Piety or Knowledge?

I have written before of the battle between holiness and justice.  Some say we are to focus on our own moral purity, on becoming more like Jesus.  Others say we are to focus on social justice for others, on being Jesus to those around the world.
When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says “He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”
It seems that one of the Deceiver’s favorite ploys is to take a set of discipleship practices, a pairing that works best when done in concert with each other, and separate them, throwing them into battle with each another.  In doing so, he not only diminishes the efficacy of both practices but he also divides the very body of Christ.
Clearly both holiness and justice are important.  We should not focus on half of God’s commands to the exclusion of the rest.
Another battle I’ve been trying to understand is the battle between piety and knowledge.
Is it better to obey God, to act on His behalf, or is it better to learn about God, to know what it is He commands?
Some would say that knowledge is too dry, that the life of the mind is on par with selfishness.  It brings to mind ivory towers and keeping oneself unsullied by the realities of the real world.
While it is true that focusing solely on knowledge and learning would keep one from ever actually helping this world of hurting people, modern church culture seems to lean too heavily in the direction of anti-intellectualism.  There is a growing spirit of pragmatism in our churches.  A spirit whose first question about an idea is not “Is it true?” but “Does it work?”.
“Young people tend to be activists, dedicated supporters of a cause, though without always inquiring too closely either whether their cause is a good end to pursue or whether this action is the best means by which to pursue it.” ~ Rev. John R. W. Stott in an address at the Inter-Varsity Fellowship Annual Conference
It seems this is another set of discipleship practices that when separated leads to reduced success.
On one hand you have people rushing crazily about for the next good idea regardless of the wisdom or truth of it, perhaps even causing more harm than good.  On the other hand you have people sitting stagnant with their books, not allowing any of the knowledge of God to seep into their hearts and affect the world around them.
Both piety and knowledge are desperately needed together.  Only with knowledge can you know what God truly wants, what is the wise action to take.  Only with piety can your own heart be changed, can the hearts and lives of other people be changed.
Paul says in II Corinthians that we are to take every thought captive toward the obedience of Christ.
Piety and knowledge.  Obedience and intellect.  The heart and the mind.
Both are needed.  Both are required to continue to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.
Only together can these practices nourish “a warm and fruitful devotion set on fire by truth.” (Stott)

Success With Values

My first guest post is written by my good friend, Andy Dunham.  Andy is a friend from my undergrad days whom I respect greatly. He is incredibly smart and incredibly funny…a fabulous combination for a friend! If you like what you read and want more, he writes with two other college friends at TheBasiks.com. Enjoy!


