Thursday, December 18, 2014

Class Warfare Ended?

"AND IN THE SAME region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their
flock by night" (Luke 2:8).

This text should surprise us. God sent his angelic messengers to shepherds. You and I would have sent them to someone important, maybe the Jewish High Priest. If he wasn’t available we would have sent the angels to Herod, king of Israel. Others would have picked the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.

But God is not like us. He has no use for human class distinctions. Social class structures exist because of gifts which God has assigned—beauty, intelligence, aggressiveness, or talent—but now motivated and energized by self-sufficient pride, greed, and self-promotion.

To make clear that God rejects our class structures, and the values upon which they are based, God sent the angels to the lowest echelon on the ancient world’s social ladder—Shepherds.

God is humble. He does everything to demonstrate His humility and our great need of that very same humility. Everything is God’s gift, but we boast as if it were not. That is why God has designed the gospel so that we must stoop to enter his kingdom. 

No earthly attainment will ever impress God. The only thing that impresses Him is a lowly, self-emptying, servants heart motivated by a desire to glorify God and enrich others.

That is why God sent the angels to shepherds, to reduce everyone—president and janitor, college professor and illiterate, CEO and ditch digger, male and female, black and white, heterosexual and homosexual, rich and poor—to the same level. Spiritual and moral bankruptcy. 

Here is the cure for racism, sexism, classism and every other "ism" that has oppressed people since the beginning. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Are you willing to Embrace Obscurity?

JUST FINISHED AN appropriate book for the Christmas Season, Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything. Who wrote it? Anonymous of course! It only makes sense that the author of  book  would not seek the lime-light.

This is the perfect book for the holidays. The premise is that "although Jesus was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself taking the form of a servant" (Phil 2:6-7). In other words, he emptied himself of all the rights to fame, attention, and worldly popularity. He pointed everyone away from himself to God.

The author exposes our penchant for just the opposite, pointing everyone to ourselves. "We’re intoxicated with a desire to be known, recognized, appreciated, and respected. We crave to be a “somebody” and do notable things, to achieve our dreams and gain the admiration of others. To be something—anything—other than nothing."(Kindle 78-80).

Although we are all  drunk with a lust to be worshiped we are really only one out of possibly 100 billion people that have ever lived. We will never be really important, and so what if we are? Recognition seldom brings fulfillment. In addition, we are utterly apathetic to the amazing truth of the Incarnation that God became nothing.

The author notes the need to suffer in anonymity. Don't buy into the health, wealth, and prosperity mentality. We may suffer in unknown, unacknowledged anonymity doing the will of God and never be known or appreciated by anyone but an audience of One. In addition, none of our non-Christian friends will understand our willingness to eschew fame and popularity. They might even persecute us for doing so.

The book closes with practical advice for how to handle fame (should God send it) and a strong exhortation to hope for the true notoriety that will be ours in the world to come.

This book is a jewel. I strongly recommend it. It is available for $6.99 in paperback or $1.99 in Kindle here. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

God's Pulpit

THE FIRST THING every aspiring writer learns is “show, don’t tell. In other words, don’t lecture your readers. “Show” your points and premises with stories, anecdotes, quotes, and dialogue. The cross is God’s “show don’t tell.” Systematic theologies catalog and systematize the Bible’s doctrines. Their work is important—but they “tell” us the truth. 

The cross “shows” us the truth. The vital truths illustrated by Jesus’ crucifixion forever transform those with “eyes to see and ears to hear” its lessons. Augustine said that it was God's pulpit. 

The cross has two dimensions. It is something God has done for us, but it is also a revelation of vital truths communicated to us.

When we think of the cross we usually think of the former, what God has done for us. He has reconciled us to himself. He has purchased forgiveness for all who believe and repent. He has absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf. He has loved us with an everlasting love.

But, I want us to think today about what the cross speaks to us. As John Stott noted, “Through what God did there for the world he was also speaking to the world. Just as human beings disclose their character in their actions, so God has shown himself to us in the death of His Son.”[1]
The cross speaks to us about our purpose for existence. It speaks to us about human nature. It unveils the nature of God. It unravels the problem of pain and suffering. It demonstrates God’s wisdom. It shows us what true worship looks like, as well as a host of other issues.

We can become increasingly confused about these subjects if we look anywhere but the cross. But about each of these subjects and more the cross instructs us radically and conclusively. 

The basic truths of life become simple and clear when we focus on Christ’s cross.

