Larry Johnston, executive vice president CAO at the Christian Research Institute, was recently on Hank Unplugged. Hank and Larry talked about the need for Christians to shift their paradigms on stewardship. The following is a snapshot of their conversation.
Hank Hanegraaff: There has been a dearth of good stewardship teaching in the church. As a result, we are far different today than the war generations were. War generations understood giving because a robust theology of stewardship was being communicated in churches. Today, that is not happening. In many churches and many traditions, the whole idea of tithing is lost on people, much the less freewill giving. So, there are now tippers, and not tithers, not knowing anything about freewill giving.
Part of what we are seeking to do today is to let people know that stewardship is not something that ought to be shunned in the church as though we have to apologize for it. The sin is not communicating to people the significance of stewardship and how they should be involved in stewardship. Let’s talk about that a little bit. Stewardship principles. We are talking about people getting involved with something that is transcendently important to such an extent that we can say with certainty — this is true of me and true of you — that if I really want to find out where your heart is, all I have to do is look at two things: one is your calendar and the other is your checkbook.
Larry Johnston: Both are quite revealing. You and I were chuckling earlier in the week when I told the story about the $100 bill and the $1 bill. Both were facing the end of their lives. They were off to the recycling plant. The $1 bill asked the $100 bill, “Well, as you come to the end of your run here, how was your life?” The $100 bill replied, “Oh, man! You won’t believe it. It was just fabulous. The resorts, the 5-star hotels, the 7-course meals, yachts, it was just absolutely an amazing life.” The $100 bill asked the $1 bill, “How about you?” The $1 bill replied, “Ah, man! My life was a drag. All I ever did was go to church, go to church, go to church.”
Humorous, but painfully humorous.
Hank: Yes, painfully humorous. Let’s talk about stewardship.
Larry: We have spent a lot of time talking about paradigms, because the truth be told, we do not think about our paradigms as much as we think with them. Paradigm shifts, while the term has become a bit trite, perhaps overused, I would contend that the great paradigm shift is the one I referred to briefly earlier, which is this: it is not how much of my money that I am going to give away; rather, it is how much of God’s resources do I need, and given the fact that I am on this planet for a brief season — Scripture will even use the metaphor of a vapor, we are like a passing vapor (James 4:14) — as I spend my years on this planet, is my mind focused on those things that have genuine eternal consequences, or am I just somewhat narcissistically focused upon me and my stuff?
Hank: So interesting. I have been moved by a specific biblical passage many times; it has to do with the prayer of David. It is very moving because he is thanking God for the privilege of being able to give to the work of the Lord. David said, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” and “now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you” (1 Chronicles 29:14, 17 NIV). What is interesting about this to me is this: if you go back to the history of the Israelites, they were taught to tithe. They were taught to give a tenth. Well, what David is now saying is they had graduated from tithing to giving joyously and giving willingly to one of the great projects in all of history, of course, at that time the project was building a temple. A temple where the Shekinah glory of the Lord would dwell among the people. It was a very worthwhile project, and the people who bought into the project thought, Through this project we can make an incredible difference. Indeed, they did because ultimately out of the temple comes another temple, and then out of the second temple comes a living temple. A temple not built by human hands. All of that was seeded actually by people who were giving generously at the time of David, a thousand years before Christ.
Larry: I think a part of the journey from a more impoverished notion of stewardship toward a more joyous notion of stewardship is the migration from what I must give to what I should give to what I get to give. It is a joy to be a conduit of God’s resources to bring about transformation in the world.
Holly Ordway went from being a militant atheist to a cultural Christian apologist and joins Hank to tell the tale of her journey as well as share her powerful perspective on the role of imagination in apologetics. Dr. Ordway is an accomplished author and professor in the Department of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.
Hank Hanegraaff: You are teaching the significance of imagination in Christian apologetics, and that is an often-overlooked aspect. I have a son-in-law teaching philosophy at the Airforce Academy, and he talks about emotion in apologetics. There are missing elements in much apologetics such that people approach the task like a hammer and a nail — if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. It becomes, therefore, all about rational argumentation at the exclusion of other significant aspects vital for transforming the person. I think I got this metaphor from your book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith.
