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Read to Them Still While They’re With You: Dispatches from a Dad of Girls

This was the night before my PhD interview (2009). Angie told them to act like daddy. :) Credit: Angie McDonald

This was the night before my PhD interview (2009). Angie told them to act like daddy.:) Credit: Angie McDonald

My wife and I made it a regular practice to read to our girls when they were young. The time spent reading to them before bed time formed sweet memories. Sure, there were nights when we would rather go to bed, and other nights where the last thing we wanted to was to read to them [parents, you know what I’m talking about😉 ]. But, all in all, I look back on those times with much fondness.

As the girls have grown older and more independent, our practice of reading to them has become more of a rarity. Speaking for myself, I did not see the “need” to read to my girls; my thought has been that they are now old enough to read on their own. They need the practice of learning to work through books, build their comprehension skills, and venture out to discover what kind of literature they enjoy. So, for the last several years, I honestly can’t think of many times when I’ve read to my daughters.

The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers. Credit: Amazon.com

The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers. Credit: Amazon.com

The past several days have brought a dramatic change to the way I think about reading to my children. My oldest daughter, Maddi, has to read Francine Rivers’ The Last Sin Eater before the new school year begins. She had been trying to read it on her own (she has developed into an avid reader, willingly reading a book while her sisters are watching TV); because I see her reading so much, I just assumed that she was enjoying the book. The other night, however, I realized that the opposite was true – she said that she didn’t want to read the book…at all.

My wife and I began to pepper her with questions, such as “Why don’t you like it?” and “Don’t you know it’s required for school?” Of course, I brought up the obligatory reminder: “We bought that book for you to read! You have to read it!” But nothing we said would deter Maddi from her decision – she was not going to read the book. Then, in a rare moment of lucidness in the face of conflict, a new question came to mind. I asked Maddi if I could read the book with her. I told her that I was interested in the book and that it would be fun to go through it together. Well, my suggestion worked. Maddi would finish the book, only if Angie and I would go through it with her.

That night I began reading to Maddi – the first time in quite a while. And what a joy it was! I’ll be honest – my throat was dry and my voice getting hoarse (middle school books have longer chapters than the kid books!). There was even a point when I felt that Chapter 1 was taking way too long (again, middle school books have longer chapters than kid books). But, as I read through Chapter 1, I stopped periodically to answer her questions or to offer an explanation of a concept. Already, in one night of reading, we were able to discuss the problem of sin and our need of a redeemer. The next night I read Chapter 2 to her – there were not as many questions this time, but again, we were able to discuss some underlying themes of the story (how we can’t remove the sin of stain, for instance). Little did I know going into this “compromise” that our reading time would be an opportunity to discuss Scripture and biblical themes. Further, I did not realize that it would rekindle the joyful practice of reading to my children.

Our Libby asleep with her favorite blankie and a good book. Credit: Angie McDonald

Our Libby asleep with her favorite blankie and a good book. Credit: Angie McDonald

Where have I been all of this time?! As I type this, I don’t see how I thought that reading to children was only for the toddler years. Rather, it can be something that lasts as they grow older. I’m not trying to say here that if you’re not reading to your older kids, then shame on you. Not at all! Rather, what I am saying is that I have missed out on something that I find my children are still open to. We are always looking for teachable moments – what better way than when reading to our children?

For more on reading to older children, check out this helpful article: The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids  by Melissa Taylor.

John Leland, Baptist Minister

Russ Moore’s Soul Freedom: An Idea as Old as Baptists Themselves

John Leland, Baptist MinisterA video of Russel Moore’s response to a question at the SBC Convention has made the rounds today. It is a video of Moore’s response to a question from John Wofford of Armorel Baptist Church, Blytheville, Arkansas. Generally questions from SBC messengers or members are not worthy of re tweeting or posting on some social video site, but Wofford’s question strikes a chord with many conservative Americans, and Moore’s answer (to which I agree) ruffles the feathers of many of the same. Watch the video below for Wofford’s question and Moore’s response:

One can understand Wofford’s question in light of the atrocities that have happened on American soil and abroad at the hands of Islamic extremists. But, denying Muslims in America the right to build mosques is to undercut the very religious liberty Baptist enjoy – the very religious liberty every religion in America enjoys. The government is to extend to every individual right of “soul freedom” – the right to choose to worship their religion without interference from the government. That is, the United States government should not dictate who is able to build a house of worship and who is not. The government should not dictate who can worship their religion and who cannot. Religious liberty is extended to every individual and guarantees that the government will not interfere.

The idea of “soul freedom” is not unique to Moore, nor is it an idea that has been birthed by the recent clash with militant Islam. Rather, it’s an idea that has been around as long as Baptists have been around.

John Leland (1754-1841) was a Baptist minister in early America, having served churches in Virginia and Massachusetts. What Leland is perhaps most known for is his fight for religious liberty. Robert G. Torbet, in his A History of the Baptists, says Leland was “leading Baptist spokesman in behalf of religious freedom.”[1]  Leland states in his An Address Delivered at Westfield, March 4, 1833, that “next to the salvation of souls, the civil and religious rights of men have summoned my attention, more than the acquisition of wealth or seats of honor.”

