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When Parents Ask the Wrong Questions

“I can’t believe she disappointed us like this. She’s only fifteen! What was she thinking? What are we going to do now?”

I may not be the most intuitive person around, but even I could tell that he was angry—body tense, jaw clenched, voice shaking. But, it was a special kind of anger, the kind driven by love and fear, lashing out from a frustrated desire to protect. The anger of a parent.

 

Barely pausing for breath, he continued to vent, “How am I supposed to explain this to her mother? This is going to be my fault. I just know it!”

I was at a loss. Four years at a Bible college hadn’t prepared me to face the wrath of a frustrated father. But I still should have seen the next one coming.

“Where have you been through all this? Why didn’t you see this coming? What do we pay you for?”

Why do they always blame the youth pastor?

Parents have a lot to worry about: drugs, sex, crime, grades, attitudes, bad influences, music, movies…on and on the list goes. Is there a harder job on the planet? So, I understand the fear that nestles in the back of every parent’s mind. And, when fears are realized, they quickly turn into anger. I get that. I don’t like it when the anger turns in my direction, but I still understand.

After many years in youth ministry, I think I’ve talked with parents about every one of these issues. We’ve spent hours agonizing and strategizing over how to help their kids navigate these hazards and sail successfully into a hard-earned adulthood.

In all these years, I’ve heard a lot of question. But, even more important than the questions I have heard are the ones that I haven’t. In all my time in youth ministry, I never once had a parent say, “I’m concerned that my child doesn’t really understand the Gospel. Can you help make sure she really understands the power of God’s love and grace?” And, I’ve never had a concerned mother or father come up to me wanting to know “Do you think my son/daughter is really growing in his love for God?”

Not once.

I faced countless questions about who they were dating, what they were doing with their bodies, and how they were performing in school, but no questions about the Gospel or their heart for God.

None.

If you’re a parent, that should scare you.

The enraged father I mentioned above was upset because his daughter had gotten a tattoo. A tattoo. He’d never approached me to talk about his daughter’s spiritual well-being. Apparently that wasn’t worth an office visit. But a tattoo? That’s something else entirely.

The Gospel should change the way that we approach our families, our children. We don’t need to ignore the important issues that I mentioned above, but they shouldn’t be our only, or even our primary, concern. Instead, we should be ultimately concerned about whether we are doing everything that we can to make sure that our children understand the Gospel.

What gets your attention? Do you spend as much time talking about the story of God’s faithfulness as you do on math? Are you as concerned about your child’s heart for God as their newly discovered love for the opposite sex?

Does the Gospel matter at home?

When is my child “ready” to get baptized?

The perennial question of the Baptist parent: when is my child ready to get baptized?

And, once you’ve asked that question, you begin to wonder, what does it even mean to be “ready” for baptism? Was I “ready” when I got baptized? Then, if your brain isn’t fried yet and you haven’t decided just to ignore the question and go watch a movie, you might even ask, What is “baptism” anyway and how does it relate to things like “faith,” “repentance,” and “salvation”? If you’re not careful, you might accidentally end up doing theology.

I can almost hear the TV calling.


Whether we should baptize small children (not infants) is the question that John Starke addressed recently. Specifically, he’s responding to Trevin Wax’s post arguing that there are good reasons for delaying the baptism of small children until they’re ready. Starke understands the concerns, but he thinks they’re misguided and offers 4 reasons for baptizing young children without delay:

  1. The regular pattern in Scripture doesn’t give any indication of a probationary period.
  2. A probationary period seems to imply that there is something more than faith we need to do in order to be a Christian.
  3. Affirming belief in the gospel is never false assurance.
  4. The New Testament pattern is reactive rather than proactive concerning conversion.

You’ll have to read the post to get his full thinking on the subject, but I think he makes some good points. I’m particularly concerned about the second point and the suggestion that we need to wait until a child “owns” her faith or has a sufficiently “mature” faith before getting baptized. The first concern seems to rise directly from our rampant individualism and the idea that if the community (or family) serves as a shaping force in a person’s faith development, their faith no longer belongs to them in some way. And the second implies that you’re not really converted until your faith reaches a certain level of maturity, as though my salvation depended ultimately on the quality of my faith.

One of these days I’ll finally get around to writing my own post (it will probably take more than one) explaining how I view baptism and how my wife and I are approaching it with our daughters. But for now, just read Starke’s post and see what he has to say.

Update: Nathan Finn also addressed the issue this morning, with an interesting reflection on how his views on the subject have changed slightly over time.

