Social Media: Soda, Wine, Oxycodone, or Heroin?

The following is a guest post (my first ever) from my friend and fellow Mungarian Mike Pratt.  Mike and I have been having a friendly argument about social media: is it mainly helpful, harmful, or neutral?  I’m increasingly of the opinion that it does more harm than good, but Mike doesn’t agree.  Here’s what Mike thinks.

pablo

 

Andrew asked me to write a guest post on this blog in response to my taking issue with his argument. It’s not that I think his points in his first post and subsequent follow-up post are entirely wrong, but I’ll argue they have omissions and thus fail to convince. I will counter his argument and offer an alternative framework for viewing this thing called social media.

Before I start I’d like to make one side point: I also think Andrew’s statement:

“What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.”

is gross generalization of the meaning. As Keller puts it

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…”

To simply have your attention is not necessarily bad or false worship. When it has all of your attention, in place of other, more important things (first and foremost, God) then it becomes an idol of worship. Thoughts can go to many things and not render those things worship. Thank God or my daydreaming is convicted!

Now to the Main Topic

This analogy is by no means perfect but I think it’s a decent framework to look at the issue. As you read each blurb on these four substances, ponder in your mind which one you think is most analogous to social media.

Soda

With a few exceptions, soda is viewed as a relatively benign substance to be enjoyed. In small quantities, it’s clearly harmless and even for regular users, there have been few, if any, documented cases of extreme adverse health consequences. It is accepted that soda is not even remotely hazardous like any of the other 3 substances in this analogy.

Wine

Given the alcohol contained in wine, it’s a step up from soda in that it can be abused and in extreme use cases, is addictive and can have serious health consequences. The Bible celebrates wine in measured doses (wedding at Cana) and also condemns its abuse (drunkenness.) Many people drink wine. Many choose not to.

Oxycodone

This seriously addictive and controlled substance is a ruiner of lives when abused. It is also extremely beneficial in tightly controlled use cases (post surgical pain relief) It is highly controlled because it is so addictive as well as misused (leading to abuse).

Heroin

There are no beneficial uses. Highly addictive. Bad bad bad.

 

So what is Facebook, then?

One man’s opinion:

It’s not soda. I think, to Andrew’s point, there are many people who are hooked on the stuff. “Hooked” in this case being defined as “they use it so much that it takes away from the lives they normally led in a detrimental way or at the expense of basic things”

It’s not Oxy. That implies a very limited, positive use case like Oxy which is just not true. A significant number of social media users engage on their platform(s) of choice in positive and beneficial ways. The government does not (nor should) control use of the platforms to prevent a possible mass wave of harmful addiction because with free use, the facts are that only a minor set of users qualify as “harmfully addictive.”

It’s not Heroin. That presumes there are NO beneficial uses of social media and while many do think that, those folks probably think all soda is a mind-control beverage that Pepsi uses in cahoots with the government.

It’s wine. There are plenty of beneficial, everyday uses of Facebook. Can it get out of hand? Sure. Can you “drink too much”? Sure. Should some people give up drinking? Definitely. The key is to look at what you “drink” and why. Does it rule your life? Are you grumpy without a “drink” or do you love a “glass” with a good meal or when out with friends? Andrew posted a picture of everyone in line at an airport on their phones (presuming that it was a “wrong” state of the world) Replace everyone in that picture with a paperback (Google search images and you will find plenty pre-Facebook!) The devices were simply being used as boredom elimination devices. I don’t think that picture was indicative of the eroded state of the world.

A Word on Facebook’s (or Coke’s) Intentions

Coke wants you to buy Coke Zero. Coke Zero is not medically addictive. You may think Coke wants to “addict” you but it doesn’t matter. They can’t. They will do everything they can to get you to buy it. They should. That’s their business. Blaming Facebook for “not caring about the consequences” is like blaming <insert your favorite brewery or winery> for not caring about the consequences of having a glass. They inform you to drink responsibly and it can be argued that Facebook should not need to place a warning label that you might spend too much time in their web app.

So, I’ll leave you with sage advice: Don’t drink and post!

