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Small Theology

Mark Beuving —  May 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

The Beuving Family (Web) _0095I can remember looking forward to the day when I would have kids with whom I could have theological conversations. Not that this was the reason I wanted kids, I just thought it would be exciting to teach my heirs some amazing theology.

My daughters are now three and five years old. I have not begun reading them theology textbooks at bedtime, nor have they heard me speak the words “justification,” “pneumatology,” or “hypostatic union.” But we have certainly had plenty of theological conversations.

These conversations always arise unexpectedly. I don’t plan theology lessons for my girls; the theology invites itself into our regular conversations. Often, a character or plot development in a movie or TV show will lob me a doctrinal softball, and I’ll take a swing. (I’ll ask my girls questions like “Will Hiccup ever see his daddy again, even though he died?” or “Why do you think Rainbow Dash is so sad?” or “Who else do we know who died and came back to life again?”) Sometimes these turn into great conversations, sometimes they don’t. We never go very deep, but sometimes we have meaningful (if not complex) conversations about important theological truths.

We have talked about God’s constant provision and the importance of valuing God’s gifts when my daughters have complained about the dinner menu. We’ve talked about having compassion for the poor when both of my girls threw fits about the kind of sheets mommy put on their beds. We’ve had several chances to talk about human depravity and the importance of forgiveness when kids at church or at preschool have been mean.

My favorite theological conversations lately have come when we sing to our girls at bedtime. I’ve been singing part of Mumford and Sons’ “After the Storm”—the girls love it. I’ll sing, “There will come a time, you’ll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears.” Then I’ll stop and ask them, “Did you know that someday we won’t cry or be sad anymore? Do you know when that will be?” It’s a perfect chance to talk about the return of Christ and the reality of heaven.

I also cycle through the verses to “This Is My Father’s World.” Every night I’ll sing a couple of verses, and every now and then we’ll talk about what the song means. Just last night my five year old asked me what it means that God “shines in all that’s fair.” So we talked about God’s omnipresence, his power in creation, and the goodness of God’s world. We did this without using any big terms, which was a great exercise for me.

As I looked ahead to the time I would talk theology with my kids, I also pictured them much older than preschool age. But I’ve been surprised at how often I get to talk theology with my girls. I shouldn’t be surprised—I know that theology is practical. I know that everything in this world relates to God. But somehow, I didn’t expect theology to be so readily applicable to so many of the things my daughters experience so early in life. For me, it has been a great reminder that everything is theological, and that God cares about—and is active in—every detail of our lives, no matter how small our lives may be.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Nothing like this had ever happened before. In the beginning, there was God. And nothing else. Not an empty space and an endlessly ticking clock. Just nothing. No space. No time. Space and time are included under the heading of “the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God. And that’s it.

Let It BeAnd then the Maker began to make. One powerful word at a time. For six days, God continued to say this tiny word: “yehi,” “let there be.” The word is tiny, but powerful. This little word was not earth-shattering, it was earth-generating. Every single thing you’ve ever seen, or heard of, or even dreamt of was spoken into existence in those six days.[1]

This rhythm of verbal creation is punctuated by the repeated refrain, “It was good! It was good! It was very good!”

Creation is an act of the Creator. And it’s incredibly good. Thus far God has created through words: a poem written in stone and wood and soil and skies and living beings.

Orion Nebula

But in Genesis 2, God goes beyond speaking. Now he begins to “form” (v. 7). God is now digging his fingers into the dust that he spoke and forming it into a statue. This statue will become the inspiration for every statue of a human being every created, and it far exceeds them all—even Michelangelo’s David. But God is not done creating. After he “forms” he “breathes” (v. 7), and the breath that shaped the word-creation of all the stuff we’ve ever known now breathe-creates human life. God exhales into the nostrils of his statue and humanity takes its first breath.

God now takes one more creative step; this time he “plants” (v. 8). He plants a garden—not a raw wilderness or an unorganized jungle, but a specifically shaped garden. Speaking, forming, breathing, and planting God brings into existence the world we know. From absolutely nothing, the Creator creates his creation.

Given this creative context, we probably shouldn’t be surprised at the first job God gave to Adam. God created, then decided to make something like him, something “in his image and likeness” (1:26–27). So what did the Creator create this image-bearing creation to do?

Create!

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Once he finished making the world, the Maker made a maker. Adam and Eve were specifically placed within the garden to “work it” (which means exactly what you’d think) and “keep it” (which means to preserve it and take care of it).

It wasn’t enough for God to make paradise, he wanted paradise to continue to be made. To be further developed. God’s creation wasn’t bad (“It was good!”), but it wasn’t finished. The Creator finished his creative activities in the beginning by creating a creator to act according to the example of the Creator.

