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Before the Birds and the Bees
January 13, 2016

Somebody thinks I ought to begin my day with porn. On Sunday I opened my inbox early in the day and found an image of a naked woman waiting for me there—not exactly how I wanted to begin my Lord’s Day. It was in an email that looked perfectly fine, but when I clicked on it, well, there she was. A millisecond later the email was in the spam folder and that was that. A very similar email was in my inbox on Monday and again the day after, though these times I clicked the spam button without opening them. There was nothing today, so I assume the spam filter has now begun to do its job. But, sadly, this is not unusual on the Internet. With all the benefits that come through it, we also face certain unwanted drawbacks.

A few years ago, I wrote a book on technology and since then have traveled around the world to speak on the subject. I’ve spoken personally with hundreds of people and have heard from many more through email and social media. The stories I hear are chilling. I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard of porn addictions, or at least porn struggles, that began with an email just like the one I received. It wasn’t that people were out looking for bad stuff, but that the bad stuff came looking for them. Once they saw it they became intrigued by it and once they became intrigued they found themselves captivated. I have heard of young children—very young children—who developed interests in dark things from dark places all because of something they stumbled upon when they were online. The sad fact is, as we use the Internet we will, at times, be faced with such things. So, too, will our children.

As parents, we know the importance of having the infamous birds and bees talk with our children. This is, and has always been, a parent’s responsibility. Today, before it’s time for the birds and bees talk, it’s time for the tech talk. As soon as our children begin to go online, we need to open an ongoing conversation about the dangers they may experience there, and to instruct them on how to react when they encounter those dangers.

The tech talk needs to include a few essentials, though the details will vary as the children grow older and begin to use more powerful apps and sites. As I see it, there are at least 3 categories of danger we need to discuss with our children.

The first category is privacy. Children may not understand the danger and foolishness of revealing personal information about themselves. This can happen in a number of ways, like having a username that contains the child’s name or age. Children naturally assume the people they meet online are also children (and especially so if this is what those people say about themselves). We, as adults, know not to take this for granted. Our children need to know what they must not say about themselves online. Included here would be the pressure among teens and young people to share nude or nearly-nude pictures of themselves as part of the new dating ritual.

The second category is bullying or other inappropriate interactions. This happened with one of my daughters not too long ago. She had been playing Minecraft with her siblings and somehow bounced into a different world. No sooner had she arrived than another user chatted with her and told her something inappropriate. She did not understand what he said or meant, but she did know enough to be offended and to come running for mom. Children need to know that they may face bullying, harassment, and other forms of inappropriate interaction when they use the Internet. They need to know they will face it, and they need to know how to respond to it.

The third category is pornography and other inappropriate content. Children need to know that these things exist and that at some point they will be exposed to them. They need to know that at some point they will receive an inappropriate email or they will see a picture in the sidebar of a website or something. Even if they don’t ever go looking for images of nudity and sexuality, it is very unlikely they will avoid them entirely. They need to know that these things exist and they need to know how you expect them to respond when they are exposed to it.

The fact is, parents need to teach their children how to behave online and parents need to know what their children are doing online. This is why I appreciate the new Circle device I reviewed a couple of months ago—it provides a simple means of offering protection that is sufficient for most families and households. It provides proactive and reactive ways to guard the eyes, hearts, and minds of your children. This is also why I put together the Porn-Free Family Plan which is intended to safeguard your family from this kind of harm. This plan does not require any special hardware, but does require a software subscription. (For homes with teens or adults known to struggle with porn, or for homes with teens who are adept at circumventing measures, I recommend both the Porn-Free Family Plan and Circle.)

I want to say this as clearly as I know how: If you neglect to train your children in their use of the Internet, you are failing in your parental responsibility. If you neglect to monitor what your children are doing online, you are neglecting your duty. If you are going to allow them to use the Internet—and I think you should so they can learn to use it under your care—you absolutely need to train them to use it well. To train them well you simply need to engage them in the tech talk. 

Image credit: Shutterstock

Teaching Children to Pray
January 11, 2016

I am especially excited about this blog post. Why? Because it is in response to a Patreon supporter. What does that mean? It means that I have committed to interact at varying levels with those who choose to support me (you can see more details towards the bottom of this page). So, here is a question from one supporter:

It’s good to teach our children to pray, we all know that. But what about having them pray aloud in public or family settings? Should we allow or encourage this? What’s the place for the mealtime prayers of kids who aren’t (or probably aren’t) yet showing clear evidence of conversion?