Leland’s view on religious liberty directly flows from how he understood the relationship between church and state. Leland believed that “government has no more to do with religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics.”[2]  So strongly did he believe in a strict separation of Church and State, that any idea of a Christian commonwealth (i.e. State) “should be exploded.”[3] 

Government, when rightly formed, embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms – prescribes no creed of faith for either of them – proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion – impartially protects all of them – punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may.[4] 

Note again: “Government, when rightly formed, embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans [i.e. Muslims] and Christians, within its fostering arms.” Baptists, for over 200 years, have championed religious freedom not just for Baptists alone, but also for Muslims, that they too may have the liberty to practice their religion (even build their own mosques) in America.   All civil laws should recognize all individuals of all religious backgrounds as citizens and should protect their rights.[6] 

Baptists, and all other faiths, in America are in debt to Leland and his tireless work (along with other Baptists like Isaac Backus) to ensure religious liberty is extended to all religions in America.  May we as Southern Baptists today continue to champion religious liberty for all – even to Muslims who are here on our soil.

Post Script: I encourage you to read Russ Moore’s post dated June 8, 2016, titled “Is Religious Freedom for Non-Christians Too?” Moore provides excellent insight into a difficult issue, but one that we must face in today’s turbulent times. Though we as Christians are rightly troubled and angered by the actions of Muslim extremists, we live in a country where one religion is not to be favored over another by the state. The federal government is not to endorse one religion over all others; in particular, our government is not a Christian government. We are not in a Christian nation. Rather, we live in a nation where religious freedom is extended to all – even though with whom we are at odds.

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                [1] Robert G. Torbet, A History of the Baptist (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2000), 241.

                [2] Isaac Backus, A Fish Caught In His Own Net, in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism [Works], ed. William G. McLoughlin (Boston: Edes and Gill, 1768; reprint, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1968), 190-1.

                [3] John Leland, The Rights of Conscience Inalienable, in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland [Works], ed. Miss L. F. Greene (New London: 1791; reprint, New York: G. W. Wood, 1845), 184.

 

                [4] Leland, The Virginia Chronicle, Works, 107.

 

                [5] Leland, Short Essays on Government, Works, 476.

                [6] Leland, Letter to the Rev. O. B. Brown, Works, 608-10.

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Reflective and Reactive Thinking in a Social Media-Driven World

In a previous post, I shared how the reactionary-nature of social media leads to more reactionary ventings than actual “engaging the culture.” What under girds our tendency for reacting as opposed to engaging is that our way of communicating online tends toward reactive thinking over reflective thinking. Before I explain what I mean by reactive and reflective thinking, allow me to set the context.

Backlit keyboard

By © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30343877

The Internet and social media (from here on out shortened to “the Internet”) gives us the ability to access news and goings on with incredible ease. Likewise, we can respond to issues with incredible rapidity. Gone are the days of waiting for news to unfold; we can literally watch (or read) the news as it unfolds. In a related vein, but one more germane to my topic for this post, is one’s ability to develop and maintain a presence online and garner a following of sorts. One does not have to rely on the traditional methods for their voice to be heard (print, TV, radio). Now, the Internet offers a far cheaper and instantaneous method for one to develop and project their voice to a much larger audience than the traditional avenues. Consistently post and reply to others’ thoughts, and you can develop quite a following and presence rather quickly.

Today there is a push in corporate America, academia, and even within the church for individuals and groups to develop an online presence. Now, developing an online presence is not a bad thing, but the reactionary-nature of the Internet and social media feeds the sense that one must respond quickly and frequently in order to stay current and relevant. Such an approach – though helpful at times – does not foster good thinking habits. Rather than fostering reflective thinking (where one takes some time to think through the implications of one’s assertions, the relevance of their examples or support, or the coherence of their thought with their worldview and with the Gospel), one is caught up in the moment of winning the verbal battle or making their voice heard above others. The end-goal is short-sighted as one seeks to deal with that issue at that moment. After the issue has concluded or attention has shifted elsewhere, the work one has done evaporates in the wake of the never-ending Internet news cycle. Thus, maintaining one’s online presence involves constant awareness of current news and the cultivation of one’s ability to think quickly and broadly. But, I’m afraid, it does little by way of fostering deliberate and sustained thinking. Instead, it becomes easy for one to create the habit of what I call reactionary thinking – a sort of thinking on the fly in order to address the immediate issue in the context of a specific argument within a particular forum (comment section of an article/blog post, Facebook post, a Tweet, etc., etc.).

By British Cartoon Prints Collection - Library of Congress Catalog

By British Cartoon Prints Collection – Library of Congress Catalog

Perhaps I’ve overstated the issue here. However, I know that in my own experience of developing some sort of online presence while maintaining a writing schedule for journal and book publication, I’ve found that I am caught between the Scylla of maintaining a research and writing schedule that demands reflective thinking, and the Charybdis of maintaining an online presence – one is sacrificed over the other.1 Broadly speaking, when a Christian seeks to address cultural issues, they tend to favor either engaging the culture (as intended by Carl F. H. Henry and others) or reactionary ventings (as fostered by the Internet and social media). In short, one is caught between the Scylla of reflective thinking and the Charybdis of reactionary thinking. When one is faced with these two options, a person generally fosters one type of thinking over the other as well.