So now, thousands of years and millions of creators later, we find ourselves standing here, on this same spoken earth, in this planted garden, as these formed and breathed human beings. And the job description remains. Created to create. Look at the world around you and see what the Creator’s creators have done. Some of it is magnificent. Some of it is horrifying. Some of it reflects the Creator. Some of it defies him. But we stand as creators, bearing the likeness of the Creator, creating in the not yet finished creation.

The Artist in His Studio (Rembrandt)

“The Artist in His Studio” by Rembrandt

 

So what will we make? Too many Christians—who bear the image of the Creator to an unimaginable extent—have hidden away from the task of creating. It’s too hard, too dangerous, too dark, too embarrassing, too defiling, too degrading, too physical, too artsy. Too many Christians have hidden in pews or buried themselves in doctrine, as if those things are somehow antithetical to creativity. Too few of the Creator’s Christian creators have created.

Christianity actually has a rich history in this area. We have created works of staggering beauty. We have shaped our world to a profound extent. Yet who would argue that the Creator’s creators are creating as they should, all they should, where they should?

In the beginning, the Maker made a maker, and he placed us here to make this world the kind of place he wants it to be. Wherever we stand on God’s good earth, may we dirty our hands in the stuff God made and make something good and true and beautiful.

 

 


 

[1] Of course, there are many things that human beings would make out of the original things that God made; I’ll make that point next.

Most parents are concerned about how much television their kids watch. Bad parents, we all know, simply set their kids in front of the TV all day, never considering what their kids are watching or what the incessantly shifting images are doing to their kids’ brains. But the rest of us fall into two groups: (1) those who strictly ration “screen time,” preferring their kids entertain themselves in the good old-fashioned ways, and (2) those who allow their kids to watch multiple hours of television or movies in a given day. Those in the second group often feel guilty about letting their kids watch TV. But I don’t think they should.

Now, I’m not saying that we should turn the television into a babysitter (or a parent!). Nor am I suggesting that we should let our kids watch whatever they want, or whatever comes on the screen (may it never be!). But here’s what I am saying:

My daughters (3 and 5 years old) have watched a lot of movies in their short lives. We definitely limit the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, and we are very careful about the content they’re exposed to at this age. However, I am very glad our girls are movie watchers.

How to Train Your Dragon 2I’ll start my explanation with an example. I recently watched How to Train Your Dragon 2 with my daughters. (Spoiler alert!) In the movie, Hiccup’s father dies by throwing himself in front of dragon fire to save his son. I paused the movie to ask my five-year-old if she noticed that Hiccup’s daddy died to save his son. I think the concept registered to some extent, but we kept watching the movie. Then I asked her, “Will Hiccup be able to see his daddy again?” She thought for a minute and said, “Yes.” When I asked her why she said, “Because of Jesus.” “Yes, sweetie!” I said. “If they know Jesus, Hiccup will see his daddy again. He will miss his daddy very much, but one day, they will see each other again and they’ll be so happy.”

Later in the movie, Toothless (Hiccup’s dragon) and Hiccup get literally entombed in ice by the evil dragon. Everyone gasps because they’re dead in the tomb. But then Toothless gains some new form of life that makes him glow, and he explodes the ice-tomb and defeats the evil dragon. So I asked my daughters, “Who else do we know that was dead and came back to life again?” Both girls knew the answer: “Jesus!” “That’s right!” I said. “Why did Jesus come back to life?” They’ve both known the answer to this one from our Easter conversations: “Because Jesus doesn’t stay dead!” And we continued watching the movie, sprinkling in a bit of theology here or there.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers wanted us to have this conversation. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not brought to you by the people who made God’s Not Dead or Fireproof. But those theological concepts are there, embedded in the movie. Actually, these theological concepts are the reason why this movie is so compelling. So I talked about them with my girls. And I believe that these concepts are that much more understandable to young kids (and to human beings in general) because they were embedded in a story. That’s how incarnation works. I do at times try to talk to my daughters about death or resurrection or the power of God, and I think these conversations are beneficial. But there is a special power of understanding available to us when we see these concepts played out in compelling stories.

One day my five-year-old told me, “Daddy, why are kings mean?” “Um, why do you think kings are mean?” I asked. As it turns out, she had been watching the “evil” king on Doc McStuffins. This turned into a great conversation about how many kings are mean because they want to use their power to get what they want. Then I asked her who the best king in the world is, helping her understand that Jesus is the best king. This theological softball was lobbed to us by Doc McStuffins, so my daughter and I took a swing.