[1] The Cross Of Christ, John R. Stott, IVP, 1984, pg 204

Friday, December 5, 2014

Applying Biblical Men & Women's Roles

OUR LAST BLOG post discussed Mr. Mom. Is it OK for another-wise healthy, capable husband to
stay home and nurture his children while his wife brings  home the bacon? We suggested the general principle that God created men and women to fulfill different roles in marriage. Men are responsible to protect, provide for, and lead their wives and children. The general responsibility of a wife and mother is to "help" her husband by nurturing children and caring for her household. But how do we apply this in the 21st century North America?

It is one thing to state the general principle. It is another to apply it in a fallen world filled with multiple ambiguities. Legalisms occur when the application is too wooden and structured. So, let’s begin by talking about what this principle does not mean. First, these principles do not apply to single women. Since she has no children to nurture, or a husband to help, she is free to serve the larger culture by the pursuit of a career.

In addition, this Biblical principle does not mean that it is a sin for a married woman to work outside of the home. She is free to work outside the home as long as it does not compromise her role of “helping” her husband and the nurturing of her children.

It doesn’t mean that it is a sin for a woman to earn more than her husband. Due to training or education this may be the case, but it is not inherently wrong or evil.  A fifty year old female physician, with grown children, married to a fifty four year old pastor, may out-earn him even working part time.

It doesn’t mean that it is wrong for a husband to temporarily be the  primary nurturer of his children. He may do this while going to school, getting specialized training to enhance his employability, or transitioning into a different career. Or, he may be temporarily unemployed. In these instances, it is not sinful for a man to be the primary nurturer.

In each of these cases, the role fulfilled by the husband or wife is either biblical or non-biblical depending upon the violation or adherence of the important principles that follow.

The first principle is the recognition of the fundamental differences between men and women. Those differences are physical, emotional, and mental. Because of these God-designed differences, a man to bring three unique roles to marriage—protection, provision, and leadership. The implications are clear. It is not appropriate for a female to be the primary protector, primary provider, or spiritual leader in her home.  It also implies that God calls each married man to serve his wife by becoming her protector, spiritual leader, and provider. The pastor with the physician wife is still fulfilling his role if he is the spiritual leader, the protector, and a provider. In this case, his wife may be fulfilling her role as help-mate with the income she earns—income that enables him to fulfill his calling to pastor the flock.

Second, the biblical teaching mentioned above should motivate and shape a Christian couple’s relationship. Christian marriage implies the submission of husband and wife to these principles. Christian marriage implies that the wife agrees to become her husband’s “helper,” not his competitor. In addition, Christian marriage calls each husband/father to love his wife and children by leading them, providing for them, and protecting them. In addition, Christian marriage implies that the arrival of children changes things. A couple attempting to be biblical will agree that his fundamental orientation should be toward providing for his family. They will also agree that her fundamental orientation should be inward toward the nurturance of children and helper to her husband.

Third, biblical Christians reject the stereotype of female passivity and weakness. Proverbs 31:10-31 draws a verbal picture of a fully competent woman. She is the biblical ideal. Her husband trusts her. She is industrious, an able administrator, a competent manager of the household servants, a take-charge lady, and a skillful business negotiator.

Therefore, when deciding whether a wife should work outside the home, female “weakness” or lack of incompetence is not a biblical assumption. Instead, love for God and man should be the determining issue. What is most loving for the family? What will best glorify God? Is the pursuit of outside employment the most loving way for her to serve her husband? Is it the most loving way for her to serve her children? Or, are ambition, greed, or escapism driving the decision? The answer to this larger question—whether and when she should work outside the home— will depend upon the number of children, their ages, and the financial condition of the family. It is a decision she should make under the covering of her husband’s authority.

In summary, it is our conviction that God created men and women different at the most basic biological, emotional, and social level. He did this to equip us to fulfill different functions in home and marriage. God created Adam to work the Garden. He created Eve to be Adam’s helper. The application of this principle to specific situations necessitates much wisdom, flexibility, and patience. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

God's Design for Men and Women

NOTHING IS MORE CONTROVERSIAL in our present climate than biblical men and women's roles. However, the Bible says much about God's intention for work responsibilities in marriage. Here is a short summary. 

