Knowledge, Love, and Wisdom (Huss)

  John Huss (b. 1369) was one of the forerunners of the Reformation.  Well before Luther’s day Huss called out many of the abuses and errors in the church: hypocrisy, corruption, the sale of indulgences, and so forth.  Huss was a very powerful preacher and a bright student of the Word, but he wasn’t the leading scholar of his day.  I appreciate his view on knowledge and the Christian faith:

First of all must we learn that which is most necessary to salvation, that which stimulates us to love; for we should learn not for vainglory or curiosity, but to the edification of ourselves and our neighbor, and to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are some who wish to know in order that they may be known of men, and that is degrading vanity; there are others who wish to know for the sake of knowing, and that is curiosity; and there are still others who wish to know in order to sell their knowledge for wealth and honor, and that is ignoble desire for gain. But there are likewise some who desire to know in order to edify, and that is love; and still others who desire to know in order to be edified themselves, and that is wisdom.”

 Kuhns, O. (1907). John Huss: The Witness (pp. 41–42). Cincinnati; New York: Jennings and Graham; Eaton and Mains.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Wisdom and Worldview (Goldsworthy)

Here’s a nice section from Graeme Goldsworthy’s book Gospel and Wisdom:

“The Christian rejects this [naturalistic] assumption of a universe which is shut up against the God of the Bible.  He accepts rather that God is self-sufficient, personal, and in complete control.  While the atheist view of reality is a closed system of cause and effect, the Christian view is a universe in which cause and effect are established by God and open to his sovereign intervention.  We need the revelation of God in order to know that the universe is in fact like this.  We do not know all the answers yet.  We never will know all the answers because some can be known by God alone. Because God has revealed that the ultimate meaning of reality lies beyond the ability of man to discover for himself, we know that empirical knowledge is always in that sense defective.  What man discovers by himself, and what he reasons from it, will never bring him to understand God and to know him.  Thus, we have returned to Paul’s assertion that worldly wisdom cannot know God (1 Cor. 1:21, compare 2:12).

The Bible characteristically looks at reality in terms of relationships.  Because God is the creator of all things, these relationships must begin with God.  To understand what it means to be human we must know man as image of God.  The non-Christian can describe many things about man in a way that is useful within a restricted framework.  But while we can look at man purely in terms of structure, chemistry, anatomy and so on, none of these approaches can show us the real nature of man.  They do not provide a satisfactory explanation of the uniqueness of man in the purposes of God.  They can never discover and pin-point the exclusive trait of humanity created in the image of God.  From a biblical point of view, then, the definition of man is primarily a definition of his relationship to God….”

This quote is taken from The Goldsworthy Trilogy, pages 367-8.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Danger of Biblicism

Biblicism is a problem in the conservative Christian church today.  By “biblicism” I mean an over-rigid adherence to certain Bible texts or teachings at the expense of context and other biblical teachings.  Biblicism is a cousin of legalism since both are often quite rigid, demanding, and unforgiving.  Some examples of biblicism would be an inflexible adherence to things like courting, abstinence from all alcohol, and insistence on a certain way to run a home (to name just a few).  Biblicism often doubts the value of general revelation and sometimes views the Bible as a science textbook.  I’ve also noticed that many biblicists are self-taught and sometimes do not like creeds and confessions.  Biblicism can lead to many problems in a church’s life and in a Christian’s life.

Terry Johnson has a helpful section on biblicism in his book on the five solas called The Case for Traditional Protestantism.  Here’s part of it:

“Believers must not fall into an unwarranted biblicism which, in the name of biblical authority, narrows the scope of its application to only that which the Bible explicitly states and not to that which it implies as well.  This is a danger when the nature of Scripture is not understood.  There is not a verse for every occasion.  The Bible is not a book of detailed causistry providing answers for every imaginable ethical question.  No doubt some have wished that the Bible were such a book….  Yet it still applies to every occasion.  How so?  It reveals general principles which, to be grasped, must be illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and, to be applied concretely in life, must be joined with reason and wisdom.  The need of wisdom can be illustrated by this fact – almost all of life is lived between the lines of explicit biblical commands.”

