charity Wednesday, October 31, 2007
It's late...I'm in a hotel room...on the last night of my last leg of business travel for the year. I'm "worn slap out" as we say here in the south. This is my preface to help offset what I hope is not an altogether uncharitable attitude towards those who are not being very charitable...in my tired opinion.
A dear friend asked me to read a recent post by a very gifted blogging team whose zeal for sound doctrine and the biblical gospel is ordinarily a spicy, abrasive, sarcastic, and polemic recipe on the menu each week. His post provoked the return of friendly fire on the blog of this very gifted blogging team. I posted a few comments (first here, then here, and finally here)and in turn took some return fire myself from some dear friends.
I think the rub here is simple. We ought to preach the gospel and we ought to guard the gospel. And in both we are called to be discerning of those patterns, trends, or trajectories that will offset, neglect, deny, or altogether reject this gospel. But HOW are we to preach, guard, and discern? In short, the method ought to flow from the message.
In my comments, I point to three essential texts on developing a gospel-heart for those who are straying from the gospel or those who are neglecting and rejecting the gospel.
FIRST, 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place to start, for it defines the type of love we are to have when using our spiritual gifts, including the gift of discernment (1 Cor. 12:10). If one practices their gift of discernment and does not have love, then their preaching can become as much a loud gong or clanging symbol as can loveless-motivated tongues (whether you believe in them for today or not) (13:1). And if you give all your heart and soul in verbally exercising that discernment but don't have love, then it is of no value whatsoever (13:3).
What seems most significant about this text is that it becomes didactic, instructional, teaching literature on how we are to handle and talk and behave toward one another. There is no similar type of literature in the Scripture, as far as I can tell, on handling others with sarcasm. In fact, much of what we read in 1 Corinthians 13 would seem to argue against such communication devices on a repeated and defensive manner.
Further, citing Paul (in Galatians and Corinthians) or Jesus (in the temple angry or with the Pharisees) as examples proves to be difficult for several reasons. For one, it presents basic hermeneutical difficulties. When is it right to emphasize a writer's inspired writing practices over and above what is clearly given to us in Scriptures as direct instruction for our behavior and speech? The argument that this is the Son of God and arguably the greatest Apostle always breaks down at some point. But it seems to hold up here. I'm fearful that as one outside of biblical inspiration I can argue with the same communication techniques and be as effective as they were. If ever there were men who got the balance 100% right, it was these two. I'm not in that group and I don't know of anyone else who is either.
SECOND, if love endures all things, as 1 Corinthians 13:7 teaches, then what does that endurance look like as it regards those who we think are neglecting, ignoring, or rejecting the gospel? That answer seems simple, too. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 shows us Paul's own example. "The Lord's servant must NOT be quarrelsome but KIND to EVERYONE, able to teach, PATIENTLY ENDURING evil, correcting his opponents WITH GENTLENESS. God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth..."
Now for those who consistently bring up Paul's tone in Galatians as a defense of how we can talk to people today who neglect the gospel like they did, here's a good question to ponder: is it possible that the Paul of 2 Timothy 2:24-25 showed the same attitude towards the Galatians? If not, why not? If so, how so?
Let's say for argument sake that we are dealing with a different Paul, in terms of these two books lying at opposite ends of his writing career. If so, and I'm willing to grant this very reasonable line of thought, then isn't the Paul in 2 Timothy (facing martyrdom) much more mature than the Paul of Galatians (at the very beginning of his writing ministry)? We certainly see evidence of this in other places, like his progressive humility in 1 Corinthians 15:8 to Ephesians 3:8 to 1 Timothy 1:15; or else his separation with John Mark in Acts 15 and his request for John Mark's assistance in 2 Timothy? Is it possible that if he had it to do over again he might change his tone a bit toward the Galatians like he did toward John Mark? The argument of inspiration with the inclusion of the human side makes this a tough argument to think through, indeed. But it is certainly one worthy to consider.