The more one favors a particular mode of thinking over a period of time, the more it becomes habit. And when something becomes habit, it becomes the default mode for approaching various situations. If more time is spent developing and maintaining an online presence, then they will tend to favor and employ reactive thinking. However, if one develops and maintains a presence in taking time to spend time on a particular issue, then they default to reflective thinking. Unfortunately, I think many of us today (myself included) have defaulted to reactionary thinking as more time is spent surfing the Internet and social media.

Note, what I’m not saying is that we have an either-or situation. There are times when reactive thinking is needed, and there are other times when reflective thinking is required. What I am saying is that if we are to favor one mode over the other as our default approach, it ought to be reflective thinking. Too often, it seems, we think on the fly – as if the matter requires immediate resolution or addressing. Too often, it seems, we give too little time to reflection before we speak (or write). We have put the proverbial cart before the horse. An emphasis on reactive thinking only reinforces reactive thinking. However, if we place the proverbial horse before the cart (emphasize reflective thinking over reactionary thinking), then what we do is enable one to develop a solid foundation from which one can think reactively when the situation calls for it. Reflective thinking can inform and foster reactive thinking, but the converse is not true – for reactive thinking begets only more reactive thinking.

What many think of when they hear "reflection." Credit: By Karora - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2810153

What many think of when they hear “reflection.”

So, what does reflective thinking look like? For many, I’m sure, “reflection” conjurs up images like The Thinker where one is caught up in deep, sustained, uninterrupted thought. For others, it may include original and profound thinking. While these characteristics are included in reflective thinking, they are not the essence of reflective thinking. Rather, here are some characteristics of reflective thinking that I believe are less intimidating but capture what I believe we all can practice:

  1. Allow time to pass between one’s reception of and response to an issue. I think the Bereans in Acts 17:10-15 provide an excellent illustration here. Upon hearing Paul preach the Gospel, they would “receive the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so” (ESV). The Berean’s did not just receive and react to Paul’s message. More importantly, they went home and studied Scripture to ensure that what Paul said was actually the case and then acted upon what they heard and studied. When there’s an issue you need to address, don’t feel that you have to respond immediately with your complete answer. Giving yourself time allows your emotions to settle; often times emotions can cloud thinking and dictate how you respond. Further, distance between the issue and your response gives you the opportunity to consider other angles that you may not have considered otherwise.
  2. Ask questions. As a parent, I know how wearying questions can be. However, the longer I have taught and parented, I’ve come to see the value and necessity of questions. Asking questions helps to drive reflection, it guides one’s thinking, and it helps you to go beyond the surface issues. Further, asking questions can sometimes help you to “see” where the other side is coming from; the more you understand the assumptions and underlying motivations of the other person, the better you can respond. Questions aid you to this end.
  3. Read (or Re-read) on the Issue. Sometimes you may be very familiar with the issue, while at other times you may have some level of unfamiliarity on a particular topic. Regardless, read what others have said (both those with whom you agree and those with whom you disagree). There’s little by way of original thought – somewhere someone has written what you are thinking or has alluded to what you want to say.2 Be informed (as much as possible) before you respond.
  4. Talk to Others. Sometimes just talking to someone about an issue helps you to think through its various nuances. The other person may provide some helpful insight or ask some pointed questions. Or, just vocalizing your thoughts may help you to “see” something you had not thought of before (this happens to me often). Further, by talking to others, your thoughts will be accountable to others – a reminder that you are not a lone ranger, but a member of the body of Christ.
  5. Remember the Big Picture. Issues do not occur in isolation, nor do your thoughts. That is, what you say now can have implications down the road. Further, what you share is a reflection on you, your family, your church, and on Christ. As a believer, you are a Christ-bearer; as such, do your best to speak and write in such a manner that you reflect Christ. Pray, asking the Lord for his wisdom and discernment. Remember, interacting with others is not about you (or me); rather, it’s ultimately to proclaim the truth of God in Christ.

Reflective thinking is not for the deep thinkers or the ivory tower academics – this is a myth that needs to be dispelled. Rather, reflective thinking is something we are all capable of doing. More importantly, it’s something we are all called to do – note the Bereans’ example. Further, 1 Peter 3:15 implies that we reflect upon what we believe before we give a defense for our faith. Finally, when Jesus states that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth, this implies that we are to understand what this truth is and how it directs our life before God and others.

Lastly, reflective thinking need not be something you do when in isolation (free from distractions) or when you are able to devote an hour or more to it. Rather, it’s something that you can do as you go or when you have a lull in action. The great thing about thinking is that you can “take” your thinking with you anywhere you go.

In short, as we develop the habit of reflective thinking, our responses will become better informed, structured, and poignant. Further, we will have a better foundation upon which to think reactively when called upon.

Origins by Philip Rolnick

Book Review: “Origins” by Philip Rolnick

Origins by Philip RolnickOver at the Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies, I had the opportunity to review Philip Rolnick’s Origins: God, Evolution, and the Question of the Cosmos? Evolution continues to be a point of contention between not only some corners of Christianity and science, but between Christians as well. Rolnick seeks to provide a solution to this ongoing debate. You can see my review at the online journal of JBTS.

