Materialism and the purpose of creation (with Max… | God's World News

65. MATERIALISM AND THE PURPOSE OF CREATION (WITH MAX BELZ AND AMY AUTEN)

04/24/2024
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Kelsey Reed
Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We tackle the challenging topics in culture and current events as learners and fellow laborers with parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens. We consider the whole person, promoting growth and knowledge, attitudes, and action in the world. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.

Jonathan Boes
Hello!

Kelsey
We welcome you to the conversation. In fact, we’d love to hear from you. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to newscoach@wng.org.

Jonathan
As we reached out to some of our fellow parents about what issues we should tackle on this podcast, this idea of materialism came up. It’s an idea that we see underlying so many worldviews, so many decisions, and so many movements around us today, the idea that there really is no tension within us or within the world; that it’s all just matter—material. But what we believe about matter changes how we think about what really matters. We’re asking the question today: What is materialism as a worldview? Where do we see it in the world around us and even influencing our own lives? How do we discern and then pursue what really matters in life? To tackle those questions, we are joined by a couple of guests.

Kelsey
Joining us today in our conversation to explore these questions are Max Belz and Amy Auten. Max is a major gift officer at WORLD. He and his wife live in Savannah, Georgia, where they homeschool their four children. He has taught middle school students and worked in college administration. Amy Auten has by now become a familiar voice to our listeners. Amy is a writer and editor at God’s WORLD News and lives locally to our main WORLD offices in Asheville, North Carolina, and we are glad to have her nearby to serve as a consistent talking partner. Amy has a Master of Theological Studies from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, which she has applied—this master’s degree—in educational expression in many institutions and iterations, including homeschooling her two sons who are about to launch into college. Welcome, you guys.

Max Belz
Hey, thanks for having us.

Amy Auten
Thank you for having me.

Kelsey
We’re so glad that you’re here. Max, this was actually a question you raised in our internal channels at WORLD as an important topic for parents and educators to consider as we disciple kids in today’s world. Your original thought went something like, “I’d love a discussion about how materialistic worldview is the prevailing way that we understand reality, specifically in Western countries.” To start, I’d love for you to give us a little background of what got you crunching on this topic.

Max
Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m honored to be on Concurrently and thanks for including me in the conversation.

Kelsey
So glad to have you.

Max
I was thinking about materialism, I guess primarily because all of us are raising kids. Concurrently is about “How do we educate children?” And I think one thing that has stood out to me is what kind of vision for the future—as we train up our children—what kind of vision for the future do we hope that they adopt? Or what kind of vision can I cast for them? I think it’s very easy in our comfortable Western world to just default to: Well, we would want them to have a comfortable material future—that that would make us happy. I think it’s very easy to take on a position without a lot of friction or opposition. So that was one thing. I think the other thing was: I had read a book. It’s probably somewhat outside, maybe, the normal place—at least for me, it was—but it’s a book by a guy named Matthieu Pageau. It was about—The Language of Creation, I think, is the name of the book. But he was talking in there about—and I think he comes from an Orthodox background—he talks in there about how creation is really about the binding together of what is divine with what is physical. That when God creates Adam and Eve, He smashes those two things together. He creates trees and animals, and there’s a kind of divine presence that meets this. In the case of Adam actual earth, like dirt. That was a very new idea to me, because I thought that—I think my previous idea was: Here’s God, and He creates all this material stuff, and then He kind of wanders off to His next project, you know. We’re stuck in this material bubble. God is like this spiritual realm, and they don’t really come together in any way. So, it was interesting.

Kelsey
I really appreciate that. And I appreciate the hints of what’s to come in that mystery that you’ve begun to describe. But before we just unveil more of this topic area, it’s so good for us to anchor down as early as we can into definitions of our key words for today. Max, I’m going to turn that specific privilege over to you, today, to see if you would give us some definition of materialism or a materialistic worldview. It doesn’t mean that you other voices here can’t chime in a little bit. But I’d love for you to launch us, Max.