I appreciate this question because it reflects the writer’s desire to have a good influence on his children while doing so in wise, God-honoring ways. It also places high value on the importance of genuine spiritual conversion and acknowledges the reality that children—even the children of believers—are born in sin and need salvation. It acknowledges that prayer is properly a privilege of those who have been saved. Lying behind the main question is this one: When else do we ask and even encourage people to pray when we have little certainty about the state of their souls?

I think the Bible gives us some guidance on how and when to teach our children to pray. While it is wise to be discerning with our children as they grow up and to not give them a false sense of security if they’re not actually Christians, I don’t know of any place that the Bible warns parents to beware of teaching children to pray too early. Rather, we are told to teach them and this includes not just facts, but also practices. By encouraging our children to pray, we are teaching them the language, the practice, and the importance of prayer.

John Piper answers the question, Should Children Be Taught to Pray Even If They Haven’t Professed Faith? and he says,

Yes. I think we should teach our children to pray as soon as they can say anything. … I can’t discern when a child is being spiritually wrought upon by the Lord. … I can’t tell precisely when his faith becomes his own and authentic, I don’t want to wait too long before I start treating him as a believer. …

Also, practically, it seems right to put the vocabulary of prayer into a child’s mouth from the very beginning. That way, when his faith is born, he has a whole vocabulary, orientation, and habit that the Lord can use. … You have to build the disciplines of the Christian life into your children from the beginning, all the while praying that they are going to grow up and mean what they say. They may mean it at age 2. You just don’t know.

I consider that wise counsel, and especially this: “Pray that they are going to grow up and mean what they say.” We can acknowledge the likelihood that our children are praying as if they are Christians before they are Christians. That is okay. As I said earlier, the Bible doesn’t warn parents against teaching such things to their children too soon. On the other hand, in both the Old and New Testaments, parents (and especially fathers) are told to teach their children to obey the word of God (which includes the practice of prayer). Consider these verses:

  • “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)
  • “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11)
  • “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17)
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Children imitate their parents and typically value what they value—for good or for ill. Consider this example and advice from Dr. James Dobson in his book, Bringing Up Girls:

Begin teaching your children to pray as early as possible. My parents and grandparents took that responsibility very seriously. The first word I learned to spell was Jesus. And believe it or not, I began trying to pray even before I learned to talk. I had heard my parents praying during their private devotions, and I began imitating the sounds they made. My mother and father were shocked and wondered how that was possible for a child at thirteen months of age. The moral to the story is that your children are observing you too and are influenced by everything you do.

Of course, as you teach your children to pray, you should also teach them to delight in God, honor his Word, and pursue holiness. You should teach them that they are born in a state of sin and alienation from God and that prayer will merit them nothing if they do not personally apprehend the promises of God. You should teach them to take advantage of the great privilege that is theirs by virtue of being born into a Christian home where they hear the gospel. You can even warn them of the consequences of rejecting this privilege. Proverbs 28:9 says, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” But just because something can be pursued wrongly doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued at all.

Let me close with two notes. First, if you’re looking for a book to read to your children on prayer, consider R. C. Sproul’s story, The Barber Who Wanted to Pray. It will teach some of the how and why of prayer. Also, heed this counsel from Fred Sanders which he shares in The Deep Things of God: “Many parents have decided they should teach their children to pray to Jesus because Jesus is so concrete and personal for young minds to focus on in their prayer. I cannot say if this is sufficiently wise from a developmental standpoint to warrant systematic deviation from the examples in Scripture or to sidestep the logic of Trinitarian mediation and teach children to pray against the grain. If you do choose to teach your children to pray to Jesus, you should have a plan for when you are going to introduce them to the biblical model of prayer.” The biblical model is, of course, to pray to the Father by the Son through the Holy Spirit. A child’s “dear Jesus” prayers are sweet and innocent, but not entirely aligned with the biblical pattern. Teach them to pray to the Father, just as Jesus did.

Image credit: Shutterstock

When Your Goodness Goes Splat
January 07, 2016

At some point, each one of us becomes proud of our goodness. We become proud of a good thing we have done. We boast, even if only in our own minds, about the purity of an action, the extent of a sacrifice, the value of a gift. We elevate this good act as if it could be held before God as evidence that we aren’t really all that bad, or that we are working our way back toward goodness. We elevate it as if it is worthy of his attention, his favor.

