Thursday, September 28, 2006

What Are Teachers Learning?

A four-year study concludes that "The nation's teacher education programs are inadequately preparing their graduates to meet the realities of today's standards-based, accountability-driven classrooms, in which the primary measure of success is student achievement." According to researcher, Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, "Teacher education right now is the Dodge City of education: unruly and chaotic."

Read the whole story.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Academic Doping: Success at What Cost?

Albert Mohler comments on a disturbing MSNBC report that caught my eye as well. It addresses a growing trend called "academic doping." Some parents are pressuring their teens' physicians to prescribe powerful stimulants used in the treatment of ADD/ADHD in order to enhance their academic performance - even when there's no reason to diagnose the kids with the condition.

As Dr. Mohler notes, this phenomenon involves numerous interwoven issues:

Some parents may want to blame a child's lack of academic performance on a medical condition. Others see the academic race for scholarships and college entry to be adequate reason to seek a chemical enhancement for their own kids. Parents of high achievers must wonder, "If he's doing this well without Ritalin, what could he do with it?" In any event, the promise takes the form of a pill.
We might be tempted to hastily dismiss Old Testament accounts of parents sacrificing their offspring to idols as the misguided acts of backward and primitive people. But in light of stories like this, it's apparent that we just have more sophisticated, socially acceptable, and protracted ways of killing our children to satisfy our hearts' desires (even if the object of our desire is their success).

Dr. Mohler poses the following questions to Christian parents:
How do we define success and achievement? Just what are our expectations for our kids? Are we really ready to put them on powerful stimulants, just to raise their grades and test scores? What are we teaching our kids when we do this?
These are all crucial queries but there is a more foundational issue that we should at least be willing to consider. To what degree have we thought critically about the philosophical underpinnings of biological psychiatry's claims? Ironically, while we are on one hand vehemently opposed to the dehumanizing and anti-biblical naturalism of Darwinian evolution, we seem all too ready to eat from its tree when it takes the form of materialistic psychiatry.

Increasingly, members of its own ranks are saying that the emperor has no clothes. Peter Breggin, for example, a psychiatrist who has been very critical about the over-prescribing of psychiatric medication and the pharmaceutical companies' marketing of disease in order to market their products, has called modern biological psychiatry "a materialistic religion masquerading as a science." Like the public at large, we have been well catechized (by means of pharmaceutical commercials and word of mouth) in the dogmas of "mental health." We
know for example, that depression is due to imbalanced brain chemistry despite the fact that this is a knowledge claim that even the drug companies do not make in the absence of scientific validation. We readily accept the myriad of diagnostic pronouncements based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as the authoritative declarations of "science" despite the fact that no medical tests exist for any of the close to 400 labels therein described.

Just yesterday I received in the mail a book that I only recently learned of though it has been in publication since 1999 - Unholy Madness: The Church's Surrender to Psychiatry. Its author, Dr. Seth Farber, was a practicing psychotherapist for 16 years after which time he left his profession because of what he considered irresolvable conflicts between Christian theology and what he calls the religion of psychiatry. I've only been able to read the introduction and portions of the conclusion (I couldn't resist skipping ahead) and I find myself in hearty agreement with most of what I've read, especially the following excerpt from the intro (Readers familiar with Nancy Pearcey's
Total Truth and/or Francis Schaeffer's works will recognize the underlying two-tier view of truth):
The church's surrender to psychiatry has been facilitated by its tendency to subject human life to an artificial compartmentalization: private versus public, spiritual versus political, otherworldly versus worldly. For too long the church has claimed the private, the spiritual and the otherworldly as its proper domain while allowing secular authorities to dominate the public, the political and the worldly.

