Friday, December 29, 2006

Reflections on the State of Academic Theology in the UK

I was pleased to come across the blog of John and Caroline Brand of Scotland, this afternoon. The Brands work with AIM International, John serving as the European Director. They are kindred spirits concerned with keeping intellectual rigor and edifying ministry together as opposed to the oft-encountered tendency to portray the two as necessarily being in conflict with each other.

John linked to an article by Dr. Oliver Barclay, former General Secretary of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, called "Where is Academic Theology Heading?" in which he inquires how adequately theology programs equip people for ministry in the church and concludes that it's not doing well. While written from the perspective of theological education in the UK, much of what he writes has application for the American context as well such as the following:
We have to ask if the debates that interest the world of academic theology are, in fact, the ones that many people outside the universities care about. Few university departments are able to help students to face the postmodern and relativistic fashions of today, the secular challenges to Christianity, or the real ethical problems that confront the local churches. You could ask someone what help his course has given him in talking to the sceptical thinkers of today, or in in ministering to the bereaved or dying. They come out of university in a situation a little like that of the medical student who complained that, while he had seen three coronary by-pass operations, which seemed largely irrelevant to being a GP, he had never been shown a patient with asthma.
By the way, the folks at UCCF are also responsible for, an excellent apologetic resource site. Good things are happening on the other side of the Atlantic!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Seminary Training for Your MP3 Player (Well, Actually, for You)

Bryan Chapell's class on preaching is the latest addition to's impressive (and free!) collection of evangelical teaching.

A few of the other courses available in their Leadership Education category :

John Piper - Pastoral Theology
Robert Stein - Biblical Hermeneutics
Gary Parrett - Educational Ministry of the Church
Bruce Ware - Systematic Theology
Timothy Tennent - Introduction to Islam
Ronald Nash - Christian Ethics, Advanced Worldview Analysis, History of Philosophy and Christian Thought

The old adage "You get what you pay for" certainly doesn't apply here.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Wonder of the Incarnation

He so loved us that, for our sake,
He was made man in time,
although through him all times were made.
He was made man, who made man.
He was created of a mother whom he created.
He was carried by hands that he formed.
He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, he the Word,
without whom all human eloquence is mute. -
Augustine, Sermon 188, 2

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Redeeming Conversation

Given the choice between a lectern (or even a really sturdy music stand) in a classroom and a pulpit in a sanctuary, I'll take the lectern every time. I'll also opt for the one-on-one ministry of the Word over sermonizing, too. I'm haunted by a comment made by one of my seminary professors years ago. "Consider," he counseled us, "where else during the week the people you're preaching to have had to sit for thirty minutes listening to someone talk." That was in the late '80's. Almost twenty years later, it's no more likely that those listening to sermons on Sunday morning are any more practiced to giving sustained attention to monologues throughout their week and attention spans certainly aren't any longer now than they were then.

For the last fourteen years I've served in an associate pastor role that has allowed me to concentrate on teaching in the contexts of adult education and one on one discipleship with minimal responsibilities in the area of preaching. I don't mean to disparage preaching at all. I recognize its importance and am grateful for those who devote themselves to it. In fact, I'm an auditory learner who enjoys listening to sermons and lectures. It's just that when I'm on the giving end, I prefer the dialogical nature of teaching. I like being able to stop and ask "Am I making sense?" or having someone stop me to ask a question. I realize that in part my reservations about preaching are due to my own shortcomings such as my prideful worry that I'm boring my hearers and my unbelief that the Holy Spirit will use the words he inspired (despite my inadequacies) to accomplish his gracious purposes through biblically-grounded preaching. Nevertheless, the fact remains that I still prefer speaking with people as opposed to merely speaking to them.

In his A Christian Directory, Richard Baxter includes a section on the importance of what he called "Christian conference, exhortation, and reproof." Essentially, it's about the necessity and benefit of believers conversing with each other about biblical truth. One of the advantages of such discourse, he says, is that it supplements the ministry of public preaching:
Your fruitful conference is a needful help to the ministerial work. When the preacher hath publicly delivered the word of God to the assembly, if you would so far second him, as in your daily converse to set it home on the hearts of those that you have opportunity to discourse with, how great an assistance would it be to his success! Though he must teach them publicly, and from house to house, Acts xx.20, yet it is not possible for him to be so frequent and familiar in daily conference with all the ignorant of the place, as those that are still with them may be. You are many, and he is but one, and can be but in one place at once. Your business bringeth you into their company, when he cannot be there. O happy is that minister who hath such a people, who will daily preach over the matter of his public sermons in their private conference with one another! (Part IV, Chapter XVI, Motive X).
Later, Baxter enumerates more advantages of spiritual conversation including the following which is the best articulation of why I prefer teaching that I've come across:
5. Interlocutory conference keepeth your auditors attentive, and carrieth them on along with you as you go. And it maketh the application much more easy, by their nearness and the familiarity of the discourse; when sermons are usually heard but as an insignificant sound, or words of course. 6. You may at your pleasure go back and repeat those things which the hearer doth not understand, or doth forget; which a preacher in the pulpit cannot do without the censure of the more curious auditors. 7. You may perceive by the answers of them whom you speak to, what particulars you need most to insist on, and what objections you should most carefully resolve; and when you have satisfied them, and may proceed. All which it is hard for a minister to do in public preaching; and is it not a great sin to neglect such an advantageous duty? (Part IV, Chapter XVI, Motive XII).
When I came across these thoughts from Baxter, I was reminded of an article by David Powlison called "What is Ministry of the Word?" (Journal of Biblical Counseling, Winter 2003, pp. 2-6) in which he distinguishes among three mutually supportive aspects of the communication of biblical truth. The first two, the public and private ministry of the Word, are those with which we are probably most familiar. The former refers to the proclamation, exposition, and application of Scripture that good sermons consist of. The latter refers to personal study of and meditation on Scripture in private devotions or "quiet times." While acknowledging the necessity of both for cultivating spiritual maturity, Powlison rejects the idea that they are sufficient:
Perhaps you've heard it said, "If people would only sit under good preaching and meet God regularly in private devotions, they wouldn't need counseling." That statement is well intended. It's even partly true. Lots of personal problems are transformed by public ministry of the Word and by private ministry of the Word. But the statement is completely untrue in its premises and its conclusions. A central purpose of good preaching and private devotions is to create mutual counseling and wise counselors! When any personal problem is in fact truly transformed, then a wise counselor of others has been produced. Fruitful interpersonal ministry of the Word is the main proof that sermons and devotions are worth the time and effort.
This calls to mind Paul's exhortation that we "Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom..." (Col. 3:16). In today's church there is certainly a great deal of emphasis on preaching and devotions but are we neglecting the importance and necessity of believers learning how to skillfully bring biblical truth to bear on each other's lives?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Marketing the Good Book

