The Travel and Leisure Gospel

Want to travel around the world, doing whatever you want, avoiding work and the commitments of life? What if I told you that you could do those things and still be totally spiritual about it. And not any new-age spirituality (well, maybe a little). You can actually claim that you are following God’s calling.

Here’s an article I found that claims all of that. What follows is my best attempt to show how bad it is. Warning: As I go on responding to the article, my sarcasm grows. I can’t help it.

I’m going to share the two types of freedom that i’m pursuing. I’m already free on the inside(see: The Gospel), but there are external freedoms that I believe God is calling me to, and I’m going to run after it with everything I’ve got.

This is probably all the warning that is needed for the article. The Gospel has been isolated to an internal change and freedom has been framed as the ability to act on one’s desires (well, as long as we believe “God is calling us”). The Gospel is everything, though. It grants freedom from sin and freedom to love God. This freedom was present for Paul, who sat in Roman prisons, and for Stephen who was stoned to death. Neither of them were concerned with their desires to go on exotic vacations.

What is location independence? It’s the freedom to go anywhere you want, whenever you want, for however long you want without having to ask anybody(except maybe your spouse).

This isn’t the sort of freedom that Christianity has ever taught. I have a family with children, and I have friends, family, church members, and customers who depend on me so that I can’t just take off whenever I want. Responsibility is not the opposite of freedom; it’s part of the same package. My commitments don’t take away my freedom as a result.

If you are so “free” that you can walk away from everything without impacting anyone, that’s more evidence that you are useless to those around you than that you have some sort of freedom.

If you can take your work with you anywhere in the world, then you are, simply put, location independent. This is my main priority at the time of writing this.

This bars you from being a doctor, a nurse, a construction worker, a plumber, an electrician, a farmer, a truck driver, a pilot, a factory worker, or any number of other jobs your presence is required for. Outside of technology, you don’t have a whole lot of opportunities here.

It’s important to keep in mind that adventure-seekers depend on the other 99% of people who work to keep toilets and lights working, research and apply medicine, extract the materials and food they consume, and operate the transportation they use. If even a measurable portion of society lived like this, it would be impossible. This sort of lifestyle depends on very few people taking it seriously.

It’s not even about not working. It’s about having options. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a “normal” job. If you enjoy it, keep doing it! But what would you do if you didn’t have to work? Maybe travel a lot. Maybe spend more time helping your church grow. Maybe raise your kids and be the biggest influence in their lives. Maybe join or start a nonprofit helping to make the world a better place. Or maybe you keep working because you enjoy it, and it gets even better when you choose to be rather than having to be there.

This is a totally postmodern view of work, and it is antithetical to Christianity. Earlier, the author of this article made a big deal about God’s “calling”. This is the meaning of the more historical “vocation”. But vocation doesn’t mean doing whatever you feel like doing and stamping God’s approval on it. Classically – as far back as the days of the Apostles and even before in Judaism – vocation was the work you did on behalf of others, for which payment was a symbol of the value you provided.

The author of this article is convinced that normal work is a necessary evil that we need to pursue to fuel our real desires. But even before sin entered the world in the garden, mankind was made for work. Our vocations are essential to our natures. Traveling around the world is a luxury resulting from our record-breaking wealth.

I have ideas of helping to set women and children free from sex slavery, giving orphaned children a home and a family, bringing the gospel to all corners of the Earth, saving the planet from environmental destruction, and so much more.

The author makes sure to include some pious things in the list of things he desires to do while globe-trotting. Else, it might sound selfish (a word that only appears once in an article that seems to be about nothing else, and which is immediately dismissed). The fact is, this guy knows nothing about sex trafficking, and travelling the globe is not how you stop it. As for “environmental destruction”, it’s ironic given his beliefs about this how much fuel he’ll be depending on.

There’s a lot I want to do with my life. And a lot of things are pretty much impossible if I’ve got to show up to my workplace in Grand Rapids every monday morning, ya know?

Showing up to work might be the vocation of virtually everyone else who has ever lived, but not for this guy. It’s just beneath his dreams of walking on the Great Wall and drinking coffee around the world. Oh, and stopping sex trafficking.

Maybe, as I travel across Thailand and work from my laptop in different cafes in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I’ll be able to build relationships with baristas. Maybe a connection can be established over a genuine love for coffee and in those relationships I can bring the gospel to them because I’M THERE.

