Discernment


Can we foresee potential results from our decisions?

In the futuristic thriller World War Z, Brad Pitt plays a U.N. envoy who battles a world-wide zombie apocalypse. He discovers that Israel has successfully walled off their nation to stop the onslaught of the undead.

Discussion with the politician responsible for the successful defense uncovers an approach to problem solving named “the tenth man.” [See movie clip hereNumerous incidents in history have led the Israelis to conclude if all the information points in an obvious direction it is the responsibility of “the tenth man” to stand in opposition to the majority, no matter how improbable is the claim.

Our decisions are hardly ever that graphic, nor the outcomes so dire! Yet, the movie clip causes us to ask the question, “How do I make a decision in the face of adversity or against overwhelming opposition?” Scripture is clear that cultivating discernment is crucial.

Discernment in Proverbs is the means to foresee potential results from our decisions. Sometimes we are called on to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, or to maintain the status quo over against a venture into the unknown.

Discernment begins with the moral order of God. Mathematicians depend on immutable logic. Scientists study based on a stable, ordered world. Musicians create because they can count on melody, harmony, and rhythm. God made His world to work in a certain way which helps us know how to live in it. Solomon showed that discernment came from research. Hard work was necessary to uncover the “secrets” of God’s creation (1 Kings 4.29-34; Proverbs 29:2).

Solomon’s decision making was established on God’s perspectives. For example, the king discerned a mother’s true love based on the suggestion that a child be sawn in two (1 Kings 3.16-28). In Solomon’s case, he knew that a mother would never allow her child’s death and would rather give the baby to another than to have the little one die. Testing the worth of things based on their outcome is exactly what Romans 12:2 means when it says we are to “discern the will of God.”

Other New Testament examples show the power of biblical discernment. Ephesians 5:8-10 says we are to apply a test to examine, discover or approve “what is pleasing to the Lord.” Philippians 1:9, 10 confirms that our love should include discernment benefiting others. Hebrews 5:14 calls on the believer to “distinguish between good and evil” because she has been “trained by constant practice.” 1 John 4:1 commands us to “test” all viewpoints, illuminating false ideas by biblical truth.

 

How do we test for discernment? Proverbial wisdom offers a five point plan. A discerning person

  1. Seeks knowledge (14.6, 15.14, 18.15)

  2. Accepts rebuke (19.25)

  3. Makes wisdom a part of her (14.33)

  4. Develops interior character (16.21)

  5. Stays silent unless one can speak with wisdom (10.13, 27:28)

Kurt Vonnegut made a unique proposal. Indianapolis native, author of such novels as Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut suggested that presidents should have a “Secretary of the Future” in their cabinet.[1] The unique, prescient idea would cause people to ask, “What if?” Do we think futuristically about our decisions before we make them? Do we consider what unintended consequences might arise as a result of our decision? Do we recognize that in a finite, fallen world even our best decisions may be fraught with difficulties? We may not face a zombie apocalypse or be part of a presidential cabinet. But we can all consider our decisions based on biblical discernment. [See “Afterword” below]

This essay also appears at Emerging Scholars Network (here). Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com, wikipedia.com, hdwallpaperg.com, reddit.com, gen-wallpaper.blogspot.com

 

 

Questions for Reflection

Why is God’s way of living better than a purely human view of morality?

Who can help me develop a discerning mindset?

What decision do I face now that could be helped by biblical discernment?

When do I make time to reflect on decision making which is forward thinking?

How do we put discernment into practice in our homes, churches, communities?

Prayer Dear Lord. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you. Give us attentive spirits to follow Your Spirit. Give us unseen helps that help us make sense of what we see. Give us the assurance that when we cannot be sure of our decisions, we can be sure of You. Amen (A prayer based on 2 Chronicles 20:12)

[1] http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcriptNOW140_full.html

Youthquake


Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year 2017:

The passion of youth, the wisdom of age.

The old adage “too soon old, too late smart” is one gray-hairs enjoy leveling at those who still have their hair.

But I am struck by the idea that passion needs wisdom. As a hexagenerian (yes, I’m 60 years old!) I am committed to those younger than myself.

I believe that walking alongside folk is better than casting aspersions against folk.

Young people ARE our future. The question for those of us old enough for AARP benefits is “How will we treat and care for young people?”

 

So I was surprised and gratified to discover that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) had chosen “youthquake” as its word for 2017. The word is defined by OED as

“a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” [SOURCE]

It’s all about the next-gen. Saying it was not an obvious choice, OED’s Casper Grathwohl said its usage had increased “fivefold” citing young peoples’ impact on elections in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The divisiveness of 2017 seemed to spur OED’s decision as Grahwohl explained

“We chose youthquake based on evidence and linguistic interest. But at a time when our language is reflecting our deepening unrest and exhausted nerves, it is a rare political word that sounds a hopeful note. … I think this past year calls for a word we can all rally behind.”