Max
Sounds good. Yeah, I hope you guys will chime in, because you know more than I do. But I’ll start us off. When I hear that word, I guess I think about it into two definitions. The first is maybe more of like a spiritual concept in this—which is kind of ironic, talking about materialism. But that’s a spiritual concept that has to do with a fixation on buying or consuming things and being stuck within that temptation or disordered way of being. But then I think on a more formal, philosophical level, it might be the school of thought or the worldview that what is observable and measurable is, generally speaking, the extent of reality. I’m not a philosopher, but I guess I would think that that’s traceable to the Enlightenment. I’m sure it goes back before that, but maybe really gains ground during the Enlightenment. That spiritual or transcendent forces are not at play.

Jonathan
As you as you lay out those two different definitions, I tend to think of those definitions as separate. But what struck me just as you were talking is how they are kind of connected, in a way. Because if you believe on a philosophical level that there is nothing to the world but material, it makes sense that then, in terms of your purpose in life, there really is literally nothing but the accumulation of more stuff, even experiences—in a materialistic worldview that would ultimately come down to just chemicals in your brain giving you a feeling. So, if you have that philosophical materialism, there really is not much possible purpose other than that spiritual level of materialism.

Max
I think that’s right.

Kelsey
I tend to agree as well. And I think it’s very interesting to notice, if we try to look across the scope of both philosophy—history of philosophy—and of theology, it’s truly only in the Judeo-Christian worldview, at least in ancient times, that is where you see the foundation laid for this relationship—this interesting, mysterious interconnectedness between the material and the spiritual. I would hazard that it is only in that place alone that we do our best thinking about that union. We’re going to have to save some of that for later as well. But in so much of philosophy, we see this struggle between understanding how the supernatural or the divine or the transcendent, you know, how does this work? Is there even that realm? All that we know exists is what we experience, and so it tends to point to that which we can taste, touch, smell, see, you know, experience with our senses. But Amy, one of the things that you have done in your educational past, you might be able to correct me a little bit or at least toss the ball back and forth and do this dialectic—as we’re talking about philosophy—you know: Correct me if I’m not thinking about some of this, but—Enlightenment—I think it goes back a little deeper than Enlightenment. But I know that naturalism is a part of what goes into [play] here. Help me think through a little bit more of the history of philosophy we’ve got going on here.

Amy
I just listened to a debate between a biologist Richard Dawkins, and Christian mathematician John Lennox. And it was really helpful to get that framework again. Where Richard Hawkins is thrilled because he says Charles Darwin enabled us to look at the world and say, “It exists just because it exists,”—just natural causation—and that we don’t answer to a Creator. He says it’s one of the greatest discoveries of all of humanity is Darwin’s assertion that we don’t answer to a Designer or Creator. And from Dawkins’ perspective, that liberates us to explore everything and not be hindered. But Lennox gently coaches him towards the reality that all scientific endeavors, some of the greatest minds, were motivated by worship. When they saw beauty and structure and order, it caused them to worship more. And so, if we separate all of creation from a Designer, we actually start to lose who we are, what we’re designed for, which is worship. That spiritual element to us is adoration. I may be jumping ahead.

Kelsey
No, you’re actually right in line with what I’m thinking. We’ve gone through some of the philosophy, some of the logic, as it were, that we’re starting to define our terms. But very quickly, further dimension comes in. I want to share a little bit of color that is related to these ideas about worship and beauty. Listeners, you may be familiar with the fact that I’ve been reading Anthony Doerr. He wrote a book from the journal that he kept when he was in Italy, during the time that he was doing the research for his book All the Light We Cannot See, which has become popularized again, even though I think it came out in 2014. But this journal that he wrote, it was full of the exploration of all of the things that he was seeing, tasting, touching; the beauty of Rome. And he said in his book, Four Seasons in Rome, that all of his interest in the natural world and fatherhood, in food, art, architecture—that it all rotates around one question—and this is a quote, “If we creatures are on earth only to extend the survival of our species, if nature only concerns itself with reproduction, if we are supposed to raise our kids to breeding age, and then wither and slide towards death, then why does the world bother to be so astoundingly intricately breathtakingly beautiful?” I think this question ties very well into what you’re saying about what our design is—our telos—that there’s something about beauty and worship that is a part of the Lord’s design for us as human beings. And I want to bring out a couple of very clear philosophical questions that are going to be in the background of our thinking, but that really help promote the conversation at home. Out of these places of logic, and of wonder at beauty, here are some questions that help distill that or to draw that out: If matter is all that there is—there is no greater standard for meaning, nothing outside of it that designed it in order to enjoy it—then why is it beautiful rather than merely utilitarian, pragmatic, and a world in grayscale? Why do we have tastebuds? But those of us who believe in the spiritual can also fall into opposite distortions, a hyper-spiritualism, even. And we need to ask a question of ourselves as well: If the spiritual is elevated over the material, so much so as to eclipse its value, then why did God bother to make creation and us, His image-bearers, beautiful? It all hinges around beauty and the idea of it being very good. Why did He make us at all? Those questions are worthy of discussion, and they’ll be a part of what we’re doing right now. But I want to dig deeper and allow you guys either to approach those questions or to tell about what you’ve observed and experienced in the world around you regarding a materialistic worldview, that deism, even. Max, you mentioned this idea that, “God wound up this clock and left it ticking and He walked away.” Where have you seen these ideas of materialistic worldview either in their pure philosophy, or even in that just being so bound up in material possession?