Joanne Kaufman of the Wall Street Journal writes about the measures to which Bible publishers go to connect with consumers. Fortunately, not all proposed versions, like the "alarmist Bible" pitched to Thomas Nelson, are approved:
The offering featured headlines that had been snipped from the front pages of USA Today, then pasted below select New Testament verses. Also included was some newspaper boldface about the collapse of the Jessica Simpson-Nick Lachey marriage accompanied by relevant text from Scripture, presumably not Genesis' 2:24 dictum: "a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife."
Some interesting excerpts:

Thomas Nelson produces 150 different editions of the Bible each year.

Christian bookstores had a 25% increase in sales of Scriptures from 2003 to 2005
...Bibles are becoming as much personal statements as fashion statements. "What people are saying is 'I want to find a Bible that is really me,'" noted Rodney Hatfield, a vice president of marketing at Thomas Nelson. "It's no different than with anything else in our culture."
Fortunately for Bible publishers, consumers seem to think that if one copy of the Good Book is good, two or more are even better. "Forty percent of my customers own three to 10 Bibles," said Mr. Hastings. "It's sort of like me and golf. I have Tiger Woods's book and Ernie Els's book. I want all those different approaches to how to play golf. It's the same with Bibles."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Books We Need Most

Stephen Seamands, professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary, is the author of Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service which I received in the mail today. In the opening chapter he states that his reason for writing the book was "to demonstrate the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity for the vocation of ministry."

Seamands says that while there has been a resurgence of interest in trinitarian doctrine on the part of theologians over the last century, many of their writings are so abstract, dense, and theoretical that they are regarded as irrelevant by those engaged in pastoral ministry. "As a result, when they reflect theologically on their ministerial practice, they do so with very little reference to the doctrine of the Trinity." Seamands goes on to tell of a luncheon he attended years ago at which Martin Marty was the guest speaker. When asked by a faculty member what kind of Christian books are needed today, Marty replied, "So many Christian books written today are either 'theologically theological' or 'practically practical.' What we need most are books that are 'theologically practical.'"

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wayne Grudem on Evangelical Feminism and Liberalism

Adrian Warnock has posted part one of his interview with Wayne Grudem about his new book Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? You can also listen to Grudem talk about his book with Al Mohler here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

2007 Masters Series

Stand to Reason has posted the impressive lineup of speakers for their 2007 Masters Series in Christian Thought. (HT: Melinda Penner)

9 Marks Interview: The Gospel and Islam

Listen to pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile discuss "the beliefs and history of Islam, his own experience as a Muslim, the contradictions in the Koran, as well as the way for churches to approach evangelism with Muslims, which he calls an amazing, God-given opportunity the church has today." (HT: Greg Linscott)

Monday, November 27, 2006

What's Wrong with a Child? The Tragic Consequences of Biopsychiatry's Naturalistic Worldview

The second in a series of articles the NY Times is doing about the increasing number of American children whose difficulties are diagnosed as serious mental disorders is entitled "What's Wrong with a Child? Psychiatrists Often Disagree." The piece could have been more accurately called "What's Wrong with Psychiatry?" for it dramatically illustrates the highly subjective nature of psychiatric diagnoses.

The article opens with an introduction to Paul Williams, a 13-year-old who "has had almost as many psychiatric diagnoses as birthdays."
The first psychiatrist he saw, at age 7, decided after a 20-minute visit that the boy was suffering from depression.
A grave looking child, quiet and instinctively suspicious of others, he looked depressed, said his mother, Kasan Williams. Yet it soon became clear that the boy was too restless, too explosive, to be suffering from chronic depression.
Paul was a gifted reader, curious, independent. But in fourth grade, after a screaming match with a school counselor, he walked out of the building and disappeared, riding the F train for most of the night through Brooklyn, alone, while his family searched frantically.
It was the second time in two years that he had disappeared for the night, and his mother was determined to find some answers, some guidance. What followed was a string of office visits with psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Each had an idea about what was wrong, and a specific diagnosis: “Compulsive tendencies,” one said. “Oppositional defiant disorder,” another concluded. Others said “pervasive developmental disorder,” or some combination. Each diagnosis was accompanied by a different regimen of drug treatments. By the time the boy turned 11, Ms. Williams said, the medical record had taken still another turn — to bipolar disorder — and with it a whole new set of drug prescriptions.
“Basically, they keep throwing things at us,” she said, “and nothing is really sticking.”
A caption beneath a photograph of Williams reads "In his short life, Paul has taken antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, sleeping pills and so-called mood stabilizers." One can only wonder what such a combination of drugs is doing to this young man's developing central nervous system, not to mention other organs. Consider the fact that despite use of terms like "disorder," "diagnosis," and "illness" there are no medical tests for any of the conditions listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders and there is even further cause to question the wisdom of administering mind-altering drugs to children or, for that matter, adults to whom psychiatric diagnoses have been given.

