Category Archives: Rhetoric

Descriptions of Rhetoric, discussions of its use today.

Home Schooling in High School means pursuing excellence well

“This is why we home school.”

a-messy-roomI hear that phrase a lot, and I’ve said it myself. We choose to home school for so many reasons. Some families are athletic or musical, and they need more flexible schedules. Some just believe that the alternatives out there–public or private schools–are not desirable for them. And others believe that God has called them to raise and educate their children themselves, combining their faith with their children’s education.

No matter the reason you elect to home school, I want to speak to you. Whatever you choose to do in educating your child, do it well. Choose carefully. Don’t over-commit, when over-commitment means you cannot do everything well.

Years ago I had a long talk with a mom whose daughter had spent much of her youth in violin lessons and violinperformances. The child was very talented, said the mother. They had focused on her violin lessons, rehearsals, travels, and performances, almost to the exclusion of anything else. I know it may be hard for some of you to believe this, but the mom told me that her daughter, at age 15, had not had more than elementary math, no science, and no writing or grammar. She was anxiously seeking my advice, and this turned into a very difficult meeting. I had to be brutally honest with her about the reality of her situation. Her daughter might earn music scholarships to college because of her talent, but she won’t get accepted to those colleges because she couldn’t handle the academics. Mom refused to hear what I had to say, and I have no idea what she did for her child afterward.

The lesson here is balance. Yes, those music lessons or those athletic abilities are really important. In balance, however, what takes priority? Is it your child’s figure-skating success, or is it her ability to perform academically, think well, write well? If, on average, your child is not holding her own on those yearly standardized tests, you need to examine why, short of any significant learning disability that may get in the way (and I am not talking about learning disabilities).

Another parent asked my advice on a schedule for her daughter’s first year of high school. She had signed up for all the basics: English, history, Bible, science, math, foreign language, at our online school. Then she added that a local co-op had a Shakespeare class they really wanted, plus she would be taking dance, drama, and piano, and then taking one day to babysit at the co-op while other moms taught. (And she would participate in two major dramas a year.) Given the number of hours in a day, and what it takes to succeed in each academic class (much less sit in each class each week), that child was starting out with a deficit of time, and the hole would just get deeper through the year. “Be ready to pitch those non-academic commitments overboard when it gets to be too much,” I told the mom. They never did, and their daughter was completely burned out halfway through the year.

Choose well, and choose wisely. Be selective about what your children do. Maybe you are like us, with kids who had no outstanding athletic or musical abilities, just wanting to have fun in band or soccer. Our rule for them during high school was “Youth Group Plus One.” In other words, they could do Youth Group and add one more activity beyond that each year. It could be fall sports and a spring job, or band all year, or drama. This kind of restriction was set so that they could learn the layer of priorities in their lives. For our children, work and worship needed to be learned and reinforced in proper balance as they developed into young men and women. They didn’t need more things piled on top of them just so they could stay busy. We didn’t always do a great job at that, but it was a principle we tried to stay with.

exhausted kidOvercommitment plagues most of us. We love lots of things, want to be involved in every great activity.  “This is why we homeschool” cannot–should not–be used as the reason for signing up for more than can humanly be done. If that debate tournament schedule means you will miss too many classes or too many homework deadlines, rethink your priorities. You could say no to the class, but do you need the class more than the debate club? Sometimes you just cannot manage both–one has to give way. Choose wisely and well.

Think about a manageable formula. For each academic high school course your child takes, he should study 1.5 to 2 hours per day, on average. Some courses will take more time, some less. What kind of time is left? (I know I have already stirred a hornet’s nest for some of you, who disagree that any child should spend that much time studying. So be it.)

Sometimes homeschool families overcommit more than “other” families do, just because they use that popular phrase “this is why…” Could it be you and your children BOTH need a little lesson in saying no? Balance work and activity, fun and worship. Say yes to a select few things, and then proceed to ENJOY your homeschool.

See related posts here, here, and here.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Grammar, Homeschooling, Parenting, Rhetoric

Slouching mediocrity: I already KNOW how to write…

broken pencilParental angst about writing instruction for their homeschooled children fills my email inbox. Somehow parents know that math and science and history are SO much easier to deal with: Answers are either right or wrong.

Children take personal offense, though, when mommy tells them that their paragraphs were wrong.

As a writing teacher, I totally get it. In order to maintain a good relationship with their children, some moms who are not as sure about teaching writing will hire someone else, go to some other source, for help. That’s wise, for parents who just are not comfortable. I maintain that there is a right attitude and a wrong attitude about teaching good writing skills. Let’s take a look at some who misunderstand.

Some parents exhibit a lack of understanding of just how important good writing can be. I wish I had a dollar for every time a parent told me, “We believe a good reader will turn out to be a good writer, so we just expose our child to good books, and we know that when he is ready to write, he will be great.” This is like learning how to cook by eating at gourmet restaurants. Surely you know a lot about good food, right? So cooking like a chef will be a breeze.

Reading a lot of great books will help you in countless ways (see a previous blog about that). Exposure to the timeless classics expands the vocabulary, broadens the reader’s world, allows him to make connections to literary allusions in other works, enhances critical thinking skills, and more. It may also help improve one’s writing simply because his vocabulary is so greatly increased. The practice of imitation in Rhetoric uses pieces of great literature so that the student copies, by hand, the words and thoughts of great writers. Doing so will enhance a student’s grasp of the grammatical flow and thought process of the writer.

However, just absorbing the words in a great book will not translate to making a good writer. It’s not as if he will read and read and then suddenly *poof!* he is automatically a good writer. Not at all.

Similarly, other parents have told me that writing and writing week after week has improved their children’s writing skills. Does he get feedback on his writing, I ask? Well, no, but he is writing. But then how do you know he is improving if he has no guidance, no direction, no correction in his writing?

