Expedition 36: Foolish Sheep and a Good Shepherd

Here’s the video for Expedition 36 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.


Is an Elephant Running Your Life?

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.


Yesterday we looked at the first Great Untruth that our culture has embraced in recent years:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Today, we will look at what the book teaches about the second Great Untruth:

  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

This chapter sets out to dismantle this Great Untruth by insisting that while feelings are always compelling, they are not always reliable. “Often they distort reality, deprive us of insight, and needlessly damage our relationships. Happiness, maturity, and even enlightenment require rejecting the Untruth of Emotional Reasoning and learning instead to question our feelings.”

The authors illustrate the struggle between reason and emotion by the image of a small rider on an elephant.

“The rider represents conscious or “controlled” processes—the language-based thinking that fills our conscious minds and that we can control to some degree. The elephant represents everything else that goes on in our minds, the vast majority of which is outside of our conscious awareness. These processes can be called intuitive, unconscious, or “automatic,” referring to the fact that nearly all of what goes on in our minds is outside of our direct control, although the results of automatic processes sometimes make their way into consciousness.

The rider-and-elephant metaphor captures the fact that the rider often believes he is in control, yet the elephant is vastly stronger, and tends to win any conflict that arises between the two…The rider generally functions more like the elephant’s servant than its master, in that the rider is extremely skilled at producing post-hoc justifications for whatever the elephant does or believes.

Emotional reasoning is the cognitive distortion that occurs whenever the rider interprets what is happening in ways that are consistent with the elephant’s reactive emotional state, without investigating what is true. The rider then acts like a lawyer or press secretary whose job is to rationalize and justify the elephant’s pre-ordained conclusions, rather than to inquire into—or even be curious about—what is really true.:

What’s the answer to this? The authors propose CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

CBT was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania. Beck saw a close connection between the thoughts a person had and the feelings that came with them. He noticed that his patients tended to get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs caused powerful negative feelings, which in turn seemed to drive patients’ reasoning, motivating them to find evidence to support their negative beliefs. Beck noticed a common pattern of beliefs, which he called the “cognitive triad” of depression: “I’m no good,” “My world is bleak,” and “My future is hopeless.”

Beck’s great discovery was that it is possible to break the disempowering feedback cycle between negative beliefs and negative emotions. If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counter-evidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions, and if you release them from negative emotions, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs. It takes some skill to do this—depressed people are very good at finding evidence for the beliefs in the triad. And it takes time—a disempowering schema can’t be disassembled in a single moment of great insight

The book does not suggest that everyone needs to get a therapist and start CBT. Just learning how to recognize cognitive distortions and challenging them is a good intellectual habit for all of us to cultivate. With a little training, people can be trained to question their automatic thoughts on their own, every day. With repetition, over a period of weeks or months, people can change their schemas and create different, more helpful habitual beliefs.

The authors summarize this chapter as follows:

  • CBT is a method anyone can learn for identifying common cognitive distortions and then changing their habitual patterns of thinking. CBT helps the rider (controlled processing) to train the elephant (automatic processing), resulting in better critical thinking and mental health.
  • Emotional reasoning is among the most common of all cognitive distortions; most people would be happier and more effective if they did less of it.
  • By encouraging students to interpret the actions of others in the least generous way possible, schools that teach students about microaggressions may be encouraging students to engage in emotional reasoning and other distortions while setting themselves up for higher levels of distrust and conflict.
  • Students, professors, and administrators should keep in mind Hanna Holborn Gray’s principle: “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.


The Coddling of the American Mind

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.


Our culture has embraced three Great Untruths in the past ten years or so:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

That’s the claim that forms the foundation of The Coddling of the American Mind. The authors’ criteria for an idea to be classified as a Great Untruth are:

  • It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  • It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  • It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

They make the case that all three criteria are met in the three Great Untruths of our culture, especially on American High School and College campuses.

Why are the three Great Untruths so damaging? Let’s take the first one

The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

Here are some quotes from the book to explain this Great Untruth.

“Teaching kids that failures, insults, and painful experiences will do lasting damage is harmful in and of itself. Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate.”

“By shielding children from every possible risk, we may lead them to react with exaggerated fear to situations that aren’t risky at all and isolate them from the adult skills that they will one day have to master.”

“If we protect children from various classes of potentially upsetting experiences, we make it far more likely that those children will be unable to cope with such events when they leave our protective umbrella. The modern obsession with protecting young people from “feeling unsafe” is, we believe, one of the (several) causes of the rapid rise in rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide.”

“A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”

“Like the immune system, children must be exposed to challenges and stressors (within limits, and in age-appropriate ways), or they will fail to mature into strong and capable adults, able to engage productively with people and ideas that challenge their beliefs and moral convictions.”

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff  and Jonathan Haidt.


Upcoming Speaking & Teaching

Various conference organizers have asked me to let you know of the following upcoming opportunities for teaching and fellowship.

Reformation Conference, Boise, ID: Nov 9-10, 2018. 

The conference addresses will be focused around the chapters in John Calvin’s Little Book on the Christian Life. More info here.

Magnify Conference, Lansing, MI: Nov 30-Dec 1, 2018
This conference will be on the subject of the God of Rest and the three addresses will be:

  • God Gives Spiritual Rest
  • God Gives Physical Rest
  • God Gives Emotional Rest

Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC: 13-16 December, 2018
I’ll be giving an address on grieving, speaking at a men’s breakfast, and preaching on the Lord’s Day.

First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA: 8-10 January, 2019.
A couple of addresses on depression.

Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, PA: 14-18 January, 2019.
I’ll be teaching a D.Min. course on Sustainable Ministry.

2019 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors + Church Leaders, Minneapolis. MN: 26-28 January
Shona and I will be speaking on The Joy of Living a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands.

Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: 15-17 March
More details here.

Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA: 26-28 April
More details here.


But God

Here’s the Covenant Christian School choir that my daughters are privileged to sing in. The students love their choir director, Eric Gritters, who wrote this moving song. It begins with the Christian in darkness, but then moves into powerful exclamations of triumphant faith.

O now I lay me down to sleep
— I can’t find words for prayer.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
— but does my Shepherd care?
Who will watch me through the night,
in darkness as in light?
Who will wake me in the morn?
In whom can I delight?

My tired eyes, they look above
— they fall and look below.
Yet there is none who seem to care
— My pain they do not know.
I hear no voice. I feel no touch.
I see no glory bright.
His promises are not seen
— I do not see his might.

But God, He will never leave me!
But God, he is my strength!
But God, my faithful Shepherd!
He is my Rock, my only Hope.

O now I lay me down to sleep
— I know the Shepherd’s near.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
— I have no need to fear.
Gently watch me through the night
— And when the morning breaks,
Walk beside me down life’s pathway,
and all for Jesus’ sake!

But God, He will never leave me!
But God, He is my strength!
But God, my faithful Shepherd,
He is my Rock, my only Hope.

But God, He will never leave me.
But God, He is my strength.
But God, my faithful Shepherd,
He is my Rock, my only Hope.

“Because they lovingkindness is better than life
My lips shall praise thee!”
My Rock. My Hope. My God.


Expedition 35: Lost and Found

Here’s the video for Expedition 35 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.