These considerations of our goodness never come about in isolation. When we think about our own goodness, we always compare ourselves to others. It’s not that we are good by any objective standard; we are good compared to the parent, the neighbor, the stranger, the criminal. We choose our comparisons carefully.

Michael Kruger uses a helpful illustration to describe the futility of this kind of boasting, and he illustrates using the Grand Canyon. Imagine that you and I travel together to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. We park and walk for a little while, and before we know it we are standing on the rim, on the edge, of one of the world’s natural wonders.

As we stand there, we get the idea to have a fun and friendly little competition between ourselves. We decide to see who can jump the farthest, who can make it to the far rim, or at least who can make it closest. You guess that you can make it all the way across. You back up a little bit, get a running start, and sprint off the edge. You are even better than you thought and make it nearly fourteen feet! Then, of course, you plummet to the bottom of the canyon and go splat. I take my running start and do even better with a tremendous fifteen-foot jump. Then I, too, hurtle to the bottom, my moment of triumph ending with a crunch.

If God’s standard of holiness is as wide as the Grand Canyon—eighteen miles wide at its widest point—it hardly matters whether I end up at ten, twelve, or fifteen feet. No matter how far I jump, I will still fall far, far short of the mark. It matters even less whether I can jump farther than you, because your jump and my jump both lead to an ugly end. These attempts to meet or match God’s standard of holiness leads only to death. All of our goodness goes splat.

The gospel makes this bad news even worse. It tells us that God’s standard of holiness is far wider than a mere eighteen miles. It tells us that I can jump far less than fifteen feet. In fact, it tells me that I can’t jump at all because I am dead, and dead men don’t jump. But it transforms the bad news to good when it assures me that Christ, through his perfect life and his atoning death, has bridged the unbridgeable, doing what I could never do on my own. It assures me that God accepts Christ’s standard of holiness on my behalf. I don’t need to jump at all; I need to simply trust and receive.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Burning and Yearning
January 06, 2016

The Bible allows us to distinguish between two kinds of sexual desire, a pure and sinless sexual desire and an impure, sinful one. We can term these yearning and burning. Yearning is a legitimate sexual desire, the desire to explore and experience sexuality with a God-given spouse. Burning is an illegitimate form of sexual desire, the desire to explore and experience sexuality with someone who is not a God-given spouse (or, alternatively, to experience inappropriate or even perverse forms of sexuality with a God-given spouse). Sexual desire is at the heart of both, but yearning is the desire experienced in a pure way while burning is the desire experienced in a sinful way.

Yearning can be experienced by men and women, married and single. It can be prevalent or occasional, minimal or strong. It is the eagerness to respond to sexual desire in a self-controlled, God-honoring way. A husband may find himself lost in a daydream yearning to experience sexual intimacy with his wife. A single woman may find herself yearning for a husband so she can discover and experience sexual pleasure and fulfillment. These are not evil desires. They are natural, human desires. The first compels a husband and wife to enjoy sexual union while the second compels a single man or woman to pursue a husband or wife. For those who do not have a spouse or whose spouse is for some reason unavailable, yearning compels a deeper reliance on God, a deeper trust in his goodness and sufficiency.

Burning can also be experienced by men and women, married and single. It can be prevalent or occasional, minimal or strong. It is the longing to respond to sexual desire in a way that is not self-controlled and not God-honoring. A wife may find herself lost in a daydream, burning to experience sexual intimacy with someone who is not her husband. A single man may find himself burning with lust for a particular woman, objectifying her, idolizing sexual pleasure with her, as if that is his only hope for fulfillment. A married man may even badger and bully his wife to get what he is convinced he needs in that moment. These desires are evil. They are a perversion of God’s gift of sexuality.

I draw the distinction to show that there is a sexual desire that is good and honoring to God. We do not need to feel guilt for this desire or to feel that it is intrinsically wrong. It is a sexual desire that is yielded to the Lord. It is experienced, yet carefully controlled according to the Word of the Lord, channeled to appropriate ends—marriage, intimacy, or reliance upon God. But there is also a sexual desire that is not yielded to the Lord. It is experienced, yet without self-control and heedless to the Word of the Lord, channeled to evil ends. Both can be experienced by married men and women, and both can be experienced by single men and women.

This distinction matters. Owning the difference between yearning and burning allows us to see that not all sexual desire is wrong, even when experienced by someone who does not have a spouse. It allows us to see that not all sexual desire is good, even when experienced by someone who does have a spouse. It allows for sexual desire and even frustration, but without feeding it or being defeated by it. It allows for the desire for sexual nearness and fulfillment even without allowing that desire to degrade into sin.

