Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Battling Stupidity-A Full Time Job

Battling stupidity is a full-time job: it is probably akin the thankless but necessary job performed by septic tank cleaners. The odor is similar and the fact that the tank always seems to fill right back up seems to be analogous as well.

Out of the respect I have for the ministry, I won’t produce the link, but the relevant text should help your Premature Hair-Graying program just fine all by itself. As some context, the ministry whose forum board this is is a bit like Awana’s on prescription grade steroids. It combines intense biblical memorization and elimination style competition on a National level. The thread raised the important question of how to balance competition and discipleship in such a ministry.

My response included this gem of a thought: (Some of the posts justified an overly competitive spirit by appealing to Scripture.)

But I get a little concerned when I hear people quote Scripture to justify a competitive mentality. I simply can’t see a justification of that kind of usage. Is sport-like competition really what the Epistle writers had in mind when they penned those passages? Did they want Christians to win every event they entered, or did they want believers to exemplify Christ in a world in which they were the “least”? Quite frankly, the more difficult achievement is reflecting Christ in the midst of disappointment, loss and frustration than striving to win a competition.

The response, coming from the Nute Rockny School of Biblical Interpretation, went like this:

I do believe we have to ask ourselves, "what is our biblical example?" Is it one of being "born to lose," or are we called to win? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain," (1 Cor. 9:24). Paul is saying, play to win, work to win, work very hard to win. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like Paul is saying that the objective is to win. He uses an athletic example to make his point, as though there's an obvious connection.

I must admit-Paul’s deep interest in the ancient games and their importance to our faith is news to me. It continues:

So when Paul writes to the Philippians, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 2:5), what sort of image does it conjure up in our thoughts? Christ the "loser" who died as a wimp on the cross, or Christ who suffered and died to conquer sin, and rose again to conquer death?

Jesus was a winner! Just like Pikaboo Street and Andre Agassi! So what should we tell these poor kids who don’t yet understand the value of winning to their faith?

What are we coaches supposed to tell our quizzers when they compete and lose? "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain," (1 Cor. 9:24). We need to tell them that they must work harder, developing the kind of Christian character that is truly Christ-like; they must strive to be winners.

We need to tell them they are losers for Jesus, and that Jesus will like them more if they win silly little competitions!

I almost don't know where to begin...


Brian B said...

Woah, now wait a second, Phil. In 1 Corinthians 9:19 Paul says "I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible." Are you saying that it's illegitimate to take his comments about winning in this very specific context, and apply them to absolutely any old context??

And clearly you're ignoring Exodus 17:11, which says "As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning." The Amalekites were bad. The Israelites were good. Therefore, it was good for the Israelites to win. Are you saying we shouldn't be like God's people, the Israelites, and try to win? Are you a closet Amalekite, Phil?

What of John 6:39: "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none..." or 2 John 1:8 "Watch out that you do not lose..." or Jeremiah 17:4, where it's clear that losing is considered a fault: "Through your own fault you will lose...", or Isaiah 7:4, which contains some great "coachly" advice: "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose..." The Biblical injunction to strive to win and avoid losing - and where is winning and losing more prominent than in a competetive environment? - is clear, pervasive, and unequivocal.

You should really read your Bible more carefully - like I did - before talking about other peoples' stupidity!! Anyway, I'd post more verses, but I have to go help some of my students prepare for their philosophy and logic midterm coming up...

Brian B

Ben said...

Brian, I can really see where you're coming from. I agree too. This post has made me really do some thinking about competetive Bible memorization. It seems to me a matter of the end justifying the means. The end result we're going for is children to memorize Bible verses. The means is to make it into a game with prizes. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing, but I think it can be taken too far. I would say the responsibility lies with the AWANA leaders to instill a proper respect for the Word of God while still allowing the children to have a good time in the memorization.

Is AWANA bad? No. But I think the leaders need to be responsible and not focus more on the competitiveness of it all rather than the inherent value of memorizing God's Word.

Jim said...

Well, I must confess that both my young daughters are in an Awanas program! But, that being said, I have never understood the competitive drive that seems to push us as Christians in every area of ministry and life.

From a philosophical perspective, it seems to me that God has little competitive drive nor necessity to be competitive. After all, who is it that could even come close to God? So if it is my goal to even begin to approach the nature of God, I think I might want to start by adopting his confidence and peace related to the efforts of those with whom we might want to compete...

Phil Steiger said...

Please understand, I have absolutely no beef with Awanas. The ministry I am talking about is hard to explain to people, and so I resort to the short hand of "Awanas on steroids" because more people are aware of Awanas.