A Waste of Time?

I often just scan the foreword and other such preamble in books. Every so often, however, in my eye catches something. In this case it was George Barna’s foreword to Carson Pue’s Mentoring Leaders.[1]

In the Foreword, Barna writes, “There are three critical elements that make a book appealing to me…the messenger must be trustworthy…the message must be trustworthy…[and] the message must be helpful to the reader” (p. 9). At first glance it seemed reasonable, but as I reflected on it I began to question it.

On the first point,”the messenger must be trustworthy,” I have little to quibble with. After all, if I see a pharmacist reaching for a book on pharmacopoeia by Snake-oil Huckster Bob, I might be inclined to go somewhere else to get medication advice. Even here I must say that some shadow of doubt crosses my mind. On what basis do I determine the trustworthiness of the author?

On the second point, “the message must be trustworthy,” more questions are raised. Certainly if I am going to recommend a book to someone I want to be confident in the veracity of the message inked on the pages.  Barna, however, makes a statement here that makes me a little uncomfortable. “The information must fit the known facts” (p. 9).

I do agree with his premise in terms of the more obvious things. After all, I am unlikely to consider a message trustworthy if it suggests that the secret to long life is skydiving without a parachute. To be a little more esoteric, however, I am post modern enough to question the overarching validity of the statement.

I’ll keep my question here to the more obvious, how do I know what the “facts” are. Understand that I am concerned here with the epistemological question not the ontological question of truth. In other words, the question of how do I know, not is there something to know.

If I merely read that which reinforces what I already “know,” will I learn anything new?

 

On the third point, “the message must be helpful to the reader,” Barna adds,

Time is too short to waste on useless information or inapplicable theories. The message should therefore be timely, practical, and beneficial (p 9).

My artsy, non-utilitarian, “it isn’t just about function,” right brain leaning, moderately post modern brain starts spewing smoke and gears on this one. Would a painting be painted in a world that thought this way? What symphonies written or performed? While Barna was writing about selecting books to read, it reflects an attitude of modernity that troubles me (this may or may not reflect Barna’s philosophy in all matters).

Allowing me to put on my pastoral hat for a moment, with such an approach, would be ever read the Psalms, or–gasp–the Song of Solomon? Is there any room left for what we do not know? Is there any room left for experiencing that which has no timely, practical benefit, like a flower beside the path?

Did God create creation to be “timely, practical and beneficial”?

 


[1] Pue, Carson. Mentoring Leaders. Baker Books, 2005.

Beauty and Goodness

The topic of the theology of beauty came up in a recent conversation. I never did explain my theological understanding of beauty and I am not going to here, at least not today. I realized that there was another question I needed to grapple with first.

 

Since God created creation and said “it is good,” do I not place myself as judge over God if I judge what is good and what is not? Who am I to presume to judge God?

 

Consider the narrative of the temptation in the garden Genesis.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5, esv). 

 

God said not to eat of a particular tree, yet we read in the next verse, 

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Gen. 3:6, esv).

 

Did Eve judge what was good? Did Eve place herself in the position of judging God? God said no, but she judged the fruit to be good to eat.

 

If God is creator of all, then is He not the creator and definer of what is good and beautiful? Can we as created humans judge the beauty of the creative work of God? Is this not the same problem as in the garden?

 

So how do we recognize beauty? What is beauty? I’ll come back to this in a second post (maybe more). For now I will suggest that beauty can be understood, at least in part, in harmony with God’s intent for creation. More specifically, in submitting to God’s judgment of what is good.

Four Years And Then What?

For those of you who thought I had fallen off the end of the earth, I haven’t found the end of the earth yet. Uhmm…maybe the earth is round 😉

 

Today was my last day in class. While there is still research to do, papers to write and other such requirements, the bulk of my Master of Divinity degree is completed. It’s bitter sweet. I love the intellectual wrangling of academics. What I will miss most is the opportunity to squeeze as much out of my profs as possible. I have had the opportunity to study under some remarkable people who have challenged me deeply and encouraged me. I owe them all a debt of gratitude that tuition doesn’t even begin to pay.

My last class was on the Psalms.  Dr. Eric Ortlund (see his blog – Scatterings) led us on a week long marathon of reading, considering and teaching on the Psalms. Perhaps in the near future I will comment on the Psalms further, but tonight my head hurts. For now suffice to say that I am increasingly convinced of the singularity of the Old and New Testaments. How impoverished our lives are when we read one with out the other. Yes it can be hard to make sense out of some passages. Certainly, some grate against our sensibilities. Yet when we consider the totality of redemption history, creation history really, there is a unified cry for shalom, peace and wholeness. Such is the Psalmist’s heart.