ironically.
More on French Unrest
After the last post, I started following some of the atheist far right guys on Twitter (maybe they aren't all atheists, I have no idea) but tweets like this one are what I'm seeing:
Un livre m'a marqué dans mon adolescence : le meilleur des mondes d'Huxley. Voilà pourquoi je serai dans la rue demain. #manifourtous— Julien Rochedy (@JLRochedy) May 25, 2013
Pray for peace in France. He's basically saying that he read "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley as a kid and that's why he's protesting tomorrow.
A Strange and Homeric Suicide
This morning something strange happened. It reminds me of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks. A seventy-eight years old French historian, Dominique Venner, walked past the crowd of tourists in the Notre Dame Cathedral to the altar on which he placed an envelope. He then took a pistol and killed himself.
I don't know a great deal about French politics, but I understand that Venner would be considered a kind of nativist or nationalist. He was an historian and author and political activist. At some point in his career, he protested France's giving up Algiers and was even jailed. Recently he has been involved in protests against the legalization of gay marriage and has expressed concerns about what he called the "replacement" of his people by Muslim immigrants.
The envelope he placed on the altar contained a very rational suicide note, explaining that he was of sound mind. The letter articulated a view of ethnic identity that, for him, transcended Christianity and sought a European unity of kith and kin set over against Muslim deterioration of the consensus and the attack on family represented by the newly passed laws legalizing gay marriage. In part, he wrote, "I believe it necessary to sacrifice myself to break the lethargy that plagues us. I give up what life remains to me in order to protest and to found. I chose a highly symbolic place, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, which I respect and admire: she was built by the genius of my ancestors on the site of cults still more ancient, recalling our immemorial origins ... lacking an identitarian religion to moor us, we share a common memory going back to Homer, a repository of all the values on which our future rebirth will be founded once we break with the metaphysics of the unlimited, the baleful source of all modern excesses." This was, then, an almost philosophical protest. He gives me no indication of being an orthodox Christian in the few things I've read surrounding this story, and he certainly does not repair to Christianity as he justifies and explains his actions.
He also gave a final blog post in which he more fully articulated this nationalistic vision and called others to drastic action, beyond words, to wake up their countrymen. He made the point that the gay marriage law would be overturned in just 15 years or so when Muslims institute sharia in France. In other words, he hated the law, but he hated more the way that the law would be overturned. And so deeds are required, he wrote, "It certainly will require new, spectacular, and symbolic gestures to stir our somnolence, shake our anesthetized consciousness, and awaken the memory of our origins. We are entering a time when words must be authenticated by deeds."
This story interests me because I've been thinking a lot lately about diversity. I've been very challenged by the reading I've been doing, and was so happy this week to run across some hopeful sociological research that showed how people can actually live together. If you haven't dipped into the sociological research on diversity, you might be surprised to find a real pessimism even in the liberal academy that people can trust each other in ethnically diverse environments. America's most prominent thinker on this subject, Robert Putnam of Harvard, published research that demonstrated how diverse environments lead to mistrust. Thankfully this week I found the work of Miles Hewstone of Oxford who responds directly to Putnam. I think I am getting closer to being able to put some systematic bones on the subject that has really been such a vexing problem for me to understand.
So, while I have no sympathy for suicide or racism, and I have no understanding of whether Venner is the equivalent of a white supremacist or if he is just a guy concerned about the Islamization of his country, I think this man's actions are worth noticing. Imagine living in Paris and seeing the dying gasps of Christendom running on the fumes of traditionalism colliding headlong into what Venner called the "metaphysics of the unlimited" - that is, the anything goes sexual morality of 2013. The legalization of gay marriage probably felt like a terrible blow to him and then to hear Algerians mock the law saying, in effect, don't worry; we Muslims will be in charge here in a few short years and we'll change the law back. For a 78 year old guy it is probably too much to take. I don't have an answer for France; I'm not well versed in global politics or the demographics of France. In fact, French law prohibits census taking that divides the French by creed or color, so there is very little actual demographics information about France. But in my limited understanding, it sounds bad for the French. Venner has committed an ominous act and it will be interesting to listen in on the conversation it spawns.
England as the Suburbs of Europe
Hearing all the talk this month about suburbs (here and here) made this passage in John Donne's sermon stand out to me when I ran across it.
In his "A Sermon ... to the Honourable Company of the Virginian Plantation" (London, 1622) Donne addresses a company who is about to set sail for Virginia for, he hopes, an evangelistic purpose. He says:
Your principal end is not gain, nor glory, but to gain souls to the glory of God. This seals the great seal, this justifies itself, this authorises authority, and gives power to strength itself ... you shall have made this island [England] which is but the Suburbs of the old world, a Bridge, a Gallery to the new; to join all to that world that shall never grow old, the kingdom of heaven.
If you follow the logic, Europe is united to the Kingdom of Heaven, England, as its suburb, is united as well, and through the efforts of those who will bring the gospel to Virginia, they will unite all three to the kingdom and turn England into a bridge. And this purpose justifies the charter and the actions of the Virginia company.
Anyway, I have no point to make here except that Donne's mental landscape is interesting - the way he conceives of England's relationship to Europe and the way that he sees the spread of the gospel working. The suburbs become a bridge between the developed and the undeveloped.
I looked up "suburb" in the OED and found that from its earliest uses in English it was used for the area outside of cities. But it also had another prominent meaning - "The marginal or subordinate part of an immaterial thing; the point of transition between states, eras, etc." For instance, the "suburbs of mercy" (1642). Obviously, this figurative use of the word comes from the concrete use...