Family and Children
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By In Family and Children, Theology

A word to sons… and therefore to all of us

I’d like to say a few words by way of challenge to young men as they’re growing up. It concerns how they relate to their parents, particularly (but not exclusively) their fathers.

This will be most obviously relevant to young men who are approaching adulthood. At the same time, it will also be relevant in various ways to the rest of us. For as Paul writes in Galatians 3:26, all of us are sons of our Heavenly Father through faith in Christ.One of the great temptations of young men as they grow older is the wrong kind of competitiveness.

As boys grow into men, they enter what we might call a different relational “space”. That is, they (rightly) start to relate as men to other people, such as their parents and siblings. They start exercising leadership, initiative, and a new kind of emotional strength. This is all good, but it brings some dangers. (more…)

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By In Family and Children, Theology

Burdened

Watching a loved one make foolish choices which you know will end in his pain or complete devastation is heart-wrenching. You watch as your loved one abuses drugs or alcohol, refuses to take care of his health by overeating, gives himself to sexual immorality, pays no attention to warnings about how he is treating his spouse, or a myriad of other things. He stubbornly refuses to hear good counsel. If there were something more you could do to turn him around, to shake him out of it, to change his heart, you would do it. The last thing you want to see is this destructive pattern to continue and end where you know it will end.

Love desires what is best for the beloved. Love causes great grief and unceasing sorrow when you see your beloved destroying himself.

Israel according to the flesh, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is on a destructive path. The majority are stubborn, refusing to hear the gospel; the gospel that proclaims that all of the hopes given to their patriarchs have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. If they don’t turn to Christ, they will suffer an eternal hell as disinherited children to whom belonged sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, the promises, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh (Rom 9.4).

This is Paul’s family. He loves them. He loves them so much that he would pray that he himself be anathematized from Christ for their sake (Rom 9.3). That is, if Paul could suffer eternal punishment so that they would turn to Christ in faith, he would do it. That is a burden. That is love.

This love is not unprecedented. Paul is echoing what Moses did when YHWH threatened to destroy Israel at Mt. Sinai because of the worship of the golden calf. Moses interceded on behalf of Israel saying, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exod 32.31-32). Paul is a new Moses who is recognizing the sins of his family in rejecting their God. YHWH has revealed himself in the man Christ Jesus, who is God blessed forever (Rom 9.5). Israel is doing now what they did at Mt. Sinai, and destruction is imminent. Paul, like Moses, is standing between God and Israel praying that he himself be cursed for the sake of his family. (more…)

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By In Culture, Family and Children

On the Nashville Statement and My Signing of it

Guest post by Alistair Roberts

Note: Alistair Roberts signed the Nashville Statement, but has some reservations from a conservative perspective. He agreed to repost his lengthier observations here.

I’ve posted some thoughts here.

The Nashville Statement is a reassertion and defence of the creational reality of humanity, of the basic anthropological difference: that humanity is created and divinely blessed with fruitfulness as male and female. It is this reality that is under assault today on various fronts, as the natural order of creation is challenged by those who variously deny this difference, whether they reduce the sexed body to a superficial façade that can be changed, abandon substantive sexed selfhood for radical gender performativity, studiously downplay the ways in which the sexes are naturally physically and psychologically ordered to each other, or detach marriage from any procreative end or form. In standing against these developments, we aren’t expressing some peculiar or eccentric claims of Christian theology, but upholding creational realities that have been generally recognised across human ages and cultures.

Read the whole article.

As I suggest in the article, the Nashville Statement is far from perfect in a number of respects and various critical pieces have been written about it by writers who hold to firmly orthodox positions on sexual ethics (see Matt Lee Anderson’s remarks here, for instance). There are a number of things that I would have liked to have seen in it, including:

  1. A much more robust account of the grounding of sexual ethics in creational reality, making clear that this isn’t just a matter of biblical revelation and that explicit scriptural teaching isn’t the only way to arrive at a basic understanding of marriage or the problems with same-sex relations and transgender ideology.
  2. A clearer admission of the many ways in which evangelicals themselves have been complicit in or compromised by the shifts being challenged. The ways we have participated in a culture of divorce, the normalization of a contraceptive approach to marital relations, our downplaying of the procreative calling of marriage, and widespread use of pornography among Christians are all sins we must openly confess and address if we are to have any real success in dealing with the issues that the Statement highlights. These things are all connected: same-sex marriage was a fairly direct outgrowth of cultural trends that we are all fairly profoundly compromised by.
  3. A much firmer statement about the ways in which relations between men and women have been disordered by the Fall, with the result that natural differences are twisted towards mutual frustration, oppression, and destruction.
  4. A better framing of the seventh article, whose denial seems to push back against groups such as the Spiritual Friendship crowd, but which lacks the clarity it really needs to do this well. In my reading of it, I think it allows—perhaps unwittingly, I don’t know—for the accommodation of some of their concerns and positions as potentially orthodox, while firmly resisting certain of their ways of framing things. I think such challenge is needed, but I fear some signers and framers of the Statement will have dismissed the Spiritual Friendship position without adequately understanding what they are presenting. It is important to recognize that male androphilia and female gynephilia are naturally disordered and that the significance of nature isn’t negated by grace: that naturally, in the good and proper functioning of creation, men are sexually attracted to women and women to men. It is also important, however, to appreciate that the ‘homosexuality’ of gay and lesbian persons is typically merely one aspect of broader experiences of selfhood and lebenswelt that, though perhaps atypical for their sexes (remember, sexuality is a gender difference—men are gynephiles and women are androphiles), can often find legitimate expression in ways that aren’t sexual, and which can be very good and praiseworthy. The Spiritual Friendship crowd, whatever their faults, are actually trying to forge a positive vision of what faithful Christian discipleship looks like for persons in such a position. I fear that, if we aren’t careful, we will be trying to beat something with nothing.
  5. A strong word against the vicious animus against LGBT persons that has far too often infected Christian contexts, rendering an orthodox stance on sexual holiness odious to those who cannot separate it from the personal hatred that they have experienced from Christians on account of their sexuality. The radical loss of the credibility of Christian sexual ethics in society has many causes, but this must be placed near the top. It is great to see the call to present the truth in a loving way, but without a direct condemnation of the hatred for and unhealthy obsession with LGBT persons that exists in many quarters of society and the Church, we won’t really be addressing our own sins.

