The Seat of the Scornful – Part One

Posted: 05/28/2011 in Uncategorized

It is my sincere hope to begin to offer more opinions and (hopefully) insights on this blog, and one thing has stirred me enough to want to jot a few thoughts down…

John Ortberg recently tweeted a snippet from Malcolm Gladwell who claimed in his book, Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing something to become world-class in terms of one’s expertise. Even if this is a subjective opinion, or if it fails to account for certain prodigies (Mozart? Tiger Woods?), I think it’s a fascinating concept. In other words, if you practice a skill/habit/etc., 4 hours per day (factoring in getting progressively better and more knowledgeable throughout the process), it would take just under 7 years to become expert in some particular skill or knowledge set. I decided to calculate how many hours Jesus poured into His disciples if He spent 8 hours a day discipling them for 3-1/2 years. This unscientific estimation gave them time for sleep (8 hours) and work/family (8 hours), and obviously included just hanging around Jesus (which sounds good). The time before sending them off to turn the world upside down? About 10,200 hours of Jesus practice. Interesting… to me at least.

If children spend 14,000 seat-hours of schooling by the time they graduate high school, then is it safe to assume that whatever skill set, knowledge base, or philosophy has been progressively drilled into them will make them experts? Obviously, they do not graduate as world-class experts in hard sciences or history or language arts or mathematics – so was Gladwell in error? I believe the modern educational system in America is indeed designed to make world-class experts of high school graduates – just not in these academic disciplines.

Instead is it possible that they graduate as world-class experts in the worldview of secular humanism and moral relativism? In our very conservative church congregation in which we just had a couple months of midweek Christian apologetics instruction – an interesting exercise was conducted by the minister leading the sessions. He invited two high school students to role play an interaction between a Bible-believing Christian and a skeptical, somewhat belligerent student. Even with the assistance from the congregation offered at the end, I noted the following observation publicly: we are so used to living, breathing, eating, and sleeping the language and ideas of secular humanism, moral relativism, and practical atheism (or at least Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to cite the work of sociologist Christian Smith) that it is actually easier and “more natural” for the committed Christian (of any age) to role play as the proverbial devil’s advocate than it is to honor the command to defend the faith in a conscientious manner. Is it possible that we have been so thoroughly disciplined by cultural forces that we are easily deceived into sitting in the seat of the scornful as described in the first Psalm?

I estimated that if you take the average seat hours at government school and add it to the reported average number of hours children consume secular entertainment (particularly through television and movies – but don’t forget music), it should take around 4 years to turn a youth into a functional, if not fluent, secular humanist, moral relativist, religious pluralist, Moralistic Therapeutic Deist – if not outright atheist or agnostic. Could I be mistaken? Absolutely. But my guess is that honest inquiries at local high schools, middle schools, and church Sunday schools and youth groups, would invariably lend support to my suspicion. Take the kids to Sunday school, the teens to youth group, maybe throw in some midweek services – for what? 3 to 6 hours of religious training? That low number means it would take about 65 years to produce an expert… churchman. That’s while taking the leap that their instruction, knowledge, and practice got progressively better. (Uh oh…)

Many statistics are available regarding the troubling trends of Christian youth and their religious beliefs and worldviews thanks to the efforts of individuals like C. Britt Beemer, George Barna, and other ministers and statisticians. In part 2, I hope to share some of the figures that such men have uncovered, and then dare to imagine how Christian parents and clergy would respond if we took these statistics more seriously.

I am so grateful that someone of superb intellectual heft in Dr. Al Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) would be so wise and brave to say previously on his radio program that Southern Baptists need to seriously consider developing an exit strategy for removing their children from public (i.e., government) schools. As one who has spent the last 20 years as part of a strict “holiness” movement that eschews many worldly trappings and carnal entanglements, I have heard many impassioned speeches regarding the need to “come out from among them and be separate, saith the Lord.” I believe this portion of the New Testament and preach it myself. However, I do not believe that I have heard any preacher or ecclesiastical official in my circle make a more sensible holiness statement than this point made by Dr. Mohler.