THIRD, even with this argument when we look at the second letter Paul wrote, 1 Thessalonians, we still see a man, early in his ministry, who had the "tone" of "a nursing mother taking care of her own children" (1 Thess. 2:7), "being affectionately desirous" (v. 8), and "a father with his children" (v. 11). Do we think that Paul didn't have the same heart toward the Galatians or the Corinthians because they were in error? It seems foolish to try to argue that because we don't see the tone of 1 Thessalonians 2, or 1 Corinthians 13 or 2 Timothy 2 in Galatians that it wasn't there at all. This is the gentleness and kindness in "tone" with which Paul dealt with with everyone - from new believers like the Thessalonians all the way to false teachers like those in Ephesus where Timothy was pastoring.
FOURTH, if we look to the Master we see one of the only places in the Scriptures where we get a glimpse of what Jesus is like as a person. That is found in Matthew 11:28-29, and there we are told that Jesus is meek and lowly in heart. He is one to whom those run who are weary and burdened in their lives. He seeks to give rest to people's souls! But this is not and cannot be reflected when we communicate with abrasion and sarcasm. Polemics are necessary, but they ought to be utilized with the spirit and attitude of the gospel...and with the meekness and lowliness of the Savior who has come to rescue them from false teaching.
If we deal with the same thing Jesus dealt with in His day in false teaching, can we expect to handle it with the perfection and precision of speech and attitude in which He did? There's just no way. We're too tainted with sin to even hope to do so. So if we should err on one side or the other in Jesus' responses, it seems most wise and logical that we would err on the side of His meekness and lowliness and humility and gentleness and kindness with people...rather than on the side of the whip-swinging, rebuke-throwing Jesus in the temple and with the Pharisees.
FIFTH, the balance we do see in the Master is found in His addresses to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Six out of seven churches got a word of comfort and encouragement, as well as exhortation and warning and rebuke. He gives both. Even in churches where there was false teaching going on (Pergamum and Thyatira) He had encouraging words for them. He looked for evidences of God's grace in them, saw these evidences, and commended them. So much for the blogging crowd and commenters who complain and opine that we don't always have to preface critical remarks with encouraging words! I think that when we are dealing with churches and Christians, even those with whom we disagree vehemently about potential or actual false teaching, there seems no better place to turn than to the Chief Shepherd in these two chapters.
So how do I wrap up a late night blog where I'm hoping and praying that my wearied body and sleepy mind have communicated with some clarity? How about with these words. They seem to give a biblical balance to this whole issue.
"Don't just pretend that you love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other" (Romans 12:9). "Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).
"Why are we the only family who doesn't play video games whenever we want to? All my other friends can play whenever they want to." This is what I'll hear from my oldest son from time to time. IF! he gets to go over to his friends house to play, he often comes back home discontent with his video gaming life...or lack thereof...which is precisely why he isn't allowed to go to his friends' houses that much.
"Well, little buddy..." I begin my reply, "different house, different rules." That's the basic answer we give him. Then a bold excursus on why no parent should let their kid play video games whenever they want is offered to my child who, by all rights, has no real concept of what in the world I'm talking about! But I talk to him as if he did. I want him to know, first and foremost, that a mom and dad aren't really parenting when they let their kids do whatever they want, whenever they want. That's letting a child run as fast as they can into danger! He's beginning to get the picture now, more than he used to. All it takes now is connecting the rest of that child's behavior with this one area of their life. While we attempt to not judge or condemn another child or their parents, it is helpful for my son to connect the dots. His "friends' "behavior in the video game area is unbridled self-centeredness, which is readily seen in so many other areas of their lives as well. And some of these areas are quite sinful in their reflection to my son, in the form of bullying, badmouthing, mean-spirited joking, etc.
The response to this sort of behavior is very much connected, not only to why these kids should be allowed to play video games whenever they want, but also to why these kids (and mine especially) shouldn't be playing violent video games. No matter what the kooky "experts" may say, violence breeds violence (see Brain Response Altered by Violent Video Games). "Big 'DUH!' on that one," as we say in our house. Yet such a simple thing seems so overlooked by adults...sometimes purposefully out of convenience from not desiring to enter into any conflict with the child...but also sometimes unwittingly out of a shameful ignorance of how God would desire them to parent their child.
