Spare the rod, spoil the child
I was spanked and no harm came of it
The Bible teaches spanking
Recently, I was involved in a discussion about Christian parenting. An article was shared that showed findings from 5 decades of research (!) that demonstrate spanking causes harm. Some of the first responses immediately appealed to a biblical view of disciplining children, including one comment that said if we accepted this study as Christians we’d have to cut the verse that says “Spare the rod, spoil the child” out of the Bible. What follows is my response, with some expanded comments.
Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?
There is no such verse, so I guess that’s not a problem.
When people use this phrase and claim it is biblical, they are probably referring to what that common saying alludes to, Proverbs 13:24. Therein we see that the word for “rod” is the same word in Hebrew used for the shepherd’s staff in Psalm 23:4, there bringing comfort. Indeed, the shepherd’s crook/staff/rod is probably what is being referenced in Proverbs as well, there showing that correcting children is proper–just as we correct the path of the wandering sheep. But we don’t beat the sheep with the staff, it is used to turn the sheep back to the right path. Thus, the meaning is, I think, more aligned with saying that we ought to correct our children when they stray, just as a shepherd corrects the straying sheep.
We can’t rely on the English translation to make a point over against the Hebrew. The same word used for a shepherd’s staff is the one used in Proverbs. It’s the same word, shebet, in Proverbs 23:13, another text often referenced to support the notion of spanking or “spare the rod, spoil the child.” It reads:
Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. (NIV)
Further, if you compare Exodus 21:20, which speaks of beating with a rod causing death, to Proverbs 23:13, which assures the reader that the child will not die, there is a difficulty in taking the latter literally, because otherwise death is a distinct possibility which is even legislated against in the former. Indeed, Proverbs 23:14 makes the context clear- correction is saving the child from Sheol. But if that’s the case, then how could it be read as striking in a way that could cause death (Exodus parallel) while also explicitly being intended to save from death Proverbs 23:14: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death” (NIV, ESV reads “save him from Sheol”)? It doesn’t make much sense to save someone from death in a way that causes death.
The Hebrew of Proverbs 23:14 for “strike” is nakah in Hiphil, thus meaning it is causative and, again, seems to point to the same metaphorical meaning I drew out above for 13:24. Strong’s notes the common figurative use of “nakah” in the OT. That is reinforced in Brown Driver Briggs which shows both intensification of the word (slaughter/etc.) as well as less strong meanings (clapping hands, hail).
Are other readings possible? Sure they are. But corporal punishment is not the only possible translation, and it seems to yield a contradiction. We can’t rely on the English translation to be the end-all-be-all of how we read the Bible. It comes with the assumptions of the translators. I’m not saying they’re wrong–just that it is simplistic to appeal to the English as the final say.
I was asked to explain what alleged metaphor is being employed, as well as the reference to Exodus 21:20. I was also countered by saying the words for rod and staff are being used together in Psalm 23 so why did I draw the conclusion I did.
The metaphor that is employed is fairly straightforward: just as you use a rod to correct the sheep–guiding them with strikes–so we should correct the wrong paths our children take. The metaphor is not that we should strike children–that is the literal reading, and one that I think I’ve shown is not even necessary–but rather that like shepherd we guide children on the right path.
The appeal to Exodus 21:20 is to show that beating with a rod was known to kill people and that was punished. Yet in Proverbs the use of a rod for the child has no implication of death and indeed a direct denial that death is even possible. If we read them both literally there is a contradiction: striking with rod causes death; striking with a rod will not cause death. Use of the words metaphorically, as outlined in the preceding paragraph, clears up this apparent contradiction.
Psalm 23- I’m not so sure about the confusion here. Sure, both words are used inclusively, but that doesn’t change the Hebrew word being translated as rod is also translated as shepherd’s staff and is the word used in each verse presented so far. Nothing in this relies on the word being separated out from context in Psalm 23. Instead, I am appealing to the Hebrew to show that the word is the same as the one used in Psalm 23:4.
Spanking and Anecdotes
One final point I’d like to bring forward is that anecdotes are not arguments. Very often in this discussion (and others), one cites a study or makes a comment, and then someone else responds saying something along the lines of “Well I was spanked [had this happen to me, etc.], and I turned out okay” as if this is a counter-argument. It isn’t. Having incidents that don’t cohere with the general trend is to be expected, and appealing to an anecdote doesn’t invalidate such general trends or rules. The study linked above is in no way discredited by the, I’m sure, many thousands of people who were spanked but turned out “okay.” That doesn’t undermine the mounting evidence that spanking is not the best option.
