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When is my child “ready” to get baptized?

The perennial question of the Baptist parent: when is my child ready to get baptized?

And once you’ve asked that question, you begin to ask even more questions. What does it even mean to be “ready” for baptism? Was I “ready” when I got baptized? What is “baptism” anyway? And how does it relate to things like “faith,” “repentance,” and “salvation”? If you’re not careful, you might accidentally end up doing theology.


Whether we should baptize small children (not infants) is the question that John Starke addressed recently. Specifically, he’s responding to Trevin Wax’s post arguing that there are good reasons for delaying the baptism of small children until they’re ready. Starke understands the concerns, but he thinks they’re misguided and offers 4 reasons for baptizing young children without delay:

  1. The regular pattern in Scripture doesn’t give any indication of a probationary period.
  2. A probationary period seems to imply that there is something more than faith we need to do in order to be a Christian.
  3. Affirming belief in the gospel is never false assurance.
  4. The New Testament pattern is reactive rather than proactive concerning conversion.

You’ll have to read the post to get his full thinking on the subject, but I think he makes some good points. I’m particularly concerned about the second point and the suggestion that we need to wait until a child “owns” her faith or has a sufficiently “mature” faith before getting baptized. The first concern seems to rise directly from our rampant individualism and the idea that if the community (or family) serves as a shaping force in a person’s faith development, their faith no longer belongs to them in some way. And the second implies that you’re not really converted until your faith reaches a certain level of maturity, as though my salvation depended ultimately on the quality of my faith.

One of these days I’ll finally get around to writing my own post (it will probably take more than one) explaining how I view baptism and how my wife and I are approaching it with our daughters. But for now, just read Starke’s post and see what he has to say.

Update: Nathan Finn also addressed the issue this morning, with an interesting reflection on how his views on the subject have changed slightly over time.

Technology is either destroying us or making us better…it’s hard to say

I’ve run across quite a few good technology related posts lately. Rather than trying to comment on them all individually, I decided just to gather them in one roundup. Here you go.

There’s something, something I can’t explain, about the way a book feels to hold and read that no digital version can match.

A study published in tomorrow’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association confirms what researchers have long suspected: that long conversations on cellphones affect parts of your brain. Trouble is, not even the study’s authors, the National Institute of Health, know how the calls affect you.

There are some pretty specific feelings that can only happen in the Internet age, as a consequence of it. Or, at least, as a consequence of our angst about it, in the shadow of the self-obsession it facilitates, even encourages.

Now I just feel annoyed, having spent $600 on a device that hasn’t done anything to improve my life. A salad spinner would have been a better investment, and I don’t even eat that much salad.

  • And, here’s a compilation of people talking about the internet before people really knew what the internet was.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r00IjBdp-ZA&feature=player_embedded

 

Flotsam and jetsam (2/24)


Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This “pre-adulthood” has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.

Just as each writer must find her or his own voice, I believe each preacher must find her or his own way into the call of preaching. However, we don’t do it alone. The most healthy preachers know they are always in conversation with their congregation, their local community, the world, the books in their library, those closest to them, their own lives. They know that throughout these conversations, scripture winds its wisdom, prophecy, incongruities, humor, and stories.

In the face of death, suffering and grief, what the Jesus community is given to know and to hope in and to proclaim is the word of the cross and resurrection. We have no other word!

The study, as reported in a recent online Christianity Today article, reveals that the category evangelicals are most willing for the government to cut is economic assistance for global poverty. Fifty-six percent of evangelicals preferred to chop from the federal budget aid for the world’s poorest people. The next highest choice, at 40 percent, was economic assistance for the unemployed. As the CT article notes, evangelicals were more supportive of decreasing spending in these areas than were other Americans. Evangelicals were much more reticent, on the other hand, to cut terrorism defense and military defense. In fact, 45 percent of evangelicals favored increasing spending for military defense, a percentage well higher than non-evangelicals (28 percent).

The LOLcat Bible…seriously

What do you get when you combine cats, bad grammar, cheesy pictures, and more cats? If you answered “hell,” you’d be correct as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, the real answer is that you’d get this:

LOLcat Bible: In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez an da Erfs n stuffs.