A “hopeful note.”

Youth are our hope, humanly speaking.

The next-gen asks good questions.

The next-gen sees future trends.

The next-gen has energy.

The next-gen has a need for mentorship.

The next-gen is why I teach.

The passion of youth needs the wisdom of age and the wisdom of the ages.

The next generation needs prudence.

According to Proverbs, “prudence” gives the impression of one “who has been around,” “a man of the world” (wise to it, understanding of its ways, therefore careful of his relationship with it). This word is often contrasted with those called “simple” (22:3), who are told to be directed by the individual who “knows the ropes” spiritually (1:4a). A person with the prudence knows and follows through on the right reaction to moral evil.

My radio show producer, co-host, and brother Harold HB Bell tells me about the importance of the barbershop in the black community. He says one of the key rules of the barbershop is that old men talk, young men listen. But young men must show up at the barbershop in order to hear the wisdom of age.

Someday it will be their turn to talk.

The question I ask myself as a 60-year old is, “Am I teaching them prudence?”

Youthquake. Next-gen. Passion with prudence. Hope for 2018.

 

The next generation is the reason for The Comenius Institute.

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video).

Help Comenius reach its $40,000 giving goal before the new year! The Comenius Institute [501(c)(3)] (website hereDonate online (here), mark@comeniusinstitute.org, (text/talk 630.303.4891) Checks to “The Comenius Institute,” c/o Collaborate 317, 4202 N EMS Blvd #180, Greenfield, IN 46140 And ask Mark what Comenius would do with $1 million!

Picture credit: Snappygoat.com, urbanfonts.com

Giving


What is our Christian responsibility with possessions, wealth, & finance?

A Biblical Reason for and Practice of Giving.

God perfectly created the physical world (Gen 1: 3, 5, 7, etc). The Creator is landlord: He owns everything (Deut 10:14; Job 41:11; Ps 89:11; 1 Kg 21:1-3). Sin, then, marred the world despoiling goodness (Gen 3.17-19). Redemption must include wealth, not using people and love things (Lev 25:14-17) but loving people and using things (Lev 25:25-28). Biblical stewardship seeks to create jobs, wealth, opportunity and community. Private property is a cornerstone of Hebraic law (Ex 20:15, 17) yet its profit was to help the community (Ex 22:25-27; 23:4-9). The oft used word “stewardship” literally means to be “keeper” of the household. So everything is a gift of God. And what God has given as a gift must not become God.

 

 

Good in Creation Comes from a Good Creator

  1. The fact of naming creation (Gen 1:5, 8, 10) asserted God’s authority over His world (2 Kg 23:34; 24:17).
  2. Claim over all the earth’s wealth (Ps 50:10-12) indicates The Creator is in need of nothing (1 Kg 8:27; Acts 17:25).
  3. Not only does God have no rivals in creation (Is 44:24; 45:12, 18) but creation knows her place (Ps 104) even though humans may try to replace God with His creation (Is 44: 6-20; Rom 1:21-25).
  4. The declaration that creation is “good” (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, etc.) establishes people as tenants: humans manage everything (Gen 1:28; Lev 25:23-24; 1 Chron 29:10-20).
  5. Earth is given to humanity (Ps 115:16) yet the “alien” clause identifies human dependency.
  6. Responsibility is established both toward God and for possessions. Cultivation (“work”, Gen 2:15) demands a literal guiding of the ground toward increased development. Conservation (“take care”, Gen 2:15) stipulates guarding against neglect of the planet. Animals are “given you’re your hands” (Gen 9:2) and even said to be “tamed” (Jas 3:7) by man. Animal husbandry was one of the twin essentials of an agricultural society (Ex 22; Deut 22:1-4, 6-7).
  7. Resting (maintaining) the animals (Ex 20:10; Deut 5:14) provided for longevity of resources by acknowledging God’s program for sustaining life. Horticultural laws throughout the Pentateuch insisted upon care in custody for what has been given. Jublilee, for example, was a celebration (Lev 25:8-13) and a liberation (25:18-22) of property.
  8. Everything exists for God (Heb 2:10) though at present we do not see everything subject to Him (Heb 2:8; 1 Co 15:27-28).
  9. Teaching on private ownership and responsible stewardship should be wedded (Lev 19:9-10; Deut 15:1-11; 23:24-25; 24:19-22).
  10. Wealth produces accountability and opportunity to benefit all (1 Tim 6:17-19).

 

How Should My Mindset Be Changed About Wealth?

I understand humanly speaking I “own” things but things should not “own” me and all I “own” has been given to me for responsible use.

I know that corrupt views of wealth may entice me.

Asceticism—where poverty equals virtue and wealth equals greed—is not set forth in Scripture.