So there are two elements in growing a good writer: the practice of writing, and guidance in writing. If parents are not comfortable doing that at their own kitchen table, I advise them to find someone who is able to do that for them. Interview that person: what are his or her qualifications? What standards does he use? What experience does he have? I often suggest finding an English major currently in college who wants to earn some extra money, or an English teacher who is retired or a mom at home now.

There is a plethora of online writing classes these days; if you go that route make sure you are getting what you pay for. Will your child get regular, guided, personal feedback on every piece of writing, aiming him toward better writing on his next assignment? Some online organizations just don’t offer that kind of personal service. They are good at assigning but not so good at grading. Remember: no feedback = no growth. Since I teach at an online school I can recommend a very good one to you–just email me and we’ll chat. 🙂

I’ve encountered other kinds of misunderstanding about writing from homeschooling parents. One is that parent who had a bad experience back in third grade with a writing curriculum and was then afraid to try anything again. My advice: don’t give up. (See my post about schooling with excellence.) Keep trying to find that next writing curriculum. Find someone who can help you if you feel lost. Don’t just pass that off as something your child will never be able to do well. Short of a learning disability–and often even with one your child can do well–there is no reason he cannot learn to write at a college level while in high school.

Another comment comes from the parent who tells me that her high school child has joined a “write a novel in a year” club. Someone hands out information on how to write dialog and how to create a good couple of characters, and off the child goes to write a novel. The instruction is vague at best, and the product may be a sweet little story, but this child has not learned college-ready writing skills.

Or the parent who wants to make sure her child is doing “every kind of writing.” Somewhere someone told a parent that her child will be a good writer if she learns every kind of writing. By that I assume they mean journalism, poetry, compare/contrast, opinion, persuasive, short story, and whatever else I may have left out. Let me get you straight on this one: All that is great to know. However, the one basic skill a high school (and even a junior high) student needs in his tool box is Expository Writing: the essay that proves a thesis. College-level writing.

What are those college writing skills of which I speak? The expository essay presents an idea in a thesis and then proceeds to argue that thesis–prove it–with support through an essay. Call it a five-paragraph, ten-paragraph, or twelve-page paper, that is the writing skill your child will need to be ready for those college-assessment tests. Teach him how to incorporate and cite quotes, how to prove his thesis with argumentation, to introduce and conclude well. Teach him to do it in a paper or in an essay. Teach him to do it in a timed format (40 minutes and then 25 minutes, for example), because those college-assessment test writing portions are timed. If you can’t do it, then ask someone to do this for you.

Think of it this way: Your child wants to be a musician and picks up an instrument to play beautiful music. Instead, out come horrid sounds. Give that child lessons and theory; teach him how to play scales and chords; teach him the classics of the masters on that instrument. Then he can go and play all sorts of other types of music on that instrument to his heart’s content. Just as in writing. Teach that expository essay, and that child will be able to do all sorts of other kinds of writing as well, with practice.

See related blogs here and here.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Grammar, Homeschooling, Literature, Parenting, Rhetoric

Daring to be mediocre

I recently attended a homeschool convention, one of the largest in the country. While I noticed many of the usual things–moms with rolling carts and rows of little heads following behind, little boys carrying wooden swords, little girls donning brightly colored…um…aprons and bonnets–I also noticed the plethora of educational material being sold to homeschool families. Not all of it excellent.

Yes, that is the purpose of the convention, for sellers to market their wares. And yes, this is an enormous group of homeschoolers ready to purchase next year’s collection of curricular materials. But not–absolutely not–is all of that material well done. Nor does it push students toward excellence. At best, it reaches the merely mediocre.

I’m not sure what came first–the poor curriculum or the parent who didn’t want to buy the best out there. Some of it has to do with money. But some, I am convinced, has to do with not wanting to challenge those little sweet children to work hard and do their best.

As a mom, I have heard my fair share of whining (and not all of it from my children). Plenty of times I have caved to that high-pitched, foot-stamping, grouchy-faced I-don’t-wanna. But not when it really mattered in the big picture. In the big picture, we were there, digging in our heels, telling them they were going to work on that hard math until it was done right. Digging in to tell them to rewrite that essay until it shined. Refusing them a coveted TV show until the science was studied. Withholding car keys until the grade was raised.

And when it mattered, we sacrificed and found them quality education where we could, when we could. In our patchwork quilt of educational choices, sometimes we didn’t always make the right decisions, but we were quick to change course the next year in an effort to find them the challenge they needed. Not all of their challenges were pleasant for them. But in the doing, they pursued excellence, and we pushed for it in them.

I wish I could challenge every homeschooling parent–AND other-schooling parent as well–to buck up and be unafraid to do what’s hard for your child. What is your end goal? It has to be excellence, doesn’t it? I’ve asked that question of many, many parents about their children. Some don’t have an end goal in mind, just keeping their heads down to get through one more year. Enduring the sour scowls and moaning meemies while simplifying the load just to get their children off their backs. I’ve watched them take their children to low-goal-setting homeschool co-ops where well-meaning moms teach subjects they might have once studied themselves. I’ve been asked to teach at such co-ops only to be rejected, told that my style of college-prep writing instruction was too hard for their high school students. They just didn’t want to make their children work that hard.

Set high goals for your students, and keep reaching. Don’t give up. (Real story, honest!) One parent told me, “We had a bad experience back in third grade with an English curriculum, so we haven’t done much writing since then.” How old is your child now? “Seventeen.” And he hasn’t written an essay yet. And he wants to go to college. When was reality going to sink in? At that point it was MY hard job to tell the parent that her son was not going to be ready for college in a year.