Burning is desire perverted and unrestrained. Yearning is desire surrendered.

Stop Reading Marriage Books
January 04, 2016

On a near-daily basis I receive emails from people asking me for book recommendations. When I feel equipped to give those recommendations, I am happy to share them (and even have a section of my site dedicated to this).

A little while ago I had a young man write to ask about books on marriage. He told me that he had recently become engaged and that he and his fiancée were eager to prepare themselves. They thought they would do this by reading all of the best books on marriage. He asked specifically for 6-8 books, and said that they intended to read each one of them. It was a noble request made for the best of reasons. But I think it was a mite misguided.

When it comes to books on marriage we are spoiled for choices. I can easily put together a list of 6 or 8 marriage books that are grounded in the Bible and full of godly wisdom. I could probably list another 6 or 8 that may not be quite as strong but still contain plenty of value. And then there are the myriad books that deal with the nuances of marriage—sex, romance, money, conflict, and on and on. Again, we are spoiled for choice and blessed beyond measure.

But it is possible to have too much of a good thing, or at least to partake of too much of a good thing. Reading 6 or 8 books on marriage before exchanging wedding rings may be too much of a good thing.

This is the counsel I gave that young man:

Read one or two books on marriage and maybe even read them out loud together. Consider The Meaning of Marriage and When Sinners Say ‘I Do’, perhaps. It may be wise to read, or at least have ready, a book like Ed Wheat’s Intended for Pleasure which can help with the intricacies and difficulties of the sexual relationship. (Many who don’t have a resource like that in the early days soon wish they did.)

After you’ve settled on your marriage books, find a book or two that address a specific sin or weakness in your life. Or, perhaps even better, books that will motivate you to grow in holiness. R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God always tops my list, with Jerry Bridges The Pursuit of Holiness right behind it. Read them too, either alone or individually. After all, personal holiness is a much better gift to bring your new spouse than extensive book-knowledge of the ins and outs of marriage.

And then stop reading and start inviting—stop with the marriage books and begin to invite yourself into the lives and homes of people whose marriage you admire. If you have a home of your own, invite couples into it. Otherwise, take the risk of inviting yourself into their home. Talk to these people and ask them about the joys and sorrows of marriage, the ups and downs of their relationship. Ask them how they met and married and what they remember of the early days of their marriage. Ask them how they resolve conflict and why they decided to have children right away or why they decided to wait. Ask them how they maintain their relationship today and what they would do differently if they had to do it all again. Talk about money and in-laws. Even ask them for counsel about a healthy sexual relationship if such questions seem appropriate. Learn from them. Best of all, follow-up with them weeks or months after your wedding—visit again and tell about the joys and difficulties you have experienced. Let them counsel and encourage you again.

Books are wonderful, and I believe strongly in the value of reading. Books on marriage can be wonderful, and I have benefitted from reading many of them. But the best and most helpful books on marriage are the ones being lived out by husbands and wives in your family, in your neighborhood, and especially in your church. Read them longer and more thoroughly than any other.

Image credit: Shutterstock

January 03, 2016

Once again, here is a selection of Letters to the Editor. The most popular article I’ve ever written is Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers. While I wrote it long before I invited letters to the editor, as soon as I allowed letters, they began to flow in. Here is a selection that represents the variety of opinions.

Just wanting to remind you that just because they’re at a relatives house doesn’t make them safe either! If our daughter was invited to a party or sleepover I always called the parents to make sure they were home and what activities the kids would be doing plus were they allowed to leave the house? I would sometimes find that they’d give me the right answer but not follow through once the event started.
—Jan H, New Glarus, WI

***

I am a Mother of three two boys and a girl. My rule regarding sleep overs was not open to discussion in our home. From a young age boundaries were set, explained and reinforced. The boundaries were defined by the element of risk. Sleepovers fell in the high risk zone so they were avoided all together. Our thoughts are don’t allow the situation to arise and it becomes a non-issue!
—Mandy R, Canada

***

I read your article, and I must say I’m a little shocked at how little perspective you have and how much you’ve allowed your anxiety to overrule reasonable risk assessment. You realize that your cute child is far more likely to be molested by someone they know well, such as an uncle. Not by a parent of another child in front of other children with whom they are sleeping in the same room with. Does it happen? Yes. But these things are really outside of your control, so denying a very important part of childhood development (aka, learning to be away from mom and dad) just so that you can abaite your anxiety is downright selfish. You aren’t keeping your kid home for their mental wellbeing, you are keeping them home for yours.
—Cathy M, Corning, NY