The above was a guest post by Mike Pratt.  (Click here to subscribe to regular updates from this blog.)  Mike is:
  • A Mungarian!  (Member of Munger Place Church.)
  • The CEO of technology startup Panamplify
  • Founder & President of professional org Digital Dallas
  • A former soldier, wall street trader, marketing exec and non-believer
  • Check out Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepratt
  • Email Mike: mike@mikeratt.tv

The Limits of Tolerance

Is there a limit to tolerance?  A friend of mine put that question to me this afternoon, in response to last week’s post on tolerance.  My answer: No.  Here’s why.

time-watch-hands-of-a-clock-clock-pointers

 

The Roots of Tolerance

Tolerance is simply the social recognition of a fundamental truth: all people are completely free to choose to believe and do whatever they want to believe and do.  There are no exceptions to this principle.  This truth is not dependent on whether laws and governments recognize it; this truth is simply true.

Yes, governments and societies try to constrain the behavior of the people under their power, but they cannot actually remove free choice from their people–all they can do is make it more or less likely that people freely choose this or that action.

As I argued last week, tolerance has its roots in the character of God: God created us as free creatures and allows us to exercise that freedom, for good or ill.

I don’t think there is a limit to tolerance because I don’t think there is a time when God takes away our freedom to choose.

But Actions Have Consequences

We are all free to believe and do whatever we choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  Actions have consequences.  I’m free to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, but I cannot avoid the consequences of my freely chosen actions.  Actions have consequences.

Doesn’t God’s Tolerance Have a Limit?

In the Bible, we read how God eventually allowed the Israelites to be conquered by their pagan neighbors as a consequence of their continued disobedience.  I don’t think this is an example of the limits of God’s tolerance, however.  Rather, I think God’s tolerance never wavered: he always allowed the Israelites to freely choose to accept or reject him.  But, although God’s forbearance (a synonym of tolerance) never ran out, the Israelites’ actions eventually caught up with them.  Their actions led to the Exile.  Certain actions lead to certain consequences, the way day inexorably follows night.

What About Human Law?

As humans, we seek to constrain certain behaviors precisely because we know that people are always free to choose.  When we lock up the serial murderer, we are not suddenly denying his freedom to choose, but acknowledging it: we know that if we do not lock him up, he may very likely continue to freely choose murder.  Actions have consequences and human societies impose various consequences on various behaviors, but those consequences do not change the fundamental fact on which the principle of tolerance rests, namely that people are always free to choose.

Our True Limit

God’s tolerance does not have a limit, but our lives are limited: we are limited by the choices of our actions, and we are limited by our mortality.  None of us can choose to be exempt from the consequences of his choices, and none of us can choose to be exempt from death.

Sooner or later, all our actions catch up to us.

P.S.  Why Does This Matter?

Tolerance recognizes that it’s never too late for anyone–all people can choose to turn towards God or away from God up until their last breath.  (And maybe beyond their last breath–who knows?)  Because I can’t take away someone’s free will–even by force–it means that the pressure is off: I can’t force anyone to believe what I believe.  I can’t make anyone believe anything, but I can persuade her through my words and actions to freely choose the Truth I’ve chosen.

Which is a sacred privilege, when you think about it.

 

 

 

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In Praise of “Deep Work”

As focused attention becomes rarer and rarer in our distracted culture, the people who cultivate focused attention will find themselves becoming more and more valuable.  In other words, you can’t afford NOT to be doing deep work.  This is the thesis of the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport, a book that I cannot recommend highly enough.  Here’s why.

Cal-Newport-Deep-Work

 

Deep Work: A Definition

Cal Newport, computer science professor at Georgetown University, defines deep work in this way:

Deep Work: professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In contrast with deep work is shallow work:

Shallow Work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Most knowledge workers spend most of their time engaged in shallow work–email, anyone?–so that, though they may be busy, they are not productive.

The people who are writing the best-selling books, making the blockbuster movies, creating the irresistible advertising campaigns, winning the major tournaments, and leading the market-beating companies, these are the people who are doing deep work (whether they realize it or not).  Deep work makes a difference.

