Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Remembering Glenn Brenner

In Ecclesiastes chapter 1, the Preacher laments many things. One of his laments has to do with the lack of any enduring footprint from one generation to the next (1.4, 1.11). Such is the case for nearly all of us. It is a sad and unnerving reality that the vast majority of us will not be remembered at all within 2 generations of our death. While our response to this reality is a subject for another day, there are the rare exceptions to this rule. One of them might well be Glenn Brenner.

Glenn Brenner became the sports anchor at WTOP-TV (later WDVM, then WUSA) in Washington DC in 1976. He died prematurely in 1992 at the age of 44 from an inoperable brain tumor. For the 15+ years that Brenner was in DC, he became a towering fixture. Upon his death, several members of Congress paid tribute to his life in speeches before Congress. Bush 41 also paid official tribute to Brenner. The Washington Redskins, who were in the midst of a dominating Superbowl run at the time of Brenner's death, dedicated their NFC Championship win over the Lions to him.

For me, I have many memories of Brenner through the TV screen. Before Brenner came to DC when I was 6, Warner Wolf was the main sports guy in town, and my parents swear that I loved Warner Wolf. I don't remember much about Warner Wolf, but I do remember Glenn Brenner. Realizing full well that my memories and perceptions are probably not totally reliable, I have nonetheless come to believe that Glenn Brenner was a fairly important person in our home, especially in the first 10 or so years he was in DC.

When I look back on our home life from 1976 through around 1987, I remember that while we were always taken care of as children, there were some tight times and some stressful times. There was the hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan abroard, and there was inflation, unemployment and high interest rates and gas prices at home for a number of years. Looking back, I don't recall my Dad laughing much during those years. He laughs quite often these days. But back then, I'm not sure there was much to laugh about. Enter Glenn Brenner. Brenner's nightly sports review was entertaining, and often downright hilarious. To my recollection, Glenn Brenner was the only one who could reliably make my Dad laugh hard night after night and bring some levity into the nightly routine of bad news and worse news. If my recollections are at least 50% accurate, it is hard not to say that Glenn Brenner made an important impact in our home, even though we never actually met the man. Particularly in those early years of Brenner's tenure, I don't know whether Brenner was intentional about offering a counterweight to the dire news of the day. But I do know that's what he was to me as I would watch my Dad get great joy out of Brenner's nightly segment. Brenner was a riot, and he was the relief and release we needed, and I know we weren't the only ones.

I also remember with considerable clarity how the city reacted when Brenner died. I was 21 at the time, and had lived a fairly cloistered life by choice. I noticed something that struck me as incredible. In the midst of the Rodney King injustice and in the aftermath of the Marion Barry drug sting, Washington DC was a city that was racially polarized and very on-edge at the time of Brenner's death. It was often said of Washington DC that the Redskins football team was the only thing that brought the city together, and there was a good bit of truth to it. But as it turned out, so did Glenn Brenner. In news report after news report, African Americans and Caucasians were equally distraught over Brenner's passing. Brenner had truly become part of the city's fabric, and the entire city, regardless of race, gender, economic condition, or any other human barrier, grieved together. Again, one has to remember the degree to which everything about Washington DC had boiled down to race and resentment in those days in order to appreciate how astonishing it was to have this white guy be so beloved by seemingly everyone. Gordon Peterson once told the story of how he was visiting Brenner at GW Hospital before his death when a homeless woman came up to him and said that she was praying for Brenner. That's when it hit him just how universal Brenner's appeal was.

Today, 15+ years after Brenner's death, he is still a subject of conversation. It seems like everytime a member of the old Channel 9 news lineup is interviewed today, they are asked about what it was like to work with Brenner. Gordon Peterson says that he still misses Brenner terribly, and in truth, Peterson doesn't appear to have ever been quite the same on the air since Brenner died. For many who knew Brenner personally, it really does seem like a part of them died when Brenner died. The phrase 'one in a million' is overused and banal. But in Brenner's case, I think it really is true. During tough days for a city that was in the grips of runaway crime and violence, and for countless families like ours who were fighting a tough economy and insecurity at every corner, Glenn Brenner accomplished something truly remarkable. Through his light-heartedness, he helped lift the spirits of an entire city that might have otherwise given in to despair and hopelessness. Brenner knew he was liked, but I doubt he knew how important he was to so many. I'm confident he knows now.