Just like the Apostle Paul, establishing churches by drinking coffee and sometimes talking about the Gospel with baristas. I’m sure these isolated experiences will produce healthy bodies of believers. Can you imagine ending sex trafficking and being a missionary all by drinking coffee in a bunch of coffee shops? Can’t do those things in the United States though, because the pictures on social media wouldn’t attract as many followers.

Maybe I’ll spend a few weeks backpacking in the Himalayas for no other reason than I want to. Do you need a spiritual reason to go and experience a beautiful corner of the earth that God created so perfectly? I don’t think so. I think wanting to go somewhere just to go somewhere is totally valid. And I want to be able to act on that.

Even if he can’t find a possible excuse for God to be his reason for going somewhere, he’ll still cram God in. It’s all about God! This is selfless.

I think God is raising up a people who can wake up in the morning, ask God what he wants them to do, and then go do it.

I think it’s a bit presumptuous to think God is raising people up to avoid commitments and responsibilities. This sounds a lot more like people raising their selfishness up by adding references to God every few sentences.

 Spend less(because let’s be honest, we Americans live ridiculous lives)

The irony of a wealthy American thinking God is calling him to travel the globe every day while simultaneously criticizing the way Americans live is not lost on me as it is on the author.

So what does Jesus actually call us to?

Suffering: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

Self-denial: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

The world’s hatred: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”

The Case for Jesus

I am trying to replace my bad habit of watching YouTube videos on unimportant things with a better habit of watching lectures instead. One of my favorite so far is this presentation on the Case for Jesus by J.P. Moreland.

There’s nothing I can add, so I’ll just let him speak for himself:

Misconception Monday – Christians Shouldn’t Try To Make People Good

“Christians shouldn’t try and make people good; they should preach the Gospel.”

This is a declaration I’ve read many times in many forms, and since it’s the subject of today’s Misconception Monday, you might have already deduced my thoughts about it. Before I criticize the motivations people have for using it and some of the thinking behind it, I want to say that on the surface, I actually agree with it. Christians are commanded to make disciples, not merely people who don’t sin as much. The purpose of life, after all, is not to start doing more good things than bad things, but to know God. If this is the intended meaning of the expression, then it is a misleading way of saying a good and true thing. It’s the misleading elements and the motivations behind it that are worthy of some criticism.

There seem to be at least three reasons why Christians might try and encourage, incentivize, or impose morality on others. It’s important to realize that all legislation, executive action, and judicial decision-making is moral in nature. That means if it isn’t Christians imposing their morality on others, it’s someone else. I believe Christianity is true, so I have no problem with Christianity guiding this work. In fact, the founders of the United States and the progenitors of English Common Law all saw their work as reflective of Christianity.

The first reason has to do with society as a whole. If Christianity and God’s moral laws are true, it follows that the best way to order a society is to encourage obedience to those objective moral rules found in God’s moral law. While human beings break laws and do evil no matter what laws exist, the law is still a teacher and not just a reflection of culture. We should want to have the most perfect law in place to guide our society. It ought to result in better lives for everyone, just as acknowledging the laws of nature – like gravity – we are all forced to obey will result in less pain and suffering.

Secondly, it seems obvious that while none of us can please God except through Christ and that all of our own righteousness is worthless, it is still better not to sin and instead to do good. Doing evil makes our consciences less effective, insults the Image of God in each of us, and angers God. While the only way to truly know God is to come to Him by faith through Christ, it still seems right that it is better for those who have not accepted Him to do good instead of evil. Not just for the practical reasons identified above, but because sin really is bad, and it really is better not to do it, whether a person is a Christian or not.

Third, and maybe most importantly, has to do with Salvation itself. In order to become Christians, a man needs to repent of his sin. If he is convinced he hasn’t done anything wrong, then there is nothing to repent from. Living in a society governed by Christian virtue, however, means that he is confronted with his sin frequently (instead of ours, when many – even Christians – seem to actively discourage this confrontation). Additionally, if his own subjective understanding of right and wrong matches the objective standards found in God Himself, this is the best possible comparison he can have to demonstrate his need for Christ through repentance.