The Deep Work Hypothesis

The prevalence of shallow work in our culture leads to Newport’s deep work hypothesis.

The Deep Work Hypothesis: The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy [and becoming valuable because it is becoming rare–AF]. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.

Newport also argues that deep work actually makes people happier.  As someone who has certainly spent a day being busy without being productive, I know that he’s right: I’m happier when I’m able to focus.

So, if you want to thrive in our knowledge work economy and if you want to be happier while doing it, you need to learn how to do deep work.

The Deep Work Rules

Newport has come up with what he calls The Rules of Deep Work.

  1. Work Deeply
  2. Embrace Boredom
  3. Quit Social Media
  4. Drain the Shallows

1. Work Deeply

Deep work is something we can learn how to do.  Focused attention is not something you can just turn on or off–it’s something that must be trained and cultivated, like a muscle.  Just as someone who spends his time sitting on the couch eating Doritos and watching television cannot overnight become a marathon champ, neither can someone who spends his time like that be immediately good at deep work.  Deep work requires practice and planning.

2. Embrace Boredom

Internet tools (social media, on-demand video, infotainment sites, etc.) have taught our minds to need constant stimulation, but deep work requires focused attention, and our need for shallow stimulation will undermine our ability to do deep work.  Therefore, we need to embrace boredom.  It’s good to resist the urge to pull out your smart phone when waiting in line at the post office: our minds need boredom.

3. Quit Social Media

You knew this was coming, right?  Newport makes the argument that people who are actually producing deep work (best-selling authors like Michael Lewis, e.g.) produce deep work because they do not allow themselves to be distracted by social media.  I know lots of people believe that social media is like alcohol–to be used and enjoyed in moderation.  I wonder, though, if social media is more like heroin: addictive and distracting for everyone.  (UPDATE: In conversation, I could say something provocative like that and you’d understand from my jocular tone what I was trying to convey, but I realize that, if you just read those words, they come across differently.  My church actively uses social media (and I use it, too) and I have many friends who work in social media marketing; if I really believed that social media was the same thing as heroin, I’d stop using it immediately.  I think social media marketing is necessary in our culture.  My point is just that I think all of us are much more easily distracted than we want to admit.)

4. Drain the Shallows

By “drain the shallows,” Newport means that we should aggressively eliminate the non-essential from our working lives.  For example, he gives practical tips on how to cut down on email, a major source of shallow work for most people.

Why I Need This Book

About 45 times a year, year after year, my professional responsibilities require me to create a brand-new, relevant, engaging, and faithful presentation and then deliver it in front of an average live audience of about 1,000 people, each one of whom is judging me savagely (even if they seem to be nice people!) on that presentation.  In addition to that, I also create multiple smaller presentations and essays through the year that also need to be original, relevant, helpful, and faithful.  In our distracted world, it seems as if everything but the truly important is screaming LOOK AT ME!  PAY ATTENTION TO ME!, and so I’ve come to the following conclusion:

if I don’t learn to do deep work, I’m not going to make it.

Deep Work is one of the most insightful, practical, and challenging books I’ve read about work and creativity…maybe ever.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

★★★★ excellent

 

 

 

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Is God Tolerant?

Tolerance is not just what we need to live peaceably together in an increasingly diverse society (though that’s true): tolerance is much more important than that.  In fact, I think it’s fair to say that life itself depends on tolerance, as does the fate of the entire world.

Rockwell, Freedom of Worship 1943.jpg

 

False Tolerance

Tolerance is not, despite how the word is often employed, a vague sense that all beliefs and all religions are basically the same.  This is a false idea, and this is a false definition of tolerance.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what tolerance actually implies.

True Tolerance

Tolerance is about recognizing that all beliefs and all religions are not basically the same.  In fact, tolerance recognizes that many beliefs and religions are inherently contradictory, and no amount of hand-holding and attendance at diversity seminars will make inherently contradictory beliefs the same.

Rather, tolerance is about making space for irreconcilable differences.  Tolerance is not about agreement, but about tolerating viewpoints with which you vehemently disagree.

