Dr. Mark Olson recently sat down with me to discuss seminary and its challenges and opportunities. Dr. Olson is the President of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies (www.leland.edu). Dr. Olson obtained his M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.
Gayle Trotter is a practicing lawyer in the Washington, D.C. area. She began blogging in January 2010. Gayle enjoys reading and discussing weighty topics with friends. She hopes her posts will generate lively conversations revolving around her chosen topics.RSS feed for this author
Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen recently asked the HBS class of 2010, and the readers of the Harvard Business Review, “How will you measure your life?” (Tagline from the print edition: “Don’t reserve your best business thinking for your career.”)
We all have different ways of measuring our lives and the lives of those around us, for better and for worse. For some, this quest for meaning centers on the pursuit of happiness, while for others it might mean perfecting their bodies in search of fame and fortune. I prefer a virtual sixty-foot sailboat.
To this variety of approaches, Christensen adds his own life experiences and professional expertise. In his HBS classes, Christensen focuses on teaching models of effective business management theory and how the theory is built. After the students learn the model, they have an analytical framework rather than a set of bottom-line answers. In other words, they learn how to think, not what to think. Christensen uses this same approach when he counsels major corporations and their CEOs on how to analyze the challenges their businesses face.
On the last session of his HBS class, Christensen asks his students to turn their newly developed analytical skills back on themselves and answer three crucial questions, using his own life as a case study for evaluating the questions as they begin their careers.
A neighbor kindly introduced me to another neighbor I had not yet met. After hearing where I live, the new neighbor said to me, “Oh, you’re in the house with the gaggle of kids.” As she said this, she rolled her eyes and made a face as though she smelled something unpleasant.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, a typical U.S. woman can expect to have 2.09 kids. In northwest DC, where I live, most families seem to be small, so it is not hard to become the “house with the gaggle of kids.”
Unlike Humanae Vitae for Catholics, evangelicals generally do not have a religious command or theology regarding the use of birth control. The Rev. Al Mohler has posited an evangelical position of “openness to children” while allowing the use of non-abortifacient birth control for family planning. Many evangelicals are reconsidering this issue. One serious evangelical I know had his vasectomy reversed after reading Theology of the Body.
Religious and non-religious people alike perceive that children are a huge sacrifice. Many years ago as an associate in a large law firm, I enjoyed a Saturday afternoon with a group of young lawyers sailing on a senior partner’s boat. When I complimented his sailboat, he wistfully lamented, no more than half joking, “Every child takes ten feet off your sailboat.”
In his WSJ article, economics Professor Bryan Caplan outlines the case for having more children, arguing that “Parents’ sacrifice is much smaller than it looks, and much larger than it has to be.”
HBO tells us “You Don’t Know Jack,” referring to Jack Kevorkian, played by Al Pacino in HBO’s recent movie of the same name, or as some might call it, a hagiography of Dr. Death. Kevorkian came to notoriety in the 1990’s as a leading advocate of assisted suicide for the terminally and chronically ill. Eventually convicted of second degree murder, Kevorkian was due for a retrospective of his life’s “work” by his admirers.
Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, detailed some of Kevorkian’s gruesome history, including his attempts to gain access to death row prisoners’ executions, harvesting one of his assisted suicide’s kidneys and offering them to willing takers on a first come, first served basis, and infusing a man with cadaver blood and thereby giving him hepatitis. Jack Kevorkian sought to decode the “mystery of death” through experimentation on living human persons at the moment of death. Smith makes a persuasive case that Kevorkian’s crusade for legalizing assisted suicide was merely a means to an end of being able to conduct experiments on dying patients. Kevorkian’s own impure motives animated his philosophy of death. (more…)
Peggy Noonan believes she has figured out how to save the Catholic Church from the effects of the recent child sexual abuse scandals. She advocates a three-part “reform” agenda to “turn the Church around.” First, Noonan reiterates her longstanding position that the Church needs to retire Cardinal Bernard Law, who headed the Boston archdiocese when it became the scandal’s focus. Second, she suggests that the Church should promote younger nuns and priests to positions of authority in the Catholic hierarchy. Third, she says, “most especially and most immediately, they need to elevate women.”