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit in the world is to convict the world of its sin. As Christians, why would we want to deliberately sabotage this effort? Why not seek to help? We can’t convict people in the same way as the Holy Spirit (and attempts to do it explicitly will probably have the opposite effect). But if we can help order our society in a way where the existence of sin is apparent to everyone, we certainly aren’t going to hurt anything. I’d argue we should actively try and do this. As I said previously, someone is going to impose their morality on everyone else. Why shouldn’t the laws we have come from the source of all objective morality in the first place?

Why would Christians oppose this? I think part of it is simple misunderstanding. There are Christians who think that pursuing a just and god-fearing society is a mutually exclusive goal to winning people to Christ because both require effort and the effort must be spent on either one or the other. This isn’t the case, however, and I’d argue that the two are complementary.

Another issue is one of character. Some Christians are lazy and hide behind the expression as a way to avoid doing work. Others are afraid of what might happen if they followed through.

Many Christians (and people in general) are sloppy thinkers. They don’t think about any of this stuff and just accept what is handed down to them from others whom they trust. This is inexcusable, but unfortunately common.

I think the most insidious reason is that many people who profess to be Christians actually despise Christianity. They hate God’s moral law and they completely embrace our culture’s anti-Christian standards. This happens often, and usually involves people in leadership positions. When I hear these sorts of people use the expression “Christians shouldn’t try to make good people; they should preach the Gospel”, I think it’s best to understand their meaning as “Stop making people feel bad and start telling them what they want to hear.”

If you are a Christian, you should know that if Christianity were all about telling people things that made them happy and comfortable, Christ wouldn’t have been crucified.

The Purpose of Fatherhood

My oldest when he wasn’t so old

“It is difficult for the father of a family not to regard as a personal enemy the author of a bad book that brings corruption into the hearts of his children.” -Louis de Bonald 

Less than two years ago, I met my oldest son for the first time. Since then, I’ve also met his younger brother and in the future, I hope to meet his younger brothers and sisters, however many of them there may be.

Until the day I was able to see my oldest son for the first time, I did not think myself ready for being a father. I was convinced that fatherhood was something that was years down the road (despite being in my mid-twenties). It quickly became obvious that a lot of this misconception was rooted in my own immaturity. It turns out that becoming a father forces an adolescent boy to become a man, and it illuminates the selfishness and childishness that were easy to hide before being forced to take care of every need and want of a helpless human being.

I say all of this as a preamble. I am not an “expert” in any meaningful sense about fatherhood when compared to men who have been fathers for twenty or thirty times longer than I have. It was only recently that I began to think about any of this stuff. Despite my lack of experience, I think I’ve discovered a few of the things that give fatherhood purpose.

First, fatherhood forces men to realize how selfish they are. This has already been mentioned, but I want to emphasize that this is a positive thing, and something for which it is difficult to think of an equally powerful substitute. Certainly the Apostle Paul, as he spoke of forgoing marriage and fatherhood to focus on God, had in mind that Christian men – whether they were married with children or not – would die to themselves and their own selfishness. And while there are unmarried or childless Christian men today who pursue this with success as God provides other methods, I can’t help but think that many men (of which I was one until recently) are more selfish than they know, and have no mirror to see it.

Second, fatherhood forces men to give up their selfishness to a degree. Knowing you are selfish is required to fixing the problem, but fatherhood goes further than conferring knowledge. Seeing your child sick or injured or hungry or frightened is enough to make you reorder your priorities, but it goes further than this. Until I had children, I went to work every day with the sensation that I was acquiring money so my wife and I could enjoy ourselves now and in the future. Once we started having children, my concern became with their well-being. It didn’t happen all at once, but within the past two years, I’ve started taking work much more seriously and have pursued side-work and overtime (things I hated in the past) just to find the extra money to provide for my children. Given the abysmal results of America’s public schools and the hellish indoctrination that flows down from the Department of Education, I want my children to attend private schools or be home-schooled. Fun careers doing hobbies part-time aren’t an option anymore.