Since the rise of modern psychology/psychiatry there has been yet a new compartmentalization: the spiritual versus the psychological. But there are no "psychological" needs or capacities that are not spiritual. By accepting this spurious bifurcation of the spiritual into the (secular) psychological and the (nonsecular) spiritual, the church has severely compromised its authority and enabled the practitioners of the idolatrous religion of mental health to promulgate their faith system and thus to gain control over the hearts and minds (and pocketbooks) of millions of Americans. I have attempted throughout this book to demonstrate that the rationale for this usurpation of power by the mental health professions and for the abdication of responsibility by the church is specious: mental health professionals do not possess highly specialized "scientific expertise" enabling them to uniquely minister to individuals' "psychological" needs (12).
The question remains whether the constellation of symptoms called ADD/ADHD constitutes a medical disease for which any child should be given potent stimulants with potentially hazardous side effects.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Consistently Inconsistent

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal hits the nail on the head concerning the recent Islamic outrage in response to Pope Benedict XVI's quoting of Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus (Don't settle for the sound bite. You can read the full text of the Pope's speech here.):
By their reaction to the pope's speech, some Muslim leaders showed again that Islam has a problem with modernity that is going to have to be solved by a debate within Islam. The day Muslims condemn Islamic terror with the same vehemence they condemn those who criticize Islam, an attempt at dialogue--and at improving relations between the Western and Islamic worlds--can begin.
The piece also touches upon a question that though perhaps politically incorrect, is nevertheless important. Does the Islamic doctrine of Allah preclude reasonable dialogue? Please note, this is not to inquire whether adherents to the Islamic faith are capable of being reasonable. Obviously, many are. But when they are, are they being consistent with the nature and character of Allah as they conceive of him? As the editorial notes, according to the Christian faith, "God is inseparable from reason" since, as Pope Benedict quoted from the first chapter of John's gospel, "In the beginning was the Word" (lit. logos, meaning "reason" or "word"). In Christian theology, logic and rationality are grounded in the nature of the eternal and triune God. God cannot act illogically or irrationally because he cannot act contrary to his own nature.

On the contrary, the Muslim vision of God is that he is so transcendent that he has no limitations whatsoever, not even those of his own nature. Thus, immutability or unchangeableness is not ascribed to Allah by Muslims. Addressing this point in their book Muslims and Christians at the Table: Promoting Biblical Understanding Among North American Muslims, Bruce McDowell and Anees Zaka write:
This means that Allah is never bound to a decision that he once made. He cares nothing about being consistent. Therefore, he did not hesitate, when circumstances required, to change and rescind his earlier revelations, even when they contained specific commandments and instructions to believers. This created conflict for Muhammed, since he claimed to be transmitting a divine message that was inscribed upon tablets preserved in heaven, and which therefore should be eternal and unchangeable. But, as circumstances changed, Muhammed did not hesitate to assert that Allah had abrogated his earlier revelation and substituted another....Another aspect of the irrational nature of Allah's will is that he often makes offensive or misleading statements in order to "prove" men or stir up unbelievers to contradict the revealed word (Surah 74:31; 17:46). This is all utterly opposed to the Christian view of God as one who is immutable and true (pp. 102-103).
The authors proceed to explain how any attributes ascribed to Allah are regarded as descriptions of his absolute will rather than essential characteristics of his nature. The practical implications of this theology? "For the Muslim, there is no absolute truth in Allah or in ethics" (p. 103). Another consequence of this doctrine is, as one scholar whom the Pope quoted noted, that "[Allah's] will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality."

As much as some insist on separating terrorist acts from their perpetrators' religious beliefs, we need to realize that theological convictions have undeniable practical outworkings, a point clearly made in Sam Harris's recent L.A.Times opinion piece. Harris is right to claim that the the growing culture of death in the Muslim world is consonant with the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. Likewise, he is correct in calling the "war on terror" a fight "against
a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise."

I cannot rid myself of the question. Who is being most consistent with the inconsistent deity of Islam - peace-loving, moderate Muslims or those willing to justify all manner of atrocities in his name?

Monday, September 18, 2006

A MySpace Primer for Parents

A few months ago I attended a seminar for parents conducted by one of our local police officers at neighborhood middle school. The officer was sharing information from i-Safe, a group specializing in internet safety education. I was surprised at the reactions of many of the parents upon learning just what their children were capable of doing with their home computers and an internet connection. Eyes widened and jaws dropped as technologically-challenged parents were introduced to the world of webcams, instant messaging, and social networking.

