Kierkegaard Quote

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My friend posted a quote the other day that has me thinking (although it should have me “doing”). I’ve actually read this a couple times but now, more than ever, I am considering the implications and whether or not I agree. Then I thought the Rabbit Room is a perfect place for such an excerpt:

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we must act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. ~Soren Kierkegaard

Thoughts?

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


41 Comments

  1. Gaël Cosendai

    I admit that it’s a natural temptation to interpret the Bible according to what makes us feel good and comfortable. We definitely have to keep being confronted to God’s truth from the Bible, and commit ourselves to live according to it. I guess this is Kierkegaard’s point (wonderfully expressed I must say).
    But I can’t help thinking about Jesus confronting the pharisees because they were so good at “obeying the Bible” but still missing the point…? “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3.6) : Is that already “Christian scholarship”?

  2. Kevin

    We all have our axes to grind, and Mr. K seemed to be grinding one to me.

    However, here is an example of how right he was in a sense:
    I teach a class at my church, and during a study of Matthew 5, I split the class into groups for discussion and to answer some questions from the text. Why did one group instantly read “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” as “you must be holy”? Because it’s manageable, I think. Missing the point Christ was making completely, but it least it was manageable.

    Their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, the epitome of righteousness to those hearers. Then He moves into “You have heard it said, but I say”… I think the rabbinical teachings is the “heard it said”, and then He moves into the impossible of “but I say”. He then climaxes in “be perfect, as God is perfect”, this smashing to bits any little piles of God-appeasing self-made righteousness.

    But we are hell-bent on making those little piles, aren’t we? Evidence: automatic translation by my class, making the command possible by them in and of themselves.

    Yes Gael, the Pharisees were doing something like Mr. K is talking about. But the bigger application, seems to me, is that we are all Pharisees at heart, heaping about little piles.

    Some wise dude, whose name escapes me, said something like:
    “It’s not the stuff in the Bible that I don’t understand that bothers me, it’s the stuff I do understand.”

    Intellectual assent doesn’t do a dern thang for ya, unless it accompanies action. I think James backs me up on that one.

    Good post. Now I have to go from talking about it to living it. Catch ya later.

  3. Tony Heringer

    Matt,

    How funny! Thanks for the early morning chuckle. It reminded me of a Mark Twain quote that goes something like this (call it Kierkegaard lite :-)):

    “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, its the parts I do understand.”

    Therein lies the rub, to add on to what Gael noted above, the Pharisees understood the teaching of the Bible — look at the discussions on “the Greatest commandment” — they got the right answer. Their issue wasn’t good theology that is why Jesus can tell folks to obey them but not follow them because they didn’t practice what they preached. We fall into the same traps today. We work very hard at being right in a religion that is founded on grace not works.

    By the way, that command of Jesus in Matthew 23 has some staggering implications about how we deal with authority – even corrupt authority. But, I’d rather not act on them, its much more fun to lampoon authority than consider anything good from “The Man.” 🙂

  4. Joshua

    I understand the point of the quote…it is damning. However, I think Christian scholarship on the bible is very important because we must have an intellectual defense of our interpretation of scripture because so often scripture has been misused in the name of many ignoble causes. Just think we need to qualify the quote.

  5. bendavy

    Tony,
    I would say the pharisees didn’t understand the point of the Bible. If you don’t understand the point of the Bible, do you really understand? The point of the OT, read: Christ. These boys understood their rabbi’s teachings plenty well, but not the OT well. Scholarship always runs this risk. When scholarship loses sight of the fact of Christ being the point and stops illuminating Christ to us, then it does for us what the rabbi’s did for the pharisees-leads us down “rabbi trails”. But Christ and the Gospel have been illuminated to me in some of the most powerful ways by men-scholars-who are committed to understanding and illuminating Christ in the Word and living that power out in life.

  6. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    I read a quote like this and a few things come to my mind.

    First, I’d like to see the context in which he said this, since I doubt Kierkegaard was opposed to exercising care in articulating and living out our doctrine.

    Second, taking this at face value with only the context of the paragraph itself, I think S.K. is assigning a motive to bible scholars that far exceeds what he could know. He may speak accurately of some he knew personally, I think there are countless others worthy of our honor who sought to know and teach the truth and forfeited their lives for this pursuit. The reformation of the 16th century is exhibit A. Or those who were burned at the stake for translating the Bible into the vernacular of the day.

    Third– and this is the one that matters most to me– I read this quote and wonder what my own generation of pastors would like to do with it. (I’m a 30 something) I contend that I belong to one of the most academically lazy generations of scholars to come along in a great while. We’re a sound bite generation. We like quotes from Luther, Augustine or Spurgeon, but we don’t actually read Luther, Augustine or Spurgeon. We talk in sweeping generalities about church history and orthodoxy but don’t actually read respectable church history books or understand what the generations before us meant by the word “orthodox”. We talk about the past as though that was then and this is now, as if ministry began the day we got in the pool.

    I find a current of cultural and intellectual snobbery among my generation– and I see it in myself– that I believe is primarily born out of sheer academic laziness. G.K. Chesterton said it like this: “Christianity has not be tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

    God have mercy on us if this is found to be as unilaterally true of pastors and teachers as it is of everyone else.