I’m all for new translations of the Bible that help people engage God’s Word in new ways….but this? Please make it stop. My eyes are starting to bleed.

Can’t…reach…keyboard.

If you’d like more information on the project, you can check out the LOLcat wiki. But I don’t recommend it. I clicked on the link and my head exploded. Now I can’t find my teeth.

Fortunately, we have some academic support to help us navigate these shoal waters. As James McGrath points out, both Daniel Kirk and Matthew Crowe offer some perspective on this new “translation.”  Sadly, Matthew appears to like it, suggesting that he has actually been possessed by an alien parasite that has taken over his higher critical functions. We should pray for him.

Update: We should probably pray for Daniel Kirk as well. Apparently he actually read this. So, I’m assuming that he is currently experiencing complete neural failure. I hope he wasn’t driving at the time.

Preaching about Sex

A seasoned pastor that I know preached a sermon this weekend on a biblical vie of “sex.” And he mentioned that whenever he preaches on sex, people come up to him afterward and comment on how hard it must be to preach on sex. Somewhat bemused, he usually comments that it’s a whole lot easier and more fun that preaching on a lot of other issues that he needs to address.

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Although we live in a sex-saturated society, we still find it incredibly uncomfortable to talk about sex in church. One of my greatest frustrations in my years as a youth pastor, was the number of parents who would grow outraged if I spoke too directly about issues of sex and sexuality to their children. I always wanted to say, “Look. You’re kids are already talking about sex. Wouldn’t you prefer for them to talk about it in church?” Sadly, I’m afraid that some of them would have said “no.”

Brandon Smith recently posted the following promo video for a series on sex. And it certainly presents a number of compelling reasons that we need to learn how to speak openly about sex in church. You may not think that it’s appropriate to do so from the pulpit or in mixed audiences. Fine. Where are you talking about sex with the people in your church? Because I guarantee that they’re talking about it and struggling with it in other contexts. So, why not face it head on in the one place where they can learn to understand sex h way God intended?

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If you have preached or taught about sex in your church, I’d be very curious to know how it went. Any insights or lessons learned for others?

Just because…watching Jaws backwards

Perspectives on Women in Ministry 2: Women Can’t Be Elders

Continuing the series on providing different perspectives on women in ministry, Out of Ur offers the second installment with a video arguing that women can’t be elders. Here’s the video. If you want to participate in the discussion, head over there and offer your thoughts.

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The surprising benefits of not paying attention

A recent Wired article argues that we’re paying too much attention to the importance of paying attention. In “Bother Me, I’m Thinking,” Jonah Lehrer argues that the modern world is obsessed with being “focused,” and has missed out on the benefits of distraction.

As he points out at the beginning,

We live in a time that worships attention. When we need to work, we force ourselves to focus, to stare straight ahead at the computer screen.

Indeed, focus is so important that we routinely diagnose kids as having a disorder if they can’t pay attention sufficiently.

But, he goes on to summarize a number of recent studies that suggest there are real benefits to paying less attention.

For instance, researchers have found a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. Other studies have found that employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “Internet leisure browsing” and that people unable to concentrate due to severe brain damage actually score above average on various problem-solving tasks.

The rest of the article focuses on several recent studies that support the conclusion that distraction actually helps promote creativity.

None of this suggests, of course, that we don’t need to be able to pay attention. He recognizes that focusing is a skill that most people need.  He just wants to highlight that for some people “distractibility can actually be a net positive.”

Although we think that more attention can solve everything—that the best strategy is always a strict focus fueled by triple espressos—that’s not the case. Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do is surf the Web and eavesdrop on that conversation next door.

One week left to win a copy of Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew

You only have until February 28 to enter the contest to win Grant Osborne’s new commentary on Matthew. So, if you’re interested, make sure you head over there and add your name to the list. And, if you’re not interested, win it for your pastor. I’m sure it will be greatly appreciated.