There is no doubt about Noonan’s desire to see the Church flourish. She acknowledges that “the verities it speaks of and stands for are timeless and transcendent.” She wrote a laudatory book about Pope John Paul II.
Unlike Maureen Dowd, Noonan does not expressly advocate putting a nun in the Papacy (Nope for Pope). Instead, Noonan demands the immediate elevation of women to unspecified positions of authority in the Church.
The question of women’s role in Christ’s church is not a new one. Especially in recent decades, Christians everywhere have struggled to define women’s role in the Church in light of (or in contrast to) women’s changing role in society. Baptists, for example, espouse the priesthood of all believers, including men and women. From that notion, one might logically find no theological objection to women serving in the ministry or leading churches. Many Baptists, however, believe that “pastoral leadership is assigned to men,” meaning that women should not serve as pastors. For support, they point to Paul’s statements that women should remain silent in church and should not teach or have authority over a man. They consider these universal proscriptions, in contrast to Paul’s injunctions for women to refrain from wearing gold and to keep their heads covered when praying. These latter pronouncements are somehow contextually bound and culturally contingent.
My oldest child just turned thirteen. In honor of that occasion, here is my top ten list of parenting books.
1. The Bible
If you could have only one book for parenting, you would want a Bible. To start, it is a great bedtime story book. The stories are vivid, dramatic, romantic, supernatural, heroic, terrifying, gentle, compelling, and inspiring. As a moral instructor, the Bible is unparalled. Beginning with the Ten Commandments, the Bible sets out the rules to live by, and demonstrates the consequences when we do not follow the rules. Beyond specific prohibitions, the Bible gives affirmative commands, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the Golden Rule. We teach our children to remember these rules to guide their choices, big and small. But the reason the Bible tops my list of parenting books is its lessons for overcoming failure. The story of David’s repentance after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his arrangement for the death of her husband, and the story of the Prodigal Son’s return home after he spent his inheritance on wild living, both show how we are to act after we make mistakes. Instead of compounding our errors or giving up in despair, we can take steps to acknowledge our errors and make restitution. Finally, the story of Adam and Eve and their perfect Father encourages me by showing that, even if I were a perfect parent, my children would still make bad choices.
What is the best thing I can do for my kids? Is it buying them the right clothes, reading them the right books, sending them to the right schools, or involving them in the right activities? No, the best thing I can do for my kids is provide a safe and secure nest in which they will grow, learn, and be nurtured. My husband and I create this safe and secure nest by having a loving, sacrificial marriage. “Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling,” C. S. Lewis convincingly wrote, “It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God.” Thomas provides inspiration for a stronger marriage through stories of real marriages, like that of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. He describes the Lincolns’ difficult marriage and argues that Abraham Lincoln’s commitment to the Union was similar to his commitment to his marriage. Reviews for this book claim it is the best marriage book ever written, life-changing, and earth shattering. I agree.
In an anything-but-apologetic apologia, Mary Eberstadt challenges the many spokesmen (and they are almost all men) for the New Atheism in her satire, The Loser Letters. Reminiscent of Ted Turner’s infamous comment that Christianity is a religion for losers, the Loser in this book is God.
The intimidatingly intelligent Eberstadt has established herself as an incisive writer who engages explosive and controversial topics. She critiqued the practice of administering strong drugs to schoolchildren in an effort to promote better school performance in Why Ritalin Rules and extended her treatment of the topic in her book, Home Alone America.
She has exposed the effects of the sexual revolution and has chronicled developments from Anglican acceptance of contraception at the Lambeth Conference in 1930 to the denomination’s current warfare over homosexuality. She presents a uniquely perceptive view of pop culture with arresting titles such as Is Food the New Sex? and Eminem Is Right. She makes frequent, and provocative, contributions to the Wall Street Journal, Policy Review, Commentary, and First Things.
In response to the question, “What were they thinking?” Christopher Buckley argues that the same substance propelling the success of men such as John Edwards, Mark Sanford, and Tiger Woods also detonates their spectacular flame-outs. “The very drive that propels these people to reach the top of their fields,” Buckley observes, “is accompanied by high levels of testosterone.” This surplus of testosterone, he claims, stays with these men once they have achieved success, and “it spills over, often with unfortunate, or even calamitous, effect.”