    I worry more than I can say here about local congregations around the country who have pastors who think they are at long last doing ministry the right way or in a more authentic (whatever that means to us) way than the generations before.

    I fear for churches with pastors who contend our questions are more important than our answers. They aren’t.

    I can see guys from my generation using quotes like this one to excuse themselves from doing their homework and applying themselves to a careful study of God’s word in order to bring the whole counsel of God to bear on the whole person who has come to church not to hear a Gen-Xer stand up and be clever for a half hour, but to worship before the throne of the living God.

    This, and I mean what I’m about to say, should scare the hell out of us.

    Theres a fire in my belly.

  7. Dan

    My dad, a a believer who left the church about 19 years ago, says the same thing: “If people would just live out the parts of the Bible that they do understand instead of talking at length about the things they don’t understand, the church would be a lot more effective.” That’s a paraphrase, but I think I got the essence of his sentiment.
    I’m not surprised that my father, who enrolled in tech school his sr. year of high school and became a professional mechanic, agrees with Kierkegaard, the theologian/philosopher and father of Existentialism. The rants (and make no mistake, the above quote is a rant–to be taken seriously, but not necessarily entirely literally) of a subversive revolutionary committed to the essence of the Christian faith is bound to line up with the sentiments of a jaded mechanic–albeit an insightful mechanic–who is looking at the church from the outside with an honest insider’s perspective.
    I love my dad and think he has a lot of good insights, but as a servant of the church and an alumni of two bible colleges I obviously see the church in a different light. Still, I think he and Kierkegaard (understood correctly) are right on this one.

  8. Joshua

    The context is from a essay named “Kill the Commentators,” which can be accessed in an ebook at — around page 201–http://www.plough.com/ebooks/pdfs/Provocations.pdf

  9. Mike

    What really hurts is that I heard Obama say that America’s greatest problem was that we have forgotten to obey the command “unto the least of these.” Obama for heaven’s sake.

  10. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Seems to me the point of the SK quote is that it’s important to be doers of the Word and not merely intellectual gymnasts. As Russ pointed out, it’s still crucial to rightly divide the Word, to study as workmen that need not be ashamed. And Russ, it may be that the real problem of the ‘soundbyte generation’ begins with getting swamped by the sheer noise of modern life – email-phonecalls-Starbucks-internet-television-videogames etc. There’s a real need for all of us to take stock, to look clearly at our lives and ask, “Where am I wasting eternally valuable time on non-issues, non-productive activities, knick-knacks, glittering trinkets, and whatnots?” I’ve been asking myself that question lately, and it’s been causing a serious increase in my playing-music time.

    The SK quote really speaks to a need to take the Bible seriously, and not wrangle it around to become mere intellectual assenters and not doers of the Word. George MacDonald spoke a lot to that need in his generation; there were many that thought if they believed A, B, and C about God then they were ‘saved.’ For MacDonald, to exercise saving faith meant to trust Christ Himself; it resulted in action being taken.

    There can be no taking of any promise of God without some kind of action on our part. Even Matthew 6, where Jesus promises that our heavenly Father will look after our needs, has action at the heart of it: Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and then all these shall be given to you as well. We trust Malachi 3, and part of that trusting that God will “open the windows of heaven” involves bringing all the tithes into the storehouse.

    Biblical faith always requires some sort of action on our part – sometimes this action is inner, as in “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you”, the faith-action we take, and then (and only then) we receive the promise “and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds” etc.

    Much of MacDonald’s writing was aimed at getting the reader to trust Christ Himself, rather than intellectually assenting to facts about Him. He wanted the reader to enter into personal relationship. Maybe that’s the focus of the SK quote as well – they were, at least very nearly, contemporaries. I know MacDonald’s writing a lot better, and that was one of his pet peeves – those who merely believe in facts about God in order to be saved, as distinguished from those who trust Christ Himself.

  11. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    In reading through some of Provocations, the link which Joshua posted, I’m struck by the similarity of SK and George MacDonald. They’re both saying, “Don’t let the simple directives get covered up by legalese and commentary. Take the pure truth of the Word, rely on the One who spoke it, and do it.”

    As in George MacDonald, SK’s writing sometimes goes a little extreme – but who knows how the spiritual climate of his day affected that? I’ve been guilty myself of sometimes stating things in an extreme way in order to stimulate people to think – to disturb them, and cause them to be stirred up. I’m sure there are elements of this in both SK and GM.

  12. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    This is very MacDonald. In fact, upon reading through Provocations, I remember MacDonald was influenced by SK.

    “What makes such great confusion is how everyone feels compelled to formulate a theory and obligate everyone else to it. Someone gets an impression of Christianity. Presto! Now there has to be a theory, and everyone must subscribe to his theory. Then he gets busy developing his theory further. Then his theory is attacked, and he defends it–constantly moving away from true religiousness. He does not personally get around to acting according to the theory but manages to introduce a theory about the opposition to the theory.”

