Monthly Archives: November 2007

Coming to faith and/or coming back to faith

I am always curious about how people come to faith. What means has the Spirit of God used to turn their hearts and lives toward him? As I have read and heard different life stories I have come to realize that there are varied entry points on the journey – sometimes head, sometimes heart, sometimes hands and sometimes a combination of head, heart or hands. Recently I had a personal conversation with someone whose intellect I highly respect and it was fascinating to me that, while the Spirit began the dialogue through intellectual engagement, the actual moment of acceptance came through a unique physical phenomenon – almost a Saul/Paul Damascus road kind of experience that defied logical explanation.  So it was very interesting to read how one of the leading atheists of our time, Anthony Flew, describes his coming to faith in his new book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

Born as the son of a leading preacher in England, Anthony Flew was raised in a Christian home and attended a private Christian school. Over the course of his academic career he authored over thirty works of philosophy that set him apart as the world’s pre-eminent defender of atheism for over a half a century. He debated C.S. Lewis as a regular member of the Oxford University Socratic Club and organized conferences promoting atheism. (Sidebar: It is interesting to note that a philosopher out of the Reformed tradition, Alvin Plantinga, is cited as one of those who shook his argument.)

Flew came to faith by reason – he simply could not deny the activity of a creative Intelligence:

“What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together. It’s the enormous complexity of the number of elements and the enormous subtlety of the ways they work together. The meeting of these two parts at the right time by chance is simply minute.”

He goes on to discuss the “monkey theorem” of Schroeder as an example of this minute possibility of creation simply happening by chance: the likelihood of monkeys getting the letter “a” typed is 1 out of 27,000, the chance of getting a Shakespearean sonnet typed is 10 to the 690th – 1 with 690 zeroes after it; therefore proving that you will never get a sonnet by chance from monkeys.

Flew states that his journey toward faith has “led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being.” He takes Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and other current atheist apologists to task for both failing to address the central grounds for God’s existence and for failing to present “a plausible worldview that accounts for the existence of a “law-abiding,” life supporting, and rationally accessible universe.” He pronounces Dawkin’s rejection of God as a matter of belief without proof – blind faith.

One of the most compelling statements made in the book is his reflection on Barna’s data that what you believe by the time you are thirteen is what you will die believing. He states: “Whether or not this finding is correct, I do know that the beliefs I formed in my early teenage years stayed with me for most of my adult life.” What a strong statement in support of teaching a Christian worldview throughout all subjects in Christian schools!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, encouraging the heart, student outcomes

A powerful tool for engaging students with the Bible

I recently came across YouVersion.com and realized it was a totally new tool unlike anything I had seen before. I believe it has great potential for engaging our online kids in Bible study and also provides a way for our kids to share their faith with others.

The site claims in an intro message I received after signing up: “Whether you’ve been studying the Bible for years or are simply curious about its claims, YouVersion will allow you to read, share, ask questions, and learn from others in an exciting and interactive new way.”

It has four features (info in italics taken from the YouVersion site):

Discover
Easily find a passage in one of many translations. Search by reference or use the Table of Contents to locate a specific scripture.

Contribute
Share what God’s Spirit is showing you, and read how He is moving in the lives of others. Contribute images, video, text or links to passages, or email something meaningful to a friend.

Reflect
You can journal about what you’re reading, as you’re reading it. And even better, what you write is linked directly to what you are reading so you can easily reference back to those special passages.

Remember
Mark references with tags that make sense to you, and find what you want, when you want. It’s like your own personal concordance. Or you can star anything you’d like to remember.

Here is an informational video and an explanation of how to use the site. (You may need to wait a minute while video loads.)

What is compelling is linking both personal thoughts and visual/text web resources that each have found helpful around certain passages of Scripture. See the video above for a good example of what I mean. I think this could be a great tool for personal use or to encourage students to use. Think of the possibilities for student engagement with the Bible!

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Filed under curriculum, student outcomes, uncategorized, worship

Why or why not to send kids to a Christian school

Obviously you know where I stand on this one!

Here is a good dialogue between Sean McDowell, a Christian school teacher, and Tony Jones, an emerging church pastor on the topic – thanks Jim for sharing this.

If you are looking for other tools to use with parents around making the decision for Christian education, here is another helpful resource.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, resources, uncategorized

Nurturing those who nurture

Over the past month I have been involved in three teacher conventions – Heartland, Midwest CEA, and OCSTA in Ontario. What a great privilege this has been to connect with so many committed teachers and administrators in times of worship and learning together. Highlights include singing together in Dordt College’s beautiful chapel, connecting with so many friends from various stops along my journey, being inspired by Tony Campolo as he delivered a “greatest hits” message about being passionate Christians, seeing teachers in all three places being honored for 25 and 35 years of service (wow- so many years of dedication and so many who have done it!) and hearing speakers like James Schaap and Gideon Strauss who brought the need for reverence of God and his creation to light in fresh ways. Standing up in front of the Midwest CEA and singing “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” held special meaning – I could barely look at my wife while singing this song that was sung at our wedding and holds a special place in our hearts.