Limits of Tolerance

It should be said that the one thing that we cannot tolerate is violence (which is not the same thing as speech, however ugly and hateful that speech might be), because violence makes tolerance itself impossible.  But, with the exception of violence, tolerance makes room for all other actions and choices and beliefs.

A Theology of Tolerance

One of the main expressions of tolerance in the American Constitution is in our First Amendment: our right to religious freedom.   (The First Amendment literally says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”)  But religious freedom is not just a nice idea, codified into law.  Rather, religious freedom is a principle built on the bedrock of reality, because it’s a principle that is obviously true: all people are free to believe whatever they want to believe.  You cannot force anyone to believe anything.  God created us as completely free creatures, and we can use that freedom in whatever way we want.  We are even free to believe ugly things and free to act in ugly ways, free even to reject God himself.  And God permits this freedom.

God, you might say, is tolerant.

In fact, I think that the Lord is far more tolerant than I would be, were I in his place: I’d never have allowed that evil man to massacre all those people in that Orlando nightclub.

But then again, neither would I have so loved the world that I would have given my only son for the world, knowing that the world (which I created) would reject and kill him.  God’s tolerance, you might say, made the Crucifixion possible.

Which means God’s tolerance also made the Resurrection possible.

Which means that tolerance is part of God’s plan to save the world.

 

 

 

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My Friend’s Orlando Thoughts

I haven’t yet come up with anything interesting or helpful to say about the murders in Orlando, so I haven’t written anything.  But I read something my friend Jacob Sahms wrote that struck me, and I share it below.

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Reading and hearing the responses to the violence in Orlando, I’m struck by the outrage – and the way fingers start pointing at anyone but ourselves. If we’re going to be the peacemakers who are called the children of God, then the solutions all start with us.

Do we talk and act peacefully? (Yes, that includes driving.) Do we recognize that we’re all children of God, even the people we don’t agree with/like? Do our dollars and our votes endorse peace? Do we teach our children peace and love for all? We can pray all we want for peace, but if we’re not part of being peace, then “thy kingdom come” isn’t actually something we’re part of.

Jacob Sahms

He’s totally right: “the way fingers start pointing at anyone but ourselves.”  Certainly true about me, and I don’t like it.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace….

Further Thoughts on Facebook

I wrote a post last week suggesting that, in its quest to capture our attention, it’s almost as if Facebook wants our worship.  I meant the post to be provocative, and at least for me, it was: the post has provoked some further thoughts, which I share below.

cellphone-10

My Name is Andrew and I’m a User

I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account, I use YouTube, and I carry around an iPhone that enables me to be connected whenever I want.  It’s precisely because I’m a user that I’m concerned about what Cal Newport calls “Internet tools” (search engines, social media sites, online encyclopedias, etc.): I see their effects on my own life.   It is because I’ve seen what these tools are doing to me that I’m calling into question our naive and uncritical adoption of Internet tools.

Facebook Is Shorthand

For me, Facebook functions as shorthand for all the other Internet tools.  I don’t have anything against Facebook per se.

Social Media Is Different Than Television

One commenter wondered if I should have included television in my critique.  I don’t think television and Facebook are apples to apples, for several reasons:

  • Television goes in one direction only: I receive it.  Facebook, on the other hand, allows me to transmit messages to the world, and the very act of transmitting those messages in that medium promotes narcissism: it’s all about me.
  • Television isn’t one thing, but a grouping of many things: networks, advertisements, writers, actors, etc. Facebook is a for-profit monolith.  It’s ubiquity and power make it more dangerous than old media.

Social Media Promotes Narcissism

The very nature of the social media promotes narcissism, because they encourage me to make everything about me: my updates, my likes, my reactions.

Social Media Isolates

For all the talk about connectivity, I find that social media and the other Internet tools are more likely to isolate than connect us together.  The more time we spend looking down at our blinking smart phones, the less able we are to cultivate presence and mindfulness.