Lastly – and maybe most importantly – fathers shoulder the innumerable horrors of the world so that their children can have innocent wonder and, by having wonder, come to know God. War, disease, natural disaster, human evil, demonic forces, and sin abound in a world which children enter with a certain innocence that they lose as they get older. All people – children included – are part of a fallen race, but children begin untainted by the extreme evil outside of themselves. This is what we mean when we talk about “losing one’s innocence”. It isn’t that someone suddenly begins to do wrong (my toddler can be a master at selfishness and disobedience, especially when tired). It’s that children naturally have an innocent wonder at the world around them. They see things without the taint of the rest of the world corrupting their thoughts and tempting them. They are civilians who eventually need to enter spiritual combat, but who are not ready to do so.

The world hates children. It destroys them through abortion, it corrupts them through media and increasingly through public education, and it tries to break apart families through divorce. At root, it seems clear that the world hates children because children are innocent, and it causes even those with dead consciences to feel guilt and shame to see an innocent child.

As a father, it is my job to shield my children from the world. I know that someday they’ll be old enough to teach and to train, and eventually even to go out into the world on their own. But until that day actually comes, I want them to be able to have innocent awe and wonder at the good things in the world, and by through this, know that this world has a good and awesome God intuitively.

All of these things combine to form one cohesive whole: Fatherhood is sacred. It is God’s method to conform fathers to the likeness of Christ as they, to their own children, act as stewards of His own divine fatherhood. The relationship – not exclusively, but uniquely – makes Christians out of men and makes God real to their children.

These are my thoughts on fatherhood’s purposes, at least.

American Vices

They say you can tell a lot about a person by seeing what he loves. I think you can tell a lot by what a person hates, too. And not the sort of obvious denunciation-laden hatred that you see at Westboro Baptist “Church” protests. The hatred I’m speaking of is a silent contempt so ingrained in the people who hold it that they don’t consciously think about it.

For instance, American Christians often hold contempt for ritual and tradition. Sometimes this is expressed outwardly, but often it can be seen more clearly in other ways. For example, churches often consider it “progress” to substitute hymns for more modern forms of music, regardless of the quality of content or form that the music takes. While you might overhear people whisper their contempt for those curmudgeons who stand in the way of progress, you’ll often just see it in the shallow theology of the members. Hymns are a very efficient way of sowing theological truths into congregants, and this is lost when they are replaced.

One particular example comes to mind above all others though: wearing formal clothing to church. Putting aside the obviously contemptible reasons to wear a suit and tie when going to church (to appear better than others, to show off, to imagine oneself as more spiritual for doing so), there aren’t too many good reasons to avoid dressing one’s best when attending church.

It is good to dress and look one’s best when attending a funeral, a wedding, or a job interview. You want to give a good impression, but you also have some reverence of the event (at least in the first two scenarios). You know in the back of your mind that these are important things, and you should act importantly, no matter what you feel. But Americans love what the deem authenticity – that situation where you do or say whatever you like without reservation. So when it comes to church, many American Christians think it is actually wrong to dress well. They won’t often say this verbatim (although I’ve heard it). Instead, they’ll treat it as a spiritual accomplishment to no longer be concerned with their own appearance.

For instance, you might hear something like: “I learned it didn’t matter if I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans or a suit. It’s not about the outward appearance, but about the heart.”

On the face of it, who could argue? Of course the clothing we wear doesn’t have a salutary effect on us. Of course the health of our souls is not dictated by our clothing selection. But there is a silent contempt here veiled in spiritual language. For instance, consider this: “I learned it didn’t matter if I told my children that I loved them or not. It’s not about the outward appearance, but about the heart”.

“Aha”, I hear you say. “That’s different. If you love your children, you’ll tell them. The inward has an effect on the outward.” To which I can only agree, and by agreeing, prove my own point. The clothing we wear reflects the seriousness of organized worship.

Someone told me – and I think he was serious – that it was impossible to really know what was meant by “dressing one’s best”. What qualified as “best”? The Sun King of France had something very different in mind than Charles Spurgeon, for instance. But the fact of the matter is that everyone has an idea of what is best in their particular context, else we couldn’t even talk about it. What is “best” might have some subjective variability, but what is “best” is still a superlative, and we can’t make any comparisons without it. If it is better to wear a suit and tie (if you have the means) than to wear underwear alone, the existence of the superlative is already implied.

At the end of the day, it is wiser to dress your best than to argue that it doesn’t matter what you wear. And it is wiser to know what you secretly despise than to find out by having it challenged by someone who doesn’t make the same assumptions about the world as you.

