by Reuben Bredenhof
As we grow up, receiving instruction at home and at school, we hear many stories that are enduringly imprinted on our minds. Even years later, an adult is often able to recount in detail that vivid scene in the court of King Solomon when he had to rule in the case of the two prostitutes and the one baby, or is able to describe the story of our Lord and the little man Zacchaeus who waited for him in the sycamore-fig tree.
But Scriptural stories are not the only ones imparted to us as we go through the years of our elementary and secondary education. We also hear other “timeless tales,” stories that everyone knows through one source or another. We all know, for example, the story of the flat earth; in the Middle Ages, people believed that the earth was flat and believed that those who went too close to the edge would fall off. It is usually said that this was the official teaching of the church, and was something that restricted any voyages of discovery. The church’s ignorance on this point is considered another aspect of the superstition and intellectual decline that typified the so-called Dark Ages. But though the “villains” of this story, the ignorant ecclesiastical leaders, tried to squelch any exploration, the “hero” Columbus bravely stood against the power of the church and its feared Inquisition, and ventured out onto the high seas – and lived to tell about it. Other familiar tales from the past could be added to this one, stories that have been told so often and so widely that they attain the status of “myth.”
The purpose of a Myth
When we say “myth,” some might automatically equate this with fiction or fable. But “myth” in a wider sense is a grand story, sometimes true, sometimes not, that explains who we are and how we fit into the universe. A tale told and re-told and perhaps re-enacted on television becomes part of the understanding of our past and of our position today.
In the tale of the flat earth, we are confirmed in our view of the Middle Ages as a period of ignorance and superstition. The church was blindly opposed to scientific progress, while intelligent sailors courageously showed the conventional understanding to be wrong – a well-known story, but one that is not true. Contrary to the details of this tale, historians have long recognized that all educated people of the medieval period knew that the earth was round, and that the account of the church’s suppression of the intrepid Columbus is pure fiction. And yet this myth is still retold, for it nicely contrasts for our minds the rational modern world with the foolish bigotry that preceded it.
It is the place of modern myths that Philip Sampson examines in his book, 6 Modern Myths About Christianity and Western Civilization. After providing the example of the flat earth in his introduction, he looks at other tales that are less innocuous, larger stories that influence the perception of a whole culture – myths that invariably assault Christianity and misrepresent the Scriptures, while lauding humanism and reason.
Sampson has selected six grand stories, the most common value-conveying tales. “[These myths] are the modern mind’s way of communicating its beliefs about the fundamental problems of origins and meaning…A myth presents values and beliefs to us as though they were facts and history” (p.13). He observes that myths are not necessarily invented with the conspiratorial intention of obscuring the facts, but are told as reflections of the society that tells them.
The pattern of a Myth
Before beginning his work of showing how several “meaning-carrying” modern myths are truly fictional, Sampson summarizes their general characteristics. The vocabulary connotations in each diverse story are remarkably similar: religion is typically associated with belief, omens, ignorance, superstition, heresy, excommunication, torture, and blood; science is always associated with enlightenment, scholarship, intelligence, open-mindedness, and observation. Each story will also have a plot (usually the struggle of a free-thinking underdog against the ignorant church), a hero (an independent thinker), and a villain (the representative of the powerful church). These stereotyped characteristics already betray the selectivity and bias that underlie each myth.
In the book, six modern myths are first retold, often in the very words of the philosophers and historians that perpetuated these falsehoods and their intended cultural meanings. Sampson then carefully debunks these ideas, telling the real, more complex stories. He tells of Darwin and how his ideas were received (A Story of Origins), of Christianity’s impact on the environment (A Story of Mastery), of how missionaries treated native peoples (A Story of Oppression), of Scripture’s view on the human body (A Story of Repression), and of the church’s treatment of witches (A Story of Persecution). Let’s join Sampson as he deals with the first of the six myths, Galileo.
A story of a hero of science
The story of Galileo tells us how we fit into the modern world: “We occupy a small planet circling an average sun of one galaxy among many” (p.27).
“The Received Version” is probably familiar to our readers: the setting is Renaissance Italy; the plot is the warfare between science and religion; the characters are the plucky Galileo, armed only with a telescope, and the cruel Inquisition and her thumbscrews; the story’s end is that Galileo was tortured, condemned as a heretic, and left to rot in a prison cell, while science floundered.
We must teach our children to be Kingdom heirs—not just laborers in the marketplace
by Roy Alden Atwood
“Who are you?” a university student once asked me.
Odd question, I thought. I’d handled countless student questions, but this one caught me unprepared.
“Uh . . . I’m a professor,” I answered weakly.
“No!” he shot back. “I don’t mean what do you do, but who are you?”
His question unsettled me. Like most North Americans, I’d been carefully, though not intentionally, catechized since a lad at my parents’ side that the first and most important question we ask adults at first meeting (after getting their name) is, “What do you do?”
I’d learned that catechism lesson well, repeating it literally hundreds of times in all kinds of social settings over the years. But that catechism had left me quite unprepared to answer this more fundamental question about my personal identity separate from my place in the market.