I have shown in this post that texts or sayings commonly cited in support of spanking do not necessitate or even condone the act. The Bible does not necessitate spanking as a way to discipline children. It does, however, teach that parents are to correct wrong behavior, and, like the shepherd, turn their children back to the right path. Given the increasing evidence that spanking is a poor option, Christian parents ought not feel they must use it to discipline their children. Those who choose not to spank may do so with a clean conscience.
Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!
I’m writing this as the Cubs are tied 1-1 in the 2016 World Series with Cleveland. I’ll be finishing it just after the World Series, and I hope beyond hope that it will be in celebration of a victory of the Cubs in the World Series, for the first time in 108 years. I’ll clearly mark the point I wrote after the World Series. Go Cubs!
There was one night I was in bed but could not fall asleep. I believe it was when the Cubs had just tied the NLCS 2-2 with the Dodgers. I was bubbling with joy because they’d just tied the series. It meant there was a chance, however remote, that the Cubs could make it to the World Series for the first time since 1945. It meant that, maybe, there wouldn’t have to be a “Next Year” this year. Maybe, just maybe, it could happen.
As I was lying there, thinking, I realized that it was at this point I truly understood the joyful anticipation that the writers of the New Testament experienced. Jesus Christ had promised to return, and soon. How great that joyful day would be! But each day, each year, there was the thought: there’s always tomorrow. One day we will experience the reality that there is no more tomorrow, and our joy will be complete.
With our eschatological hope, we know that there’s not just a chance. It’s a matter not of if Christ will return, but when. And that is something that I feel overjoyed about and also terrified. What does it mean to say Christ will return? The world will be not just a different place–a changed place–it will be made anew.
Post World Series
I just re-read a blog post I wrote back in 2012 entitled “The Eschatology of a Cubs Fan.” In that post, I wrote:
I still hold out hope though, it’s almost like an eschatological promise: “There’s always next year.” Boy, we’ve been saying that for a long time. But I really do believe it: one day, the Cubs will win one, and it will be during my lifetime. When they do, I’ll be like the fan standing up, looking at the skyline, and just rejoicing. I’ll say “This one was for you, grandpa” and I’ll see him sweeping the streets in heaven [my grandpa would get a broom out and sweep the floors when the Cubs swept a series]. If it happens, I will get to Chicago, I don’t care when it is or how it happens. I won’t have to be at a game, or even there while one happens, but I’ll get back to Chi-town, the place I love, and I’ll kiss the walls of Wrigley, wearing my “World Series Champions” hat.
One day, Cubs.
That day has come. I can’t believe it. I will write up a lengthy reflection on the win later, but for now I want to put it in perspective of this post. The consummation of so much hope, so many shattered dreams that suddenly got repaired, is one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in my entire life. But this is nothing to compare to that which will come at the final eschaton–the return of Jesus Christ. That’s not to say the World Series win for the Cubs doesn’t matter–far from it, the world really did change, and it feels new as I wake up each morning. What I’m saying, instead, is that this feeling, this joy, is one of the ways God gives us to see a greater thing to come. It’s a kind of typology, but one that can be found in the mundane–even something as simple as a human swinging a stick at a ball.
And that, really, is what Christianity (and, really, Lutheranism) is all about. Christ has come into this world, become incarnate, and is in this world now. Our God came and dwelt among us. And those blessings given us reflect God’s good reality, and a better one that is to come.
I think it is true that I, and many other Cubs fans, can now say we know what a slice of heaven looks like, what it feels like. Hope will one day be fulfilled. That long-awaited day shall come. Christ will return. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, sports, history, movies, and more!
Christians disagree about things. There, now that I’ve made the understatement of the century, I want to explore how Christians disagree about things. These usually aren’t just “things” but are rather doctrines–teachings that we believe and confess as the truth about reality itself. Not only that, but we believe that these are the things which God taught us in God’s very word revealed to us. That is not a recipe for thinking kindly of others when disagreement occurs. After all, they aren’t just wrong, they are in violation of God’s own word!
Some Personal Examples
Too often, the tenor we have in disagreement is something that reflects an extraordinarily un-Christlike manner. Several personal experiences have led me to writing this post.