There’s More To Music Than Meets the Ears: Thoughts From Behind the Drum Kit

When it comes to breathing, we just don’t think about it, whether it be regarding the act of breathing or the essence of breathing. It’s basic to who we are, thus we rarely take the time to appreciate its complexity and beauty. Likewise, the consumption of music is as natural to us as breathing.  We are surrounded by music – it saturates the airwaves and occupies space on electronic devices and bookshelves (if you have CDs, LPs, cassettes, etc.). Music is so easily accessible today that it’s something we take for granted – we get annoyed when the radio plays songs we don’t like, we can easily access our favorite album and listen to it as much as we want, and we can purchase and discard music on a whim. Like breathing, we rarely take the time to appreciate music’s complexity and beauty, and thus fail to appreciate music as it is.

Perhaps what I’ve shared is more of a reflection of me than of people in general. Regardless, it’s a slumber in which I often find myself. I have been involved in music for thirty years as a drummer – it is such a part of me that I often take music for granted. This is particularly the case when it comes to the music that I listen to. I indulge in listening to music at my convenience and impulse, and just as quickly brush it away as distracting noise and an annoyance. Music, often times, is just a convenience to enjoy as I would a good movie or book.

maxresdefaultHowever, just as Hume awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumber”, so did Shearwater’s Pale Kings awake me today from my most recent bout of consumeristic apathy toward music. As I was driving to work, Pale Kings filled my ears when I was struck by how the music – not the lyrics – expressed and communicated how I am feeling today and this past week. I can’t really put it in words – but the chord structure; the instrumentation; the tension between a slow lyrical rhythm and an active, moving instrumental rhythm—the song in its entirety said something that I could not – and cannot – verbalize. If someone were to ask, “How are you today?” I can point to Pale Kings and say, “This!

The nature of music is a matter that has captured and occupied the imaginations of thinkers and musicians of ages past and present. There is something to it that is more than just its notes, melody, chorus, and lyrics. Music can capture our emotions and express our deepest longings in ways that words cannot. Music can sweep us up in into exhilaration or drag us down into despair. With the music-saturated culture, I think we often we fail to appreciate this power of music.

What I say here is not meant to downplay or reduce the power of the spoken word. That is further from the truth. God has spoken to us through his Word, and his Truth is communicated through word. What we say and express carries much weight. But, Scripture also illustrates the limited nature of human communication. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul states: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV). To be clear, this passage refers to our prayers to God, particularly as we live in a fallen world as we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).  So, Paul isn’t speaking specifically to the limited nature of our language; however, I do believe that we can infer from Paul that there are times when experience the inadequacy of language.

There are times in prayer where words fail to do justice to what we want to express, and all that we can do is groan. Amazingly, and mercifully, the Holy Spirit knows our heart helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us. Broadening out our perspective, we experience the limited nature of words when we try to express the depth of love we have for our spouse, or when we are so angry that we can only growl and huff about, or when we are overcome with gratitude that we can only weep. The spoken and written word is a vital and necessary aspect of our communication – it is the primary means by which we communicate with one another and (more importantly) how God communicates to us. However, just as we are finite, so is our language in its ability to fully express the depths of our heart.

In light of our language’s finite nature, God has given us the ability to create music to be able to express our thoughts and feelings in ways that words cannot. Granted, I believe that there are other reasons why God has given us musical ability, but what’s germane to this post is the idea that God has given us music as a form of communication and expression that helps to carry our words farther than they can on their own. The music we listen to, then, does more than entertain us or serve to satisfy our consumeristic desires. Rather, it carries with it the ability to express the myriad of emotions and thoughts that swirl below the surface of our spoken word.

PetersonBeholdThere is so much more to say here, but I’ve gone long enough. So allow me to summarize further thoughts: How beautiful, then, when the spoken word and music are perfectly wedded that points us to who God is and what he has done in Christ (for me, the one of the best examples is Andrew Peterson’s So Long, Moses)! Further, what a great responsibility we have in ensuring that our music accurately reflects the intent and message of the spoken word (i.e. the lyrics of our hymns, praise songs, etc.); if there is dissonance between the two, then the impact of the song’s message can be diminished. Finally, what a beautiful mystery music is! Think about it, God has created us – and the world – such that we can string together notes and rhythms in such a way that the very depths of our being is moved to respond. Music is so much more than the sound waves vibrating our eardrums—it is the means by which we can communicate and express ourselves more richly and fully.

I realize that this post can imply a sort of dualism between music and the spoken word. In fact, there are those who place more emphasis on one over the other. What I am trying to communicate is that music plays an important role in how we communicate – a role we tend to neglect or take for granted. I believe the spoken word has primacy over music—it is the means by which we communicate (for this is how God created us!) and it is the means by which God has communicated to us. Further, God has created us such that we are able to rely upon and function through spoken communication; it is not so inadequate that we are left confused and unable to act. Far from it! If spoken communication were this inadequate, then I’d be writing this post in vain! What I am trying to say is that there are limits to the spoken word; it is at these limits where music can carry spoken word to its intended end.

