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Tim Challies

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Can I Ask a Dumb Question
March 30, 2016

Have you ever said something dumb—something really, really dumb? Have you ever said something so dumb that you cringe to even allow the memory to crawl back into your mind? We all have at one time or another, haven’t we? Few things are more painful than realizing we’ve displayed ignorance or arrogance through dumb statements or dumb questions. Really, the only thing more painful is having our dumbness met with anger, outrage, or mockery. Such responses only compound the pain and shame of it all.

Social media shaming is a new force for justice, a means of shaming an offender into silence or repentance. Jon Ronson has aptly compared it to medieval pillories and the stocks in colonial town squares. Malicious actions or words are met with deluges of furious tweets, outraged Facebook messages, angry blog posts, and sarcastic memes. Now, some actions and some comments are so dangerous or outrageous that they deserve immediate, unqualified rebukes. The problem is that the response we bring against the worst malevolence can also be the response we bring against those who say or do things that are merely dumb. We can mete out the same punishment as a response to two very different offenses.

Jesus knew a thing or two about dumbness, didn’t he? All throughout his life he had to face endless and endlessly dumb statements and questions. Just think of all the dumb things people said to him: The infamous Rich Young Ruler properly summarized the whole law and then dared to say, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He essentially said, “I have never once sinned against you or your Father or anyone you have created.” Dumb. But “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Jesus responded with love and compassion (Mark 10:21). The mother of James and John approached Jesus on behalf of her sons and asked that they be given the preeminent places in his kingdom. Dumb. But Jesus replied gently by asking them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22). Martha grumbled an accusation: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Doubly dumb. “Martha, Martha” he softly replied (Luke 10:40-41).

Jesus responded in these ways because these people were sincere, even if they were sincerely ignorant, sincerely dumb. They were foolish, they were misinformed, they did not know things they ought to have known. But they were not being malevolent. He had room for rebuke, of course, but his rebukes were reserved for the religious hypocrites, the people he was uniquely able to identify and confront as being enemies of his work. To others he was gentle and kind. He allowed them to say dumb things. For friends and strangers alike Jesus met dumbness with kindness.

See, I think Jesus knew something: The path to wisdom is littered with evidence of our inborn foolishness. Before we learn to say things that are wise we say things that are dumb. Before we learn what is wise and true we inevitably blurt some things that are dumb and false. We think dumb thoughts. We ask dumb questions. We make dumb statements. That’s what we do when we learn.

Social media is the way we communicate today. It is also the way we learn. It is the way we encounter new ideas, the way we discuss them, the way we come to settled convictions. What we read in the news or see on television we then take to Facebook or blogs or Twitter. There we mull them over, we evaluate them, and we determine what we believe about them. But I wonder how much we don’t say and don’t ask because we are afraid of the response. How much could we know and how much could we discuss if the fear of outraged responses didn’t keep us from exploring new ideas and asking new questions? What could we talk about, what could we learn, if we were granted the grace to ask dumb questions?

We ought to learn from Jesus the value of extending grace to people to say things that sound outrageous to our ears. We have to be patient and kind and forgiving. We have to be realistic. Before we expect people to say things that are wise, we first need to let them say things that are dumb.

Has Ken Ham Embraced Evolution
March 29, 2016

Yesterday Kenneth Keathley, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, described on his blog how Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has changed his position on one key element of evolution (see “Ken Ham Embraces Evolution”). He pointed to an article in the latest issue of Answers magazine, a publication of Answers in Genesis, and said, “The article is noteworthy because it argues for macro-evolution; the theory that the species of today evolved from prior, extinct species.” If true, this is indeed a substantial and noteworthy shift. Not surprisingly, Dr. Keathley’s blog post was soon distributed through social media where some people reacted with more than a little surprise. But I don’t think Ken Ham or his organization have actually embraced evolution of the kind Keathley describes.

Keathley’s main point is the claim that young-earth creationists, Ken Ham foremost among them, are now embracing what he describes as macro-evolution. Looking at the Answers article and citing both a paper delivered at ETS and a book published by an Answers in Genesis geologist, Keathley says, “In their academic and scholarly writings, members of Answers in Genesis have started to accept the notion that species evolve into other species. … They are acknowledging that, indeed, the fossil record does in fact give evidence of transitional life forms. They seem to be trying to go where the evidence leads them and at the same time continue to hold to their core beliefs.”

But I don’t think the evidence Dr. Keathley offers backs up his claim. If I understand correctly, what he describes is “speciation,” “the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution.” But there is no controversy here. Young-earth creationists have embraced speciation—within defined limits, mind you—almost as long as young-earth creation has been a movement. Henry Morris was referencing it as far back as 1961 in The Genesis Flood and he himself was drawing on the work of his precedessors. Young-earth creationists have been articulating their understanding of limited speciation from science and from Scripture for a long time. So, too, have Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.