***

We are expecting our first child. It’s an exciting yet terrifying time. I often worry about keeping my child safe. So your article has given me much needed perspective and courage. When I was young my dad was hurt bad in an accident. We lost our home and had to move in with some relatives. I ended up being sexually abused by an older cousin there. I felt that I couldn’t say anything because if I did we wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. We would end up in the streets and it would be my fault. Going through that made it hard to trust others. I’m very lucky to have found a wonderful husband who supports and loves me. Sleepovers were always fun when I was little but now I feel that they are just not worth the risk. Thank you for sharing how you drew a line on sleepovers and didn’t cross it. I shall be taking that advice to help keep my child safe. Thanks again.
—Jessica P, Salt Lake City, UT

***

My oldest is now 24, we allowed her to sleep over starting at six when she was in kindergarden. We never had issues. These events are part of the socializing of children. When she was in fourth grade we invited all the girls from her class to our house, it was a crazy night but a great night, we invited all the girls, no cliques, didn’t matter the race, for the most part they got along, but we were dealing with fourth grade girls. High school was stressful, but if our daughter had not dealt with cliques and social issues in grade school (which were dealt with during sleep overs) she would have not been able to handle high school! There will always be issues, but you have to teach you child to deal with the issues. As a parent you MUST get to know the parents of your child’s friends. There are some risks, but the benefits of making life long friends with your child’s friends families is worth it.
—Janet V, Baton Rouge, LA

***

I believe that by forbidding your children sleepovers, you are depriving them of the hours they require to independently practice forming deep social bonds with their peers, a deprivation which could inadvertently hamper their emotional maturation and weaken their ability to resist predators now and later in life.

The development of private, personal, peer-based relationships outside of the family system is a process all people are required to do throughout their lives. It is deeply critical that children learn this process and practice it extensively in childhood.

However, it takes a lot of free time for a person of any age to converse enough to develop a true, healthy emotional bonds with a stranger peer. Unstructured, unsupervised private free time as peers is deeply necessary for social bonding among all people. And in this modern era of appointment play and supervised extracurricular activities, an overnight or weekend visit is the only opportunity children have to bond without almost constant interruption by adults. Willfully depriving children of the privacy and hours required to develop healthy social habits is monstrous.
—Christina D, Seattle, WA

***

I read a child training book years ago that confirmed my belief that sleepovers were a bad idea. So we took that approach with our children. We made one exception later, after which we found out some things about the family that, had we known before,we wouldn’t have allowed the sleepover. This and 3 personal incidences when I was a child 45 years ago confirm this: You are, and should always be, responsible, diligent, and watchful for your child’s wellbeing.
—Leanna S, Hollandale, MS

Tim: I received quite a few emails that were very difficult to read as they contained details of people who had been molested and abused while attending sleepovers. I chose not to share the ones that included heartbreaking details.

Comments on How Should Christians Use Guns

Last week I shared some of the articles that had been written in response to John Piper’s thoughts on Christians and guns. Needless to say, there were quite a few responses.

Appreciate the article as well as the others referenced. This still appears to be a liberty issue. My work experience (13 yrs. Corrections Officer, 2+ yrs hospital security) has allowed me to see a deeper level of human depravity; some people actually derive pleasure from harming others. In light of the many ‘pajama boys’ running around today, men need to be reminded of their obligations as men. I don’t get paid to look the other way. I totally trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and also embrace Romans 13. Not all of us are wired to be passive, some of us are wired to be warriors and will use the force necessary to protect those entrusted to our care. Some things in life are worth fighting for…and some things in life are worth dying for.
—Steve R, Freeport, IL

***

I live next to a Naval air base here in Southern Maryland and my church has (unsurprisingly) plenty of pilots, gun safety instructors, marines…etc. So I come from a more conservative “pro-gun” “pro-self defense” background. While I am not a gun owner myself, I am not a pacifist—and I have been wrestling with this idea of Christian suffering vs. Christian responsibility. When do we lay down our weapons and be taken for Christ? And when do we become a loving neighbor and protect the weak around us?

I am glad John Piper addressed the issue, and though I do not fully agree with his conclusions I think he brings some very needed points. His talk of sacrifice and suffering rings strange in our free and Western ears. It is easy to become so comfortably entitled to “our stuff” and “our lives”—that when they are threatened we opt to go down with out “guns blazing.” The call of Christ is to lose, to die to self, to suffer. Like most of our brothers and sisters around the world. This is something we must remember.