Buckley admits that he is no tower of virtue himself, but he notes in his defense that he has never run for public office. Having appealed to a universally acknowledged standard of behavior, Buckley cites not running for public office as his “special reason in this particular case” why “what he has been doing does not really go against the standard or that if it does, there is some sort of special excuse,” as C.S. Lewis described. For Buckley, being a humorist instead of a politician is some sort of special excuse.
Men with a superabundance of testosterone demonstrate a drive toward dominance or “killer instinct” that helps them reach the top of their professions. As an unhappy corollary, however, this competitiveness and need to lead can imperil their marriages. They are also prone to riskier and less healthy behavior.
These men “simply don’t get it,” according to Buckley. He asks, “why do politicians again and again and again — and again seem to think they are going to get away with it?”
Yet why do any of us think that we can get away with it? The issue of “what were they thinking” encompasses more than sexual misdeeds, Americans, or politicians. Recently, Margot Kassman, the head of the German Lutherans (overseeing 25 million Lutherans) resigned from her post after her arrest for running a red light while loaded with five times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood.
While our mistakes vary in type and degree, they all share a common theme: we know there is a standard, and we fail to measure up. What we do with this realization ultimately controls how we live our lives.
“the slaughter of other ‘tribes,’ the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual ‘deviants’ and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of ‘deicide,’ the absurdity of ‘Limbo,’ the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice.”
But how does he determine that these actions are immoral?
Buckley’s argument belies a personal hope to find an easy answer. If testosterone is the cause, personal responsibility wanes and there may be a pharmacological solution to these flames-outs. As George Will said of behavior and causation:
“It is scientifically sensible to say that all behavior is in some sense caused. But a society that thinks scientific determinism renders personal responsibility a chimera must consider it absurd not only to condemn depravity but also to praise nobility. Such moral derangement can flow from exaggerated notions of what science teaches, or can teach, about the biological and environmental roots of behavior.”
Or, as Lewis said, if the human idea of decent behavior was not obvious to every one, then “all the things we said about [World War II] were nonsense”:
“What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced! If they had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed them for that than for the color of their hair.”
If Buckley is correct that testosterone is to blame, then there can be no praise of good behavior and no condemnation of bad behavior. In the core of our beings, we know this is not true and we do not act this way, except when we try to find excuses for our own behavior. This problem needs a solution.
Many of us believe the solution happened two thousand years ago.
What’s up with all of the recent headlines about married men behaving badly? First, John Edwards became a baby daddy to Rielle Hunter. Then Mark Sanford hiked the Appalachian Trail, via Argentina, and his wife detailed her travails in a book entitled Staying True. But the (so to speak) mother of all men behaving badly is Tiger Woods.
A man known for his grace under pressure, perfect golf stroke, and enviable family life, Tiger admitted, after he was linked to at least ten women, that he was “unfaithful,” “had affairs,” and “cheated.” In fact, so many women were willing to throw themselves at Tiger that Howard Stern has enough contestants to host a beauty pageant for Tiger’s many mistresses.
What lesson can we draw from the public media flogging of these three men?
Each had created a carefully crafted public image in furtherance of his personal ambitions, two in government and one in sports and the public endorsement realm. Why the overwhelming fascination with these three men and their affairs?
While our culture says “Just do it!” and encourages indulging your fantasies, dreams, and sexual appetites at every opportunity, news media find millions of ready eyeballs eager to gawk at spectacular flame-outs in which celebrities burn themselves with self-destructive behavior. Traditional boundaries of marriage and human relationships may be on the verge of a quantum shift. By some lights, Christian proponents of traditional marriage themselves experience a divorce rate that is nearly identical to that of non-Christians.
So why the almost obsessive fascination with Edwards, Sanford, and Woods?
Easily, Sanford’s behavior stands out because he became yet another poster boy for the hypocrisy of the religious right. Republican politicians who rely on their winsome, happy-family appearance to gain credibility with voters while throwing traditional-morality bombs are hoist on their own petard when their own extramarital misadventures explode into public view. The fascination with Sanford results from his blatant hypocrisy, the ridiculous stories he created to hide his affairs, and the colorful language revealed in the emails to his lover. We could say that he is being strung up for being a hypocrite and not actually for his sexual conduct.