Max
Yeah, I can I can start us off. That’s such a great question. And thanks for that. The lead up to that—lots to think about. Okay, just one little example is: If I think about the way I’ve heard biologists talk about the experience of falling in love in a mainstream secular context, they might speak about endorphins, and a very neurological perspective of what it’s like to fall in love. And I know that that’s a very specific example. But I think what I’m trying to say is that there’s a way that in the mainstream they would explain that in a very chemical kind of way. And, to some people, that’s a comprehensive explanation of what it’s like to fall in love. But we would say there’s something ineffable, something that you can’t quite put a number on, or, it doesn’t account for. And I’m using falling in love. But you could pick something else, like: What does it mean to hope? You know, could you measure that? We know what that feels like, but is that something that modern science could measure or put in a bottle? Or what does it mean to have your heart broken? Or to be disappointed? I’m talking mostly about feelings. I guess. That would be one place that I see it. And I think your bringing up beauty is such a great connection. I heard an interview with Marilynne Robinson who wrote Gilead and some other novels recently.

Jonathan
It’s an amazing book.

Max
I need to read it. I know it’s about Iowa, which is where I grew up, so I need to read it. But one thing she says in this recent interview I heard is that, she says, when God created the world, He created the world with a lot of utility. But He didn’t create it for Himself. God does not need shelter, or food, or water. One thing you can conclude about that is that the reason God created it was because it was so good and so beautiful. God enjoys how good something is and how beautiful something is. And it was just out of the overflow—this is now me, adding to what she said—it’s out of the overflow of His own joy and good pleasure that He created. So, I think that does go against what you’re pointing to about, from the Anthony Doerr quote, about the base utility of everything, which is: There is a utility to these things; but that’s not the whole story.

Amy
The use of the word utilitarian really resonates. So, I don’t think we realize the ripple effects of naturalism until we pull back and look at how philosophy shaped our understanding of people and education. If we are, in fact, just chemicals, if love is just a chemical blending in me that makes me procreate, it really is a reductionistic view of humanity. Because all we exist for is the perpetuation of our species. And so, then that starts to get applied into industry, business—you start to see this kind of assembly line, factory mentality of “crank out as much as possible at the expense of humanity.” And then there’s some pushback, right, so you start to create laws to protect children and people’s—you create labor laws to protect. But there’s always still a mindset of, “Well, that will make them more productive.” Not “treasure their image-bearing humanity and Sabbath rest,” but, “It’ll just make them more productive if they get some rest.” So the whole perspective, and that starts to filter into how we raise our kids, what’s our vision for our children is “get a job, make money.” That is not the ultimate reason we’re here. We have to provide for our families. But that’s not our ultimate design, to just be cogs in the machine that creates mass production. And that even infiltrated into political and economic maneuvering with how we were using other nations for their products and even generating warfare, conflicts over just resources, not valuing humans on the ground who are dying. So this utilitarian mindset is huge. And it’s interesting to watch these debates where people are competing on which worldview is the most evil? Dawkins will say, “It’s Christians who did the Crusades; it’s Christians who did the Inquisition.” To which John Lennox says, “Let’s talk about Stalin. Let’s talk about Hitler.” And the idea of natural selection, feeding this mindset of, “We can slaughter you if you’re weak or inferior, based on our definitions of utilitarian species,” right. So the ripple effects of this worldview are huge. But in our day-to-day American mindset, it plays out as work hard—your value is if you’re productive—and escape as much as possible to cope with this lack of meaning. So, we really have lost our humanity with this.