Materialism is not what we possess but what possesses us.

Communism is just as odious. Premised upon redistribution of resources, ownership is forcibly wrested from individuals into the hands of a dictator.

Custodial use of the earth is dependent upon faithful, responsible, creative people.
Giving is to be “open-handed” versus “tight-fisted” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

Handling creation properly now should be prompted by my consideration of the next generation.

Proper use of creatures and creation is my responsibility. Animals, money, and toos that will help us to do work must include concerns for proper maintenance, quality vs. cost considerations, and wise purchases.

Practical Ways I Can Teach Others What I Have Learned

 

  1. History curricula should focus on rich and poor people from the vantage point of corrupt governments as much as it might corrupt businesses.
  2. Read Hebrews 10:32-39.  Discuss how you would feel emotionally if someone took all your property?  How would you treat or pray for those who took part in stealing your things?  Write down “lasting possessions” (v 34) you can lay claim to from Colossians 3:1-4; 1 Peter 1:3-9, 17-25; and Ephesians 1:13, 14.
  3. Discuss Luke 21:1-4.  Notice the preceding context in 20:41-47 (as well as all of chapters 19 and 20). Why did Jesus say what He did, judging from His previous conversation (Hint: v. 47)? Discuss what people do with their money and compare that with what they say about money (i.e., complaining about not having enough when they have lots of toys).
  4. Compare by reading Psalm 50 and Malachi 1.  Discuss the connection between attitude and action in giving.
  5. Assign partners or small groups to write down statements from Proverbs about money (especially chapters 10-31).  Compile a master list of “how to live with money.”
  6. Words matter. Compare the words used to describe the Macedonian churches’ giving (2 Cor 8:1-4) with the reminders to the Corinthian church (2 Cor 8:6-15 and 9:1-4).  Observe who and how money should be handled in The Church from 2 Corinthians 8:16-19 and 20-24.
  7. Define-discuss: the worth/value of money, how money is made, and “profit.” What is the importance of making profit (Gen 2:15)? How should we treat a dollar to make more money in an honest, ethically upright manner?
  8. Missions. Read and apply Luke 16:1-9 about “making friends in heaven” from the giving of those who have more to those who have less (see also 1 Timothy 6:17-19)
  9. Game. Using the game “Monopoly” remake the Chance and Community Chest cards to Providence and Charity.  Restructure the purpose of the game to include giving and compassion without minimizing the need to make money for the benefit of the whole community.
  10. Reading. At the high school level I would read Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. At the elementary level there is a new fiction series that teaching a free-market approach to monetary issues entitled The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom, Connor Boyack (2016).

Help Comenius reach its $40,000 giving goal this year! The Comenius Institute [501(c)(3)] (website hereDonate online (here), mark@comeniusinstitute.org, (text/talk 630.303.4891) Checks to “The Comenius Institute,” c/o Collaborate 317, 4202 N EMS Blvd #180, Greenfield, IN 46140 And ask what Comenius would do with $1 million!

 

Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (website), spends time with Christian young people in public university (1 minute video), hosts a weekly radio program with diverse groups of guests (1 minute video), interprets culture from a Christian vantage point (1 minute video), and teaches weekly at his church (video). Picture credit: snappygoat.com

 

Charlottesville


Bigotry is the seedbed of genocide.

In the past year I have been both demeaned by a white, female, liberal professor for not saying enough (in her estimation [1]) against racism and disparaged by a white, male, nationalist for not defending my “blood kin,” my nationality, my skin color, my “whiteness.”

The most recent incident occurred when I posted this 12 August 17 statement on Facebook:

“I stand with my black brothers and sisters against racial hatred #Charlottesville”

One man took issue with my statement, posting over one hundred replies. Here is one, direct, unedited comment about my “stance”:

“Sorry, but many white believers are growing weary of white weakling professors of faith who loathe the very skin God gave them, all the while “standing” with the perceived downtrodden. Weak, vacillating Professors.”

I doubt any of my students past or present, or anyone who knows me personally, would agree with the descriptors “weak” or “vacillating.” My public posts and staunch commitment to any “stand” I have taken should explode any connection to weakness. [2]

Making a simple statement that I stand with my black friends was vilified because I was not maintaining the “purity” of the “white” “race.” [3]

Further, I was called “an alienist.”

“Mark exhibits classic Alienism. . . . “a prejudice in favor of the alien, the marginal, the dispossessed” . . . In Christianity, . . . we have a greater responsibility to our own family, race, town, state, region, and country, than we do to “the other”. Christians should favor the native and the normal over the alien and the novel. . . . Shame on those who despise their own flesh, who God Made them.”

Far from ashamed as to who I am [4] I am not ashamed to speak out on behalf of others. As an “alienist,” then, I stand with Yahweh who chose to give the same love He gave to His people (Deut 7.8) to the “alien.” The identical Hebrew word is then used to command His people’s love for the “alien.”