(Another real story!) Another parent asked, “Is that class going to be fun? My daughter only wants to take classes that are fun.” How old is your daughter? “Going to be a senior.” You have never challenged your daughter to enjoy the hard work. Remember, sister, that labor was hard when you delivered her? Was the hard work worth it? Of course! Why not allow her to do hard things once in a while, reaping the fruits of such labor as she goes along?

Parents: dare to reach for the excellent, the difficult. Challenge your child to work hard and to enjoy the doing of it. Hebrews 12:11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” I want to produce in every child that satisfaction of a difficult job well done, having reached higher than he has done before. That’s why I ask my seniors in Rhetoric to write a 15-17-page thesis paper–and then defend it in front of their peers. And they do it well!

I want to see curriculum that stretches the mind and the imagination. Find material that reaches beyond your child’s abilities and urges him to grow. Set the bar high and run beside him as he pushes to get over it. Discard the simple, the “five finger grammar method” or whatever else is cheap and simplistic. Go for the challenge and avoid the mediocre.

See related posts here and here.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Education, Grammar, Homeschooling, Literature, Parenting, Rhetoric

Lies, fallacies, and other election year nonsense

Mud-slinging is dirty businessTo catalogue all the lies being tossed around during this ugly election campaign season would be a daunting task. No one is immune; lying and exaggerations are common to all–presidential and non-presidential.

However, I will attempt to classify the crazy claims of one side against another, by simply revealing types of fallacies frequently used.

Ad Hominem. Literally, “to the man.” Remember when you were a kid and argued with a sibling or best friend? You couldn’t defend yourself against your opponent’s sharp tongue, so you got fed up and said something like, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re stupid.” Ouch. That immediately takes attention off of the argument at hand and turns into a defense of one’s intellect. Politicians who want to deflect attention from their own record will quickly resort to ad hominem attacks of their opponents. Thus the argument becomes one of character, not substance.

Ad Baculum: This one means “to the stick.” If you cannot convince someone with the truth, then use the veiled threat, or perhaps just a plain, open threat. How about the one that Democrats have trotted out time and again: If the Republicans win this election, old people will have to eat dog food in order to pay for their prescriptions; children will starve because the school lunch program will end; the water will be poisoned; the air will be unbreathable. This kind of fallacy got center stage during Clinton’s campaign against Dole.

Appeal to pity:  This one not only covers the above smear Clinton’s side perpetrated, but it goes deep to touch the heartstrings of a soft-hearted American public. This is when both sides trot out the families whose lives have been touched by the wonderful candidate for office. It happens when candidates bring out some hard-luck cases whose lives will be even worse if an opponent wins. Those sad-faced pictures of starving children and bed-ridden seniors are sure to tug at your emotions. But what have they got to do with the case at hand?

Ad populum: If you can’t get them with pity, go after your audience’s need to follow the crowd. Cite popularity polls, then conclude that if so many people want a, b, and c, then everyone else does too. Not too many people want to go against the flow, so they will certainly join the crowd. Never mind that this has nothing to do with the big issues that need addressing. Ad populum also  appeals to a common bias or prejudice, such as racism, homophobia, religious bigotry, and such. “If you don’t want to be called a bigot or racist, then you will vote for ________.” One side in this year’s presidential race accused the other side of trotting out people of color just to seem like they weren’t racists. Never mind that this side wants to have people of color give some speeches too. If this side does it, it’s not racist. If the other side does…

Straw Man: Oversimplifies an opponent’s argument before refuting it. The fallacy is committed when a person ignores his opponent’s “actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position” (http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/straw-man.html).

Bulverism: This fallacy is pretty simple. You shut down the debate by oversimplifying and judging the character of your opponent. This is a subset of ad hominem. This one says “It figures you would say that; you are a Christian” or “You Republicans are all bigots; I’m not going to listen to a word that comes out of your mouths” or “All Democrats are left-wing liberal nut-jobs.” You have dismissed the validity of an opponent by lumping him in with a broad category.

Big Lie Technique (also “Staying on Message”): “The contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, slogan or deceptive half-truth over and over (particularly in the media) until people believe it without further proof or evidence. E.g., ‘What about the Jewish Question?’ Note that when this particular phony debate was going on there was no ‘Jewish Question,’ only a ‘Nazi Question,’ but hardly anybody in power recognized or wanted to talk about that.” Or most recently, one side accused the other of wanting to drain Medicare. That lie was repeated over and over until the other side launched a counter-offensive, accusing the first side of doing that very thing. But that lie was repeated often enough that it took on a life of its own, and many folks see it as the truth now.  (Quoted material from http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/ENGL1311/fallacies.htm)

Non sequitur:  This one means “does not follow.” Whatever conclusions a politician comes up with in his push for election, do not make sense in light of what he has said before. Take this crazy one for example:

Brilliant mind

Obviously there is much, much more wrong with this than a non-sequitur fallacy. What do you think?

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Great contemporary speech for Rhetoric

If you are studying or teaching Rhetoric, this speech will make for some great discussion. I encourage you to save this one. It is passionate, articulate, focused, and uses ethics and logic quite well. Every word is well placed and carefully considered. His final paragraph is wonderful.

This man is the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He speaks before a House committee regarding a mandate under “Obamacare.”

Transcript of LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison’s
Feb. 16 Testimony before House Committee on Government and Oversight
Mr. Chairman, it’s a pleasure to be here. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a body of some 6,200 congregations and 2.3 million members across the U.S. We don’t distribute voters’ lists. We don’t have a Washington office. We are studiously nonpartisan,
so much so that we’re often criticized for being quietistic.

I’d rather not be here, frankly. Our task is to proclaim, in the words of the blessed apostle St. John, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all our sin. And we care for
the needy. We haven’t the slightest intent to Christianize the government. Martin Luther famously quipped one time, “I’d rather have a smart Turk than a stupid Christian governing me.”