As you pointed out, Tim, the issue of guns is not an issue of “first order doctrine,” making it challenging to draw clear cut lines that define when it is okay to defend and when it is necessary to suffer. I think there are times when (though they may be very rare) it is perhaps the most loving thing to do shoot a gun. If we have the means to defend our neighbor or our family (entrusted to us by God) it is the Christian and the loving thing to defend. Not to look the other way. There is also an element of “losing ourselves” in defending those around us—which last time I checked is most Christian.

Though I am still grappling with this issue, I think too often we in the West are dying on the hill of self-protection. Don’t touch me. Don’t touch my guns. Don’t touch my stuff. The rare cases where Christian responsibility is allowable is when we shoot not in the name of self, but in the name of those around us and those entrusted into our care.
—Daniel H, Southern Maryland

***

My husband and I started discussing John Piper’s article as soon as I read it on Facebook; I even posted it on my FB page. What I am seeing in my NewsFeed and even hearing in discussions with other Christians is more of the attitude that Jerry Falwell espoused. There is a certain swagger in Christian circles that has replaced trust in God. People look at others with suspicion instead of love, and have a “don’t mess with me or else” demeanor. Do they trust God or do they live in fear? Aside from the multitudes of injuries, suicides, and accidental deaths that occur from having guns in the home, one of my biggest concerns is that a citizen will shoot first without any attempt to diffuse the situation. Ideally, this is the aim of the police—they give the suspect the opportunity to cease what he/she is doing.

As always, I appreciate your blog and your desire for balance. There have been many hateful things said, not only about John Piper’s article, but about him as a teacher. I think I am more worried about those gun owners, but I will hand that concern over to Jesus.
—Kathy S, Lebanon, PA

***

Thank you for giving John Piper’s article on Christians and arms respectful press. I found his words a refreshing breath of Christ-centered love. In response to your summary of responses, I have two thoughts:

(1) While Piper’s article is not perfect, I am disappointed that he has been charged with being “biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old” (Wedgeworth’s words). How can it be wrong to see the new covenant as our lens for interpreting and applying the old, as Piper is trying to do? As an Anabaptist, I come from a long theological heritage of doing just this, and our people have suffered for centuries for refusing to bear the sword. I don’t think it is true that Piper “assumes that we need a direct biblical teaching on a matter in order to know whether it is morally permissible or not” (Wedgeworth’s explanation for his “biblicistic” charge). Rather, Piper is drawing biblical theological deductions from the pattern of God’s unfolding revelation, which climaxes in Christ’s defenseless self-sacrifice and his call for us to follow in his steps. This is no mere simplistic “biblicism.”

(2) Since you have expressed interest in this question of Christians and the use of force, I strongly encourage (exhort, implore, urge, beg!) you to read and review Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. A complex topic like this cannot be properly addressed in a handful of short articles. Sprinkle deals with the biblical evidence from both testaments in detail, historical evidence from the early church, and the toughest practical questions from today. He says he is from your own Christian neighborhood: “The Christian subculture in which I was raised and still worship is nondenominational conservative Reformed. I’ve been influenced over the years by John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and many others who swim in that pond” (from Chapter 1). So you will identify with his way of handling Scripture. And he’s thought about this for a long time, making what he calls a “reluctant journey toward nonviolence.” Piper needs to read this book (I think he’s stranded somewhat inconsistently halfway on the journey). And I think you would find it very helpful as well. Tolle lege!
—Dwight G, Leon, IA

***

I appreciate the overall respectful tone with which you responded to John Piper’s piece “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves”. However, I am disappointed in the narrowness of the arguments used by cited authors in support of Christians using deadly force against attackers. It seems to be basically assumed by people holding your position that the only recourse left to a man whose wife and/or family is being attacked is to stand idly and helplessly by if he does not have a gun handy. As well, the situations which are created by proponents of deadly force are extremely hypothetical and no attempt is made to sort through all the nuances of such hypothetical situations. For a very well stated stance on the non-violent position, I would strongly encourage you to read Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. Mr. Sprinkle has arrived at his position “reluctantly” and as such has though through it well. Blessings.
—Conrad H, Mozambique, Africa

Tim: The narrowness of the articles I quoted was a reflection of the narrowness of the responses. I did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper and extended his argument.