I was once accosted by someone who had been directed my way by a mutual acquaintance. After summarily consigning me to hell and taunting me for being unwilling to engage in a debate with him, he asked me to direct him to some exegetical case for my position. I mentioned a book. His response was that he’d read the book and knew it was all wrong. Later in that same conversation he admitted that he’d lied about reading the book. I said I forgave him, but asked him to consider the fact that he was willing to lie about reading a book just because he was so convinced it would be so utterly worthless to him that he could just dismiss it without even having heard of it before. When I continued to refuse to respond to his insults (including his attacks on my wife) and his accusations of blasphemy, he finally stated that he was convinced that the reason I wouldn’t respond was because the Holy Spirit had shut my mouth and wouldn’t let me type responses to him because I was so blatantly wrong.
Was there any acknowledgement of how he was verbally abusing me and my wife on social media? No. Instead, his self-righteous assumption was that God had deigned to prevent me from typing responses to an angry man made blind by hatred.
Another time, I received a comment (not approved) on a post about engaging culture from a Christian perspective. The interlocutor suggested that I was a pagan promoting evil to fellow Christians. When I noted that this person had never even met or talked to me before, he responded, “I have spent a ton of time in cult and street ministry… If you’ve talked to one, you’ve talked to em all. Same lingo same, same pagan book reviews, same plastic cordiality, on and on on. Just switch the faces around. I have read and heard EVERY conceivable argument that will ever be possible regarding what you say… I am thoroughly versed in that unbiblical, antichristian garbage they taught you at Biola. Your fellow drones are roaming about the online countryside in hordes.”
These are extreme examples, yes, but they are just a few among the many, many examples that I and I’m sure countless others could cite of Christians acting without any semblance of charity or obedience to Christ to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’m not here throwing a pity party–though I admit sometimes that would be nice!–nor am I attempting to promote my own views which were being criticized in these and other comments. After all, I’m sad to say that I’m convinced people who hold my view act the same way towards those with whom I disagree. The point is that this is completely unacceptable in any context, let alone one in which Christians are interacting with fellow Christians, who are going to inherit the earth.
I’ve already hinted at an approach, which is to remember Christ’s commandment to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is easy to say that, but how often do we actually think about what that means? I am fairly confident the hate-filled man who insulted my wife and I on social media while telling us to repent or go to hell didn’t much consider how he would have felt if someone did the same thing to he and his wife. Nor, I suspect, would the writer of the other example have been pleased to see me assuming that I had already conceived of every possible argument that would “ever be possible regarding” what he had to say… and dismissed them.
But again, these are extreme examples. I’m using them to highlight something, however, which is that we do this kind of thing all the time, just not on the same level. Any time we come along and refuse to listen to one with whom we’re disagreeing, or even simply wait for them to stop talking so we can jump in to show them how wrong they are–any of these times, we have disobeyed our calling to be Christ to others. Recently, I had a discussion with a fellow Christian with whom I had disagreement and they said they’d look into a source I showed them. But they followed that comment up by saying, effectively, “and I know that source is completely wrong.” This kind of theological hubris demands a cure.
A Way Forward
First, we need to note it is perfectly okay to think you’re right about something. That’s not what is at issue here. What is our concern is how we express disagreement. Second, I think it is important to not only focus on what I’d like others to change about their attitude, but also on how I might change to understand others better.
One thing I have found helpful is to try to remember the spectrum of theological humility and theological unity. Theological humility is an approach which we can take to admit that we may be wrong. I am a fallible human, so my interpretation of God’s words could be mistaken. Theological unity is an emphasis on the importance of agreement. People will fall along a spectrum of positions between extreme humility (I might or even probably am wrong about most things) and extreme unity (if you disagree with me about anything you must be an idiot). When in dialogue, we should try to explore where the other person falls along this spectrum. It is likely that if they fall on either extreme, a dialogue will be difficult to move forward. Sometimes it is best to stop a dialogue before it becomes heated.
Another thing to think about is our own need to be at least somewhat humble theologically. Yes, I believe I have rightly discerned what God has taught in the Bible, but it is possible that I am mistaken. That is because, shock of all shocks, I am not God. Thus, it is always possible for me to be wrong. We ought to reflect on the fact that we are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory, and sin impacts our mind, among other things. This does not mean we aren’t allowed to believe we are correct. What it does mean is that we should never be so certain that we are right that we won’t even give ear to someone who disagrees. Why? Well, apart from the fact that we would like them to listen to us (going back to Jesus’ words about doing to others…), we should also remember that our attitude towards others will likely determine how willing they are to hear what we have to say. Moreover, it is true that we could always be possibly mistaken, no matter what the one commentator quoted above said. We may think we’ve run into every possible permutation of arguments for the other side, but we are limited beings with finite imagination.
