Archive for the ‘Brain Food’ Category

Having studied…how companies become great and how companies fall, I’ve concluded that there are more ways to fall than to become great.”

Jim Collins – How the Mighty Fall: and why some companies never give in.

Collins, well-known author of Good to Great, while wrestling with the data of companies who failed, was surprised to find it far more difficult to draw general conclusions about the failing companies than it had been for the good-t0-great companies.

This simple truth ought not surprise us, but does. What else should we expect in a poor, fallen world? We ought to be intrigued that things actually work as well as they do. It is a testament to God’s creative power (Rom 1) that sin, with all its destructive effects, cannot completely shatter His handiwork.

However, this business observation reflects a far deeper spiritual reality. There is only one narrow path that leads to life, and impossible it is to tread out that path on our own. But wide is the path and easy the way that leads to destruction.

There are more ways to fall than to become spiritually great (Christlike) simply because each of us has a vividly, actively sinful imagination that constantly leads us astray, while God has one, lone, simple plan.

Who, indeed, shall rescue us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.


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Having been a teacher for ten years before having a family of my own, you would think I would have learned something.

I should have known that there is “never a good time” to discipline my children. I was a teacher after all and it was “never the best time” to properly correct a student.

I should have known that I would look at my children with a completely bewildered what-were-you-thinking look. I am a teacher after all and have taught this student, and that one, and him, and her, and…

I should have known that my biggest problem as a husband and father would be me. I was a teacher after all and was all too selfish and sarcastic.

I should have known that God would do a whole lot of work in my family despite my mistakes. I was a teacher after all and saw too many situations when kids learned in spite of me.

I should have known that I would learn more by being a husband and dad than I would teach my family. I am a teacher after all and learn many of my best lessons from my students.

I should have known that jokes at the expense of others too often doesn’t feel like a joke to them. I was a teacher after all whose humor was often not very funny.

I should have known that my wife and children would quickly forgive. I am a teacher after all who was quickly forgiven by students.

I should have known how much it would hurt to see my kids hurt, or be hurt, or fail, or be left out. I was a teacher after all and talked with weeping parents.

I should have known that my best teaching would come when I least expected it. I am a teacher after all and have had too many God-sent opportunities outside of class.

I should have known how much being a husband and dad would drive me to my knees admitting my utter inability to do anything of eternal value. I am a teacher after all and observe God doing too many God-things in which I am just a bystander.

I should have known how much fun it was to live each moment with my children. I was a teacher after all who has had students who lived vibrantly and enthusiastically.

I should have known how eager I would be to see the next step of my children’s lives. I am a teacher after all who rejoices as his former students keep walking in truth.

I should have known the enormous power and sheer joy of words of encouragement and genuine praise. I am a teacher after all and have seen faces light up and confidence build.

I should have known how incredibly satisfying it is to give of myself for the growth of my children. I am a teacher after all and revel in the sanctification of my students and former students.

I should have known that I would learn so much from Jill. I was a teacher after all who was learned from numerous gifted teachers.

I should have known the exponential power of partnering with my wife. I am a teacher after all who co-labored with outstanding colleagues.

I should have known how necessary this partnership is. I am a teacher after all who has needed the wise perspective of fellow teachers.

I should have known that being a dad would be so thrilling and delightful and challenging. I am a teacher after all and God has blessed me with great students.

I am a teacher, and a dad, and a husband. And I would not change these for the world.

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Kevin Bauder is one of the more trenchant thinkers that fundamentalism has produced in recent years. Okay, I realize that it’s a pretty small pool and he has few companions, but the statement is still true. Let’s face it, anyone who headlines his blog in Greek and employs Rembrandt is either really pretentious or worth a second look.

This week he posted an excellent analysis of the problems and possibilities of Christian education. Here is an outline of his article and my favorite paragraphs.

Christian schools have declined in the past decade for 3 reasons:

  1. Christian schools have not typically produced a better academic product than public education.
  2. [T]hey do not generally produce a better quality of Christian.
  3. They consume a “massive amount of resources”.

So do Christian schools still have a place, and what should they be expected to contribute? The nature of the Christian faith helps here:

  1. Christianity is a text-based religion.
  2. Christians are responsible directly to God for, among other things, what they know of the Scriptures.

Therefore, Christianity “can thrive only where believers are skilled readers.”

Biblical Christianity survives only where people read skillfully. Necessarily, then, every Christian church has an interest in ensuring that its members are skilled readers. Unskilled adults, however, usually resist efforts to foster new intellectual skills. This leaves children and teens as the target constituency for fostering the proficiencies that are necessary in order to prepare skillful readers.

What are those skills? The ordinary reading and understanding of serious literature requires, at minimum, a mastery of the disciplines known as the Trivium. Grammar deals with the way that words are connected so as to constitute communicative units. Logic examines the relationship between ideas to determine whether one idea necessarily arises from or gives rise to others. Rhetoric structures communicative units so that the connections between them are readily followed and grasped. The Trivium ought to be the core of a Christian school curriculum.

Over the past hundred years public schools have de-emphasized literacy and skill in handling various literary genre. Unfortunately, Christian schools haven’t done much better, choosing instead to emphasize their own particular belief systems “rather than fostering excellence in those skills without which Christianity cannot survive.”

Christian schools do have a future and they ought to be perpetuated. They have no reason for existence, however, if they merely offer “less of the same” thing that students can get in public institutions. Christian education ought to be different. The difference should not lie in making every course a stale tract for Christianity. The difference ought to lie in the gravity with which Christian educators take their task and in the thoughtfulness that they foster in their students.