That grieved me because, as a Christian, I had been better versed in the catechism of secular pragmatism than in Lord’s Days 12 and 13 or the Scriptures. And I knew I wasn’t the only one.
The answer that changes everything
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.... – Romans 8:16-17a
As I have reflected on that encounter over the years, I’ve realized that the biblical and covenantal answer to the question, “Who are you?” is a glorious one that stands in stark contrast to the secular myth that our employment or “career” defines us. Of course, our work and callings as Christians in the marketplace are important. Providing for our families is a great privilege and responsibility. But the priority of work in both our lives and the education of our children is almost certainly misplaced and overemphasized today in Reformed circles.
Our Calvinistic work ethic and sense of vocation – serving the Lord in all things – are a glorious heritage, but in our 21st century context, they have become largely indistinguishable from the middle class idolatry common among our unbelieving neighbors (i.e., having “another object in which men place their trust” [Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 95]).
In fact, over 30+ years of university teaching, evenly divided between secular universities and Christian colleges, I can testify that the one question all parents – Christian and non-Christian alike – ask about higher education is, “What kind of job can my kid get when he/she graduates?”
Intended or not, that question reveals deep worldview priorities. And such a question is certainly not the fruit of careful, prayerful parental reflection on what it means to educate covenant children as heirs of Christ who will seek first the kingdom.
By contrast, the Scriptures never identify God’s covenant children as people with jobs who happen to hold to a particular religious tradition. Instead, the Bible repeatedly calls us heirs of a kingdom, the adopted sons and daughters of the King of the universe. We are not just Christians who happen to have various jobs or work to do. We are royalty (Rom. 8:14-17, Eph. 1:3-6, I Pet. 2:9).
What do Reformed church orders say about church-run schools vs. parent-run schools?
by Mark Penninga
Late last year I was privileged to join my colleague André Schutten in making presentations to Reformed churches and schools across Canada. We were talking about the political and legal challenges we are seeing against parental authority in education. Our focus was the Loyola Supreme Court case, in which the province of Quebec is demanding that all schools and home schools set aside their worldview, and instead teach about religion and ethics from an explicitly secular perspective.
In preparing for these presentations I did some research into what Reformed Christians believe about who is primarily responsible for the education of children. I assumed that there was a common perspective about parental authority, in light of covenant theology. I was wrong.
Women and men are different, so they should play differently.
by Nancy Wilson
I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends.
We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons.
Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa
The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her.
Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, baseball, boxing, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one.
There are two ways to encourage our country turn in a godly direction.
Both involve talking.
by Jon Dykstra
The following was a speech delivered in Aldergrove, BC on Nov. 22 at a CHP-sponsored event called: “Shifting a Nation through Christian Politics, Political Advocacy and Media" You can listen to the speech here.
Glenn Beck, a radio talk show host in the US, recently came out with a novel titled The Overton Window. It was a very odd title, so before even getting the book I googled the title to find out what it meant.
The "Overton Window" is a term used to describe how acceptable an idea is to the public, or where this idea would fall on a spectrum of acceptability. This spectrum starts on one side at Unthinkable, and ends on the other side with ideas that are so well thought of by the public, they have become Policy.
Now a politician isn’t going to dare talk about ideas that will make him seem like a kook, so if an idea falls into the Unthinkable, or Radical end of the spectrum, he won’t touch them. That’s where we are right now with the issue of abortion in Canada.
A daring politician may bring up ideas that are merely Acceptable, but most politicians try to find out which way the parade is heading, and then get out in front of it. So they will only bring up issues thought Sensible, Popular, or so accepted that everyone thinks they should be made Policy.
A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
162 pages / 2010
In April 2014 a very different sort of Christian movie opened in theaters. Heaven is for Real is based on a bestselling book of the same name about Colton Burpo’s claim that he visited Heaven. When he was three-years-old he suffered from an undiagnosed burst appendix and was close to death before being taken into surgery. It was while he was being operated on that Colton says his heavenly visit took place: he describes sitting on Jesus’ lap, and being sung to by the angels. Some of the other details he passed along to his father include:
As of early May the film was on pace to make more than $100 million, and the book written by Colton’s father, Pastor Todd Burpo, has sold 9 millions copies. So with so many people talking about this, reading it and going to the movie version, what should Christians think of Heaven is for Real?
In the United States, federal elections happen every two years, and in Canada too, whether it is federal, provincial or municipal, there always seems to be an election just around the corner. So there are a lot of elections going on, which means there are a lot of opportunities for Christians to speak out and have an impact.
How can we have an impact? Political writer and occasional Reformed Perspective contributor Tim Bloedow thinks one of the best ways would be by imitating Dr. Glenn Martin. This professor was convinced that every serious Christian should try to influence the vote of at least 100 people. He himself wasn’t satisfied unless he attempted to influence at least 1,000 and the way he went about it was by writing these 1,000 people to tell them how they should vote, and why.
This next election are you going to have that kind of impact? Why not?