U.S. News & World Report recently ran a cover story for parents appropriately titled "Decoding MySpace." It's filled with helpful information and a few unsettling statistics like the following:

Parents who would never allow their child to go to a party unless they knew that an adult would be present let their kids pilot themselves through the online world without any supervision whatsoever. A June survey of 267 pairs of teens and parents in the Los Angeles metropolitan area by a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills found that two thirds of parents had never talked with their teen about their MySpace use, and 38 percent of them had never seen their child's MySpace profile. "Parents are chicken," says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director of"They don't understand the technology, so they're reluctant to get involved."
I'm sure technological ineptitude is partially responsible for parents' non-involvement with their teens' online activity. But I suspect another factor is at least as much to blame if not moreso. Many parents dread the thought of their kids not liking them and consequently refuse to "invade" their "privacy" or enter into any kind of conversation that might seem like snooping. Michelle Alden, one of the mom's mentioned in the article, is not one of them:
The 40-year-old teacher's aide in Idaho City, Idaho, says she is uncomfortable with the site's profile format, as it encourages youngsters to present themselves as if they're looking for sex. Why, she wonders, does the site ask kids to describe their body type and sexual orientation? But instead of trying to forbid the site, she's opted to set guidelines and talk regularly with her 15-year-old daughter about her page, which she uses primarily to stay in touch with friends. "I think it's better to go ahead and have the struggle, because soon enough she's going to be out on her own," she says, "and I only have a few more years to have those conversations with her."
Some of the best parenting advice my wife and I ever received was from the wife of one of our pastors who said, "Your kids are not going to like you for some reason so you'd better make sure it's a good one."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Evolution - I.D. Debate on Tomorrow's Michael Medved Show

Doug Groothuis posted the following announcement from the Discovery Institute listserve:

Authors to Debate Darwinism vs. Design on National Radio Program, Friday Sept. 15

Mark your calendars for 1pm PST tomorrow. You won't want to miss this one. Biologist Jonathan Wells [
Icons of Evolution] will debate blogger Chris Mooney [The Republican War on Science] on the science behind Darwinism and intelligent design. They will be the guests on The Michael Medved Show from 1-2pm PST. Visit Medved's station finder page to find the station in your local area. The program is broadcast live all over the country, so if you want to ask questions, the call-in number for Medved's show is 1-800-955-1776.

Lee Eclov on the Dangers of Practical Preaching

Everyone who preaches or listens to sermons should check out an excellent two-part article by Lee Eclov recently posted at Out of Ur. Lee takes on two popular misconceptions about biblical preaching: The Bottom Line Fallacy and the Practical Fallacy. Both, he says, demonstrate misunderstanding not only about preaching but how Scripture works:

The Bible spends much more time on shaping the spiritual mind than commanding particular behavior. We need far more training in the ways of grace, of spiritual perceptions, and of what God is really like, than we do in how to communicate with our spouse. Understanding the glory of Christ is far more practical than our listeners imagine. Properly preached, every sermon based on a passage of Scripture is fundamentally practical. Every author of Scripture wrote to effect change in God's people. It is our job as preachers to find the persuasive logic of that author and put that clearly and persuasively before our people through biblical exposition.
Thank you, Lee!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why Pod?

Doug Groothuis, the Constructive Curmudgeon, is thinking about getting an mp3 player and is asking for feedback on their advantages as well as on which to purchase. Reading Jim Bublitz's post on how to buy and reform your mp3 player persuaded me to finally take the plunge and I'm glad I did.

Christians and the Psychiatric Culture

Last night I finished reading a book I mentioned here a few weeks ago, Will Medicine Stop the Pain?: Finding God’s Healing for Depression, Anxiety, and Other Troubling Emotions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and another biblical counselor, Laura Hendrickson, a physician who formerly practiced psychiatry. The book targets women since, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, twice as many women as men will experience depression in their lifetime.Hendrickson not only prescribed antidepressants to her patients but for a period took them herself to treat diagnosed depression and bipolar disorder. She candidly relates her experiences with childhood rejection, subsequent emotional instability, and drug-induced confusion including suicidal and homicidal thoughts. Other first person accounts from Christian women who have struggled with depression appear throughout the book.