              “He loves the sojourner . . . love the sojourner” (ESV, Deut 10.18-19)

 

“The sojourner” is the non-resident, the alien, the outsider, one from other nationalities or ethnicities.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself(ESV, Lev 19.33-34)

My responsibility is to love (support, uplift, esteem, give to) everyone no matter their religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, creed, or self-identity.

There are no boundaries given.

There are no “what if ___” given.

There are no “what about ___” given.

There are no “but they did ___” given.

There are no rationalizations given.

“Love the sojourner.” Period.

Some would say – as did my interlocutor this weekend –  that I should defend my ethnicity. No one is disparaging their origins here! But that is NOT the issue. The issue at hand is “How will I respond to the history of oppression against my fellow countrymen and women?”

As a white man, my responsibility is to reach out to my black neighbors. I bear the responsibility to initiate, making intentional my communication and action. Ethnic superiority, purity, and division is NOT the gospel.

So to my liberal collegiate counterpart and my white nationalist Facebook “friend” I say the same thing: only the love of Jesus breaks down all the barriers.

My “whiteness” has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus.

There is MUCH more to say against quotations ripped from context, misapplied arguments, non-sequiturs, hate-filled videos, and memes which conflate ideas into ideology. Many have thanked me online and in private for allowing false belief to be seen for what it is. Readers can see much more of my stand in the footnotes below. Dr. Mark Eckel is President of The Comenius Institute (site) (video).

 

 

[1] Readers can find many writings from me about ethnicity [use the search line]. Among them I wrote a three-part series with my brother, Pastor Brian Green on “Oneness” (one, two, three) and my personal responsibility as a professor is explained in the essay “Race” (here). Currently I am working on a journal article with my friend Charlie Mitchell on the theological foundations of the 20th century civil rights movement. Find my essay about “Charlie” here.

[2] After I read comments about my supposed “weakness” I continued to remember Paul’s comments, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1.27).

[3] “Race” denotes the “human race.” It is better to use the word ethnicity when referencing a person’s origins.

[4] See my faith statement here and biography here.

Pressure


None of us thinks alone.

under pressure

We all face social pressure from our social groups.

My friendships are broad.

Some swear by CNN, others by Fox.

There are those who ally themselves with Rush, others with NPR.

One group call themselves “progressive” another, “conservative.”

Certain groups cheered this past election, others cried.

Select folks begin discussions with “social justice,” others start with “justice.”

 

rodin's thinkerWe like to think our perspectives are our own. We think somehow we are independent thinkers. We pride ourselves in believing that our perception is right because we have carefully considered all sides. We are ever touting the righteousness of our cause. We believe what we believe.

What we do not often acknowledge, however, is that our viewpoint is shaped by social pressure.

 

Incarnation-peopleA recent Vox conversation with Brown University cognitive scientist Steven Sloman (find the article here) was aptly subtitled: “Why We Pretend to Know More Than We Do.” Sean Illing asked Sloman the following question:

Illing: How do people form opinions?

Sloman: I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don’t like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.

Think about if you were to utter a fact that contradicted the opinions of the majority of those in your social group. You pay a price for that. If I said I voted for Trump, most of my academic colleagues would think I’m crazy. They wouldn’t want to talk to me. That’s how social pressure influences our epistemological commitments, and it often does it in imperceptible ways.

 

Knowledge IllusionThe title of Sloman’s most recent book is telling: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone.

Simply said, social pressure influences our thinking.

 

 

 

vise“Social pressure” can be just another idol, an idol of which we should be wary.

All of us need to accept:

We may be wrong: we need to spend more time hearing other perspectives.

We may be right, but we need to accept others may hold pieces of truth.

We should question our own groups: they may be wrong.

We should listen to other groups: they may be right.

 

jesusMy role as a Christian cultural apologist (see my essay here) assumes all authority, all knowledge, all assumptions begin here: Yahweh, The Personal Eternal Triune Creator of the universe exists and has spoken in His Word and His world. My research and writing arises from a decidedly biblical vantage point. I am responsible to engage not just data, but people and their social pressures.

But I am also aware that I am swayed in my thinking—as we all are—by social pressures.

Others with other social pressures may describe themselves in other ways.

But let’s not fool ourselves. None of us thinks alone.

 

Lunch 20 March 2017Christian “social commitments” are very important to Comenius students. “We encourage each other with sound doctrine” (Titus 1.9) is imperative during the college years for Christian students. Dr. Mark Eckel is president of The Comenius Institute (our one-minute video here).

AFTERWORD: I believe my work in the culture is as a priest, a go-between, between people and God, a prophet, a mouth-piece for God to people, and an evangelistic-apologist, a defender of God’s Words & Works in the public square.