Diapers to Disciples II
The Joy and Job of Being Parents
2: The Earth is Not Flat
February 28, 2016 • Sean Higgins
Seminar - Diapers to Disciples II - Session 2 # Introduction I'm glad that Jim agreed to put together more of his material for another round of equipping parents. I am in the field, but I'm not an expert in it. I offered to talk when I was trying to make a second parenting seminar sound good enough to him by making it so that he wouldn't need to prepare for another five hours. Yet I'm still grateful that he's agreed to lead the majority of our sessions for a couple reasons. He doesn't yet have teenage *grand*children, but he did get all of his kids through their teenage years and happily off with spouses to homes of their own. That fourfold endurance demands attention let alone the wisdom he's amassed along the way. Though I've been a teen, and though I worked with teens in junior high and high school ministry for almost fifteen years, this is my first time talking about adolescence with one of my very own at home. Jim also excels at threading nuts into bolts while I gravitate toward questions of "nut-ness" and "bolt-ness" and "why-ness?" There is a place for big thinking, and that's more what my session is about, but Jim wrenches that big thinking into tight spaces. So I'd like to talk about what I think could be the single greatest hurdle to parenting teenagers, and that is, *thinking about them as "TEENAGERS"*. The *idea* of Adolescence has done more to set back Western Civilization than Justin Bieber. It has not only prolonged cultural and individual immaturity, but defended it and turned it into gold. # The Earth Is Not Flat "The facts are simple," says Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. "The earth is flat." > As you stand in his front yard, it is hard to argue the point. From among the Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and tumbleweeds surrounding his southern California hillside home, you have a spectacular view of the Mojave Desert. It looks as flat as a pool table. Nearly 20 miles to the west lies the small city of Lancaster; you can see right over it. Beyond Lancaster, 20 more miles as the cue-ball roles, the Tehachapi Mountains rise up from the desert floor. Los Angeles is not too far to the south. > Near Lancaster, you see the Rockwell International plant where the Space Shuttle was built. To the north, beyond the next hill, lies Edwards Air Force Base, where the shuttle was tested. There, also, the Shuttle will land when it returns from orbiting the earth. (At least, that's NASA's story.) > "You can't orbit a flat earth," says Mr. Johnson. "The Space Shuttle is a joke--and a very ludicrous joke." > His soft voice carries conviction, for Charles Johnson is on the level. He believes that the main purpose of the space program is to prop up a dying myth--the myth that the earth is a globe. The preceding excerpt is from an article titled: "The Flat-out Truth" printed in *Science Digest*, July 1980. The man mentioned in the article, Charles Johnson, died March 19, 2001, having fought the lonely and futile battle to, at least in his mind, "restore the world to sanity." A Google search for "flat earth" reveals a surprising (at least to me) reality that there are still many people today, even in the 21st century, who believe our earth is flat. Entire organizations devote themselves to fight the idea that the planet we live on is a globe. But there is a simple problem of fact: the earth is not flat. It is a lie that the earth is flat and that lie has generated a flat earth myth. A "myth" is a story presented as history (whether it's true or not) that explains the worldview of a people. The story of a flat earth is quite literally a worldview, a view of the world that happens to be an imaginary story passed from generation to generation. I found that there is a bigger myth, a bigger "story" than the story that our earth is flat. The bigger myth is the myth that asserts *everyone used to think the earth was flat*. Now I admit, I didn't always pay great attention in school. But until doing some research one Saturday night I'm sure I remember reading and discussing in class the whole account from 1492 where everyone thought Columbus was crazy for sailing toward the ocean horizon because they all thought the earth was flat. I'm positive my teachers regaled me with the great drama on the high sea as sailors readied to mutiny against the great Captain Columbus. They feared after so many days without landing that they were sure to sail off the edge of the world. That story is all wrong. I read some enlightening research by Jeff Russell, a professor of history at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He wrote in his book, _Inventing the Flat Earth_, that throughout history and up to the time of Columbus, "nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical." Russell claims that nothing in the documents from the time of Columbus or in early accounts of his life that suggest any debate about the roundness of the earth. He attributes the myth about flat-earth popularity to the creator of another story, the story of Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving. Irving wrote a fictitious account of Columbus's defending a round earth against misinformed priests and university professors. The book