I have a terrific friend named Earl. He’s roughly my age, and like me, he’s an ex-minister. We both have three kids and two out of three of them have the same names. Our friendship spans more than 30 years. We care deeply about many of the same issues. We both realize that we’re getting older and that we’re not going to be around forever. Consequently, we think and talk a lot about what kind of a world we’re going to leave behind for our progeny. Every few months we get together at a favorite Pasadena restaurant for a “summit” on the subject.
It’s not hard to figure out what our kids, grandkids and even great-grandkids need to know and do. We’ve got that nailed. We’ve got our politics and theologies sorted out. We know what we believe. What we don’t seem to know is how to convey what we’ve learned to those who are coming after us. We wrestle with the issue of “teachability.” Our kids are all caught up in their own busy lives. They don’t have time to listen to our ramblings. They’re carving their own paths in the world. Each generation seems to have to reinvent the wheel for itself.
Yet, as the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9b). He wasn’t talking about technology – he was talking about the nature of man. Each generation of mankind seems bound to repeat the folly of the past. “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after,” (Ecclesiastes 1:11). We don’t seem to learn lessons.
If we step back and take a “long shot” of human history, we see mankind endlessly recreating the same cause & effect factors that have led to destructive wars, heartache and human suffering. In politics, it’s the same old power-corrupting garbage. In families, we observe repeated conduct that results in conflict, tension, and sometimes divorce or delinquency. Life is cause & effect.
The Founders & Human Nature
The Founders founded this nation on an understanding of human nature. They knew that
“power corrupts” and that there had to be checks and balances – so they built them into the Constitution. As we read in the Federalist Papers, “Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint,” – (FP, p. 10). Today, a generation of unconstrained “Progressives” seeks to unravel those precious founding documents and to replace them with a shape-shifting “living document” that accommodates the political and ideological expediencies of the moment. They have failed to learn the lessons of the past. The result will not be beneficial.
Earl and I understand these things – but how do we persuade anyone from the next generation that they are true? Chances are we don’t. It may be that God wants each generation of Christians to start from scratch. Nah – that doesn’t make sense. Life is too short – how much can one learn in a lifetime? Not a lot. Life is short and confusing, and then you die. Just when you think you’re “getting it” it’s over. I had a stepmother who lived a mere 51 years and a daughter-in-law who reached 27; then she was gone. How much did they have time to learn about God, about the ugliness and ignobility of politics, about human relationships and how they work?
Transferring the accumulated wisdom of one generation to the next is at best a daunting task. Audiences are less than eager. The “that was then, this is now” generation is too preoccupied with itself to be interested. Maybe we should just hand them a nice crisp new Bible and say, “Read this when you get around to it.” Of course once they read it, there’s the issue of understanding. Check out the story of the Ethiopian “eunuch” (Acts 8:26-31). Who will teach them how to correctly interpret and apply what they are reading?
I’ve thought a lot about this. Years ago, I was a student, faculty and Board member of Ambassador College in Pasadena. In those years, most of us actually believed that we were, as a church/college group, God’s one and only true Church on Planet Earth. All others were imposters, counterfeits and even “pagans.” I came to see that view as seriously flawed (though some still believe it).
In the 31 years since I left the employ of Ambassador College, I’ve explored atheism, agnosticism, humanism, aspects of the New Age movement, and a broad variety of Christian churches. I’ve read widely both in theology and in the history of the Church. By far, the most profitable area of study for me has been the Hebraic (Jewish) roots of the Christian faith. I realize now that when I participated in my former church, I was often unwittingly building upon a false foundation. Many of the doctrinal assumptions of the founder and leader of the group turned out to be erroneous. They were based on faulty exegetical methodology – or the lack of any methodology at all. Yet, he told me once, “Brian, I have reserved to myself the setting of all doctrine!” This was the core of the problem – no checks and balances. No “iron sharpens iron.”
As rich as the study of the Jewish roots of the Church has been for me, I have found that when approaching others, it’s a hard sell. There is within the church in general a spirit of anti-Judaism. Anything Jewish is suspect. Some view the Jews as “Christ-killers.” Others see them only as Jesus’ antagonists. For some, Israel has been replaced in the divine economy by the Church. Still others believe that to study Judaism in connection with Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching is to resort to “legalism.” The objections are many – all of them bogus in my opinion. Defeating them is an unending, wearying task – Jew-haters both within and without the Church are relentless. They are aggressively creative in inventing reasons to oppose the study of Jesus’ Jewish background.
When it comes to what’s happening politically in this country, I’d recommend that folks read two books: A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell and Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin. When it comes to the one book I could recommend as a legitimate primer on Jewish roots studies, it is Our Father Abraham by Marvin R. Wilson. A note on the back cover of my copy reads, “Although the roots of Christianity run deep into Hebrew soil, many Christians are regrettably uninformed about the rich Hebrew heritage of the church. This volume delineates the link between Judaism and Christianity, between the Old and the New Testament, and calls Christians to reexamine their Hebrew roots so as to effect a more authentically biblical life style.”
I couldn’t have said it better. Before you discount the worth of Hebrew roots studies, read this one book. You may wind up thanking yourself for so doing. If you want to know more, check out the Hebrew Roots section at the ACD website (www.Godward.org) with its Recommended Reading list under “Source Materials.”
Hopefully, Earl and I will enjoy a few more profitable summits before we pack it all in. If we hatch any profound “findings,” we’ll be sure to share them with you.