We confess that there are two realms, the church and the state. They shouldn’t be mixed – the church is governed by the Word of God, the state by natural law and reason, the Constitution. We have 1,000 grade schools and high schools, 1,300 early childhood centers, 10 colleges and universities. We are a machine which produces good citizens for this country, and at tremendous personal cost.

We have the nation’s only historic black Lutheran college in Concordia, Selma. Many of our people [who are alive today] walked with Dr. King 50 years ago on the march from Selma to Montgomery. We put up the first million dollars and have continued to provide finance for the Nehemiah Project in New York as it has continued over the years, to provide home
ownership for thousands of families, many of them headed by single women. Our agency in New Orleans, Camp Restore, rebuilt over 4,000 homes after Katrina, through the blood, sweat and tears of our volunteers. Our Lutheran Malaria Initiative, barely begun, has touched the lives of 1.6 million people in East Africa, especially those affected by disease, women and children. And this is just the tip, the very tip, of the charitable iceberg.

I’m here to express our deepest distress over the HHS provisions. We are religiously opposed to supporting abortion-causing drugs. That is, in part, why we maintain our own health plan. While we are grandfathered under the very narrow provisions of the HHS policy, we are deeply concerned that our consciences may soon be martyred by a few strokes on the keyboard as this administration moves us all into a single-payer … system.

Our direct experience in the Hosanna-Tabor case with one of our congregations gives us no comfort that this administration will be concerned to guard our free-exercise rights.

We self-insure 50,000 people. We do it well. Our workers make an average of $43,000 a year, 17,000 teachers make much less, on average. Our health plan was preparing to take significant cost-saving measures, to be passed on to our workers, just as this health-care legislation was passed. We elected not to make those changes, incur great cost, lest we fall out of the narrow provisions required under the grandfather clause. While we are opposed in principle, not to all forms of birth control, but only abortion-causing drugs, we stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others, Christians and non-Christians, under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

Religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government. The conscience is a sacred thing. Our church exists because overzealous governments in northern Europe made decisions which trampled the religious convictions of our forebearers. I have ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War. I have ancestors who were on the Lewis and Clark expedition. I have ancestors who served in the War of 1812, who fought for the North in the Civil War – my 88-year-old father-in-law has recounted to me, in tears many times, the horrors of the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, Bud Day, the most highly decorated veteran alive, is a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

We fought for a free conscience in this country, and we won’t give it up without a fight. To paraphrase Martin Luther, the heart and conscience has room only for God, not for God and the federal government. The bed is too narrow, the blanket is too short. We must obey God rather than men, and we will. Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences.

Thank you.

President Harrison’s full transcript and video from the hearing, as well as a video message and previous statements to the church, can be found at www.lcms.org/hhsmandate.

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Booklist from 2011

I tried to remember all the books I’d read this year, and I was amazed at how little free time I have, but how many books I got through. That tells me that if I just had more time on my hands, I’d really get a lot read!

Here are a few highlights from this past year:

Theology:

  • A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Vincent Milton. This is a great little book. A student’s parent mailed it to me, and the next week our pastor held up his copy and encouraged us to read it. A couple of weeks later another pastor friend was underlining passages in his copy of the same book. I got the hint and picked it up. The entire message of this little gem is that we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day. What a simple thought.
  • On the Incarnation by Athanasius. This is another little treasure, written by a 3rd century Christian thinker. His logic is flawless, and his vision is centered on Christ, who He is, and what He has done.
  • Luther on Prayer. Martin Luther wrote about prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer. This is not a “pray these prayers” book, but as I wonder and focus on what prayer should be, I find his words helpful and insightful.
  • The Heidelberg Confession. The Westminster Confession is by far the better-known, but the Heidelberg lays out the Christian confession very clearly, with clear scriptural support. This is a good reference for anyone wanting to refer to doctrinal questions regarding the Christian faith.
  • Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This was a quick read, a simple look at the different Psalms and how they prayed in different ways to God. I am encouraged by Bonhoeffer’s insistence that praying through the Psalms will strengthen one’s prayer life. Indeed, whenever I have done so, I find encouragement in the psalmists’ admission of their own weakness and God’s strength.
  • Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible by CFW Walther. Okay, I haven’t finished reading this yet, but I like working my way through each of Walther’s lectures. He emphasizes the balance of law and gospel (hence, I suppose, the title) as he teaches pastors, but even laypersons like me can learn how to apply Law and Gospel to my understanding.
  • Confessions by Augustine of Hippo. This is another I have been working my way through, and I love the way Augustine tells his life story as a prayer to an all-knowing God, who wove together the events in his life to bring Augustine to Himself at just the right time.
  • The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz. I should be putting this book in Fiction, but it is also Theology. It is a collection of stories, almost reminiscent of Dostoyevsky’s tone, that tells the same truth throughout: true faith is a balance of Law and Gospel. I loved this book and highly recommend it to all.

Fiction, Classics:

  • The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz. Okay, this is for those of you who skipped over the Theology portion of my list and just landed here. See the above description of this book and go out and find it. It is a beautiful read.
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I hadn’t picked this one up in years, and it was just as delightful as I had found it as a young reader. I can’t wait until the movie comes out!
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Sometimes I find books I hadn’t read as an English major, and this has sat on my shelf a long time without being read. I thought it was well done, intriguing all the way through, and not completely predictable. Hardy depicts a detestable character quite well.
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. This was another book that somehow I had never read. Not sure I’d read it again, but it tells a sad story of hopeless individuals…really a day-brightener, I must say.
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This and Ethan Frome I promised a fellow teacher I would read and discuss with her. Thanks, Traci, for depressing me. This one shows the blossoming of a feminist perspective in the early 1900s. Selfish, self-centered, self-fulfilling, self-indulgent, and ultimately self-destructive. In a way, not too different from Picture of Dorian Gray. Lovely.
  • My Man Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. The author writes about a man with his butler near the turn of the 20th century. It’s cleverly written and amusing. I picked up his other books and found that they are pretty much the same thing, so I stopped there.