I think it is a good exercise to once in a while re-examine my beliefs about various doctrines. Why? Because I want to make sure I am always in pursuit of truth. This re-examination means not just reading sources which agree with me, but also sources on the other side.
Christians should be open to being wrong. We remain sinners, though we have been justified by faith in Christ. That doesn’t mean we will always be right about everything. We need to remember to be humble, that we are finite beings, and that God has called us to listen to others and respond to them with the same respect and dignity we would like to receive.
Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for discussions about all kinds of topics including science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!
The following are derived from actual statements I saw online from fans of each theologian:
William Lane Craig is an apostate.
Just use “white out” on everything James White has written.
Craig is an embarrassment to Christianity.
James White is a wicked Calvinist!
A lot of discussion has been centered on the critique James White offered of William Lane Craig’s alleged appeal to a “lowered bar” regarding conversion to Christianity. Immediately, people began throwing barbs at or rushing to the defense of one or the other.
Here’s another quote, one that I think has great relevance for this controversy.
“For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings?” 1 Corinthians 3:4 (NIV)
The reality is that we ought not elevate either William Lane Craig or James White to a position such that any criticism of their method, or views, or the like becomes a reason to immediately insult and mock whomever initiated that critique. James White and William Lane Craig have both been wrong about things before, and will be again.
We don’t need to–and should not–idolize a favorite theologian, nor should we demonize another who critiques our favorite. It is okay to have heroes of faith. It is not permissible to make those heroes into idols. It is not permissible to demonize those with whom we disagree. Can we offer criticism? Of course! But when that criticism turns into turning someone’s name into an insult, or declaring someone to be an embarrassment, it becomes sinful.
Don’t turn favorite theologians into idols; do not turn those with whom you disagree into demons.
Another year has passed more quickly than I could have ever imagined. I’d like to share with you my reading for the year, as well as my awards for books, movies, and blogs. Please let me know about your own reading, movie-watching, and the like this year. I’d love to read about what you were up to last year and what books moved you or taught you much.
The books of the year are based off my reading this year; not on whether they were actually released this year. The categories for InterVarsity Press (IVP) and Crossway, however, are from this year.
Theology book of the year
Flame of Yahweh by Richard Davidson- This book is a massive wealth of information about sexuality in the Old Testament. Davidson analyzes an enormous number of texts to draw out the teaching on sexuality found therein. Davidson approaches the texts from what I would call a moderate egalitarian viewpoint, but he justifies this view directly from the text, with a particular emphasis on the creation account. Moreover, Davidson’s exposition of Song of Songs in particular is just phenomenal. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Philosophy book of the year
The Shape of the Past by John Warwick Montgomery- this book is a historiography book–it is a study of how we write and study history, and it is phenomenal. John Warwick Montgomery is one of those rare people who can touch on seemingly endless topics from a clearly informed perspective, and draw them together with breathless beauty. The first half of the book offers a major look at various historiographic perspectives of the past. The second half is a collection of essays, each of which as informative and wonderful as the next. The book was published originally in 1975, but it remains as brilliant as it ever was. John Warwick Montgomery is just phenomenal, and this book was heavy, but breathtaking. Here’s a quote from the book.
IVP Book of the Year
Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss- A convicting read, Richard Twiss argues that we have failed Native Americans when it comes to spreading the Gospel. The book is full of moving stories and deep insights. It is beautiful and haunting. If you want to know more, read my review.
Crossway Book of the Year
Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke- John Newton is probably best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” but Reinke highlights so much more about this amazing pastor in this interesting work. Read my review for more.
Fiction book of the Year
The Once and Future King by T.H. White – I’m embarassed to say this, but I actually owned this book once and got rid of it because I figured I wouldn’t actually enjoy it. Was I ever wrong. I picked it up at the library and was absolutely blown away. This classic novel about King Arthur was everything I expected it to be and so much more. I was particularly impressed by the amount of genuinely hilarious humor found throughout. I did not expect the depth it had, either. It was fantastic. Okay, I did read Ben Hur by means of audiobook this year, but I read that book annually because it is probably my favorite work of fiction ever, so it’s not really fair to put it in competition.
