Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do you Want your Youth to Stay in the Church?

It's a dumb question to ask since any church member with the ability to think would say, yes. We don't want our youth to leave the church. This post is in response to Marc5sola's post about why young people leave the church.  We want young people to stay in the church. If they leave for another city or town, we want them to be rooted in a strong community of believers where the gospel is preached.

I almost left the church. Specifically, I almost left the RP church because of the following reasons: 1. are very few people my age. 4. It's hard to relate with many in the church.

I'm not abnormal either. Large numbers of 20-somethings are and have left the church. It's an epidemic right now. If you want to keep your youth in the church, here is how:

You give them leadership positions, you disciple** them and you be honest. 

I have stayed in the church, specifically in the RP church. Here is why. In high school I was given leadership positions. I was a member of CYPU and so four/five times a year I was organizing, helping lead events in the RP church for the presbytery youth.

Also, I once had breakfast with my pastor, and I asked why we don't have a "youth group" at 2nd RP. His explanation, youth groups pull the youth out of the church and create a second church. He then challenged me to take my desires and use them to benefit the church. He challenged me to serve. As as a result, I started to organize and plan various service projects to help others in the church.

Because I was given leadership and challenged to invest in the church as a leader, it was hard for me to leave church. No one leaves what they've invested in very easily.

Discipleship is not hard to understand. You meet with a fellow believer on a regular basis, share your applications from Bible study and review memory verses. What's hard is being honest on how you're doing spiritually and keeping up with meeting with your brother on a regular basis.

In high school, I was discipled. My Dad and pastor regularly met with me, sharing their applications and memory verses. I saw their spiritual lives. It gave me an honest picture of how one grows in Christ.

During my junior year and senior year of high school, an elder in the church met with me weekly, reading through various books like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. I got to deal with questions he struggled with and I got to struggle through my own. I was able to start to get an honest picture of the struggles of today's church.

Two Final Comments 
First, This is not a sure-fire way to keep young people in the church. Young people will leave the church. The question is whether they are going to leave with you screaming, crying and fighting as they go. It's important to never quit with young people. They're a strange bunch. When you least expect them to listen, they do. When they act like they've rejected everything, they really haven't.

Second, pray constantly. Just because a child of God has left, it doesn't mean this child lost. The prodigal son returned.  

*Part of the reason I saw worship as "boring" is because I didn't understand in my mind why the things happened in the service that did and I didn't hold in my heart the willingness to humble my desires in light of God's. 
**Discipleship: What Jesus did with the Twelve Disciples, what Paul did with Timothy. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Van Til "The Defense of the Faith" Chapter 2

This is the second post on Van Til's work "The Defense of the Faith." My analysis of the first chapter is here.

Again, I am reviewing it chapter by chapter as a way of digesting the book. It is not thick, but Van Til is an important thinker in reformed theology. I'm also coming at it from the perspective of a philosopher who wants to be a help to today's reformed theologians. So I won't be making comments on all parts of the book but rather limit what I say to where I think I can help clarify ideas and definitions and correct problems. 

Before we Talk about Reality, the Method
Van Til is doing philosophy from a reformed theological standpoint. That is really important to understand before we get into anything. He is trying to make everything he believes about philosophy to be informed by the Bible. This is his method. In philosophy, your method will determine what you say about ultimate reality, how we know, if we can know, do we know, what is beauty, what is justice, what is goodness and if there is a God. 

God is Reality and the Universe is Reality 
So Van Til responds to that last question by saying yes, God exists. Furthermore, God is reality. He says that we must be careful to make a distinction about the term reality. God, who is reality, is self-sufficient and is distinct from His universe. This distinction is very important since it triggers important stances in ethics, psychology and my favorite epistemology. 

A Side Note 
Van Til says this "Most philosophers have not been Christians." He says this comment in the context of explaining why it is improtant to take theological language and redress it with philosophical terms. This is a small point, but yeah I disagree with this comment. Let's begin with a list of orthodox* Christian philosophers: 
  1. Boethius 
  2. Augustine 
  3. Thomas Aquinas
  4. Anselm
  5. George Berkeley 
  6. Kierkegaard 
  7. Melebranche 
  8. Pascal 
*Orthodox defined as one who holds beliefs put forth by the historic creeds 

Ok, moving on.

The Problem of the One and Many 
In this chapter, Van Til attempts to work through the problem of the one and the many. He briefly outlines the problem. "The philosophers have sought for a unified outlook on human experience. Philosophers have sought for as comprehensive a picture of the nature of reality as a whole as man is able to attain. But the universe is composed of many things. Man's problem is to find unity in the midst of the plurality of things." I like how Heraclitus put it, when you put your foot in a river and take it out again, is it the same river the second time you put your foot in? 