“We can summarize our point in this way: The Scriptures are sufficient to reveal to us the truth and will of God when read in conjunction with biblical wisdom.  Biblical wisdom can be defined as understanding the nature of things.  To do so I must know the ‘sacred writings,’ ‘which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15).

Johnson later notes how a person may know what the Bible says but not really understand the nature of things and therefore misapply the Bible’s teaching.  The farmer doesn’t plant in the spring because the Bible commands it.  “He does so because he correctly percieves the nature of things and acts in harmony with it.”  The wise Christian understands general revelation and special revelation, and conforms his life “to the reality that both books (nature and the Bible) reveal.”

Yes, the Bible is the Christian’s highest authority in all of life, and yes, Scripture is sufficient for doctrine and life.  But that doesn’t mean we should ignore general revelation.  It doesn’t mean that there’s a Bible verse for everything.  It doesn’t mean we can ignore context and flatten out the Bible.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have to use wisdom in all areas of life.  Biblicism sometimes sounds good because it uses Scripture so much, but we have to remember there is a wrong way to use it!  And typically, as Augustine said, the person who has himself as a teacher has a fool for a student (cf. Prov. 1:7, 12:15, and 28:24). So we need to humbly listen to wise counsel and fervently pray for wisdom ourselves, which – thankfully! – God gives to those who ask in faith (James 1:5-6).

The above quotes are found in chapter two of The Case for Traditional Protestantism by Terry Johnson.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Critical and Opinionated Christians (Manton)

Sadly, some Christians are super critical and overly opinionated.  They constantly criticize others and go around boldly stating their opinion (as if they’re always right).  This is a sign of pride.  Of course, no Christian is perfect – we all struggle with various sins, passions, and evil pleasures.  But it is important for those who follow Christ to be humble, loving, patient, kind, gentle, peaceful, and so forth (cf. Gal. 5:22).  We should fight against being critical and overly opinionated.  Thomas Manton does a nice job explaining moderation and Christian wisdom in his commentary on James 3:17.  He said, “A truly wise Christian is moderate:”

1) In his criticism.  He is not always making the worst of matters but judges charitably and favorably where things are capable of being interpreted without censure.  People who examine everything by very strict rules and use harder terms than the nature of human actions requires may seem to be more wise and perceptive than others, but they show lack of this true wisdom that the apostle commends. Austerity [a severe manner] is the sign of folly.  Wise Christians, in weighing actions, always allow for human frailty.

2) In his opinions.  He does not urge his own opinions too much or wrest those of his adversaries beyond what they intended to odious consequences that they disclaim – a fault that has much disturbed the peace of Christendom.  Charity should consider not what follows of itself from any other opinion, but what follows in the conscience of those who hold it.  A person may err in logic without erring in faith; and though you may show him the consequences of his opinion, you must not make him responsible for them.  To make anyone worse than he is, is the way to disgrace an adversary not reclaim him.

These are good reminders!  Rather than always criticising and voicing our opinion, we should seek the wisdom from above, Christ-like wisdom, wisdom that is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17, NIV).

The above quotes are found in Thomas Manton’s (abridged) commentary on James, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015



Digital Media, Screen Time, and the Christian Home

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG I have to admit that I often wish my wife and I were raising our children before the digital age – before there were 6+ screens in each home, before people spent 7+ hours in front of a screen each day, before people’s conversations always got interrupted by the cell phone.  I’m not at all against digital media, and I realize there have always been difficult areas of parenting, but digital media sure makes parenting tough (especially when “everyone else’s” kids have the best tablet, IPhone, or gaming system)!

