Posts tagged with: reading

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
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In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Work and Prayer: Of Coins, Sheep, and Men,” I explore what the parable of the Prodigal Son (when read in conjunction with the parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep) has to teach us about stewardship:

Reading these three stories together teaches us many things about the nature of God’s love for us, such that when we were lost, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). But the stories also provide models for how we should relate to the different aspects of God’s created order, from the material, to the animal, to the human. In each kind of relationship, humans have a definite role to play. In some cases we are called to work actively to achieve God’s purposes in the world. In other cases, out of respect for human freedom and individual sovereignty, we have to engage in active searching for the lost things of this world by less direct means.

Jan van Hemessen - The Prodigal Son - WGA11358

Does this guy have anything to teach us about stewardship?


The Parable of the Lost Son has been the subject of popularization and cultural expression throughout the centuries (see, for instance, Tissot’s set of paintings on “The Prodigal Son in Modern Life”). In recent decades, films like Legends of the Fall (1994) have drawn at least partial inspiration from the story. In this week’s commentary, I don’t have space to treat the case of the elder brother adequately, but Andrée Seu draws parallels between the elder brother in the 1994 film and the tale of the Prodigal Son.

I also draw on C. S. Lewis’ essay, “Work and Prayer,” which appears in the collection of essays, God in the Dock.

In the July 24 edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano , a couple of articles related how Italians are reading less than their European counterparts, with 62 percent of the population failing to read even a single book during the year. “Above all, reading increases innovative capabilities, the ability to understand phenomena and in the ultimate analysis, worker productivity,” said Federico Motta, president of the Italian association of publishers.

According to Motta’s article, only 31 percent of Italian 20-29 year-olds have a university degree, compared to 34 percent in Spain and 56 percent in the United Kingdom. This pattern mirrors the levels of unemployment among the young: 20.3 percent in Italy, 18 percent in Spain and 14 percent in the UK. By affecting educational levels and worker productivity, this lack of reading also results in less social mobility and opportunities for growth.

In human capital terms alone, the cost is evident, but there are even greater cultural ones. With the growth of television, cell phones, video games, the Internet, and iPods, it is no surprise that young Italians are not developing a taste for books, i.e., the ability to read, understand, and learn from greats such as Dante, Leopardi, and Manzoni.

And we can’t forget about the Book of Books. Can there be any hope for regaining the Christian roots of Europe without understanding the Bible? Here, at least, there is some reason for hope. The Italian Bishops Conference and in particular its National Catechism Office have promoted various initiatives that have successfully brought the Word of God to young people. Many Bible-study groups are also promoted by lay movements and parishes. This coming October, Pope Benedict XVI will launch a six-day reading of the entire Bible on Italian television, as the Vatican journalist John Allen has reported.

It will be interesting to see how the country reacts to such a public reminder of this lost treasure. Taking books seriously again will benefit Italy not only in terms of its economic productivity, but may also help rekindle its faith.

Speaking of Christian education, here are some relevant thoughts plucked out of Richard Baxter’s most excellent treatise, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682):

A general observation about the importance of knowledge:

Goodness will never be enjoyed or practised without knowledge. Ignorance is darkness, the State of his Kingdom, who is the Prince of darkness, who by the works of darkness leadeth the blind World to utter darkness: God is the Father of Lights, and giveth wisdom to them that ask and seek it: He sent his Son to be the Light of the World: His Word and Ministers are subordinate Light: His servants are all the Children of Light: Ignorance is virutally Errour, and errour the cause of sin and misery. And men are not born wise, but must be made wise by skilful diligent teaching: Parents should begin it: Ministers should second them: But alas! how many Millions are neglected by both? And how many neglect themselves when Ministers have done their best? Ignorance and errour are the common Road to wickedness, misery and hell.

Regarding the contemporary situation in Britain:

I think we have Grammar Schools enough. It is not the knowledge of Tongues and Arts, and Curious Sciences which the common people want, but the right understanding of their Baptismal Covenant with God, and of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Decalogue and Church Communion. A poor honest man, or a good woman, will Teach Children thus much for a small stipend, better than they are taught it in most Grammar Schools; And I would none went to the Universities without the sound understanding of the Catechism: Yea, I would none came thence or into the pulpit without it.

How to further engage the education of children:

When you have got them to read, give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their Consciences: Such books are good Catechisms: Many learn the words of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Commandments and Catechism, by rote, and never understand them, when a lively book that awakeneth their Consciences, bringeth them to sensible consideration, and to a true understanding of the same things, which before they could repeat without sense or favour. It is the Catechistical truths which most of our English Sermons press. And the lively pressing them maketh them pierce deeper than a Catechism.

How to meet the financial obligations to educate the Christian youth:

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every years rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, the knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

My wife and I recently had occasion to discuss and decide how we would like our child to be cared for if we were both to pass away. Godly education was a top concern. Baxter often emphasizes the importance of determining how your inheritance should be spent. It’s true that the responsibility of stewardship is not dispensed with at your death. With that in mind, let’s conclude with this quote from Cyprian of Carthage on the responsibilities of parenting:

Neither should you think that he is father to your children who is both changeable and infirm, but you should obtain Him who is the eternal and unchanging Father of spiritual children. Assign to Him your wealth which you are saving up for your heirs. Let Him be the guardian for your children; let Him be their trustee; let Him be their protector, by His divine majesty, against all worldly injuries. The state neither takes away the property entrusted to God, nor does the exchequer intrude on it, nor does any forensic calumny overthrow it. That inheritance is placed in security which is kept under the guardianship of God. This is to provide for one’s dear pledges for the coming time; this is with paternal affection to take care for one’s future heirs, according to the faith of the Holy Scripture, which says: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed wanting bread. All the day long he is merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” And again: “He who walketh without reproach in his integrity shall leave blessed children after him.” Therefore you are an unfair and traitorous father, unless you faithfully consult for your children, unless you look forward to preserve them in religion and true piety. You who are careful rather for their earthly than for their heavenly estate, rather to commend your children to the devil than to Christ, are sinning twice, and allowing a double and twofold crime, both in not providing for your children the aid of God their Father, and in teaching your children to love their property more than Christ.

There are details about how you can sponsor a child to receive an education at the new Christian Primary School in Kabala, Sierra Leone at the project’s blog. The school is an effort pursued by Fraser Valley Christian High School in Surrey, British Columbia, in conjunction with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone.

I have mentioned the new school in a previous Acton Commentary. The cost of sponsoring a child is $200. Some more details about the education offered by the school follows:

The school offers grade 1-4 education to start. They will have certified Christian teachers who will be teaching the Sierra Leone government core curriculum and like our Canadian Christian Schools will integrate Biblical worldview and values into all they do. The biggest advantage to these children will be the low teacher/student ratio of no more than 35:1. By African standards this is simply amazing and will make all the difference in the child’s education.

Check out the school’s blog for more information about how to sponsor a child and answers to some other frequently asked questions.

I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Baxter lately, and one of the things he emphasizes in many of his writings is the importance of a good, basic education. So, for instance, he writes in his treatise, How to Do Good to Many, that in order to “promote knowledge of necessary truth,” we need to first “set up reading schools.”

Once people are literate, we should “give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their consciences.”

He continues,

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every year’s rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, for knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

It’s within our ability to put not only books in the hands of those who need them, but to provide children in Sierra Leone with the education to make proper use of such books. It would be hard to find a better way to spend $200.