I want my daughters to be able to play in the “real world.” I want them to run and sweat and learn to play well with others. So we are careful to do all of those things. But I also want their heads filled with stories. I want to them immersed in tales of bravery, in examples of fear and how it’s overcome, in explorations of good and evil, in stories of true friendship and sacrifice. Sure, Doc McStuffins is not Pilgrim’s Progress, but it orients them to many important concepts, and my wife and I simply do our best to help them process these concepts in biblical ways. There are many shows or movies we won’t let our daughters watch at this stage because we feel they promote disrespect or trivialize violence, but we’ve had great conversations about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, you name it.

So by all means, follow your parenting instincts and don’t waste your kids’ childhood in front of a screen. But when you do turn on the TV for your kids, don’t let yourself feel like a failure as a parent. Just view it as an opportunity to teach them about God and the world and the people that he made. You may never get opportunities this good to talk with them about the things that really matter.

19 Weddings & Counting

Mark Beuving —  October 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

I am going to (unwisely) analyze something that will probably make a lot of people upset. Last night, my wife and I watched Jill Duggar’s wedding on TLC. It was great. The Duggars are great. Honestly, how can you not love this gigantic family that clearly loves the Lord deeply, loves each other deeply, and constitutes a rare and refreshingly wholesome spot in television programming?

I am pro-Duggar. Hear me say that. But as I watched Jill and Derick’s wedding last night, I was struck by the focus of it all. The wedding (episode) was not about marriage, not about Jesus and his bride, not about love. It was (at least as I experienced it) about (1) kissing and (2) having babies. Please feel free to disagree with me entirely, but hear me out.

The Duggars are famous for their no-nonsense approach to courtship. Jim Bob (aka, Daddy and Pops) actually introduced Jill to Derick. Derick was serving as a missionary in Nepal when the relationship began, and since that moment every conversation, every Skype session, and every face-to-face interaction has been chaperoned. Meaning that as the “kids” got to know each other, Jim Bob was there, often sitting between the two.

Hand-holding was strictly forbidden until engagement, at which point it was carefully chaperoned. There was even a moment of controversy during the engagement in which the couple’s over-exuberance turned an approved (and chaperoned) side hug into a full-blown real hug. Not to worry, the anxiety died down when it became clear that this was the unintentional result of Jill zigging while Derick zagged. (It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious issue.)

Now some clarifications. I’m intentionally playing up the sternness of it all. The Duggars are a fun group, and they all seem to be thriving in ways that most families don’t. Also, I have no intention of sending my daughters (now 3 and 5 years old) out into the world to make out with whomever. That’s not happening. I believe in wisdom, patience, principles, and the limitation of physical intimacy prior to marriage.

Chaperoned Date

But in my opinion (which you don’t need to share), this ever-watchful-chaperoning approach to dating (courtship) has some potentially negative side effects. One side effect is what it communicates. Do the Duggar parents trust their kids? I’m sure they do. And why wouldn’t they? Those kids are angels! If you set a Duggar loose for three days in Willy Wonka’s factory with a clear command to eat no candy, you can be sure that no candy will be eaten.

And that’s the irony. The Duggars seem to have done an incredible job of raising godly, trustworthy kids. So why treat them like criminals? Sigmund Freud thought that all human interaction boils down to the urge for sex. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. And the Duggar’s don’t believe that. So you don’t need to send your kids into vulnerable situations, but you might try letting them have a conversation or two that’s not wire-tapped. Maybe even a devotional time on the morning of their wedding that’s not chaperoned (that was a real scenario).

As I said, my girls are young, so I do not know what I’m talking about here. But it seems to me that this vigilant chaperoning communicates (probably unintentionally) that these wonderful young people are untrustworthy.

The second side effect I see is that it turned the marriage (episode) into a giggle-fest about kissing and having babies. Now, I know that the Duggars didn’t edit the footage for this episode. I’d be willing to bet that everyone in the family said some wonderful things about the true meaning of marriage that the producers simply didn’t find compelling. However, the courtship emphasis on lack of physical contact and private conversation made the marriage about the kiss. And, from the moment the “kids” got engaged, the big question was how quickly the couple would begin having kids.

Duggar Wedding

Kissing on your wedding day and having children in your marriage are both great. I’m for those things. But marriage is more than kissing alone. It’s more than reproducing. I’m sure the Duggars communicated these truths to their children. But I do think it’s unfortunate that the televised version of their wedding came down to unsupervised kissing and the any-minute-now expectation of having kids.

And now let me backtrack. I realize that it’s terrible to critique the Duggars, especially when there are so many obviously flawed programs and people on television. The Duggars are indeed a bright spot. But much of what we love them for is their quirks, their well-meaning (and probably well thought out) idiosyncrasies, the things that make them, well, Duggars.

