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“It’s time for some serious thinking about what is biblical wisdom for this time in my life.”
Ken Myers, the founder and host of Mars Hill Audio, reviewed a book written by John Stott titled “Your Mind Matters.” It made the argument that the way we think about things isn’t value-neutral, but begins with certain preset understandings of how the world works. We interpret both events and proposals in light of those foundational values. Myers contends that the philosophical presets of our current thinking goes back to the philosophy of Francis Bacon, who equated knowledge with power—a political and utilitarian idea, but quite different from the prevailing Christian view (at that time) that equated knowledge with wisdom and claimed the key to living life successfully was to realize the reality of the God of the Bible and live responsively before him. Bacon's focus was essentially, “Do what works for you.”
Bacon’s approach seems to be the birthplace of the kind of thinking that predominates in our culture, manifest in easily identifiable ways, such as equating a college degree with a step up in prosperity rather than a deepening of wisdom.
Both Myers and Stott point out that Christians should instead take their cue from the Apostle Paul in seeing knowledge as the door to truth and wisdom, and that we shape our lives—our deeds and thinking—by a standard of biblical wisdom rather than “what works”.
Yet we seem to be the philosophical offspring of Bacon’s altered view of purpose...asking, “Is this step practical in promoting my welfare? What works for me at this point in my life? Should I be very productive? Could I be more affluent? What strategies would make me more socially sought-after and well-connected? How might I be physically at my peak? What would make me culturally aware?”
The Bible tells us almost nothing about Jesus in his culture. Was he popular, well-off, fitting usefully into village life? Christians who think about this with our sense of how life should work may puzzle over their founder.
Instead, the biblical accounts focus on how Jesus seems to have abandoned a perfectly good skilled-labor position as the village carpenter, leaving his mother and siblings to take care of themselves, going off to become a controversial itinerant preacher, trouble-maker and messiah claimant, wandering around upsetting the order of things and inviting people to follow him, which they generally did. Later he claimed to be their king, upset the Roman governing authorities, and created a small riot on the grounds of the Temple in Jerusalem.
I dunno...that doesn’t seem nice...
So they killed him.
...and then he came back!
What are we to make of this?
Are the biblical authors missing the more essential elements of Jesus’ life? Should they have consulted Francis Bacon?
Right now I’m reading through the Old Testament book of Exodus. I find all these disturbing connections between Jesus and Moses. Moses is also a study in exceptionalism. He was the Jewish son of slaves who wound up being adopted by Pharaoh and becoming a prince! So he is in the uncomfortable position of being in succession for continuing the enslavement of his own mother and father and all the Jewish people, and perhaps even of carrying out the extermination of the entire race, with the exception of himself! A practical, “what works” approach would have said play down the Jewish connection of your birth, be as Egyptian as you can, enjoy the palace and power.
He flees and becomes, instead, Pharaoh of sheep for a Midianite nomad out in the desert. Then God calls him to go back and free the Jews. Moses is the mouthpiece, while God delivers disasters whenever Moses points his stick. Through Moses, the economy of Egypt is wrecked, every single family loses their firstborn son, and the entire army is drowned.
The result is that Moses becomes ‘Pharaoh’ for a third time, over a collection of slaves out in the desert with no country.
From our perspective, both Jesus and Moses made poor choices.
Both of them seem to have abandoned a pretty useful life-plan and instead become a one-man national wrecking ball. Both seem to have caused a lot of problems for the governments they existed in, and entered history as trouble-makers with a capital ‘T’.
Yet neither was just looking for trouble. Scripture makes it clear that each was deeply obedient to God. Both inspired their followers with the same basic message: know yourselves to be created by God for just this purpose - to live in response to him.
The essential part of their message that often gets forgotten, particularly in an era focused on ‘what works’ is that there is a higher agenda here - that we are made to be worshippers of the true king, both in this life and beyond the death of our physical bodies. We are to delight in the fact that our lives are eternal, so that we can be always in companionship With Him.
This is wisdom.
Holding onto that kind of thinking changes ‘what works’ a lot.
Can I do that in my culture? In my times?
Is that enough of a life goal?
Francis Bacon was a smart philosopher, but not smart enough. We are un-thinkingly shaped by him. The Apostle Paul was smart also, but willing to be informed by the God who created him. When we are thinking about how we are thinking, we are wise to be informed by him.
I am now 72. I’ve never been this old before! I don’t know how to ‘do’ 72! Whatever year of your forever life you are in, do you know how to ‘do’ your age and circumstances? We usually just absorb the cultural standard and do that! It’s time for some serious thinking about what is biblical wisdom for this time in my life. It’s not too late to begin thinking about how we are thinking.
Jim serves Cornerstone through pastoral care and by overseeing internal ministries and administration.
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