It is undeniable at present that the world (as defined by John in 1 John 2:15-17) appears far more adroit and successful in ensnaring American children of faith than the Church is at evangelizing American children in need of Christ. This is particularly troubling when you consider the curse of Jesus Himself upon those who cause the little ones who believe in Him to stumble. How many Christian parents (with the complicity of Christian clergy) have unintentionally fitted themselves for a proverbial millstone by sacrificing their children to the modern-day Molech of secular humanism and moral relativism via government education in its modern form? (And I include the often obscene “socialization” that occurs among peer groups in these school settings)

Rare, if not anecdotal, examples of the children who “did just fine” going through public schools do not negate overall reality. There has been an astronomical and unacceptable “backsliding” rate amongst kids raised in Church, which appears to have only worsened over the years as more money, excitement, and passionate ministers have been honestly aimed at the Sunday schools and youth departments of America. Having done worldview surveys of Church youth, and in examining the findings of others who have tested the philosophical integrity of these precious young souls, I have serious doubts that they all “did just fine” navigating the shark-infested waters of secular education and secular entertainment. How many who “did just fine” were simply more comfortable in the familiar trappings of their “churchanity” than they were in leaving altogether? They may be physically “in church,” but is their worldview Biblical?

If I were to take an honest look at Biblical holiness teaching and applications in the Church, I would have to confess that there have been numerous times I have witnessed and participated in straining at some (perhaps legitimate) gnats of worldliness while choking on more obvious camels. May the consciences of honest Christian people be respected as we love one another despite sincerely-held differences, yet is it possible that many of us Christians are sacrificing the minds and worldviews of our children via government education, secular entertainment, and undiscerning socialization when our children are too young to discern this propaganda and indoctrination – and are too defenseless to fight back effectively. Is this an indictment against me as a pastor? Yes. The need to better equip parents and children against this relativistic tsunami is a source of personal angst. I realize that some students’ home situations necessitate their attendance at government schools (and that in some instances productive evangelism occurs!).  I also know that there are some overly-zealous homeschool advocates that can turn people off by spreading more heat than light in their awkward or odd manner – or tragically in cases of their homeschoolers’ sinfulness, since only Christ can eradicate sin – not “doing homeschool.”   Furthermore, I am fully aware that the entertainment genie will not soon be forced back into the cultural bottle.  Do these instances make the need to preach against being “of the world” any less a mandate of the Church?  Do these realities exempt parents from taking an honest look at their situation with a willingness to make radical changes for the benefit of the next generation?  Of course not, yet human nature often chooses to ignore, scoff, or criticize that which cuts against one’s convenience.  Therefore, I must sound this alarm:  the government-media cultural black hole is a very real spiritual danger to children and youth of faith.  The volume, sophistication, and complexity of worldly philosophy through secular education and entertainment is more than the average kid could hope to handle, and it strikes me as silly to send an ill-equipped child against such entrenched demonic forces with a pithy claim that junior should go and be salt and light.  Does making this claim public smack of evangelistic suicide (even while the irony of church youth spiritually dying at unacceptable rates goes unchecked)? Is the answer a Mohlerian exodus of Christian youth from the public schools?  Is there a need to attempt to overtake the entertainment industry by creative people of faith while shunning the moral and philosophical poison that emerges from various media?  Bottom line – how can we effectively get our kids their 10,000 hours of progressively-improving “Jesus practice” – known as “effective Christian discipleship”?  Each individual has limited amount of time, energy, and attention – can we and our families honestly hope to attain expert-level Christianity without eliminating some things that fill up our lives or even contradict our Christianity?

Change is imperative – not because of Gladwell’s theory, but because of Christ’s Commission to make disciples. I want to do it better. I want the Church I love to do it better. God please help – start with me – that I may better make disciples – starting with those priceless gifts who call me “Daddy.” Let our delight be in You, and may we ever stand in the congregation of the righteous. Amen.

PSALM 1

Blessed is the man

Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinners,

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

3 He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

4 The ungodly are not so,

But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

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