    “No, what should be insisted upon is that I feel obligated to obey the New Testament, not to theorize about it. I cannot obligate others. I simply say: I feel obligated in this way and will express it in action. Truth does not try to get a random bunch of people obligated to me or to my conception. No, each person must be alone before God and become obligated by it.”

  13. Tony Heringer

    Kevin,

    My post came after yours but wasn’t there when I posted. How cool is it that we were both quoting the same guy? 🙂

    bendavy,

    Agreed dude, I was just pointing out that folks can have the right answer, but not the right motive. Which was Jesus point in Matthew 23, these guys had a clear understanding of the Law — the Prophets, not so much 🙂

    Even in the sense that they understood the Law, they did not live it out. Which John the Baptist points out when they come to check him out (i.e. “produce fruit in keeping with repentance”). As Kevin so aptly put it, we can have an appearance of faith, but without works its dead. My “walk” has been one of standing on the shoulders of giants from a scholarship standpoint. I wouldn’t begin to diss ’em. Scholars like Ron and Russ would kick my butt. 🙂

    Joshua,

    Thanks for the link bro. This looks like an interesting read. I skimmed through most of this essay which seems to be a polemic against folks looking to scholars first and the Bible second. One of the primary rules of good Bible study is take up the Word and consume it and consult commentaries last.

    It’s not to dismiss scholarship, but to put it in its place. Sometimes we can not take the time to understand the Word. Kierkegaard seems to be in the same vein as Russ by laying into sloppy or lazy scholarship for all Christians. I don’t know much about him, but he seems to have his tongue planted firmly in his cheek – complete with offering to give the Bible back to God.

    Like I said, I only skimmed it. Dan seems to have a strong vibe on Soren. I don’t know much about him.

    Matt,

    Once again, you’ve ignited a fire and left the scene. I’m on to you, you rascal! 🙂

  14. Kevin

    SK was one of those guys they warned me about in college. Even still, every time I turn around, I see some quote by him where he really got it right. I do also try to keep in mind that I am now probably one of those guys they would warn about in my college…

    He is also one of those guys I just haven’t gotten around to reading.

    Much in the Bible is simple, and much is very difficult to interpret. As I have been learning these past few years, almost nothing is as simple as they taught me in Bible College.

    To err here is to not walk the line and to forget one for the sake of the other.

    To obey whole-heartedly another Gospel= hellfar n’ damnation.
    To NOT obey the correct Gospel= hellfar n’ damnation.

    So in a way, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You know what I mean. Truth, study, scholarliness/ heart change, obedience are kinda like love n’ marriage: you can’t have one without the other.

    The point I feel poking me is that I need to obey more I knitpick. However, there is much valid study to be done, and I have heard countless Christians that would love SK’s quote and champion it to advocate “just preachin’ Jesus”.

    I’m not saying that SK was advocating a no-brain Christianity, but you could jump off his diving board and into the pool pretty quickly in this culture.

    Tony- Yes, oh so terribly cool. You’re just cooler because you actually knew who you were quoting.

    Russ: GK may be the Mark Twain of the theological world. He had a real gift for those kind of “plain ouchy” statements. And he’s right.

    Everybody else: It is a refreshing thing to come and read posts by those more eloquent than myself, and to be challenged while we all chew the same intellectual meal. Thank you.

  15. whipple

    Russ~

    It’s a bit alarming to find you saying that some believers have said that questions are more important than answers. I suppose that’s an easy little foxtrot away from living a life of question-finding. Since God is holy, infinite, and mysterious (and praise his name that he is, for what if he wasn’t), we will continually discover questions buried beneath the sugary veneer of our answers.

    I haven’t run across this sort of M.O. in the church. Most of the time, it’s the other way ’round, i.e., we shouldn’t ask certain questions because discovering the Scriptural answers to them is about as clean-cut as making biscuits from scratch. Is that specifically what you were talking about, that pastors are advocating a sort of deist, slightly pantheological, interrogative milieu as opposed to the certainties (those that we are certain of) of the Gospel?

  16. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Russ,

    The “questions are more important than the answers” reminds me of the Episcopal ghost in The Great Divorce:

    “The suggestion that I should return at my age to the mere factual inquisitiveness of boyhood strikes me as preposterous. In any case, that question-and-answer conception of thought only applies to matters of fact. Religious and speculative questions are surely on a different level…You will keep on implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, ‘there,’ and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way.”

    And then he goes on to speculate on a “profoundly interesting question” of how different Christianity would have been if the life of its Founder had not been so tragically cut short. “I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste…so much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going?” (I love that – the heavenly person can’t even stand to hear such rubbish).

  17. Chris Yokel

    The only problem with Obama, Mike, is not so much that he wants each of us to give unto the least of these, but that he wants to take all of our money from us and distribute it to the least of these as he sees fit. One is Christianity, the other is socialism.

  18. Amy

    Understanding the commands and how we should live is one thing, but understanding the deeper truths of the Bible that give us great motivation to do these things is another. The first comes off a lot easier, but the second is hard. We have to break out of our “this world is all there is” mindset and see how much is offered us in the gospel. God loves us and is infinitely wise so obviously what he says is the most enjoyable and best way to live. The problem is not that we understand too much and flee, but rather we flee because we understand too little.