You see, young-earth creationists believe that God created “kinds” of living things, taking their cue from the repeated use of “kind” in Genesis 1—God created plants and animals “each according to its kind.” But what is a “kind?” The answer to that question makes a world of difference. To answer it you will need to think back to science class and the classification or taxonomy of living things. Living things are classified in groupings that get progressively more numerous, beginning with kingdom and ending with species. You probably remember the 7 headings:

  1. Kingdom
  2. Phylum
  3. Class
  4. Order
  5. Family
  6. Genus
  7. Species

There are five or six kingdoms, each of which describes one of the classifications of living organisms—the animal kingdom, plant kingdom, and so on. If we look within the animal kingdom, we will find approximately 35 phyla, each of which is comprised of a number of classes. They, in turn, are comprised of a number of orders. And so it goes until we arrive at the innumerable species. Young-earth creationists do not “reject the majority of classifications by evolutionary biologists but [rather, reject] the evolutionary history associated with the classifications…”1

When a young-earth creationist speaks of the “kinds” that God created, which of these 7 classifications does it best match up with? Typically, young-earth creationists have answered that “kinds” approximate “family.” Therefore, God created animals each according to their “family,” the fifth level of the taxonomy. So, for example, all cats—pets, lions, and leopards—belong to the same biological family. Hence, according to this model, God created a cat prototype in Genesis 1, and Noah would have taken two of these cat-family creatures on board the Ark. From those two cats have descended (or “speciated”) the more than 30 species of cats alive today. This is sometimes referred to as micro-evolution, or evolution within a particular family, genus, or species.

Instead of using an evolutionary “tree of life” model which shows all of life descending from a common ancestor, many young-earth creationists prefer an orchard illustration of the kind Ken Ham used in his debate with Bill Nye:

Orchard of Life

This orchard model shows that there are many descendants from each kind, some that have survived and many that have not, and that there is no overlap between the kinds. In this way the dog kind is unrelated to the lizard and bird kinds; they share no common ancestry. “While new species have been observed to arise, it is always within the limits of the created kinds.”1 (Note that the orchard diagram also uses the blue line for the flood to display an increase in speciation after that event.)

What young-earth creationists deny is that speciation has occurred at the levels of order, class, phylum, or kingdom. One order of animals cannot change into another order of animals; animals and plants do not share a common ancestor. In other words, unless I am misunderstanding something, the article Keathley cites is really only saying what young-earth creationists have said all along—that micro-evolution does occur and that it occurs at and below the level of family. If that is the case, neither Ken Ham nor the organization he founded have changed what they believe. Ken Ham has not embraced evolution.

10 Lessons on Parenting Little Ones
March 28, 2016

My youngest child is about to turn 10 years old and will soon be joining her two siblings in the double digits. This means that Aileen and I have graduated—we have graduated from parenting little ones to parenting big ones. Lots of parenting remains, of course, but the little years are now in the past. These little years have been the best and the worst years, the easiest and the hardest. They have been full of both joys and tremendous difficulties. At times we have done well and at times we have done poorly, I’m sure. And now they are behind us. Before it all grows hazy through the inevitable march of time, we decided to think of a few lessons we learned about parenting through the little years. Maybe you will find them helpful.

1. Remember that their rebellion is first against God, not you. Children are born sinners who are in need of a Savior. Almost before they are able to express anything else, they are able to express their rebellion against their parents. As they grow older, this rebellion only increases, sometimes in loud and blatant ways and sometimes in sullen and silent ones. We often had to remind ourselves that their rebellion was not first against us but against God. They acted out against us, against our authority, against our rules, but only because they were ultimately in rebellion to God. This simple realization helped us to pity them, to pray for them, and to tell them once more about Jesus.

2. Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Pray for your children. Pray consistently, persistently, passionately, earnestly, and constantly. Pray for their bodies and souls and lives. Pray for their friendships and relationships. Pray for their education and future spouse. Pray for them, pray with them, pray for them with them. Pray for them with your church. Pray for them with your spouse. Pray for them with joy and with tears. Pray for them as if prayer really, truly matters. Mostly, just pray. You need it, they need it, God honors it.

3. Expect that God will save them. As a Christian parent you can have great confidence that God will save your children. This confidence is not in who they are, who they were born to, or on the basis of anything done by or to them. Rather, this confidence is based on the character of God (who loves to save the lost) and the means God uses (the gospel). If you raise your children in an atmosphere soaked in the gospel, you can be confident that your children will respond to the gospel. But let me add this: While your children may be genuinely saved while they are very young, do not be surprised if neither you nor they have great confidence in their salvation until they have grown and matured. And that’s okay, because whether or not they have come to saving faith, they have the same need—the gospel.*

4. Prioritize church (and, if possible, one church). Make worshipping and serving at church a priority and, whenever possible, stick to one church. There is no better family discipline than the discipline of being committed to a local church as the context for worshipping God and serving God’s people. You can only teach this to your children by example, by making it a high priority. And then there is something especially good, especially pure, about children growing up in one church around one group of people. There is such joy in being around Christians who have known and loved your children since they were born and who will know and love them still as they transition into adulthood.