According to Duke University professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, Dr. E. Jane Costello, psychiatry's system of diagnosis is "
still 200 to 300 years behind other branches of medicine." This assumes, of course, that psychiatry is a legitimate medical practice, lagging behind its elder siblings. But other than the fact that its practitioners are licensed physicians with the authority to prescribe medication, what is it that biological psychiatry has in common with other fields of medicine which do not rely solely on emotional and behavioral symptoms to determine the existence of disease? To what extent is biological psychiatry a medical science? These are questions that even those within the profession have asked. In his letter of resignation from the American Psychiatric Association, the late Dr. Loren Mosher wrote:
"Biologically based brain diseases" are certainly convenient for families and practitioners alike. It is no-fault insurance against personal responsibility. We are all just helplessly caught up in a swirl of brain pathology for which no one, except DNA, is responsible. Now, to begin with, anything that has an anatomically defined specific brain pathology becomes the province of neurology (syphilis is an excellent example). So, to be consistent with this "brain disease" view, all the major psychiatric disorders would become the territory of our neurologic colleagues. Without having surveyed them I believe they would eschew responsibility for these problematic individuals. However, consistency would demand our giving over "biologic brain diseases" to them. The fact that there is no evidence confirming the brain disease attribution is, at this point, irrelevant. What we are dealing with here is fashion, politics and money. This level of intellectual /scientific dishonesty is just too egregious for me to continue to support by my membership (emphasis in the original).
I realize that to many, the idea of questioning the validity of biopsychiatry is tantamount to rejecting heliocentricity but that is just a testimony to how successfully pharmaceutical companies have indoctrinated the public (and in many cases, general practitioners) with their reductionistic philosophy of human nature. In his book Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression (chapters from which can be read here), Dr. David Healy, notes that the class of antidepressants known as SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) has "given rise to a new language in which we understand ourselves - a biobabble to replace the psychobabble of Freudian terms that so coloured our identities during the 20th century."

To borrow terminology from the sociology of knowledge, the drug companies, in concert with the psychiatric community, have been highly effective shapers of America's plausibility structure. Leslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society defines and describes plausibility structures as:

...patterns of belief and practice accepted within a given society, which determine which beliefs are plausible to its members and which are not. These plausibility structures are of course different at different times and places. Thus when, in any society, a belief is held to be "reasonable," this is a judgment made on the basis of the reigning plausibility structure.
Biological psychiatry, like counseling, is an inescapably hermeneutic exercise. The individual seeking to assist another in resolving intra-and/or interpersonal problems inevitably makes assessments and judgments about what is going on in the individual's life. These judgments assume a system of values and beliefs about human nature, motivation, and behavior.

Multiple interpretations can be offered to account for whatever emotional and behavioral symptoms an individual reports. Likewise, multiple conceptions of what is in need of being changed and how that is to be accomplished exist. Counseling and biopsychiatry, therefore, involve placing the counselee or patient in some larger contextual framework of meaning. In other words, all approaches to counseling and/or psychiatry seek to make sense of a person and his or her situations in terms of a broad interpretive framework or worldview. Given this fact, as well as the serious health risks associated with psychiatric medications, I'm dismayed by the relative absence of Christian leaders sounding cautions against psychiatric labeling and medicating.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hey, I Think I Remember How To Do This

The lack of activity here over the last week was due to illness that slammed into me with hurricane-like force last weekend. Last Saturday evening I started to experience chills and fever making for a very aggravating and restless night of tossing, turning, and sweating, with little sleeping. This went on for at least one more night, accompanied by a marked decrease of appetite (dry toast, broth, and ginger ale was my portion for a number of days) and a perpetual state of feeling exhausted. Whenever I was able to catch some shuteye, either in naps during the day or at night, it was never enough. I repeatedly awoke feeling just as tired as if I had never slept.

As you can imagine, my interest in blogging (reading others' or posting to my own) and most everything besides lying down and trying to get some rest, was non-existent. It's amazing how discomfort has a way of readjusting priorities. Before the onset of this bug I eagerly and regularly checked my inbox, RSS feeds, and stat counter to see what was new. But I went for days not caring about any of that stuff. And now that I finally feel like I'm on the upswing, I think it's wise to take some of that attitude with me into the days ahead. In the midst of my misery I enjoyed a certain liberty from technological tools that all too easily become masters.

I'm happy to report that my appetite returned in time enough for me to enjoy the excellent Thanksgiving Day meal my wife prepared for our family yesterday. Fortunately, the aromas of food didn't make me nauseous at any time during my illness. As the smells of her cooking wafted through our home on Wednesday, I feared that I might have to settle for being just a spectator at the next day's evening meal. But that wasn't the case and the fact that I had not yet fully recovered from the flu led to some moderation that might not have been otherwise exercised.

Anyway, I wanted to let regular readers (if any remain) know why things have been so quiet here. Soon I'll be posting some of the things that were occupying my mind prior to my impaired health.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On Faith

Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham and Washington Post writer Sally Quinn are the moderators of a new online discussion of religion and its impact called On Faith (HT: The Pearcey Report).

Given that people like Al Mohler, Daniel Dennett, Marcus Borg, Karen Armstrong, John Dominic Crossan, Sam Harris, Rick Warren, and Brian McLaren are among the panel of 50 leaders and scholars who will be participating in the discussion, the conversation is sure to be lively. The moderators pose questions to which panelists respond. Readers are invited to express their thoughts on the question and comment on the panelists' answers.

Here's the first question: "If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?"

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Toys for Tots Says No Jesus Dolls Under the Tree This Year

I actually think the Marine Reserves made the right call here and I can't understand why the doll's maker would be surprised by their decision. The manufacturer's director of business development says the dolls were intended as "three-dimensional teaching tools for kids." I suppose that's one way of describing them but in this case they were clearly intended as evangelistic tools in which case it would be inappropriate for a branch of the U.S. military to distribute them.

After you've read the story, check out Steve McCoy's reaction to the doll (about which you can find out more by clicking the picture).

From beliefnet:

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES, Nov 14 - A talking Jesus doll has been turned down by the Marine Reserves' Toys for Tots program.

A Los Angeles company offered to donate 4,000 of the 1 foot-(30 centimeter)-tall dolls, which quote Bible verses, for distribution to needy children this holiday season. The battery-powered Jesus is one of several dolls manufactured by one2believe, a division of the Valencia-based Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co., based on Biblical figures.