Many of those quirks are wonderful. But perhaps we would all do well to consider that the opposite of sexual immorality is not constant policing. The cure for physical temptation is not Jim Bob’s inquisitive look as you accidentally front-hug. Sexual immorality comes from the heart (Mark 7:21–23), not unsupervised finger-contact. The Duggars know that. We should too.

 

Making Sense of the Grammys

Mark Beuving —  January 28, 2014 — 8 Comments

This year’s Grammy Awards (the 56th) has caused quite a stir. On some level, the Grammys are always a big deal. It’s got to be one of the most viewed, most diverse, most star-studded concerts every year. The event inherently celebrates God’s gift of music, and that aspect of the event glorifies God. Then there’s the quantity of famous people attending, performing, and award-receiving, so the event is bound to be big every year.

But this year was more stirring than most. Here are a few of the crazier highlights.

Katy Perry performed her song “Dark Horse” in a particularly satanic manner. She emerged from a crystal ball to dance on stage wearing a red cross in front of demons and other black-clad dancers imitating a human sacrifice. It was dark. The thing is, the song itself isn’t this crazy. It references magic in the chorus, but it’s referenced metaphorically. So in her choice to make her performance focus on witchcraft, I think Katy Perry was simply playing with that metaphor:

“So you wanna play with magic
Boy you should know what you’re fallin’ for
Baby do you dare to do this
‘Cause I’m comin’ at you like a dark horse”

She’s using the concept of “magic” as a metaphor to say, “don’t get in over your head by getting involved with me.” I really think it’s that simple. Unfortunately, she illustrated that metaphor so vividly that even the non-conservative media outlet E! Online tweeted: “Um, did we just witness actual witchcraft during Katy Perry’s #Grammys performance?” That definitely made for some dark viewing.

Then there was Beyonce, joined by Jay-Z, performing “Drunk In Love”—a pretty filthy song—in the most trashily scandalous way imaginable (in my opinion). It was crazy, and played its part in turning a potentially classy event into something awkward at best and sleazy at worst.

But probably the most talked about aspect was Macklemore’s song “Same Love.” The song bashes the church for being hateful and intolerant, bashes hip-hop for the same reason, and proclaims that:

“Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love”

Then Queen Latifah walked out, pointed out the 33 couples lining the aisles—many of them homosexual couples—and performed a 40 second marriage ceremony in which no vows were exchanged, no names were mentioned, and rings were hastily shoved onto fingers.

Now, here’s the thing. I love music. I love “Christian” music. I love “secular” music. I love the celebration of music that the Grammy Awards represents. But does all of this make me love the music world less?

No. I think there are reasons for the craziness of the Grammys. One primary factor is that while the Grammys intend to honor genuine musical excellence, the actual award ceremony is about entertainment. All of that stuff is great for ratings for the Grammys and the TV network, and the media buzz is great for record sales for the artists involved. Even after such a controversial performance at the VMAs, Miley Cyrus explained at New Year’s that it’s been a great year for her. She got a lot of heat, but celebrity is celebrity, record sales are record sales.

So even if the show itself got out of hand, I don’t think that devalues the music that ties all of these diverse people together.

And while some music and musicians are inherently dark or sexual or propagandistic, the Grammys still represent many thoughtful, earnest, and creative musicians. I’m not surprised by the sexual content in some of the songs, like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” One reason I’m not a huge fan of rap/R&B is the persistent focus on licentious sex, fame, and wealth (though I’ll be quick to point out that not all of it is that way). But Taylor Swift was also there as a more wholesome alternative, and Lorde won Song of the Year for a song denouncing licentious sex, fame, and wealth.

I don’t endorse gay marriage (for a balanced and helpful discussion of this issue, click here), but I do think people like Macklemore should be free to explore that concept and sing about it. What I disliked about that song and the surrounding performance is the propagandistic nature of it. There’s no subtlety. It’s not pushing the listener to reflect. The message is just there in your face, which I think devalues it as art. And by the way, this is a problem that I have with most Christian music. So many Christian songs are not contemplating life, they’re not encouraging reflection. They’re just stating their message sermonically. This makes these songs great as sermons and weak as art (in my opinion).

So I’m not turned off to music because of Macklemore’s performance. He’s not the first to give a sermon set to music, nor will he be the last. The world eats this stuff up. We eat it up. It’s great to have something to be angry about. What saddens me is that the focus is taken off of the music, which the Grammys are meant to celebrate. It takes the focus off of the thoughtful musicians who are consciously or unconsciously glorifying God by using the gifts he has given them and reflecting the creativity God implanted within them. Music is still a precious gift from God, even if its award shows get out of hand.

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