Social Media is the Enemy of Patience

Everything about Internet tools is about immediacy: immediate reactions, thoughts, and gratification of desires.  If I want something, I buy it on Amazon; if I have an opinion about a current event, I share it to the world.  This immediacy keeps us from developing the virtue of patience, and patience matters because the important things in life require that we wait.

Social Media Trains Me to Need Constant Stimulation

It is shameful how often I find myself in a line somewhere, only to pull out my iPhone.  The way Internet tools have trained us to need constant stimulation is what scares me the most about these tools.

Social Media is the Message

If the medium is the message, then it’s not the content of the various social media platforms that ought to worry us, but the very nature of these platforms themselves.  In other others, it could be the case that even if we eschew all the destructive and evil things on the Internet (pornography, terrorist death videos, etc.), these tools might still warp our minds and twist our wills.

At least, that’s what I’ve started to worry about.

 

 

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Facebook, False God*

Facebook wants your worship.  I know that sounds extreme, but what if it’s true?  What if the thing Facebook most desires is to make you most desire it?  Isn’t that idolatry?

god-likes-this

Worship=Attention

What has your attention is what has your worship.  What you think about in your free moments, the topics and places to which your thoughts tend to go, those are your gods.  By that definition, what many of us are worshipping is Facebook and the various other social media and infotainment sites.  Click, click, click.

And, in our naiveté, we have turned our eyes to a god-like entity that has its greedy eyes on our lives.

Cal Newport, Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown, makes the obvious (but rarely stated) point in his book Deep Work that we are fools if we think these Internet tools (that we find so addictive) were created to bless us without demanding something in return:

We no longer see Internet tools as products released by for-profit companies, funded by investors hoping to make a return, and run by twentysomethings who are often making things up as they go along.

from Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport

Facebook makes MONEY off your attention.  No wonder, then, that Mark Zuckerberg and his staff have worked so hard to make Facebook irresistible.  Click.  Click.  Click.

And, not only does Facebook make money off your attention, Facebook doesn’t care about you or what will happen to you, as long as it gets what it wants.

If you think about it, the world around us, including the world in our computers, is all about trying to tempt us to do things right now.  Take Facebook, for example.  Do they want you to be more productive twenty years from now?  Or do they want to take your time, attention, and money right now?  The same thing goes for YouTube, online newspapers, and so on.

from Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

So, Facebook is something that: 1. Makes money from our attention.  2.  Doesn’t care about the consequences but allures and tempts with each click, click, click.

Is Facebook a false god?

*I am aware that some of you will see irony in the fact that you actually accessed this post through Facebook.  Rather than irony, I see it as an insurgency.  I am also aware that many of you will want to defend your (and my) use of Facebook.  Ask yourself, Why?

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When You Don’t Feel Like Being Married Anymore

What do you do when you don’t feel like being married anymore?  One of the strangest things about marriage is how two people who love each other on their wedding day can become the bitterest of enemies. How does this happen?  Marriage can be difficult, but the way many of us think about marriage doesn’t make it any easier; in fact, this one mistake we make when it comes to thinking about marriage has the potential to destroy a marriage.  (I heard my friend Matt Tuggle say the following last night in conversation, and I thought it was so good that I decided to share it with you.)

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[The marriage scenes in "Up" are among my favorite in film.]

 

Marriage Vows Aren’t About How You Feel

Have you ever noticed that marriage vows contain nothing about how a person will feel over the course of a marriage?  The reason marriage vows aren’t about feelings is because we cannot promise how we will feel in the future.  If your feelings and emotions are like mine, they’re liable to change as quickly and as violently as the Texas weather in spring.  It’s ridiculous to make a promise about future feelings, but fortunately the marriage vows don’t require us to make that promise.

Marriage Vows Are About How You’ll Act

Here are the vows I’ve used in every wedding I’ve ever officiated (over 100 at this point):

In the name of God,

I, John, take you, Jane, to be my wife

To have and to hold,

From this day forward,

For better, for worse,

For richer, for poorer,

In sickness and in health,

To love and to cherish,

Until we are parted by death:

This is my solemn vow.

Notice how the vows are all about promising to live a certain way and have nothing to do with feeling a certain way?  Feelings are hard to control, but you control your actions.  In marriage, we don’t promise how we’ll feel, we promise how we’ll live.  (And, with God’s help, faithfulness is possible.)