But the charity balked because of the dolls' religious nature.

Toys are donated to kids based on financial need and "we don't know anything about their background, their religious affiliations," said Bill Grein, vice president of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, in Quantico, Va.

As a government entity, Marines "don't profess one religion over another," Grein said Tuesday. "We can't take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family."

Michael La Roe, director of business development for both companies, said the charity's decision left him "surprised and disappointed."

"The idea was for them to be three-dimensional teaching tools for kids," La Roe said. "I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible."

According to the company's Web site, the button-activated, bearded Jesus, dressed in hand-sewn cloth outfits and sandals, recites Scripture such as "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." It has a $20 (euro15.60) retail value.

Grein questioned whether children would welcome a gift designed for religious instruction. "Kids want a gift for the holiday season that is fun," he said.

The program distributed 18 million stuffed animals, games, toy trucks and other gifts to children in 2005.

UPDATE - 11/16/07: Toys for Tots announces: "The Talking Jesus doll issue has been resolved. Toys for Tots has found appropriate places for these items. We have notified the donor of our willingness to handle this transaction."

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Academic Theology as a Servant to the Church

On the heels of participating in a forum on the emerging church at Westminster Seminary (the audios of which are available from Westminster Bookstore), Scot McKnight recently gave a much-needed reminder about the need for academic theologians to learn how to speak to and write for lay people. Here's an excerpt:
The simple facts are these: lay folks aren’t learning what seminary professors are teaching their students-who-have-become-our-pastors, at least not as effectively as seminary professors sometimes think. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again — hoping I’ve got some new readers or some who skipped previous posts: there was a day when seminary professors and Christian college professors wrote books for layfolks, and layfolks read seminary and college professors. At that time, very few pastors wrote books — they preached and pastored.
Times have changed. Seminary and college professors are intoxicated with their rhetorics and they have learned the game, the fun game, of writing for their peers. So, they now write learned monographs — and I’ve got a little satchel of such books myself. A Light among the Gentiles and Jesus and His Death. All of this proves that we — evangelicals — have fulfilled Carl Henry’s dream or Mark Noll’s warning — that we make a contribution to culture, to theory, to education, and to intellectual history. I believe in such work.
But, not at the expense of the church. And that’s exactly what has happened. (I happened to write the other day to a seminary president about this, a person I’ve never met but whom I’ve read, and he said, “Let’s talk.”)  Here’s the truth: people have asked me if I’ll lose my reputation as an academic if I write for lay people; and I’ve been told not to write on a blog (because that is non-academic). My response has been the same: what I do, I hope, is for the glory of God and for God’s people. I love academic theology, but the academic theology that is truly designed to do what it can do better end up in the Church. Back to the observation: theological rhetoric is intoxicating, but our task is to communicate the gospel to our world in such a way that it “sings and stings.” And the time is now for seminary professors and college professors to re-learn what our task is all about. We might teach seminarians and students at advanced levels, but the fundamental goal of all Bible knowledge is to communicate that truth to ourselves and to others so that we can live it out. Not just so that we can communicate within the guild and to fellow pastors, but so we can talk to Emily Johnson and Fyodor Czechin about their issues so they can learn to live as Christians today.
Scot goes on to give some pointers, drawn from his own experience, on how we can learn to do that.

Scot's exhortation reminded me of that from another of my former professors whose wedding of theological scholarship and love for God's flock has been very influential in shaping my own aspiration to be a bridge between theological academia and the local church - Wayne Grudem.

In his 2000 Presidential Address to the members of the Evangelical Theological Society titled "Do We Act as if We Really Believe that 'The Bible Alone, and the Bible in its Entirety, is the Word of God Written'?", Grudem asked his fellow theological scholars to consider the following suggestions:
  1. Consider the possibility that God may want evangelical scholars to write more books and articles that tell the Church what the whole Bible teaches us about some current problem.
  2. Consider the possibility that God wants the Church to discover more answers and reach consensus on more problems, and wants us to play a significant role in that process.
  3. Consider the possibility that God wants evangelical scholars to speak with a unified voice on certain issues before the whole Church and the whole world.
  4. Consider the possibility that God may want many of us to pay less attention to the writings of non-evangelical scholars.
  5. Consider the possibility that God may want us to quote His word explicitly in private discussions and public debates with non-Christians.
  6. Consider the possibility that the world as we know it may change very quickly.
Thank God for those who contend against the tendency to sever doctrine from life and study from piety.

"Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart...To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful." -
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III. VI. 4.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Depression - It's Not Just for Grown-Ups Anymore

Mollie Murphy, a four-year-old girl in England, sad because she wasn't admitted to the same primary school as her friends from nursery, has been diagnosed by her family doctor as suffering from stress and depression and according to this Daily Mail opinion piece (HT: Psych Watch), her mother has been advised to put her on an antidepressant.

Jill Parkin, author of the Daily Mail article, expresses what I think is appropriate dismay over what little Mollie and children like her are learning and what it says about our culture:
...she's in danger of being taught a very dangerous lesson, before she can even read or write. It's a lesson that goes like this: Got a problem? Pop a pill. Finding life hard? Blame someone else.
Treating a little child with anti-depressants because she didn't get into the school she and her parents wanted is not just ridiculous and unnecessary, it is the most shocking example yet of a culture of dependency in which life's setbacks are not simply challenges to be confronted and overcome, but are medical conditions to be diagnosed and treated by 'professionals'.
I may not be a doctor, but this I can be sure of: little Mollie will get over her temporary sadness far faster without medical intervention. She needs a dose of good parenting and common sense, not Valium.
Mollie was alluded to this morning in a news segment Good Morning America ran on depression in infants (estimated as occurring in one in forty). ABC is also asking readers to vote on whether they would allow their baby to take antidepressants if doctors determined that he or she was depressed. After I voted a few minutes ago, 1,631 people had responded "Absolutely not. It's not safe," 315 replied "No. Babies can't be depressed," and 93 said "Yes. If the doctors thought it was safe then I'd be okay with it."