As I close, I can’t help but fear that some will interpret this post as saying something other than intend. That is, I feel that no matter how hard I try, I’m not clearly or sufficiently communicating what’s on my mind. Perhaps I need a song to couple my message…😉

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On Being a Father of Only Daughters: Dispatches from a Dad of Girls

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Goofy GirlsIt was some time in the fall of 2002 (I think?) that my wife and I found out we were having a baby girl. I was excited as I’d always wanted a little girl—a daddy’s girl. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wanted a little girl, but it didn’t matter. We were having a baby girl and I was excited! When our little bundle of joy (Maddi) arrived in the spring of 2003, I was smitten right away. In fact, she had me wrapped around her little finger from day one. I would have bought her a pony if she had the ability to ask for one.

Two years later, my wife and I found out we were pregnant with our second child. I wanted to know what we were having—I needed to prepare myself mentally in case we were having a boy. You see, I’m a person of habit and of a one-track mind. By this point, I was used to raising a girl and felt comfortable in my role. If we had a boy…well, that made me nervous. Do you change your approach in relating with a boy? Would it be a challenge to raise a girl and a boy—a sort of disjointed approach? (Note, these are questions from a still fairly young parent.) But…we decided to be surprised (well, my wife wanted to be surprised at the get-go, I eventually came around to wanting to be surprised). I knew that whatever the sex of our baby I was going to love it with all of my heart, but the uncertainty made me nervous.

Our anticipation for the arrival of baby #2 would finally be met in the summer of 2005. As I paced the delivery room that one hot summer day, I became nervous. Raising a child is a significant responsibility—raising two is that much more. Am I going to live up to this responsibility? Also…the question of “What if it’s a boy?” popped into mind again. (Silly question…I know.) My questions quickly vanished, though, with the birth of …girl #2! Our sweet Libby was ushered into the world with great joy. First thought after announcing her name was that I have another girl! And, to be honest, the follow up thought was, “I have two weddings to pay for!”

As I said before, I’m a creature of habit, so it should be no surprise that two years later, Angie and I were expecting our third child. Again, we were going to be surprised on the baby’s gender (despite my best efforts to have the nurse tell me the gender). Though I had a few more years of parenting under my belt, I was still a little nervous about the baby’s gender. This time, though, my concerns were more practical in nature. For instance, we had quite a bit of girls’ clothing—how easy would it be to just hand them down and not buy new clothes for a boy?😉

What differed this time around, though, were the comments I received. There were those who, upon finding out we were pregnant again, would say, “I bet you’re hoping for that boy!”  Or, “Wow! Two girls?! I bet you want a boy now!” I wasn’t sure how to answer these questions; I was happy with whatever the Lord blessed us with. But, I rather liked being a dad of girls. I know the motives behind the questions were good-natured and well-intended, but I didn’t really see why it was necessary that a dad “had to have” a son. The small rebel in me wanted to have another girl just to go against the perceived notion that a dad had to have a son—as if one is less of a father if he didn’t have one to carry on the family name, to do “guy stuff” with, etc.

They were so young!Well, baby #3 arrived in the summer of 2007, and Angie and I were three-for-three. We had our little Emma! I was a dad of all girls, and man! I was proud! As soon as I announced Emma’s name, I thought, “I’m a dad of another girl!” And, in full disclosure, I literally followed up that thought with another, “I have three weddings to pay for.” Weddings aside, though, I basked in the joy of having another daddy’s girl—something only a dad of girls can understand.

So, what is the moral of the story? Is it to say that I (like all dads of only girls) am in a more privileged position than other dads? Is it to set myself apart from other dads? Or, is it to rebel against some perceived notion of real fatherhood? No, no, and no. Rather, my point in writing this post is to share that being a dad of only girls is a great joy.

Though I don’t have a son, I’ve been able to do those activities typically relegated to dad-son activities. My girls enjoy (granted, up to a point) LSU sports. I’ve taken my girls fishing, golf ball hunting, and fossil finding. My girls have participated in volleyball and basketball. All three of my daughters have played with my old Hot Wheels, many times choosing my Hot Wheels over playing with their dolls and dollhouse. They have spent countless hours building with Legos. Further, they have shown interest in studying history, math, art, baking (hopefully philosophy and theology J )…. I want them to discover what interests them so that they can utilize their gifts given by God.
Maddi, Libby, and Emma 2016In short, being a dad of only girls does not limit what I can do with them. I’m not relegated to playing dolls and house (though I have done that). Being a dad of only girls means just that – I am a dad…of girls. I don’t stop being who I am. I don’t have to suspend my interests because they are “boy” interests. Instead, I share my interests with them because it is through those opportunities that they can learn what they like or dislike. Further, by experiencing activities typically relegated to guys, my girls won’t be wandering into a foreign land once they begin dating (*sigh* I don’t want to think about that) and eventually get married. Football, baseball, basketball, fishing, etc. won’t be a foreign language to them; they’ll be able to hold their own.