I joined the world’s noblest fraternity earlier this year. After many, many hours of labor ended in a c-section, my wife and I finally got to meet our firstborn son on September 18. Several thoughts rushed to my tired yet jubilant mind as I held our baby:
  • How did a homely man such as myself get blessed with such a beautiful child?
  • Good grief, his hands are huge! He’s probably going to be taller than me one day!
  • How is it possible to love someone this much when you just met them?
These are pretty common sentiments for most new fathers. I guess I should have had some concerns about paying for college, etc., but that stuff will work itself out. Mostly, I was just overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.
There is another question that came to me then and continues to nag at, if not haunt, me now. That is, what sort of man will I teach my son to be?
I can show you more pictures! Really! Just ask!
There are certain things that we all try to teach our children: Play fair. Tell the truth. Try your best. Share. Don’t throw a fit! Don’t hit your brother! Don’t eat that! Yes, you have to eat that! These are the same things most of us were taught growing up. They make sense. If lived out, they create a happy home and a harmonious society.
Robert Fulghum explored some of these principles in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Here’s Fulghum’s list if you’re interested:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.
Sadly, Fulghum’s book has no rules about eating paste.
Pretty good list. Of course, Fulghum’s point is that these rules don’t just work for kindergartners but are for lifelong use. They are just as true and useful for a fifty year old as they are for a five year old.
I believe that. I try my best to live by these or similar principles. I mean, I’m not so good with the cookies and the naps, but I try to be a decent, fair person. Of course, I would add some things to the list: Love your neighbor, esteem others more highly than yourself, meditate on what is praiseworthy. But generally, sure, these are good principles to live by.
But, I have to admit, sometimes I get discouraged. Sometimes you look around, and it seems like the road to success is paved with selfishness and shady dealing, and people who adhere to the “kindergarten” principles are just fools:
  • I work as a trial attorney, and there is often a sense that you are not truly advocating for your client unless you are “pushing the envelope” through gamesmanship or other means: intimidating a witness, arguing passionately for a position you know not to be credible, being downright dishonest as a part of negotiations. Can a nice person be an effective litigator, or must we cede the field to the rude and unethical?
  • I need hardly comment on our political system, but the recent election reinforced how nauseating the process can be. I trust and hope that many (most?) of our elected officials began their political careers with a true desire for public service, but it seems that the current climate will allow nothing but rabid adherence to party lines, the public good be damned.
  • I had a client not long ago who told me that his hero was Donald Trump. Donald Trump?! The same petulant gasbag who I see on TV that would set his ridiculous hair on fire to get attention? A grown man who throws worse temper tantrums than a four-year old having a sugar crash after eating 25 pixie sticks and who has less sense of public decorum than a Rottweiler taking a dump on a public street? That Donald Trump? That’s what passes as admirable these days?
“You’re fired for not looking at me!”
  • I can’t even escape it when trying to watch a relaxing sporting event. Have you seen a college or NFL football coach recently? Between the joylessness of Nick Saban, the petulance and duplicity of Jim Harbaugh and the completely unhinged rage of most other coaches, it’s truly disturbing to watch. My current (least) favorite is Florida’s Will Muschamp, who looks like an actual psychotic person on the sideline. The picture below, in which Muschamp looks like he’s auditioning for Jack Nicholson’s role in a reboot of The Shining, was from the Florida-Georgia game earlier this year. Meanwhile, the announcers were chuckling about Muschamp’s “intensity” and “leadership” and other such nonsense. Leadership? This is how you treat another human being? By looking like you just snorted bath salts and are going to eat his face? This is what our society values and pays millions of dollars for?
“All work and no play makes Will a complete sociopath.”
So, it can be discouraging, or at least confusing. Is it better to teach my son to be a “man’s man,” to do whatever he must to get his way, to charm those you can, sling mud on those you can’t, and run over the rest to get where you want to go? Can you be a “success” and a decent human being at the same time?
You can. I believe you can, and there are many who have shown the way. You may be familiar with John Wooden, who is one of the most admirable people I’ve ever read about. John Wooden is one of the four or five best basketball coaches of all time, arguably the best ever. He led UCLA to ten national championships, more than twice as many as anyone else in college basketball history. He was also, by all accounts, an extraordinarily kind, thoughtful, and decent person, a man of faith and integrity, and an example to all around him. One story of him I cherish is that he wrote his wife a love letter every week and set aside time to spend with her. And, by the way, this continued for over twenty years after she died, with Wooden visiting her grave and delivering a letter every month. Wooden was truly a success in every sense of the word.
Achieving success with grace and class.
So, as I hold my son and dream of what he will be one day, I hope he will be a far greater man than his own father. I hope he will be a man who is a blessing to others. I hope he is a success, but that he does not have to abandon his values to become one. I know he can. Others have done it before.

Holiness or Justice?

I listen to them argue, watching as each shakes his head and smiles condescendingly while the other is speaking passionately about what he thinks is best.

Surface level respect doesn’t seem to go very far. Those who support each one seem to vilify the other, speaking ugly words of disrespect and hate.

Where should we who follow Christ fit in? 

One group is concerned with personal morality, the other is focused on social justice. 

Are we speaking of parties or churches? Is it telling that we sometimes cannot discern a difference? 

When we bring religion into politics, can it turn people away from Christ? If I cannot agree with one set of ideas, yet that same idea set is anchored to Jesus, I may conclude that following Jesus is impossible.

Surely this breaks the heart of God.

Yet surely one passion is more important. Surely either personal morality or social justice should be our highest priority.

If I have a passion for justice, personal holiness may be simply a distraction.

If I desire to cultivate personal holiness, I may yet ignore working for justice in our world.

Perhaps, just perhaps, a balance is needed.

In describing what brings the wrath of God, Amos says

They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. ~ Amos 2.7

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

When describing the wickedness of Israel, Isaiah says

…He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land…Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. ~ Isaiah 5.7-8, 11

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

Jesus, when teaching the crowds how to live, spoke of refraining from lust, adultery and divorce. He also spoke of giving to the poor, refraining from overwork and resisting the siren call of materialism. All in the same chapter of the Bible. ~ Matthew 6

Personal holiness or justice in our world?

Perhaps, just perhaps, we should not choose one to the exclusion of the other. Perhaps we should strive to attain both ideals, following all of what Jesus teaches us rather than excusing away half of His commands.

And what should we do with each other? What do we do with our brother or sister who insists that another course is highest?

Perhaps we should speak of that next week.