Two weeks ago I asked with tongue slightly in cheek, "
Can fruit-flavored, infant-formula antidepressants be too far off?" In light of the above, I'd like to ask a different question. How long will it take?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

John Stott Praying for Apologists

Jeff Clinton's posting the following quote from John Stott's Your Mind Matters prompted me to take the thin volume from my shelf and thumb through it once more. As Jeff points out, though over 30 years old, Stott's petition is as timely today as when originally penned. I wonder, then, why we don't hear it uttered more frequently in our churches. The kind of laborers Stott prays for are not the kind that usually come to mind when we ask the Lord to send workers into his harvest :
I pray earnestly that God will raise up today a new generation of Christian apologists or Christian communicators, who will combine an absolute loyalty to the biblical gospel and an unwavering confidence in the power of the Spirit with a deep and sensitive understanding of the contemporary alternatives to the gospel; who will relate the one to the other with freshness, pungency, authority and relevance; and who will use their minds to reach other minds for Christ (52).
I was surprised to see that my copy of the book is clean, free from any underlining or marginal scribbles. That probably means that I first read it prior to getting into the habit of marking books up as I read them or I just thought it was all so good that I would have marked everything! Here's another of Stott's many noteworthy thoughts concerning why the fact that human reasoning is fallen is no excuse for failing to engage people intellectually in our evangelism:
It is quite true that man's mind has shared in the devastating results of the Fall. The "total depravity" of man means that every constituent part of his humanness has been to some degree corrupted, including his mind, which Scripture describes as "darkened." Indeed, the more men suppress the truth of God which they know, the more "futile," even "senseless," they become in their thinking. They may claim to be wise, but they are fools. Their mind is "the mind of the flesh," the mentality of a fallen creature, and it is basically hostile to God and his law.

All this is true. But the fact that man's mind is fallen is no excuse for a retreat from thought into emotion, for the emotional side of man's nature is equally fallen. Indeed, sin has more dangerous effects on our faculty of feeling than on our faculty of thinking, because our opinions are more easily checked and regulated by revealed truth than our experiences (16).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ed Welch on Biblical Counseling

Listen to Mark Dever talk with Ed Welch of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation about his testimony and a variety of topics including recovery groups, codependency, medicating depression, "integrationism" and "nouthetic" counseling, and the role of counseling in the local church. (HT: Greg Linscott)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Helm's Deep

That's the name of philosopher and theologian Paul Helm's new blog where he will occasionally post papers that have been accepted for publication but have not yet been published.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More YouTube Apologetics from Jay Smith

Christian apologist/evangelist Jay Smith has added the following videos to his series on Islam and Christianity (previous videos listed here):

Is Allah God?
Re: The Name of God is Allah...Jay Disagrees
How Many Bibles Do We Have?
Re: Theo Van Gogh's Film Submission, Women in the Qu'ran

In addition to providing useful information and sound arguments, these videos are good examples of how to respectfully dialogue with those with whom we have strong disagreement. They're also a creative and wise use of the the Internet to declare Christ.

Why Should Christians Study Logic?

Jeff Fuller at the Reformed Evangelist recently posted a helpful article from giving these reasons:
  1. To Logically Defend Your Faith - Apologetics
  2. To Defeat the World's Philosophies by Advancing Biblical Reasoning
  3. To Prove Your Doctrines from the Bible
  4. To Apply the Logical Implications of God's Commands in Your Life
  5. To Be a Good Steward of Your Mind
  6. To Seek Wisdom in Living Your Life
  7. Jesus Was a Logical Man

Monday, October 30, 2006

Quentin Schultze at Trinity

Those in the vicinity of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School may be interested in this. Dr. Quentin Schultze, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College and author of Habits of the High-Tech Heart (which I've referred to here and here) and High-Tech Worship?, will be speaking this Wednesday, November 1, on Trinity's campus. The lecture is part of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding "Scripture and Ministry Lecture Series." Dr. Schultze's topic will be "Beyond the Digital Rat Race: Using Technology Wisely in Our Lives, Work, and Churches." Here's the description offered by the Center:
All of us are burdened with desires and demands to expand our technical abilities and to push for greater use of information and communication technologies in our daily lives. Yet the temptations to overuse and misuse technologies are evident all around us. How can we equip ourselves, our families, and our congregations to use email, PowerPoint, cell phones, instant messaging, personal Web sites, and other technologies appropriately?
The seminar is free, open to the public, and requires no registration. If you're anywhere in the area and your schedule allows you to attend, I encourage you to do so.

Audio archives and/or notes from past Henry Center seminars and conferences are available here.

Friday, October 27, 2006

From the Couch to the Crib

Infant psychotherapy is on the rise (HT: Jeff Burton):
A widely used mental health and development diagnostic manual for infants was revised last year for the first time since 1994 to include two new subsets of depression, five new subsets of anxiety disorders (including separation anxiety and social anxiety disorders) and six new subsets of feeding behavior disorders (including sensory food aversions and infantile anorexia).
Can fruit-flavored, infant-formula antidepressants be too far off?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cutting Through A Teen's Moral Fog

It's been a while since I've posted a log from my archive of online exchanges. Here's one from a young person (whose screen name I've changed) who used to frequent an atheist chat room. It was obvious from interacting with her over time that she was confused about what she believed about life and was hoping that being a regular in the atheist chat would help her figure things out.

I wonder how many thousands of American teens she represents - both outside and within the church. Concerning the latter, I wonder if much has changed since Francis Schaeffer penned the following assessment of the evangelical church over thirty years ago in The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century:

We already are, of course, losing many of our young people, losing them on every side. It would be impossible to say how many have come to L'Abri from Christian backgrounds. And these young people have said, "You are our last hope." Why? Because they are smart enough to know that they have been given no answers. They have simply been told to believe. Doctrines have been given them without relating them to the hard, hard problems which these young people are facing. Those who come to us and say something of the nature that we are their last hope usually then speak of two things which discouraged them. First, they have not been given reasonable answers to reasonable questions. Second, they have not seen beauty in the Christian group they were in. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Vol. 4, pp. 69-70.

