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July 16, 2005

This will be the final article in which I address advertising and the church. Since posting the first two articles I have received many comments about what I wrote. Today I’d like to add a little bit of clarity, especially to the questions of pastorruss who wrote “As you attempt to advertise your church via web, newspaper, etc. you will obviously be trying not only to attract a specific group of people (non-believers) but by your very choice of styles, colors, wording, etc. you will also be attempting to attract a specific demographic (I’m sure you realize that you will not be able in one site design, layout, etc. be able to attract all demographics). How is this different than the Saddleback Sam approach?”

To answer this, we need to see the difference between marketing and a marketing orientation. I am borrowing some of this information from my review of the book Selling Out The Church which helped shape and clarify my thinking about this. This is a book I highly recommend.

A marketing orientation within the church begins with the assumption that the church is primarily a service agency that exists to meet the needs of a consumer, which in this case is the unbeliever. This view teaches that a felt need is a legitimate need because in a marketing paradigm the customer is always right. At the heart of marketing is an assumption that theology has long denied - that people know what is best for them. Scripture teaches the exact opposite - that the church has something people need, but something these people do not want and do not know they need! The church has no business asking unbelievers (ie consumers) what they would like in a church, for the church already knows their deepest need.

This is a marketing orientation whereby every aspect of the church is answerable to the marketing plan. Would you like to begin a new ministry? How does it fit with the marketing plan? Will it be attractive to unbelievers or not? How will the pastor preach? Will be preach an expository sermon or an anecdotal sermon which will have greater appeal to unbelievers? The marketing orientation decides the answer to all these questions.

People who believe in the importance of this marketing orientation claim that they draw from Scripture and that Jesus and His followers used marketing to attract people. While Jesus used components of marketing, He did not subscribe to a marketing orientation as do the church marketers. There is no biblical basis to support such a marketing orientation. In fact, the marketing orientation is antithetical to Christianity because it presupposes an exchange mindset in which goods or services pass between parties. Yet the Gospel is a message of grace. There is no equal exchange. Instead, God gives us a gift of grace. A marketing mindset may lead us to feel that God has an obligation towards us (in which we exchange service for blessing) or may lead us to seek reciprocity in relationships, despite the biblical emphasis on self-denial.

In their book Selling Out The Church Kenneson and Street write, “We believe that placing a marketing orientation at the center of the church’s life radically alters the shape and character of the Christian faith by redefining the character and mission of the church in terms of manageable exchanges between producers and consumers. Much that is central to the Christian life will not fit neatly into the management/marketing scheme, and, not surprisingly, these matters are neglected in a marketing paradigm.” (page 62). And I agree with this. We cannot allow our marketing to alter the shape or character of our faith.

When we advertise in such a way that we appeal to unbelievers, at least in our web sites, I do not feel we are altering the shape of our faith. Instead, we are merely directing advertising at a specific group. This is analogous to the apostles appealing to either Jews or Gentiles in their preaching or in their epistles. They chose a specific group to whom they tried to appeal. They did not alter their underlying faith or values in doing this.

July 15, 2005

Yesterday I posted an article about church web sites that turned out to be a little bit controversial. I was quite sure in advance of the direction the discussion would take and intended to address the controversy today. So here goes.

In the article I pointed to the fact that many, if not most, church web sites contain words and information that suggest they are primarily targetted more to believers than to unbelievers. I suggested that church web sites ought to be targetted specifically at unbelievers. I was sure to suggest that I am not advocating a seeker-friendly, church growth marketing orientation in a church whereby the church is driven by its marketing, but referred only to the bits of advertising done by almost all churches (at least in this area). This includes primarily the web site, but also newspaper advertisements and perhaps signs outside the church.

Several people expressed concern with this, either in the comments or via email. David wrote, “I’m sorry, but I disagree with the whole notion that Church (capital C, indicating the organization and place of worship) is supposed to be attractive to unbelievers.” While he expressed his affirmation of the importance of evangelism, he believes evangelism is to happen primarily outside of the church. Another person expressed a similar concern, saying, “I do wonder sometimes why we try to especially attract unbelievers into our church services when we are instructed to go out into the world to teach them.”

The following quote from John MacArthur’s must-read book Ashamed of the Gospel is helpful in this regard.

“Scripture says the early Christians ‘turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). In our generation the world is turning the church upside down. Biblically, God is sovereign, not ‘unchurched Harry.’ The Bible, not the marketing plan, is supposed to be the sole blueprint and final authority for all church ministry. Ministry should meet people’s real needs, not salve their selfishness. And the Lord of the church is Christ, not some couch potato with the remote control in his head. I never hear the term ‘user-friendly church’ without thinking of Acts 5 and Ananias and Sapphira. What happened there flies in the face of almost all contemporary church-growth theory. The Jerusalem church certainly wasn’t very user friendly. In fact, it was exactly the opposite; Luke tells us this episode inspired great fear…upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things’ (v.11). The church service that day was do disturbing that none of the unchurched people ‘dared to associate with them.’ The thought of attending such a church struck terror in their hearts, even though ‘the people held them in high esteem’ (Acts 5:13). The church was definitely not a place for sinners to be comfortable — it was a frightening place!” (p.51).

This may be surprising in light of the article I posted yesterday, but I agree that the purpose of the worship service is primarily to edify believers. It is primarily a time to read the Word, hear the Word preached, celebrate the sacraments and fellowship with one another. In short, it is a place of worship and only believers have the ability to bring pleasing worship to God. Hence the worship service is primarily a time for Christians. I do believe that evangelism is a secondary purpose for worship services, as Paul himself expresses concern that the behavior of believers may negatively impact the unbelievers present in the service. The New Testament model points towards both believers and unbelievers being present during the services, but the services being primarily a place of edification for Christ-followers.

Despite this, I still believe that web sites, and many other forms of advertising, should be geared primarily (I’m using that word a lot today) towards the unbeliever. There are a few reasons for this.

First, believers know what questions to ask to find a church that is doctrinally sound and that would be a good fit for them. Conversly, most unbelievers do not. If I were to move to a different town, I have the knowledge and vocabulary to speak intelligently with a pastor or elder and find if a certain church would be a good fit for me. I know the differences between Presbyterian, Baptist and Pentecostal and would be able to filter churches according to my specific beliefs on both essential and nonessential doctrines. I know the differences between various denominations within any of those larger spheres, or at least have the knowledge to discern what these differences are. So it is not essential that all of this information appear on a web site, and especially that it be most prominent. In fact, if a church gives primacy to information that is primarily of use to Christians, they are, by definition, excluding the people who most need information.