Edwards captured the public imagination in part because of the political heights he attempted to scale and the limitless promises he was willing to make toward that effort. Another reason the story touched people was the level of devotion and deception of those around him who enabled and protected his affair. Yet the most compelling aspect of the Edwards story is the betrayal of his wife who was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of his affair. Upon hearing her husband’s confession of the affair, Elizabeth Edwards understandably cried, screamed and threw up.
If Sanford’s story was about hypocrisy, and Edwards’s story was about betrayal, what part of Tiger’s story made it so tantalizing? While no one would claim that Edwards or Sanford were cultural deities, Charles Pierce argued in GQ that Tiger was sports’ next messiah. Professional sports is big business, including about 800 organizations with combined annual revenue of over $16 billion. Tiger’s phenomenal athletic prowess made him into a cultural deity.
In their recent bestseller, Superfreakonimics, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner note, “Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free.” But what about men who have enough fame that the fame itself buys them all the sex they could possibly want?
Writing as a then lifelong bachelor, before his eventual marriage to Joy Davidman, C. S. Lewis observed that the male sexual appetite is in “ludicrous and preposterous excess” of its procreative function, theorizing that, “if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village.” If anything, “small village” might have been an understatement.
Some might argue that current American sexual morality gives Tiger a carte blanche for his sexual adventures. Lewis countered the notion that different civilizations and different ages have had fundamentally different moralities. “There have been differences between their moralities,” Lewis concedes, “but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. Selfishness has never been admired.” He continued: “Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked” — even if you are the best golfer on the planet.
The Tiger Woods story resonates with us and makes us uncomfortable due to two elements of the story. The first element is our satisfaction to see that even our cultural deities have clay feet and are subject to the law of human nature. Second, we uncomfortably remember that we too are subject to this law.
“Human beings all over the earth have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it,” Lewis argued. And yet, people do not in fact behave the way they ought. People know the law of nature, and they break it. “These two facts,” Lewis claimed, “are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”
As Paul lamented 1,900 years before Lewis, “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” This part of Tiger’s story make us all squirm in our seats because we remember that we too are subject to the law of human nature: If Tiger Woods, despite near-perfect mental and physical control on the golf course, cannot control his desires, how can we?
The Just Do It philosophy — surrender to all our desires — “obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humour, and frankness,” as Lewis noted. Long before Tiger’s devastating plunge, Lewis pointed out that we have to control our nature, our natural desires — “unless you are going to ruin your whole life.”
At the end of Tiger’s public confession and apology, he made an earnest plea for us to “believe” in him again. Yet, if anything, his story demonstrates the fallacy of hero worship and points to the need instead to believe in an eternal truth; truer than a perfect golf stroke, truer than a seemingly flawless public persona, and truer than our belief that we can satisfactorily regulate our own behavior.
“I don’t believe in the Trinity,” my friend said. She and I were discussing the Christian doctrine that holds that one God subsists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Despite being a Christian believer, she rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. I was surprised and concerned that she rejected what I believed to be a cornerstone doctrine.
Wondering about her Trinitarian unbelief, I determined to delve into this “problem which has long vexed the Church, and which even now has not been solved to the satisfaction of all who bear the Christian name,” according to Yale historian Kenneth Latourette.
“Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map,” C. S. Lewis observed. He compared God to the Atlantic Ocean and theology to a map of the Atlantic Ocean. The map is not the Atlantic Ocean any more than theology is God, but the map is necessary if we want to go anywhere. Lewis argued that theology is practical, yet “bound to be difficult, at least as difficult as modern Physics.” We can expect theology to be difficult and complex, yet necessary if we hope to go anywhere with our faith.
As my friend rightly noted, the Bible nowhere contains the word “Trinity.” An easy response, though, is that many bedrock Christian doctrines are given names that are not found in the Bible, such as “monotheism,” “incarnation,” or “divinity.” For that matter, the entire Book of Esther does not contain the word “God.”
But my friend’s objection hinted at a deeper question. How did the church discern the doctrine of the Trinity?