5. Teach your children to relate to adults. On a related note, generate opportunities for your children to be around other adults. We are right to focus on building our children’s friendships with other children, but we may neglect helping our children to build relationships with adults—adults who can love them, pray for them, mentor them, and help guide them as they get older. Your friends can (and should!) be your children’s friends as well. Do not be afraid of allowing other adults to influence them. Do not be afraid, even when they are young, to suggest, “Why don’t you talk to ___ about that.” It takes a church to raise a child.

6. Be confident but humble in your parenting. Some couples read all kinds of books, know before the first baby is born exactly how they will raise their children, and follow the program all the way to completion. Others leave the books in the bookstores, read their Bible, pray, and simply follow their instincts. Somehow both philosophies can work equally well and I would imagine we can all think of delightful, godly children who were raised each way. Aileen and I learned we needed to be confident and humble in the way we raised our children—confident enough that we would not be constantly changing from one parenting model to another but humble enough to learn from others and especially to be continually challenged and corrected by God’s Word.

7. Make family devotions a priority. Apart from attending church, family devotions are the most important discipline your family can institute. This is a discipline to begin and to emphasize during the little years because, believe it or not, life only gets more chaotic once the children get older. Now is the time to form that habit. Begin family devotions right now so that your children will never remember a time when you did not worship together. Aileen and I were strangely encouraged when my son was telling our church how the Lord saved him and he mentioned our family’s “Spartan-like commitment to family devotions.” He meant it in fun, but it was a blessing to hear of its importance in his life (especially because we are very aware of how often we’ve missed, failed, or forgotten). We have always believed—and still do believe—that this simple discipline of opening the Bible and praying together for just a few minutes every day is of outsized importance. We firmly believe that God uses it for the strengthening of the family and the salvation of souls.

8. Understand that sometimes parenting is about surviving. In the little years a lot of parenting is actually just surviving—surviving through nursing and teething and fevers and tantrums, surviving when it has been weeks since you last had a decent night’s sleep and you’re pretty sure you can’t possibly make it through even one more. We learned that in these times of difficulty we could break some of our parenting rules or preferences for the sake of survival and sanity. If your baby sleeps in your room or your bed for a few nights or even a few weeks, you won’t forfeit his soul. If you give your child a soother, he won’t grow up to be a criminal. Sometimes you lose these little battles, and that just has to be okay.

9. Prioritize your marriage. Parenting is the best and hardest challenge your marriage will face. There is no way of introducing several new personalities into your family without experiencing some strain on your marriage. Though marriage and children are meant to exist together in perfect harmony, you will find that they each seek to compete with the other. Yet marriage needs to come first. The stability of a strong, loving, affectionate marriage will anchor the children, giving them confidence that whatever else happens in life, this marriage will stand firm. Find and create opportunities to prioritize and strengthen your marriage in ways the children will see and in ways they will never see. The children will benefit either way.

10. Give them grace. Extend grace to your children, not only justice. Teach your children that there are consequences for disobedience and discipline them with consistency and kindness. But not every time. Sometimes it is more effective to show them mercy as a reflection of the mercy God has shown you. At other times you may even decide to overlook an offense as you strategically address one kind of sin but not another. Give them grace and show them mercy. Don’t just tell them the gospel, but model it in your interactions with them.

*A note related to “Expect that God will save them:” Of course God does not owe you the salvation of your children and it may be in his sovereign good pleasure not to save them or not to save them until much later in life. But this does not take away from your confidence that those who are immersed in a gospel atmosphere from their youngest years do tend to respond to the gospel.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 27, 2016

Not surprisingly, this was a busy week for letters to the editor. I say it is not surprising because of the article I wrote on Monday concerning public schools and their teachers. The majority of the letters today (and, indeed, almost all of the letters I received this week) concern that article. I’m grateful that so many people took time to write kind, thoughtful responses.

Comments on A La Carte (March 22)

I am a long-time reader and enjoy your site. I just want to encourage you to refrain from prolifigating the Christian-celebrity gossip that fills too much of the Christian blogosphere. There was no reason to link to more info about Tullian Tchividjian’s affairs. Neither you, nor the vast majority of your readers are part of his church(es), and there are many more edifying things for us to be reading about. I hope you hear this as a loving encouragement. Keep up the great blog!
—Doug H, Tampa, FL

Tim: I linked to the recent news about Tchividjian with some hesitation, but with the belief that it is important information for those who have read his books and been impacted by his ministry. I consider it news, not gossip, because his greatest impact was within the very Christian community that tends to read my site. I, myself, have promoted his books in the past, so feel that I need to also share this.

Comments on Stop Slandering Public School Teachers

As a classical Christian teacher, I am obviously biased when I say I think Christian education is the best option, but I do believe God, through his common grace, gives teachers incredible gifts to educate students. I don’t believe the majority have a problem or critique with teachers per se, but with the curriculum brought on by public schools. That I can understand, for being able to teach how Christ is center across all the disciplines is a real eye opener that can not happen in a public school curriculum.
—Dustin C, Kent Island, MD

***

As the wife of a public high school teacher with two children in the public school system, I applaud this article. In our Christian community, the “homeschooling” model has overshadowed every other option in a way that makes those of us in the public system feel like we are betraying our faith. As a teacher and football coach, my husband is passionate about his job and the children he impacts every day; he does not hesitate to share his faith in the classroom, and he shows the love of Christ to so many kids who are ignored or neglected. While we agree that the public system won’t work for every family in every situation, it is working for us and we need our Christian brothers and sisters to stop vilifying our efforts and making us feel like traitors.
—Laura H, Markham, ON

Tim: The discussion about education would certainly be much easier if we were all able to speak about one another with grace and respect. But as soon as we get children involved and share what we believe is best for our children, it is difficult to not be seen as passing judgment on others.

