The Doctrinal Book Most Significant to Me

Determining the single most pivotal theological work on my life and doctrine is rather easy. It was also my introduction to Jonathan Edwards. And while it took me three reads and about 18 months (2003–2004), with the help of lots of handwritten notes and drawings (including an upside down tornado inside the back cover, drawn from the bottom up), the connections finally came together, and my life and theology was forever changed.

The book, immodestly titled The End for Which God Created the World, was published posthumously in 1765. John Piper read it in his 20s. “Oh, man,” he recalled to me, “that book simply blew me away with the God-centeredness of God’s purpose in this universe.”

I felt the same thing. Eventually.

Accurately, the Yale editors later packaged the book with Edwards’ other ethical writings (yes, ethical writings), published in the works (vol. 8 [Yale, 1989], pages 403–536).

For me, fifteen years ago it providentially became the first book I read by John Piper, packaged together with Edwards under the newer title: God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Crossway, 1998). In those years, Piper (along with David Wells), was helping me see through the pressures and demands for short-cut pragmatics and felt-needs in ministry, to patiently trudge up into the mountains of divine revelation for a glimpse of the stunning glories of what Edwards’ beheld in Scripture as he contemplated God’s aims in making creation and us.

I bring it up today because I just discovered a paraphrased version of the work, something I could have made good use of fifteen years ago! If you make this essay the focus of your life and ministry, it’s not the only version of the work you’ll want, but The End for Which God Created the World: Updated to Modern English (2014), edited by pastor Jason Dollar, is a very good place to start, and a worthy attempt to simplify Edwards’ life-changing and virtue inducing treatise for a broader audience.

Which Is More Isolating: Blindness or Deafness?

Praise God if you can see and hear. Both are miraculous gifts. But if you could only see or hear, which would you choose? It’s the basis of a classroom experiment by W. J. T. Mitchell, English and Art History prof at the University of Chicago. I heard him explain it in a 2006 interview.

A thought experiment I use with my students is asking them: “If you have a choice, you can either be blind or rendered deaf — lose your ears or your eyes — which do you choose?” And then I say, “Don’t think about it, just vote.” Always, 90% vote to be deaf, rather than blind, because they think [sight] is so important.

Then I introduce a discussion to see if the vote changes, and in the course of the discussion they learn quickly, after a moment’s reflection, that the loss of sight is much less a problem than loss of hearing. A loss of hearing means we couldn’t do what we’re doing [a recorded conversation in a studio]. We could be doing this on the telephone. All of our sociability depends on the oral channel. And even though we have this inflated idea about eyesight, actually in terms of our being, as social animals, it’s relatively secondary. Yet we make it into something really important.

At the end of our discussion of course there’s a few holdouts who say, “I still can’t bear the thought of living in darkness.” But they begin to realize that deafness is a much bigger handicap, and of course that leads on to discussions like why are all of the greatest poets blind, not deaf? And why is blindness associated with the insight of “the blind seer”?

There’s no question our lives today are ocularcentric, and we over-prioritize the eyes because we live in a glittered age fully invested in the impulsive power of images to grab our eyes. This is Mitchell’s point, and it opens a vast field of exploration for Christians whose gospel priorities explicitly stress the ear over the eye (Rom 10:14; 2 Cor 5:7).

But this point was also recorded in 2006, prior to the advent of the iPhone and prior to social media as we now know it. In the 12 years since, I’m left to wonder if our new relational structures, heavily patterned after visual/typed realtime conversations of the digital world, now fundamentally tilt this equation? Or is this factor x-ed out by dictation tech?

What do you think?

12 Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Do you think we have a smartphone problem?

Two weeks ago I was invited to speak to a room of church leaders on raising teens and tweens in the digital age, a message birthed from things I’ve learned from my wife and through years of personal wins and losses as a dad in my own home.

I landed at an airport, walked outside, got picked up by a 26-year-old Uber driver, Scott. A talkative guy, he asked me what I did. A journalist now researching smartphone habits and addictions, I said. Hardly having left the airport property, he choked back tears and explained that a week ago he broke up with his girlfriend of eight years, in part because of her smartphone addiction. “Me and my girlfriend,” he said, “we kicked our cigarette habit together. But we never could kick our smartphone habit together.” But Scott did. Feeling the urge to prove it, when we reached our destination, he showed me his iPhone and its nearly vacant home screen. He uses the phone only for driving and navigation. For everything else — he held up an old battered flip phone.

I thanked him, got out, checked into my hotel, walked for lunch, and sat inside a restaurant in a booth by a large window to enjoy the sunny cityscape. A few moments later a grimy homeless man walked along the sidewalk, stopped about ten feet from me, outside. Holding an empty Red Bull can smashed flat in the middle, and with the two ends slightly bent down at an angle. With both hands he held the can up in front of his face. With two thumbs he tapped and swiped and pinched and clicked on the flat surface for a full minute before holding it to his ear and walking off in a solo conversation. He’s simply trying to fit in, to look normal, and this is the normalcy he watches all day.

Do you think we have a smartphone problem?

Later that night in Louisville I spoke to a room of key pastors and leaders, parents and grandparents, who share my concerns over how smartphones and social media form and de-form teens and tweens.

Through the kind invitation of Collin Hansen (TGC) and the gift of three research days allotted to me by David Mathis (DG), I was finally able to pull all my thoughts together into one piece. The written form of the address is done, edited, and released a moment ago, under the title: Twelve Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age.”