  19. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Amy,

    We learn truth layer by layer. What seems to be a bunch of impossible commands in the Word really turns out to be a whole new identity, and as we learn to rely on that new creation identity (Christ in us) we learn to be the people we really are – the kind of people who, through faith in Christ’s indwelling love, keep God’s commands.

    George MacDonald was of the idea that we must strive to keep God’s commands. In that striving we find our total weakness and inability. And in that weakness and inability we finally go to the Source, the one who has all power and ability, the one whose power is perfected in our weakness. GM would often say, “Have you done one thing today because Jesus Christ said to do it?” His prompts used to seem legalistic to me, as I had legalistic and unworthy thoughts of God as a child and teen; now GM’s exhortations seem like common sense. If my son trusts me, he’ll do as I say. There’s no point in him telling me how much he trusts me, and singing really long, repetitive songs about how much he loves and trusts me, if he then turns around and does nothing I’ve told him to do.

    We so often get the gospel sequestered into the realm of intellectual assent to ideas about God, where it has no connection with doing. Either that or we separate faith from doing as if they were two separate things – as if we trust God, and then do lots of works for Him.

    But really there is no disconnect between Biblical faith and doing. Faith, real faith, produces action. If we trust God, we will do as He says. If the Word says, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” and that if we do that, “the peace of God…will rule our hearts,” well, then, we must cast all our cares on Him and not let anxiety have its way with us. Paul’s letters are especially full first of radical statements about who we are in Christ, and then afterwards he goes into how that inner identity is manifested in outer action.

    I really see a major problem with modern Christian living in the amount of soul-noise and distraction the devil has produced (Screwtape: “We will make the entire universe a noise in the end!”). As believers we’ve got to establish priorities and stick with them no matter what brightly colored baubles call for our attention (read that: tv, video games, entertainment in general, and losing a certain simplicity of life and purpose through going a thousand different directions every day). I recall Tozer even preached against the reading of magazines; he said we should read books. I don’t totally agree with him, but definitely there’s a way to be judicious in our use of time-wasters. I guess the real question is “What will matter when I stand before Christ? How will I want to have used this short amount of time here on earth?”

  20. Tony Heringer

    See what I mean? All these posts and no Matt. Perhaps he’s one of these pastors that Russ is talking about. Hmmmmmmmmm. 🙂

    Ron,

    Thanks for the reminder on simplicity. This morning I underlined the phrase “fix your thoughts on Jesus” in Hebrews 3 because the Spirit had brought that thought to my mind the night before. Those are the times when just stop reading and go “Whoa!” (in my best Keanu Reeves accent :-)).

    There is a rhythm to living a simple life just as much as there is a complicated life (symphony vs. cacophony?). It is this noise you speak of that has thrown me off lately. Richard Foster has written well on this subject as has Richard Swenson — Margin is a personal favorite. I need to re-visit these old friends or at least their counsel.

    In fact, the reference to Tozer and magazines vs. books reminded me of a line in Margin about time:

    “The gods confound the man who first found out
    How to distinguish hours! Confound him, too,
    Who in this place set up the sun-dial,
    To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
    Into small portions.” – Plautus. 200 BC

    Here we are thinking we are hurried and there is a guy 2200 or so years ago lamenting his busy life. Solomon pegged it when he said there is nothing new under the sun. 🙂

  21. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Thanks for the link. That reminded me of “Good to Great” or “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” (Jim Collins/Steven Covey). I’d say there is a unique level of greatness that the researchers were downplaying — Tiger and Jordan are, I think, uniquely gifted by God. You can work like them all day and never be like them and I am okay with that. Remember those “I’m Tiger Woods!” ads–that always cracked me up.

    This article reminded me of a Proverb I often go to for affirmation of a strong work ethic:

    “Do you see a man skilled in his work?
    He will serve before kings;
    he will not serve before obscure men.” – Proverbs 22:23

    Paul talks a lot about mindset — which was another thing that jumped out to me in the article you posted.

    Thanks for the inspiration. It’s been a long week and I’ve got to press in to close it out well as I’m moving into a busy time of year for my business.

    Have a great week-end!

  22. david

    Ron,

    i feel compelled to respond to your equivocation of Noise and Entertainment.

    i think it is important to recognize that Entertainment can be a means for fellowship, conversation, reflection, story-telling, and theology. You refer to your renewed priority of “music-playing,” implying that this is a ‘better’ use of time than “video games, television, etc.”
    Certainly, moderation is key (ie. simplicity). and of course, some art is (arguably) simply noisy. and, you are very right in pointing out the place where art becomes distraction – when there are a thousand things to “do” in a given day.
    But, to blanketly state that entertainment is a poor use of time is to either employ a specific definition of entertainment that i’m missing, or to marginalize art that is not music.
    watching a TV show with my wife and then discussing it or reflecting on the choices characters made is entertaining – and not something i’m willing to necessarily consider as a poor use of our time. also, playing a video game with my wife or with college students or youth from the church i serve is VERY entertaining, but also an opportunity for conversation and relationship-building – but, only if we are intentional about the relationships and conversation. i understand how the gaming culture can EASILY become merely distraction, but when i have played a round of Halo with two youth and then in the next pre-game lobby we are talking about how they relate to their parents and not even focusing on the game, this activity that you have casually dismissed as “entertainment” has been, for me, an opportunity for relationships and conversation.
    that’s a rather existential defense, but valid, i think. i just wanted to throw out another perspective on the definitions of ‘entertainment’ being used in these comments.