And here’s the good news to everyone currently struggling to love a spouse: actions lead and emotions follow.  If you act with love, love is what you’ll eventually feel.

Try it.

P.S. More from Matt

Check out Matt’s sermons here.  Lots more good stuff where the above came from.

 

 

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In Praise of SNL’s Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett

Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett are the funniest, smartest comedians to be on Saturday Night Live in a long time.  (At least, that’s my humble and accurate opinion.)  They both have a great ear for the ridiculous and a talent for satire that’s not cruel.  Here are some examples of their work.

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Reality House

We’ve come to take it for granted, but, as Kyle and Beck’s deadpan voice-overs and bogus one-on-ones with the camera make clear in this sketch, reality television is a ridiculous, boring genre.  (I love the furniture-throwing at the end.)

Cool (with Ryan Gosling)

I think my favorite part of this satire of Friday evening 90’s network sitcoms is Kyle Mooney’s flat “Dougé” voice and the laughtrack.  (Ryan Gosling is a great 3rd man.)

March Madness (Ariana Grande)

This is one of those completely silly skits that just works because of the earnest stupidity of Kyle and Beck.  My 6 year-old thinks it’s hilarious, and I agree.  (It doesn’t hurt that Ariana Grande is one of those celebrity guests who knows how to play the straight man.)  My son’s favorite line: “And we’ll bring the FROGS!”  My favorite line: “We’ll probably just bring ’em.”

Mr. Riot Films

Here’s my question: is the man with the hardhat a plant, or did they actually ambush him?

Kyle vs. Kanye

I think the self-involved and self important emotional tone is just perfect.

Comedy Club

The eyeroll and then the teary-eyes–it’s so painful and so funny.

Baby CEO

Are his movements perfect, or what?

Love these guys.

 

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(Old Testament Law on Friday, Saturday Night Live on Monday.  Fox and hedgehog, remember….)

Does Old Testament Law Apply to Christians?

Does Old Testament law apply to Christians?  A large portion of the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) is dedicated to laws governing how Israel was to live, eat, and worship.  Should Christians follow those laws?

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The Old Testament is Obsolete, Right?

I’ve heard and read something like the following argument countless times:

No sane person thinks that there is any problem wearing clothes made of different fabrics [Leviticus 19:19], nor would any sane person think capital punishment appropriate for a child who curses his parents [Leviticus 20:9].  Since we don’t abide by these or many other Old Testament laws any more, isn’t it clear that modern Christians shouldn’t abide by ANY Old Testament laws?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  Here’s the problem:

The Old Testament, while containing some laws that no longer apply to Christians, also contains the Ten Commandments and other components of the ethical foundation of the teachings of Jesus.  For example, Leviticus, the book everyone loves to ridicule, contains beautiful ethical teachings:

Did you know that “Love your neighbor as yourself” comes from Leviticus? (Leviticus 19:18.)

Rather than being obsolete, the Old Testament contains much that is more relevant than ever for the people of God.  But, it also contains elements that no longer apply.  Which is which?  How do we know which parts of the Old Testament law we should follow, and which are no longer binding on God’s people?

The Epic of Eden

Sandra Richter, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has an excellent book on the Old Testament called The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the Old Testament.  In the epilogue to the book she includes some Frequently Asked Questions, one of which is What Role Does the Law of Moses Play in the Christian’s Life?  (pp. 225-229)  I found her answer so helpful that I publish it below, with permission from her publisher.  I’ve added my own remarks throughout.

What Role Does the Law of Moses Play in the Christian’s Life?