Fiction, Series:

  • The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling will always be on my list of favorites. I re-read it this year and loved it. I may have to do that again soon.
  • Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley. This starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and includes four more books so far. I hope there are more. This is the tale of an 11-year-old girl in post-WWII England, living in a drafty manor and experimenting with chemicals to her heart’s delight. She solves mysteries. This could be a child’s story, but it is a very delightful series of books that any adult would love, full of endearing characters, humor, and excitement.
  • I finished the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins this year. These dystopian novels about a bleak future world will soon be made into a movie. They are labeled for young adult readers–like me (ahem). Actually, if you are older than I, you will probably like it too.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth was another well-written dystopian depiction of young people coming of age in a future world. People have been divided into factions and assigned certain roles to keep their world ordered. Behind the scenes, though, there is intrigue and insurrection. This is not yet a series, but I hear the second book comes out in May, so I’m categorizing it here, with much anticipation.
  • The World War II novels by Jeff Shaara. Beginning with The Steel Wave, Shaara tells the true-to-life stories from the earliest days of Rommel’s battles on the African continent. I haven’t begun the second book yet, but I love every Shaara novel I can get my hands on.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy Sayer. Beginning with Clouds of Witness, we meet Lord Peter and learn his quirky ways to solve a mystery. These stories are humorous and quick to plow through.

Fiction, Non-series:

  • So Brave,  Young and Handsome by Leif Enger. I loved his first book, Peace Like a River, so I took a chance on this one, and he did not disappoint. He is a master storyteller, very poetic, and he tells a good old-fashioned western tale with marvelous characters.
  • To the Last Man by Jeff Shaara. I’m just finishing this novel, and as always, Shaara is a master at telling the stories behind the wars the US has been engaged in. This one is about the First World War. I learned a lot that I hadn’t learned before about this devastating war.
  • Demonic by Ann Coulter. Okay, yes, she is a bit nutty. But I was intrigued by the description of this book, because she tells of the evolution of the mob. She uses the French Revolution for a prime example of the way a mob runs amok–and how crowds just blindly follow along. Since I am a history buff, and since some of my students are studying the French Revolution, I thought I’d pick it up. I don’t recommend her to just anyone, because she uses some crude language, but the historical progression is well footnoted and well-written.

What about 2012?

I am open to suggestions. You can see how eclectic I am as a reader. I’m looking for good historical fiction, sometimes a mystery or two, and some excellent, biblically-based theology that doesn’t turn into a mushy self-help, I’m-okay-you’re-okay pile of fertilizer. On my list continues to reside Law and Gospel, the rest of the Shaara books I have not yet read, a couple of David Baldacci and John Grisham books, and maybe, just maybe, The Help. I’ve resisted it thus far simply because I am a bit snobbish about the very popular Oprah-type books. But someone I respect has just finished it and assures me it is good. Sigh.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Literature, Rhetoric

God wins

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins has drawn much attention in the Christian church today. I wasn’t too interested in reading it until my youngest son returned from college and told me his theology class had read it–not to use it as theology, but to compare Bell’s claims to orthodox theology. His class also evaluated it in light of today’s church, in which error, misstatement, and outright heresy slip in, even into some mainstream churches.

While I read Love Wins, I couldn’t help but underline and take notes, because he makes some pretty amazing claims about God that I just cannot find in scripture.

I teach my students that the standard of measurement regarding what we know about God, about the universe, about man, and about truth, is the Bible, God’s word. New claims that redefine any of these are just plain heresy, because they depart from that absolute measurement of God’s word. So from that perspective, I can tell you a few things that shouted at me from Bell’s book. If you do not agree with my presupposition, you can stop reading here.

In his preface, Bell says, “Jesus responds to almost every question he’s asked with…a question. ‘What do you think? How do you read it?’ he asks, again and again and again” (ix-x). Really? Does Jesus ask us what we think about things? Or does he say “You’ve heard it said…but I say…”? (See Matthew 5 for several examples.) My opinion has nothing to do with whether what God says is valid or true or right or applicable. Does he really believe Jesus, Son of God, took a popularity poll?

Chapter One is full of questions about what saves you. He lists one thing after another that people have said, and that the Bible has said, and these just raise more questions. His faulty logic leads his reader to believe that Christians sit around waiting for the life hereafter, not doing anything because they’re waiting:

So is it true that the kind of person you are doesn’t ultimately matter, as long as you’ve said or prayed or believed the right things? If you truly believed that, and you were surrounded by Christians who believed that, then you wouldn’t have much motivation to do anything about the present suffering of the world, because you would believe you were going to leave someday and go somewhere else to be with Jesus. (6, emphasis his)

This kind of logical fallacy is intentionally planted to convince his readers that Christians only care about the life hereafter and not at all about their fellow man today. He continues his discussion, ignoring the fact of the fruits of the Christian faith, exhibited all over the world, throughout history. He does, however, take time to mention a story about a group of Christians who rounded up some Muslims and shot them. So what is his point?

Bell spends a chapter on heaven. He wants his reader to know that heaven will be a future period of time on earth when everything is made perfect. We can participate with God in preparing for this future heaven on earth by what we do now. If we work to bring clean water to a place with no drinkable water, we are “participating now in the life of the age to come” (45). He has spent a chapter telling us that “the age to come” is when God says “enough!” and this earth becomes a perfect place for everyone.