Did you ever read any Carl Sagan?

KP: Yes, only a little. I've heard and seen him on television too.

YMIHere: He was in the Catholic newspaper my parents get, it was an argument whether he claimed God existed or not before he died. I don't like the newspaper, it's not the most tolerant paper I've read. It tells you what movies you should be allowed to watch! I think that's sort of weird.

KP: I doubt that that newspaper tells you what movies you should be allowed to watch. It probably reviews movies based on their moral content and makes recommendations based on that. And speaking of don't sound very tolerant of that paper and its views. ;-)

YMIHere: Well, it's really weird. It has these lists of movies and says which ones are ok for Catholics. I mean, they gave the movie "Clueless" a bad grade or whatever. They said it was indecent. It was a pg-13 movie for kids! lol, I am tolerant, i just don't agree with what they say. I try to have tolerance for the Catholic religion, but I think it's not really good for people. I was taught the strangest things in Catholic school.

KP: Why is it that if you don't agree with what they say and how they think, it's just a disagreement but if they don't agree with the contents of particular movies they're intolerant? What kind of strange things were you taught in Catholic school?

YMIHere: I don't know, that paper just makes me angry and I don't know why. Christian sexual education was taught, and I never agreed with any of it. Also, the pro-life stand that Catholics take on abortion.

KP: And why is that strange?

Tulipstem: Like a religion should tell women they don't have a right to choose to have a baby or not. That's just strange. And I never understood why people would want to do that. And Christian sexuality was against sex before marriage which was very confusing. I think it just confuses kids.

KP: The real issue isn't one of women's rights at all. The real issue is whether or not one can take the life of another innocent being. To make women's right the focal point is mistaken. Christians believe that sex is to be reserved for a monogamous, life-long marital commitment. What's so confusing about that?

YMIHere: What do you mean? She's the mother. It 's her right to take the life (if you think it is a life at all).

KP: Oh, so her being the mother gives her the right to take the life? On those grounds, then your mother has the right to kill you anytime she wants, right? After all, she IS your mother.

YMIHere: No. People who recognize that the baby is not life until a certain period of time believe in the right to abort a child. This, I guess, has to do with when the law recognizes a baby as being officially life. I haven't decided when I think this is but I have no problem with abortion being legal. My mother can't legally take my life. There's the whole legal difference.

KP: So whatever is legal is morally right?

YMIHere: No. It's acceptable.

KP: Well, the abortion debate isn't over what is acceptable, is it? I thought it was over what is morally right. In some South American countries it is both legal and acceptable for men to beat their wives. A few hundred years ago it was both legal and acceptable to own slaves and to treat them as property.

YMIHere: I don't know. I don't spend much time debating abortion. Yes. It's also legal in Peru for women to be forced to marry men who raped them and the men won't be charged with the crime. Sick, but it's how some cultures live. Things changed for the better, didn't they?

KP: In Hitler's Germany it was both legal and acceptable to kill Jews.

YMIHere: Yes. And things changed. It makes you think "what a screwed up" world.

KP: Is all you care about what is acceptable in the eyes of the majority? If morals are relative as you say they are, then one can't say that things changed for the "better." One can only say that things changed. "Better" implies some fixed and objective standard of what is good or right. Of course, you can say that things changed for the better in a very subjective sense - meaning that they changed to suit your personal preference.

YMIHere: Yes, if I lived in a society, I would live by the accepted rules. If it was Nazi Germany and I didn't agree with their society, what am I supposed to do? The Germans went by Hitler's society, as messed up as it was, because they had no choice. It's really depressing, but that's the way it is sometimes. I have to live by America's society and so do you.

KP: Well, I'm glad that not all had your compliant attitude. Otherwise, we might still be enslaving Blacks in this country.

YMIHere: And who changed things? The society itself?

KP: People within the society who were convinced that the law was wrong. The Abolitionists, for example, in the case of slavery. But according to what you're saying, one should never oppose the prevailing idea of what is "acceptable" and therefore social reform becomes impossible.

YMIHere: I don't agree. Societies can change what is acceptable in a society. Look at America, that's what politics is about. Sometimes the country goes through conservative periods (the Reagan era) but things change and the majority of people just go along with it.

KP: Furthermore, according to what you've said, there can never be such a thing as an unjust law since what is legal is all that matters. Since you do not hold to any moral order above human legislation, you have nothing to appeal to in order to make a judgment that a law is just or immoral.

YMIHere: I have a question. Do morals matter that much? What happens when there are no morals? What happens to people and society?

KP: Of course morals matter. Without them, chaos results.

YMIHere: how do you know this? Can I have an example?

KP: If there is no moral authority and therefore no accountability to anyone other than the person or group with the most power, then all sorts of atrocities can take place such as Hitler's Germany, Stalin and Lenin, and the late Romanian leader whose name I can't spell.

YMIHere: Hitler had no morals? No morals whatsoever? He wanted a society without morals?

KP: No, that's not what I meant. Of course no one is devoid of a moral system or a system of values. The real issue is what that system is based on. For example, it could be that my moral system is that anything that deprives me of pleasure is wrong and anything that gives me pleasure is right. If everyone operated accordingly, what would the shape of society be?

YMIHere: So what moral system should everything be based on?

KP: Our moral system should reflect the revealed character of God. He is the transcendent and absolute measure of what is objectively good and evil.

YMIHere: ok.

KP: I'd love to continue this but I have to get going. If you'd like, we can pick this back up when next we're on.

YMIHere: OK. I'd like to continue too. Bye.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dealing With Doubt

Dr. Gary Habermas, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Liberty University's Department of Philosophy and Theology, has posted the complete contents of his book Dealing With Doubt here. (HT: Steve Wagner)

An Anglican's Call for Gospel Clarity and Courage

It's not a good sign when your non-Christian friends are curious about why you're not more actively seeking to persuade others of the message of salvation you claim to believe. Paul Eddy, a member of the ruling body of the Church of England, reports, "My Muslim friends say they can't understand why we Christians don't evangelise more, especially as they have a strategy to convert Britain."

