Renaissance Christians

A recent message from a former student:  “Hi Dr. B!!!  Hope you are well!  Mike and I have been thinking about the concept of ‘renaissance Christian’ that I learned in your class at college. However I don’t remem­ber much else?!” She wanted more information.

A “Renaissance Person” is someone who enjoys a spectrum of subjects and skills—music, literature, the sciences, philosophy, sports….  A “Renaissance Chris­tian” begins with God, theology, ministry; and branches out from there. Such a soul pursues a wholistic under­standing of life, and practices a well-rounded humanity, that most people miss. Is the concept biblical?

We bear the image of God, who engineered each area of our experience, and embraces unlimited acquaint­ance with every subject. The more adept we become in a diversity of disciplines, the deeper we know the deity who designed them. “God gave Solomon [the ideal OT king] wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore. He spoke 3,000 prov­erbs, and his songs were 1,005. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that grows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creep­ing things and fish. People came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon.” Here was a Renaissance Man before the Renaissance! The Queen of Sheba praised Israel’s God because of him.

Paul hints at his own expansive interests. He discusses seeds and stars, and delves into details of Israel’s history and Law. In Athens he examines indigenous arti­facts, and quotes pagan poets in his preaching. He knew enough meteorology to oppose the ill-advised sea voyage of Acts 27. The apostle seems to have been both well-rounded and intensely focused.

God gave us the Bible, but much more than just that. Let us enjoy a variety of the “books” he has written.

Not Grown Up and Still Alive

On Monday, five-year-old Shayna’s eyes stretched into saucers as she spied me splitting sixteen-inch logs with one whack. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asked. “Maybe you should be a wood- cutter.” I’m not yet grown up! Love that girl.

I might be tempted to pride in ­her assessment of my youth, were it not for Eli’s earlier counter-comment. My grandsons were pondering my age. “67!” Isaac guessed. “Not bad. Actually, I’m 68.” A dramatic pause. Eli, in hushed tones: “And you’re still alive?!?”

Yes, still alive. At age 68. Can you believe it? And —sorry Shayna!— most people think I have grown up.

But should we grow up? In one sense, yes. Corinth abounded with baby believers who thought that razzle- dazzle in their services was proof extraordin­aire of the Spirit’s work among them. “Stop thinking like children,” Paul counsels. “If everyone is babbling away in tongues, wouldn’t an outside observer conclude that you are insane? Isn’t speaking logically, using your minds, far better?” Some Hebrew Christians were worse. Though they had believed long enough to qualify as teachers, some needed to re-learn the ABC’s. “Grow up!”

In another sense, it’s OK to stay kids. First, we don’t need to know all sin’s gory details. Better to never muddy our minds with most of that muck. ­“­In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.” Second, children model faith: “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Third, why wane in our wonder at the world and the works of God? Fourth, it might good if some of us laughed more often. Fifth, let’s never stop learning.

Not all here have yet attained the ancient age of 68. On the other hand, perhaps one or two among us have surpassed even that. Whatever the calendar reads, God wills that we “still yield fruit in old age, be full of sap and very green.” Full of sap … but not sappy.

Analysis and Synthesis

It is dangerous to give your pastor a kayak.

Mon­day’s sea breeze encouraged me to paddle due east, prow pointed toward Peniche, Portugal. A couple hundred yards of seaward sailing silenced all sounds save the sibilant slap of surf against my ship’s sides. That, plus the whooshing of whitecaps randomly erupt­ing from and returning to the sea, mimic­king ­the emer­gence­ and disappearance of particle/anti-particle pairs in the quantum void. An opportunity to think.

Our best thoughts often arise after we intensely study something for a season and set it aside. The uncon­scious mind ­takes over, prompting previously­ discon­nected parts to coalesce in an “Aha!” moment. Decades ago a physicist work­ing on light dropped his deliberations on details and went for a walk. Suddenly the big picture of how to produce­ a cohesive beam popped into his mind. The laser was born. “It lased!” he said. His insight and invention have changed our lives.

