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Parental Discipline With A Destination

Parental Discipline With A Destination

Editorial Comment: Read a more developed version of this piece at Christ Over All: “Talking To Our Children About Discipline.”


There is more to parenting than discipline and there is more to say about discipline than we explored last Sunday. Nevertheless, discipline in the home is of profound importance for our children’s earthly and heavenly good. It is God’s prescribed means to both and we neglect it to the peril of our children.

To that end, here is a recap of Sunday’s sermon, “A Father’s Discipline,” from Hebrews 12:3–17 with some resources for your help and encouragement.

The Word on Discipline

Sunday’s sermon was not about discipline in the home. Rather, Sunday’s words about discipline in the home were about the Lord’s discipline of his children. The author of Hebrews simply assumes that this is our common experience, a means of understanding the Lord’s ways with his people. Nevertheless, this is an important opportunity to ruminate on the nature and importance of discipline in our homes.

To that end, here’s an outline of Sunday’s sermon tilted in the direction of help for parents with paragraph pep-talks based on the work we did together in that sermon.

I. Discipline is not for everyone (12:5–8)

Discipline is an immense privilege. When God disciplines us, we’re told, “God is treating you as sons” (12:7). Discipline says something to our children: you are mine! It is a form of proof. Others may feed and shelter my kids for a time, but no one else will discipline them according to God’s Word (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; etc.). It says more than that they belong to us but that they are dearly loved by us. Discipline is not a form of rejection but a means of receiving our children by which they know they belong to us and to our families. For this reason, while discipline may instill fear in our children, we should not discipline from wrath. Rather, we should discipline from a controlled determination to love our children to maturity through discipline that is both corrective and formative.

In all of this, in the home as God designed it to be, the father takes primary responsibility. Both mother and father will discipline and should do so on the same page, but it is the father’s authority that stands behind the mother, for he is the head of his home. Discipline, let us remember, is not the first thing about parenting. It must be paired with and typically preceded by instruction. Neither is discipline the last thing about parenting, for it is not the goal. Rather, both instruction and discipline are for the sake of our relationship, just as our Father in heaven disciplines us so that we may know and enjoy him. Let us give discipline to our children and then let us give ourselves to them as the reward for that hardship.

II. Discipline is for our good (12:9–10)

Discipline is not only a privilege, but it is productive. When God disciplines us, “he disciplines us for our good” (12:10). That’s what we’re after just the same: the best interests of our children. Godly discipline in the home leads our children not only to respect authority in general, but to respect us as parents. More than respect, discipline in the home leads to fruit of peace in our homes—peace between us and our children, between our children and one another, and we pray between our children and the Lord. We do not save our children pain in the truest sense by forgoing discipline for whining, as an example, only to yell at them in disgust when we’re fed up. Discipline leads to peace. This is true even when our parenting is less than perfect. In fact, the text acknowledges this when it says of our parents, “they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them” (12:10). This clause indicates a measure of flexibility in our parenting, as we consider our children, our marriages, and the circumstances. Let us for this reason help one another without judging one another. We will each stand before God for our parenting, not for one another’s parenting—a help to friends and grandparents alike.

Equally, though, this clause nods to our fallibility (in contrast to God’s perfection). Our work of parenting is never co-extensive with God’s Word on parenting. Our timing, consistency, temperature, proportionality, and motivations are often off the mark. Let us labor tirelessly for our children’s good in each respect, but let us do so acknowledging that our practice is never as good as the principles we’re implementing. Understanding this brings a humility that saves our children from many forms of tyranny and allows us to grow and change so we get better for their sake. We are doing God’s work, but we are not gods. That’s good for this preacher and imperfect parent to hear as one who had to stand up recently and talk about parenting. As much as anyone, we need the Lord to bless our parenting more than we deserve. Marvelously, God uses our best and yet imperfect discipline for our children’s good.

III. Discipline is only for a moment (12:11)

Finally, discipline is periodic in nature. It is painful, yes, or else it is not discipline. Think about that, parents. Maybe love pats don’t work because they aren’t really discipline. Maybe inconsistency leads our children to bet on the possibility that we will let them off and in that way weakens their reflex for obedience. Discipline is painful and that’s God’s design. But, thankfully for everyone’s sake, if it is appropriately painful it need only be for a moment. On this matter of timing, it’s also important to note that the season in which parents can shape their children through discipline is short.

Thankfully, though, when discipline is over, our children are better for it. Not only better for this world but better for the next. While discipline is for the moment, by way of analogy with how the Lord works with his children, the experience of godly discipline in the home is a means of training our children to know their heavenly Father in heaven. Discipline wires their moral sensibilities, sensitizes their consciences, and provides a real-life model of how the Lord relates to them. Discipline is for the moment, and in this way it is also for forever.

Some Words on Discipline

I am not an avid reader of parenting books. I am an avid scanner and rummager through parenting books. Most of our parenting in our home has come like most yours: by way of a few Bible verses, constant conversation as a couple, and timely counsel from friends in church. Let’s make sure we’re talking together, sharing notes and strategies, and promoting faithfulness to all the Bible says.

Nevertheless, here are some resources I’ve found helpful over the years. Cherry pick what to read or listen to and when. Cherry pick what you plan to keep and implement.

Gracious Grief

If I have done anything in this post, I hope I have disabused us of the notion that discipline in the home is contrary to grace that’s good for heaven. If discipline is from hatred or interested in externals alone, then it most certainly is. But in that case it is also not discipline as the Bible understands it.

No, discipline is for our good—our earthly good and our heavenly good. Let us give ourselves to it. And let us give ourselves wholly to our children.

You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.

Social Justice, Pride Month, and The Two Parent Home

Social Justice, Pride Month, and The Two Parent Home

Social justice is something we’ve discussed in our preaching over the years. I’ve proposed that it’s not a helpful descriptor if we want to think and communicate in clear biblical terms. It’s overloaded with conflicting meanings. It’s also associated almost entirely in our public discourse with governmental redistributive programs aimed at resolving disparities of one kind or another.

In the last number of weeks we have heard sermons from two of the Bible’s famous chapters as it concerns human sexuality and sin, one sermon from Leviticus 18 and another from Leviticus 20. These chapters dealt with adultery, men laying with men, siblings with siblings, and on and on. In an age when the only moral principle directing sexual behavior is that of consent, these chapters stun. They were given to Israel not as a comprehensive theology and ethic of human sexuality but to protect her on entry into the land of Canaan where these practices were the norm.

Yet standing behind these prohibitions and punishments is the precious gift of our bodies, of marriage, and of human society. Basic to God’s plan for our flourishing and his glory is our behavior in bed. If we we’re going to use the terminology of social justice, then we need to speak about sexual sins, about marriage, and about children and family.

With this as background, I want to commend two articles to you.

Article 1: “Welcome to Pride Month, Christian”

In this piece, “Welcome to Pride Month, Christian,” Carl Truman helps us see that “social justice demands our opposition to [pride month’s] celebration and symbols.” He is calling out a contradiction here, as you may pick up. Some of this is tongue in cheek, a rhetorical calling out of those who have given themselves over to a new Phariseeism on one topic or another who are nevertheless quiet on this one. Even if you’re not privy to that discussion, you may be shocked in a good way at Trueman’s plainspokenness. It seems we have gotten used to frank moral demands on some topics but overly couch or avoid them on others. It’s important to ask ourselves, “why do I feel like I should say this?” or “why do I feel like I can’t say that?.” Carl’s piece is a kind of tune up for your justice sensibilities.

Here’s an excerpt:

If anybody wants to understand what is happening to the public square in America—indeed, if anyone wants to know how America, or at least her ruling class, wishes to understand itself, they need look no further than Pride Month. If the arrival of the Pilgrims, the founding of the nation, and even the contribution of Martin Luther King Jr. receive no more than 24 hours on the national calendar, the LGBTQ+ alliance has an entire month to party in the streets. And this street party is enabled by the countless commercial ventures that post rainbow flags in their windows and on their websites.

. . . But there is a silver lining here. Pride Month does offer those Christians who are passionate about social justice a chance to reassure those of us who fear their commitment to such is always tailored to appeal to the broader tastes of the day. For if Confederate flags and statues are deemed social justice issues by many (a point with which I am sympathetic), how much more so is the rainbow flag? The use of the rainbow symbol should be particularly egregious to Christians. It is the primary instrument by which the LGBTQ+ movement asserts its ownership of the culture. And it is the means of telling those of us who dare to dissent that we should have no place in the public square anymore. It tears at God’s creation order and design for family relations and social stability. And it is also a blasphemous desecration of a sacred symbol, taking that which was intended as a sign of God’s love and faithfulness and of our dependence upon Him and turning it into an aggressive symbol of human autonomy and sexual decadence.

Read the full piece. Read more from Trueman at World Opinions and First Things. For Trueman’s book-length work on the present cultural confusion, pick up, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution.

Article 2: “The Power of The Two-Parent Home”

If Trueman’s piece gets its force from its rhetoric, this next piece gets its force from its research. On a different but related topic, Kevin DeYoung has written an important journal article: “The Power of The Two-Parent Home.” Less critique in this case and more construcive. We need both.

He offers his own caveats, which any pastor will want to do. We love and support single mothers and fathers and recognize the diverse ways in which those circumstances come about. But the reason we need to acknowledge them is precisely because the single-parent home is an exception to the good norm the Lord established at creation. The two-parent home is one of the most needful and yet neglected topics in the public conversation about social good. Thomas Sowell has written for years on this topic in his work, for example, on Discrimination and Disparities. Kevin’s piece includes his own footnotes to recent studies along with a good example of theological and ethical reasoning. 

Here’s how DeYoung begins:

Humanly speaking, there is nothing more important for personal well-being, positive social behavior, and general success in life than being raised by one’s biological parents committed to each other in a stable marriage. Over the past forty years, a vast body of research has demonstrated conclusively that children are deeply affected by family structure and that married parents are best for children. Any efforts — whether governmental, educational, or ecclesiastical — that mean to encourage human flourishing must take this reality into account as both an explanation for many societal ills and as a means to the end of hoped-for societal health and vitality.

Family life in America has changed dramatically in a relatively short period of time. In 1960, 73% of children lived with two parents in their first marriage. By 2014, less than half (46%) of children were living in this type of family. Conversely, the percentage of children living with a single parent rose from 9% in 1960 to 26% in 2014. An additional 7% of children now live with cohabiting parents. Moreover, the increase in non-traditional family arrangements has coincided with the decoupling of marriage and childbearing. In 1960, just 5% of all births occurred outside of marriage. By 2000, around 40% of all births occurred outside of marriage (a percentage that has held steady over the last twenty years). As of 2014, 29% of births to white women, 53% of births to Hispanic women, and 71% of births to black women were out-of-wedlock. In the span of only 60 years, what were once considered exceptional family circumstances have become the norm.

Kevin traces the social implications of these trends and ends by expanding on four suggestions:

  • First, pastors, Christian educators, parents, and church leaders need to do more to teach on this subject.
  • Second, we ought to encourage public policies that make pro-child marriages more attractive and less healthy family arrangements more difficult.
  • Third, we should consider how we have normalized behavior that harms children and does not lead to human flourishing.
  • Fourth, unless called to singleness for kingdom purposes, we must encourage Christians to get married, have children, stay married, and raise those children in a stable two-parent family. 

Read the full piece, or listen Kevin read it at his podcast, Life and Books and Everything.

Are God’s Wrath and God’s Love Compatible?

Are God’s Wrath and God’s Love Compatible?

D.A. Carson has written a helpful book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Kristi gave me this book when we were dating, actually. It was our six month anniversary. Now, twenty years and about two weeks later, I commend it to you.

The occasion for this recommendation is, of course, Sunday’s sermon from Leviticus 20, “What can we learn from the Bible’s shocking judgments?” This chapter brought us up close and personal with some of the Bible’s most shocking judgments. For example, stoning for child sacrifice (which perhaps sounds reasonable) but also the death penalty for adultery (which may give us pause). There is an important biblical theological context for these commands. Remember that Adam was banished from the garden for his sin. These laws concern Israel’s life when she enters the land of promise, a new Eden. In short, the comfort we can take in Leviticus 20 is that there won’t be any such sin in the new creation. Where does that leave us, sinners that we are? Trusting only and wholly in the perfect advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous, our propitiation for sin (1Jn. 2:1–3).

Chapters like this raise tensions not only in the question of how any of us can be saved, but a tension in the question of who God is in himself. Is he wrathful or is he loving? Aren’t these descriptors mutually exclusive? Is this just one of those mysteries we have to accept? Yes, we must accept it if that’s the Bible’s portrait of our God, a God beyond all comprehension. But that doesn’t mean we are left without any sense of coherence in our picture of God. 

For help with that question, Don Carson has served us well on pages 67–70 in his chapter, “God’s Love and God’s Wrath.”

Carson on the difference between wrath and love:

“Wrath, unlike love, is not one of the intrinsic perfections of God. Rather, it is a function of God’s holiness against sin. Where there is no sin, there is no wrath-but there will always be love in God. Where God in His holiness confronts His image-bearers in their rebellion, there must be wrath, or God is not the jealous God He claims to be, and His holiness is impugned. The price of diluting God’s wrath is diminishing God’s holiness.”

He continues, on the compatibility of God’s wrath and his love focused on the same person:

“God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against His holiness. But His love…wells up amidst His perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in His perfections must be wrathful against His rebel image-breakers, for they have offended Him; God in His perfections must be loving toward His rebel image-bearers, for He is that kind of God.”

How God’s love redirects God’s wrath to save sinners:

“Both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.”

As Carson has asked elsewhere, “Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.”As with so many other doctrines, the theological tension leads to and finds resolution in the person and work of Christ.

How Not to Lose Yourself (and Your Soul) In A Crowd

How Not to Lose Yourself (and Your Soul) In A Crowd

I’ve been thinking about crowds lately. There are a few reasons for that. We keep seeing them on the news. We feel the effects of them in our feeds. The crowding out of our ability to think for ourselves—or think at all—is one reason why a half dozen friends have told me they dialed back or even dropped social media altogether.

What is it about a crowd? I think that’s a question that needs more reflection. The fact that it took fifteen chapters in our series through the Gospel according to Mark for me to recognize the crowd as a primary character illustrates the problem. Crowds are mentioned by Mark thirty-three times and they exert tremendous influence on the shape of events. As Greg Morse writes, crowds “[possess] the power to make the timid brave, the good better, or the bad devastating … When passions are shared, they swell, exciting actions to the status of legend or infamy. The power of assembly can build a better society or destroy it.” Ironically, the crowd that shouted at Jesus’ trial before Pilate did both. Their only two words? “Crucify him” (Mk. 15:14).

So, let’s reflect on crowds together. Writing here about crowds is one way for me to help you navigate the times without telling you what to do. It’s a way of instructing you in climate science so you can better discern the weather on any given day. Ultimately, I’m writing here to help us hear and heed the words Jesus said to a more docile crowd:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? … For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed” —Mark 8:34–38

More than we might expect, crowds make all of this especially hard.

So that we might not lose our minds or our souls in a crowd, there are two things you need to remember about crowds and then three questions you need to ask yourself about them.

Easily Stirred, Not Easily Satisfied

In Sunday’s sermon, “Crucify Him,” we made several observations about crowds based on the behavior of the crowd at Jesus’ trial. Apart from the influence of this crowd on a Roman governor, Jesus would not have been delivered to death. How did the crowd do this? This powder keg situation has powerful lessons for us. Let’s start with some of the other characters on the scene.

This Jewish crowd was gathered between two opposing characters, Pilate and the chief priests. The Jews were an occupied people and Pilate, the fifth Roman governor over Judea, was charged with keeping order in his region. When the chief priests delivered Jesus to Pilate with call for his death, Pilate was perceptive enough to know what was behind their call. They envied Jesus’ popularity (15:10). What the chief priests unwittingly failed to realize is that Pilate did not like being used, especially by Jewish leaders. He despised them and they despised him. Once Pilate marched a legion of soldiers into the temple with banners declaring blasphemy. He killed priests as they conducted their sacrifices. He built the Jews an aqueduct 23 miles long, which was nice of him, but then charged the temple for the cost. He was a cruel governor and a weasel. He also perceived their envious motives and took Jesus to be innocent (15:14). For that reason, he belabored the trial. He asked Jesus several questions and worked angles to both keep peace and to keep from sending Jesus to his death (15:2, 4, 9, 12). As they say, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Pilate didn’t want to kill Jesus.

So, why did Pilate send Jesus to his death? Here’s one way to answer that question: because of the crowd. How it happened teaches us something about how crowds get worked by leaders and how crowds in turn work leaders.

On the day of Jesus’ trial a crowd gathered to demand that Pilate “release for them one prisoner for whom they asked” (15:6). This was customary and expected. For Pilate, though, this was an opportunity to leverage the crowd’s energy against the will of the chief priests. So he asked, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” (15:9). Knowing the chief priests delivered Jesus over from envy, he perceived that the crowd may have their own mind about Jesus (15:10). Perhaps he thought the crowd would choose against the priest’s demand.

Understanding the political incentives involved, the chief priests worked the crowd. “The chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead” (15:11). Barabbas was an insurrectionist and a murderer. He was the kind of person they were falsely accusing Jesus of being. How did they bring the crowd to demand the release of this prisoner? Maybe they made threats. Maybe they made promises. Perhaps they spread rumors. However they did it, this imagery of “stirring up” tells us that they were able to exert control over the crowd and to consolidate the crowd’s energy. When this happens, a crowd is more than the sum of its parts. Together with one voice they shouted, “Crucify him” (15:13, 14)

Crowds are easily stirred. That’s the first thing we need to remember about them. They are vulnerable to manipulation. And we are personally more vulnerable to manipulation when we’re in one. But that is not where it ends. Crowds are also vehicles of manipulation, which brings us to the second thing you need to remember about crowds: they are not easily satisfied.

Pilate’s motives were not as famously or flagrantly bad as other parties involved in Jesus’ death. Judas handed him over because of greed. The chief priests handed him over because of envy. Nevertheless, Pilate is the one whose name is embedded in the ancient creed: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” What was his motive exactly? Pilate, “wishing to satisfy the crowd,” released Barabbas and delivered Jesus to his death (15:15).

Ask Yourself Three Questions

To Pilate, Jesus was interesting and innocent (15:5, 14). But at the end of the day, Jesus was inconvenient. Pilate valued his career as a Roman governor and his reputation for keeping peace over justice for this innocent man. He didn’t want to kill Jesus, but he did want to keep his life. That says something to us about Jesus—that there is no neutrality with him. It also says something to us about ourselves—that we are vulnerable to changing our thinking and making decisions in order to satisfy a crowd.

When we read the Bible, we aren’t just looking through a window into the events of the first century. We are looking into a mirror. Crowds are still a thing and so are leaders with more or less hidden motives who both play them and get played by them. Today, we too find ourselves in crowds and before crowds. So, having looked in the mirror of Mark 15—and because three is a crowd—ask yourself three questions.

First, what crowds are you running in?

Jesus wasn’t the only one who had to face a crowd. Acts 19 tells the story of the famous riot at Ephesus. As the gospel grew in that region, the growing number of disciples meant a depressed market for silver shrines to the local goddess. What ensued is as insightful as it is insane. On that crowd, I highly recommend to you a recent article by Greg Morse, “Alone Against the Mob: Crowds, Cancel Culture, and Courage.” That was the crowd that the Ephesian Christians had to deal with.

Knowing yourself means knowing your crowds. Crowds are unavoidable unless we remove ourselves from life in the world, so what crowds are you in or around? A crowd of middle school classmates, a high school locker room, the management team at your place of work, a text thread with a certain mood and collective opinion, or the current academic trends in your field of work? Don’t forget your Instagram and Facebook feeds. Yes, even your family is a kind of crowd. Any of these crowds can lead you to deliver Jesus over to be crucified.

Second, how are you tempted to please the crowd?

Every crowd has a certain way of seeing the world. A crowd’s subtle and not-so-subtle indications about what is good and beautiful and true will shape your own way of seeing things. The tangible and invisible incentives for speaking and acting a certain way have more persuasive power over us than we might realize. So, what crowds are you in? Now, ask yourself, what would you give up to satisfy the crowd? How are you willing to obscure or hide your union with Jesus in order to satisfy a crowd? How are you vulnerable to changing your thinking in order to satisfy a crowd?

Reminders of this temptation have been in the news of late. It should not surprise us that the recent ex-evangelical trend is populated with former pastors and others who simultaneously distance themself from their former faith and then reveal their new enlightened understanding of gender, marriage, and sexuality. This is the effect of the crowd. One hundred years ago the crowd tempted us to deny the Bible’s supernatural miracles. Today we’re tempted to deny the Bible’s sexual ethic.

Third, how can we be the right crowd for one another?

The word “church” means literally “assembly.” The church is a crowd. Like crowds anywhere, the church is more than the sum of its parts. When we’re with the right crowd—that is, a heathy church centered in the gospel and gathered under the righteous rule of Christ through his Word—there is no safer place on earth to be. The power of this crowd is not coercive but compelling. So, brothers and sisters, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:23–25, emphasis mine).

I am profoundly grateful that after a difficult year for churches and church participation, our church is growing in joy and hospitality, in giving financially and in receiving new members. Scripture and experience have taught us that we need one another. Keep stirring one another up, keep meeting together, and keep encouraging one another. This is an urgent command and our souls are at stake in keeping it together.

A Great Crowd of Witnesses

Before we wrap up this post on crowds, we need one more lesson from Mark lest we lose our souls in the process of trying to save souls. How are we to preserve our witness in a world with so many crowds gathering under steeples and banners with Jesus’ name on them?  

Once you start seeing crowds in the gospel of Mark, you cannot unsee them. And once you see them you start seeing their influence on events. Just consider the calculation the Pharisees had to make once when Jesus asked them for their opinion about John the Baptist:

And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. —Mark 11:31, 32

Afraid? These were Jesus’ people. What were they afraid of exactly? Luke lets us in on more of their conversation: “all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet” (Lk. 20:5, 6). This is why they needed to arrest Jesus by stealth (Mk. 14:1–2). Let’s just say that not everyone around Jesus completely understood his kingdom and teaching. Jesus’ raving fans had their own ideas. 

One lesson here for our witness is to expect that Jesus will have all kinds of followers out there representing him in ways that are entirely opposed to his kingdom. I find it instructive that Jesus was not constantly talking about how he wasn’t like all the other people who followed him. He wasn’t terribly worried about PR. Neither did his disciples form their movements in the first century as reactions to other followers they were embarrassed about. There will always be the crazies. We might not even always agree on who the crazies are. Jesus can work all that out.

A second lesson for us here, then, is that it is okay to let our words and our works speak for themselves. That is, after all, what Jesus did. Seeing the unfolding events of his own ministry with spiritual eyes, he knew full well why he was getting in trouble. It was his words and his works that threatened the authorities. The unseemly crowd around him was simply political leverage for his arrest as a supposed troublemaker when the authorities knew he posed no real danger (14:48, 49).

So, how can we protect our witness in a world of crowds—some that are against Jesus and some unhelpfully for him? Here’s one way: in view of the faithful saints who have gone before us, keep gathering as a faithful church and keep stirring one another up for Jesus’ sake.  

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” —Hebrews 12:1–2, emphasis mine

Church family, look to Jesus, expect to be shamed, refuse to be ashamed, let Jesus save your witness, and remember that you are never alone in a crowd.

No Bits and Pieces, No Little People: Meet Francis Schaeffer

No Bits and Pieces, No Little People: Meet Francis Schaeffer

When the Sadducees came to Jesus with a disingenuous question about the resurrection, his response was direct: “you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mk. 12:24). We explored this interaction in Sunday’s sermon, “He is God of the Living.” The Sadducees insisted that there would be no future resurrection, that when we died that was it. It’s a brutal way to live. As in Jesus’ day we too are tempted to pursue religion without the truth of resurrection, to see the world as matter in motion without ultimate meaning.

Jesus’ chief interest in coming was souls. But we do well to ponder how a denial of a truth like the resurrection is destructive for both souls and societies. It’s by pondering the course of bad ideas that we more clearly see and speak the true goodness of the good news, to speak to our neighbors and the need of the age.

Maybe for you this pursuit isn’t so much about speaking to others as it is about coming to terms with the claims of Scripture yourself. As we said Sunday, if you have rejected Christianity because you cannot buy-in to the resurrection, you should be commended for seeing that claim for what it is. Whatever the case, I’d like you to meet someone who knew both the Scriptures and the power of God.

Meet Francis Schaeffer, a Recently Dead Pastor

It’s good for us to read the works of dead pastors from long ago, but it’s also good to read the works of dead pastors from not so long ago. In this case, the works of a man like Francis Schaeffer—a pastor and apologist from the mid-to-late 20th century—are proven valuable for two reasons. First, they have stood the test of time. Time is a wonderful sorting mechanism in a world of so many words. Second, his work has stood the test of time because he was a man who understood the times. Schaeffer was an exegete of the Scriptures and the present stage on which God’s saving plans are unfolding.

I came into Schaeffer in a theologically formative period of my own life through two books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent and The God Who Is There. Both books helped establish my confidence in the basic truthfulness and coherence of Scripture. I’m not alone. Albert Mohler tells his own story of how Schaeffer, as he puts it, “gave me a way of understanding how the Christian faith related to and answered the questions of the world around me.” Os Guinness tells a similar story in, “An Interview with Os Guinness on the 25th Anniversary of Francis Schaeffer’s Death.” Os and Mohler reminisce a bit together in a conversation they shared a few years ago. There are countless other stories along these lines.

Francis Schaeffer was an academic but no less an evangelist. His work in understanding the world was powered by his love for the people who inhabit the world, as it should be. If you’re a skeptic yourself, he had you in mind. 

Whereas Mohler first encountered Schaefer through his books, Guinness came to know Schaeffer in Schaeffer’s home turned ministry called L’Abri, which he co-founded in Switzerland with his wife Edith. If your interest is piqued, read Jerram Barr’s, “Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message,” for his story, his emphases, and some critique.

Where to Begin

With the Sadducee’s error in mind, this Sunday I quoted this excerpt from Schaeffer’s, A Christian Manifesto:

“Those who hold the material-energy, chance concept of reality, whether they are Marxist or non-Marxist, not only do not know the truth of the final reality, God, they do not know who Man is. Their concept of Man is what Man is not, just as their concept of final reality is what final reality is not. Since their concept of Man is mistaken, their concept of society and of law is mistaken, and they have no sufficient base for either society or law.”

Schaeffer had a way of getting under the surface of things. One of his central critiques of Christians in his day was that, as he said, “they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.” That is, we tend to see issues like pornography, the breakdown of the family, abortion, etc. instead of the total world and story in which these tragedies emerge. Schaeffer’s burden was to help us understand this.

For an entry into Schaeffer’s work, A Christian Manifesto is a good place to start, but let me offer a few other options. Three books together form the heart of his apologetic work: The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. These books will help to those wrestling with questions about the truthfulness of the Christian worldview and those who are engaging friends disaffected by Christianity. High School students and their parents will get help as well. Here’s from Escape from Reason

“People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God. . . . We are watching our culture put into effect the fact that when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in our whole culture—in the theater of cruelty, in the violence in the streets, in the death of man in art and life.”

The title of another book describes its aim: How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. We do well to study history with a Christian worldview. But the purpose of doing so must always be fidelity to the God of history in our own day. If you can put up with the dated and even cheesy production, watch the the video series by the same name: 

There are a host of volumes written by those who studied with Schaeffer in some fashion. One of the most important among them—and a book you would do well to have on the shelf—is Nancy Pearcy’s, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. For some reading on the life and ongoing relevance of Schaeffer’s work, check out the Summer 2020 edition of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology on the occasion of L’Abri’s 65th anniversary, edited by my dear friend Stephen Wellum—there, again, another influence of mine influenced by Schaeffer.  

No Little People

Schaeffer influenced the world with his words, but here are some words he wrote that explain his reach: “A compassionate open home is part of Christian responsibility, and should be practiced up to the level of capacity.” He more than understood the truth of Scripture for our day, but embodied it in Christian hospitality that changed the world.

This Sunday we will be in the next passage in Mark, 12:28-44, where we meet scribes who like the best seats and a poor woman who contributes all she has to live on. In all our work to understand the world, let’s remember our place in it with Schaeffer’s help—a man for whom there truly were No Little People:

Jesus commands Christians to seek consciously the lowest room. All of us — pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and non-professional included — are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place, because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to the Scripture this is backwards: We should consciously take the lowest place, unless the Lord himself extrudes us into a greater one.

It is there we come to know both the Scriptures and the power of God.