    and, i may be the only one in the Rabbit Room who plays video games anyway! so maybe i was a little sensitive 🙂

  23. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    David,

    Part of my job is to entertain. I play music for a living, and have done so (solely) since my teens. So – of course I don’t believe entertainment in and of itself is bad. TV in and of itself is not bad. I did mention “entertainment” but added “in general” meaning as a generalization.

    My main point is the amount of time we as a society spend on entertainment. Much of any spare time we have is spent on tv, videogames, etc. I often get young musicians asking me questions about how to play better, how to be in the music business, etc. One of my main points I tell them is to spend a lot of time playing, honing, and getting better at music. “You have more time now, in your teens, than you will ever have in your life. Use it wisely.” And sometimes the answer I get is, “Well, I don’t have a lot of time, maybe an hour or two a day.” And always, I ask, “Do you watch tv?” “Yes.” “How much?” “A couple hours a day, probably.” “Ok. Cut that out and you’ve doubled your playing time. Do you play video games?” “Uh..yeah.” “How much?” “I don’t know. Maybe an hour and a half or two hours a day.” “Ok, so that right there is a potential four more hours a day to get good at the thing you want to do for a living.” And then I proceed to tell them two hours a day is fourteen hours a week. That’s 56 hours a month. That’s 672 hours a year. If a kid does video games from the age of 10 until 20, that equals 6720 hours he could have spent on something that would have benefited him for his entire life, and not only him, but his future family, and even possibly the world.

    And two hours a day, for most Americans, is a very, very low estimate. The real numbers are more like four to six hours of tv a day on average. The point of my post is we’ve become a nation of vicarious livers, watching others do things and worshiping ‘celebrity’ and fame. Not that entertainment itself is bad, but we’ve got to ask ourselves, “How much entertainment per week is ordinate and how much is inordinate? Is 7 hours a week ok? Am I spending even more than a couple hours a day of my life on being entertained?”

    Now, of course, what I’m talking about in the preceding paragraph, for the most part, is mere entertainment – not art. Not the sort of art that enlarges, enlivens, enlightens our lives. I love art so much that I chose to make my living at it when I was fifteen, much to the chagrin of some in my middle class California suburban house-at-the-lake-and-a-boat-owning family. There is art that is worthwhile, and is more than just whittling away the hours. But again, it goes back to what I said before – we’ve got to ask ourselves the relevant questions. Not “Everyone does it” or avoidance, but “Is this ultimately (in an eternal sense) worthwhile?” There are books – works of fiction – and movies, and music, that are eternally worthwhile to experience. And there is much more that is not much more than

    We get one human lifetime. After that, we stand before Christ. What do we want to have done with our time here? This is not a diatribe against entertainment, but against throwing away major portions of our lives (6720 hours a decade if we “do” two hours of entertainment a day) on things that may not matter in the end.

    And of course, everyone has done it, including me. But as I get older I seem to be getting more focused on the fact that death comes to us all, sometimes earlier than we think, and how do we want to have spent our time?

    Anything can be misused, or overused. Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves To Death, in which he said something like, “At no other time in human history have people demanded to be entertained for eight hours a day.” It’s my contention that entertainment, if misused, can shut out more productive things, not to mention blotting out the quietness necessary for contemplative reflection and communion with God. It’s up to each of us to make certain this is not happening in our own lives.

  24. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    I thought “Amusing Ourselves To Death” when I started reading your last post and then you quoted it. What also came to mind was the words amusement and leisure. I never read the Postman book, but its quoted all over. Someone compared these two words and their meanings or roots. Amusement is simply absence of thought – truly mindless fun – whereas leisure has its roots in the same word as scholarship. I think we all engage in both varieties of entertainment and think both are healthy and, as David noted, a great way to connect with people.

    Like David also said, it’s finding the balance that is key. Not just with this area of life, but all of it. There is a lot to be said on that topic and lots of books have said it, so I’ll leave it alone. Thanks again for the inspiration guys.

  25. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    From Screwtape: “…as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do…you can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong.” And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them…”

  26. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    Aye – it isn’t that amusement, “mindless fun,” is bad. It’s the amount of mindless fun we allow ourselves. Turn on cable tv and you’ll see our society fuels itself on that kind of amusement. I have no doubt that many of the great saints of the ages, once they understood the mechanism of it, would still flatly consider most of the content of television satanic (one of the benefits of “The Reading of Old Books” – a great essay by Lewis – is to be aware of how other ages thought about things, rather than merely being caught up in the thought-stream of the current age).