If you are a board member or administrator let me emphasize to you how much these times of worship, fellowship and learning together mean to teachers – please do not underestimate how the intangible aspects of this experience of community can inspire teachers who spend much of their time alone in their work. The community that happens at these conventions does much to encourage the hearts of those who encourage the hearts and minds of our students. Hats off to Anne Maatman, Brenda VanderPloeg, Diane Stronks, their committees of helpers, and to all presenters who helped to pull these large and important events off.

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Filed under community, staff development, worship

Let’s keep our focus on what is essential

It was my pleasure to work with groups at OCSTA and Heartland on the matter of developing Essential Questions and hearing how creative teachers are using them to engage students deeply. As knowledge continues to compound at incredible rates (does anyone disagree?) and as access to information that formerly needed to be memorized decreases, we find ourselves needing to re-consider what is most important to address with students in our limited school schedules. Are we spending enough time deleting from our curriculums? Are we considering how we might combine multiple key concepts through work done with other teachers from other disciplines? While it is true that we are preparing students for a future that we are not sure of, we probably have more student needs identified than most educators out there – simply because we recognize that we are privileged to deal with the issues of the heart as Christian educators. We know that, in terms of the issues of the heart, our students will need a strong Biblical foundation, a well-developed worldview, strong apologetics, a heart for justice, and a passion for Christ’s kingdom regardless of their vocational choice. Let’s continue to challenge each other’s thinking about what is really most important for our students to spend their time on in our schools.

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Filed under curriculum, distinctively Christian, mission development, mission measurement, student assessments, student outcomes

The brokenness of divorce and its impact on faith nurture

In the world that some of us grew up in, divorce was almost unthinkable. In fact, Chap Clark in his book Hurt points out “we moved from a culture with a divorce rate that affected 2% of the married population in 1940 to a society in which 43% of first time marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years of marriage as of 2002.” In today’s world it may be difficult to find a family that has not been impacted by it. Both my wife and I each have one sibling who has experienced divorce.

Divorce and its aftermath has a strong impact on children – Clark believes that it is a contributing factor to the current abandonment and aloneness that youth feels. He goes on to state: “The consequences of a ripped-apart family system remain a constant source of brokenness throughout one’s life.” His observations made while working in a school setting bear out the impact of the lack of a secure family environment: “The mid-adolescent students who struggled the most in nearly every category of adolescent development – for example, self-concept, sexual behavior, substance abuse, and trust in friends or authority figures – almost universally came from a family system in which the home was less than a safe, supportive environment…mid-adolescents known as sexually ‘loose’ often came from families in which the father was not present or there was a specific and observable disconnect between the child and the father.”

Jean Twenge points out in her book, Generation Me, that children coming from divorced homes are more anxious and cynical while also developing a self – reliant individualism that results in a distorted sense of self-importance. She also believes that GenMe children have difficulty in forming close relationships due to the instability brought on by parents divorcing when they were young. Consequently GenMe is single longer, marrying later if at all, and living a lonely and isolated life leading to anxiety and depression.

A recent study coming out of the American Institute for American Values points out that divorce has a very negative impact on the faith of youth. Consequently they are more likely to lose their faith or be less religious in adulthood. Here is an article on the report.

As a society we have accepted certain myths about the impact of divorce – such as children recover quickly and are adaptable, children are better off with divorce when parents don’t get along well, and children have as good or better marriages when they get married. For the research answers to these and other divorce myths, see this Rutgers study summary called The Top Ten Myths of Divorce: Discussion of the most common misinformation about divorce by David Popenoe.

Please feel free to encourage parents in your school or church with the information presented above. It may be one of the best things we can do to encourage the faith development of our youth.

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Filed under encouraging the heart, kids/culture, student outcomes

Speaking of essential questions – it’s not happening at the public colleges and universities

In a Boston Globe article, Yale professor Anthony Kronman makes the case that the most important question of “Why are we here?” is not being asked at the college level these days. His point is that if students are not being asked to contemplate this question, that they will be more vulnerable to those who possess religious conviction. He sees this lack in higher education “a dangerous and disturbing development.”

I came across this article and some excellent responses because I have been enjoying a new blog and print magazine called Comment, put together by the folks at the Work Research Foundation. In the edition focusing on this article, the Comment staff kindly put together a “mini-symposium on the relationship between academia and religious conviction, in the formation of today’s young adults.” Check it out.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, student outcomes