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A while back I read Eric Metaxas’s biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, and was both fascinated and confused. Metaxas writes extremely well, and his description of the daily events in Germany, particularly the German church, of the 1930’s and 40’s sheds light on things overshadowed by world events.

However, his silence and even whitewashing of Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodox theology left me quite puzzled. In the months since the publication of Bonhoeffer, numerous scholars also have weighed in on this, as Tim Challies notes in this column.

I ran across an interview that Metaxas gave in which he was asked about the controversy, and I found his answer to be a lengthy example of ‘begging (evading) the question.’

4) There has been some criticism that perhaps you paint Bonhoeffer as “too evangelical”. I thought this was unfair, that you had painstakingly given the whole of Bonhoeffer’s theology, even quoting lengthy excerpts. How do you respond to this criticism?

I find the criticism hilarious on the one hand, and tragic, on the other.  Bonhoeffer and any other serious Christian is less concerned with being an “evangelical” — whatever that really means — than with being a Christian, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.  One thing I have said over and over:  I never set out to paint any portrait of Bonhoeffer other than what I saw, for good or for ill.  That some seem to think that I have put some English on the ball seems to say more about their expectations than about the reality of his life.

Note how Metaxas 1. invokes personal feelings to point attention away from the real issue. 2. blurs the term ‘evangelical’. 3. conflates orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right conduct). It is possible for a person to do right, but believe wrong (Mtt. 7.21-23). 4. uses an ad hominem attack on critics rather than deal with the substantive charges.

The facts are what they are:  Bonhoeffer thought of the Bible as the living “Word of God” and prayed every day and pointedly criticized the regnant theological liberalism of his era (both in Berlin and at Union in New York) and called abortion “murder” and advocated a traditionally biblical view of sexuality and called for the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every realm in history and culture, and advocated obedience to God under all circumstances and spoke against mere “religion”…  so, yes, he tends to look pretty “evangelical.”  But that really is a label that is unhelpful when trying to understand him.   Bonhoeffer was a devout disciple of Jesus Christ.  That should suffice, I think.

What does Metaxas mean by “the living ‘Word of God'”? Particularly, what did it mean to Bonhoeffer? The charge is not that he was a liberal theologian, but that he was neo-orthodox in his beliefs. Note again Metaxas conflating orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Not that some ideologues on the left and right haven’t been annoyed, as you mention.  But they are annoyed at reality, not at my depiction of reality.

It all really is somehow funny, though.  It has to be noted that theologically liberal Bonhoeffer scholars have kept deadly quiet for decades, while chest-beating humanists like Christopher Hitchens and “Bishop” John Spong have claimed Bonhoeffer as one of their own.  But when  Bonhoeffer is portrayed as the robust and serious Christian that he was, they have howled with all their might and main and have practically scampered up palm trees to cast down their cocoa-nuts of bitter fury.  One wonders where their priorities lie.

Fussy theological conservatives, on the other hand, who have accepted this false theologically liberal view of Bonhoeffer, are another story, no less tragi-comic.  They bring to mind the guy on the beach with the metal detector and headphones, oblivious to the staggering beauty of the sand and sea and sky.   They seem bent on discovering any scrap of evidence that “proves” Bonhoeffer was neo-orthodox, and if not that, then something else unpalatable — anything!  I think even a cigarette butt in the sand would thrill them.  They sometimes seem to be worshiping an idol of theological purity.

But to have perspective on it all, we must remember that both types, left and right, have always been with us.  As a friend of mine once said:  ”They are like the children in the marketplace who say, ‘We played the pipe and you would not dance; we played a dirge and you would not mourn!’”   Quel domage [what a shame!].


Nowhere does Metaxas begin to deal directly with the question of Bonhoeffer’s theology, which was controversial while he was alive as well as in the ensuing years. Setting aside that specific issue, it is irresponsible for a biographer to avoid dealing with this specific point which is undeniably a substantial part of Bonhoeffer’s life story.

Metaxas’s book is well written, but flawed for the gaping hole at a crucial juncture.

His response here does, however, serve Christians well, for he highlights a necessary question: What defines an evangelical? Orthodoxy or orthopraxy?

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recent listens

An interesting series of snapshot biographies from the Revolutionary times. This is another book that was easier to listen to than to read. I’ve had two or three failed reading attempts in the past.

It is striking to be reminded how the men involved understood that they were creating significant history while in the fray. There are times when a person realizes that they are both active agents and pawns in a greater narrative. This book raises the perennial question about men making events or vice versa.

An interesting description of the work of the Secret Service. It details both the work and the difficulties of the work done by these courageous men and women. It also relates numerous behind-the-scenes stories of various Presidents and other high officials. I wondered, though, if the agents are sworn to secrecy, how accurate are the stories? I must also include this warning: ITPSS contains a fair bit of profane language and examples of crass behavior of various Presidents.


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that’s my boy

Gideon fell asleep ‘reading’ at the beginning of yesterday’s nap. I have many memories doing the same, but I hope it doesn’t hurt his eyesight like it did mine. (Did I mention that we had to spend $155 on glasses for me, after a $225 Groupon.)

Note the other books stacked up for further reading!

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animal farm

My brother, Andrew, read this in a college business class and has recommended it to me several times. I can see why. I listened to this while working this week, and it was riveting.

Whew, if Animal Farm doesn’t paint a picture of our times, I don’t know what does. This was supposed to be a metaphor for the Soviet Union, but it captures the United States really well. Squealer is a perfect representation of the typical White House press secretary. And blaming everything that goes wrong on Napoleon sounds eerily similar to all the whining that has gone on the past 2+ years.

Patrick Tull has a well-deserved reputation as a reader. This is 3 1/4 hours well spent.


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