Jonathan
I like that you use the term ripple effects. Because what’s coming out for me in this conversation is that materialism is something that lies very deep, and reverberates into so many other things. So, we’re starting with materialism, and already we are branching out into utilitarianism. We’re branching out into the philosophies of Hitler and Stalin; we’re branching out into all these other negative philosophies that can flow out of a materialist worldview. And I would even add to that this idea of nominalism, which just briefly: If there is nothing but material, there really is no identity and purpose in a real existence sense. So, a simple example, we’re sitting at a table. It is a collection of atoms, you know, that looks like something that has four legs, right, and there’s another table out in the room behind us. But what makes them both a table? They’re both just two separate collections of atoms and molecules. If there is nothing but material, there is no real sense in which they are both tables. That’s just something we choose to call them. And that is silly when you’re talking about table, but then that can branch out into what makes a person a person, and what makes a person a person in the womb, what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. And if there is no real purpose, in any sense, other than just our language and the way we think about things, then all of those ideas start to fall apart. And it kind of all stems back to this idea that there’s nothing but material.

Kelsey
So we have identified—and I’m going to use their big names—we’ve identified several other philosophies, just in this portion of the conversation. We’re talking about Marxist philosophy that diminishes person down to an economic cog. We’ve talked about how we redefine things, their purpose, identity, with the words that we construct. That is postmodern philosophy that tends to be very relativistic in nature. It is secular at its core. It denies that there is any greater authority by which we determine our identity and our purpose. We’ve been circling around, spiraling around this idea of purpose, which in the Greek is telos, the idea of teleology: What is man’s purpose, or what is (in a bigger sense, even) what is creation’s purpose? And we’re identifying the fact we cannot argue purpose from merely a materialistic point of view. And the thing that is very unfortunate is that each of these philosophies I have named do great damage to the church. That because of it being in the world—the church is intended as a vessel to go into the world—and yet, because we’re in the world, we sometimes absorb worldly thinking that is not helpful to our sense of identity, purpose, to whom we belong. So I want to ask this next question: Where have you seen these materialistic, secularistic, naturalistic type of philosophies, even in, unfortunately, the bride: the church?

Max
Yeah, Kelsey, I like that you brought up nominalism or I guess that made me think that there’s a kind of Christianity that is something that no doubt we’ve all fallen into it at points, but that seems quite prevalent, which is the idea that God is sort of the sidekick for your project. He’s your “homie” that you can call up when things are rough, or you just need a good endorsement. You know, it seems like we live with such prosperity that our needs are sometimes far away from us. We have everything we need. And the times when we do reach out to God are like, “I have this under control. But when I need you, I’ll give you a call.” And I do think that that’s a product of living in a very comfortable, material society. And I’m not sure exactly how it reflects a formal worldview perspective. But do you think there’s some deism in there, in the sense that God is distant? But we have things here, and I think it relates to all the other things that you talked about, that Amy talked about, like, for example, the primary identity that we have, as people, is as workers or consumers, or producers of things. And then it’s mostly like an economic value that I think connects to Marxism. It unfortunately also connects to excess capitalism too—it connects to how economies work and stuff. I think that it’s so integral to Western society, that it can be kind of hard to notice as a separate thing. It’s like, “Well, of course, I would pursue these comforts or pursue these things.” I guess the only caveat I’ll add is that we have so many good things. And I’m not saying that it’s bad to have good things—God gives us good things. It’s more: Are they in the right order? So that’s part of what I’m trying to say.