  27. Kevin

    Two for video games:

    Hello, my name is Kevin Smith, and I am addicted to Oblvion. It’s been 3 weeks since I last turned it on. (That’s probably because I finally beat it.)

    I have been recently impressed with a sense of urgency in the time that I live. We, as a culture, have entirely too much opportunity to recreate. So much, in fact, that if we do 10% of it, we probably are cutting things that shouldn’t be cut.

    Now is a time for wisdom in the Christian, where we have more to tantalize our senses than ever, and yet to not participate in technology would render our communication worthless.

    I think about this all the time. Should I even blog at all? Should I even be at the RR at all? Should I watch movies (call me old-fashioned)? It reminds me that much of my difficulty as a believer in Christ is not spent trying to figure out what is right and wrong, that, the original post already said. The hard questions are the grayer ones, ones that don’t have such a nice, safe, formulaic answer.

    I know many of other posters are “artsy”, so maybe it’s in your genes to think about everything, but my experience is that most people don’t really want to think. They want to be comfortable.

    Sure, there are MANY black-and-white things in Scripture, and the challenge there is just to obey them.

    Then there are the grays, and they require engagement and study and dang hard work. And at least in my neck o’ the woods, it’s the grays that we are failing in.

  28. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Kevin,

    It’s definitely not black and white. That’s because each of us has to answer the question for himself.

    Should I be writing every day in the Rabbit Room? My answer comes back “No.” It’s very easy for me to become addicted to this sort of back and forth communication, so I make sure I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing (practicing guitar and banjo, writing songs, etc) most of the time. Upon occasion I allow myself to get involved here, but not as much as before. It’s just flat out a time factor. How much time can I spend on it before it seems inordinate?

    In my teens I grew up with parents who put no limits on tv. Every kid in the family had a tv except for me. Dad gave me one, and in a week I gave it back – it cut into my music, and caused me to lose focus. I’m glad I did that, because I doubt I’d have the music job I’ve got if I’d lost focus for the rest of my teens through watching several hours of tv every day. (My mom, who I lived with until I was 13, had a more balanced view of tv – Sunday night we watched Wild Kingdom and Disney, and Thursday, the Waltons. That was it).

    My own kids get Friday night movie night, and occasionally something else if it’s a special night of some kind.

    When my son was 2 my nephews (early teens) asked me if I was going to get him a video game system. I said “Never.” They were shocked, and said, “Why NOT!?” I gave them the talk about three hours a day, 21 hours a week, 84 hours a month, 1092 hours a year, and 10,920 hours in a decade (according to What It Takes To Be Great, it takes about 10,000 hours in a decade to attain an excellent proficiency at something). I said, “If my son plays guitar for that many hours instead of tv or video games, he’ll be a virtuoso; if he draws or paints, he’ll be an artist; if he writes, he can be a writer.” They said, “Man!” and I said, “What?” They said, “Man! We wish our dads had done that!”

    But anyway, it isn’t about no tv’/games or tons of it. It’s just about where each of us find ourselves in relation to what God would have us be doing. But for me, and my kids, it’s fairly black and white – strictly limited. Video games are limited to Chuck E. Cheese, always after the dentist visit, or if they are at a friend’s house. TV is Friday, or on special occasions. It’s more work, but the payoff is worth it.

  29. Kevin

    Ron:

    My point was that it is a no-brainer that we shouldn’t be beating our kids and not running around on our wives, but not so clear about the video games, tv, cell phone, movies and countless other things. That’s the gray that I’ve seen modeled as a knee-jerk no, or a free-for-all yes, both responses without thought.

    I like the RR because I get to see the thoughtful older-than-mes giving their wisdom. Thanks for yours.

  30. becky

    Tony,
    To your list of gifted greats who I could never be like no matter how many hours I practiced, I would add Ron Block. 🙂

    David,
    I noticed that in your comments you treated the games, etc., as a tool, not an end in themselves. And I think that is the way they should be approached. For many people, gaming and veiwing, etc., become the focus of their existence. Instead of being an opportunity to connect with others, they become more and more isolated. More of an island. (See Stephen Lamb’s post from a few days ago for an example of how important it is to have other people in our lives.) And that danger is not just reserved for technology. Anything can become this kind of an idol. I think the question is, does it take God’s rightful place in my life? Does it keep me from being about my Father’s business. In the instances you mentioned, I don’t think it does.

    Kevin,
    You are so right about people making blanket statements without ever giving any serious thought to the matter. As another “older-than-you”, and I think even older than Ron, I would direct you to a “lots-older-than-anybody-here” in Romans 14:5+. “One man considers one day (or video game) more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat (or watches TV), eats to the Lord…and he who abstains, does so to the Lord.” Ron has obviously thought long and hard about these things, and reached a conclusion as to what he needs to do before the Lord. He followed Paul’s advice. We should all be so thoughtful about how we spend our time.

    I think you are also right about the grey-ness of these thing. Romans 14 is a great passage for guidelines on how to deal with these areas that are not clearly spelled out in black and white. I think that verses 17 through 20 are key. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking (or gaming or movie watching), but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.”