When I think about Brenner these days, I realize that a lot has gone missing in the years after his death. The city had to move on from Glenn Brenner, and in many ways, we have. But not entirely. The sheer number of people in these parts who still remember Brenner and wax nostalgic about him indicates that something very precious and unique is no longer with us. Washington DC is a very transitory town that's full of important people and short memories. Here, as much as anywhere, it is very difficult to make any kind of enduring footprint. Brenner not only did that, he did it by transcending so many barriers that so often limit one's appeal and impact. Brenner once said that people watch him not primarily because they're interested in sports highlights, but because they feel a genuine connection that he said was mutual and was something he was very intentional about cultivating. Mission Accomplished.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Richard Horner's Second Question

Piggybacking off the previous post, Dr. Horner wrote a second question on the board on that first day of class that was strongly related to the first question discussed below. Dr. Horner briefly mentions this second question at the end of the below article I linked to, but it is worth its own post here. While his first question was "What frames what?", his second question was "With whom are you in conversation?" As important as the first question clearly is, the conclusions we draw from that question are often greatly influenced by our answer to this second question.

One way to gauge the vibrancy and diversity of our conversation partners is to assess how easily we can answer the first question. If we don't have any real trouble or hesitancy answering the first question, it might well be a sign that we are too sheltered when it comes to our conversation partners (it could also be that we're choosing not to engage the question with any depth). If we're only interacting with people whose views we basically agree with, we are probably only reinforcing our own blindspots regarding our first-order framing principles. If we are supremely confident to the point of arrogance that our worldview is absolutely correct from top to bottom, it can often demonstrate that our interaction with competing worldviews is not very regular or in-depth.

Notice also the exact terminology Dr. Horner uses in this second question. His question is not 'with whom are you in argument', or 'with whom are you in debate'. Horner uses the word 'conversation' for a reason. While conversation can include argumentation and debate, it encompasses much more than that. Ideally, conversation is an attempt to understand through sharing that entails some degree of vulnerability. Conversation is not merely a brute communication tool, but a tool of learning. If this is correct, that means 'conversation' is something that occurs between people who are different, not people who are the same. If people are the same, then is 'conversation' really necessary since people who are the same already understand each other and have little to learn from each other? 'Conversation', at least at the fallen human level, is an attempt to forge a bridge of understanding and mutual learning between different people believing different things.

So in answering this second question, it's not enough to say my conversation partners are diverse because I regularly debate people I disagree with in order to feel more confident about my own positions. It's not enough to say I've exposed myself to different worldviews if my purpose is primarily to debunk these worldviews. These are half-baked notions of 'conversation', and we're seeing the fruits all around us as our culture continues to spiral ever farther into mutual disrespect and rampant misunderstanding. To be in healthy 'conversation' is to walk a very fine line where on the one hand, I truly believe what I believe, while on the other hand, truly believing that people who believe differently can still teach me vitally important things and are worthy of trying to understand, and certainly worthy of my respect. This is where Dr. Horner is trying to get us when asking this second question. It offers a friendly but robust challenge for us to really contemplate how we're doing in the area of authentic 'conversation'.

How do we really relate to our conversation partners? Do we genuinely believe we can learn from them enough to sincerely try to understand them without doing a Nitzchean power-play on them? Horner is right in the article below that on some level, everybody is in the conversion business. But this desire (need?) to convert has to be tempered by the wisdom that genuine and respectful understanding is the the best way to thoughtfully engage each other on the very framing principles that often arouse our strongest urge to convert. In doing this, we might well find that our own framing principles are in need of tweaking, which better enables us to answer Horner's first question with a better self-awareness of what's really driving us. And if in the process of truly engaging the second question, some of the rough edges come off of our framing principles, that might well be a good thing. Not all rough edges are bad, but some are. Too many rough edges in our framing principles does not bode well when it comes to positively assessing what the second question looks like in our lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Richard Horner's First Question

I took a class under Dr. Horner at seminary, and this class ranks in the top 3 of all classes I've ever taken. On the first day of class, Dr. Horner wrote two questions on the board and said that the entire course would hit on these 2 questions again and again, and that it was his hope that us students would grapple with these 2 questions long after the course was over. The first question was simply, "What frames what?" Regarding this question, Dr. Horner wrote an article back in 2005 that explained the question and its enormous importance. I strongly commend all interested readers to take 10-15 minutes to thoughtfully read this article:


I would submit that much of what is wrong with American Christianity today is strongly linked with our inability and/or unwillingness to seriously reckon with Dr. Horner's question and all its implications. For those of us who tend toward presuppositionalism in our apologetics approach, Horner's article is an outstanding example of how a presuppositionalist approach can drill down to the street (and below) and be extremely relevant to the life of the Christian in each step he takes. Dr. Horner's thoughtful and sober strivings with how the big picture and the little pictures inform each other is the kind of stuff we should be doing as Christians. This is what we should be about. And on a personal note, let me say that Dr. Horner is not some detached ivory tower academic. To the contrary, he is a very good man whose wrestlings with great issues are done in the course of everyday life. He's the real deal, and we will all profit from giving him an ear and being willing to learn. He is a UVa man in the best sense.

Friday, May 18, 2007


I sometimes get asked how evangelicals should reckon with Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard was a very interesting bird, and his writings have become very popular and influential in large measure thanks to Karl Barth. Perhaps not coincidentally, like Barth, Kierkegaard presents something of a dilemma for evangelicals. Should we love him, fear him, embrace him, marginalize him, or something in between? Though what follows will likely not be very helpful in answering this question, it is offered for consideration. I apologize in advance for the technical lingo. The below is largely an excerpt from a directed study I did at seminary which required a heavy dose of academic terminology:

Kierkegaard has to be understood in context. He was mostly ignored during his own lifetime and for some time after. Perhaps ironically, it was partly through the emergence of Barth that the thought of Kierkegaard began to enjoy a renaissance and popularity in the West that continues to this day. Kierkegaard reacted against the impersonal epistemology of Kant (and especially the absorption of the individual into the Absolute Spirit of Hegel's epistemology) during the mid-1800s. For Kant, true knowledge was created and dictated by human reason, and only by restricting the domain in which human reason could operate (i.e., the phenomenal realm) could Kant make any allowance for faith and feeling as being legitimate in those areas where reason did not and could not extend. For Kierkegaard, such rationalism made insufficient allowance for the role emotions and feelings play in man's accumulation of truth in the world. Kierkegaard believed that Danish society, under the influence of Kant and Hegel, had been reduced to a level of dead aestheticism and “ethicism” that eliminated authentic human existence and religion. Kierkegaard had a particular disdain for Hegelian metaphysics because Hegel, through his thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectic, believed humans could actually discern the mind of God (the Absolute Spirit in Hegel's thinking). This meant that Hegel actually had more hubris than Kant when it came to humanity's ability to rationalize all reality. Kierkegaard believed Hegel's program was both arrogant and plainly false, citing the Biblical account of Abraham and Isaac as proof that Hegelian rationalism fails to explain how a good God could command the father of faith to sacrifice the child of promise. Kierkegaard believed that street level reality was filled with such paradoxes and conundrums that Hegel's program could not account for or persuasively address.

It is true that Kierkegaard believed that achievement of the most authentic human existence was a matter of religious faith and commitment, rather than something that could be achieved purely through the intellect. But in saying this, Kierkegaard should not be dismissed as an irrationalist. Again, he has to be understood in context. Brute rationalism had resulted in 'pious neglect' for the poor in Europe because people were living in Hegelian abstraction rather than the real world. But Kierkegaard was far from advocating a thoughtless, uncritical, or irrational faith. What he advocated was a careful thinking about faith that recognized that faith was not itself merely a matter of thought. On this, Kierkegaard was absolutely right and was a desperately needed antidote to Hegelian metaphysics.