Best non-fiction, non-theology/philosophy
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander- think racism is no longer a problem in America? Think again. This book has an enormous amount of research showing how our allegedly colorblind criminal justice system has perpetuated a system of injustice.
Young Adult Novel of the Year
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper- A haunting novel about the colonial period in the United States. It is rare that I am as emotionally moved by a novel as I was in this one.
Most Anticipated Book of Next Year
Brandon Sanderson seems to me a well that I will not stop returning to. Ever. I’ve not worked through his whole body of work yet, but everything I’ve read from him is amazing. He consistently nails stunning plot twists in believable ways. Thus, Calamity, the third book of “The Reckoners” is my most anticipated book for next year. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and find out what happens next.
Best worldview movie of the year
Star Wars: The Force Awakens- No, I’m not just saying this because it is Star Wars (though part of me is saying precisely that). I selected this one because it has so much in it to discuss. I’m not going to spoil anything here, so be sure to head on over to my post on the movie to read more.
Blog of the Year
Christians for Biblical Equality– CBE continues to put out excellent articles week in and week out. Every new post is worth the time to read, and they have covered an enormous amount of ground with articles on neuroscience to articles on exegesis. This is a fantastic blog and well worth your time to read and subscribe to.
Reading List for 2015
The list starts at where I left off in 2014, when I first started keeping track.
I vividly remember the day I first had read to me Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya. [There are SPOILERS for this short children’s book in this post.] I was around 5 years old. My family was looking at a garage sale and I saw the book, which looked interesting to me. We brought it home and my mom read it to me. I remember we were both crying by the end. I was inconsolable for a while. “Why did the elephants have to die?” I remember asking.
The story of Faithful Elephants is a story about three elephants at a zoo in Japan during World War II. It was the late part of the war and Japan was being bombed. The army was worried the zoo would be hit and animals would escape and harm people. Thus, they poisoned the tigers, bears, and other dangerous animals. The elephants were considered in this category because they might stomp down houses and the like. But the elephants were too smart to poison through food; they just set the poisoned food aside and ate the good food. They couldn’t find a syringe strong enough to penetrate the elephants’ skin to inject the poison, so the elephants were to be starved.
They continued to starve, but the zookeepers had to keep passing by, knowing their beloved elephants needed them. Eventually, one elephant handler gave in and gave the elephants food, but the war kept going on and although no one found out, they couldn’t get food to the elephants again. The elephants died one day, their trunks sticking out of their cage because they were doing the trick that would always get them treats and food. The elephant handler and others hugged and cried over the bodies and the handler shook his fists at the sky while bombs fell, crying out against war.
There remains a monument for the elephants at the zoo to this day, and the story is read over the radio annually. I’ll admit it, I’m positive I couldn’t read this book aloud without crying, and I can’t get through it on my own without crying either. It’s an extremely sad story.
But my memory of the day involves more than just wondering why the elephants couldn’t have been spared. I also remember it as the first time I genuinely thought war is terrible. You see, before, war had always been something kind of cool. War was the realm of John Wayne movies: glory, some humor, and the good guys always win. But the Japanese in World War II were supposed to be the “bad guys”; suddenly I felt empathy for them. I realized that war had horrific side effects which were often unpredictable. It involved the innocent; not just animals but also people. I remember crying the whole day, pretty much without end. I just kept thinking: if that happened to elephants, what about the children? It’s not that I assumed the children starved to death, but I had realized that if something as bad as starving elephants had to happen, there were also probably way worse things. War wasn’t always a John Wayne flick.
The book taught me that war is terrible. I think that it is a lesson worth learning. It is easy to get caught up in the on screen glory of the good triumphing over bad. It is not easy to confront the actual horrors of war. From a Christian perspective, it seems quite clear we should work against these horrors wherever they might be found. We should work to keep peace; we should help those in need; where war is found, we should work towards a peaceful resolution. I’m not saying Christians must be pacifists. What I am saying is that we need to defend the defenseless and work towards peace.
The book is recommended for grades 3-8. I think that is probably a good age category, but parents should be aware it will be an extremely emotional work. I’d recommend reading it before sharing with children.
Recently, I found the book again while going through the attic at my parents’ house. Reading it still made me cry.
Appendix: An Alternate Reality?