Most everyone recognizes that simply abolishing the entire Mosaic law contradicts the New Testament (what do you do with the Ten Commandments?).  Most equally recognize that imposing the law in its entirety on the Christian also contradicts the New Testament (what of God’s instructions to Peter in Acts 10 to embrace unclean foods as clean?).  So most have concluded that there must a middle-of-the-road position.  The most enduring approach to defining this middle-of-the-road position has been the attempt to somehow delineate the law according to “moral” versus “civil” (or “ethical” versus “ritual”) categories.  The claim is typically that the moral/ethical features of the law are still in force for the Christian, but the civil/ritual features are obsolete and can be put safely aside.  For example, some would claim that the Ten Commandments can be cataloged as “moral” and are therefore still binding, but the law requiring tassels on the four corners of a person’s garment is to be catalogued as “civil/ritual” and is not (Num 15:38-39).  The problem with this sort of delineation, however, is that in Israel’s world, there was no distinction between the civil/ritual and moral/ethical aspects of the law.  All of these laws were deemed as the imperatives of God’s divine will.  Moreover, to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) was both a moral expectation and the civil requirement of a patriarchal society to provide for the elderly of one’s clan.  And proper worship in a theocracy was an expression of both a moral/ethical and civil/ritual expectation.  So what to do? [Emphasis mine.  One of the mistakes we make in reading the Bible is to put our own categories on top of it.  As Professor Richter points out, unlike us the ancient Israelites did not divide the world into the sacred and the secular, the religious and the legal: it was all one.  –AF]  In the end, most assume that the Mosaic law is generally annulled as regards the Christian but hold onto those aspects of the law that are either reiterated by Christ (a good idea) or those that generally just seem “right” (obviously not a satisfactory response to the question).  [We see this all the time: people decide what’s right beforehand and bring that decision to the Bible.  Here’s the problem, though–Where and how do we decide what’s right?  What are the sources we use to decide what’s right?  Aren’t we in danger of just blessing whatever feels good to us, or whatever the dominant culture tells us is right?  The reason for the Mosaic Law in the first place was to give Israel a way of knowing right and wrong that was distinct from the surrounding pagan Canaanite cultures.  –AF]  Although I cannot offer a complete solution to the conundrum, let me at least contribute to an answer.

First, it is important to realize that as covenantal administrations change, so do the stipulations of those covenants.  So, yes, the rules can and do change.  And they change according to the will of the suzerain.  [The suzerain is the king making the covenant, as she explains earlier in the book.  For the Israelites, their king was the Lord.  –AF]  Hence, the first question we want to ask is, how does Jesus (our suzerain and mediator) change the rules with the new covenant?  We find the answer to that question as we read through the Gospels.  Here Jesus regularly calls his audience back to the intent of the Mosaic law.  Was the sabbath created for man, or man for the sabbath (Mt 12:10)?  Is adultery the problem or unbridled lust (Mt 7:27)?  Is it more important that a person keep themselves ritually clean, or serve a neighbor in need (Lk 10:30-37)?  So one thing Jesus tells his audience is to look beyond a legalistic adherence to particulars and see the goal of the law.  This is clearly articulated in interactions like Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depends the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Galatians 5:14 says the same: “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Thus, whereas the detailed message of the Mosaic law embodied the love of neighbor and God in concrete, time- and culture-bound expressions, Jesus finds a way to articulate the transcultural and all-embracing message of that same law to a new audience.  [Emphasis mine.  I think this is a perceptive analysis of the ethical teaching of Jesus.  –AF]  Moreover, he makes it clear that this message is still binding upon us new covenant adherents as well.

We also read that Jesus redefines the major institutions of Israel’s theocracy: the temple and the theocratic government.  The temple is first re-defined as Jesus’own body, and then as the individual believer and the church (Jn 2:19-21; Eph 2:19-22).  Jesus is identified as the final sacrifice (Heb 9:24-26) and as the church’s new high priest (Heb 2:17).  Thus, with the new covenant we learn that Israel’s temple cultus is obsolete.  [A “cultus” is a system of worship.  –AF]  And if this theocratic institution is obsolete, I believe it is safe to conclude that the complex processes dictated by the Mosaic law that directed the function of this institution (e.g. the design and décor of the building, the cleanness of priest and worshipper, sacrifice, mediation and the calendar of cultic celebration) are now obsolete as well.  This means that in the new covenant the specific Mosaic regulations regarding these issues are annulled: our buildings of worship are no longer required to bring sacrifice, the laws of “clean and unclean” are abrogated, the mediation of human priests is unnecessary, and the holidays of Israel’s cult have become “a mere shadow of what is to come” (Col 2:16-17).  [Emphasis mine.  Did you get that?  Because the Temple is obsolete for Christians (the entire book of Hebrews is essentially about this topic), then it follows that all the Old Testament laws pertaining to Temple worship are also obsolete.  –AF]