Holly Ordway: Right. I think people typically have a very shallow and limited understanding of what the imagination is. They tend to think imagination equals imaginary things. They’ll say, “Oh, unicorns,” things like that, “well, how is that relevant?” But really, I am drawing on the work of, for instance, my colleague, Michael Ward, who does lots with imagination in apologetics and literature, and he has pointed out that it really is the imagination that constructs meaning. It is our reason that judges whether our meaning is true or false, but before we can have that judgment, we need to have it be meaningful.
For instance, often times we will have a discussion with a skeptic about the historicity of the Resurrection. We can go around and around in circles and get nowhere, putting all these great arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection forward, and the skeptic may even say, “Yeah, that’s convincing, but you know, no whatever, I’ll just go home and still not have my mind changed.” We might think that is because the skeptic’s heart is hardened, well maybe, but actually I think more often it is because the word “resurrection” is just jargon without actually having any real meaning or resonance. So, it is just an intellectual game, and we do not get anywhere until the words we are using, the concepts we are using, have real meaning. This is where the imagination is so critical. [See, for example, chapter on “Longing” in Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, especially the discussion on pp. 140-142 regarding stories which end with a “eucatastrophe” i.e. “good catastrophe,” spoken about by J.R.R. Tolkien.]
Hank: You know this is part and parcel of the discipline of hermeneutics as well — learning to read the Bible in the sense in which it is intended. One of the things you point out in your literature is that when you approach a writing, you have to first determine the genre you are reading, which is critical for understanding the meaning of the words.
Holly: Absolutely! We do this all the time as we normally read things. If I pick up a book of short stories versus a newspaper, I will come to it with a different set of expectations. Now, I may find deep profound truth in a short story, and I may end up deciding that some stories in the newspaper are not actually very well reported and that they are untrue, but I bring to the reading an understanding of the genre, and I have certain expectations of how I am going to interpret those texts. This is just second nature. This is the point I made in my article for the Christian Research Journal, “‘Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet’: Metaphor and the Work of the Apologist,” from 46-6.
When we read children’s books to little kids, you might have a book about the first day of school, and it has got little bears and lions dressed up in clothes going to school. However, we do not think, “Oh no! We can’t read this book to our kids, they are going to be scared to go to kindergarten, thinking they will get eaten by a bear.” No! We realize that it is an anthropomorphic technique to make the story more engaging, and we get it. What is more, the child gets it, too! The child instinctively recognizes that this is a story world, and the expectations are different than for a realistic book about this is what your first day of school is going to be like.
We do that just naturally as readers of ordinary text. But, somehow, we turn to Holy Scripture and we kind of get freaked out. We think, “Oh no! It’s different.” And it is different, but it is still a literary text. God chose to inspire the human writers of Scripture to write in particular literary genres. He did not have to do that. He could have inspired all the writers to be uniform, but He did not. We, therefore, really have to approach the different parts of Scripture according to their genre.
Hank: Is it fair to say that kids are hardwired for grammar from birth?
Holly: I think so. I do not want to go into great detail on this because I am not a linguist, and I might say something that will make all the linguists listening to this just tear their hair out, but it certainly does seem to be the case. Kids have an intuitive understanding of grammar from the beginning, and an intuitive understanding of the way stories work. This comes up so early and so naturally that I really do think it has a lot to do with the imprint of the image of God in us.
If you think about it, God makes us in His image, He is a Creator, and He is also an Author and Artist, because again, He did not have to give His revelation to us through Holy Scripture; He could have done it in different ways. Ultimately, He gives His full self-revelation in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, He did not have to give us a written revelation too, yet He did, and He did it through narrative, poetry, and story, as well as through history and theology. If that is how God chooses to communicate with us, it must be pretty deeply ingrained. We are creatures of narrative, story, and image.
Listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode with Holly Ordway here.