Being a dad of girls does not mean you have to change who you are. Let your girls know you, in part, through your interests and activities. You are not “missing out” if you don’t have a son. Instead, you have gained a gift that only be obtained by having a daughter. You gain a new perspective on what it means to be a man (for instance, the moment you have a daughter, you quickly foster your instinct to protect). You also have one more reason to strive to be a better man—you want to be a better man for your wife; when you gain a daughter, you want to be a better man that much more.

Lastly, though you don’t have to change who you are, you find that you change nonetheless. I’ve often shared how Angie has made me into a better man; she has a knack for challenging me in areas of my life that need strengthening. Daughters have a similar effect. Indeed, my wife and daughters have a keen sense of seeing me for who I am—encouraging me when I need it and challenging me when I need to grow. I have far to grow—I fail more often than not, but I do know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would not be who I am today if it were not for my wife and my three daughters.

 

 

Phil Def

Bill Nye the Philosophy Guy? A Call For Metaphilosophy

If you’re into philosophy or philosophy-esque topics, you may have seen Bill Nye’s recent videos on “Big Think”. Dan DeWitt’s recent blog post alerted me to a video (posted about a month ago) in which Nye seeks to answer the question “Does science have all the answers or should we do philosophy?” In the short video, Nye’s answer betrays a misunderstanding of what philosophy is and the types of questions philosophy seeks to answer. His examples and illustrations are but caricatures of philosophy as a discipline and actually hurt, rather than aid, his argument.  Olivia Goldhilll critiques Nye’s response over at Quartz in her post titled “Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?” Goldhill provides a succinct response to every claim Nye makes in order to demonstrate that today’s intellectual superstars betray an inexplicable misconception of the very discipline that gave birth to modern science.

While it is understandable that the general public has misunderstandings of philosophy, it’s another matter when some of the public intellectuals of our time display the same misconceptions. Nye’s view of philosophy reflects that of other scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking and of the New Atheists: Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. For these thinkers, only science provides the means by which we discover and know truth. That is, not only does science help us understand how the world works, it also informs us on ethical issues like abortion and explains why we exhibit empathy and love towards others (see Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape). In short, science is built upon fact, while philosophy focuses upon mere speculative questions that cannot be empirically verified. Science alone can discover truth.

How did we get here? Though philosophy and science were inseparable for many centuries, modern science has (to borrow a phrase from Sam Harris) “flown the perch” built by philosophy. The reasons for philosophy’s precipitous fall from “the mother of all disciplines” are varied and too many to summarize here; let it suffice that as modern science progressed and out knowledge of the world expanded, philosophy (and theology) began to be viewed as unnecessary, as relics of a time gone by, or as incapable of discovering truth. Instead, confidence in the scientific method and its track record led many to jettison philosophy in favor of science as the bar of truth.

Philosophy is not an innocent victim in this seismic paradigm shift. Some of philosophy’s heavy hitters have fed the growing ambivalence toward their own discipline. Nietzsche declared philosophy as faulty to its core; philosophers’ assertions are just “assumptions” and “virtuous noise.”[1] William James, the great pragmatist, favorably quotes the old proverb “Philosophy bakes no break” in Lecture I of Pragmatism. Bertrand Russell asserted that philosophy does not bring about definite knowledge; instead, the “residue of science” is left to philosophy.[2] Karl Popper relegated professional philosophy to “idealistic naval gazing.”[3] Finally, Richard Rorty claimed that we are no longer in an age where philosophy is a constructive discipline aimed at determining truth.[4] Though not all philosophers have had a skeptical or negative view toward philosophy, what is illustrated in this paragraph is the shift away from the classical view of philosophy that was prevalent for centuries.

Phil DefSo, is philosophy useless? Has its usefulness and value been exhausted, only to be studied as a relic of intellectual history? Well, ironically, these questions are actually philosophical in nature. So, to declare philosophy as “valueless” is to make a philosophical claim, which in turn requires—if one is to support their assertion—an investigation into the nature of philosophy (in order to declare it valueless). This investigation is itself…as you’ve probably guessed already…a philosophical endeavor.  Those like Nye cannot escape that which they have declared dead. As such, merely asserting that philosophy is no longer useful does not make it so. It is intellectual laziness to make such a careless claim without recourse to an investigation in, reflection upon, and support of this all-too-common view.

The question of whether philosophy is still valuable is a question asked by not only scientists, but by higher education institutions, politicians,[5] religious institutions, and other disciplines as well. Further, the question of philosophy’s value is one that has been visited quite often throughout the centuries. And despite the questioning, philosophy has remained engrained in the fabric of life.

The act of questioning something’s work seems on the face of it a way of putting it down or silencing it. On the contrary, though, questioning philosophy’s utility is actually a one worth asking. My studies have led me to believe that most people will acknowledge that philosophy has some value today. The issue tends to be not if it has value, but how it has value. That is, how does philosophy apply to today’s day and age? One is then led to ask: What questions does philosophy answer, and what issues does it investigate? In answering these questions, one can then answer the why question: why do we study philosophy?[6] In short, philosophy has focused upon—and continues to do so—the very nature of its enterprise. To do so is to participate in the philosophy of philosophy (known as metaphilosophy).

