( HT: Mez McConnell)
Should Christians make New Year resolutions?
Matt Perman in his excellent leadership blog, What’s Best Next, makes a great point when he writes ‘a well lived life doesn’t just happen’.
Perman takes us to the writings of Jonathan Edwards to showcase a great example of why and how resolutions can play a part in the Christian life:
Edwards is a good example not just of a life that is lived well, but also of the “practical side” of how to actually build that intentionality into our lives, rather than just letting it remain a vague wish that never takes deep root and makes a real difference.
Jonathan Edwards the greatest theologian America (or arguably British theologian as during his lifetime the US was part of the British Empire) was a man who made resolutions.
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
What’s noticeable about Edwards resolutions over and against modern-day new year resolutions are their focus on the development not of the outer-man (going to the gym, losing weight, finding a new job) but instead the inner-man (spiritual development, character, godliness).
Perman helpfully categorises them into Overall Life mission, Good Works, Time Management, Relationships, Suffering, Character, Spiritual Development.
So taking time to reflect on life and resolve to live life for him (with God’s help) is certainly a godly thing to do. There certainly seems to be an intentionality about Paul’s Christian life. Take for example, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Should we make such resolutions public?
There’s no doubt that involving others in making and keeping resolutions can help us in keeping them.
We might be tempted to mock the public nature of resolutions. Why resolve things at New Year? Why tell people? Precisely for the same reason that we tend to go in for public marriage: because it can be useful to back up our own resolve with the pressure that stems from the expectation of others. It is often not bad enough to let ourselves down, so in addition, we need the fear of letting lots of people down to keep us on track. By being declared in public, a resolution gains confirmation and amplification.
If, as Christians, we only think about making changes at new year that certainly leaves us open to the charge that we’re simply adding a Christian veneer to a secular idea. But if like Edwards we are willing to regularly take stock, take note and by God’s grace seek change then new year is as good a time as any.
There is the opportunity that a holiday time provides for reflection and a focus that the ‘new year, new start, new you’ opportunity provides.
De Botton rightly says:
We can use the energy that surrounds the birth of a new year to lend our own inner change some impetus.
The problem with atheism is that as ideas go it’s a perennial underachiever – the Tim Henman, if you will, in the world of ideas. Wherever it has been tried it has been found wanting, not least because as a ‘negative’ philosophy it is unliveable and unloveable. The absence of belief in a transcendent reality finally collapses into a celebration of nothingness.
So what is an atheist to do? Alain de Botton has hit on an idea – why not should steal all the good ideas from the world of religious belief and pass them off as your own.
De Botton, author of soon to be published Religion For Atheists, has written a piece for the Guardian in which he comments that ‘Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone‘ and that therefore ‘the wisdom of the faiths belongs to all of mankind, even the most rational among us, and deserves to be selectively reabsorbed.’
It doesn’t take much by way of intelligence to recognise that there is nothing particularly rational about such a statement. After all ethical ideals depend upon reasonable foundations for believing them and compelling reasons for protecting them. Atheism is a denial that any such foundations exist and so any morality or virtue is so to speak built on sand and so easily swept away. Unlike de Botton, the New Atheists recognise that religious ideas cannot simply be stuck on.
Yet atheists who have experienced and benefited from the values they have inherited from Christianity find it so hard to let them go.
Roger Scrutton in An Intellegent Person’s Guide to Philosophy admits;
The ethical vision of our nature gives sense to our lives. But it is demanding. It asks us to stand up to judgement. We must be fully human, while breathing the air of angels; natural and supernatural at once.
A community that has survived its gods has three options. It can find some secular path to the ethical life. Or it can fake the higher emotions, while living without them. Or it can give up pretending, and so collapse, as Burke put it, into the ‘dust and powder of individuality’. These are the stark choices that confront us, and the rest of this book defends the first of them – the way of high culture, which teaches us to live as if our lives mattered eternally.
As yet, I offer no philosophical justification for taking this apparently objectivist stance. For the moment, it is enough that, in practice, it seems to work.
One hopes, as a Christian, that such thinkers who find the fence they sit on so uncomfortable will land safely on the side of the God who alone makes life liveable.
Stop mocking religions and start stealing from them? Why Alain de Botton’s new book is doomed to fail
The thesis of Alain de Botton‘s next book is that religion is good for atheists. It’s sure to create a stir (and sell a few copies) if Religion for Atheists: A non-believer’s guide to the uses of religion is all that it is cracked up to be.
There’s even an opportunity to hear a secular sermon from him in advance via the school of life in January of next year.
Judging from the introduction to the book on his own website it seems that de Botton thinks you can steal the best bits of a religion without being religious yourself.
The problem with the thesis is that, uniquely for Christianity, it simply cannot work that way. For to steal gospel instructions on how to live without relying on God who gives us life through the gospel is to steal a car without an engine. Quite simply you are going nowhere.
Here’s what I hope de Botton might grasp: the Christian life depends, and depends absolutely, on the Christian gospel . It is the engine of the Christian life because only a deep inner grasp of what the gospel has done for us can enable the response required in the Christian life.
So, for example, Christian community is made possible not because we choose to be nice, or like to forgive, or want to get along but because of a fundamental change of identity that the gospel alone has brought about.Christian community depends, absolutely, on the knowledge that IF Christ has died for me and you, and IF he has reconciled us to God, then he has reconciled us to each other.
The FACT that both I and they have been loved by God in Christ obligates me to love and serve them and gives me. The FACT that I have been loved by God in Christ also gives me a compelling and powerful motivation to boot. The ability to love flows out of the experience of love. The desire to forgive flows out of the experience of forgivenss. That is why the power to live the Christian life flows out of the gospel itself.
The same is true of forgiveness. The apostle Paul says to the Christian ‘forgive because’, but because what? Because, Ephesians 4:32 ‘in Christ Jesus God forgave you.’ I forgive because I have been forgiven.
And this is where de Botton’s thesis breaks down for the atheist does not share that experience and as a result does not share that obligation to live with regard to anyone. He does not claim to have experienced a forgiveness that compels him to forgive others. Forgiveness for the atheist is a lifestyle choice. He is not being inconsistent if he does or doesn’t forgive his neighbour. There is the world of difference between the Christian requirement to forgive because we have been forgiven and the atheist who is under no such obligation.
Take away the gospel indicatives (Christ forgave us) and there remain no binding gospel imperatives (therefore forgive one another).
It will be a curious thing to see how de Botton will escape such an obvious and necessary conclusion.
A recent newspaper article on the phenomena of school reunions was titled ‘Didn’t I do well and aren’t you fat’. The article reported a survey of 1600 people who had attended school reunions and it arrived at the following conclusion:
Whether or not we admit it overtly, going to a reunion is the occasion for a sort of personal stocktaking: the chance to ask where
you are in life, and to do so by weighing yourself up against your classmates. So it will come as little surprise to discover that many of us try to put a thumb on the scales.
Reader, we lie. And the biggest lie –as if we could fool ourselves – is the all-encompassing one. Nine people out of every ten pretend to be happier than they actually are. In the survey people admitted to lying about the money they earnt, their job titles, their sex lives. One person commented:
There is something competitive about it. You find yourself running through the checklist of successes you should have had.
I’ve never been to a school reunion but I’ve spent a fair bit of time checking profiles out school friends on facebook and friends reunited. I guess I’m just stating the obvious when I say we find it Continue reading »
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