Friday, 24 July 2009

Children and Innocence

The following is a guest post from Greg Thiele who attends Petersham Baptist Church and is an Associate of CASE

A (Christian) friend of ours recently told us that for his son’s upcoming eleventh birthday, he is planning to take the boy and some friends to see an M-rated movie. We were surprised, to say the least: it is not so very long ago that we cautiously started allowing our children (ten and eight) to watch selected PG films.

What is wrong, one might ask, with an eleven-year-old (or an eight-year-old, for that matter) watching an M-rated movie? Are my wife and I too conservative? If most parents allow their children to do it, can there be anything wrong with it?

The first part of my answer lies in the guidelines for movie classifications themselves. According to advice from the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department (here), films classified “M” are “not recommended for persons under 15 years of age”. Certainly, films with a given rating can vary greatly in their content and potential impact: but this rubs both ways. PG films, for instance, which apparently are regarded as innocuous by the great majority of parents (judging by the ages at which many children start watching them) can range from very mild, with perhaps one or two moments that, say, a six-year might find frightening ('The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' is a good example of this), right through to films that are aimed principally at an adult audience and contain commensurately adult themes, and are therefore fundamentally unsuitable for children (this is going back a bit, but 'Drop Dead Fred' is an example of this latter kind that I am familiar with).

One of the concerns with PG films is that the term “Parental Guidance” is probably not clearly understood by some parents. The idea is not that all PG films are OK for children to watch as long as their parents watch along with them, and explain any confronting bits. Rather, it is that parents should exercise good judgement in deciding whether the film is suitable for their children in the first place (if necessary, by watching it first themselves, or at least having a very clear idea of the content). Perhaps “PD” (Parental Discretion) might be a more helpful term. Whatever the ages of their children, this is an area where parents need to exercise considerable care and wisdom.

The main concern is that children might be confronted with images or concepts which they do not have the ability to process or understand; and having a parent sitting alongside them will not necessarily have an ameliorating effect: my wife tells of a shocking image from a film she saw as a young child, in the company of her parents, which has stayed with her all her life. The effects of being exposed to such images might not be immediately apparent.

The tendency for children to be allowed (or even encouraged!) to watch films containing material they might not be mature enough to comprehend or otherwise process constitutes an aspect of the trend in contemporary society for children to be “pushed on” to the next age level in their thinking and habits. This is particularly evident in the case of young girls (so-called “pre-teens”) – a matter about which there has already been considerable debate. As parents of a ten-year-old girl, we experience the resisting of this trend as a constant battle: so often, it seems, children are encouraged to act/think/look in ways which, a couple of generations ago, would have been appropriate for children at least a couple of years older.

What is driving these changes? To suggest that the agenda is purely commercial seems simplistic; yet there is probably some truth in it: the more aware, savvy and (ostensibly) mature a child is, the more sophisticated (and expensive) will be the “toys” they will be in the market for, and the greater will be the gains for those manufacturing and selling (not to mention advertising and marketing) those commodities. Role models in the entertainment industries also probably play a part in encouraging children to look and act older than their age: and the kind of access today’s children have to images of celebrities via computers, DVDs and mobile phones was not yet even in the realm of fantasy when I was growing up 40-odd years ago.

Why, as a society, do we seem to find it difficult to let children be children: to grow up at their own pace, as it were? There is no easy answer. Perhaps it boils down to a question of innocence, and how we are to understand it. The bible does not have a sentimental attitude towards children: they are clearly represented as being implicated in the essential loss of human innocence that occurred at the Fall: “Surely I was sinful at birth”, writes the psalmist, “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Yet it is possible to set alongside that truth a sense in which children are innocent – unversed in the ways of the world – and therefore in need of our protection.

Scripture clearly points out that children are a blessing from God, to be welcomed, as Jesus commanded us (Mark 9:36-37). We are to love our children - with compassion and tenderness (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11,12; Psalm 103:13) - and provide them with the good things of God’s good creation (Luke 11:13).

Part of our duty of love and care towards our children consists in protecting them from influences that have power to harm them: whether from commercial interests that would see children as just another commodity to be exploited; or from societal influences that are less easy to define or understand, but no less dangerous for that.

Photo credit - Google Images

Friday, 17 July 2009

Jacob's Inheritance

On Sunday 12th July (Carmen’s birthday!) my eldest grandson Jacob Henry Cairney Starling was baptised by full immersion aged 6! As my daughter Nicole said in her own blog post about this recently, “Some of our friends might be thinking that this is a few years too early and others will be thinking that it's about six years too late!” Needless to say, I was deeply moved watching young Jacob being baptised because it was testimony to the grace of God and his work in Jacob's life and our family. Jacob had become convinced from his reading of Acts with his Dad that as a believer in Christ he should be baptised. His parents after much discussion and consultation decided that there was no biblical reason not to let him be baptised, and many good reasons why he should, if that was what he desired.