Thanks to all who took the time to write a letter to the editor. Now that I have posted 10 of these collections, I am glad to consider this a successful experiment. I intend to continue to invite and share such letters.

How To Finish Over 100 Books in 2016
December 31, 2015

Are you going to take the 2016 Reading Challenge this year? I talked it over with my family and we have decided to team up on it. We have the poster up, we are ready to go, and are just waiting for January 1. Whether you do it alone or with others, 100 books in a year can sound intimidating. Yet many people (myself included) regularly read at that pace. My friend Bryan DeWire wrote a little article to tell how he read 112 books in 2015, and how he wants to encourage you to try to aim for almost that many.


This past year, my goal was to finish 111 books. By God’s grace, I made it to 112. Why 111? My previous record was 110. That means, I typically aim to finish at least 2 books a week.

That might sound totally out of your reach. But you might be surprised to hear that it’s quite doable. I am not a fast reader. My strength is noticing details. I love to copyedit. That means, I read every word—and I read fairly slow. And I’m the kind of nerd who does not consider myself having read a book if I did not also read the footnotes—and all of the cover—and all of the front and back matter. Yes, even the copyright page! Bottom line: If I can do it, so can you! [Tim’s note: You do not need to read all that stuff to consider the book complete!]

Admittedly, the number of books you read is somewhat arbitrary. The main aim is to love God with all of your mind as you engage various works of theology, business, fiction, and so on (Matthew 22:37). It would be better to master fewer books than to lightly skim hundreds of books just to say that you have read them. That is not the point. But I have found that I can get a surprising amount of reading done by establishing the following three habits:

1. Have a Specific Goal in Mind 

So many times, we fail to accomplish much simply because we don’t plan to do so. The principle applies to Bible reading and prayer, and it also applies to reading other books. So, here are a couple ideas:

Perhaps you can list out the top 20 books you want to read and even put them in order of your interest. Then you can commit to reading them throughout 2016. That’s not even 2 books a month.

Or perhaps you can take on The 2016 Reading Challenge from Tim Challies. Within that challenge, you can choose to read 13, 26, 52, 104, or (with extra credit) all 109 books throughout the year. That challenge is appealing to me because Tim’s plan will encourage me to read different kinds of books than I might normally read. Plus, there have already been some great discussions over at the Goodreads group, VT Reading Challenge (VT stands for Visual Theology, the series of posters that Tim posts on his site). The group has already given me accountability, recommendations, and fellowship.

Too often, when you aim at nothing, you hit the mark! So get a plan in place.

2. Write Down the Books That You Finish

While I have done this during certain seasons before, 2015 was the first year I consistently kept a list of books that I finished (which included audio books I listened to and any kids books over 100 pages). I simply kept a numbered list of titles I finished and the dates I finished them. For example, here is a screen shot of the books I read in November (my best month of the year):

Books in 2015

Seeing this list get bigger throughout the year motivated me to press on. It’s encouraging to see what you can do when you simply stick at something consistently. Plus, if you take The 2016 Reading Challenge, it’s all the easier to track what you’ve been reading!

3. Establish Boundaries for Entertainment Use

I already said that my previous record was 110 books in a year. What I didn’t say was that I had read that many books all the way back in 2004. That’s 11 years ago! Since then, the distractions in my life have multiplied: having an iPhone, MacBook, Twitter, Facebook—and much more.

So, I realized: I can do this. I just need to be more intentional. I need to set better boundaries—and perhaps even give certain things up at least temporarily, if not for good. Here are a few changes you could consider making:

  • Only check Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and email at certain times. Just don’t check them continuously! We are literally re-wiring our brains when we check these things over and over and over again.
  • Only use your computer, smartphone, and TV after having your devotions—which often leads to other book reading!
  • Likewise, don’t use your computer, smartphone, and TV after dinner (or 7:00 p.m. or whatever works for you).
  • Resolve to only spend a certain amount of time every day on these technologies. Set a timer and follow through.

If you have forgotten what it’s like, take some steps and rediscover the joy of getting lost in a great book!

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What John Piper Said About Guns
December 29, 2015

John Piper sparked a firestorm with his recent article, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves? Piper’s article was a response to Jerry Falwell Jr. who has encouraged the students at Liberty University to secure permits to carry guns. I appreciated Piper’s attempt to answer a difficult question, and equally appreciated some of the measured and helpful responses from those who disagreed with him. What follows is a summary of some of the points he made along with some of the major points of three people who interacted with and (tactfully) disagreed with him: Steven Wedgeworth, Bob Thune, and Douglas Wilson.