I'll make my point now. Violent video games are sinful. There's no if's, and's, or but's about it. They're sinful for several reasons, the overarching reason behing that it is an affront to the gospel, for it continues and even increases the destructive marring of the very gospel which has come to end it. Consider the personal reasons I give my children for why we don't play violent video games, in light of the gospel.
1. The gospel is about renewing. Violent video games are about destroying. Let's face it, that's the entire point of most games. Blow up stuff and kill stuff...usually people or aliens. That causes me much pain so often, because I'm a guy, and guys love to blow up stuff and kill stuff. But that's destructive! God put Adam and Eve on this earth to cultivate it (Gen. 2:15; Psa. 104:14), not destroy it. Destruction is undeniably the result of sin entering the world (Rom. 5:12, 16). Paul taught us in Romans 8:18-25 that the earth groans in its futility awaiting the final redemption at the second coming of Jesus Christ. The world is fading away, dying out (1 John 2:17) Peter taught us in 2 Peter 3:10-13 that this dying earth will be burned up one day to make way for a new heaven and new earth...a new creation! In fact, John sees a day in which God will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). This is being brought about now through the gospel which is the work of Christ through the Spirit reconciling sinners to Himself (Eph. 1:10, 22; Col. 1:20).
So if the gospel is about redeeming and reconciling the world and the people in it to the authority and headship of King Jesus, do violent video games help us accomplish this? Destruction, mayhem, violence, and murder are a reflection of sin which has entered God's world and slowly dismantles it. Most video games are, in my humble (but correct) opinion, nothing but "murder practice," I tell my children. They teach, train, optimize, and maximize the minds God made to glorify Him to instead tear down the image of God in others as fast as we can. It desensitizes the heart and mind to murder as one person after another after another as quickly as possible without any consequences or pangs of conscience. (And for those who protest that Halo 3 is different because "we're killin' aliens, bro...not people" I simply respond, "Bro, if there were such things as aliens, they'd need the gospel too, so why kill 'em?")
Playing video games that center on these things is a magnification of sin. But God has defeated all this at the cross! When we play such games and allow our children to play them we are breeding in them an attitude which wars against the very thing that put Jesus on the cross, in the first place, as well as against the very thing Jesus came to destroy on the cross. Why play games that glorify that which destroyed God's world and God's Son? Why play games that run counter to the purposes of God in the gospel of Christ?
2. The gospel is about repentance. "Since you have heard about [Christ] and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God's likeness - righteous, holy, and true" (Eph. 4:20-24). There, in a nutshell, is the Christian's call to repentance based on the gospel. One of the key reflections of gospel repentance is to not "sin by letting anger gain control over you. Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a might foothold to the Devil" (vv. 26-27).
Who will tell me with any integrity that violent video games do not breed the agression that causes a child to be so angry toward his parents, towards authority, towards those who hurt his/her feelings, or those who offend them in some way? What child is there who doesn't get mad or angry or even enraged when he loses a game, gets "killed" in a game, or can't control the game the way he wants? And while violent games are woven into their little hearts and minds, what is the first attitude they exhibit when the game is turned off and something crosses them or frustrates them? They get mad, angry, and enraged! What do we expect?
The gospel is the basis for getting rid of "anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language" (Col. 3:8). Paul argues later on, "Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you...And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love. Love is what binds us all together in perfect harmony" (vv. 12-14). Wow! Do we see that "disclosure" on any violent video games? Certainly not, which is why we as parents must labor diligently and sometimes exhaustingly to preach this gospel to our children.
3. The gospel is about God-centered revenge. This very issue - revenge - is a major part of what we breed in our children when we let them play violent video games. It becomes most natural to do to others as they have done to us when they pump spontaneous violent initiatives into their minds and hearts. This gospel-point is especially appropriate when it comes to discussing games that pose the player against terrorists or "bad guys."