On this topic, I’ve mentioned The Digital Invasion before here on the blog.  This is an excellent resource for those of us trying to handle digital media in a wise, Christian way.  Here’s one helpful section on how to keep a home from being consumed by digital media; in other words, here are some tips on helping avoid screen addiction in the home (I’ve edited them for length and added a few lines of personal observation/notes):

1) Be alert.  Watch, listen, learn, and engage with your kids.  When your kids are playing video games, watching TV, or engaging in some other digital activity, use these times as teachable moments.  Don’t assume your kids are always going to make the right choices when using technology.  Be aware of what your kids are doing in front of the screen.  Also be alert to signs of too much media use – sleepiness, weight gain, sore necks/backs/wrists, irritability when asked about online habits, etc.

2) Create a safe home environment that makes it easy for your kids to share their concerns, fears, temptations, and experiences in their areas of technological use, even their mistakes.  They must know it’s safe to discuss these things with you, and do it regularly.

3) Establish good media habits.  Lead the way.  Model a Christian perspective and attitude towards media in front of your kids.  Don’t be a screen junkie yourself!  Media should be a privilege instead of a constant activity that is simply taken for granted.  Have your kids get into the habit of asking to use a screen (like they would ask to use matches, dad’s tools, or anything else that might be dangerous or that needs supervision).  Take screen time away or limit it when disciplining kids.  Contrary to popular beliefs, your 11-year-old is not legally entitled to own a digital device and use it for hours each day!

4) Attach all media to a system of accountability.  Location is everything.  Keep a common area.  Never allow a computer or television in your child’s room.  Have good filters, and require your children to share their passwords.  You have the authority to look at their screens/tablets/phones, so do that to make sure your child isn’t using the device in a sinful way.  Consider times during the week to have a “screen off” period.  Also remember to use rating systems on apps, safe search options on YouTube and Google, and IMDB or for movie reviews.

5) Determine a media diet and stick to it.  Discuss this with the entire family, and hold one another accountable.  Don’t be afraid to have time limits, and use blocks on devices so during certain times, they cannot use all the functions of the device (e.g. our devices use the Ubehind app which makes it so certain apps are blocked for a certain time).

6) Give your children alternative entertainment activities.  Sports, hobbies, board games, and books are just a few of the myriad of nondigital activities that are very healthy for kids (mentally, socially, and physically!).  In my family (SL), rather than purchasing an extra laptop, cellphone, or tablet, we used that money to get a small fishing boat, kayak equipment, some camping gear, and sports equipment so the kids had more options of things to do outside.) (see pages 183-184)

These are some helpful ways to keep our Christian homes from overuse, misuse, and unwise use of digital media.  If you’re a parent who is growing more and more lenient about your children and their screen time, remember your God-given role and authority, and prayerfully and lovingly begin to “reign in” digital media in your home.  It might be a tough job, but it will be good for you and your kids in the long run – spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.

Here’s the book to help you: The Digital Invasion by A. Hart and S. Hart-Frejd.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Internet Addiction

9780801015298_p0_v3_s260x420.JPG This is an interesting, thought-provoking, and helpful book: The Digital Invasion by Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd.  From a Christian perspective, this book discusses media technology (computers, smart phones, Facebook, email, etc.) and its effect on people.  Hart and Frejd’s book is not an outright attack on technology, but it is a call to be wise in a world where media technology can seriously alter a person’s life for the worst.

One section I appreciated was the one on Internet addiction.  The authors say that Internet addictions share the following four components (the same could be said for any digital addiction):

1) Excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives and duties.
2) Withdrawal symptoms, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible.
3) Tolerance, including the need for upgraded computer equipment, more software programs, and longer hours of use (for example, with drug addictions it means you have to take more and more of a drug to get the same effect.  The same is true for digital addictions – you need more and more).
4) Negative repercussions, including arguments, family abuse, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

Here are some of the consequences of Internet addiction:

1) The important relationships that need nurturing will increasingly be neglected.  This could result in more marriage failures, affairs, and family breakdowns (either parents neglecting their children or children avoiding their parents).
2) Loss of employment because of excessive use of the Internet for personal uses while at work.  Or, the distraction of the Internet interfering with work effectiveness.
3) Loss of sleep, where excessive use of the Internet at home and late night can lead to insomnia or just plain ‘sleep robbing.’
4) Diminished energy, not just from sleep deprivation, but also from excessive digital engagement in general.
5) Health problems associated with sitting for long periods, including eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, back aches, and obesity.
6) Internet addiction opens the pleasure-center door on a lot of other addictions, such as gambling, gaming, and pornography, as well as drugs and alcohol.

There’s much more to the discussion, obviously (I edited the above very slightly).  I realize we may sometimes joke about being an Internet junkie or a smart phone junkie, but these things can be seriously addicting in a most debilitating way.  In fact, it is something that we should pray about – pray that God would give us wisdom and self-control when it comes to our use of Internet and other media technology.

Here’s the book to get if you want wise words and counsel about this topic: Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd, The Digital Invasion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013).

shane lems

Quotes on Listening (II)

 This is a slightly edited repost from November, 2010.

Studying James 1.19-25 this week led me to think long and hard about the virtue of good listening – specifically listening to God’s Word (1:22; cf Ecc. 5.1-2, Prov 10.19, etc).  It is so hard to be a good listener in our noisy and entertainment-driven culture in which someone (or something!) is always talking.  We can enjoy movies and music, but we should also try to enjoy these things in moderation because excessive indulgence slowly kills our skill of listening (to the Word).  Here are a few great quotes I found on listening which I thought our readers would appreciate.

“Today…much ‘church work’ makes congregants so busy that they have scant time and little capacity for listening.  …Loving God and other people depends on getting to know them intimately by listening to them ‘with the ear of the heart.'” (Schultz, 78-9).

An old monastery had these words carved into the stone wall: “Do not speak unless you can improve upon the silence.” (Schultz, 78)

“The Word comes not to the chatterer but to him who holds his tongue. … Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God.  We are silent before hearing the Word because our thoughts are already directed to the Word, as a child is quiet when he enters his father’s room.” (Bonhoeffer, 79).

“The listener is not permitted to suppose that the preached words are for anyone other than himself or herself.” (Peterson, 11).

“Doubtless, no one can be a true disciple of God, except he hears him in silence…. He (James) would…have us to correct and restrain our forwardness, that we may not, as it commonly happens, unseasonably interrupt God, and that as long as he opens his sacred mouth, we may open to him our hearts and our ears, and not prevent him to speak.” (Calvin on James 1.19).

“When we have heard a sermon, we should look up to Christ and beg his blessing upon it that it may not return void, but accomplish the work for which it was sent and be powerful and efficacious for the good of our souls.” (Love, 147).

“When we come to the Word preached, we come to a matter of the highest importance; therefore we should stir up ourselves and hear with the greatest devotion. … The devil is not one who refuses to come to church; he attends, but not with any good intent; he takes away the Word from men,” so “regard” and “remember” the Word. (Watson, 16-17).

“Why are we such poor listeners?  Today one of the major reasons is that we are so busy.  Our busyness substitutes frenzy for conversation and wrecks our relationships.  It fills our calendars and empties our lives of the ability to listen to anything that turns us away from our little gods.” (Hughes, 64).

“As real hearers we are indeed taken prisoner by this Word.  We surrender to it.  Inevitably, therefore, the totality of our existence is evidence of what we have heard.” (Barth, CD II.2, p. 365).

“It is required of those that hear the word preached that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures, receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.” (WLC 160).

“Solae aures sunt organa Chistiani – The ears alone are the organs of a Christian man, for he is justified and declared to be a Christian, not because of the works of any member but because of faith.” (Luther, quoted in Webb, p. 144)

“Be quick to listen and deliberate in answering” (Sirach 5:11).

shane lems

hammond, wi