God created Adam first. He created him with a task in mind— “work and keep the garden!” He did this before he created Eve. To fulfill this task God made him different from Eve.[1] These differences are patently apparent to any objective researcher. “All the [research] points in the same direction,” notes George Gilder. “From conception to maturity…the man is …more aggressive, exploratory, volatile, competitive and dominant, more visual, abstract, and impulsive, more muscular, appetitive, and tall. He is less nurturant, moral, domestic, stable, and peaceful, less auditory, verbal, and sympathetic, less durable, healthy and dependable, less balanced, and less close to the ground.”[2]
God designed men to lead, provide for, and protect women and children. We don’t need sociologists to confirm that men are taller, heavier, and stronger than women. Men have better eyesight, and stronger powers of concentration. They score lower on verbal tests but higher on mathematical tests. Male metabolism is higher. The right side of a man’s mind does what the left side of a woman’s does. Men are more oriented toward achievement. These differences are not socialized into males. They are biologically inherent.

God also designed Eve with a specific task in mind. “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Physically, God designed the female to be the helper of her husband and the nurturer of their children.

The social sciences also confirm this design. Women are more durable, better able to endure pain and monotony, more nurturant, less volatile, and more stable. “Women have about 67% of the endurance and 55 percent of the muscular strength of men. Even when size is held constant, women are only 80 percent as strong as men.”[3]  Women have broader hips designed to carry children. They have breasts to suckle infants. Women hear better and have a greater capacity for multi-tasking. God designed women to bear children, and nurture them from infancy onward. In this sense he designed the female sex to “help” their husbands achieve the task God created him to achieve. This includes being “fruitful, multiplying, filling the earth,” and exercising dominion over it (Gen 1:28).  It also involved working and keeping the Garden (Gen. 2:15).

Their task differentiation became even more apparent after Adam and Eve sinned. God cursed the task that he designed each of them to achieve. He didn’t curse Eve’s career. He cursed her child-bearing.  “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).

In the same way, he didn’t curse Adam’s parenting. Rather, he cursed Adam’s calling to provide for his family. “And to Adam he said… cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field” (Genesis 3:17–18).

These assumptions continue into the New Testament. Paul assumes that each Christian husband’s orientation is outward toward the world, not inward to the nurturance of children. His primary responsibility is provision—providing food and clothing for his family. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives,” Paul writes Timothy, “and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The “anyone” Paul has in mind is not a wife. It is the male household head. Paul makes this clear by the use of the masculine pronoun “his.”
In the same way, on the basis of Genesis 1-3, Paul expects each married woman’s orientation to be inward toward her husband and children. When young children are at home, the wife’s primary task is nurturing children and helping her husband fulfill his calling, not providing food and clothing. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:3–5).

In summary, the Bible teaches that a married man’s basic orientation is outward. He is to provide for his family by fulfilling the calling for which God made him. His wife’s fundamental orientation is inward toward the nurturance of children and the support of her husband as he attempts to fulfill his calling.

(More on how to apply this will follow). 

[1] For more on the biological, emotional, and mental differences between men and women see New York Times, John Tierney, Sept 8, 2008, "As Barriers Disappear, Some Gender Gaps Widen;” Men and Marriage, George Gilder; Man and Woman in Christ, Stephen Clark,
[2] George Gilder, Men and Marriage, (Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1986) pg 20
[3] Ibid, Gilder, pg 132 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts for Thanksgiving

TOMORROW is Thanksgiving, a holiday of special import for Believers. We should be the most grateful people on the planet. An ungrateful Christian is a contradiction in terms. The grounds of our gratitude are twofold.

First, we will never get what we deserve. Jesus took it in our place. Motivated by extravagant love he solved our greatest problem, alienation from God.

Second, we are grateful because God is both sovereign and good. Whether pleasant or painful he is in absolute control of every event that overtakes us. In other words, God works all thing together for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, we can count it all joy when we experience trials of various times (James 1:2). For these reasons Paul commands us, whether rain or shine, to overflow with thanksgiving (Col 2:7) giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).

In addition, you should do this for selfish reasons. In a recent Christianity Today article Molie Hemingway lets us in on the benefits. “Studies show that grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships. They are more forgiving and supportive than those who are ungrateful. They are less depressed, stressed, envious, and anxious. In fact, high levels of gratitude explain more about psychological well-being than 30 of the most commonly studied personality traits, according to two recent studies published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.”