What we need, then, is not a haphazard dismissal of philosophy, but an investigation into the nature of philosophy. Such investigations have been done in the past by various thinkers, but today most people operate from an assumed understanding of philosophy as opposed to a well-formed and well-informed view of what philosophy is and its value to life (and all it entails) today.[7] If we are to accept the claim that philosophy is dead, then we can only do so after the philosophical investigation into that question, thereby breathing life back into a supposedly lifeless discipline.

I have already gone too long in this post, but allow me to wrap it up by extending a call to Christians to investigate the question of philosophy’s value. Christian thinkers like Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Richard Swinburne, Eleonore Stump, Paul Moser, Paul Copan, and so many more have revived philosophy, particularly in Christian circles. While Analytic philosophers had once discarded philosophy of religion and metaphysical questions as unnecessary, these thinkers (among others) have demonstrated that not only are religious and metaphysical beliefs an integral and necessary aspect of life and study, they have established that philosophy can be a vibrant area of study and a valuable partner in the quest to understand the world in which we live.

One Christian who has done much in the area of Christian metaphilosophy is Paul K. Moser. Check out the online symposium that began with his article titled “Christ-Shaped Philosophy: Wisdom and Spirit United”; the symposium is housed at the website for the Evangelical Philosophical Society. The online symposium was begun in 2012 and flourished for about two years, but little has been done since. Further, little seemed was accomplished apart from academic wall-building between those of differing views regarding Moser’s claim. Moser’s work began a conversation that–in my opinion—should be continued if we as Christians are to develop a well-grounded understanding of the nature of philosophy and its value for the believer. Finally, Christian thinkers can also carry the torch into the broader intellectual arena, redeeming a discipline that was once known as “the handmaiden to theology.”


 

[1] This section is adapted from the first chapter of my dissertation, Toward a Baptist View of Metaphilosophy: An Analysis of E. Y. Mullins, John Newport, Richard Cunningham, and L. Russ Bush (2014). The quote is from Nietzshe, “On the Prejudices of Philosophers” I.5.

[2] Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, 155; quoted in McDonald, Toward a Baptist View of Metaphilosophy, 31.

[3] Popper, “How I See Philosophy,” in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, 42; quoted in McDonald, Toward a Baptist View of Metaphilosophy, 34.

[4] Baldwin, Contemporary Philosophy, 272; referenced in McDonald, Toward a Baptist View of Philosophy, 36.

[5] One only has to recall Marco Rubio’s “We need more welders and less (sic) philosophers” quote in the early stages of his presidential campaign.

[6] A very helpful book that discusses these questions is the 2013 book titled An Introduction to Metaphilosophy by Overgaard, Gilbert, and Burwood. This book served as the impetus behind my dissertation and continuing studies.

[7] This view is affirmed in Overgaard, Gilbert, and Burwood, An Introduction to Metaphilosophy, 8.

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

An Interview with Dan DeWitt: The Value of Fiction in Teaching and Some Tips

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

Front Cover – The Owlings Book II

In the final installment of a three-part series, Dan DeWitt – author of The Owlings: A Worldview Novella and The Owlings Book II – shares his thoughts on the value of fiction in teaching, as well as some tips for those who aspire to writing purposeful fiction.

How can fiction be used to serve propositional books?

Let’s say I were to say to my wife propositionally how I care for her as opposed to writing a poem. The poem can awaken emotions, it touches on the imagination, it’s going to be more meaningful, although substantively it’s not going to say anything differently. This is how I see the difference between fictional writings and propositional writings. Propositional truth is really important, which is why I wrote a discussion guide for The Owlings. But writings like poetry awaken the imagination.

What I think Lewis did in Narnia was…in Michael Ward’s Narnia Code, Ward proposes a theory that Lewis hid a Medieval cosmology into the Narnia stories. Each book dealt with a specific planet within the Medieval perspective. I think he built a compelling case, but I think if he is right, then Lewis did this in a very powerful way. You read the story and say, “What he’s saying is really about our world.” He’s talking about Narnia. Aslan tells Lucy, “You will come to know me in your world by a different name.” But there’s a sense in which you have that epiphany where you go, “Wow! This is true about reality. This isn’t just true in the story, but this is something true in our world.”

In what way can Christians improve upon this genre?

As a very young author in this genre, I don’t want to speak on this with hubris. I don’t think I’m necessarily changing a negative trend. I would say that I go to the Christian fiction section and all I tend to see is Amish romance. Nothing necessarily against this genre, but I do think N. D. Wilson and Andrew Peterson are great examples of ways that you kind of write fiction in a really powerful way.

I will tie this back to a question that I was asked last week in my C. S. Lewis class. Someone asked if there was going to be another C. S. Lewis, or is there another C. S. Lewis? If there is, they are not teaching at a Christian school. The power of Lewis was that he was a professor of philosophy early in his career, and later in Medieval/Renaissance literature. He brought all that to bear on his stories. If the problem in Christian fiction is going to be corrected, it’s going to be done by someone who is well-versed in literature. It’s not going to be someone who is a Bible college professor like me, but someone who is outside of Christian circles professionally. C. S. Lewis said, “Do we need more books about Christianity? We need books about other topics written by Christians.” So a Christian is bringing their worldview to bear on a particular topic. [Today, though,] I agree that the Christian fiction section feels like the Hallmark section instead of something like the literature section in a used bookstore that contains books by Austin and other greats.