The authors explain how modern psychiatry frequently operates on the premise that human beings are reducible to our biochemical components. Intense emotional pain is therefore concluded to be the result of physical disease. They contrast this materialistic perspective with a biblical view of the person as consisting of the uniting of the outer man (the physical body including the brain) and the inner man which is referred to biblically by terms like the heart, mind, spirit, and/or soul. Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson acknowledge that the body can affect and influence the heart and vice versa. They also concede that there are real, empirically verifiable diseases of the brain (as well as brain injuries) that can have negative effects on one’s perception, cognition, and moods. However, they point out that there are no tests for so-called imbalances in brain chemistry for which antidepressants are said to be correctives. They also claim that emotional pain is intended to inform us what is going on in our hearts so that we might avail ourselves of the resources that are ours in Christ to experience heart transformation.

Fitzpatrick and Hendrickson take great pains to caution readers currently on antidepressants against deciding to go off them without medical supervision.  One of the medical professionals frequently cited is Joseph Glenmullen, a psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and is also in private practice. I had seen him on ABC's Prime Time Live two years ago and had thought at the time of picking up one of his books but never got around to it. (Dr. Glenmullen's responses to Prime Time viewers' questions about antidepressant side effects and withdrawal are available here.) Glenmullen authored Prozac Backlash and more recently, The Antidepressant Solution which I’m in the midst of reading.

While he prescribes antidepressants on a limited basis, Glenmullen has been a very outspoken critic of the pharmaceutical companies' campaign to market them to physicians and the general public. He believes that the majority of Americans currently taking them are doing so unnecessarily. He is also very concerned that many physicians, who are often reliant upon the drug companies for their information about the drugs and their effects, are ignorant about antidepressant dependence, withdrawal, and how to safely taper patients off them. It’s frightening to learn how misleading pharmaceutical companies have been in their pushing of various medications, many times suppressing evidence of ineffectiveness and/or harmful side effects. According to Glenmullen, ample evidence exists indicating that in some people, antidepressants can create the very symptoms they were prescribed to treat. And in some cases, such a dependence is built that serious symptoms can result from forgetting to take the pills at their proper time. When this happens, patients often think that they are having a relapse when, in actuality, the drug is responsible for their problems.
I can't recommend the above books highly enough to those taking antidepressants (whether male or female) and those who care about someone who is. Readers may also be interested in acquiring a Mars Hill Audio Journal interview with David Healy, a British psychiatrist and author of The Antidpressant Era and more recently Let Them Eat Prozac: The Unhealthy Relationship Between the Pharmaceutical Industry and Depression on antidepressants and the concept of disease.

When one takes into consideration that the disorders the psychiatric community labels people with, are not scientifically validated, there is much cause for both alarm and caution. I’m especially concerned because I know numerous Christians who have bought the well-publicized line that taking antidepressants is analogous to taking insulin or other medication designed to treat biologically detectable illnesses. In a chapter on biological psychiatry in his book Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture, David Powlison makes what I believe is an accurate observation:
The church typically lags a bit behind the culture's way of thinking. But the ethos and practice of biopsychiatry are deeply affecting the church already. If it's broken, or even just not working optimally, it can be fixed from the outside by a drug: better living through chemistry. In your ministry and in your church you are probably already facing the ethos and the practices. Many people in both pew and pulpit are on mind-, mood-, and behavior-altering drugs. We all increasingly face the ideas and knowledge claims, too. The cover story in Time magazine informs the everyday queries and choices of Christian people. Eventually such ideas make it into the educational system as the received wisdom of the culture with which to disciple the next generation (p. 243)
The more believers uncritically accept the therapeutic ethos that so permeates our culture, the less relevant and precious the gospel will seem.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Greeting Card Theology

I spent a small portion of my Labor Day weekend doing something I can't stand - searching for a greeting card. I've never timed myself but innocent trips to the corner drugstore to pick up a card for a friend or family member have turned into what seemed like card-hunting marathons, with me in search of just the right message. I've spent so long in the card aisle on some occasions that I felt like a loiterer.

The reasons for my protracted perusal are due to consideration of style and substance. My maternal grandmother, with whom I spent a good portion of my childhood, was an avid poet. She couldn't stand what she called "sing-song" poetry, the kind with a cadence that sounds more like a nursery rhyme or limerick. I think I inherited her disdain for such verse. Consequently, I search hard for the few cards that don't contain it.