Thomas Brooks, one of the 17th Century Puritans, said it this way. Is not Christ your treasure? Is not heaven your inheritance—and will you murmur? Has not God given you a changed heart, a renewed nature, and a sanctified soul—and will you murmur? Has He not given you Himself to satisfy you, His Son to save you, His Spirit to lead you, His grace to adorn you, His covenant to assure you, His mercy to pardon you, His righteousness to clothe you—and will you murmur? Has He not made you a friend, a son, a brother, a bride, an heir—and will you murmur? When you were dead, did not He quicken you? When you were lost, did not He seek you? When you were wounded, did not He heal you? When you were falling, did not He support you? When you were down, did not He raise you? When you were staggering, did not He establish you? When you were erring, did not He correct you? When you were tempted, did not He support you? and when you went in dangers, did not He deliver you?—and will you murmur? What! You who are so highly advanced and exalted above many thousands in the world? Murmuring suits none so badly as saints.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How Can I Know the Bible is God's Word

RETURNING FROM ATLANTA, GA. on a Delta flight I sat next to a middle aged single woman. She was not a Christian, and on learning that I was a pastor, we began to discuss spiritual things.

"How can I know that the Bible is God's word?" she asked. She wanted me to pull a silver bullet out of my bag of apologetics and giver her a proof that would never let her down.

"Have you ever read the Bible?" I asked.


"That is where I would start."

"That doesn't help," she answered in frustration. "Why would I read the Bible if I didn't believe it was inspired?"

"Because that is the only way that you will ever know whether it is inspired." I continued. "The Bible continually testifies to its own authority. Read it. If the Holy Spirit is at work in you, if God is real, the Bible itself will convince you that it is inspired by God."

I am not sure that she took my advice. She got off the plane at the next stop, and I have not heard from her since. However, that is the truth. The only way we can ultimately know whether the Bible is God's Word is by reading it.

In his Institutes John Calvin writes, “Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste." (Vol 1, pg 91). 

In his book Above All Earthly Powers, theologian David Wells concurs. “The biblical Word is self-authenticating under the power of the Holy Spirit. This Word of God is the means by which God accomplishes his saving work in his people, and this is a work that no evangelist and no preacher can do. This is why the dearth of serious, sustained biblical preaching in the Church today is a serious matter. When the Church loses the Word of God it loses the very means by which God does his work" (pg. 9).   

How about you? Are you reading your Bible? Are you meditating on it? Biblical immersion is the sure cure for doubts about whether the Bible is really God's holy Word. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

God's Battalions

Rodney Stark, a Christian social scientist who teaches at Baylor University, recently wrote God’s Battalions, the case for the Crusades, a fascinating read with an alternative view.

Like myself, you were probably taught that the “Crusades were the first round of European colonialism, conducted for land, loot, and converts by barbarian Christians who victimized the cultivated Muslims.”

Stark provides  an alternative perspective. Is it possible that “the Crusades were the first military response to unwarranted Muslim terrorist aggression?”  Stark argues “yes!” Although often theologically and ethically misguided, the Crusaders “sincerely believed that they served in God’s battalions.” Without their aggression all of Europe might today be a bastion of Islam. 

We can thank God for the Crusader’s work. In light of 911 and the events that have unfolded in recent years, I believe Stark’s book will be enlightening. As are all of his books, this text is an easy and entertaining read. I highly recommend. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vocation Matters

In his article "Work and Vocation in Scripture, Paul Minear writes, “Early Christians did not much speak of a person going to church, but more often thought of the church as being present with each person at his place of daily employment. To the degree that his work represented the Spirit’s call and the Spirit’s response, to that extent the Church was actively fulfilling its mission through him.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Balanced Christian

IN HIS BOOK, Paul, the Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, noted New Testament theologian, Dr.
Thomas Schreiner, walks the careful line between antinomianism on the one hand, and legalism on the other. A legalist believes that he earns salvation. On the other hand, antinomians believe that works are irrelevant to the Christian life.

But true grace always produces change. True grace produces growing holiness. True grace produces confidence in God's love, but it also promotes the fear of God. If these are absent it is likely that saving grace is lacking. Here is how Dr. Schreiner sums it up...

“Indeed, such holiness is imperative to obtain eternal life on the day of the Lord (cf. also Eph. 5:27; Col 1:22; 1 Thes. 3:13). Those who succumb to sin as its slave will experience not eternal life but death (Rom 6:23). God's vengeance will be inflicted on those who despise his "Holy" Spirit and live unsanctified lives (1 Thes. 4:8). Thus, the imperative to live holy lives can never be dismissed as secondary, nor can the indicative of God's grace swallow up the imperative so that it no longer exists.” (Kindle Edition, Locations 2883-2886) 

What is the appropriate conclusion? Don't presume upon the grace of God. Rather, apply yourself to godliness, holiness, and obedience, but do so in the context of God's infinite grace and love.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Its Not About Self-Discipline!