Here is Piper’s big point in his own words:

My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.

The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.

In response to this, Steven Wedgeworth writes, “This is a good way to approach the issue and a very important one for the average pastor to be able to consider. An eagerness to shed blood is anti-biblical and a real temptation in our contemporary culture. But Dr. Piper’s declaration that he is not “primarily” interested in self-defense falls flat when he goes on to directly address self-defense and tie it in to a larger theological framework of sacrifice and exile.” Several others noted roughly the same thing, that Piper says he is attempting to deal with a limited and defined point, but actually goes significantly wider than that. Much of the disagreement comes from these wider points.

Wedgeworth goes on to offer these three critiques:

  1. “Piper’s argument is biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old.” [For a definition of biblicism, click here and scroll down to the heading Biblicism.]
  2. “Piper confuses self-sacrifice with the protection of others.”
  3. “Piper’s essay is actually a very confusing piece of argument.”

He concludes by saying, “[Piper’s] logic is badly confused, as he fails to distinguish between the spiritual and temporal realms, misunderstands the civic role of the family, and conflates the question of preservation of life with vengeance and bloodlust in general. Thus, he is unable to offer any sort of corrective and may actually give a cure that is worse than the disease.”

Later in his article, Piper writes, “[A]ny claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, ‘[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain’ (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.”

Bob Thune responds, “[Piper] fails to reckon with the reality that in the United States, a Christian citizen who legally uses deadly force to stop an attacker is a legitimate extension of the government’s sword-wielding power. If God has given the ruler the right to bear the sword… and if the ruler extends to private citizens that right… then where exactly is the extrapolation?”

Similarly, Thune says, “Piper asserts that there is, in the Bible, ‘no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military.’ But can he point to the chapter and verse where the Bible deals with police and military using lethal force? No. Because there isn’t one. The assertion that police and military may use lethal force is an application of texts like Romans 13. And so is the assertion that a private citizen may use lethal force!”

Later, Thune writes,

I agree with Piper that Christians should not carry concealed weapons for the purposes of (in the order of his arguments) 1. avenging ourselves, 2. retaliating for unjust treatment, 3. handling hostility, 4. advancing the Christian cause by force, 5. returning evil for evil, or 6. resisting persecution. … 

Piper leans heavily on the book of 1 Peter, where Christians are urged to endure unjust suffering. But contextually, that persecution was coming from the government itself. If at some point in the future our government turns with hostility upon Christians and uses the “power of the sword” against us (as did Nero in the first century), then certainly we must bear that suffering without retaliation. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are doing this right now throughout the world. But it’s a stretch to say: therefore, Christians should lay down while a radicalized terrorist shoots innocent people.

Doug Wilson praises Piper for what he attempts to do in this article: “He is a biblical absolutist, and he is pursuing a tight, systematic, rational argument from the text of Scripture. … I don’t have a doubt in my mind that John will go wherever the argument requires him to go, and he will submit to the text, whatever it says. We need more of that, not less.” He then summarizes his disagreement by interacting with this section of Piper’s article: “I do not know what I would do before this situation [a man assaulting his wife] presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. And I would be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me.” Here is Wilson’s response:

Let us say that a member of John Piper’s leadership team shot and killed someone who was violently assaulting his wife. The prosecutor refused to touch the case because he said it was an open and shut case. The response was well within the law, and the force used to stop the assailant was not disproportionate. Let us also say that the man who did this believes that he did the right thing, the only thing that he could have done under those circumstances. He is not apologetic at all. In short, he had a gun on him, and he had that gun because he disagreed with John’s entire approach as outlined in the article. Now what?

The solution is, of course, to continue to study God’s Word and to believe that it contains the wisdom we need to know how to respond.

I would like to commend those who disagreed with Piper in a civil fashion. This is not an issue of first-order doctrine and, for that reason, there is every reason to have the discussion and to have it tactfully. I benefitted a lot from reading and considering the various positions. Between them, they aptly highlighted the complexity of the issue and put forward compelling arguments. This is exactly what the blogosphere can do so well.

As for me, I live in Canada where the laws are very different and so, too, is the relationship between citizens and firearms. For that reason, I have put little thought into the ownership and use of guns and found this discussion quite helpful in forming my thoughts. To tip my cards just a little, I find myself appreciating Piper’s efforts, especially related to demeanor and heart-attitude, but leaning more toward the points made by Wedgeworth and Thune.

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