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Listening to His Law


Editor's Note: This is the final post in this series. Part 1 [available here] introduced the connection between a biblical understanding of education and that of fatherhood. Part 2 [available here] explored the storytelling aspect of education. Now the author turns to the second aspect, Law, and offers a conclusion. 

As subcreators, tasked with extending dominion in the form of culture, fathers have the responsibility to prescribe and enforce their community's boundaries, specific norms, and overarching rhythms of life. Again, the heavenly Father is the prime example of this. His speaking of creation into existence can be seen as legislation, as prescribing the boundaries of a cosmos carved like an island out of Chaos.[1] From elsewhere in Scripture we know that these boundaries (beginnings and ends) are the Son himself as logos, the creative and sustaining speech-act of the Father.[2] The Son's legislation just is his speech/self; similarly, fathers are called to create and rule with speech backed by action. 

God's natural law is not an impersonal means of managing cosmic machinery; rather, his creating-sustaining word extends from himself as the superstructure of things (Jn. 1:10, Col. 1:17, Heb. 1:3).[3] Nor does he tyrannize his creatures like Allah or Hammurabi, with a list of norms that he wields from on high without manifesting--and giving--his nature. Rather, he is intimately involved with his creation and his human pieces de resistance. He has, as the song says, the whole world in his hand. His law is the means for distinguishing his people from the nations by marking them with his name (Deut. 7:6; 28:9-10). Thus structured, thus sanctified by obedience to law, we can flourish and be filled.

The root of steadfastness (cult) and steady fruitfulness (culture) is adherence to law, and fathers are (to paraphrase Aristotle) the "ensouled law" of their families.  A father who loves God's law and attends to it, the way some fathers attend to sporting events, will be strong and life-giving. He will be structured, ordered, capacious, and full--brimming with cultural energy for those around him, whether family, co-workers, or fellow church members. He will shape and fill those around him. He will be strong because he is humble, and a leader because he follows.

The Proverbs highlight the importance of law for Christian living and the father's role in teaching law (1:8; 2:6; 3:1-2). In Proverbs 6:20 the images of bondage and adornment are striking: "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck." This is a paradox totally incomprehensible to the modern mind: The way to beauty, flourishing, selfhood, and the free flow of creative energy is to have the law of a parent hanging over you, to have the parents voice in your head.

More important, though, is that all these passages highlight the father's role in giving instruction as law. Of course both father and mother receive the law, and mothers need to speak law and be a kind of strength, especially in the father's absence (II Tim. 1:5). But the father comes first and more often in these proverbs because he is primarily responsible to speak law and model joyful obedience.

Teaching the law and being an ensouled law do not mean grim obedience out of painful duty. In this regard we naturally think of David's words in Psalms 1 and 19. But the most profound biblical meditation on the law in relation to the godly man is surely Psalm 119. The Psalmist delights and rejoices in the law.[4] He loves and obeys it, fixes his mind on it, plants it in his heart, studies it wholeheartedly.[5] He depends on it for his flourishing and safety.[6] It anchors his hope for Shalom.[7] 

Though God's word will stand forever, His law has come on hard times. In  churches today, it is not unusual to hear praise songs of the "personal-relationship-with-God" type. Yet songs about loving God's law are harder to find, as are songs featuring the fear of God. And while we may hear talk about knowing Christ and the Spirit, we hear less about the seemingly more distant and fearsome Father. But if religion is the root of culture, then this neglect means that many Christian parents and teachers are being shaped by and antinomian and un/anti-patristic worldview. When pastors, elders, family-fathers, teachers and city-fathers abdicate their paternal responsibility (especially with regard to discipline, standards, accountability), a culture declines to emotionalism, chaos, and banality. Spinelessness, conformism, and shallowness migrate from church to classroom, from classroom to popular culture, from culture back to church.

To prevent this, it is not enough to promote male leadership in church and school. I have seen Christian K-12 school culture slump, not because it lacked male leadership, but because it lacked biblical fatherhood. Father-figures must love, study, and lean on God's law. Paul expresses a longing for his church folks to be "stablished" in their faith and walk (Col. 2:5-7), and he boldly offers every church a list of do's and don'ts; but he can teach and lead like that only because he himself stands on and in Christ.

To put this all together, if we think back to the creation story and the baptism of Christ (Matt. 3:16-17), we find four elements of paternal authority within education.[8] A father discriminates (divides the waters, states "this is my son"), evaluates ("saw that it was good," "in whom I am well pleased"), and commissions or delegates, ("have dominion", "hear him")--all within a context of the self-giving, nurturing presence that transmits stories, fosters loyalty, and invites imitation.

- - - - - - -

The aim of this three-part series has been to outline biblical education as enculturation, with a focus on the role of fathers. To succeed in shaping a culture and impressing it on future generations, education as paideia requires the attentive, firm, imaginative presence of fathers. But how might this discussion shape our view of curriculum and pedagogy?