My bigger beef with so much of what is offered by way of greeting card fare is with the messages themselves, at least in the case of those cards intended to convey a serious thought. (Finding humorous cards is much easier though I must confess those that evoke the greatest laughter from me would be inappropriate to give to anyone except a few of my closest friends.) So many of the messages are so saccharine-sweet and syrupy that there ought to be legislation requiring stores to provide barf bags in the card aisle. Cards related to marriage (for newlyweds, anniversaries, Mother's and Father's Day from a spouse) are some of the worst offenders. Countless times I've stood in a store, reading a card and thinking to myself, "I can't give this to my wife. She'll see right through it!"

Many times I've felt guilty, wondering if something was wrong with me because my feelings don't match the ebullient expressions of bliss printed in practically every card. If this is normative of the marital experience, then perhaps I (and, let me be quick to add, my wife) married the wrong person. I felt a wave of relief when, a few days ago, I mentioned my thoughts on this topic to a friend in a solid marriage of 45 years who said that when looking for a card for her dearly loved husband, even she occasionally wonders why there is such a disparity between her experience and the sentiments expressed in most cards. Her conclusion, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that the thoughts conveyed in most marriage-related cards are unrealistic.

I expect such froth from secular card manufacturers but what I find so tragic is that cards produced by Christian companies contain just as many romanticized notions of marital love. Usually, the only difference is that they throw in references to "prayer," "God," and sometimes, "Jesus." If anyone is to offer a realistic rendering of marriage it should be those who claim to believe and build their lives on God's special revelation but sadly, this is rarely the case, at least from my limited experience. When it comes to marriage, Christian cards are strong on the doctrine of creation, affirming that the institution is God's plan. They are woefully lacking, however, in acknowledging the fall and its obliteration of Edenic relationships. Consequently, the Lord's redemptive purpose in the lives of sinful yet redeemed men and women is rarely mentioned.

Last weekend, while in search of a card for friends recently married, I read numerous cards assuring the newly married couple that the sender was praying for a life of "happiness and blessing" for them as though there were no higher purpose for their union. I've not yet seen a card that said something like "Praying that you will be receptive to the ways the Lord will use you to perfect holiness in each other's lives" or "Praying that you will endure in fidelity to Christ and each other through the joys and trials you will share." These are the kinds of prayers marriages need. I know that when newlyweds are ripping envelopes open and collecting checks, they may not be all that attentive to what's printed in a card anyway, but with all the myths surrounding marriage, shouldn't we look for every opportunity to keep a true vision before each other's eyes? In doing so, we contend against lies and misconceptions that lead to much unnecessary disappointment and disillusionment.

The Christian greeting card industry would do well to imitate the kind of authenticity expressed in the lyrics of a Sara Groves tune called "Roll to the Middle," a beautiful expression of marital love and commitment even on the heels of heated argument. Here are the words:

We just had a World War III here in our kitchen
We both thought the meanest things
And then we both said them
We shot at each other till we lost ammunition

This is how I know our love
This is when I feel it’s power
Here in the absence of it
This is my darkest hour
When both of us are hunkered down
And waiting for the truce

All the complicated wars
They end pretty simple
Here when the lights go down
We roll to the middle

No matter how my pride resists
No matter how this wall feels true
No matter how I can'’t be sure
That you're gonna roll in too
No matter what, no matter what
I'm going to reach for you
I think I'm going to send a "Get Well Soon" card to some Christian card companies.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

On Blogging

MercatorNet's weekly update focuses on blogging. Here's the lineup:

By Michael Cook
Never before have so many people written their thoughts for the world. Will English literature survive the flood?

By Matthew Mehan
Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it's kind compared to the evolutionary struggle for supremacy among bloggers.

By John Bambenek
With more than 50 million blogs on the internet, it's clear that too many people have too much time on their hands.

Sire on Simply Christian

James Sire briefly reviews N. T. Wright's Simply Christian calling it "simply outstanding."

A House Divided

The L.A. Times profiles and contrasts Calvary Chapel founder, Chuck Smith and son, Chuck Smith Jr.