Second, I believe it is exceedingly important that churches take a stand against “sheep stealing.” Churches need to have a policy in place about how they handle visitors who already attend another church in the community but are looking for a change of scenery. Some pastors would go as far to suggest that churches in a local area should covenant together to only accept former members of each other’s churches under very specific circumstances. With the prevelance of transfer growth in evangelical churches, this may not be a bad idea. Transfer growth is obviously a plague within evangelicalism. We can see this merely by pointing to the vast numbers of megachurches in existence today and the fact that there are no more Christians in America right now than there were long before these churches began. Churches grow by shuffling sheep.

One way churches can guard against attracting members of other bodies is to make their advertising more appealing to unbelievers than to believers. After all, if the boast in our advertising is our wonderful doctrine, we appeal only to people who already attend church but are looking to escape to a new one. We make ourselves most attractive to the people who least need to hear our message. Ultimately our advertising does little but tell other believers why our church would be a better place for them to attend.

Third, and I admit this is something of a reductio ad absurdum, but if we think deeply about our advertising, we have to target it at one group or another. If we are not specifically targetting unbelievers, who are we hoping to woo to our churches? Obviously it must be believers. There may be times when believers have good reason to seek out a new church. Perhaps a family has just moved to town, or a family has been convicted by the Spirit that they can no longer remain in an apostate church. In these examples we do well to woo them to our fellowship. However, most of the time we advertise only to the already-churched - to people who are merely disgruntled with their current church.

I would refer you again to the book Stealing Sheep by William Chadwick. He provides the specific example of Charles Swindoll’s church. Through doing interviews and surveys at that church, Chadwick found that fully 96% of the people attending that church had transferred from another. With 6000 people attending the church and the average church in the United States claiming only 100 members, it does not require a degree in statistics to see that Swindoll’s church has done what may be irreparable damage to many small churches. How did his church advertise itself to the community? I cannot say, but I suspect that they emphasized Swindoll’s reputation as a conservative Christian, thus appealing far more to believers than unbelievers. (I apologize if these statistics are slightly inaccurate. I am pulling them from memory as my pastor is borrowing this book at the moment so I cannot refer to it).

So here’s the rub. We need to be very deliberate with who we target through our advertising. Whether consciously or not, we target someone. We need to be careful to ensure that we are doing our utmost to build the kingdom of God, not merely our congregation. While we may have a large congregation, if we have merely drawn people from other churches, the net gain to the kingdom is slim-to-none. But if we draw unbelievers, we grow the “kingdom-count,” having the privilege of being involved in drawing one of God’s elect to Himself.

July 14, 2005

My church has asked me (once again) to redesign our web site. This is going to be the fourth redesign of the site in the four years I’ve been at the church. Some of the previous changes have been initiated by myself, while others were at the bequest of the staff. This time it is mutual. In speaking to new members and to visitors we have found that nearly 100% of people who come to the church for the first time have first visited our web site. It is that important. It is the first or second point of contact for almost every person that walks through the doors. Before we have a chance to shake a hand or introduce ourselves, people have already met us via the web. So we want to be sure we are giving people the right message.

One phenomenon we have noticed is that many people who walk through the doors are already church-goers who have been attracted to what is happening in our church. While we are glad to see people show up, we are not eager to be part of the “sheep-stealing” that is endemic in evangelical churches. As I have indicated in the past, there are many big churches where well over ninety percent of the attendees have transferred from other churches. The Church Growth Movement, on the whole, has been an utter failure in drawing their target audience of unbelievers. Most big churches are built at the expense of smaller churches. Most exciting churches are built at the expense of old and dull ones. William Chadwick, an advocate of Church Growth who is nevertheless honest about its shortcomings has written an excellent book, Stealing Sheep, which should be required reading for pastors.

In the past weeks I have been thinking about how our church can create an advertising presence that is attractive to unbelievers or to those whom the Spirit is stirring, while at the same time being unattractive to the seemingly endless numbers of professed Christians who are bored with their current church or who are seeking only to move where there is more excitement. These people are a plague within Christianity. Sure there are many good reasons to abandon one church and join another, but more often than not people leave for all the wrong reasons. And before we continue, allow me to make on thing clear. By the words “advertising presence,” I do not refer to a marketing orientation within my church, but the little bits of advertising we do, be it a web site, an advertisement in the local newspaper or even the signs we put out on the road to guide people to our location. I have been pondering how we can leverage these to ensure they attract only the people we want to see walking through those doors.

Having hunted around the Internet I think it is safe to say that a lot, perhaps even the majority of church sites, are geared more towards Christians than unbelievers. Consider the following example. One church, situated in California, has the following information plastered front and center on the main page of their site. This is the first thing a visitor sees when he arrives at the site:

“We are a non-denominational, independent church in Eagle Rock, California that is prayerfully committed to the glory of God:

  • by submission to the authority of the Scriptures
  • through holy and loving ministry
  • with our mission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world

We are grateful that you are visiting our website. Hope Bible Church is an independent, non-denominational congregation, gathered for the purpose of glorifying God by submission to the authority of Scripture, through holy and loving ministry, with our mission to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. We believe that by treasuring Christ we will be enabled to develop
disciples, mobilize ministry, and produce praise.”

I do not wish to argue with any of that. I think it is wonderful that this church is committed to the authority of the Scriptures, to ministry and to fulfilling the Great Commission. But if we look at the verbiage on that page, to whom does it appeal? An unbeliever, looking for a church to attend, will be confused by all of the “Christianese.” There is little there to compel an unbeliever to visit the church. After all, he has no interest in proclaiming the gospel or in submitting to the authority of Scripture. These things mean nothing to him. It seems clear that the appeal of this church will be to peers - to other Christians. But by definition, they are the ones that least need to visit the church.

I did a Google search for Reformed Presbyterian Church and quickly found the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ottawa which is a church I have often attended while visiting family in that city. The first thing the visitor sees at that site is, “The Ottawa Reformed Presbyterian Church is a member congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. We have two worship services each Lord’s Day (Sunday): the first is at 10am, and the second is at 5:30pm. From September through June we also have Sabbath School classes for all ages at 11:15am (immediately after our morning worship service).” This is not particularly bad, but it is also not particularly helpful to an unbelieving visitor. The average unbeliever has no interest in denominational affiliation and will only be confused by the use of the word “Sabbath.” I know that this church is outwardly focused and has a diverse congregation - yet the site does nothing to present that. Instead it provides information that will appeal largely to people who are already believers.

I found many other examples. How, as an unbeliever, would you deal with this, taken from another Presbyterian church? “We believe that God desires His church to set forth a clear statement of her doctrine supported from Scripture. We therefore accept as our subordinate standards (i.e. subordinate to the Bible), The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger & Shorter Catechisms. In addition to these doctrinal statements, we adhere to the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, which is our continuing application of God’s written Word to conditions today.”

Many of the more prominent churches led by big-name Reformed pastors do little better. Grace Community Church, home of John MacArthur, has the following message front and center: ” Thank you for visiting Grace Community Church online. The Mission of Grace Community Church is to glorify God and extend His kingdom by living and proclaiming His truth in the world. We encourage you to explore the many ministries and resources available to you 24 hours a day.” Bethlehem Baptist, John Piper’s church, has mostly administrative information (service times, job postings).

The point is clear: many of these churches are, probably unwittingly, writing introductions to their churches that appeal only or primarily to other believers. Lo and behold, they are then drawing only or primarily believers (or at least church-goers) to their churches. If I were to move to a new city and research a church this information would be helpful. If I grow tired of my current church or if the sermons are simply too challenging, this information will help me find a new church. But for the unbeliever who is looking for a church to attend, this will only add to the confusion.

The best I can do by way of analogy is to think of a time I began a new job. I had just finished graduated from a computer program at college and had found my first job. The first day I began that job was one of the most humbling days of my life. I was introduced to more new words and concepts than I knew existed. I had to immediately expand my vocabulary to include all sorts of terms related to telephone hardware and software and to many aspects of software development. I was so confused that had I had the opportunity, I might have walked right away. Certainly if these terms had been included in the job description I would never have applied for the position.

This makes me wonder just how many unbelievers are walking away from churches whose web sites only add to rather than clarify the confusion people must already feel when they begin to seek out a church.

While it is easy enough to err in this direction, churches can also go too far to the other side. The Meeting House, a popular church here in Oakville, greets visitors to their web site with a huge, bold print declaring “God Hates Religion!” They then say, “Do we have your attention?…Welcome to the website of The Meeting House - a church for people who aren’t into church! We’re a dedicated bunch of Christ-followers (the literal meaning of the word “Christian”) who are passionate about introducing others to the real Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than come to start a new religion, Jesus himself was very clear that he came to call us into a new intimacy of relationship with the Creator of the universe.”

I can’t say I’m too fond of blasting people with the message that “God hates religion.” I know it’s a catchy slogan and really something of a 21st century cliche, but God doesn’t hate religion - He just hates false religion. Christianity itself, no matter how we try to make it anything but, is a religion (not merely a relationship, as wonderful as this relationship is). It was simple enough to find many other churches that provided information that was patently false in their desire to attract people to their churches.

Many of the seeker-sensitive churches do a little bit better on their web sites, trying to gear them to unbelievers rather than church-goers. Some succeed and some fail miserably. Saddleback’s site greets the visitor with a simple message, “We’d love to have you join us for church at Saddleback this weekend. On these pages you’ll find info about our services and times, what’s happening for children and students, directions, clips of our messages and music, and much more. We want to make it easy to get to Saddleback, and enjoyable when you arrive! Remember: You Matter to God!” While I am not a big fan of the church, I can’t deny that they provide the type of message that will have some appeal to an unbeliever. The message clarifies rather than increases confusion.

Ultimately, and I hate to say this, the unbeliever is looking at a church to see what it can do for him. For unbelievers, church may be little more than a social function or may fit in the same category as a child’s baseball league - it is something to do to build character in the kids. People who do not believe are not looking for a church where they can learn about the London Confession or attend Sabbath school. But if you draw people to a church with the promise of all you will do for them - if you soft-sell them on Christianity - you will have to continue to cater to them. So churches need to find ways of making themselves attractive to unbelievers while still holding fast to the truth.

Our church has decided to focus on three areas that are as important to unbelievers as they are to us - community, family and self. We hope to show people in our community that the church can bring fulfillment in each of these areas. We intend to put almost nothing on the site that is “churchy.” We’re all tired of attracting the already-churched. So we hope to walk the fine line wherein we can hold fast to the truth of what Christianity is, while at the same time providing unbelievers with a message that will be attractive to them. We want to make people aware of what the church is doing, through God’s power, to make a positive impact on the community, to build stronger families, and to give individuals the one thing they need most - the saving message of Jesus Christ. We want to bring Good News by first being good news.

July 12, 2005

Today I’d like to once again crack open the Feedback Files, where I answer questions that have been sent to me by readers of this site. I decided to post this one because it challenged me to deal with some issues that I have often questioned but never pondered.

“Certain aspects of reformed theology make a lot of sense to me, but there’s one question no one has ever been able to answer for me: if thorough depravity is correct, and there’s no way any of us can come to Christ unless God chooses us…why doesn’t God just choose everybody?”

First, I’d like to say that I am not so sure that there is an answer to this question that will satisfy the natural man. That is to say, that without the Spirit’s help I don’t know that we can answer this question in a way that will make a sinful person, like you or me, feel satisfied with the answer. Thankfully, as will see, God has addressed this concern in the Bible.

In Romans 9 Paul discusses election at length, concluding in verse 18 “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” He then turns to this very objection. “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” In other words, if a person cannot become a believer because he is not among the elect, how can God find fault with him? How can God condemn a person who lacks the ability to be saved? Paul answers, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:18-19). Ultimately, Paul says, God is sovereign and is able to do what He wishes. As mere created beings we have no right to question His sovereign decrees.

But God is not unfair or unjust in His decision to save only some. Allow me to present an analogy, albiet a weak one. If I walk through the streets of Toronto and choose to treat one homeless person to a lunch buffet, does this mean I have been unfair to the other thousands of homeless people living on the streets of Toronto? No, of course not. Extending grace to one person does not mean I have wronged all others. I have no moral obligation to extend equal grace to each person. In the same way, God is free to extend grace to whomever He chooses. Despite this freedom of Divine choice, as humans we tend to recognize that it is unfair to treat equals in a different way. It would seem unfair of me to extend special love to only one of my children, especially a love that is greater than that I express towards my other child. Yet I have no right to impose my finite, human morality on God. As Wayne Grudem says in his Systematic Theology, “If God ultimately decided to create some creatures to be saved and others not to be saved, then that was his sovereign choice, and we have no moral or scriptural basis on which we can insist that it was not fair” (page 683).

When we study the Scripture we see that Jesus never excused unbelievers on the basis of God’s choice. In John 8:43-44 He says, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Jesus does not say, “You do not believe because you are not elect.” He tells these people that they are not saved because of their own decision - their willful rejection of God. A few chapters earlier Jesus says, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Jesus is clear that the fault lies with the individual and not with God.

It has become something of a cliche, but it bears mentioning that God does not condemn anyone to hell. He does not need to. Humans condemn themselves to hell with their willful rejection of their Creator. Nobody forced Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. As free moral agents they chose to reject God, knowing full well that they were disobeying Him. Since that time every other human being has deliberately chosen to disobey God. We each condemn ourselves to hell by this act of rejection. Yet God is gracious to extend grace to some, providing them the promise and assurance of a return to Paradise.

Before I close, I would like to point out that questions of this nature are not limited to the Reformed understanding of Christianity. Even Arminians must wrestle with this question: “Why would God create humans that He knew would reject Him and go to hell?” If God is truly sovereign and omniscient, knowing the end from the beginning as He claims in the Bible, He must know who will accept and reject Him. He must have known this from eternity past. Yet He still went ahead and created billions of men and women who would choose hell over heaven. So regardless of whether a Christian is Reformed or Arminian, He must deal with difficult questions pertaining to God’s foreknowledge. Of course Open Theists find a way around this by suggesting that God does not foreknow the decisions made by free moral agents and He continually hopes that some will choose Him, but this solution is both unsatisfying and patently unscriptural.

In the end, as with so many other doctrines, we must take our comfort not in fully understanding how or why God works, but in His Sovereignty. As humans we often allow our emotions to dictate our theology. We cannot conceive of a God so “unfair” the He would create people who would inevitably go to hell. Yet we must be certain always to base our theology on a proper understanding of God’s Word. When we do that, we will be able to take comfort in and feel emotion about what is true, rather than what we wish were true.

July 11, 2005

Of all the books I read, and admittedly, that is quite a few books, I often feel that the biographies are most helpful to my Christian walk. I developed an early love for biographies, for as I’ve mentioned in the past, my mother reads those and her Bible almost exclusively. She taught me the importance of reading about and understanding the lives of the great saints of the past, that we might be able to learn from their examples. As a child I remember reading biographies of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, Eric Liddell and many dedicated but relatively unknown missionaries. I have little doubt that the lives of such people did much to shape my growing faith and I am forever indebted to them.

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of spending a few minutes studying the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. In the previous chapter the author has written about many of the great Old Testament figures - Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others. He seeks to encourage the readers of the epistle to be confident in the certainty of what God has promised but not yet actually given. He encourages his readers to learn perseverance from the examples of these saints. Having done that, he begins chapter twelve with, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” He paints a picture of the Christian as a runner. He is in a stadium surrounded by multitudes of people cheering him on as he runs a race. These people who are cheering him have already run and successfully completed this same race. They shout encouragement to those who are still running and admonish them if they should stumble.

While the author is clearly referring primarily to the Old Testament figures he wrote about just one chapter earlier, we live almost two thousand years after this epistle was penned. How much greater a cloud of witnesses surrounds us as we run the race that is set before us? Those who have finished the race before us, and whose lives have been studied and written about, now also cheer us on. Of course they do not do so directly. The Bible does not tell us that men and women who have already run their race and won the prize are able to see back down to earth and literally cheer us on. I suspect that is the very last thing these people would want to do, having already “ ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage” (to borrow a phrase from Ben Jonson). But it is their example, written and preserved for us, that cheers us on.

I think of Eric Liddell, whom you know from the movie Chariots of Fire. Here is a man who bucked every trend. He was a competitor and a world-class runner. But prior to running a race he would go down the line and shake hands with each man he was about to run against. He would lend his trowel to any of the other runners who needed a better foot-hold, that they might run a better race. He ran with his arms flailing and his face pointed to the sky. When asked how he was able to see the finish line, while running in this unorthodox way, he simply replied, “The Lord guides me.”

As you well know, from a story that seems to have lost far too much of its meaning from being told and retold, Liddell gladly gave up what was almost a sure gold medal because he refused to dishonor the Lord’s Day by running a race on the Sabbath. Instead of running on Sunday, he preached in a local church. A few days later he ran the 400 meter race, a race he was not expected to win, but he broke the world record and came away with a gold medal. But then, at the height of his fame, he left his racing career behind and went to China to work as a missionary. In 1943 he was forced into a Japanese internment camp where he became sick and died. His final words were, “It’s complete surrender.”

Now here is a man from whom we can learn so much. As a great saint of days past, he stands in the stadium, watching you and watching me as we run for the prize. The second half of the first verse of Hebrews chapter twelve admonishes the believer to, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The author refers to burdens and hindrances that hinder our faith. In ancient times, races were run naked, that cloaks and tunics would not interfere with the runners. But there is more to laying arise burdens than this. Runners would also train diligently, so that there would not be any fat or weakness that might prohibit them from doing their absolute best.

And this is where we best learn from these great men and women who have gone before us. We learn from them what it means to lay aside every weight and sin. We learn what it means to run with endurance. We learn what it means to shed spiritual fatness and weakness. From Eric Liddell we can learn the inestimable value of not violating one’s conscience. We can learn the importance of complete surrender. We can learn how to better run the race. It is not that God has not seen fit to already tell us how to do these things in Scripture. No, for the Bible is absolutely sufficient for all our spiritual needs. But in hardness of heart we often need to learn lessons in other ways, be it through pain or suffering or temptation or example.

A few weeks ago I had a brief correspondance with Noel Piper, author of Faithful Women & their Extraordinary God - a wonderful book which I reviewed here. In it she wrote, “God is good to give us faithful ‘leaders in our faith’ to be mentors. I think that’s why there are so many stories in the Bible about people. God could have give us straight teaching, but he knew how much personal stories help us understand him.” And indeed, God is good to bless us in this way. At the end of my review of Faithful Women & their Extraordinary God I wrote, “As I came to understand these women, I came to understand God just a little bit better. And if that is the ultimate purpose of any Christian biography, which I believe it ought to be, Noel Piper has done well with Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God.” God teaches us through what He has taught others. He teaches us through their lives which display aspects of the Christlikeness that you and I so desire.

When I read biographies, be it of Abraham or Moses in the Scripture, or Eric Liddell, Charles Spurgeon or Jonathan Edwards, I am encouraged to “keep on keeping on.” I feel as if these great saints surround me, encouraging me with their example, exhorting me when I stumble, and above all, teaching me how to lay aside every weight and every sin, that I might run the race most effectively. And I sometimes wonder how much more encouragement I might receive, if I were only able to read more about these people. And so I try to read biographies. I often read them slowly, even over several months. I read them closely, trying to understand the underlying faith that made these simple saints into great warriors. And I read them expectantly, trusting that God will bless me through this great cloud of witnesses. I am thankful that He saw fit to teach us about Himself in this way.

I was tempted to entitle this article “Christian Living Isn’t Enough.” While there is certainly nothing wrong with Christian Living books, they should not be all we read. My friend Mark, wrote a short article called Is your reading broad enough? which I recommend. He encourages Christians to ensure they are reading a broad range of books.

I thought I’d also list a few of my favorite biographies:

Abraham Lincoln The Man & His Faith

Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God

Spurgeon: A New Biography

Jonathan Edwards

July 08, 2005

A reader wrote me recently to ask what I thought of tithing or giving offerings to the church electronically. These days many churches allow and even encourage giving to be done automatically - the bank simply transfers funds directly from a person’s account to the church’s account at a set time of the month. This reader had a concern about this program. Having spent some time thinking about it, I came to realize that I do too.

There are a couple of real benefits to this method of giving to the church. First, a member of a church can ensure that he is giving consistently. He can simply tally the amount he makes on a monthly basis, decide how much of this he would like to give to the church, and know that it will be given each month. Second, this member of the church does not have to worry about forgetting to give financially. He will not be one of those people hurriedly scribbing a check using a tiny little “pew pencil” while the offering basket is coming down the row towards him. Even if he is on vaction, he will be giving to the church. Third, the church will not see the usual decline in giving during the holiday periods because the money will be debited from members’ accounts regardless of whether or not they are present in church.

So what could be wrong with this? It is convenient. It ensures we are giving to the Lord what we know He requires and deserves.

But there is a question that arises. Isn’t our giving to the Lord an act of worship? Is this not one of the few acts of corporate worship that we see clearly practiced in the early church of the New Testament? If our giving is an act of worship, are we not missing out on this if we make our giving automated? It is odd that while no one would think of doing all their singing during the week and then standing silent during the songs of corporate worship on Sunday, people will do this with giving. Or what if I chose to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on Thursday so I could leave church a little earlier on Sunday? Clearly this would be deemed inappropriate.

A couple of years ago, when I was visiting my parents in Atlanta, I attended their small, Presbyterian church with them. Immediately prior to the offering the pastor told the congregation that this was an opportunity to worship the Lord. He told the visitors that they were not expected to give, but encouraged them to watch and consider what these Christians were doing as they gave the firstfruits of their labor to the Lord. This allowed unbelievers to consider the fact that when Christians participate in giving they are worshipping. But what of those who stood silent and still, arms crossed, with nothing to give? Were they worshipping or merely watching?

As I pondered this, I remembered that Don Whitney wrote about a similar situation in his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. The book was published in 1991, before the advent of electronic giving, but Whitney deals with a similar situation with people who give only in the weeks they are paid. He provides a useful quote from Wayne Watts’ book The Gift of Giving.

“While researching the Biblical principles of giving, I considered the subject of worship. Frankly, I had never before studied worship in detail to find out God’s point of view. I have come to the conclusion that giving, along with our thanksgiving and praise, is worship. In the past I made pledges to my church to be paid on a yearly basis. Once a month, I would write a check while in church and drop it in the collection plate. Sometimes I would mail a check from my office. My objective was for the church to get the total pledge before the end of the year. Though I had already experienced the joy of giving, the act of making my gift had little relationship to worship. While I was writing this book God convicted me to begin giving every time I went to church. The verse that spoke to me about this was Deuteronomy 16:16 - “Do not appear before Me empty-handed.” When I started doing this, if a check were not handy, I gave cash. At first I thought about keeping up with the money given. Then God convicted me again. He seemed to say, “You do not need to keep up with the amount of cash. Give to me simply out of a heart of love, and see how much you enjoy the service.” I made this change in giving habits, and it has greatly enhanced my joy in our worship services.”

Whitney’s encouragement is for believers to bring a gift to the Lord at each worship service. If giving is an integral part of our worship, we can only participate if we come with something to give to God. We can only make giving an act of worship, if we actually give. So I suppose I would have to say that while I do not disagree with electronic giving, we still need to regard the offering as a time of worship that we will benefit from only if we participate in it. Thus we should bring something to the Lord each time we enter His house. Even if this is only a small amount of cash, this will still allow us to participate. So give however you wish, but heed Watts’ challenge not to appear before God empty-handed.

July 07, 2005

This is a difficult article for me to write. This is not because of the gravity of the topic or a lack of knowledge of the topic at hand. I hestitate to post this because it may seem self-serving, but that is certainly not my intent. This article stems from concerns I have in the ways people feel they can support their favorite bloggers, most notably when it comes to advertising. So to correct some false assumptions and to provide information that may be of benefit to the blogging community, I humbly present this article, hoping people will see it as an article directed at all bloggers and readers of every blog, rather than an attempt to solicit support for myself.

There are many ways you can support your favorite blogger. Some of these are moral, some spiritual and some financial. I will go through each one of these categories and suggest some ways you can be supportive of those people whose web sites you enjoy reading.

Moral Support

Visit

This one may seem obvious, but to support your favorite blogger, visit his (or her) site. Bloggers are notorious for tracking statistics and often know just how many people visit their site. So show your support by visiting often.

Comment

When you visit, why not leave a comment? This shows the blogger that not only are you visiting the site, but you are reading the articles enough to form an opinion. Don’t leave a comment just for the sake of leaving a comment, but if you have been touched by an article, or if you have a concern about it, let the person know.

Link

If you have a website or blog of your own, link to your favorite bloggers every now and then. When a story catches your eye, link to it (preferably with a trackback). Once more, this shows the blogger that you are reading and enjoying his site.

Encourage

Encourage your favorite blogger every now and then. Send her an email to say that you appreciate all of the time and effort she puts into her blog. Let her know that you appreciate her dedication to writing articles about children, writing reviews of books or movies or anything else. Let her know that you are thinking of her and praying for her. Which leads nicely into our next point…

Spiritual Support

Prayer

This is the support bloggers receive that they may never know about. But it is probably the most helpful and definitely the most underappreciated. Pray for your favorite bloggers. Pray that God would continue to cause them to seek after Him and to be able to share what they are learning with others. Pray that God would make them content with how He is blessing them in their online endeavors. Pray that they would be good witnesses for Him. If your favorite blogger is unsaved, pray that God would stir her heart to seek after Him and ask for opportunities to witness to her, even if it cannot be face-to-face.

Speaking personally, I am so thankful for those who pray for me. When people share that they have been holding me up before the Lord it is such a comfort and such a blessing. If you are going to do any one thing for your favorite blogger, do this. Pray for him (or her).

Financial Support

There are also ways of financially supporting your favorite blogger.

Clicking Advertisements

Clicking on ads can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the circumstances. In general, you should only click on an ad if you are honestly interested in the site or product being displayed in that ad.

It is important to note that advertising comes in two broad categories. The first is simple banner ads. In this system, advertisers either pay a set amount to have their banner displayed for a certain amount of time, or they pay for a certain number of impressions, which refers to the number of times the ad is displayed on a page. While there is no real harm in clicking these ads, even if you are uninterested in the product, it may provide false results for the advertiser. He may see a lot of traffic coming from a particular web site and decide that he will continue to pay to run his ad on that site. But if the site’s owner has specifically requested his visitors to click the ad, this provides false data. Some advertisers do not mind since any click is a visit to their site. Others do. So generally, do not click banners unless you have some degree of interest in the product.

The other category of advertising is pay-per-click. This includes, most notably, Google’s AdWords program which is used by many, many bloggers. In this system, the advertiser pays a set amount to Google each and every time a person clicks their ad. A portion of this money then goes to the owner of the site displaying the ad. Recently I have seen a few bloggers ask their visitors to click on their Google AdWords advertising. This is not only clearly forbidden in Google’s terms of service, but it is also unethical. Google’s program is designed to drive high-quality traffic to web sites. In theory, only visitors who are interested in the site’s content should click on an ad and visit a site. So when the advertiser hands over the ten or twenty or fifty cents for a click, he is assuming that the person coming to his site has seen his ad and is interested in his product. If bloggers are soliciting clicks as a personal favor to them, this is in clear violation of Google’s program. Google watches for people violating this and will revoke accounts if they catch find violations. So bloggers, don’t do it! And visitors, only click those ads if you are genuinely interested in what is being offered. If you are genuinely interested, clicking these ads is a great means of support.

Affiliates

Many bloggers have affiliate accounts with various companies. The most popular of these is Amazon. When you click on an ad, like the ones you see in book reviews at this site, and then purchase a book, a portion of the proceeds (between 5% and 7.5%) goes to the site owner. While the payout is quite low, it can accumulate over time and provide a nice bonus to the site’s owner. So if you read a book review and intend to buy the product through Amazon, show your support for the blogger by linking through his affiliate account. Anytime you buy through Amazon you can link through one of these ads and the blogger will receive credit for all the purchases you make in that session! This is a great way of supporting your favorite blogger.

Several bloggers, myself included, also offer affiliate programs for web hosting. If you need hosting, sign up through one of these people. Others have affiliates offering music and just about everything else you could need. Look for them and use them!

In short, if you are going to buy something, why not see if one of your favorite bloggers has an affiliate account you can tap into.

Products

Many bloggers offer products through their sites. For instance, Jollyblogger is selling t-shirts. Others sell coffee cups and other items emblazoned with their logo. You get the idea.

Tip Jars

Many bloggers have what is known as a tip jar. These are the little buttons on their site that say “Donate,” “click to give” or something similar. Some people use PayPal’s service and others use Amazon. In either case, dropping a few cents (via credit card) is an effective (and safe) way of supporting your favorite blogger. Even dropping just a dollar or two per month into a tip jar can make a difference when enough people do it.

Conclusion

To conclude, there are many ways of offering support to your favorite blogger. You can do so with something as simple as an encouraging email. You can be deliberate in purchasing products through the site that recommended them to you. And best of all, you can pray.

July 06, 2005

I’ll file this one away in the “just what we need” files. It is almost too crazy to believe, but it seems that there is a Purpose Driven Life movie on the horizon. Ralph Winter, who has produced a lot of major Hollywood blockbusters, such as X-Men, X-2: X-Men United, the Planet of the Apes (remake), and the upcoming Fantastic Four, in an interview with Christian Today, indicated that he has been hired to work on a Purpose Driven project.

CT: Since The Passion of The Christ, there’s been so much press about how Hollywood “learned a lesson” about audiences and Christian-themed material. Do you think we really will see things change?

Winter: I think studios will say, “Oh, I think we can do this!” and try to unleash every cheesy little thing they can do. The TV show Revelations seems like a clear jump-on-the-bandwagon thing. The studios clearly see it as a marketing opportunity. That’s why this Purpose-Driven Life project is so interesting.

CT: What The Purpose-Driven Life project? Are you making it into a movie?

Winter: Rupert Murdoch [of 20th Century Fox] comes to us and says, “Let’s make it. I’ll fund it.”

CT: How are you going to turn this non-fiction, inspirational volume of life principles into a movie?

Winter: You’ve got to create a story. Think Grand Canyon—that’s probably a good place to start. Find disparate stories that converge and illustrate [one or two of the] principles, find good characters.

That’s why I’m a fan of doing a small movie, getting a couple million dollars, and get out there and try an experiment, put our toe in the water with this. If [the first Purpose-Driven movie] works, well, you’ve got 39 films to make, or 12 more principles, or however many you want.

There are some who are worried about getting a big theatrical release. But let’s write the script first, and let’s see what that tells us about how big or how small it will be.

There is no word on whether the actors will be required to wear sandals and floral-patterned shirts. I have to say that I’m interested in seeing how a person can act out poor translations of the Bible. But I guess I’ll have to just be patient and wait.

You can read the rest of the rather uninteresting review here. And a hat-tip goes to Justin Taylor for finding this story.

June 30, 2005

I recently found the following lengthy excerpt from the book Pilgrim Fellowship Of Faith: The Church As Communion by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI). There are a few typos in the text, but since I do not own this particular book I am unable to correct them. This represents the current pope’s stance on Sola Scriptura, so while it takes a few minutes to read, it is important to digest.

From here until further notice you’re reading the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

“Beside this essential authority of theology [Scripture], can there be any other? The answer would seem to have to be No: this is the critical point in the dispute between Reformed and Catholic theology. Nowadays, even the greater part of evangelical theologians recognize, in varying forms, that sola Scriptura, that is, the restriction of the Word to the book, cannot be maintained. On the basis of its inner structure, the Word always comprises a surplus beyond what could go into the book. This relativizing of the scriptural principle, from which Catholic theology also has something to learn and on account of which both sides can make a new approach to each other, is in part the result of ecumenical dialogue but, to a greater degree, has been determined by the progress of historico-critical interpretation of the Bible, which has in any case learned thereby to recognize its own limits. Two things have above all become clear about the nature of the biblical word in the process of critical exegesis. First of all, that the word of the Bible, at the moment it was set down in writing, already had behind it a more or less long process of shaping by oral tradition and that it was not frozen at the moment it was written down, but entered into new processes of interpretation–”relectures”–that further develop its hidden potential. Thus, the extent of the Word’s meaning cannot be reduced to the thoughts of a single author in a specific historical moment; it is not the property of a single author at all; rather, it lives in a history that is ever moving onward and, thus, has dimensions and depths of meaning in past and future that ultimately pass into the realm of the unforeseen.

“It is only at this point that we can begin to understand the [?] of inspiration; we can see where God mysteriously into what is human and purely human authorship is transcended. Yet that also means that Scripture is not a meteorite fallen from the sky, so that it would, with the strict otherness of a stone that comes from the sky and not from the .:earth, stand in contrast to all human words. Certainly, Scripture carries God’s thoughts within it: that makes it unique and constitutes it an “authority”. Yet it is transmitted by a human history. It carries within it the life and thought of a historical society that we call the “People of God”, because they are brought together, and held together, by the coming of the divine Word. There is a reciprocal relationship: This society is the essential condition for the origin and the growth of the biblical Word; and, conversely, this Word gives the society its identity and its continuity. Thus, the analysis of the structure of the biblical Word has brought to light an interwoven relationship between Church and Bible, between the People of God and the Word of God, which we had actually always known, somehow, in a theoretical way but had never before had so vividly set before us.

“The second element that relativizes the scriptural principle follows from what we have just said. Luther was persuaded of the “perspicuitas” of Scripture—of its being unequivocal, a quality that rendered superfluous any official institution for determining its interpretation. The idea of an unequivocal meaning is constitutive for the scriptural principle. For if the Bible is not, as a book, unequivocal in itself, then in itself alone, as a book, it cannot be what was given in advance, which guides us. It would then still be leaving us again to our own devices. Then, we should still be left alone again with our thinking, which is helpless in the face of what is essential in existence. Yet this fundamental postulate of Scripture’s unambiguousness has had to be dropped, on account of both the structure of the Word and the concrete experiences of scriptural interpretation. It is untenable on the basis of the objective structure of the Word, on account of its own dynamic, which points beyond what is written. It is above all the most profound meaning of the Word that is grasped only when we move beyond what is merely written. Yet the postulate is also untenable from its subjective side, that is to say, on the basis of the essential laws of the rationality of history. The history of exegesis is a history of contradictions; the daring constructions of many modern exegetes, right up to the materialistic interpretation of the Bible, show that the Word, if left alone as a book, is a helpless prey to manipulation through preexisting desires and opinions.

“Scripture, the Word we have been given, with which theology concerns itself, does not, on the basis of its own nature, exist as a book alone. Its human author, the People of God, is alive and through all the ages has its own consistent identity. The home it has made for itself and that supports it is its own interpretation, which is inseparable from itself. Without this surviving and living agent, the Church, Scripture would not be contemporary with us; it could then no longer combine, as is its true nature, synchronic and diachronic existence, history and the present day, but would fall back into a past that cannot be recalled; it would become literature that one interpreted in the way one can interpret literature. And with that, theology itself would decline into literary history and the history of past times, on one hand, and into the philosophy of religion and religious studies in general, on the other.

“It is perhaps helpful to express this interrelationship in a more concrete way for the New Testament. Along the whole path of faith, from Abraham up to the completion of the biblical canon, a confession of faith was built up that was given its real center and shape by Christ himself The original of existence of the Christian profession of faith, how was the sacramental life of the Church. It is by this criterion that the canon was shaped, and that is why the ‘Creed is the primary authority for the interpretation of the Bible. Yet the Creed is not a piece of literature : for a long time, people quite consciously avoided writing down the rule of faith that produced the Creed, just because it is the concrete life of the believing community. Thus, the authority of the Church that speaks out, the authority of the apostolic succession, is written into Scripture through the Creed and is indivisible from it. The teaching office of the apostles’ successors does not represent a second authority alongside Scripture but is inwardly a part of it. This viva vox is not there to restrict the authority of Scripture or to limit it or even replace it by the existence of another — on the contrary, it is its task to ensure that Scripture is not disposable, cannot be manipulated, to preserve its proper perspicuitas, its clear meaning from the conflict of hypotheses. Thus, there is a secret relationship of reciprocity. Scripture sets limits and a standard for the viva vox; the living voice guarantees that it cannot be manipulated.

“I can certainly understand the anxiety of Protestant theologians, and nowadays of many Catholic theologians, especially of exegetes, that the principle of a teaching office might impinge upon the freedom and the authority of the Bible and, thus, upon those of theology as a whole. There is a passage from the famous exchange of letters between Harnack and Peterson in 1928 that comes to mind. Peterson, the younger of the two, who was a seeker after truth, had pointed out in a letter to Harnack that he himself, in a scholarly article entitled “The Old Testament in the Pauline Letters and the Pauline Congregations”, had for practical purposes expressed the Catholic teaching about Scripture, tradition, and the teaching office. To be precise, Harnack had explained that in the New Testament the “authority of the apostolic teaching is found side by side with … the authority of ‘Scripture’, organizing it and setting limits to it”, and that thus “biblicism received a healthy correction”. In response to Peterson’s pointing this out, Harnack replied to his younger colleague, with his usual nonchalance: “That the so-called ‘formal principle’ of early Protestantism is impossible from a critical point of view and that the Catholic principle is in contrast formally better is a truism; but materially the Catholic principle of tradition wreaks far more havoc in history.” What is obvious, and even indisputable, in principle arouses fear in reality.

“Much could be said about Harnack’s diagnosis of where more havoc has been wreaked in history, that is, where the advance gift of the Word has been more seriously threatened, This is not the time to do so. Over and beyond any disputes, it is clear that neither side can dispense with relying on the power of the Holy Spirit for protection and guidance. An ecclesiastical authority can become arbitrary if the Spirit does not guard it. But the arbitrary whims of interpretation left to itself, with all its variations, certainly offers no less danger, as history shows. Indeed, the miracle that would have to be worked there in order to preserve unity and to render the challenge and stature of the Word effective is far more improbable than the one needed to keep the service of the apostolic succession within its proper bounds.

“Let us leave such speculation aside. The structure of the Word is sufficiently unequivocal, but the demands it makes on those called to responsibility in succession to the apostles are indeed weighty. The task of the teaching office is, not to oppose thinking, but to ensure that the authority of the answer that was bestowed on us has its say and, thus, to make the truth itself to enter. To be given such a task is exciting and dangerous. It requires the humility of submission, of listening and obeying. It is a matter, not of putting own ideas into effect, but of keeping a place for what the Other has to say, that Other without whose ever-present Word all else drops into the void. The teaching office, properly understood, must be a humble service undertaken to ensure that true theology remains possible and that the answers may thus be heard without which we cannot live aright.”


This ends the excerpt.

Now as you may have noticed, there is not much there that has not been said before. This passage contains many of the standard fallacies people use to warn against Sola Scriptura. One thing I found particularly offensive, as a Protestant, was the assumption that biblical interpretation not made by “the teaching office” is arbitrary. “But the arbitrary whims of interpretation left to itself, with all its variations, certainly offers no less danger, as history shows.” While he does not say “all Protestant interpretation is arbitrary,” he might as well for that is certainly what he wishes to convey. He has earlier warned “the daring constructions of many modern exegetes, right up to the materialistic interpretation of the Bible, show that the Word, if left alone as a book, is a helpless prey to manipulation through preexisting desires and opinions.” Clearly this is meant to serve as a warning against those who misuse God’s Word. But what of the “careful constructions of biblical exegetes?” What of the men - men like Luther, Calvin, Hodge, Edwards (to name just a few) - who have labored over the Scripture, being ever-so-careful not to manipulate it, but to allow God to guide their interpretation? Do they merit no more attention or appreciation than those who manipulate it with their preexisting desires and opinions? Does not the Church itself cast preexisting desires and opinions on the Scripture?

Remember, that this is the pope many Protestants feel may be the bridge to ever-greater unity between Catholics and Protestants. Yet he clearly, unequivocably denies Sola Scriptura (as indeed a pope must to maintain consistency with his office and his faith). If Protestants wish to build bridges with the Catholic Church, they must know in advance that it will be on the terms of the papacy, not on their terms.

Incidentally, I’d like to see James White make a response to Ratzinger’s book (or this portion of it). Seeing as White has written extensively about Catholic doctrine and Sola Scripture I’m sure he would have many interesting things to say. So Dr.O - there’s a challenge for you.

June 29, 2005

Today I come looking for answers. I trust that some of you lurking out there have some experience in this matter that you will be willing and able to share.

As you know, I lead a home church (small group Bible study) through my church. Not too long ago our discussion turned to our children and the proper time and place to address the birds and the bees with them. The children in our group range from nearly-teens to infants. None of us have yet had to see our children through their teenage years, though a couple of the families are getting very close. Some of the children have already had a version of “the talk.” I’d hate to put words into the mouths of those parents, but it seems that they are not entirely confident that they went about things in the best way.

By way of background, all of the children in the group attend either public or Catholic schools. The Catholic School Board has only moderately better values than the Public, but of course the children are not much different. If my experience in Christian schools is any indication, they are probably far worse than their unchurched counterparts.

It seems that children these days know a whole lot more than they did ten or twenty years ago. If my experience is any indication, children learn at least the basics of sexuality from their friends. I assume my childhood was quite typical in that I slowly became aware of sex and sexuality through whispered words about what people did behind closed doors. At some point a friend got ahold of a Playboy Magazine he stole from his older brother, and we became somewhat acquainted with the allure of the naked female form. Of course I did not share any of this with my parents, and they, as parents tend to do, assumed I was perfectly naive and innocent. I didn’t know much, but I knew there were secrets. And I knew those secrets were forbidden to me at the time which just made me want to know them more.

My first memory of my parents formally addressing sexuality with me was through the book Preparing for Adolescence by James Dobson. It had all the usual warnings about increasing amounts of body hair and the need for deodorant, but also had a chapter about (tee hee) sex. I was obviously a pivotal moment in my life because I still remember many of the details. Dobson talked about how as a boy I would start to notice girl’s bodies (particular parts of their bodies more than others) and so on. My parents let me read it and then talked it over a little bit. My family was very open about such matters, so it was not particularly humiliating talking to them about it. And that was that. As I grew older I had the occasional opportunity to look at a dirty magazine, but since I was far too timid to steal one for myself (which is how my friends got them, of course) I really did not have much access to pornography. And for this I am exceedingly thankful. When I became a believer in my mid-teens, I became convicted that I should not be polluting my mind with such filth, and as far as I remember, I didn’t. Whether that was because of conviction or lack of opportunity I cannot say.

So I guess I can summarize my experience as follows:

  • I came from a family that did not consider sexuality a forbidden topic. Thus I knew it existed, but only that it was for mommies and daddies.
  • As I got older I was introduced by my friends to sexuality and to some extent, to deviant sexuality.
  • My parents intervened while I was still young and taught me about God’s design for sexuality.
  • After that foundation was laid I learned more about sexuality from my friends, but I knew instinctively what was deviant because I had the proper foundation.

As I look to the future, I realize that I want to ensure that I begin to lay the foundation for a proper understanding of sexuality while my children are still young. Ideally I would like to get to them before their friends do. However, I would love to see them maintain their innocence and childlike naivety as long as it is both proper and possible. While my wife and I are hesitant to put our children in the Public School system, we are not planning on homeschooling them, so whether in Christian or Public schools (or in the neighbourhood or in church), they will be surrounded by friends who may know more than they do while at a younger age.

At this point the questions I have should be quite obvious. When do you feel is the best time to begin educating your children about sexuality? When do you feel it is time to give them more detail? How much do you feel it is proper to tell them? To what extent do you address deviant sexuality in your talks with them? Do you make them aware of the many improper forms of sexuality they may be exposed to that are directly unbiblical?

So many questions. I would love to hear from parents who have already addressed these issues with their children. I look forward to learning from your collective wisdom and know that the parents in my home church, who asked me to post about this, do as well.

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