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By In Culture, Family and Children, Theology

Mere Sexuality

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the Nashville Statement this week. I have had more disagreements with the CBMW over the years. Initially, I was enthralled by them. But more reading, in particular, historical reading, has led me away from them. However, this statement is good. It lays out mere sexuality, as in basic, very basic, Biblical sexual ethics concerning marriage, sodomy, and transgenders. Initially, I thought the statement was too basic to be worthwhile. But the response by many progressive Christians has vindicated the need for it. Surprise, surprise many Christians are not as firm on the basics as they let on.  (more…)

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By In Counseling/Piety, Family and Children, Theology, Wisdom

Like turning a container ship

One of the most striking and unexpected lessons I’ve learned over the last decade or so is that repentance is hard.

Very hard.

Initially this came as something of a surprise. Like most people, I used to cling to the instinctive idea that we’re basically in control of our lives, that we can make rational choices about which of our desires to follow and which should be resisted, and so on. But a few years of experience – both of helping other people to deal with their sinful, foolish and destructive habits, and in dealing with my own – have kicked that idea firmly into the long grass.

(more…)

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By In Family and Children

The Case for the Community Calendar

At the heart of the Church Calendar is the weekly gathering of God’s people around the Lord’s Table. This is the Lord’s Day. Every other celebration throughout the Church Year is nothing more than a commentary of what goes in the church each week.

Since our earliest days after the resurrection of Jesus, the church has been celebrating the Lord’s Day on Sunday. Our fathers understood that this day was anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures with all of the references to the “eighth day.” Circumcision occurred on the eighth day (Lev 12.3). Cleansing of lepers went through an eight-day process, and he was fully cleansed on the eighth day (Lev 14.10, 23). Other uncleannesses went through a seven-day cleansing process so that the unclean person was finally clean on the eighth day (cf. Lev 15.14; Num 6.10). The Temple of Solomon and the visionary Temple of Ezekiel both have seven-day cleansings with the eighth day being the day that final cleansing is realized (1Kg 8.65; Ez 43.27).

Time, being a part of creation, was corrupted by the sin of Adam. The entire first week of creation had to be cleansed. A new creation came out of the old. This happened on the eighth day, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Consequently, the apostles set the example for us to gather the church on the first day of the week; or the eighth day (cf. Ac 20.7; 1Cor 16.2).

While it is good to follow this pattern, it doesn’t seem that this is absolutely necessary. There is freedom in the new covenant church to set apart times to gather around the Lord’s Table on other days if necessary because of persecution or some other extenuating circumstance. God has given the church “stars”–pastors (cf. Rev 1.20)–to govern the times and seasons for the church as wisdom dictates what is best for the church in that situation. When the pastors of these churches set the time to gather around the Lord’s Table, then it is incumbent upon the members of the congregation to be there unless providentially hindered. To refuse to obey those who have rule over you (Heb 13.17) is a sin.

But what about the rest of the activities of the church? The rest of the activities of the church that don’t involve the Lord’s Table are not “absolutely necessary.” That is, you shouldn’t be under the threat of excommunication for not going to a Vespers’ service or a special Feast.

If these activities aren’t absolutely necessary, then why do churches have them? God has given us a blueprint for what he wants the church to be. This blueprint is all throughout Scripture but culminates in one glorious vision in Revelation 21–22. The pastor is called to be a Temple builder (cf. 1Cor 3). We look at the blueprints and then begin to figure how best to build our local congregations to match the design of God. The Lord’s Day service is non-negotiable. It is foundational. But the Lord’s Service is only one aspect of our lives together. To build a loving, vibrant culture, we must have shared life, which means shared time. These times need to contribute to what we are called to be as the church.