This could easily dovetail into the objective nature of beauty, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

Misconception Monday – Forgiving the Unrepentant

Misconception Monday on a Tuesday? Blasphemy! It’s my own fault for having written the whole outline to an article yesterday morning but failing to remember it was just an outline after all, and not a full post, so that when I went to publish it last night, I was disappointed. Since I had the day off yesterday anyway, today is basically Monday. Choose for yourself which of those excuses you find more forceful.

Today, I want to look at forgiveness. And fittingly, a misconception about it. I’ve never written an article in the form of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, but this whole topic works very well with the format. (If you are unfamiliar with it and have trouble following it, here’s a primer.)

Can we grant full forgiveness to someone who doesn’t repent?

Objection 1. It seems that we can forgive without demanding repentance, because people do it all the time. It is seen as a righteous act.

Objection 2. You need to be able to forgive those who you can’t see again (e.g. who are dead), so we must be able to forgive without demanding repentance.

Objection 3. Forgiveness helps the person wronged so they don’t hold a grudge, so it seems we should forgive even without repentance.

Objection 4. Jesus Himself says “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” So it seems we ought to forgive even without repentance.

On the contrary, God Himself demands repentance as a prerequisite for granting His forgiveness. “Unless you repent, you too will perish” (Luke 13:3)

I answer that there are multiple kinds of forgiveness. The sort of forgiveness which grants full restoration is called exoneration. This kind of forgiveness requires repentance. It simply cannot occur without both parties being fully involved, because it is a restoration of a relationship. A relationship cannot be restored if one party is unwilling to acknowledge a breach. At best, a relationship of this sort could be abusive.

It is also possible to ignore small offenses and especially those done unintentionally. A person can also have a forgiving attitude, such that at the moment of genuine repentance from the offending party, they are quick to genuinely forgive. This is how Christians ought to live. Dr. Stephen Marmer has a short presentation on Dennis Prager’s PragerU site that describes an approach consistent with ancient Judaism which breaks forgiveness into three types.

Since hatred can damage one’s own soul if directed at others (who are made in God’s image and thus His reflection), it is good to fight the temptation to hate those who do wrong to us. When evil is done to us, we deserve (through justice) some sort of restitution. However, giving up this demand and releasing the person who has wronged us from the responsibility of providing restitution can help us move past the wrong.

Reply to Objection 1. People who say they forgive those who don’t repent can’t possibly mean full forgiveness, but a lesser kind. They demonstrate a forgiving attitude, which is indeed righteous, and they are well-prepared to act rightly if repentance ever occurs. This is a way of loving one’s enemy, which is itself a righteous act.

Reply to Objection 2. The lesser sorts of forgiveness can be given to those who can’t receive full forgiveness (e.g. who are dead). Even if the person can never repent, they can be released of their duty to provide restitution and we can fight the urge to remember them with hatred.

Reply to Objection 3. Lesser forms of forgiveness and having a charitable attitude take the burden away from those who are wronged, even without repentance. But they aren’t full forgiveness. As has been discussed several times already in this article, there are many ways for the person wronged to avoid any further damage even if the other party refuses to repent.

Reply to Objection 4. Jesus also teaches that ““If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Clearly, he can’t mean both things at the same time in the same way, since they contradict. Jesus in His teaching is perfectly consistent: full forgiveness requires repentance, because full forgiveness is restoration. Without repentance, restoration is one-sided and incomplete. Jesus on the cross isn’t giving a thorough lesson in how forgiveness and repentance works. He’s demonstrating His love for a fallen world and those who don’t realize the gravity of what they’ve done. He demonstrates His love, not a process for forgiveness that trumps His far more thorough teaching during His ministry.

We are reassured of this because His apostles don’t transform this declaration of love into a new teaching on forgiveness. For the rest of their writing in the New Testament, they always make repentance a prerequisite for forgiveness. If we took His declaration on the cross as His standard for forgiveness, we are left with some massive theological problems. We must deliberately disobey Him in regard to forgiveness and we must set ourselves up as more forgiving than God Himself, who does require repentance. In matters where we aren’t completely sure of one interpretation or another, it’s always best to err on the side of some small confusion than on the side of total exegetical chaos. Life is messy; we ought not make it incomprehensible from our efforts at cleaning up the mess.

See this article by Wintery Knight for more information. And go follow his blog!