But at least in my opinion, Kierkegaard still considered Kant's 'phenomenal/noumenal' dialectic to be mostly sound, and he attempted to rethink Kant within a more Biblical framework, with mixed results. He agreed with Kant's basic framework that God cannot be pursued in an objective way. The "leap of faith" in Jesus Christ that is required to move into the most authentic human existence requires the abandonment of our reliance on reason since, like Kant, we can have no objective knowledge about God prior to entering into a relationship with him because of the “infinite qualitative distinction” that exists between God and man. Barth seized upon this idea in his revolutionary commentary on Romans, which is what brought Kierkegaard back into the conversation after his death. For Kierkegaard, this infinite distinction between man and God (time and eternity) is bridged by the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and this was part of Barth's basic thinking as well. The decision to place faith in Jesus Christ is not through speculative abstract reasoning, but through faith that is often an affront to human reason. For example, Kierkegaard considered the Incarnation to be a 'scandal' to human reason and couldn't be believed purely on the employment of human reason. Nonetheless, in disagreement with Kant, this subjective faith decision is the only way the human self can achieve a truly authentic existence. As a result, for Kierkegaard, faith and reason at this highest stage are at odds with each other to some degree, in that reason alone cannot bring a person to authentic existence; only faith can. In this respect, Kierkegaard and Kant are in some agreement at least on the dialectic relationship between faith and reason, in that the legitimate operation of the two occurs in somewhat mutually exclusive realms that cannot validly accommodate the other. But whereas for Kant, rationalism was primary, for Kierkegaard, existentialist faith is primary. And while Kant believed the chasm between God and man was unbridgeable, Kierkegaard believes that through faith in the incarnate God, the chasm is bridged and a tangible relationship between God and man becomes possible.

I don't entirely agree with Kierkegaard's thought (particularly the faith/reason dialectic), but his approach was a very understandable and desperately needed response to Kant and Hegel. When seen in this historical context, Kierkegaard isn't perfect, but in my view, he's definitely our friend. Evangelicals should read him with discernment, and with the expectation that we can learn some very important things from Kierkegaard, while probably needing to part company with him in some areas as well.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Great Religion of Suburbia

My wife and I are poised to move into a new house next month. This house is in a diverse suburban neighborhood with a homeowners association and a rather lengthy list of association regulations regarding one's home and the general appearance of the subdivision.

We are very excited about this move. But moving into this neighborhood has once again brought home for me the ways in which we tend to practice religion without even knowing it. In neighborhoods like ours all across America, a subtle religion has emerged that is nonetheless quite powerful. While there are many religions of suburbia, the endless quest to achieve what I like to call the most 'holy lawn' has increasingly become the religion of choice in our affluent and upper-middle income neighborhoods.

Now before you laugh or roll your eyes, think about it for a minute. Professional lawn service companies comprise a booming industry in this country, and it's not because their lawn care is cheap. The previous owners of the property we're moving into were paying upwards of $400 per month for lawn care and maintenance of a plot less than 1 acre in size, and this is not a particularly astronomical rate in our neck of the boonies. The fact that so many people invest this kind of money in lawn care says something about our devotion to a 'holy lawn' that is as free from impurity (weeds, dead spots, unmanicured shrubs, etc) as possible.

In addition, many of us know people who do not hire professional lawn services because they are determined to have the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood by doing it themselves. We see commercials on television perpetuating the caricature of a man taking enormous pride in how his lawn looks as a result of using the product the commercial is trying to sell. I used to go to a church where one of the pastors often used the friendly rivalry he had with the guy across the street about the condition of their respective lawns as an avenue to make some point in his sermons (notice how I don't remember many of the sermon points, but I do remember his description of the yard rivalry). Many of us have family members and neighbors who are borderline obsessive about their lawns and are constantly trying to 'improve' them to make them more beautiful. Maybe we ourselves fall into this category.

But still, is it really fair to use the term 'religion' to describe this suburban phenomenon? Well, perhaps not. But on the other hand, there are no shortages of similarities between this phenomenon and the kinds of things we often tend to associate with organized religion. For example, it is often the case that people employ lawn care services because they don't personally have the time, energy, ability, knowledge, or interest to achieve a holy lawn through their own efforts. But why the quest for the holy lawn? True, most everyone enjoys a lush, healthy lawn with bright colors and manicured landscaping. But why do we crave it enough to spend what amounts to an additional car payment every month to achieve it? Or in the case of those who do it themselves, why do we crave it enough to devote significant portions of most of our weekends to loving the lawn? There are a number of reasons, I suspect, but one can be the neighborhood pressures that are both explicit and implicit.

Many homeowner associations have detailed regulations about maintaining a high level of aesthetic appearance for our yards. These regulations create a certain set of expectations, a certain high standard, that is expected of everyone who lives in the neighborhood. Like a local church, the makeup of the neighborhood is a voluntary association - people don't have to live there. And like most local churches, neighborhood associations, through the homeowner regulations, establish certain creeds of belief (in this case, about the expected appearance of the neighborhood) that establishes a standard of orthodoxy that everyone is expected to uphold.