This problem has plagued humanity since we started trying to categorize things. (Yes, it is why I struggle to keep my room clean. I have one room and many things and don't know how they ought to be unified together.)

Various philosophers have tried putting forwards answers. Some have said there is no unity, just diversity. Heraclitus said everything is in constant flux. Plato argued that somewhere out there there are a set of forms on which all things are based. Kant said we can't know reality in itself, hence don't worry about solving this problem. You can take your pick, and Van Til puts his on the list.

Another Distinction 
Quick to separate himself from the philosophers, Van Til makes a distinction between "the eternal One and Many" and the "temporal one and many." This important since the former is the trinity, residing in complete unity. On the other hand, God is also equally diverse. Neither the Father, Son or Holy Spirit are fundamental. "The Son and the Spirit are ontologically on a par with the Father."

The Temporal One and Many Concrete Universals 
With this distinction between the eternal one and many and the temporal one and many, Van Til focuses on the temporal one and many. The realm of temporal one and many (this world we created beings reside in) has equality among each other. There are no created ideas/facts that are more ontologically basic then others. The reason being, all are equally derived and equally dependent upon God. On the other hand, their relation to each other is one of a hierarchy. Certain laws like man's purpose is "higher" then the mechanical laws of this universe. These different laws are mutually dependent on each other. Though, Van Til doesn't explain how.

Why I Disagree with Van Til 
Honestly, Van Til doesn't solve the problem of the one and the many. I'm still confused on how having a trinity solves it. I think Van Til simply pushes the problem back to a horny dilemma of how can God be one and three? In fact, trying to use the trinity to solve a philosophical problem (the former being of faith and the latter of reason) opens a nasty can of worms for theologians. I admire Van Til for wanting to be theological in his philosophy, but I fail to see how he solves this philosophical problem. Rather, I think he makes it worse for theologians.

Faith and Reason - an Important Distinction to Hold 
Because he has brought a concept that is known by faith into the realm of reason, we now have muddled an important distinction between two forms of knowledge. Knowledge by faith and knowledge by reason. We know the problem of the one and many through reason. We know the existence of the trinity through faith. If you muddle this distinction you start going down the path of the late scholastics and later our friend Descartes. We've been there, let's not go back.

note: I'm not saying I'm against "faith seeking understanding" since understanding is different then reason. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Why World History can be Overwelming

What do world history teachers teach? Well, they teach all history except U.S. History. That includes: The Maya, The Aztecs, Islamic Empires, The Chinese Dynasties, Russia, North Africa, African Empires, East Africa, Mesopotamia, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the Reformation and Ancient Egypt. Note, I haven't mentioned topics like the World Wars, Cold War, Age of Revolutions, Age of Exploration, Rome, Greece, the Byzantine Empire, rise of Christendom and rise of Islam. These are also a part of World History. Oh don't forget key figures like Genghis Khan, Qin Shi Huangdi, Menelik, Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Peter the Great, Elizabeth I, Napoleon, Plato and Aristotle. Those are also a part of world history. Yes, you could spend the rest of your life studying just one of these topics. Furthermore, this just a sampling of what includes world history. World history is an overwhelming topic to teach. 

It's a lot of fun teaching world history because there are so many interesting events, people, places and ideas to explore. On the other hand, it's overwhelming to decide what to cut out. For instance, I never talked about ancient Egypt in my world history class this year. There simply wasn't enough time. What makes this more frustrating is that there is no universal method to figuring out what is "important" history and what is not. 

A great example of this is the responses of historians, writers and movie directors response to the following question "what is the most important day in history?" All their answers were different. The diversity of these responses shows that it's a hard task figuring out what is important in history and what is not. We can't even decide what is the most important. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Why I'm terrified of Finding Scripture Passages in Public

I need to tell you two stories. The first was when I was about 10 or so. During the yearly church meeting, the kids were placed in a room with some older teenagers to watch us. I remember that we played a "game" of who "Who can find that passage first?" The leader would tell us a passage of scripture. The one who found it first one. Let's just say I didn't even know the gospels are in the middle and Psalms and Proverbs were next to each other. (In this moment, I can't even remember which comes before the other.) I didn't get one passage. Oh how unholy I felt that evening.

The second story took place my senior year of high school. I was at a high school retreat sitting in on a workshop. To give some context, not only was I attending the conference i was one of the student leaders. Yes, I was also a senior. I distinctly remember the spot I was sitting in. I distinctly remember raising my hand saying I could find a passage in Malachi  Two minutes later, I asked "where is Malachi  I can't find it." What was worse was the guy sitting next to me was also a student leader. He couldn't find it either.

Because of these vivid memories, I have always been terrified of finding passages of scripture in public. Now that I'm in a class on the doctrine of worship, the professor often asks students to read/find passages of scripture. I have my computer, but I still struggle to remember, where is Malachi?