And what of Israel’s theocratic government?  Keep clearly in your mind that Israel was a nation that was directly ruled by God.  Yahweh was enthroned in the temple in Jerusalem, “between the cherubim,” and carried out his ordinances by means of his officers, the prophet, the priest and king.  Israel was a political entity with national territory.  Its citizenry were, exclusively, the people of God.  Foreign oppression, drought and famine were God’s communiqués that his people had somehow broken covenant; national prosperity was the sign that they had kept covenant.  Thus the nation of Israel could justly go to war in the name of Yahweh, slaying Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites to defend the national boundaries of God’s kingdom.  But Jesus makes it clear that his only throne will be in heaven (Mk 16:19; Heb 8:1; etc.).  And as we’ve seen, the new citizenry of his kingdom will come from every tongue, tribe and nation.  As opposed to the land of Canaan being the Promised Land, now all of the recreated earth is.  Thus, in the new covenant there is no longer any single nation that can lay claim to being “the people of God” nor any single piece of real estate that is promised to them. [Emphasis mine.  This is HUGE.  Whereas before Jesus you had to be a member of Israel to be part of the people of God, now the church–the new Israel–is open to people of all ages, nations, and races.  –AF]  There are new officers for this new kingdom too.  Even a cursory glance at Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28 or 1 Timothy 3 lets us know that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, deacons and teachers have replaced the prophet, priest and king of the Mosaic covenant.  The only title that survives into the new covenant is that of “prophet,” but even this office is substantially transformed. Thus the very literal political realities of Israel’s theocracy are abrogated by the new covenant, and I believe we can safely say that the complex list of laws and regulations that governed the theocracy are abrogated as well.  [Update: This is why capital punishments for crimes such as blasphemy and sorcery, etc., no longer apply: those rules were part of the Old Covenant theocracy.  The offenses themselves are still sinful, but now that we live under the New Covenant of grace and no longer under the Israelite theocracy, the way the people of God deal with those offenses has changed.  –AF] 

Then, of course, there are those aspects of the Mosaic law that the writers of the New Testament specifically address as being changed or terminated.  A few examples would be the necessity of circumcision (1 Cor 7:19), the regulations of kashrut (Acts 10:15), the rabbinic restrictions regarding the sabbath (Mt 12:1-9) and even divorce (Mt 19:3-9).

In sum, I think we can identify at least three categories of Mosaic law which, in their specific expectations, no longer apply to the Christian: those involving the regulations of Israel’s government, those involving the regulation of Israel’s temple, and those laws that the New Testament specifically repeals or changes.  I would still argue that the values that shaped these regulations express the character of God and therefore must be attended to by the Christian, but the specifics of their application are no longer our responsibility.  Thus my contribution to the conundrum named above is that rather than attempting to delineate the law of Moses based on categories foreign to that law itself (“more/ethical” and “civil/ritual”), perhaps we should address the question through a lens that is more native to both Old and New Testaments—Jesus’ redefinition of certain major institutions of the Mosaic covenant.  And for all the Mosaic law, be it superseded or not, we need to recognize that we can (and must) still learn a great deal about the character of God through these laws, even if we can no longer directly apply them to ourselves in this new covenant.  [Emphasis mine.  Rather than being irrelevant to the church today, even those Old Testament laws that have been abrogated by the New Covenant have much to teach us about the Lord.  –AF]  So rather than thinking in terms of the Mosaic law as being obsolete except for what Jesus maintains (as has been the predominant view), perhaps we should begin to thing in terms of the law being in force except for what Jesus repeals.

Taken from The Epic of Eden by Sandra L. Richter. Copyright (c) 2008 by Sandra L. Richter. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.

 

 

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