What's more, the negative side also has similarities with the local church. For a local church, when its creeds, system of beliefs, and standards for righteous living are repeatedly or severely flaunted without repentance, church discipline can be the result. Church discipline is based on the idea that one person's unrepented sin impacts the purity of the entire fellowship and threatens the spiritual health of the whole congregation. The same is true in holy lawnism. Association regulations often outline something like a disciplinary procedure for those who fall far below the aesthetic standards outlined in the association's regulations (creedal standards). Like the role of church discipline in the local church, the reason for holy lawnism discipline is often based on the view that one household's flaunting of the standard impacts the whole neighborhood. Such a flaunting of the rules can result in a wider precipitous lowering of the standards throughout the neighborhood and can threaten property values all across the development. Like a local church, the aesthetic standards of a community, either expressly detailed in association regulations or informally established by the makeup of the community, are established for the theoretical benefit of the community at large. Even in 'nice' neighborhoods where there isn't a homeowners association or a set of regulation standards, those who don't maintain their yards become the focus of negative neighborhood gossiping and often become isolated within the neighborhood. In extreme cases, they are shunned and treated like pariahs by their neighbors. There doesn't need to be a formal disciplinary procedure in place in order for discipline to occur.

Now it's true that many people seem to live in their yards simply because they greatly enjoy working in the yard, in addition to enjoying the aesthetic fruits of their labor. Again, this is not so different from the way things are in the church. Many people are active in the church not just because they love the 'payoff' of the worship of Sunday morning, but because they rightly enjoy all the legwork that happens 7 days a week in order to make the Sunday morning experience possible.

What's different between organized religion and holy lawnism is that few people who are obsessed with the appearance of their lawns would say they are worshipping their lawn, while most church parishioners would unapologetically say they are worshipping God. My question is whether the former are being as honest as the latter given the similarities between the two, and how much money and labor they devote to their lawn.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Being Threatened

Today's publishing world allows a place for hysteria in printed form. Many popular-level political books from both the right and left go beyond being provocative, and dive head-first into hysterical ranting. The same is true in many other fields of study, including religion.

Chris Hitchens' latest book, God is not Great, is one such example. Like Richard Dawkins' God Delusion, Hitchens offers a hysterical and frenzied warning against the evils of religion. Like Dawkins' opus, many level-headed voices from across the ideological spectrum have joined in harmony critiquing Hitchens as the atheistic counterpart to the anti-intellectual, dogmatic, tyrannical, uncompromising strain of theism he so gleefully skewers. I'm content to leave it to others to demonstrate Hitchens' folly (there was a decent book review in the WP today as one example). My burden here is to try and move beyond the bombast to speculate on the reasons behind the bombast.

I have no doubt that people like Hitchens and Dawkins write as people who have arrived at a place of being deeply offended by religion and everything it stands for. There is no doubt that this visceral resentment strongly fuels the often blind rage reflected in their writings. This makes me sad, and also makes me wonder about the respective experiences of these men that influenced their current posture.

But I'm not sure the vitriol of their writings can be chalked up to personal offense alone. I have thought for some time that when people make a habit of going on vitriolic bends about some topic or other, there is an element of fear and threatening fueling it. In other words, when the fundamentalist theist goes outer limits about Darwinism, for example, is it just because they find Darwinism repugnant? I doubt it. It's also because they feel threatened by it; that it's not just that something stands in opposition to their most important belief commitments, but that this something is gaining ground and becoming very threatening because of it. So when Hitchens and Dawkins fly off the grid when it comes to religion, I suspect it's not just because they find religion repugnant. It may also be because religion is not only not waning, it's gaining, and by extension, is putting people like Hitchens and Dawkins into an ever smaller association. This is a threat, a severe one in fact. Such a threat tends to provoke a kind of violence of desperation in those who struggle ever harder to find safe quarter. With Hitchens and Dawkins, their weapons of violence are the tongue and pen (or computer stroke).

From their perspective, it truly must seem inconceivable that they are surrounded by so many who are personally religious, or who may not be particularly religious but don't have any real beef with religion either. The frustration that leads to desperation that leads to losing all balance and the ability to responsibly think things through is what leads to the loopy end products that baffle those who know these two men and remark about how intelligent they can be at other times. Perhaps ironically, the same has often been said of Pat Robertson by those who know him. He has an Ivy League doctorate and is quite intelligent and well read. But so often, you'd never know it.