Heaven may not be eternal as we think of it, he says, because the Bible doesn’t describe eternity in terms of forever, time without end. So what is it?

Bell cannot connect the idea of a completely good God with a God who allows people to be tormented in hell forever, and he spends a chapter on that. This, I believe, is his main point. He creates a picture of a god who doesn’t really mean what he says.

Bell confuses the topic of hell, which is no surprise after he confuses us about heaven. Hell is not a real place, he insists. It is what we make it, here and now. Eventually, God will restore all things to all people. He lists, out of context, verse after verse from the Bible regarding God’s promise to restore Israel, and uses those verses to show that a time of chastisement will not be forever.

Hell gets a comedic stereotype: “I have a hard time believing that somewhere down below the earth’s crust is a really crafty figure in red tights holding a three-pointed spear, playing Pink Floyd records backward, and enjoying the hidden messages” (70). Treated in such a fashion (not just here but several times), he encourages his audience to laugh along with him about the unbelievability of hell as a literal place at all.

Bell admits we all have a choice–to say yes or no to God. But he refuses to tell us the consequences of saying no, because he does not believe in a literal hell (177).

His main point in the chapter about hell is that yes, we all will answer for our wrongdoings, but that God will eventually restore everyone. We Christians create an exclusive “we” and “them” wrongly, about what happens to non-Christians, he says. We will all end up in the same place, praising God together, he says. Here he leads his audience into what follows, which is his universalist theology: all paths lead to the same place.

After denying hell, he then denies and decries the exclusivity of Christianity: “Muslims, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland” all will be saved. You know, this is true–IF they have named the name of Jesus as their savior.

Here is the point of his book, I believe: “given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God” (107). In other words, what God has said in scripture isn’t really what God meant, and Rob Bell will redefine it for us.

Bell doesn’t like that we only get this present life in which to choose to follow Jesus, because it does not fit with a completely loving God. (He chooses to believe in a completely loving God while ignoring the truth about God’s justice. It’s both/and, rather than either/or.)

We will get what we want in the end, Bell says, because God loves us, and love wins. If we want everlasting peace, we’ll get it. And we don’t need to get that everlasting peace just through Jesus. Because all religions present that same truth, he says; it’s only Christians who say that Christians are the only ones saved. However, we are told, in the Bible that he quotes, that the only way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). He is the gate to that heaven Bell describes. If Jesus is the only way to the Father, then that means there are paths that do not lead to the Father–and those paths are the ones that claim other paths to heaven!

A pastor in Michigan wrote an excellent commentary refuting Bell’s claims, and I highly recommend it. Here’s an excerpt:

What’s wrong with this theology is, of course, what’s wrong with the whole book. Bell assumes all sorts of things that can’t be shown from Scripture. For example, Bell figures God won’t say “sorry, too late” to those in hell who are humble and broken for their sins. But where does the Bible teach the damned are truly humble or penitent? For that matter, where does the Bible talk about growing and maturing in the afterlife or getting a second chance after death? Why does the Bible make such a big deal about repenting “today” (Heb. 3:13), about being found blameless on the day of Christ (2 Pet. 3:14), about not neglecting such a great salvation (Heb. 2:3) if we have all sorts of time to figure things out in the next life? Why warn about not inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9–10), about what a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb. 10:31), or about the vengeance of our coming King (2 Thess. 1:5–12) if hell is just what we make of heaven? Bell does nothing to answer these questions, or even ask them in the first place. (Kevin DeYoung, thegospelcoalition.org)

To appeal to his audience Bell refers to social justice issues, as if non-Christians and his parishioners have the exclusive claim to caring about them. Again, he ignores the fact that Christians have been in the forefront, for centuries, in caring for the poor, for justice, and for peace.

He uses nice-sounding phrases that appeal to people who have grown up into postmodern thinking: “We shape our God, and then our God shapes us” (184). What is that even supposed to mean, and how is it supported in scripture? “Our beliefs matter now, for us, and they matter then, for us. They matter for others, now, and they matter for others, then” (184). Nice-sounding but empty. If all people eventually go to heaven, why should beliefs matter?

Bell sets up many straw-men and other logical fallacies that destroy his credibility. He demeans his audience by talking down to them. To his credit, he appears to genuinely care for the broken and hurting folks of this world, but he simply yanks any semblance of a foundation out from under them by plying them with nice-sounding platitudes that, when held up to the light, are empty and meaningless.

The real story is that God is fully love and fully just. His nature is such that he cannot look on sin, and that sin demands payment. Jesus paid that debt by dying on the cross and rising again to life. Those who believe in him will have everlasting life.

In the end, God wins.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Logical Fallacies

More Errors in Reasoning

The fallacies of Composition and Division are funny things. Just when you think you have them figured out, they sneak up on you again, and you find you’re committing one of them.

Composition is the fallacy of assuming that what is true of the parts must be true of the whole. James Nance, author of Introductory Logic (Canon Press), cites a great example for composition: “if chlorine is a poison, and it is, and sodium is a poison, and it is, then if we combine them (NaCl), the result should be twice as poisonous, right? Wrong. We are talking about table salt.” What is true about the parts is not true about the whole.

Division, on the other hand, is the opposite of composition. This fallacy assumes that what is true of the whole must then be true of the individual parts. For example, this glass of soda is red, therefore all the atoms that make up this soda must also be red.

It is frustrating to be a member of a group and have someone peg each individual in that group a certain way, when they are by definition diverse, and should always be. For example, usually around the time of a heated political campaign, someone from a women’s organization will speak up on behalf of all women. I happen to be a member of that people group, and I object to being represented collectively by someone with whom I have a large idealogical difference.