The faith that led Jacob to want to be baptised is a wonderful reminder to me as his Grandad of the grace and kindness of God towards our wider family. For like the young Timothy who Paul noted had a faith "that dwelt first in [his] grandmother Lois and [his] mother Eunice" (2 Tim 1:5), Jacob's faith was evidence of the grace of God that had previously brought many to faith in his wider family. God had been at work in Jacob's father’s family (the Starlings) with family members across many generations demonstrating faithfulness to God. Similarly, in his mother’s family (the Cairneys) God's grace is obvious. There are less recent generations of Christians, but similarly there is much evidence of God’s grace and kindness, for in his mercy God saved Carmen and me as 31 year-olds at a critical stage in our children’s life (when they were just 5 and 3). As well, though we were both raised in non-Christian homes, God gave each of us godly grandparents. Jacob has a rich heritage of God’s faithfulness, grace and mercy.

But ultimately, Jacob like all of us, must have a personal faith in Christ and a preparedness to commit his life to following him. As Joshua challenged the Israelites, we too must hear the call of God and “choose this day whom [we] will serve” (Joshua 24:15). In one critical way the role of Jacob’s parents is similar to that of Paul with the young Timothy (who Paul sees as his 'child'); it is to remind Jacob of what they have been teaching him about Jesus and what he is learning himself as he reads the Bible. Paul challenged Timothy to never be ashamed of his faith in Christ (2 Tim 1:8-10) but to hold to this faith no matter what the cost and to follow the pattern or standards set for him by Scripture:

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you (2 Timothy 2:13-14).

Paul's words to Timothy are very much the language of the parent for his child. Jacob's parents will similarly continue to challenge Jacob to hold to his faith and the teachings he has heard from them and that he now explores himself as he reads God's word. And of course his grandparents and Jacob's wider family collectively accept their responsibility to remind him of God's promises in Christ. Through the grace and kindeness of God Jacob's faith will hopefully grow and deepen and his family will continue to encourage and support him.

The task of nurturing a precious young child of God is of highest of importance for parents and family. This task might seem daunting to some parents. But there is a great word of encouragement to families in Paul's second letter to Timothy, particularly those who have seen their children resisting the truth that they have taught them. Just as Paul trusted in God for the well being of Timothy, so too parents have to trust in God for the spiritual well being of their children. While it is our task to remind our children of the truth that we have taught them, we do this in the power of God. While we remind our children to “Follow the pattern of the sound words” (1 Tim 1:13) that they hear from us, and by reading the Bible, our children cannot guard it in their own strength. The “good deposit” can only be guarded “…by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us”. Is there any wonder that Paul “constantly remembers [Timothy] in his prayers night and day” (v3). He thanks God for Timothy's faith (v3) because ultimately Paul knows that it is God who made Timothy into the man that he is. So too, this is the hope of Jacob's parents and his grandparents, that God will complete the work in our child and grandchild that he initiated and sustains through his Spirit. I praise God for my grandson Jacob and his godly parents and pray that God's grace will continue to be evident in their lives as they trust in Jesus.

Below (left to right): Tim Blencowe (Pastor of Macquarie Baptist), Jacob's Dad David and Jacob

Friday, 10 July 2009

Remembering Calvin 500 years on

July 10, 2009 marks the 500th anniversary of
John Calvin's birth.

This is a guest post by Patrick Chan who is studying medicine at the University of New South Wales whilst living in the New College Village.


In some respects, Calvin is a controversial historical figure. Many regard him as having been an austere man. Others criticize him for his role in what happened to Michael Servetus. If memory serves me correctly, historian Will Durant went as far as to claim Calvin was a monster and ran Geneva like a sort of police state. Even among Christians, some have exclaimed in disbelief "What love is this?" with regard to the theological system known as "Calvinism."

Others have had a much higher esteem for Calvin. B.B. Warfield believed Calvin deserved the title "the theologian of the Holy Spirit." D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once compared the Puritans to the Alps but Calvin (along with Luther) to the Himalayas (and Jonathan Edwards to Mt. Everest).

Speaking for myself, I think the negative charges are probably based on an overly simplistic and possibly even faulty understanding of the man and his beliefs, whereas the acclamations are at least somewhat overstated.

In any case, Bible-believing Christians don't look to Calvin in the same way, for example, as Catholics look to the Pope or the Magisterium. Calvin was merely a man of his times, warts and all (which Calvin would have been the first to admit). He tried to serve God and God's people as best as he could according to the light God gave him to understand and unfold the Holy Scriptures. Calvin himself prayed: "I offer my heart to you, O Lord, eagerly and earnestly."

Personally, I find reading Calvin wonderfully sweet. He lived in harsh times and suffered quite a bit in his life -- probably more so than most of us in the West have or will ever suffer. Yet, by God's grace, his hard life made his pen flow with such beautiful words. When I read his writings (in the context of such a polemical period of history), there's a tremendous sense of humility and love which exudes from his writing, which draws me to worship and thank the Lord our God for what he did in and through such a servant.