  31. David

    Ron,

    i’ve found myself in a similar quandry regarding blogging/posting – it’s very easy for me to get caught up in it, but i have to limit myself to a once-or-twice-a-week indulgence so that i can focus on the ministry position in which God has placed me.

    you also remind me of a quickly-coming issue for me – how to structure my kids’ time, with regard to entertainment. i have no kids yet, and even though my wife will play Halo with me, she and I disagree on how TV/movies/games will be integrated into our lives as we grow together and have children. and, i do find myself echoing what those kids said – i wish my dad had thought of that. so, i’m going to seek to be a dad who IS intentional about what our family consumes.

    thanks for including Lewis, Postman, and more in your responses, too. it reminds me that there is a wealth of wisdom available to all those who seek it…

  32. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    David,

    A good book to read is Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think – and What We Can Do About It, by Jane M. Healy. It covers a lot about television.

    Let me tell you, though – the gravity pull when we’re trying to change is immense. I grew up, at least in my teen years, with few limits on TV (or nearly anything). I was blessed by God, through, to be so focused on music that TV didn’t take away my future career as a musician/songwriter. But many kids go through the school system and the television/fast food/microwave society and never recover, never really finding out what they love to do and getting to do that for a living.

    But because I am so focused it has been easier for me to be adamant about the television limits and the total ban on video game systems in the home (my kids do get to play one game for an hour on Saturday on my laptop, usually Lego Star Wars. They have a choice of that or to watch some hour long show like the old Get Smart, etc)). It has not been as easy to communicate that adamant attitude to my wife; she tends to be a lot more easygoing than me. But in the end it has been worth it (my son and wife are upstairs right now playing piano together instead of watching tv, for one). It is totally important for husband and wife to get on the same page, so do some reading together on the subject – the aforementioned book is a good one.

    And, as Dobson says, “Grab the reins of authority early.” Don’t give kids too much freedom too early – make it a V of freedom, with freedom increasing as they get older. If we start with too much freedom, too many choices, then they start getting out of control later because they’re looking for more freedom. It’s like giving kids sugar foods too early on – pretty soon the parents are saying, “I can’t get him to eat anything but Froot Loops in the morning.” Remove the sugar, and the problem is soon resolved. It seems easier in the moment to give freedom and wide choices to kids, just as it’s easier to get them to eat foods with sugar. But in the long run it’s highly detrimental. Boundaries, given with love, and the limiting of choices when they’re young, make kids feel loved and protected.

    Speaking of limiting myself on blogging, I need to go take the garbage to the dump and do a bunch of other things today – so easy for me to get caught up in discussing things that are close to my heart.
    Best,
    Ron

  33. Benjamin Wolaver

    Biblical “theories” are important. I think simply saying that we need to “obey the Bible” is overly simplistic. Kierkegaard’s quote assumes something massive: everyone who reads the Bible understands what they need to do. Leviticus is very easy to understand, but there is no need to start keeping archaic Jewish customs.

    The Bible is not Sunday School. The Bible is as rich, deep, complex, and powerful as a T.S. Eliot poem or a philosophical treatise. This is because the Bible reflect true Reality, and the ramifications are as endless as Reality itself.

    Kierkegaard’s path of reason, the one that led to Existentialism, says that all the debates, all the theological conflicts, all the striving and struggling to understand what Scripture truly says about Reality, is, in the end, meaningless. The Bible is easily graspable, so there is no need to dive into the waves of the “profound depths” of God.

    Should we rely on human interpretation or commentators to show us the way? No. But Kierkegaard’s quote, in my mind, is one step away from saying what many Christians believe today: that the most important thing about the Bible is not what it means, but what it means to them.

  34. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Benjamin,

    Kierkegaard went overboard, because of course theology is important. But there is a good solid core of truth in what he said. I was reading Tozer tonight to my kids and something he said echoes both SK and George MacD – “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. The impenitent heart will find the Bible but a skeleton of facts without flesh or life or breath. Shakespeare may be enjoyed without penitence; we may understand Plato without believing a word he says; but penitence and humility along with faith and obedience are necessary to a right understanding of the Scriptures.”

    “In natural matters faith follows evidence and is impossible without it, but in the realm of the spirit faith precedes understanding; it does not follow it. The natural man must know in order to believe; the spiritual man must believe in order to know. The faith that saves is not a conclusion drawn from evidence; it is a moral thing, a thing of the spirit, a supernatural infusion of confidence in Jesus Christ, a very gift of God…The Bible is a supernatural book and can be understood only by supernatural aid.”

    I used to think that by studying the Bible I could become “more spiritual” somehow. But what I found, because I was not obeying (read that ‘trusting’) what I was learning, all that happened was I became puffed up. MacDonald’s push was to get people to trust, and so obey, anything that Jesus said to do. He said to not worry; well, then, start giving up worry and handing cares over to God in prayer. He said if someone takes your coat give him your shirt as well. Well, then, do it.