was titled _The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus_ and was published in 1828. It was a mixture of fact and fiction with Irving himself admitting he was "apt to indulge in the imagination." Its theme was the thrilling victory of a lone believer in a spherical earth over a united front of Bible-quoting, superstitious ignoramuses, convinced the Earth was flat. Irving invented the picture of a young Columbus, a "simple mariner," appearing before hooded theologians at the council of Salamanca, all of whom supposedly believed, according to Irving, that the earth was as flat as a dinner plate. A meeting took place at Salamanca in 1491 but Irving's account was pure fiction. He "let his imagination go completely...the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense" (Russell). The argument at the Council was a question of the distance between Europe and Japan that Columbus presented. It had nothing to do with the shape of the earth. Irving drew outside the lines to make the story more dramatic. But if the majority opinion was *not* that the earth was flat, how did the fictional version become the non-fiction truth taught in schools and schoolbooks as of the early 1860's? Russell asserts that the flat-earth mythology flourished mostly between 1870 and 1920, and grew in a environment with an emerging acceptance of evolution. He says the flat-earth myth was an ideal way to dismiss the ideas of religion in the name of modern science. The fundamental reason for promoting the lie about a flat earth was to defend Darwinism and provide ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They always get in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are the same sort of people as the idiots who denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you be?" So not only is the earth not flat, it has never been the popular view that it was! We might say the liberal media of the 1800s spun the truth to make Christians look stupid for teaching a flat earth and make evolutionists look smart. But the idea of a flat world is a lie. And the idea that everyone thought the earth was flat is an even bigger lie. But this is not a talk about the geometry of the earth. The major lesson from flat-earth beliefs is how well-spun myths mislead and how easily they blind one to contrary evidence. Embedded lies are major obstacles to the truth. A myth runs rampant in the church today, parents propagate it, youth pastors spread it, educators defend it, and young people swallow it. The presuppositions of our generation about teenagers have become a story--a way we talk about life, and this story is called **adolescence**. The popular idea of adolescence is not true and it is painfully unscriptural. Adolescence is not a fact--just like the earth is not flat. It is equally wrong to think that everyone has always recognized adolescence as a fact--just as everyone has not always believed that the earth is flat. # The Myth of Adolescence Adolescence has achieved objective status as an obvious stage in human development in our culture. It is probably un-American and maybe even un-Christian, depending on what circles you're in, to dispute it. Though this attitude toward teenagers is not surprising from the world since the secular culture is always looking for ways to excuse behavior, it is inexcusable that so many in the church have adopted the same mindset. Webster defines adolescence as, "the state or process of growing up; the period of life from puberty to maturity terminating legally at the age of majority." It categorizes the time period beginning at puberty and ending in adulthood, typically designated somewhere between the ages of twelve and twenty. Of course the high-end number continues to climb and [entire books] now suggest that the end of adolescence is closer to 25. : http://www.amazon.com/Adolescence-Emerging-Adulthood-Cultural-Approach/dp/product-description/0131950711 Growing up is a process. It would be foolish to suggest that a person should or could skip straight from 12 to 20. But there is more to the term *adolescence* than simply as a handy label to catalog the days, months, and years of a teenager. The entire idea of adolescence is built on a mindset. A [mindset] is "a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person's responses to and interpretations of situations." Parents assume that their teenager will have a certain mindset, and teenagers typically believe what adults tell them they will act like. : http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/mindset (mindset. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. (accessed: January 03, 2007).) What are some of the characteristics of this mindset? Though not organized in bullet form, Thomas Hine helps describe this mindset in his book _The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager_. ## A teenager is *incompetent*. "The concept of the teenager rests in turn on the idea of the adolescent as a not quite competent person, beset by stress and hormones." (Hine, 4) ## A teenager is *irresponsible*. The period of adolescence is a time for experimentation and prolonged preparation. It is a deferring of responsibility. "Inevitably, the teenagers is a disappointment, whose combination of adult capacities and juvenile irresponsibility sows personal heartbreak and social chaos." (Hine, 8) ## A teenager is in a *perpetual identity crisis*. Every adolescent is always in a constant struggle to find self-esteem. "Who am I?" "Why do I have pimples?" "Why don't other people like me?" "Why don't I fit in?" Their struggle is one just to survive by adapting to ever changing situations. ## A teenager is *a problem waiting to happen*. There is a kind of mystique surrounding teenagers that "encourages adults to see teenagers (and young people themselves) not as individuals but as potential problems." (Hine, 11) In addition, adolescence assumes that what teenagers do doesn't really count. ## A teenager *will be rebellious*. Rebellion is not a question of *if*, but *when*. An adolescent always wants to break out of the cocoon and get out from under the umbrella of parental authority. They will naturally want to challenge their teachers if not the law. They have no desire for accountability from anyone, including the church. ## A teenager is *at the mercy of their hormones*. There is a bias against teenagers, "expressed in the two-word term that serves as the vernacular explanation for almost everything teenagers do: Raging Hormones" (Hine, 29). The greatest danger of these descriptions of the adolescent mindset is that they are presented to as timeless, universal, and inevitable. The culture, and many in the church, have swallowed these characteristics hook, lies, and sinker. This is precisely the way Hollywood portrays teens on television and in movies. This is exactly what popular music assumes life is like for teens. The result is that teenagers cannot be held responsible for what they do. An adolescent cannot possibly be expected to function like a reasonable, normal human being, they are just victims of their hormones. Some have seen through the smoke of excuses, even non-believers. > [W]hile endocrinology (the study of glands and hormones of the body and their related disorders) is a field where fundamental discoveries are made regularly, there is not yet any biochemical explanation for surliness (uncontrolled anger), self-absorption, or rebelliousness. (ibid., 30) Physical, hormonal issues must be addressed rather than allowed to become terrorists. Sadly, the facts seem to have far less power than what people believe is true. Parents, teachers, church leaders, and teens themselves believe the lies. # The Birth of Adolescence So where did the lies come from? When was Adolescence born? In 1904, G. Stanley Hall published a book titled, _Adolescence: Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education_. Regardless of our opinion on his title, this is the first documented writing on adolescence. Let that sink in. The first time someone delineated adolescence as its own stage of development was 1904. Similarly, the term "teenager" was first published in the magazine *Popular Science*, but not until 1941. The thesis of Hall's book and his assumption about adolescence is that everyone between the ages of thirteen and eighteen is in a constant state of turmoil. Life is stormy for every teenager, a constant series of crisis and violent reactions. And this presupposition was *based on his belief in evolution*. The backbone of his argument was the evolutionary process, where through a sequence of events an organism passes by degrees to a different stage. Thomas Hine summarized Hall's argument as, > The development of the individual mirrors the evolution of the species as a whole. He saw the adolescent as a savage, prone to violent, disruptive, impulsive behavior. The good news was that, just as humanity evolved to a higher form, adolescents will grow out of their savagery....[T]he optimism inherent in the notion that adolescence is something you'll eventually grow out of does survive. (36) So first, the idea of adolescence is based on the faulty assumptions of evolution. And second, the idea itself has only been around for 100 years! Thomas Edison didn't get his patent for the light bulb until 1889. I say that because I recognize just because something is relatively new in history doesn't automatically make it invalid or unacceptable. New and helpful discoveries are frequently made. But it is also important to recognize that adolescence is not a timeless category, it is a modern invention and, in this case, being "new" is not in favor of it's being true. # Teenagers Are Not Aliens But biggest problem is not that adolescence is a *new* idea. Adolescence as an explanation ignores what God says about humanity, about sin, and about salvation. It misdiagnosis the problem and denies the depravity of man as the cause for human problems. It is always making excuses for sin, explaining it away. Teenagers are just victims, no wonder they've become the mascot of modern society. When a teenager lives for the glory of himself rather than the glory of God, there is no excuse. When parents explain away disobedient behavior as inevitable, they are half right. It is inevitable, not because of adolescence, but because of the depravity of sin. Why are teenagers depressed, unthankful, full of anxiety, prone to laziness? Because they are sinners who are stuck looking at themselves instead of God, who think others owe them good things, who depend on themselves, and who love to serve themselves most...just like the rest of us! The same goes for the reason