Kelsey
I think that’s very good. And I’m going to refer to Ecclesiastes (probably several times). I managed to get all the way through the entire book this morning in preparation. And it was so good to just sit in the book and have both the reminder that chasing after those things is like chasing after the wind. And yet the conclusion is that these things are good, and with the orientation of our heart towards the Father who’s given those good things to us, we are to enjoy. And to seek after the Father and enjoy the work of our hands; to seek after the Father and enjoy the wife or the husband of our youth. I commend the entire book to you, listener, to think about as we look for biblical wisdom as the corrective to secular conclusions. I also think that the practices of the church that we can press into, that there is some beautiful corrective in that as well. So, I’m going to ask this next question: Max, between both you and Amy, you both have a shared value actually, for the Anglican, for the Orthodox. We’ve mentioned some of that: These traditions that emphasize liturgy and embodied practice, and that the material along with the immaterial, are vital. For us to live vibrant, flourishing lives, those things have to be integrated. And so I’d love for you to each identify some of the things from these faith traditions in which you’ve participated, and to describe what you’ve come to value about them. What has been meaningful to each of you in your discipleship journey?

Max
Amy, you go first.

Amy
I think most of you know, I lost my husband of 20 years. And I had a very Protestant framework of just the empty cross. But I went into an Anglican Church and saw a crucifix. And it became very precious to me, because Jesus is the only God who suffered agony. And I was walking in agony, to have a visual reminder that our Savior knows suffering is huge. I know a lot of people don’t like crucifixes, but for me, it was helpful. And then the other piece of it was: You do things with your body in more high church, liturgical spaces, which is a really healthy understanding of how whole we are. We are material bodies, and what we do with our bodies matters. Not just from a biblical framework of like, “How do you treat people? Or how do you handle yourself physically in romantic relationships?” but, “How do you handle yourself in worship?” The scriptures are replete with images of people raising hands or kneeling, or dancing even. And liturgical spaces don’t often dance but they do kneel. And there’s a crossing of yourself in the earliest church. You can find it in the earliest church documents where they’ll cross on the forehead. And my sons want that at night, when I bless them. We do a Trinitarian blessing over each other. And let me tell you, it’s a big deal when your kid does that to you. It’s a reciprocal blessing that’s physical. It’s physical and it’s prayer. This just points to God knowing we’re spiritual and physical. It’s all connected. When you kneel, it affects your ability to pray. There’s a point in the reading of the gospel—I’ve got a few Anglicans here—where they’ll do the cross on the forehead, the cross on the mouth, and the cross near the chest. That’s holistic: “My mind, my lips, my heart, Christ govern it.” There’s so much happening with worship, and utilizing your body in prayer. And also, I pay tribute to the Anglican and Catholic and Orthodox pattern of repeating the same prayers every week. It gets in your soul, and you’ll start thinking of it throughout the week. And we need that.

Kelsey
I hear a lot of experiential learning practice going on in discipleship, and I love how you draw it back to our practices with our kids. Who is more experiential in their learning, and receptive to things on that level of “Cuddle me!” “Look at what I see out in the world!” “Look at the frog!” “Look at the beautiful!” Who is more experiential than a child? And Jesus confirming for us that we receive the kingdom of heaven like a child. There’s a childlike quality to the submission to the flesh, to remembering we are dust, and to embracing in the flesh, the things, the practices—that we need to wrap our entire selves around in order to get it. So, I really appreciate the discipleship angle that you’re bringing in with this discussion. Max, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this. They’ve been rich, as we’ve talked, leading up to this recording.

Max
Yeah. Thank you. Great to hear those thoughts Amy—giving me lots to think about. So, thanks, Amy. Yeah, a couple of things. I go to an Anglican Church, and I grew up Presbyterian. And I still love Presbyterianism, but I also now love Anglicanism as well. A couple of things from my experience there. One is: There is a high emphasis on the Lord’s Supper. I have come to so appreciate the regularity and celebration of that sacrament because it is so physical. Part of what Amy is saying is that because we are physical, material beings, we need physical, material reminders of something that is higher or of something that’s invisible. So the Lord’s Supper is such an incredible thing that we get to do regularly. I grew up not really thinking of it as a celebration. It was more something we never did, like so rare, that it was like, we’re just going to barely do this. So now that it is a regular thing, like you’re saying, it’s become habituated in a way that I think is so good. I hope that I don’t take it for granted. I don’t think I will. That will be one thing. I think the other thing in our church that—and I don’t know how this connects directly to Anglicanism, but I’ll just share—that Paul talks about the old man and the new man, or the kingdom of darkness, kingdom of light. And I think a greater appreciation for the kingdom of God or the new reality that we are called into, that is partially visible, but also mostly invisible, has been hugely encouraging to me. I guess the reason I bring that up is that we can see the kingdom to some extent, now. But there’s such a huge part of it that’s so small and undetectable, that we can’t see it. And some of Christ’s parables are about that: It’s a mustard seed or something that is very small, or it can’t even be perceived by some people, that will come into fruition in time. And I’ve also been thinking about that because I’ve had to go to a few funerals recently. And one echo at these funerals is: The person is not—if they’re in Christ—they are not dead. This is the most alive they’ve ever been, in a way, once they die. I don’t know, I just have a new appreciation for sort of the spiritual life which will eventually be reborn in our new bodies. So, there’s kind of tension I guess I’m describing. But I guess I have a new appreciation for the eternal trajectory that we’re on.