The argument about whether to de-fund Planned Parenthood has become the favorite object of women’s groups, who have begun to shrilly cry that anyone who votes to take away that organization’s funding is against women, and specifically against women’s health.

Please, stop saying you represent me. You don’t represent the entire group of people who are female. You actually represent a small subset of that group; you do not speak for me. Stop implying that you do. I have never used, needed, nor wanted Planned Parenthood. I drive by one most days, and I shudder to know that within those walls young women are duped into believing that for a little inconvenience and a sum of money, they can wash their pregnancy down the drain, troubles all gone. Planned Parenthood is not about women’s health; it is about abortions.

When one or two women step up to the microphone and say they represent all women, they assume that because we are women we all think and feel the same way they do. Not so, and I wish you would stop trying. You do not represent me, my wishes, my priorities, my morals.

I see a similar fallacy arising in the modern Christian church, and I’m trying to figure out whether it is composition or division. Maybe you can help me.

It should be true (and I can show you where in the Bible!) that all Christians believe the Word of God, the Bible, to be infallible, inerrant, and the source of absolute truth.

It should also be true that all Christians (and I can show you where in the Bible!) believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that his work on the cross paid the penalty for sin, for those who will believe and profess him to be their Lord and Savior.

It should be true that all Christians carry those beliefs. Now, however, you can find all sorts of people who call themselves Christians who will pick and choose which of those they want to believe. And they still call themselves Christians!

For some, for example, the Bible is not completely inerrant. In other words, some folks will tell you they believe the Bible is the Word of God, but that Genesis is only a fable. If you can choose for yourself what parts of the Bible are true, haven’t you made yourself the authority instead of God?

For another example, the Emergent Church movement has begun to work at eroding the very foundation of the Christian church–and still calls itself Christian. By questioning the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross, or by questioning whether there really is an eternal hell, or by completely eliminating the topic of sin from its messages, it preaches a brand new kind of religion under the guise of Christianity.

So while I read my Bible, the source of truth for the Christian church, I should be able to believe that what is true of the whole Christian church should be true of its individual members. Instead, we see that wolves in sheep’s clothing have entered the fold and have begun to redefine Christianity right under our noses, changing what has been true about the fundamentals of this faith for centuries.

Are we talking about a whole new fallacy now? Or do we just call this heresy?

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Logical Fallacies, Rhetoric

Great books

View DetailsI’ll follow the year-end traditionof many bloggers and writers and list some books that have changed my life. Some I read this year, some I have re-read, and others I want to pick up again just because.

Christian Reading to add perspective:

Christless Christianity by Michael Horton. I’ve been a Christian most of my life and belonged to many different denominations. We’ve lived in several states, attended numerous churches, and suffered again and again through the whole “church-shopping” experience. As we age, we believe we’re getting closer to narrowing down what we seek in a church. Some I just won’t go back to again, because I have this knee-jerk reaction to legalism. Other versions of Christianity that make my knees jerk–on the way to running in the other direction–would include soft-selling the gospel in the effort to be “seeker-sensitive” or “relevant.” My husband and I seek a good balance of law and gospel, mercy and justice in a church. That’s why this year’s most stunning read, for me, is Christless Christianity.
(Please understand that I am not pointing fingers at any particular church that I have attended. However, of all the reading I do, and the ideas I encounter as I read and research, I am disheartened by what I see in the Christian world.) Some quotes from the book:

It is easy to become distracted from Christ as the only hope for sinners. Where everything is measured by our happiness rather than by God’s holiness, the sense of our being sinners becomes secondary, if not offensive.

While the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, the assimilation of the church to the world silences the witness.

The focus still seems to be on us and our activity rather than on God and his work in Jesus Christ.

If we are merely wayward, we only need direction; merely sick, we need medicine; merely weak, we need strength. Radical grace, on the other hand, answers to radical sinfulness–not simply to moral mistakes, lack of zeal, or spiritual lethargy, but to the condition that the Bible defines as nothing less than condemned, “children of wrath,” “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1, 3).

If the central message of Christianity were how to have your best life now or become a better you, then rather than heralds we would need life coaches, spiritual directors, and motivational speakers. Good advice requires a person with a plan; Good News requires a person with a message. This is not to say that we do not also need good advice or plans but that the source of the church’s existence and mission in this world is this announcement of God’s victory in Jesus Christ.

 This book does not present new ways of “doing church”; it reminds me of the truth of the Word of God, and plants in me the desire to pursue God’s truth alone. Emergent Church leaders preach that the Bible is not enough; there must be more. I was reminded this year, in reading this book, that Christ alone, through faith alone, as revealed in scripture alone, is sufficient. I am so grateful to be pointed back again to scripture and its truth.

New Fiction Series:

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  This series is labeled mostly for young adults, but I read it on the recommendation of my son, who keeps me apprised of what’s good to read. (I mostly stick with old classics.) This series presents the reader with a dystopian society: a bleak future world in which a repressed people live under a dictatorship. Every year two teenagers from each district are brought together to fight to the death. The reward: a year of more food allotments for the victor’s district. Katniss is the young girl picked for this year’s Hunger Games. The reader follows Katniss through the Hunger Games and afterward, in Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the second and third books. I found them easy, exciting, and riveting. The characters are engaging, and the fantasy aspect worked well.

Old Fiction Series



The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.  In preparation for the new Narnia movie release this winter, I re-read the series. As always, I am drawn into the world of Narnia and its delightful characters, masterfully presented by Lewis. My first read-through was in junior high. Its characters came alive in me then, and they continue to delight even now. I am eager to see the entire series made into the high-quality movies I’ve seen so far. (While the movie lines do stray a bit from the books, I try not to set my hopes too high.) My favorite has to be The Magician’s Nephew, mostly because the depiction of Narnia’s creation (Aslan sings Narnia into existence!) is breath-takingly beautiful.