I used to be a big Rainbow Six fan. One Christmas I bought three games all for myself (probably a selfish act in and of itself), and installed them on my beleaguered PC. I remember playing for about two days straight, with the door closed, committed to using some of my Christmas break to having some time to myself, enjoying my new Christmas present I had given to myself. (Notice all the my's in my sentence!) Then, out of nowhere, my oldest son walked in the door, stood beside me while I was oblivious to his presence, and watched me "wasting" and "whacking" terrorists. Suddenly I awoke from being "in the zone" and angrily blurted out to my son to leave the room. After all, "you don't need to be watching stuff like this!" I angrily commanded him. "But dad, why are you watching it?" I was crushed. God's Spirit was kind. I was compelled shortly thereafter, without any useless rationalization, to uninstall the games and get rid of them. I was flat out convicted and had to plead no lo contendere.
Why was I wrong? For the simple reason that vengeance against "bad guys" belongs solely to the Lord. "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone...Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, 'I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it.' says the Lord. Instead, do what the Scriptures say, 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink, and they will be ashamed of what they have done to you.' Don't let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good" (Rom. 12:19-21).
This is not at all what is inherent in any violent video game, is it? And this is not at all what is bred in our hearts and minds by such video games, is it? The fact of the matter is that when we or our children play violent video games our first impulse will be to hurt the one who has hurt us, and perhaps even by finding them and killing them. Hunting people down and repaying what they've done to us, even in video games, is sinful. God uses the government to do that. And I have no warrant in a text like Romans 12 for even pretending to be one in a video game. While games like this seem cool to those who love justice, it is actually breeding in us a biblical injustice, for we are robbing God of His right to pursue vengeance.
Tonight as my oldest son and I were walking down the aisle at Wal-Mart he was continuing his ongoing growth process out of video games in general, and especially violent games. He recalled being at the home of one of the boys in our church a couple of weeks ago. The boy was playing Medal of Honor, which is I believe a World-War II game or series of games. I realize that it is merely a replay of the strategies and combat scenarios that took place throughout the various military campaigns of that war. But again, it breeds violent, vengeful impulses that arise first, totally preempting the gospel. So my son said he saw why it was wrong to play such games, while watching his buddy play. He told me tonight, "Dad, as the sad sounding music played when ----'s man died, it showed me how useless it is to keep trying to kill bad guys, cause you always end up getting killed yourself." In simple terms, those who live by the sword, die by the sword (Matt. 26:52).
Here's the thought I left with him, and I'll leave with this post. The reason I hate violent video games is because anyone who hates me will be punished and destroyed by King Jesus. Violent video games are about hanging out with other gamers who have all kinds of guns and all kinds of ammo to wipe out their enemies. King Jesus needs only the sword of His mouth (Rev. 1:16; 2:16; 19:15; 19:21). That means that the same kind of words which spoke this world and man into existence are the same kinds of words that will destroy wicked sinners, especially those who hurt God's people. King Jesus needs no guns, ammo, swords, laser cannons, plasma cannons, streetsweepers, sniper rifles, detonators, grenades, or munitions of any kind to deal with His enemies. He only speaks to them...and takes His vengeance by means of words. That's real power. I want to hang with someone like that. I want my boy to find a Savior in someone like that, and not in one who exercises his "right" to bear arms in a video game...even if it is against aliens.
I am fearful that years ago while I protested the murder of innocent, unborn children through abortion, I did not protest the murderous intents of my heart in all the video games I've played since violent video games were made. What's the real difference? In tangible consequences, I suppose none. But eventually, for it cannot be stopped, we will reap what we sow. It is a law of nature. My immediate impulse to tear someone down in my attitude or words or behavior toward them is certainly a very tangible consequence of the violence I've sown in my heart in playing such video games. Jesus tells me this is just as bad as actually killing them (Matt. 5:21-22).
So what are we then sowing in our children? What are we allowing our children to sow in their own hearts? May we ask God's mercy and forgiveness to fall on us for our mindless, senseless, and pointless murder and destruction, repenting from it and replacing it with the purity and love of simple devotion to Jesus Christ in the gospel that preaches salvation, reconciliation, redemption, and renewal.