Jonathan
You’re bringing out for me almost what’s an irony of the fact that materialism doesn’t get the best out of matter. It’s a Christian worldview with the idea of the spiritual enchanting the world around us that really gets the most out of the material world around us. The Bible is constantly, in a sense, re-enchanting the world around us. It’s: “This wine is the blood of Christ; this bread is the body of Christ; this person, these people around you are the body of Christ.” And we can enjoy the world and enjoy matter better than materialists can, when we have it in its rightful place, as something that is created by God and for God. And not just that, but filled with God’s presence and purpose.

Kelsey
That word “enchanting,” that is such a good anchor for our thoughts. And the way that you reminded us of that connection that we have in communion is that reminder of our union with Christ, and the connection, the union that we have with the body of believers. And so, there is a very real, physical touch point for the relational reality for which we were created. Amy, I think you were the one who was talking about it spilling over into joy. Or maybe it was Max who was talking about the joy of the Lord spilling over into His creation. He couldn’t help Himself, as it were. Out of who He is, creation just spilled over, rippled out. And the same was true relationally. And it helps us as we think about those things, to try to grasp a little bit of the hem of the idea of the Trinity: That relational fullness that was so full that it propagated itself, it continued to replicate into all of life, all of creation, the relationships we have with one another, with the Lord Himself, with His creation—the beauty that He’s created that He made for us to enjoy. So, I’m going to return to that idea of telos because the Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us this reminder through the very first question: What is the chief end (or the purpose) of man? To glorify and enjoy Him forever. Wow. So, this enchanting—we are able to be enchanted with Him. He re-enchants the world for us. And there’s this promise that He’s not done with us yet. He’s making us new through these practices that we’re talking about, as we reorient ourselves to the Father. And He’s making all of creation all of matter, new along with it. So, these liturgies tie us into the promise of scripture. Thank you for drawing out their richness. Any more that you would want to share about this before we turn to another question?

Max
Well, I appreciate what Jonathan was saying. And it reminded me of something I learned from you, Kelsey, which was that—this whole discussion, material and the spiritual—a greater appreciation of that telos or purpose does elevate the material. As Jonathan was saying, it gives you a fuller experience than just what a pure materialist would have. I have actually seen that in a very specific way with animals. We have some chickens at our house, you know, we could be better chicken farmers than we are. But anyway, we like their eggs. And chickens in some ways are the least likeable domesticated creature because there’s no recognition in their eyes, there’s no affection, there’s no connection, you know. They just sort of frantically look around. And anyway, recently, we had to kill some chickens because they were past their egg-laying years. So, we’re going to make some soup with them. But I was thinking it’s still a very sober thing to take even a chicken’s life. All the kids were gathered around, and we killed them and prepared them for the freezer. And every day since then, my three-year-old, Freddy, will say, “But Dad, why did we kill the chickens?” And I think earlier in my life, I would have had a much more cavalier attitude about even just a simple creature like a chicken. But there is something that this eternal purpose in view, as we move up towards God, it does inform even how we think about a chicken. That’s a miracle that they can lay eggs give us meat, and that they actually do look beautiful in their feathers. So, in that, we’re just talking about one creature, we think all the creatures in the world…and I’m not some sort of career, animal lover. I’m really new to this. So anyway, I just wanted to share that.

Jonathan
We have a really mean rooster at our house, if you ever want to come kill more chickens.