Perhaps the following words will seem 'too much' as well, but I'm tempted to say, if Luther was the bright, blazing fire which ignited the Reformation, then Calvin was the still, deep waters which settled the Reformation. If Luther burned as hot as the sun in the fight for the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, then Calvin was as profoundly reflective as the moon in his philosophical and theological systematizing of these same biblical truths. If Luther was like Elijah challenging Ahab and Jezebel, calling down fire from heaven, slaying the prophets of Baal, and riding into the heavens upon a chariot of fire, then Calvin was like Elisha quietly and graciously feeding the hungry with bread, curing Naaman the Syrian of leprosy, and restoring a poor woman's only son to life again. Perhaps the difference between the two Reformers is accentuated in each of their most famous hymns: in Luther's case the vigorous and stalwart "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and in Calvin's case the gentle and honeyed "I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art," a lovely version of which you can view below.

Related resources

John Piper's Desiring God ministries has recently released a free e-book version of T.H.L. Parker's Portrait of Calvin, which is a brief biography of the Reformer. Readers might also want to keep Ligon Duncan's remarks in mind while reading the e-book.

Matthias Media has a good interview with philosopher, theologian, and Calvin scholar Paul Helm.

You can find other key resources on Calvin at the Calvin 500 site (here).

Friday, 3 July 2009

The God of Science

The latest edition of Case magazine is out, and if you’re not a CASE associate then you’re missing out on some great articles. As I write in my introduction to this issue, at a time when Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins are seeking to negate the place of faith in understanding the origins and purpose of life, it is important to assert that there are varied views on the compatibility of science and faith.

The theme in this issue is ‘The God of Science’. This should signal that we believe that rather than God and science being in opposition, that science can help us to understand the ‘what’ of creation while still allowing us to accept that God is the ultimate answer to the ‘why’. God has knowledge of all the answers to the questions that science explores. The efforts of scientists to pose questions and then to try and answer them should strengthen our insights into the wonder of God’s creation. The aim of Case #19 is to stimulate discussion about the fundamental question, can faith and science complement one another, or are they inevitably in conflict?

Articles and reviews on the theme

Kirsten Birkett offers a valuable historical foundation in her piece 'I Believe in Nature' and explores how naturalism became entrenched as the predominant discourse. She shows how key scientists managed to drive a wedge between science and faith to create the common perception that science is all that there is.

Michael Murray’s article ‘Belief in God: A trick of our brain?’ considers scientific evidence that humans are naturally disposed towards religious belief, ritual and moral behaviour as an outcome of natural evolutionary processes. Atheists like Dawkins take this evidence and conclude that religion is a by-product of the built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain, and that humans would believe in God even if he did not exist. But Murray suggests that all the science demonstrates is that natural causes are involved in the origin of religious beliefs. He concludes that there is no evidence to counter the Christian belief articulated by John Calvin 400+ years ago, that God as creator built within us a desire to know him.

Dennis Alexander argues in his article ‘God and Evolution’ that science and faith are complementary and that Darwinism is not at odds with belief in a creator God. His article will challenge some readers but like Birkett, Lennox and Frankenberry, Alexander argues for compatibility between faith and science; that science and faith can coexist. Alexander suggests that you can accept the science as an explanation of the origins of biological diversity on the earth, but still see it as the outworking of God’s will as creator. “If there is a personal God with intentions and purposes for his creation, then we expect order, directionality and the emergence of personhood.”

Alexander’s position is that man evolved from an archaic species of homo sapiens, and that God in his grace, chose a couple of Neolithic farmers to reveal himself to mankind. He called them into fellowship so that we might know him as a personal God. These he argues were “divine humans”, who the Bible gives the names Adam and Eve. But rather than being the ‘first’ humans, they were chosen to be representatives of a new humanity. There will be dissenters from this view. As well, there will be some who will question whether Alexander’s view can be reconciled with the Scriptures.

Lewis Jones concludes our discussion by bringing us back to a fundamental point, that science cannot answer questions about the purpose of creation. Jones suggests that the relationship between science and purpose is more rightly seen as the relationship between the nature of things and the rightness of our actions. “God is the sole revealer of his purposes for creation."

We also have two reviews on books relevant to the theme. Andrew Kyme reviews John Lennox’s book 'God’s undertaker: Has Science Buried God?' Patrick Chan reviews Nancy Frankenberry’s book ‘The Faith of Scientists: In their own words’ which offers an insight into how twenty one scientists relate matters of faith to their science.

Collectively, the writers who have contributed to this edition of Case support the truth that God is the God of Science as well as creation:

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).

Our God owns all and founded all. Furthermore, as Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:15-16, God sustains all things by, for and through Christ:

As the writers in this issue demonstrate, knowledge of science need not weaken faith; in fact it might just strengthen it. It is possible to understand what science teaches and to seek to reconcile this to our knowledge a God who seeks to reconcile us to himself through Christ.

Related links

You can read Roberta Kwan’s reflections on the topic as she worked on this edition of Case (here)

From the CASE vault - Cells and Souls, Kirsten Birkett (here)

From the CASE vault - Can Science see the end? Ross McKenzie & Greg Clarke (here)