***

I’m not really sure what you are trying to communicate here. You say you have encountered hundreds of negative statements about public schools and public school teachers, but that you have had a good experience with both. That’s awesome that you have, but I’m pretty sure that it is fallacious to use that anecdotal evidence to make your case (even while acknowledging that your evidence is anecdotal). No doubt, there are great public schools and great public teachers (I live blocks away from a teacher training institute - so I know many great future teachers). Nevertheless, there are terrible ones too. So maybe some of those hundreds of statements that you have heard are true. The fact is, even with good teachers, it is getting tougher and tougher to make the case for public education for Christians. I still think it can be a great option for some, but more caution than ever is needed; and not because all teachers are evil, but because the wider culture increasingly is, and public ed is lockstep with that culture.
—Gordon J, Chadron, NE

***

Thanks for addressing the issue of slander in recent articles. As a homeschooler, I am concerned about the tone of the rhetoric I sometimes hear. But the issue of slander extends beyond schooling choices with grave repercussions. I was raised on a steady diet of evangelical black-and-white perspectives buttressed with the type of rhetorical strategies you’ve been critical of (see 7 Rules for Online Engagement), but in high school and college came to see that the intersections of social issues, public policy, and science with faith can be complicated and nuanced. At that time I concluded that Christian leaders either suffered from a competency problem (they lacked the ability to engage with a disciplinary canon, understand key concepts, and/or quote appropriately); or an integrity problem (they purposefully misrepresented other authors). Neither of these problems elicited much confidence in Christians’ ability to teach me about God. Many people I know have left the faith permanently due to this issue of slander, and it’s only by the grace of God that I’ve remained a Christian. I understand that facts and ideas can be messy, and sometimes challenge our precious beliefs in ways that are hard to reconcile. But perhaps instead of oversimplifying or misrepresenting others to make ourselves more comfortable, we might benefit from developing strategies to live with some tension. Doing so would recognize that we might not have everything figured out yet, that no truth will contradict a God of Truth, and that we love others enough to bear honest witness about them. Thanks for encouraging us to use our words more carefully.
—Brooklyn W, Hutchinson, KS

***

Tim, thank you so much for writing “Stop Slandering Public School Teachers.” I am a public inner-city high school teacher myself. For many of us Christian teachers in public schools, teaching in our public schools has become part of our mission field. And I see all my students as gifts that God has given me, even those who dislike teachers, live lifestyles or other faiths and which I might not approve, or simply come from a place far different than me. Teachers would be quick to tell some Christians who have forgotten this a simple truth: that all children deserve to be loved and taught. While I do not begrudge any parent any decision to not send their children to public schools, I am sometimes shocked by how many businesses, interest groups, trade groups, and the like want to work with me and my kids, but that so many churches avoid the public school as if a secret Devil Hand was going to come out and grab their kids. Instead, I would encourage churches to look for hands-on ways in which they can support their public schools because there are Ministry opportunities there and opportunities for the grace of God to work. Here in the US, many of our public schools are becoming clusters of child poverty, desperately in need of loving people to come and help the educators with problems that are surpassing their training.
—Jason P, Nashville, TN

Tim: I’d encourage every Christian woman to check out Moms in Touch and consider praying for schools, their teachers, and their students.

***

I don’t think I’ve ever been engaged in or heard anyone slandering public teachers. Just the system they have to work inside of. It sounds as though the Challies’ have had a great experience with their teachers and administrators. PTL!! The admins and teachers have been gracious and honoring of their convictions and beliefs. On the other hand there are public schools who cannot or will not discipline rowdy and unruly children for fear of retaliation from parents or admins. We read stories every day where a child who does not wish to participate in a sex-ed program, or evolution curriculum, who is then in turn mocked and slandered. There are definitely excellent teachers teaching in the public school system. But after helping to home-school our children and having teachers and educators look down on us and treat us like backward thinking citizens it is hard to remain silent when this system gets praised.
—Barry S, Lincoln, NE

***

Tim, thank you for your thoughtful article regarding slandering public school teachers. I work full time as a first grade teacher in a public school here in California. I can testify that I know many compassionate, highly skilled teachers who labor to see each student grow. I have seen the name of Christ maligned by some Christian families who adopt a hostile, often uninformed approach to an issue in the classroom. Would they approach a fellow church member like that? Maintain an attitude of humility and respect and ask open-ended questions, and the vast majority of teachers view you as a partner, not an adversary. It’s also important to remember that the extreme anecdotes one might hear on Christian talk radio or some blogs are usually the exception, not the norm. As a teacher and parent, I echo your prior articles - know your context; make a prayerful, informed decision year by year; and partner with your teachers!
—Andy K, Sacramento, CA

***

Tim, Thanks for the good word about public school teachers. I am one. I spent 22 years as a pastor and a home-schooler. I now teach at a public middle school. I have found I’m surrounded by unbelieving teachers who genuinely care about their students, work hard to cooperate with parents, and have no agenda to secularize their pupils. They have felt the distrust and disdain of believers who have wrongly judged them. It’s sad. Thanks for bringing attention to it. Slander of any kind is more representative of our Enemy than our Savior.
—Jim A, Wheatland, CA

***

You are very fortunate to have had the experiences you have had with public education in your area. Our experiences were the entire range; outstanding to criminal neglect. Those situations that I could influence and improve I did. Those that I couldn’t were publicized appropriately and I moved on. What scares me, frankly, are the reports I am told by the 3 public school teachers in my family. I have no reason to not believe what they tell me but the verbal and emotional abuse that some teachers and administrators throw at other teachers, especially those who are “openly” Christian, is astonishing. So to circle back, I think your experience is extraordinary. What we need to do as Christian parents and grandparents is to create and sustain full engagement with the staff at our children’s school and do what we need to do in both encouragement and correction.
—Keith W, Royal Oak, MI

Tim: This is merely a sampling of the many letters I received. I am grateful for each and every person who took the time to get in touch.

Comments on The Privilege of a Pastor’s Wife

I am a pastor’s wife, and I appreciated your article. It got me thinking about what I consider privileges of being married to a pastor, in addition to those you posted. I just wanted to share a few: I have a husband who is able and regularly does open the Scriptures to me and my children and who is able to answer spiritual questions that we have; because of the nature of his job, our family life is necessarily oriented around the church; we get to host visiting missionaries and pastors, in addition to guests and members at our church, and hear stories of what the Lords is doing in hearts all around the world; because of his position, we are sometimes able to minister to people when others are not able to access them (“clergy” privilege). I hear so many stories of hard pastoral experiences in churches, and I just wanted to share some encouragements that I have had over the years. Thank you again for your encouragements!
—Mary F, Chester, PA

The Character of the Christian
March 24, 2016

Today we conclude our series on the character of the Christian. We have been exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I have wanted us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today, as we wrap up, we will tackle what it means for elders—and all Christians—to be well thought of by outsiders. And, of course, we will ask why it matters.

Paul instructs Timothy, “Moreover, [an elder] must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). Paul has already said that an elder “must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2), so being respected by outsiders zeroes in on one specific group: those who are outside the church. Yes, even a man’s standing before the world counts as we evaluate his suitability for leadership. John Piper writes, “What it seems to mean is that a Christian leader should at least meet the standards of the world for decency and respectability, for the standards of the church should be higher.” This matters, for as Paul has written elsewhere, the glory of God is at stake: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:23–24).

So, why include a man’s outside reputation as a requirement for eldership? Alexander Strauch addresses it practically: “NonChristians may know more about the character and conduct of the prospective elder than the church. Quite often the prospective elder’s nonChristian fellow workers or relatives actually have more daily contact with the church leader than do the people in church.” He also says, “If a pastor elder has a reputation among nonbelievers as a dishonest businessman, womanizer, or adulterer, the unbelieving community will take special note of his hypocrisy. NonChristians will say, ‘He acts that way, and he’s a church elder!’ They will ridicule and mock him. They will scoff at the people of God. They will talk about him and will generate plenty of sinister gossip. They will raise tough, embarrassing questions. He will be discredited as a Christian leader and suffer disgrace and insults. His influence for good will be ruined and he will endanger the church’s evangelistic mission. The elder will certainly become a liability to the church, not a spiritual asset.” The gospel itself is at stake in the consistency or hypocrisy of its leaders.

Now, what exactly is the “snare of the devil” that so concerns Paul? I think John Stott gets to the heart of it when he says, “In his malicious eagerness to discredit the gospel, the devil does his best to discredit the ministers of the gospel.” If Satan can discredit the leaders before the watching world, he can discredit the church and its message. Strauch adds, “The devil is pictured as a cunning hunter (1 Peter 5:8). Using public criticism and the elder’s own inconsistencies, the devil will entrap the unwary Christian into more serious sin—uncontrolled bitterness, angry retaliation, lying, further hypocrisy, and stubbornness of heart. What may begin as a small offense can become something far more destructive and evil. Therefore, an elder must have a good reputation with those outside the Christian community.”

What about Christians who are not elders? They too are to pursue the respect of outsiders. For instance, Paul writes, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6). Again, he states, “We urge you, brothers … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:10–12). Christians will “shine as lights in the world” when they live “without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Philippians 2:15). Similarly, Peter commands, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. … For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:12, 15; see also 1 Peter 3:13–17). What is to be modeled by the church’s leaders is to be obvious in every life. You, too, bear the responsibility to live an unblemished life before the world.

Self-Evaluation

So, how about you? Where do you see signs of encouragement, and where do you see areas that need growth? I encourage you to ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Do you know your neighbors? Do they know you well enough to be able to speak to your character and reputation? How would your unbelieving neighbors describe you and your family?
  • What kind of reputation do you have among the unbelievers you work with? Do you work hard and avoid meddling? (1 Thessalonians 4:10–12; Ephesians 4:28)
  • What would your unbelieving family members say is most important to you? Would they say that your life matches your profession?

Prayer Points

God is able to make more grace abound in your life, so I encourage you to join me in praying these ways:

  • I pray that you would make my life reflect the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) so that my life would glorify, not shame, your name.
  • I pray that you would help me think about how my attitudes and actions affect others—especially unbelievers.
  • I pray that I would model hard work and respect for authority, and that I would mind my own business in the workplace.
  • I pray that I would be a model of good works at home, at work, and in my neighborhood so that by doing good to others you would be glorified.

Thanks for joining me through this series. I believe that God has helped me grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ as I’ve explored and applied his Word. I hope you can say the same! May God help you and help me to live an exemplary Christian life.

The Holiness Instinct
March 23, 2016

Though I didn’t know it when I began, this article would come to hang on a single moment, a single moment of temptation. On Saturday I found myself musing on personal holiness and the joyful reality that you can be far holier than you ever would have thought possible. On Sunday I began scribbling thoughts about the fact that God is able to transform you to such a degree that you develop entirely new instincts toward sin so that what was once alluring is now appalling. On Monday I had the unexpected opportunity to see if this was true.

God is wholly and relentlessly committed to our holiness. He is committed to our purity, to putting our sin to death. He is so committed to this that he will create within us a whole new relationship to sin, and even to our favorite pet sins. See, each of us enters the Christian life with sins that are so appealing, patterns of sin that are so deeply entrenched. We wonder if we can ever have freedom from these sins. We wonder if we will ever be able to resist these temptations, if we can ever see deep and lasting change.

As we grow in the Christian life we are challenged to fight such sin. The person who struggles with anger hears a sermon that teaches and applies “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). He sees his sin with new clarity, he calls out to God for help, and he goes toe-to-toe with the devil to put this sin to death. The person who skims a little off the top or takes it easy at work encounters these words in his personal devotions: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (4:28). He is cut to the heart, asks God for forgiveness, and searches God’s Word for what it says about a life of righteous honesty. The person who loves to gossip suddenly has these words come to mind during a time of corporate confession: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). She understands that God himself is challenging her and she repents and commits herself to speaking only what edifies and heals.

Over time these people find that the battle grows easier. A day comes when she realizes it has been weeks since she has gossiped, a day comes when he realizes it has been months since he has had an angry outburst. But it gets even better than that. One day she is faced with the temptation to gossip and her first instinct is to reject the opportunity and instead to speak words that give grace to those who hear. One day he is presented with a golden opportunity to enrich himself at someone else’s expense, and without even thinking about it, he turns away, choosing instead to do his work well and to give with generosity. Both understand that this is a profound evidence of God’s grace—he has given them entirely new instincts toward sin. Where their old instinct was to indulge, their new instinct is to refrain. Where their old instinct was toward sin, their new instinct is toward holiness. They now delight to do what is right in an area that was once the source of so much sin and so much temptation.

All of this was on my mind over the weekend. And then on Monday I went to search for something on Twitter. It was an innocent and well-intentioned search meant to help me find and respond to important information. But there at the top of the results, in high definition and impossible to miss, was a pornographic picture of a woman displaying what she offered and inviting me to just click for more. There was a time when that image would have been a sore temptation. There was a time when that image would have been an excuse for indulgence: “Satan tempted me and I barely stood a chance,” I could have said. But not this time. Within the smallest fraction of a second my heart, my eyes, my hand had reacted. My heart had said “no,” my eyes had turned away, and my hand had shut down the app. It was instantaneous. It was amazing. It was instinct. It was a gift of God, transforming and overwhelming a temptation of the devil. It was a moment to give thanks and praise to God. In this area, at least, God has transformed me. He has given me a new desire with a matching new instinct. And I give him the glory.

Stop Slandering Public School Teachers
March 22, 2016

We are now in our twelfth year of public schooling, and between our three children we have totaled twenty-two school years of public education. This has taken place in a limited context, of course: one primary school and one high school in one school district in one town in one province in one country. I have written elsewhere about how and why we made the decision to educate our children this way and do not wish to cover that ground again today. What I do wish to do, though, is to reflect on the way that Christians speak about public schools and, even more so, about public school teachers. The last ten years have made me realize that many Christians speak unfairly about public school teachers. They may even speak slanderously.

To slander someone is to “make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.”1 It is a deliberate or inadvertent misrepresentation that does damage to a person’s reputation. I have learned a lot about this sin from R.C. Sproul of all people. Several times Dr. Sproul has written books about Catholicism and he has often said that Protestants are prone to slander Catholics by inadequately understanding and unfairly representing their beliefs. Protestants tend to say things like, “We believe that justification is by faith but Roman Catholics say it is by works. We believe it is by grace but Roman Catholics say it is by merit. We believe it is through Christ but Roman Catholics believe it is through one’s own righteousness.” But as Sproul points out, “These are terrible slanders against Rome” because from “the sixteenth century to today, the Roman Catholic Church has said that justification requires faith, the grace of God, and the work of Jesus Christ.”2 The real debate is not over faith, but over faith alone. To right this injustice he has attempted to make a careful study of Catholicism, to represent it fairly, and to critique it for what it actually is. In this way he has modeled fair engagement.

When it comes to education in North America, the tides in the Reformed world have shifted away from public education and toward Christian or home schooling. The decision on education is for each family to make on the basis of beliefs, conscience, and context. I am convinced that any of the options are in play, at least for our family, and at various times we have seriously considered all three. To this point we have maintained public schooling.

However, if we were to begin again today, I am quite sure we would not enroll our children in public schools. What concerns me is that our decision would not be based on conviction but fear, fear generated by statements we have heard from others about public schools and, in particular, about public school teachers. Over the years we have encountered hundreds of statements about the dangers of such teachers. We have been assured that public schools are the breeding ground for every kind of social evil, that they are the lair of predatory teachers, that they are full of tenured and unionized employees who care nothing for children. We have heard that public school teachers care only for ideology, that they will allow no leeway for Christian beliefs, that they will do their utmost to undermine the hard training of parents who attempt to raise their children with biblical ideals. In many Christian circles, public school teachers are made out to be the enemies of the faith.

Our experience of public school teachers has been far different and far more positive. And I don’t think we are the exception, not from what I’ve heard when speaking to people in my church, in my city, in my family, and even as I’ve spoken to many of you at conferences or churches or events. Of course some have had bad experiences, but not all. Not nearly all.

Yes, we have bumped into one or two unskilled or uncaring teachers over those twenty-two school years. But on the whole our children’s teachers have been a delight and they have gladly partnered with us in the education of our children. They have brought skill, passion, and empathy to their job. On a few occasions we have approached the teachers with cares or concerns related to what the children will be learning and we have found them eager to discuss these things and eager to work with us, not against us. They have given us detailed outlines of all they intend to teach so we have had all the relevant information and been able to make informed decisions. If we have wanted to keep our children out of a class or two, the teachers have been glad to accommodate our requests without protest and without shaming our children. One teacher even skipped a whole section of a curriculum because I expressed discomfort with it. If we have approached the teachers with concerns related to interpersonal conflicts between our children and others, the teachers have been eager and tender in helping the children get along. Academic concerns have been met with extra time, extra tutoring, extra care.

When a high school teacher showed a video that was condescending toward a particular Christian belief, my son went to him after class to explain that he is a Christian who actually believes that. The teacher then modified the lesson to ensure it would no longer disparage such beliefs. When my son’s pro-life presentation caused students to complain to a school administrator, the administrator assured him he had freedom to express himself in such ways. One teacher has asked me to speak to his class about pastoring and I’ve also been invited by a teacher to speak at the school’s Christian club complete with an announcement that invited the whole student body to come and hear me lead a Bible study. (There are other things I would love to write but would not do so without permission of the teachers involved.)

We have consistently experienced teachers who have gone out of their way to be helpful to us and who have gone above and beyond to express respect to us and love to our children. They have allowed us and our children to believe what we believe without interference. A couple have told us how our children stand out because of the kindness and respect they have learned from the Bible. One teacher wrote us to say, “If my children grow up to be like yours, I will be so pleased.” They have expressed admiration because of what we believe, not despite it! The reality has been so different from the caricature. The things we keep hearing from Christians as they speak about public school teachers does not describe reality—our reality, at least. We know now that so many of these statements are unfair and untrue. They are slanderous. Yet they come from Christians.

Now, again, we represent the experience of just one family and two schools. And maybe things are changing so that there is a new boldness among teachers to speak out against Christians and their beliefs. But if so, we have not seen it. In fact, we have seen the very opposite, that the spirit of tolerance in the schools does not shut out Christians but extends to them. Our experience has been that God’s common grace, his love for all humanity, extends even to the classrooms of the nearby public schools.

So how do I wrap this up? Let me affirm once again that I believe home schooling and Christian schooling are perfectly valid options and in many cases the best option. It is entirely possible they are options we will eventually embrace for our children as we continue to decide and discern what is best for them. What I have written here is not meant to be a defense of public education and certainly not of all public education. Rather, it is a plea for Christians to speak the truth and to speak it in love. It is a plea to speak well of those who do their job well. If we are going to argue against public education, let’s do so on the basis of reality rather than fear and fiction.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Here at the Dawn of the Revolution
March 21, 2016

As Christians, we look with ultimate hope to our ultimate future—the sure hope that we will be with God forever in a world free of sin and all its ugly effects. Christ will return, and what He has prepared for us will be more glorious than all we can ask or even imagine. It’s the immediate future that causes us anxiety, though. Our future and the futures of our children and grandchildren—these trouble us and cause us to fear.

We live in a world where one of the few constants in life is change. Yet, God has given us the ability, the desire, and the mandate to change and shape the world around us. Since the beginning, man has been doing this by creating and implementing new technologies. Technologies are good in that they allow us to carry out our God-given mandate (Gen. 4). But every technology also brings risk; it brings change. Innovations subtly shift our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. They lead us to form new customs and new habits. We have an uneasy relationship with technology, since we create technologies in our image and over time they tend to return the favor.