Based upon your experience and what you are doing, if there are those out there who want to write fiction, what are some tips that you wish you knew before hand or those that you have used that are helpful?

C. S. Lewis wrote a letter to a child about how to write for children – that would be a good place to start. [See also “On Three Ways of Writing for Children“]The think I wish that I had done more of and that I want to do more of now is to read more award-winning children’s literature. I think that would improve my writing. When writing the first and second books of The Owlings I picked up best-sellers in the age-frame that I’m writing for, and I would read either the entire book or just sections of it to see what the author is doing. I would say read a lot of children’s literature. Or, if you’re wanting to write fiction in another genre, then read more in that area. So, read a lot in your area and read books about writing. Doug Wilson’s book Wordsmithy is an appetizer.

Another thing I would mention is that there are two different approaches. One, you could wait until you perfect the genre, perfect your craft, perfect your storytelling, before you publish. I think if you did that you would probably die before you published. So, the other route is the route I’ve taken is to just write. The downside is that you might get some harsh criticism, but I would rather try it and fail rather than not try it. So, I’ll tell people to read books in the genre, books on writing, and then try it whether it’s on a blog, you’re self-publishing, or other routes. I’m self-publishing; I work with a literary agent and he told me that the children’s market is almost impossible to get into and that he didn’t want to represent me. I thought that I could sit around for the next ten years waiting for someone to give me a contract, or I can just do it. I’ve never pitched my idea to a publisher. If in time someone’s interested, then great. If not, it’s okay.

What I find valuable in what DeWitt shares is that the writing of fiction is a good thing for Christians to pursue. As I stated in the previous post, Scripture is full of examples where story is used to teach. Christians can, and should, strive to produce quality, purposeful fiction. There’s something to stories that grab the audience’s heart, making the path to their mind an easier road to travel. If we aim to proclaim the Gospel and to teach truth – then the use of story is a most excellent vehicle.

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If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links:

An Interview with Dan DeWitt: The Role of Fiction in Teaching

Front Cover - The Owlings Book II

Front Cover – The Owlings Book II

In yesterday’s post, DeWitt shared with us what writers influenced his work on The Owlings. In today’s post – the second installment of a three-part series – DeWitt discusses the role of fiction in teaching.

What role does fiction play as a vehicle for teaching in your novellas?

I’m very new to writing fiction, so I make no claims to being an expert. I’m an amateur. What Andrew Peterson is doing [today] is way up on the list – I think he’s great. What I’m doing is even different from what Andrew Peterson has done – it’s not nearly as good. It’s different in that I’m trying to be a bit more explicit, and so…I think G. K. Chesterton did this a bit.

If you were to have a scale with Tolkien on the far end with rich symbolism and not nearly as explicit; C. S. Lewis might be somewhere in the middle; and Chesterton would write a novel and it would be very explicit with the worldview principles he was trying to teach. I have very specific things I want to teach on, and fiction allows me to tell a story that I think someone can be interested in and want to know what happens – something my kids would be interested in. But, then I turn to teach a very specific principle.

Regarding the power of story, I’ll give a quick example. Several years after James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door, Sire wrote Naming the Elephant in which he critiques The Universe Next Door. And one of the elements is that he talks about the power of story to communicate worldview. Now, the newer editions of The Universe Next Door have an updated definition of “worldview.” I think Sire has come to realize the power of story. Through reading Sire, it’s helped me to realize that if we only teach propositionally, we’re going to miss this postmodern generation.

So, my goal in The Owlings – to go back to Sire – is to teach his seven questions he lists at the end of each chapter. (I say that there is an eighth question, because he always asks whether the worldview in question lines up with how one lives.) I want to find a way to deal with these eight questions and find a way to teach them to kids through story. The first book dealt with metaphysics – nature is not all there is. The second book deals with epistemology – specifically scientism: “Is science the only way to know things?” And so, the next book is going to deal with the question, “What does it mean to be human?” You see that I’m following Sire’s questions, but in total I am writing five stories dealing with these questions.

The theme that sticks out in this post is that fiction can be purposeful. That is, fiction is not necessarily a genre for mere entertainment. Narrative can be a powerful vehicle through which important truths are communicated. The encounter between the prophet Nathan and King David (2 Samuel 12: 1-15) comes to mind here. After David’s affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, the prophet Nathan approached the king to confront David with his grave sin. Rather than accusing David of his sin, Nathan begins with a parable – a fictitious story that aims to instruct. Nathan was able to drive home his point in a powerful way. Nathan’s parable engaged David’s mind, emotions, and imagination such that when Nathan connected the story to David’s sin, David confesses (2 Sam. 12:13) “I have sinned against the Lord.” This is not to take away the conviction of the Holy Spirit in David’s heart; indeed, the work of the Spirit is necessary and vital!

Rather, what 2 Samuel 12:1-15 illustrates is that truth can be communicated through different means, and some times story can be more effective and powerful than just communicating propositionally. In the final installment of our three-part series, Dan DeWitt discusses the value of fiction in teaching, as well as some tips for Christians who aspire to write fiction purposefully.

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If you missed the first part of the interview, you can follow these links: