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April 04, 2016

Whatever else is true about this modern-day Reformed resurgence, this much is indisputable: We love our conferences. We love the experience of gathering together and hearing from our favorite authors, pastors, and theologians as they lead us to God through his Word. Many of us can attest to the innumerable blessings we have received by participating in such events.

I recently found myself asking this: When we go to conferences, who is it that we want to hear from? I decided to do a little bit of informal research by collecting some information about this year’s major events—those that have at least 1,000 attendees—and ones that are comprised primarily of keynote addresses or sermons. This allowed me to focus on a number of them, some targeted at pastors, some at women, and some at a general audience. Between them, those major Reformed conferences have 63 keynote speakers who will speak to perhaps 25,000 or 30,000 attendees and then to many more through streaming and recordings. (Note: if 1 person is speaking at 2 of these events he is counted twice.) There are many observations I made, but today I am going to highlight just 2:

  • Nationality. Of the 63 speakers, 57 live in America and the remaining 6 live in either Canada or the United Kingdom.
  • Race. Of the 63 speakers, 61 are white and 2 are African-American; no other races are represented.

Race & Nationality

Each of these conferences takes place in America. It should be no great surprise, then, that the great majority of the speakers live in the United States (even if they are not all American-born). Yet it is worth noting that the few international speakers are no further removed geographically or culturally than the U.K. and Canada and that together they represent only 2 of the world’s 6 continents and only 3 of the world’s 196 countries.

And then we come to race. Of the 63 keynote slots across the conferences I polled, 61 are filled by whites and 2 are filled by non-whites—in this case, both African-Americans. There is greater racial representation in breakout sessions and in conferences that follow alternative formats, but when it comes to keynote addresses, we see little racial diversity. We see no one of Asian descent, no one of Latin American descent, no one from recent African descent, and so on. To put it bluntly, the great majority of the speakers at this year’s Reformed conferences are white Americans and, in most cases, white American men.

The Opportunity Before Us

There are many ways we could interpret this data and, of course, many more observations we could draw from this brief survey. As I try to put it all together in my mind, I keep thinking of this word: Opportunity. This information gives us the opportunity to consider some facts about ourselves, determine what they might mean, and then to decide if and how we will respond to them.

But before we go any further, I want to consider the possibility that while this survey does display a real trend, 2016 may make that trend abnormally stark. We ought to acknowledge grace where grace is evident and if we look we will see it. Consider, for example, last year’s bi-annual Gospel Coalition National Conference which had two minorities among its eight speakers. It also featured a special event titled “Seeking Justice and Mercy From Ferguson to New York,” and a Spanish-language pre-conference. A brief search turned up other events that featured greater diversity in previous years than in 2016. Some leaders have long made it a point to ensure minority representation at their events. As far back as 2002, for example, John Piper designed an entire pastors’ conference on the theme of God-centered theology and the black experience in America. Then there is the fact that while breakout sessions and discussion panels may not carry the weight of keynote addresses, they do often feature greater diversity and often attempt to deliberately serve diverse demographics. Also, breakouts offer a smaller platform but are often used as a proving or testing ground for the bigger platform so that some of this year’s breakout speakers may be next year’s keynotes. We also need to acknowledge that Reformed theology is relatively new to many international and minority communities, whereas it has much deeper roots among those from European backgrounds. For that reason it may not be realistic to expect absolute parity in representation.

Still, even with all of that being true, we really do need to ask: Where is the diversity? Where is the diversity in this, a year where issues of race and diversity are on all of our minds? Based on the evidence before us, we have to conclude that there is not a whole lot of it.

Yet speaking personally, I find myself increasingly eager to hear from people who are unlike me in every way except in our shared faith and our shared convictions. I want to hear how God has worked in and through all kinds of people. I want to be taught, led, encouraged, and influenced by them. I want to learn from them how to better understand, interpret, love, honor, and teach God’s Word. I want to be shaped by people who are as different from me as two human beings can be, yet bound together by a common Savior. I want this. Truly, I long for this. It’s not that I want the current voices silenced; I simply want new voices added to them—voices that will represent the growing scope and depth of this Reformed resurgence. I have spoken to enough of you to know that I am not alone in this.

So why this distance between desire and reality? And if the gospel is truly a gospel that draws together all possible kinds and categories of people, why do we see more uniformity than diversity? I plan to turn to this subject tomorrow in the second and final part of this article. But by way of preview, I intend to take the spotlight off conferences and to turn it on us. After all, conferences don’t exist in a void. Conferences don’t create speakers or preachers but simply identify the ones who are already there. If that is the case, we need to look beyond conferences and begin to look to local churches—to you and to me. I want to offer a few thoughts on the sheer goodness, the sheer beauty, of diversity, I want to draw our attention to that creed of semper reformanda, and I want to suggest what the two might have to do with one another. But more on that tomorrow.

Learning for Forever
April 01, 2016

God has seen fit to bring significant diversity to Grace Fellowship Church. Every Sunday we worship as a community of Christians that spans the world, its continents, and its cultures. Yet for all this diversity, we remain a young church that has consistently had trouble drawing and keeping older believers. While we do have some seniors, we definitely have too few—too few for our liking, at least, and too few for a church of several hundred people.

I recently spent a little bit of time with an older believer and was struck again by some of what we lose in a younger church. I was touched by the most mundane observation: She was reading her Bible. She was reading her Bible so she could better know and serve her God. This simple act touched and challenged me.

See, I often read my Bible as a means to an end. I want to live a better life, I want to live a life that is pleasing to God, and I read the Bible to teach and equip myself to do this. This is a very good reason to read the Bible. But it made me think: As I get toward the end of life, will I still want to read it? When I have little life left to live, will I still have reason to take up and read my Bible? If the purpose in reading is to live better, what will I do after I’ve already lived most of my life?

As I sat with this woman, I realized that she was reading her Bible for a different reason—she was reading her Bible to better get to know the God she would soon meet face-to-face. She was reading the same book but for a different purpose. She knows she will be seeing him soon, and she wants to be prepared. The nearer she is to God, the greater her longing to know him, to know him as he is. She is not passively waiting to see him face-to-face but meeting him now in the pages of his living and active Word. She believes that what she knows of God on this side of the grave will not end at the grave. While she may have little life left to live and little time remaining to improve her life, she has the rest of eternity to grow in her understanding and knowledge of God. She has the rest of eternity to grow in her relationship with God. So why not make a significant beginning now?

So yes, I need to read God’s Word to live a life that is pleasing to God. But I also need to read God’s Word to know the God I will enjoy for eternity. What I learn about God is not just for this life. What I know of God is not only for now. It is for forever.

Image credit: Shutterstock

We Are More Honest With Our Phones Than Our Pastors
March 31, 2016

A recent article from the New York Times says, rightly I’m sure, that We’re More Honest With Our Phones Than With Our Doctors. Writing from the confluence of medicine and technology, Jenna Wortham explains that “in recent years, mobile technology has granted me and countless others the ability to collect an unprecedented amount of information about our habits and well-being. Our phones don’t just keep us in touch with the world; they’re also diaries, confessional booths, repositories for our deepest secrets. Which is why researchers are leaping at the chance to work with the oceans of data we are generating, hoping that within them might be the answers to questions medicine has overlooked or ignored.”

Medical researchers are especially interested in these oceans of data because, as the headline screams, we are more honest with our phones than we are with any doctor. Our phones are stuffed full of sensors, memory, and applications and are continually digesting streams of data, converting it to personal information. Our phones track our location and our motion. They track our words and our searches. They know our most embarrassing medical secrets. They have suggested answers to our most awkward questions about our health, about our bodies, our minds, our sexuality. They know things about us no one else knows. They remember things about us we have long forgotten. They tell truth about us we would never disclose to another human being.

When it comes to our physical health, we’re more honest with our phones than our doctors. But this transparency goes beyond medicine. It extends to our souls. When it comes to our spiritual health, we’re more honest with our phones than with our pastors. Our phones know all about our ignorance, about those things we should know but don’t. Our phones know about our wanderings and wonderings, the questions we have asked and the places we have visited to find answers. They know where and how we are wrestling and where and how we are trying to find comfort. They know about our backsliding or even our heresy long before the pastor does.

This is in part, I’m sure, because our phones are always available. We can ask our questions morning, noon, or night. They never take a day off and are never too busy to give us attention. But it’s not only that. Our phones are safe, they keep our secrets, they never scoff at our ignorance. They simply and obediently search the internet on our behalf and return answers, suggest solutions. Who is Jesus? Our phones have an answer. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Our phones have an answer. What Bible translation is best? Do I have free will? Is there a difference between Christianity and Mormonism? Is there a hell? Why and how do I pray? Our phones have answers to them all. Our phones even know if we have been getting up early to do devotions and whether we have been reading our Bibles.

We are more honest with our phones than our pastors and this leads me to two applications, two suggestions that are almost contradictory but I think are actually realistically complementary.

First, train yourself and others to speak to pastors about spiritual ills. I have attempted to do this with my own children, to teach them that just as you go to a doctor when your body is sick, so you go to a pastor when your soul is sick. If you have medical questions you ask a doctor and if you have spiritual questions you ask a pastor. WebMD is a great resource, but it isn’t nearly enough to properly diagnose a serious condition and it certainly isn’t enough to properly treat one. The same is true of even the best Christian resources.

Second, there is a challenge here for Christians to acknowledge that, no matter what we do, people will continue to entrust their questions and concerns to their phones and that puts the onus on us to create wise and compelling answers through apps, books, and web sites—through any and every medium. While we ultimately want people to rely more on their local church than on blogs or articles or FAQs, we have amazing opportunities to provide answers that draw them to God through his Word and through his church. This is why I appreciate and honor Got Questions, Desiring God (especially Ask Pastor John), The Gospel Coalition, Stand to Reason, and so many other ministries that are attempting to come alongside churches and their pastors by providing good answers to honest questions.

Image credit: Shutterstock

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

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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

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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.