Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
(Tim) Ministering in a university community clarifies the real faith of Christians. If the altar we place our money and children on indicates anything, our help is in education, degrees, and the Academy--not the Name of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, also."
Before she walks across the platform, we (along with taxpayers and rich donors) will have spent enough on our daughter's college degree to go a long way toward buying her a nice starter home. Unite two of our children in holy matrimony and the total spent on both of them for their undergrad and graduate degrees quite often exceeds $100,000. One couple from our church had a combined total of $450,000 in undergrad and graduate loans (admittedly, the highest I've come across), and another couple my wife and I were talking with this past week had $160,000 (quite normal).
Soon after entering the ministry, I was listening to one of those endless discussions concerning denominational identity we've all sat through, and I remember hearing a mainline PC(USA) leader adamantly state that the reason for the existence of Presbyterianism was...
our commitment to education. Not Reformed doctrine or the plurality of the eldership, but education; it was the very heart of Presbyterianism. And really, how different is the PCA from the PC(USA)?
Look at our treasure and it's clear all Evangelicals--but particularly Reformed Evangelicals--believe in education. We're just like God-haters in that regard. The finishing school for our children isn't the Church, but the Academy. Then they're off and running to excellence and wealth and fame and a good Reformed church where people know the words 'sovereignty' and 'providence,' and every one of the harp's ten thousand strings is tuned to grace.
Life is wonderful, isn't it?
I'm reminded of a cartoon I saw years ago where a man sitting at a bar said to his bartender, "I was born into a happy family. My childhood was happy. My teenage years were happy. My marriage is happy. I'm middle-aged and happy. I expect my retirement to be happy. Then I'll die and go to a happy place."
But of course, all this success and achievement, all this pursuit of excellence we're so sure is the supreme good God asks of our children, comes at a terrible spiritual cost. For instance...
Many of us send our kids off to a nice Christian liberal arts college hoping the four years they spend getting their degree can be in a sheltered Christian environment.
But certainly liberal. And sneakily so, at that.
My Dad spent most of his life with Inter-Varsity working in university and college ministry. Later in life, he traveled the country speaking on Christian college campuses. (His itinerant work was funded by the Staley lecture program.) Anyhow, Dad used to say the problem with Christian colleges is that you don't know who the enemy is, whereas at non-Christian schools it's quite clear.
Still, a debate over whether we should send our child to a small Christian liberal arts college or a large state university misses the point. Both decisions cede the matter of our priorities for our children's lives, and the inescapable conclusion I've come to after many years living in Wheaton, Boulder, Madison, Boston, and Bloomington is that followers of Jesus Christ in the Western world today talk about Jesus a lot, but when push comes to shove, we bow our knee to same golden calf everyone else does.
Degrees are our security; the Ph.D. is our highest authority; the Academy is the repository of the world's greatest wealth; and education is our savior.
You protest degrees aren't necessarily wrong and I'll not argue with you--degrees aren't necessarily wrong. But what if the degree takes precedence over sexual purity--what then? And let me tell you, folks; it most certainly does. Christian fathers and mothers push their daughter to finish her degree before she and her boyfriend get married, all the while knowing full well (or being sinfully naive if they don't) that their daughter is already sexually intimate with that nice Christian young man they expect her to marry...
Following graduation from college, that is; marriage must not be allowed to jeopardize our daughter's precious Bachelors degree.
But is the degree really the goal? Is it really the end game?
No. In the end it's all about money. The Bachelors degree is simply the necessary prerequisite to that secure upper middle class status without which the Christian life is not worth living.
Still, even after she's gotten her Bachelors degree, godliness doesn't reassert itself as our top priority for our daughter. Today's Masters degree is yesterday's Bachelors and we don't want our children falling below the status her parents strove for, and won. Our children are supposed to stand on our shoulders--not fall below us.
So, another small starter home is spent on our daughter's Masters in Vocal Performance and our prospective son-in-law's M.B.A. Maybe at this point the goal is near enough that we allow them to marry, if they wish, but we pressure them to "use protection."
Protection from children, that is. They certainly can't afford children and the Academy, both at the same time. Better to wait until they're out of school and have gotten established in their careers. "There's plenty of time for children," we tell them; "Be patient and get your financial feet under you, first."
If they get pregnant when they're pursuing their degrees or using protection while getting established, do they murder their unborn child?
Well, if you're really asking the question, the answer is yes; many of our children--Reformed and Evangelical children--have already murdered one of their own precious little ones. Abortionists have been throwing this in the face of pro-life Christians for years and those of us who do sidewalk confrontation and love outside abortuaries will corroborate it. Statistics tell us this too, for that matter--as do pastors who are really pastors and know their sheep.
But the truth is we don't want to know and thus haven't asked this question ever, ourselves. Ignorance is bliss, and there's not much time for anything other than getting that degree and a career that's well-established.
Like a bulldozer, degrees and careers are so important that they bear everything in their path away. Far, far away.
Money. Time. Purity. Children.
Christian discipleship and holiness.
Christian faith itself.
Pastor; father and mother; look deep within your heart and ask yourself what your true priorities are for your precious sons and daughters? Do they bear any tiny resemblance to the priorities of God's Word? Are we really so certain that God approves of that "excellence" and "developing his gifts to the fullest" that we use to justify the intensity of our demands on our children to make a name for themselves?
Actually, though; not to make a name for themselves, but rather to make a name for us; for our annual Christmas letter going out to all our college and graduate school buds, as well as family and friends. Our son's and daughter's achievements give us such tender morsels to share during our women's Bible studies, demonstrating to the other women how superior our children are to theirs; and therefore, how superior our work has been to theirs.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it's time for us to return to our Lord and His Word for our priorities for our children. And nowhere does Scripture tell us a secular education and degrees awarded by pagans were the prerequisites for godliness in ancient times. So why would they be today?
Ought I to busy myself now issuing the standard disclaimers needed by tender postmoderns concerned about whether or not their shepherd is meek and humble and they themselves are safe? Shall I reassure everyone that I'm no anti-intellectual and think the Most Esteemed Mark Noll's jeremiad, "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," is the Most Important Work of the late twentieth, early twenty-first centuries?
To quote Jerry Clower: "No. My ancestors would rise up out of the grave and git me. I hain't gonna do it."
The disciples our Lord Himself chose were "unschooled, ordinary men" and I'm convinced this was to teach us something. This statement of the Word of God too is "profitable."