Historically, the pace of technological change has been slow. But over the past five hundred years that pace has consistently increased. Today we can hardly keep up. By the time we purchase and enjoy a great new gadget, the next one (and the one after that) is already being finalized and perfected in the labs. The newest, greatest, and most expensive device is built with a planned obsolescence that may be only three or four years away. It seems like every year or two we need to prepare our families and our churches for another big shift, another great innovation, that will call them to learn new skills and adapt to new realities.

With all of the changes—not to mention the speed at which they occur—we can develop a deep uncertainty about the future. Whatever we know about our current situation, the future will be very different. We know that we cannot predict future changes with any degree of accuracy. After all, the technologies we consider so normal today existed only in the realm of science fiction just twenty short years ago. And as a result, many Christians have a nascent fear of the future, wondering what it may hold both for them and their families.

Understanding the past allows us to identify trends and to see that even though the pace may have changed, the pattern has not. Seeing history through the lens of God’s Word comforts us with the sure knowledge that all change is unfolding only and exactly within God’s good and perfect will.

The history of communication is especially compelling. Consider, for example, ancient Roman roads. Roman roads were a marvelous innovation that held the empire together. They were built to quickly transport mighty armies across the empire, to expand Roman influence to new lands, and to crush any hint of rebellion in lands already conquered. And, of course, they were built to consolidate the empire through trade and communications. They were incredibly effective, and Rome’s empire thrived for centuries. But the very same roads that carried soldiers also carried the first Christian missionaries to their destinations all over the Mediterranean. The technology that was meant to extend Rome’s kingdom was used to extend God’s kingdom. And only one of those kingdoms continues to exist today.

Consider the book as well. The book—printed pages bound between two covers—is a relatively new innovation, a new technology. For the vast majority of human history, the book as such did not exist. King David never read a book. Jesus never read a book. They read scrolls. The book as we know it today is a product of developments in the centuries after Christ’s life. First the codex, an ancient form of the modern book, was invented, and then the printing press was invented many centuries later. Yet the book has become so deeply embedded in our society that we cannot imagine the world without it. We even call the Bible a book, as if it had always existed in this format.

It seems comical now, but when the book was introduced to society, people feared it, just as they had feared the rise of writing centuries earlier. People feared that the book would take ideas too far, too fast. They tied knowledge so closely with memorization that they feared the ramifications of recording words on paper instead of in human minds. After all, why would we ever want to store something in our memories if we can store it on paper? And yet today we can see how the book was used to record God’s Word and to spread it across the world. We can see that it sparked a great Reformation. We can see that it sparked revival and awakening. We can see that the Bible quickly became the best-selling book of all time. That technology changed the world. God used that technology for His own purposes.

When the radio was introduced, many people feared it. They feared its intrusion into their homes and families. They feared the consequences of families gathering in the living room to listen to the radio instead of sitting on the front porch to socialize with neighbors. They feared the fast-paced flow of information and the news that came from so far outside their local context.

But again, we can see how God used this technology for His own glory. Countless people have come to faith in Jesus Christ by hearing the gospel on the radio. Countless more have been encouraged in their Christian walk as they have listened to Renewing Your Mind or Grace to You or a host of other great programs. Even today, when radio is regarded as an antiquated technology, it continues to make a deep impact across the globe, and it continues to be used by God to carry out the Great Commission.

Television provides another ready example. There is no doubt that television transformed the family and brought with it changing morals. Yet Christians quickly identified how television could be used to transmit the Good News to the lost and to encourage those who had already been saved. Today we take it for granted that we can watch our favorite teachers and preachers on a screen. It is yet another new technology that brought both risk and great benefits as Christians saw the potential and used it to God’s glory.

Today we are at the dawn of the digital revolution, and we are grappling with many of the very same fears people faced at the dawn of every other communications revolution. We fear the ubiquity of digital devices; we fear living so much of our lives in the glow of little screens; we fear the consequences of recording our thoughts and our lives in apps. But even now we can have hope. We can look to history to see how God has used every technology to carry out his purposes and to do His will. We can look to God’s Word to see that He works all things to His glory. We can have firm confidence that He is over and above and working through all of these things.

It is good and wise for us, as Christians, to consider deeply all of the change going on around us—and within us. It is good for us to consider what happens when the “Good Book” becomes the “Good App,” or when so many of the things we used to do face-to-face become things we do through bits and bytes. It is good for us to keep a wary eye on new technologies and to introduce them to our families and our churches only after due consideration of both their risks and their benefits. We acknowledge that both we and our technologies exist in this sin-stained world, so we should examine them with discernment and consider all we stand to gain or lose. But even as we act with this kind of wisdom, we can act with confidence. We have no reason to fear.

We do not know the future, but as the saying goes, we do know the One who holds the future. And not only do we know that, we know what God is accomplishing in history. We know the end to which God is directing history. We know who will bring this world’s history to its beautiful conclusion.

Originally published in Tabletalk.