Flotsam and jetsam (1/31)

HT Kevin DeYoung

Like major league baseball, a successful academic career is a very good gig. Do we really owe every 22-year-old who is admitted to a Ph.D. program the right to that career solely on the basis of getting into a Ph.D. program? Or is it enough to give them a chance to succeed, knowing full well that not all of them will? Personally, I’d rather give more people a chance, in large part because I don’t think we know which 22-year-olds are going to make the best academics.

  • A WSJ article with the provocative title “Why Rich Parents Don’t Matter” discusses a recent study looking into the impact of socio-economic status on a child’s mental development.

These results capture the stunning developmental inequalities that set in almost immediately, so that even the mental ability of 2-year-olds can be profoundly affected by the socio-economic status of their parents. As a result, their genetic potential is held back.

Merton (1915-1968) is one of the most significant religious writers of the twentieth century and a lasting influence on untold numbers of Christians (and non-Christians) from every tradition and culture. For those of us in the Bluegrass state, he also holds the distinction of being perhaps the most significant religious figure to reside in Kentucky, being a monk at Our Lady of Gesthemeni monastery near Bardstown for twenty-seven years. He is buried there today.

When it comes to a crucifixion no one would argue for beauty in an aesthetic sense. The form of a broken, bled-out human being certainly isn’t pleasing to the eye. And this lack of beauty is most true particularly in a crucifixion where the death sentence is piggy-backed onto a miscarriage of justice. But here, in the gospel account, is kingdom subversion. In one of the most brutal acts of physical horror and treachery on a cosmic scale, God weaves together the elements of beauty.

The movement got started with basic, biblical teaching about the gospel and holistic mission. It picked up speed with a network of projects and organizations committed to orphan care. And to this theological observer, it looks like it may have the momentum to reinvigorate evangelical systematic theology.

Flotsam and jetsam (12/8)

I’ve been busy wrapping up the fall semester for the last couple of days, but here some interesting links you might want to check out.

  • Brian LePort is wrestling with his Christmas Conundrums. (I vote “no” on lying to your kids about Santa, “yes” on Christmas trees, and “sort of” on buying gifts).

Stay-at-home dads should be disciplined by the church

At least, that’s the argument that Mark Driscoll made recently when asked, “What are your thoughts on stay at home dads if the woman really wants to work?” Even though the video was posted some time ago, it has recently received some attention from several bloggers, one of whom specifically called out Western Seminary in the process. So, I thought some comment was in order.

The argument that Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace provide runs roughly as follows:

  1. 1 Timothy 5:8 says that a man must provide for his family.
  2. Titus 2 says that a woman should be “homeward focused.”
  3. There are no scriptures that support the arrangement of the husband staying at home while the wife works outside the home.
  4. Therefore, any man who stays home while his wife works outside the home is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8) and should be disciplined by the church.

Granted, they do say several times that they’re not legalists and that they recognize certain “exceptional” cases where the norm might not hold (e.g. an injured husband who simply can’t work). But, they clearly argue that this is the biblical norm and any deviation from this norm except in extreme situations is sin.

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John Stackhouse and Ben Witherington have each weighed in on this video with pretty significant criticisms. Their main responses can be summarized as follows:

  1. Driscoll misreads both texts because he misunderstands the social situation in which they were written. In biblical times, there was no clear distinction between working “in the home” and “outside the home.” Most work was generally done in and around the home, with both husbands and wives participating as they were able. The sharp inside/outside division of labor is a result of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of factory work. So, Driscoll is essentially reading a modern cultural construct into the biblical texts and interpreting them through that lens.
  2. We also need to understand the cultural norms governing family dynamics in the biblical world. Paul speaks to both husbands and wives in ways that were appropriate to their cultural setting. But, this should not be interpreted to mean that these cultural norms are now absolutely binding for all cultures and all times. (Driscoll does comment on this kind of argument, dismissing any appeal to “culture” as an attempt to undermine biblical authority.
  3. So, ultimately neither of the  passages that Driscoll cites actually addresses the matter at hand. 1 Timothy 5:8 deals with the importance of taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves (primarily widows), and says nothing about where various kinds of work should take place. And Titus 2 exhorts women to carry out their roles faithfully, but does not actually indicate that working in the home is the only legitimate role they can have.

Although I disagree with Witherington and Stackhouse in some of the other things that they say about the NT and gender, I have to say that these arguments seem pretty spot on here. Driscoll does seem to be importing modern notions of family and economic realities into his understanding of the biblical texts, and this colors his conclusions in unfortunate ways.

Even beyond this, I found some of the comments made in the video rather troubling. First, I have so say that I agree completely that Driscoll’s glib dismissal of anything cultural was unfortunate. I’m very sensitive to the danger of dismissing things as “cultural” just because we don’t like them. But, that doesn’t excuse us from the task of wrestling with the cultural realities of the text. Stackhouse asks in one place what Western Seminary would think of Driscoll’s exercise in exegesis. I can tell you that regardless of what any particular professor thought of Driscoll’s conclusion (most would not be favorable), none would accept such a light dismissal of the text’s cultural context.