God’s Temple is a house of prayer for all nations, so we have special prayer services outside of the Lord’s Service to keep us engaged with one another and fulfill our mission for the world. God’s Temple is a place of celebration, so we have special feast days together–everything from fellowship meals on certain Sundays of the month to big blow out feasts for Easter and All Saints.

No, you won’t be excommunicated if you don’t come to these other activities. But why wouldn’t you want to come? Why do other voluntary commitments to ball teams and other cultural events take precedence over commitments to the church? Why are these other activities more important to you and your family? Why do you love these other things more than you love Christ’s church?

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. Those other activities are probably all fine in their proper places. My responsibility in contributing to the building of this Temple of God is, in part, to lead those under my care to examine their lives in terms of what God is wanting us, his church, to be. We are not to be looking at our participation in the church as merely an “activity,” a burdensome commitment among many other demands on us. We are not to think of Sunday worship as “punching our time card.” Our life as the church is a way of life. That life involves prioritizing the church and her life over other activities in life; that is, saying “No” to invitations to do other things because you have a prior commitment to give your life to the church.

If we are not doing this, then what are we doing? If we aren’t living life together and building a culture, then we are just another volunteer organization with a pep talk and a snack on Sundays.

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By In Culture, Family and Children, Wisdom

A Few Cheers for Worldview Education

 “To imagine oneself in the place of another [is] the only human future.” -David Dark

Upton Sinclair once quipped, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Rod Dreher—channeling a recent lecture by Joshua Gibbs—has outlined “the problem with worldview education.” As one who gets a paycheck from providing such an education, I’m aware that I’m not approaching the issue from a neutral position. But heck, I’m a worldview teacher; I know there isn’t such a creature as neutrality anyhow, so why not offer a brief defense?

To be clear, I wasn’t at the conference to hear Joshua’s lecture, so my critique is limited to Dreher’s summation, which begins:

“The problem with worldview education, [Gibbs] said, is that it closes off the possibility of wonder by providing a rigid ideological measuring stick for texts. Gibbs said it gives students unearned authority over a book. Hand them ‘The Communist Manifesto,’ they open it up, say, ‘Marxist!’, then case it aside. Hand them ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra,’ they open it up, see Nietzsche’s name, say, ‘Nihilist!’ — and cast it aside.”

Positively, I’m appreciative of the danger of “unearned authority” over a text. In my worldview class at least, we read Plato before discussing Platonism, we read Camus before discussing Existentialism. What I’m after is honesty—taking people at their word, not imposing an alien agenda onto them.

My decision to organize the curriculum as such has as much to do with pedagogy as it does integrity, however. It seems to me humans learn by approaching the world from the particular to the general. We don’t learn the “principle of sowing and reaping” and then act accordingly. Rather, we do or don’t study for a test and then do or don’t receive a good grade. From those experiences, over time, we come to understand sowing and reaping at a conceptual level. Likewise, before one identifies an “ism” associated with a person, one must do the difficult, honest work of first reading the person.

Dreher goes on:

“Gibbs was not arguing for Marxism on nihilism. He was saying that to truly encounter and wrestle with a great book (even a great bad book!), you have to enter into its world. For example — and this is me saying this, not him — in order to understand where Marxism comes from, you need to put yourself in the place of the man who hears something liberating in, ‘Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.’ Why did Marxism sound plausible and morally righteous to people once upon a time? What does it get right about justice? What does it get wrong? How do we know?”

Here, it seems Dreher is arguing contra Gibbs. Gibbs, If I’m understanding him correctly, is saying students should read the words “workers of the world, unite!” nakedly, taking no note of any plausibility structure (i.e. worldview) which may make such words intelligible and attractive. Indeed, such context would only prevent wonder, according to Gibbs. Now, I’m with Dreher here—it is worthwhile indeed to enter the man’s world, understand the given biases at play. When done well, such a worldview education doesn’t cause the student to toss the book aside; far from it! It rather opens the book up anew to the student. Making the word “worldview” synonymous with “lazy/dismissive thinking” is, ironically, lazy and dismissive.

You see, worldview education begins with the humble premise that we aren’t approaching the world “from above.” As the poet Anne Carson put it, “There is no objective place.” We are creatures, bound by space and time. We don’t offer some supposed “neutral” interpretation of a given book, painting, data point, or fact. Rather, conscious or not of our myriad prejudices, we encounter the world Christianly. Likewise, every other reader, connoisseur, or scientist comes to the world from their own particular angle.

Worldview education seeks, imperfectly no doubt, to give these angles a voice at the Harkness table. Could such an education make students arrogant as Gibbs fears? I suppose. However, does the alternative make the student any less arrogant: supposing that the texts they are reading are composed by context-less men, and that they are encountering them unencumbered by their own commitments, values, and motives? I think not.

In the end, having read countless articles by Gibbs over the years, I have no doubt that he and I share common educational philosophies and goals. Further, his fear of creating thoughtless readers is valid. I also see too many students quite willing to dismiss foreign ideas out of hand. However, training students in worldviews—teaching students the empathetic skills needed to see the world through another’s eyes—is not the problem. Indeed, worldview education is the solution.

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