Kelsey
You make me think: My middle daughter is taking this ornithology class, because, as an artist, she’s fascinated with birds. She wants to draw them well. And so she had in her mind that she was going to take a painting class, an ornithology class, and a backpacking class all at the same time. Well, only the ornithology class worked out. But what you were talking about, the mystery of “Why are these feathers beautiful? How do they form? What is their purpose? How does an egg come together in this chicken’s body?” Learning about even how birds breathe, how they stay warm. There is a fascinating amount of detail and complexity in this creation. And so the closer we get to these creatures, the more we have to be in awe over. The more precious it becomes to us, the more that we can go, “Gosh, this is something that I couldn’t make. It was made and provided for me and I have such high esteem and value for it now—because I was a little bit closer to this creature.” Jonathan, you guys have ducklings. And you’re learning the way that they rejoice over the water. And I got to see that video. And getting a little bit closer to the ducklings and watching the way that they thrill to their design. It leaves an impression on us—and I keep using this word. But I do know what it means. (I’m sorry, little reference to Princess Bride there): That reorientation of our hearts towards the Father through everything that He has created. The duckling can help me reorient my heart. I’m thankful for the way that you’ve pressed into those places of the Lord’s creation. I think our understanding of God’s attitude towards matter, it really transforms how we engage the world. And so: How does what you have described above—or other resources and practice—how does it help provide that transformative perspective? And how might it even provide a course correction for us as believers? Or maybe I could frame this in a missional kind of way: What does it look like after we’ve reoriented? And what practices even help us reorient it? What does it look like for our hearts then to go into this world for the Lord’s glory? What would you describe as the things that are on your heart about these things?

Max
Yes, that’s a great question. I guess I’ll start off by stealing part of what Amy said about liturgy. I love that example of the cross on the forehead in the evening. I mean, part of the way I would think about this, maybe just a visual that’s helpful to me is: Where am I looking? And where are my children looking? Either I’m taking one tiny step, and I’m looking at the ground, and it’s like: “I need this much money; I need this to eat today; I need this new thing that will make my life easier.” Versus casting your eyes far across the mountains or into the horizon. The cross on the forehead in the evening is a way to help you set your gaze far away and into eternity. So that would be the first thing I would say. I think the other thing is, I think there are things during the year with children that we can do differently, or even during the week. So, a couple of examples: One I thought about is Christmas time, my wife and I always seem to deliberate about how much to, how many presents, to get Christmas for the kids? And if we don’t do that, what do we replace that with? So thinking hard about what, what will you do during Advent? How will you help set the gaze? And also, when it comes to gift giving: How can we train our kids the right way on that? So you might replace some of that with more time together with other people, or acts of service. I like to think about singing together, or eating together, really focusing on feasting as a way [to] understand the collective riches that we have—and that that’s a foretaste of things to come.

Amy
One thing that came to mind, while you were talking about raising chickens and ducks: Part of our design is responsibility for others. Darwin’s thinking, that naturalistic perspective, it’ll frequently lead you to either a utilitarian view of man where we just produce, produce or escape into pleasure. But responsibility is in our design. I think all of us would say the hardest and best things we do have to do with responsibility and stewardship, with relationships, friendships, marriage, raising children. And if we could teach our kids: You start small; you raise chickens. And then you also are investing in your siblings, you’re caring for and nurturing them, you’re respecting and honoring your parents. And then show them the beauty and joy of being up at one in the morning with a baby. The exhaustion, and the fact that you will never, ever regret that, ever. The Pew Research Center did a recent survey that showed 71% of people feel like just a fulfilling job is the most important priority for them. That is not a biblical worldview. And it said only one in four adults say having children or being married is a high priority. And that—that’s coming from the naturalistic point of view. You guys know the classic story: Philosopher Bertrand Russell was out riding his bike and suddenly thought, “I don’t love my wife.” So he starts having affairs. And he has multiple marriages, multiple kids. It’s a devastating wake of a utilitarian mindset of “I do what brings pleasure, and I use people in a utilitarian way.” So the biblical worldview shows extreme sacrifice and joy, and taking responsibility for the people around you. This is the place of thriving, even though it’s the hardest place too. It’s always been that way. The best things are the hardest.