Eddy recently accused bishops in the Church of England of avoiding the biblical mandate to evangelize so as not to offend minority groups and adherents to other faiths. To address this, he has made a motion intended to force the Church's General Synod to debate and clarify its position on the uniqueness and exclusivity of the gospel. From an article in the Telegraph:
[Eddy] said the Church's official statements tended to gloss over the issue of converting Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or followers of other religions. His motion calls on the bishops to report back on "their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain's multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none".
Eddy sounds a sobering exhortation to Christ-followers everywhere: "The Church needs to regain confidence in the God it professes to believe in, and a new confidence in the Gospel it should be proclaiming. And that starts with a clear steer from the bishops."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Johannine vs. Postmodern Epistemology

Matt Harmon, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at Grace Theological Seminary, looks at two aspects of knowing in 1 John, stresses the importance of keeping them together, and notes how a biblical understanding of knowledge differs from the postmodern construal:

1. Central to the Christian life is the "experiential" knowing of God, something not reducible to mere intellectual assent to a set of propositions.

2. Central to the Christian life is the cognitive knowing of certain propositional truths about God.

To be biblical, we must embrace both the experiential and cognitive aspects of knowledge. Losing sight of either of these realities results in a distorted view of Christian knowledge. This is important today especially in light of those who, enamored with postmodern critiques of intellectual hubris, wrongly claim that propositional knowledge must be jettisoned as a relic of modernity. Furthermore, note the confidence and certainty that John claims Christians have about the reality/truth of these claims. There is no hint of the false humility of postmodern culture that abandons certainty in the guise of humility. This of course does not mean that Christians have absolute or exhaustive knowledge of such matters, but it does mean that Christians can have sufficient knowledge for certainty on fundamental aspects of the Christian faith. At the same time, these observations also serve to correct those who in their pursuit of propositional truth lose sight of the experiential aspect of knowledge, thus reducing Christianity to a set of beliefs devoid of personal, experiential knowledge of God.
Read the whole thing

Friday, October 13, 2006

"How Dare You Suggest We Spread Our Religion by the Sword!"

From the International Herald Tribune:

Relatives of beheaded Iraqi say kidnappers demanded apology for pope Muslim comments

Associated Press

Published: October 12, 2006

MOSUL, Iraq Relatives of an Orthodox priest who was kidnapped and found beheaded three days later said Thursday that his captors had demanded his church condemn the pope's recent comments about Islam and pay a US$350,000 (€280,000) ransom.

More than 500 people attended a memorial service Thursday for father Amer Iskender in the northern city of Mosul after his decapitated body was found Wednesday evening in an industrial area of the city.

Iskender was a priest at the St. Ephrem Orthodox church in Mosul.

"He was a good man and we all shed tears for him," said Eman Saaur, a 45-year-old schoolteacher who said she attended Iskender's church regularly. "He was a man of peace."

Relatives, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said the unidentified group that seized Iskender on Sunday had demanded a ransom and that his church condemn a statement made by Pope Benedict XVI last month that ignited a wave anger throughout the Muslim world. In a speech at a German university the pope quoted a medieval text that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," declaring Islam was a religion spread by the sword.

Before Iskender was kidnapped, his relatives said, the church already had put up signs condemning the statement and calling for good relations between Christians and Muslims. The message was posted again, they said, after the priest's kidnappers made their demand.

"It was a tragedy," said Hazim Shaaiya, 60, who had come to the memorial service to pay respects. "Father Amer Iskender was a peaceful, kind religious man."

Relatives said the priest's oldest son had been in contact with the kidnappers on mobile telephones. He negotiated the ransom payment down to US$40,000 (€32,000) and had agreed to pay, but contact abruptly ceased Tuesday night.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Kitschy, Kitschy, Coo

For a satirical look at items like this divine door knocker (I wonder, can I get that in a Revelation 3:20, instead?), check out kinda kitschy, a blog whose tagline reads: "The world is laughing at us. So am I."

Speaking of kitsch, Quentin Schultze made the following observation about its use in worship in By Faith magazine (HT: Phil Ryken):

Young people witness some of the cheesy video and computer 'art' in worship and see it for what it is: kitsch. Stock clip art. Old-fashioned, 19th-century background images under song text: the sun shining on the cross, running streams, baby faces--all of the stereotypical images that say, 'Christians are crummy artists and naive sentimentalists.' To them, such kitsch is like handing out illustrated kids' Bibles to high school students and telling them that these images represent the depth of insight and excellence of the Christian faith.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Spare the Rod?

One of the adult classes our church is offering this quarter is The Case for Kids, a video-based curriculum on parenting by brothers Paul and Tedd Tripp who respectively authored Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens and Shepherding a Child's Heart. Unlike so many approaches to parenting that concentrate on controlling behavior, the Tripps focus on Christian parents' responsibility to minister to the hearts of our children out of which their behaviors flow. They also highlight how our parenting reveals what, besides God, governs our own hearts on a functional basis. It is, in my estimation, an excellent resource that I enthusiastically recommend.

Knowing that the topic of spanking was on the horizon, the couple leading this class asked me to look over and respond to an article called "Spare the Rod" by Crystal Lutton, author of a book titled Biblical Parenting. This couple told me of a family member who found her argumentation against spanking very persuasive and wanted to get my take on it in preparation for their teaching material that sees spanking as a biblically legitimate aspect of corrective discipline. Pastor Lutton tries to make her case by showing why references in the book of Proverbs to the rod as a means of discipline are not intended as endorsements of spanking.