    The point being that we can only really learn our need of Christ, first of all, through making a solid attempt to obey. The trouble is we are continually in the second generation Christianity – we know we can’t obey fully because we’ve been told that, and so that’s why Jesus came, and so we can trust Him to pay our sin-debt, etc., so we can go to Heaven. But that is all just theoretical knowledge; we can’t learn we are powerless and weak through being told so. We have to learn it by exerting moral effort – by doing our best to do what the Lord commanded. If we skip this elementary step, we’ll always have in the back of our minds the idea that we could succeed if we just tried harder. We’ve got to get bloody from trying.

    Lewis says the same thing in Mere Christianity:
    “As long as he is thinking of claims and counter-claims between himself and God – he is not yet in the right relation to Him. He is misunderstanding what he is and what God is. And he cannot get into the right relation until he has discovered the fact of our bankruptcy.”

    “When I say ‘discovered’ I mean really discovered: not simply said it parrot fashion. Of course, any child, if given a certain kind of religious education, will soon learn to say that we have nothing to offer to God that isn’t already His own and that we find ourselves failing to offer even that without keeping something back. But I am talking of really discovering this: really finding out by experience that it is true.”

    “Now it we cannot, in that sense, discover our failure to keep God’s law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense is is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.'”

    Once I began to learn to trust God, and so obey Him through trust rather than from my own effort, I began to understand the Bible a lot more than I did before. Things I had thought I understood suddenly became clear, and many things did not at all mean what I thought they meant. Trust, that inner attitude and choice, and its outer form, obedience, must be present and active in order to begin to truly understand.

  35. Corrie

    One of the most beautiful things about Christianity is that a little child can understand all that they need to, and yet a mind as sharp as C.S. Lewis’ could study for a lifetime and never tire of it.

    As for me, Christian scholarship tends to look like this: I spend an entire evening neglecting my work and ignoring my family while I sit in a chair and read something I love. For such a small investment, there is a pretty good return of self-satisfaction, too. And Bible Study! I could be driving by shivering orphans for all I know–I’m usually running late. But it’s so worth it to be there! It’s so safe and interesting and full of love.

    I like the S.K. quote because the way he says it is so shocking. You have to stop and think once he’s called you a scheming swindler! I heard someone once say it like this: “I think Christians should spend less time studying about Christianity, and more time practicing it.” It does seem like it can be easy to forget that studying it isn’t the same as doing it.

    Now Christ quoted scripture, and it convinced people of His authority to act. And act He did. He touched, spoke, healed, wept, listened, gave, walked, prayed, reached out. The new Testament convinces us that we have the authority and instruction to act in those same ways.

    I’ve always liked Psalm 1, and I think of it a little differently lately. I think study of such a complex and beautiful thing as God is a gift to restore us, after a full day of Christ-like actions.

     1 Blessed is the man
           who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
           or stand in the way of sinners
           or sit in the seat of mockers.
     2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, 
      
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

    I used to read that like a promise for the future. “Do this and you will be blessed.” Now I realize that any moment that I can spend doing that–meditating on the Lord– is itself, it’s own blessing.

  36. Corrie

    This is from Learning in War-time, by C.S. Lewis. I love this sermon, and have scribbled “being an artist” over “learning” in my copy. I thought maybe it would be good for this discussion.

    If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect all together.

    But, he warns, …we may come to love knowledge–our knowing– more than the thing known… The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.

    He closes with this: If we thought we were building up heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy in the hereafter, we can think so still.

  37. Tony Heringer

    Becky,

    From what I’ve heard of Ron Block with my ears and from a local singer/song writer here in Atlanta, I’d say you are right.

    Per usual, still no Matt Conner. From now on Matt you are to be called Johnny like Andrew is Barliman. It’s “flame on!” and then you fly away never to post again. 🙂

  38. Jon

    It seems logical that God’s prescription for life would be the most simple. a straight line if you will. Clearly, sinful man looking at a straight line from a crooked path will see that as an extremely difficult standard to meet.

    I often think about the fall and redemption in this allegory: Imagine a perfectly level plateau at sea level. Then imagine a glacial ice age which comes and carves deep gouges and lowers the level of the plain significantly below sea level. Now a flood of sea water comes and fills that recession back to sea level and as it does so it is constantly moving sediment to fill the furrows.

    So, a man traversing his sin nature up and down the hills and valleys of the floor of that nature, sometimes closer and sometimes farther from a godly standard, but never getting close will be frustrated by how unreachable that standard is. However, Christ has provided a ship to sail on the surface of this ocean filling this man’s sin-cavity and the whole situation becomes clear. Slowly the sediment of God fills his failings and walking a straight path or riding on His ship while not natural is clearly the right choice.

    Thoughts?

  39. Tyson

    Certainly Kierkegaard should not be taken to be promoting an anti-intellectual agenda. As Russ mentioned, the context is critical in understanding the quote. Kierkegaard is reacting to a scholarship whose supposed subject is God, but which is disconnected from the Church and her historical faith. Another brother mourned our departure from the serious inquiry of such men as Luther, Augustine, and Spurgeon. Kierkegaard would have been comfortable with these giants of faith because their interest in inquiry was not for the call of collegiate curiosity but a partaking of the protein for the life and worship of the Body of Christ.

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