 

Should we teach classes on how to speak Christianese? (Light from the Dark Ages, part 1)

Church is boring.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from one of my high school students. Probe them a bit, though, and you’ll discover that the problem isn’t just that church isn’t exciting like a video game, an action movie, or a first date. Instead, the problem is often that they don’t understand what’s going on or what it has to do with “real life.” Listening to the songs and sermons, the language seems so odd, so removed from everyday life, that they struggle to understand why any of this matters.

And, like most of us, when faced with an hour or more of something they don’t really understand, they get bored.

And, if we’re honest, teenagers aren’t alone in this. Many people have a hard time understanding “church language.” Faced with words like “sanctify,” “redemption,” or, heaven forbid, “ebenezer,” they feel like they need their own personal translator just to keep track of what’s happening.

Indeed, some people have grown so accustomed to not understanding church language that they don’t even notice anymore. I’m sure I could drop “image of God” into a sermon and it wouldn’t even phase most people despite the fact that they probably have no idea what that phrase even means.

What do you do when the average person doesn’t understand the language of the church?

That is exactly the problem the church faced during its transition into the early middle ages. After the fall of the Roman empire in the West, the church had to deal with the fact that most people no longer spoke Latin, the official language used in all church services. In such a situation, what should the church do? Should it retain its traditional language, or should it try to translate itself into its new linguistic context?

In the early middle ages, the church opted to maintain its language. And, I think that we’re all aware of at least some of the consequences. Few people ever learned Latin, meaning that they often had very little idea of what was taking place in the service. And, as a result, the worship service often became something that the priest did for the people, rather than something that the people actively participated in. Indeed, regular attendance at church services declined significantly as people came to think that even their presence was unnecessary.

When we choose not to translate the language of the church, we risk alienating God’s people from God’s worship.

But, what about the other option? It’s easy to criticize the church for making what looks like an apparently obvious mistake. Why continue worshiping in a language that people don’t understand? But, what if the church had chosen differently? Suppose that it decided to recognize its new context and translate its worship into the various languages of the people. Although I think this would have been a good idea, we should recognize that the church had good reasons for concern.

  1. Something always gets lost in translation. Just ask a translator. It’s never quite possible to capture everything when you move from one language to another. And, when you’re talking about important truths, losing something along the way is never a good idea.
  2. The church risks its “catholicity.” The early church was deeply concerned to emphasize that regardless of what part of the world you are in, you are still part of the one church of Jesus Christ. That is the church “catholic” (i.e. the church in its unity). And, for them, common worship practices and a common worship language were powerful and visible declarations of our Christian unity.
  3. You may end up with a lowest-common-denominator Christianity. If our focus is on what the “average person” is able to understand, and if our goal is to make sure that our worship makes sense to that person, do we not run the risk of “lowering the bar” so much that we lose some of the depth and substance of Christian worship?

So, faced with a difficult situation, the early medieval church had two choices, both of which came with significant risks.

And, both sets of risks are worth keeping in mind as we deal with a similar situation today. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we too struggle with a “church language” that most average people find hard to understand. What will we do?

  1. Will we choose like the medieval church to retain our language, convinced that it conveys important theological truth and maintains our connection to one another and to the broader Christian tradition? If we choose this path, we need to understand that we’ve got our work cut out for us. We must do the hard work of educating our congregations to understand that language, or we risk alienating them from the worship life of the community, leading them to grow frustrated, disconnected, and bored. And, we should also recognize that the tide flows against us in this task as the biblical/theological knowledge of the average person today continues to recede.
  2. Or, will we choose to translate our worship into the language of “the people”? Down this road likes the possibility of greater engagement and understanding. But, I’ve attended worship serves at many churches who opt for this path, and we should also be aware that this can be a road that leads to a theologically shallow spirituality that tries to develop in isolation from the broader life and language of God’s people through time.

As with most difficult decisions, I don’t think a simple either/or will suffice; the truth certainly awaits us somewhere in the middle. Our task is to recognize the dangers on either side and address the challenge with eyes wide open. And, that’s most easily done when we seek to learn from those who have navigated these difficult waters before us.

[This is the first post in our series on 6 Things We Can Learn about Worship from the Dark Ages.]

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