As I said, I'm admittedly speculating so this post should be taken with a few kilograms of salt. But when you combine personal offense with feeling under assault by the very thing that offends you, it becomes a very potent combination. And folks who embody this combination, regardless of where they fall along the ideological spectrum, too often compromise their reputation by producing blind drivel that is entirely too easy to shred to pieces, as Plantinga recently did with Dawkins' work. The lesson is to be aware of what we bring to our analysis of an issue, and realize that we can be blinded by our own frenzy, and damage ourselves severely, not to mention damaging our cause, whatever it is.

More of my Posts

I have been graciously invited to participate in a group blog, called Conversations in Calvinism. The path is:


My posts over there will generally be more theological than what I post here. So for anyone who wants an extry portion of my inane babble, that's the place to go.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Christian's Relationship with the World

I'm thinking out loud here, which is always pretty dangerous. But in thinking about this topic, it has occurred to me that there are a lot of rabbit trails and peripheral things that can distract us from approaching the topic wisely. Keeping in mind that I'm talking off the cuff, I'd like to briefly explore some broad parameters through which we might begin asking better questions about how cozy Christians should be with the world around them.

The general Reformed understanding of this issue has been that Christ (through his church) is the transformer of culture. This stands in contrast to the concept of Christ as culture, which often predominated during the medieval period up to the Renaissance. It also stands in contrast to the concept of Christ opposed to culture, which one can find today in the attitudes of a number of true fundamentalists as well as the Amish (although the Amish in particular are inconsistent on this, since all they've really done is swear off today's worldly culture in exchange for the worldly culture of 200 years ago - it's still worldly). Speaking in generalities, the Reformed view stakes out a middle ground between the other two approaches, where both worldly engagement and disengagement have a place and are necessary. The Reformed view believes that this dichotomy is based on Scriptural teaching that favors both involvement and separation with/from the world. While this can be seen as contradictory or even incoherent, it actually makes a lot of sense if one sees this issue in the context of the already/not yet eschatology that we find ourselves in and is given to us in the NT.

I would argue that the Incarnation and earthly ministry of Christ simply do not allow complete disengagement from the world as Christians. Christ himself voluntarily left his glorious abode to enter into a dark and hostile world, identify himself with sinful humans, enter into the muddy mess of our lives, and save us right there. This is the overriding practical theology of the Savior's coming to earth. I simply can't see how such a theology is compatible with theology of total separation from the world and a complete lack of concern with the world. It is truly amazing to contemplate how it can be that the perfect fulfillment of Christ's functions (offices) as the sinless Savior involved embracing sinners and identifying himself with them through his humanity. It is really worth considering what this says about our theology of sin, and about our theology of sanctification and glorification. When our level of engagement with the world is seen through the prism of christology, total separation is not an option.

So given this, does this mean that we should associate with the world in its totality with no reservations or boundaries? No. Christ, after all, was God incarnate, without sin, possessing a divine will toward true and perfect holiness. None of this is true of us in our present condition. Unlike Christ, we routinely fail to be loyal to God in the face of sin's temptations. Unlike Christ, our will is stained by sin and it impacts everything we do. Unlike Christ, we are not God. What this means is that unlike Christ, our vulnerability to give in to sin and to drift from the will of God is so great that it is foolish to think it won't happen if we are spiritually lethargic about toying with temptation. When our level of engagement with the world is seen through the prism of anthropology, unfettered assocation is not an option.

Considering that the church at large has had 2,000 years to reach consensus and strike the right balance on this question and has yet to succeed, we should not kid ourselves about our own chances for complete success. But neither should we shrug our shoulders and punt the question just because the paradox is difficult. Instead, it might be helpful to think about the issue within the kind of general principles discussed here, in order to have enough general guidance to engage the day to day questions of engagement from a more sturdy foundation. Put simply, I favor approaching this critical question from the top and working down, rather than starting at the details and working up to general principles in this case. Too often, I think we approach this question utilizing the latter approach, and I'm not at all sure that's the best way to go about it. While Scripture provides many specifics, it much more often equips us with higher level principles upon which to evaluate specific situations. Our challenge is to do just that - understand the principles Scripture gives us, and properly and responsibly applying them to daily living today. Hopefully this post is a rudimentary start in that direction.