there are cliques of mean girls and the reason so many teenagers don’t get along. > What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2) Or the reason they disobey their parents, the reason they give attitude to their authorities. Romans 1 explains this is one of the things that He gives men over to in their sin. > They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (Romans 1:29-30) Theology argues that teens are *not* aliens, foreigners, or unfamiliar let alone disturbing. ## Teens are *image-bearers of God* like you. They are made for relationship and responsibilities as reflectors of the Creator. Those strengths should work first with family at home, but with a view to using those strengths outside the home. They'll need help learning about God and worshipping Him. They'll need help identifying healthy friendships and wise ways to avoid fools. They'll need help figuring out how to volunteer, how to finish, how to fail. Give over (responsibilities to them), not up (your responsibilities for them). ## Teens are *disciples of Christ* along with you. One reason we have trouble parenting is because we don't understand the work that is discipling. Learn to distinguish between questions and questioning. *Show* how to question, meaning, ask lots of questions. *Encourage* questions. *Answer* questions, model the openness you want from them. Allow time for them to answer, but *do not allow* them to avoid answering your questions. This is easier, as with most things, to start as early as possible. If you haven't already, well, today is still earlier than next week. Don't wait to expose them to wrong worldviews. Don't wait for them to choose *whatever* worldview they want. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. ## Teens are *God's gifts* to you. The goal is not just to get them out of your house, the goal is to get them standing with you should to shoulder in the gates (per Jonathan's message from Psalm 127). If you treat them as hindrances, interruptions, burdens, and enemies, you will find that that's what you've made them. Instead, your job is to receive the stewardship with thanks and patiently train them to receive their own gifts from God. ## Teens are *imitators* of you. In general, your kids sin like you. They have a mix of the spouses' strengths and weaknesses, a blend of personalities and preferences. It isn't only genetic similarities since behavior is also learned by imitation. Your kids *are* learning how to handle the things that they don't like by watching you handle things that you don't like. Parental excuses, hiding, unconfessed (or defended) sin, demands to *be* served, will be the "House Rules" regardless of the list on your refrigerator. As Jim said, raise your expectations and *first expectations for yourself*. Are they figuring out *who* they are? Of course they are. So help them. Tell them who they are and what your aim is for them (which requires that you know what your aim is). Show them. Shape their desires by telling and *showing* them what is desirable. The purpose of every pastor (and every parent too) is to present every man *complete* in Christ. The ESV translates Colossians 1:28, "to present every man *mature* in Christ." Whatever age you are, wherever you are on the road of maturity, the goal will always be increasing maturity in Christ. Teenagers are no exception. # Conclusion There is no denial that growth is a process. I happily acknowledge that the changes in a person's life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, are progressive and gradual. Incremental maturity is seen in small stages or steps that are followed by still more stages and steps. But even though normal growth is gradual, gradual growth is still growth! Rome wasn't built in a day, and a child doesn't become an adult overnight, but that is not the same thing as giving a person a free pass from pursuing maturity and responsibility because that person is a teenager. I also don't deny that most teenagers act like...teenagers. The world and the church are filled with 12-20 year olds with Adolescent mindsets. What I deny is that this is how it has always been and how it must be. We have created this context and it only continues because we keep giving it credence. Ideas have consequences and the *consequences* of believing the lies of adolescence are no myth, they are very real. We in the church must work to change our collective thinking as God's community before we will see any change. So, the earth is not flat, and most people have never thought it was. You know what else? Teenagers are not incapable of responsibility or maturity, and most people have never thought they were. To believe otherwise is to believe the lies. Mercy is reserved for those who confess their sin. Covering sin, no matter what color the blanket, will not result in prosperity (Proverbs 28:13). The solution to adolescent sin is the solution to adult sin is the solution to child sin: the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus Christ came into the world to *save sinners*! Jesus specifically said that He had not come to save those who want to defend themselves (Mark 2:17). Where there is no recognition of sin and guilt, when the conscience has been re-programmed to call sin anything else, there can be no salvation, no sanctification, and no glory for God.