I spent a number of hours last week studying Mrs. Lutton's article and related material and thought I'd post the fruits of my labor here. My purpose in doing so is not so much to convince anyone of the merits of spanking as to hopefully model some sound methods of biblical interpretation and critical analysis of proposed biblical interpretations. One should never simply accept an argument because the person presenting it has the title of pastor and appears to have some familiarity with the original languages. As I read through the many references to Hebrew words and lists of lexical definitions in Mrs. Lutton's essay, I understood how easily someone with no background in biblical languages could be convinced that her case is solid. Fortunately, however, numerous resources, like concordances and dictionaries (some of which are available online), make it possible for anyone who knows how to use them to evaluate various claims.

So, here's an edited excerpt of the email I sent to the couple who asked for my feedback. Naturally, it will make better sense if you read Pastor Lutton's essay first.

Pastor Lutton gives only three possible meanings for the Hebrew word (shebet) translated as “rod” in English: the large walking staff held by the head of a family, a shepherd’s crook, or a scepter. However, in checking a standard Hebrew lexicon, one finds other definitions such as club, shaft (i.e., a spear or dart), and tribe. Given the wide range of possible meaning, it’s necessary to pay close attention to the context of each usage of the word to determine which meaning is most likely.
Pastor Lutton argues from the fact that Solomon was a king and therefore it is most likely that when he used the word in Proverbs it was a scepter he had in mind. This would make sense if the book was intended only for royalty but that’s not the case. Solomon makes it plain in the introduction to the book (1:4-5) that he has a broader audience in mind than just the son to whom many of the exhortations are addressed. Therefore, since Proverbs was written to a wider audience that consisted of more than royalty, it’s improbable that the rod in the verses he cites is a scepter.
According to Pastor Lutton, the child referred to in Proverbs 23:13 is between 5 and 21. She claims that had the author wished to refer to a child under 5, he would have used another Hebrew word. Unfortunately, she doesn’t indicate what that word is. Regardless, her claim that the Hebrew word na’ar refers to a child of at least 5 years of age is simply not true. The same word is used of Moses when he was an infant in Exodus 2:9: “And Pharaoh's daughter said to [Moses’s sister], ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him.” Note that the child mentioned was still nursing, in which case, according to Pastor Lutton's position, another Hebrew word used only of nurslings should have been used. Na’ar is used with reference to children clearly under the age of 5 (newborns, even!) in Judges 13:5 (Manoah’s wife is told that she will bear a son; the word is also used in vv. 7, 8, and 12) and 1 Samuel 1:22 (used of Samuel before he was weaned). This is a fact easily enough verified with the use of a concordance.

The word translated as "correction" or "discipline" in Proverbs 23:13-14, according to Pastor Lutton, “carries the connotation of ‘Come let us reason together’ and speaks to verbal correction.” Again, I don’t know how she draws this conclusion from the various ways the word is used in the Old Testament. I believe that the majority of occurrences do refer to verbal reproof (especially in Proverbs), but not all uses fit that restricted meaning. For example, Isaiah says that Judah whispered a prayer to God in her distress when his discipline was upon her (26:16). This is a reference to God’s sending Babylon against the southern kingdom on account of the people’s sin. Obviously, therefore, discipline in this instance takes the form of punishment and not mere instruction or, “Come let us reason together.” Later in Isaiah, in describing the suffering servant, the prophet says “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (53:5). The word translated “chastisement” is the same word and, here again, it is evident that whatever it means, it's more than verbal correction. Other uses of the word where it clearly involves more than reasoning together occur in the following passages: Jeremiah 2:30; 5:3; 30:14 and Hosea 5:2.
The Hebrew word, therefore, can be used of instruction/reasoning as well as of punishment or discipline. Pastor Lutton’s frequent error is that she insists upon a very wooden use of language, demanding that whenever a word is used, it must have one consistent definition. But this is not the way language works. Usage determines meaning.
Among the fallacious arguments Pastor Lutton offers in defense of her position is that of pointing to the penalty for killing one’s slave by beating him or her with a rod (Exodus 21:20) and concluding from it that Proverbs 23:13-14 cannot be referring to actual corporal punishment because “you are still left with the reality that striking someone with your staff can kill them so you cannot take this as a promise of any kind.” This fails to take into consideration a point that virtually all commentators agree upon, namely, that none of the Proverbs are to be taken as absolute promises but are instead maxims or statements of general principle that do not apply absolutely across all cases.
No one I’m aware of who takes the verses in question as references to physical punishment believes that spanking their child will result in their eternal salvation so Lutton’s comment about how we could save lots of money on missions if we could beat people into the kingdom is ludicrous. The reference to saving the child’s soul from death is most likely dealing with preventing premature death by means of foolish behavior. This is, interestingly, one of the definitions she lists for the phrase translated “he shall not die” in v. 13: “to die prematurely (by neglect of wise moral conduct).” So, it is possible (though not certain) that this verse is not stating that the child will not die from the beating but rather will not die as a result of folly left to grow by the lack of discipline. The latter halves of vv. 13 and 14, in this case, would be parallel with each other. Bruce Waltke, a distinguished Old Testament scholar, agrees with this interpretation, writing: “The elaboration of the proverb pair’s outer frame of v. 14b shows that he will not die (see 5:23) signifies that because of the flogging he will not die, not that from the flogging he will not die (i.e., he will survive it)."
Though Lutton refers to spanking as a “modern day practice,” it would seem helpful to investigate the historical and cultural context of ancient Israel to determine what means of child discipline were employed. R. N. Whybray, in his commentary on Proverbs, cites an Egyptian proverb very similar to Proverbs 23:13-14: “Do not spare your son the rod, or you will be unable to save him from wickedness. If I strike you, my son, you will not die, but if I leave you to your own devices you will not live.”
As for Pastor Lutton’s take on Proverbs 22:15, I doubt one could find anyone knowledgeable of the Hebrew language who would agree with her interpretation. In saying that folly is bound up in a child’s heart, the author is asserting that a child’s natural inclination is toward foolishness. Lutton would have us believe that foolishness and sin lie dormant in a child until some later stage of life but this is foreign to the biblical witness. Beyond that, the notion that foolishness is rendered inoperative in a child’s heart is disproven time and time again by anyone with children.