MANY THINK THAT becoming a Christian is like joining a spiritual Marine Corp. “Just a few good men." But Christianity is not primarily about self-discipline. It is about motivation. It is about a heart fully engaged in
Is Christ Your Treasure?
pursuing life's most exciting Treasure.

The Bible is all about spiritual riches. The apostle, Paul, saw the Christian religion this way. For Paul it was about the “riches of his glory” (Rom 9:23), the “riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7), and “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8-10). All of this Paul sums up in Colossians 2:3. Christ, "In whom are hidden all the Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge."

Many Christians think that their problem is a lack of self-discipline. But a lack of self-discipline is seldom the problem. A lack of motivation is the problem. All motivated people are disciplined. All unmotivated people are undisciplined. We all pursue with great discipline whatever we are convinced will make us the most happy.

My point is that Christianity is a treasure hunt. Christ is the Treasure, but the discipline to pursue that Treasure doesn't begin until the Believer connects knowing Christ with his or her happiness. When that happens self-discipline follows. 

Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit in the human soul that convinces us that all of our happiness is connected with knowing, loving, and serving Christ. That is why most of Paul's prayers are for illumination. For example, see Eph 1:15-22 and 3:14-21. 

So, let us pray fervently for illumination. We need to see Christ as our Treasure. To the degree that this happens the application of our self-discipline in the pursuit of our happiness in Christ will be extravagant. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Dying to Self Means

A FEW YEARS AGO someone posted this short description of what it means to die to yourself. I found it powerful and convicting. In accordance with the spirit of this essay, it was published anonymously. I am
reproducing it for your enjoyment, (if that is the right word). It is titled "What Dying to Self Means."

"When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely ignored and you don’t sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer with Christ; that is dying to self.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refused to let  anger rise in your heart or even to defend yourself, but take it all in patient, loving silence; that is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity and unpunctuality or any annoyance and you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, and spiritual insensibility and endure it as Jesus endured it; that is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, any offering and raiment, any climate and society, any solitude, any interruption, by the will of God; that is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or to record your own good words or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances; that is dying to self.

When you receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly aw well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment, wise enough within your heart; that is dying to self.”[1]

[1] Anonymous, Bethany House Publishing Tract 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blessed are Those Who Mourn!

John Owen
CHRISTIAN THINKERS FROM previous centuries emphasized different aspects of the Christian life. It is safe, and immeasurably helpful, to go back and occasionally drink from their well.

Our church has been preaching through the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter five. Last week's sermon discussed verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Here are the thoughts of two important Puritan preachers on the subject of mourning. The first is John Owen (1616-83), graduate of Oxford, chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and eventually vice-chancellor of Oxford.

"[God's] delight is with the humble and contrite ones, those that tremble at his word, the mourners in Zion; and such are we only when we have a due sense of our own vile condition. This will beget reverence of God, a sense of our distance from him, admiration of his grace and condescension, a due valuation of mercy, far above those light, verbal, airy attainments, that some have boasted of." (The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6, pg 257)

Jeremiah Burroughs
The second quote is from another Christian from Owen's generation, Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646). “They [Christians] look upon sin and tremble and they look upon sin and mourn.”  They “receive the promises that are in God’s Word…with trembling, that is, upon apprehension of the infinite distance that there is between God and it, and its own infinite unworthiness of the mercy that is reached out in the promise…This is the heart that is so precious in God’s eye and that God looks upon." (Gospel Fear, Soli Deo Gloria, 1996). 

Each of us should ask God for a similar attitude. God promises to comfort it greatly. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review of "Miraculous Movements"

     JUST FINISHED A NEW BOOK Miraculous Movements, (2012, Thomas Nelson) by Jerry Trousdale. There was much to like about this remarkable book.
    It documents the growing numbers of conversions amongst Moslems in Africa. As everyone in the modern world knows, this is a tough people-group to reach. But this book convinces the reader that nothing is impossible for God. It  illustrates God's power at work performing the seemingly impossible. Responding to intercessory prayer, God is converting hard-core Moslems.
     Miraculous Movements opens with the striking story of a Moslem leader's conversion. In response to prayer, Christ appeared to him in a dream. His conversion followed shortly, and he was eventually used to plant many churches.
     The demonstration of this kind of power is a common pattern in west Africa. This book contains stories (I have no reason to doubt their veracity) of people  raised from the dead, of exorcisms, and sudden and miraculous healings, all leading to mass conversions of Moslems. God uses simple, often illiterate people, to perform these mighty works.
     This is a faith-amplifying book. It is a reminder that God has the power to convert anyone, at any time, from any religion, in any place. It will also motivate intercession and prayer. Since reading it I myself have spent more time in prayer.