There is some dispute over the historicity of the story. A little searching turned up this critical investigation into the story. Interestingly, it appears to be true that the elephants were starved, but the author of this historical report argues that the elephants could have been shot or poisoned and the starvation was cruel. He thus sees the story of the starving of the elephants (and a few other animals) as “Until it is understood that the story of Ueno Zoo’s slaughtered animals illuminates less the nature of war, but rather some human beings’ moral failure, this will remain an instance of not coming to terms with the past.” However, Tsuchiya provided a reason for starvation to be the preferred method: the possibility that the war would end and the animals could be saved. It seems to me this is not implausible.
Yukio Tsuchiya, Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War illustrated by Ted Lewin, translated by Tomoko Tsuchiya Dykes (Trumpet, no date).
Today, November 12th, is “Give to the Max Day” for “GiveMN,” which means a number of organizations are eligible for matching grants to help support their growth and outreach. I want to bring your attention to one organization which is near and dear to my heart, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). CBE’s mission statement reads:
CBE exists to promote biblical justice and community by educating Christians that the Bible calls women and men to share authority equally in service and leadership in the home, church, and world.
Such a cause is of immense importance and value in our world. I have personal experience with CBE as a volunteer, writer, and supporter. I love this cause and have a heart for it. You can donate to help support this cause here.
Please consider donating today to help spread the good news that God is not a God of limiting through gender. Thank you.
Hello, new year! Hello, readers! I thought I’d share you with my list of books read in 2014 and offer some comments on a few select works. The list will be at the end because it’s long!
Best “Counterpoints” Type book
These are books that offer different views on a specific topic. Some examples I read this year include 5 Views of Biblical Inerrancy, Four Views on the Historical Adam, and Four Views on the Book of Revelation. I really enjoy this type of book because it allows you to get your feet wet on a number of different topics without reading a whole treatise on each.
The best book in this category I read last year was Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views edited by Beilby and Eddy. I wrote a microview of the book here and can’t recommend it enough if you’re at all interested in the topic.
I read a truly awesome assortment of fiction this year and so much of it was absolutely amazing. I particularly enjoyed the “Wheel of Time” books and everything by David Weber, my favorite author. Seriously, if you don’t read Weber, you should rectify that ASAP. However, the single best fiction book I read this year is glaringly obvious because I’m half convinced its the best piece of fiction I’ve ever read: Dune by Frank Herbert.
I think I definitely enjoyed other works as much or even more than I enjoyed Dune, but the unmistakable epic quality and the way the latter sticks with you makes it deserving of the praise put on its front cover: “Science Fiction’s Supreme Masterpiece.”
Best Overall Non-Fiction
There are plenty of contenders here, but I’d have to pick John Walton’s Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament. It was simply fascinating and provided tons of insight and background information for the Old Testament and how it relates to the ancient world. It was just amazing.
Most Worth Staying Up All Night to Finish
I did it: I finished “The Wheel of Time,” all 14 books each about 800+ pages on average. Thus, as I drew near the end, the last book–A Memory of Light–did actually keep me up all night finishing it. When I did finish, I clutched it to my chest and just sat in bliss for a while.
Changed My View
I guess it depends how “changed my view” is taken, but John Owen’s trilogy on the Mortification of Sin really made me think about sin in my life and helped introduce new paradigms of thought into how to fight it. I reviewed and discussed Owen’s work here.
Most Uneven Book
The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus was a very uneven book, in my opinion. The economics behind it seems solid to me–if based upon a perfect world–but the theological justification for various aspects of the economic theory was suspect. I reviewed the book here.
Favorite New Author Found
Brandon Sanderson. He finished up the Wheel of Time series and I had to read more of him. I then read the Mistborn Trilogy and was blown away. I’m so excited I discovered this author.
List of Books Read in 2014
I will not be posting a “Really Recommended Posts” this week but instead listing a few things I’m thankful for.
First, I am very thankful for my family–and the addition of my firstborn, a son, Luke!
I am thankful for a God who does not abandon us.
I am thankful for all my friends.
I am thankful for those who work towards justice and speak peace.
I am thankful for those everyday things we forget to mention–like food, shelter, and clothes.
I am thankful for those who take time to read what I write, and who tell me there thoughts–whether they agree or disagree.
I am thankful for those writers on my blogroll and many others.
I could be thankful forever, may my thoughts always turn towards thanking God for the abundant blessings!