Grace says in one place, “As women we’re built to be home with our kids.” I’d love to see more explanation of this here. What exactly does it mean to say that women are built to be at home with the kids in a way that men aren’t? The only example she gives is to say that “our children need us as mothers. We’re the ones who tend to their needs….We’re built to be able to recognize those things.” So, women are inherently better at recognizing what their children need and meeting those needs? As a father, I object. Over the years, my wife and I have used all kinds of different arrangements, including several years when I stayed home and was the primary caregiver. I’d like to think that I did a pretty good job and was not in any way impaired by an inherent inability to discern my children’s needs effectively. Was I wrong? Are there essential differences that rendered me less sensitive to my children’s needs and limited by abilities as a caregiver? If so, I’d love to see those pointed out more clearly.

They also emphasized several times that women should be “homeward focused.” This is another one where I’d like a little more explanation. If they simply mean that women should be focused on taking care of their children and seeing that they are raised in a godly manner, then why wouldn’t we want men to be homeward focused in exactly the same way? In exactly what sense are women to be more homeward focused than men?

And, finally, I thought one of the most unfortunate remarks came toward the end. While he was expressing appreciation for Grace’s role in their family, Driscoll commented on how things would be different “if Gracie wasn’t willing to be their mom and be home with them.” So, women who work outside the home are not willing to be moms? They don’t want to be with their kids? This kind of subtle denigration of the motives of women who work outside the home is devastating and must be avoided at all costs.

At the end of the day, I appreciate Driscoll’s unbending insistence that we must always stand in submission to the demands of the text. He made a number of comments in the video about the importance of standing against unbiblical cultural norms that I thought were well said and timely. Unfortunately, the particular stance that he takes here seems unnecessarily legalistic (despite his claims to the contrary) and modernistic.

Bloody bedtime stories

I was going to try and post something thoughtful and intelligent this evening, but then I ran across this article in Ten of the Bloodiest Bedtime Stories. That’s just not fair. How am I supposed to resist a title like that? Sure I still need to finish preparing my lectures for my Philosophy & Theology class tomorrow (don’t tell my students), but this is critical research that absolutely cannot wait. If I really thought about it, I know I could come up with a way of integrating this material into our philosophical ruminations. So, I’ll get to kill two birds with one stone. (See, the bloody imagery is everywhere.)

Obviously, I succumbed to the temptation and read the article. It was fun. Stupid Little Red Riding Hood stays inside the wolf’s belly where she belongs, two of those three whiny pigs get eaten, Belle’s father actually sells her to the Beast in exchange for his own freedom, the Little Mermaid dies and her beautiful prince marries someone else, and Pinocchio smashes Jiminy Cricket with a hammer. That’s outstanding. Why doesn’t Disney make these stories? They’d be so much better.

One question that comes to mind after reading these other endings: Do we coddle our kids too much or were the kids of an earlier era a complete emotional/psychological mess?

The top banned books of the decade

The American Library Associated has published a list of the top 100 banned/challenged books from 2000-2009. Here’s the top 10:

  1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
  2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
  5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
  9. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Apparently, I need to read controversial books a bit more, since the only ones I’ve read in the top 10 are the Harry Potter books, Of Mice and Men, and the His Dark Materials series.

Some interesting inclusions from the rest of the list:

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn comes in at #14. Still? After all these years, there’s still controversy. That by itself is a pretty impressive accomplishment. Go Twain.
  • My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier hit #27. What’s the deal with this one? This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I don’t know how many times I read it, and I don’t remember anything particularly controversial. Maybe I just wasn’t sheltered enough as a child.
  • I have the same question with the Bridge To Terabithia at 28. Is this really controversy worthy?
  • #35 on the other hand is one that I haven’t read, but the title alone probably explains the controversy: Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison.
  • The fact that The Kite Runner comes in at #50 is just a shame. Sure there’s a pretty tough scene in the book, but can’t we get past that and appreciate the power of the story?
  • The Junie B. Jones books (#71)? Really? Did we run out of things to complain about?
  • And, of course, there’s the normal list of great literature that touched on difficult themes and therefore should be kept from our children: The Color Purple (17), Catcher in the Rye (19), To Kill a Mockingbird (21), Brave New World (36), Fahrenheit 451 (69), and The Handmaid’s Tale (88).

I could keep going. There’s some great literature on this list. (It also looks like there’s some real garbage, but I can’t comment on books I haven’t read). Since I obviously haven’t read everything on the list, I’d be curious to know what books you think are on here that kids really should be reading.

Flotsam and jetsam (7/23)