Good thinking employs both analysis—dissect­ing data so that we discern its details; and synthesis— arranging those details into meaningful wholes. Inven­tion consists perceiving new patterns among established, recognized facts. We first master as many facts as possible, then ­use our imaginations to assemble them into new designs. Analysis and synthesis.

This is true in Bible study. We should not expect to entertain grand visions of God—who he is and what he has willed—before we have assiduously studied signifi­cant swaths of scripture. But devotion to details must not derail us into ditching the Bible’s basic big ideas— “tithing mint, dill, and cummin, and neglecting the weightier provisions: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

Before deciding to paddle home and not on to Peni­che, I had a few good thoughts. Some washed over­board on the way in. Time to go back out and find them.

Try It

Neither brother wanted to try Life cereal, so they shoved it in front of four-year-old Mikey. He liked it!

5:30 Tuesday morning. Roads and beaches are suddenly less crowded. Orion blazes above. Perfect for kayaking. Waves are manageable—out we go.

Wind is steady from the north-northwest, so no venturing out far this time. Some days are made for distance, such as south to Strathmere. But today will be seaward and north toward sunrise.Then just sitting 200 yards out and soaking it all in. Sounds—the stereo song of surf smashing into sand along the shore, the soft slap of ripples against the kayak, no jetskis (Vm-vm-vm VVOOOOOMMMMMMMMM vm-vm: the soothing serenades and silences of nature). Sights—the sky ever brightening, birds skimming, gold glowing atop a low rack of eastern clouds, houses fading into Atlantic City up north, sand and dunes dwindling down to Strathmere.

Now the sun tops that rack; time to paddle in. What this kayak needs is a rear-view mirror so I can monitor the waves closing in! These are complicated this mor­ning by a second set, generated by that north­west wind, rolling toward me at right angles to the main ocean swell from the east. Too late! Surfed the first wave okay, but the second arrived already breaking. Leaned back as far as possible, but the nose still pearled and down I went. Grabbed my sunglasses so as not to lose them.

Why am I writing this stuff? Unless you yourself have been out on the water, these are just words. You have to actually try kayaking in order to understand it.

The same is true of trusting God, whether for salva­tion or some other need. We can hear about someone else’s experi­ence, or read Bible stories of others who walked by faith, but unless we do so ourselves we won’t understand or appreciate what it all means. Try it!— “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

The Folly of These Days

The elves of Lothlórien distrusted Gimli the dwarf: they insisted that he be blindfolded before entering their fair land. In order that he not be singled out, the rest of the Fellowship of the Ring submitted to blindfolds, too.

“Alas for the folly of these days!” said Legolas. “Here all are enemies of the one Enemy, and yet I must walk blind, while the sun is merry in the woodland under leaves of gold!”

“Folly it may seem,” said Haldir. “Indeed in no­thing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all those who still oppose him. Yet so little faith do we find now in the world that we dare not endanger our land. Our hands are more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp.”

I lived in a nation where most citizens opposed the prime minister, who was corrupt and violent. But he always won re-election, in part because his opposi­tion was divided. Dozens of small, weak parties ran against him, instead of a single one that could have prevailed.

Jesus prayed, “I ask for those who believe in me that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you sent me.” Yet one we are not. The World Chris­tian Encyclopedia estimates the number of Protes­tant denomi- na­tions at 47,000. Fortunately, out of all those, Second Cape belongs to the only correct one—the Baptist! But which Baptist? There are at least 211 Baptist denomina- tions, not including the largest (the Southern Baptist) and the independents (such as we).

Today, as then, the power of the Dark Lord divides those who still oppose him. Because these common enemies of the one Enemy distrust one another, they can mount only ineffective opposition to him. We walk blind­folded, estranged from friends, missing the beauty around us, our hands more often upon the bowstring than upon the harp. Such is the folly of these days.