Kelsey
It’s so true. And it leads me back to Ecclesiastes. It’s interesting: Solomon wanted wisdom. And part of the way that wisdom is actually imparted is through experience, right? And I’m not sure that I want the type of experiences that are recorded about Solomon. But because he had those experiences, he had a wealth of conclusions to draw from that. And Ecclesiastes is full of the distillation of the wise observation that he made regarding the fact that those things did not bring pleasure. And wonderful correctives—again: born of disappointing experiences in his life—wonderful correctives towards what is wisdom, and what does bring happiness, and what is our purpose. And so, I’m leading us towards some of those places where I have some scriptural thoughts to lean into and to lend to you, listener. But before I go there, I want to see if there’s anything left on the plate that we want to draw out for this feast. That’s how I would describe this discussion. It has been a feast. So, anything that we’ve forgotten to put on our plates today that we want to do.

Jonathan
I had one brief thing. And it’s something that I feel like, I chime in with this same thought on multiple episodes. And maybe it’s just the fact that I’m a nerd and a literature major. But I really think that art and especially story can help form us in this regard. If we are consuming good stories, stories have a way of helping turn our hearts toward things and shaping our affections towards things. And if we are reading good stories that lead us to a love of things beyond just the material—or earlier in the conversation, the book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson came up, definitely, if you haven’t read that book, wow. That is one of those books that again, re-enchants the world for you. You read that book, and then you put it down, and you look at the world, and you can just see God’s beauty anew. And that’s something that good stories can do for us. And so, I would recommend that, on top of all the other things we’ve already mentioned, as another way to help bring us back out of materialism and put the material in its right place.

Max
That’s a great suggestion. And then I think what Amy’s saying about stewardship, and just the absolute prevalence of that in so many of our relationships and resources is such a great point. At WORLD, I work on the development team. So we are raising money and relying on other people’s generosity. And I think the more we can cultivate our own generosity within our families, and figure out how to serve even in small ways—I mean, none of us does this perfectly—it’s just, we would give each other that grace. But I think that’s stuff on stewardship and generosity is so great.

Amy
At the end of mathematician John Lennox’s debate with Richard Dawkins, he notes that in Dawkins’ famous book, The God Delusion, Dawkins dedicates the book to Douglas Adams. The Douglas Adams’ quote was—it’s trying to say we don’t need God. “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful, without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it?” And Lennox says, “Isn’t it amazing to walk through a garden and think about the gardener?” If it’s ordered, and it has beauty, it points to design and intention.

Kelsey
That is most excellent. Thank you. Yes! I’m going to bring some of the thoughts out of the gorgeous wisdom literature of scripture to guide us in our thinking: “The words of the wise,” this is from Ecclesiastes 12, starting in verse 11: “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd,”—that Shepherd who is also the Gardener. And skipping down to verse 13, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Let me just remind you, listener. Those commandments: They start from Genesis 1:28: flourish, multiply, have dominion, fill the Earth, subdue it. They run through the Ten Commandments that have to do with loving God, loving neighbor, engaging in that relational work that is ours. It runs that thread all the way through to Jesus’ commands to go, make disciples of all nations. Bring this wonderful story out to every inch of the Earth. Enchant others with it—those who have become disenchanted, whose eyes have been darkened by worldly philosophies that really have no hope. Bring out this story of hope to the nations. And then that reminder from James. James, chapter one, verse 17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Our Father is the Father of lights, hope for the darkened eyes, for the darkened soul. He’s given us His spirit that we might go with these words: He has equipped you for the work.

 

 

Show Notes

What is materialism? How can we offer our kids and teens a better alternative? We’re joined by WORLD’s Max Belz and Amy Auten on today’s episode.

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

Further Resources:



Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.

Today’s episode is sponsored by New College Franklin.

Through the college years, students go through an intense period of growth - intellectually, spiritually, socially, and emotionally. So as you are thinking about college options, consider not only what you want to do, but who you want to be. New College Franklin is dedicated to spiritually forming students by discipling them through the seven liberal arts for wisdom, virtue, and service. As a four-year classical, Christian, liberal arts college, nestled in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, New College Franklin focuses on the great ideas, the Trivium, and the Quadrivium; to contemplate the good, the true, and the beautiful, and to go out into the world for Christ's kingdom with humility and confidence. Applications are still open for the 2024-2025 school year. Find out more at newcollegefranklin.edu/world.

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