Classic re-read

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I read this book in college and listed it as one of my top ten favorites (although if I were pinned down to my top ten books, we might actually find them to total in the dozens). Rand’s philosophy is completely hostile to Christianity. As long as I know that, going in to a novel, I can look for whatever else the author does with her subject. Rand tells an amazing story here, a sort of dystopia, in which socialism takes over by slow erosion. The book opens with an intriguing question, asked again and again through the novel: “Who is John Galt?” Almost a rhetorical shrugging of the shoulders, this question becomes a “Who cares?” kind of slough-off. This very long novel builds in frustration and intensity to a climax no one could expect. My re-read this year left me completely satisfied but also shocked at how closely our society is beginning to resemble Rand’s dark and gloomy dystopia.

Classic New Reads (for me).

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Though I have been told many times that this was a must-read, I resisted because I really dislike evil, vampire-type novels. However, once I picked up this novel I was hooked. One might say I was mesmerized by the hypnotic, freaky vampire creature. Stoker clearly paints evil as horrid. He shows the reader that faith in God saves–not only after death but also during life on this earth. Stoker’s novel was the first in a long, never-ending line of vampire stories, which I promise I will never pick up and read (or watch on film). However, this gothic, genre-setting novel was masterfully written and perfectly produced.

The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A student of mine told me how much she loved this novel, and she wrote her senior thesis on the author’s Christian worldview. Again and again I heard from others how great this book is. So I decided to pick it up and examine it for myself. This was beautifully written, with long and tangled strands of story-lines I often found difficult to unravel. He paints the beautiful as such and depicts human nature realistically. He shows how depraved man is without God, and how man cries out for a savior and heavenly Father. This is a lovely, compelling, devastating book.

Reading List for the coming year.

This year, if I have the time, I will re-read the Lord of the Rings series, beginning with The Hobbit. I haven’t read these since high school. My husband gave me the entire Harry Potter series for Christmas. Since I devoured all seven books in two weeks a few years ago (borrowed from my children), I am certain I could use a good re-read. However, I’m disappointed that those books are not downloadable on my Kindle! (I love carrying the Kindle on the plane or a long car ride!) I also added the World War 1 and World War 2 series of books to my Kindle, by Jeff Shaara, my favorite historical fiction author. Those books I have not yet read, though I have loved all his others. A good friend just gave me a book called Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, by CFW Walther. From what my friend tells me, this will be next year’s Christless Christianity for me, filled with gems of inspiration and truth. I’m sure you’ll see some of those gems played out in this blog.

I look at my list and see how eclectic a reader I am. I like that! Don’t ever accuse me of being stuck as a reader. If you want to see my recommended list of reading, gleaned over many years of book addiction, email me. I’ll be happy to share it with you.

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Filed under Rhetoric

A, not non-A

 When two college kids in a coffee shop begin discussing philosophy, you know it’s going to be a long night. I remember doing this, but it wasn’t over coffee; our conversations always took place over pizza at 2 am. Everything is fair game to amateur philosophers, and one simple question could take them down long, winding, scary-looking roads. One thing you might want to see them do is set up ground rules for their discussion. However, today, the likelihood of  postmodernists setting up rules for discussion is pretty distant. Postmodernists are absolutely certain that there are no absolutes.

Our postmodern debaters might instead toss logic aside for the purpose of wide-ranging debate. They evade moral boundaries with “that’s your truth, not mine.” Comfortable with opposing presuppositions, the two decide that what’s true for one may not be true for the other, but that’s okay.

What they don’t realize, while coffee cools and conversation continues, is by setting aside basic truth, they have lost the means by which to build a real discussion. What follows is nonsense. Essentially, they’ve washed away the very foundations of logic in pursuit of erudite, meaningless philosophical dialogue.

Considered the father of logic, Aristotle recorded what he observed in the world. He is renowned for his laws of thought, one of which is called the Law of Non-Contradiction. This law seems so simple, yet its application threatens postmodern thought. Thus the reason that many teachers and scholars today depart from (or ignore) Logic: the Law of Non-Contradiction is an inconvenient truth that wreaks havoc on their pseudo-intellectual debate.

This law states that a thing cannot be both true and false at the same time. In other words, something cannot be both A and non-A. That seems like a no-brainer. However, most likely our postmodern coffee-house debaters have abandoned this basic law of thought. “What’s true for you may not be true for me” cannot exist as a basic truth in light of Aristotle’s law, because two conflicting or contradictory statements cannot both be true.

Take for example something a blogger recently posted. He made a seemingly innocuous statement about religions: “True religions encourage good behavior.” (I won’t copy the entire sentence, because what follows that statement is a fallacy I may choose to take apart another time.)

Let’s unravel the phrase “true religions.” That in itself is a contradiction. Every religion claims to be a true religion. (Honestly, why would you not claim to follow a true religion? Put it another way: why would you follow a religion you knew to be false?)

Most religions claim that their god is the one true god (or, in some cases, the many gods who reign and rule). If they don’t hold to a deity, they do follow certain paths to holiness or heavenly existence. So if religion A claims its god is the one true god, and religion B makes the same claim, each religion has just vowed the same, yet conflicting, statement.

By saying “mine is the one true god,” you have implied that all other gods are not-true. If that is so, you cannot say that religion B’s god is also true without abandoning logic. Thus only one religion’s truth claim can be true, according to the Law of Non-Contradiction.

Go ahead and try to believe that all truth claims—even contrasting ones—are valid. Believe that your coffee is both cold and not-cold. Just realize that you have kicked the foundation out from under your discussion, and it’s going nowhere.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Logical Fallacies, Rhetoric