     However, the book has one major weakness. The author stresses the importance of training new converts to obey God's word. We couldn't agree more. However, he seems to be convinced that formal group teaching sessions discourage obedience. So, he doesn't encourage teaching in the form of lectures. Instead, this organization encourages inductive teaching sessions. They read a portion of scripture, then ask the participants to interpret and obey it.
    Inductive teaching is great, but not when it is the only form of teaching. The teaching of objective theology is crucial. Without it this movement will ultimately degenerate into legalisms, and/or outright heresy.

   So, did I like this book? Yes! It was a faith builder. My caveat relates to their rejection of expository and doctrinal teaching, the ministry that God clearly gave to the church in Eph. 4:11. God gives the church teachers, and this movement needs to put them to work.
     With this corrective in mind, read this book and enjoy it. It will stretch your faith.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Give Them Grace!

     JUDY AND I JUST FINISHED READING Give them Grace a book on parenting by our fellow laborers in the gospel, Elyse Fitzpatrick and her grown daughter, Jessica Thompson.

     The book has several strengths. It emphasizes the centrality of the gospel in parenting, a principle upon which we could not agree more. Second, it emphasizes the importance of Grace. Don't give them law: give them grace (first chapter). Your goal is not obedient children that make you look good. Don't teach your children that God loves the good little boys and girls (second chapter). You can't save you children. You can't give them new birth, and that is what they need (third chapter). Our children reject God two ways, by active rebellion and by self-righteousness (fourth chapter).

   We loved the grace emphasis in this book. However, the book also raised some concerns. First,  two Christian moms/wives are the authors. That by itself is not a problem. The problem is that the role of husband/father is not addressed. In light of the fact that  the Bible addresses all of its parenting commands to fathers, and we live in anti-patriarchal age, this causes concern. We think a chapter at the beginning about moms honoring, following, and working with their husband would have been immensely helpful. Without this material this book might inadvertently encourage a mother's autonomy from her husband, and/or conversely male passivity.

  Second, this book's wonderful emphasis on grace is also its weakness. God is a Father. That means he is a parent. The authors correctly encourage the reader to model their parenting on their knowledge of how God parents us. However, in places their understanding of God seemed simplistic and outside the entire corpus of biblical teaching about the Father's grace and how it works. For example, chapter six contains a section entitled "Donkeys, Carrots, and Sticks." There the author indicates that we should not motivate with fear (stick) or reward (carrot) because God does not motivate us that way. He motivates us with gratitude for the grace received by the gospel. Although God does motivate us with gratitude, in our view this rejection of other motives is overly simplistic.

     Reward is a significant gospel motivator. God will judge us on the basis of the works that our faith produces, and he will reward us accordingly (Phil 3:13-14, 1 Cor 9:24-25, Rev. 2:10, etc.). In addition, fear is a significant gospel motivator (2 Cor 7:1, 5:11, Phil 2:12-13). For example, Paul, the architect of justification by faith alone, never presumed upon God's grace. Rather, he feared lest he run his race in vain (Phil 3:12-16). He examined his conscience to see if he was in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5-7). Parents who motivate their children by gratitude alone might promote this kind of  motivational reduction. They might even encourage their children to presume upon God's grace. We do not want that.

     If God motivates us with reward, fear, and warnings to not presume upon his grace, we should do likewise. However, as the authors correctly caution, we should do this without ever stating or implying that our children can merit God's acceptance with their works.

     Last, Appendix Two contained instructions to parents on different ways to correct a believing or unbelieving child. We did not find this helpful. Unless the child has specifically told you that they are not a Christian (very unlikely) we feel that you should treat them as if they are all Christians. Parents are not omniscient. They do not know what God is or is not doing in their child's soul. Therefore, it is best to merely follow the apostolic instruction. Raise your children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). Leave the guesswork about their conversion to God. 

     In summary, we need to "Give Them Grace"  but it needs to be the full-orbed, nuanced grace that is in the Bible, and dads need to be at the center of its administration. If these principles are kept in mind this book can be helpful.