Thank you, O Lord!
Thomas Kinkade is a polarizing figure. His art is beloved and hated. Some see the art as picturesque and hearkening back to a simpler time. Others see his art as gaudy and outlandish with terrible lighting effect. Whatever your own view, it must be admitted that an artist with paintings in thousands upon thousands of homes is vastly more influential than most. Here, we will examine Thomas Kinkade’s art from a few different angles.
The image featured in this post, “Sunday Evening Sleigh Ride,” exhibits a number of features of Kinkade’s art. Light is featured prominently. It is used in a kind of spiritual fashion–its warmth beckons from the church to the cold, snow-covered land around it. The viewer’s attention is not upon the sleigh itself, because the light is centered upon the place of worship: the church. Note also the fish symbol displayed above Kinkade’s signature. The image is one of familiarity–particularly for those who are most assuredly Kinkade’s audience: broadly mainstream protestants.
There is something to be had in the image for different parts of the country. The mountains could place it in the winter of Colorado, but the feel of chill found in the image reminds me, at least, of the Midwest. The Northeast may reflect upon their love for sleigh rides. The uniting theme, of course, is found in the call to the church as found in the image.
Others who are better equipped for critique of art have noticed these themes in Kinkade’s work as well. I have been reading through Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall. The book analyzes Kinkade’s work from a number of angles. Some of the contributors enjoyed his work–or at least appreciated it as art. Others dismissed it as clearly obscene or hideous. One undercurrent in many of the essays was the notion of Kinkade’s professed religious values and how those may come out in his art.
One of the essays actually seemed to accuse Kinkade of specifically exploiting foolish middle-class Protestants through the use of pseudo-religion to cause them to open their wallets and spend money on his works. Another explored the way in which Kinkade consciously displayed light and other features in his artwork to convey a message he clearly conceived of as evangelical, while also appealing to a kind of picturesque, idealistic view of Christian culture (45ff, cited below). The artist viewed nature as imbued with God’s beauty revealed, and felt he should paint it as such (46). In my opinion, the least flattering image portrayed of Kinkade was the essay entitled “The Painter of the Right.” In this essay, Micki McElya basically paints Kinkade’s project as one of glorifying a kind of civil religion of American Christianity (see especially p.73, 76 cited below).
There is clearly a broad spectrum of views as to the project Kinkade pursued through his life. The fact that he plastered his art over coffee mugs, blankets, ornaments, and anything else an image could be placed upon might strike the more cynical as truly an exploitation of the foolish religious masses with money to spend. However, one must wonder whether the sincerity of one’s professed religious beliefs must be reevaluated in light of consumer success. Of course, one might also suggest that Kinkade’s public failings regarding his marriage and alcohol may be grounds for doubting his religious affectation. But again, this would be to act in a fairly Pharisaic manner–to condemn another saint who remains yet a sinner while one is the same. Regardless, it seems there is much to perhaps learn about and from Kinkade, as ridiculous as that may sound to some.
Returning to the art itself, there is little doubt that Kinkade masterfully pursued his project of attempting to subtly evangelize through his art. The image I selected is more obvious than most, but the themes of light and other religious imagery may be found throughout his body of work. Perhaps one may see these as the marks of a man’s dedication to trying to use his skills most fully in the best way he knew how to adhere to his faith. Perhaps not. I tend to favor the former rather than the latter.
Although I realize some of the criticisms of his art may be on-point, I cannot help but be drawn in by his art. I don’t enjoy all of it, but “Sunday Evening Sleigh Ride” is one I particularly do enjoy. I realize it is constructed in such a way as to tug at my heart–I am most certainly part of Kinkade’s target audience–but that does not, in itself, belittle the art’s value. Nor does Kinkade’s own life, which stirred some controversy towards the end, destroy the possibility for his true belief. I’m keen to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think that Kinkade’s did little to mar his own image as the “Painter of Light.” It is possible to be a sinner-saint, as are all the redeemed in this life. Kinkade’s art may not be your cup of tea, but it should be of interest to see how someone may integrate their faith into their life.
Alexis L. Boylan, Editor, Thomas Kinkade: The Artist in the Mall (Duke University Press, 2011).
The image is copyright Thomas Kinkade and I do not claim any credit for it. I am using it under fair use as a critical examination of the artwork. Be sure to check out Thomas Kinkade’s website if you would like to browse his art and purchase it in various forms.