The curriculum rightly, though not absolutely, distinguishes humanities (qualitative) from math-science (quantitative) subjects. Logic, geometry, algebra and physics impress us with the lawful ordering of reason, space, and abstract quantity itself. When taught rightly, as the ingrained cumulative skills of calculative structures worth knowing for their own sakes, these disciplines can mold the students into images of their divisive Creator, into cosmopolitans fit for taking dominion through analysis, classification, and design. I say these studies can do so, because much depends on the teacher, whose humility, love for all forms of law, along with the weekly liturgies of school, home, and church--project an atmosphere that allows these "subjects"--they are more like worlds we inhabit--to permeate a pupil's soul. 

Here we see that the distinction between law and story, dividing and filling, doesn't map neatly onto that between so-called right- and left-brain subject areas. Math and science teachers give their own personality to their students, their own story, so that the subject, however apparently impersonal and abstract, may manifest the Creator's personality. The teacher gives figures and formulae, theories and laws, a "local habitation and name," as creatures worth knowing because, apart from the middle-class lifestyle one might achieve by applying them, they make known their Maker. The math-science curriculum of a consistent Christian education will also make room for the patristics and founding-fathers of a discipline's tradition. Students need the stories of mistakes, chance encounters, antagonism, courage, and paradigm-shifting insight; they need the flaws, ethical dilemmas, and eccentricities that shaped the messy narratives of incarnate knowers. 

The overlap continues in the humanities subjects. Here we find a host of structures, definitions, and "rules" governing sentence construction, poetry, philosophical claims, and decision making. More profound are the criteria for culture and life operative behind any subject, whether literature or writing or art: the nature of reality, man, God, truth, beauty, goodness, true religion.

Despite these overlaps, the form-filling distinction remains legitimate the case that God created a cosmos with various subordinate "worlds" and filled it with characters endowed with the power of action--a recipe for stories. Christian education entails the study of stories, but especially foundational stories. These epics and novels and short stories--chiefly the Bible itself as the key to all others--are "great" or "classic texts" because they are responding to something real. C. S. Lews wrote that good readers, no matter how scholarly, retain the capacity of responding to the central appeal of great texts, and great texts, in turn, whether pagan or Christian, are those that respond to the central appeals of the world God made. These stories have been passed down over the generations, and they function as a kind of touchstone, teaching us our nature and God's, our purpose, the virtues and vices common to human beings, the conflicts between common and private good in political life, and showing us heroes to emulate.[9]

Now, what makes a classic text? More to the point, why, as my students wonder every fall in Ancient Literature class, is the Iliad a book worth reading? The answer brings us back one more time to the centrality of fatherhood in education. 

Obviously, I read the Iliad and, based on various criteria outlined above, I judged it a profitable fit for the curriculum given my goals for the course, degree, and program. 'Very well,' someone might say, 'your students are trusting you as a guide through father Homer. But that only pushes the question further back: why did you read Homer in the first place?'

The answer may seem cavalier: I read Homer because my parents made me go to class, and I trusted them and cared and went and read Homer. And they in turn trusted a great burly bard of a man named Wes Callihan--trusted him to have me read great books and learn to respond rightly to the good and bad in them. And, beyond Mr. Callihan, the Great Thinkers in the great books are also father-figures, because we trust that we can benefit from Homer like Spenser did, from Spenser like George Herbert did, from Herbert like C. S. Lewis did, and from Lewis like R. C. Sproul did.

Though all of us are students becoming parent-teachers (Matt. 6:40), there is no wholly neutral ground where we discard all allegiance, all dependence, and weigh our options with a set of detached criteria. Our bonds to fathers are the main, though not only, criterion in biblical-classical education. "What you have learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do," Paul says (Phil. 4:9). Youngster, shut up and listen to the law of your father, says Solomon. We receive, we open the book, we discard the carping of critical theory jargon, and we listen to the father-texts that "we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us."

Paul adjures us to grow up, to stand in a sense on our own (Eph. 4:14); but, a few verses later, he calls us to "imitate Christ like dear children" (5:1). To be educated in the biblical and classical sense is to inhabit the paradox of always maturing while ever remaining a child, of becoming like--even surpassing--some of our fathers, while always trusting those fathers. 

Previous Posts in This Series

1. Education and Fatherhood

2. Known by His Works

[1] John Milton, Paradise Lost 7.212-17, transfers to the creation account the words of Christ's pacification of the storm (Mk. 4:39).

[2] Jn. 1:1-10; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3; Rev. 1:8, 17.

[3] The quantitative physical relations are in some sense projections of God's "body" (Is. 40:12; 48:13).

[4] vs. 14, 16, 24, 47-48, 54, 77, 92, 97, 167, 174.

[5] vs. 11, 15-16, 31, 34, 69, 78, 80, 92, 94, 97, 99, 112, 119, 145, 148, 159, 167, 174, 176.

[6] vs. 25, 37 50, 77, 88, 93, 175.

[7] vs. 165.

[8] I am following Wilson, Father Hunger, ch. 1.

[9] I haved discussed the importance of studying and telling stories at greater length in Bret Saunders, " 'Listen to the Stories': the Importance of the Art of Storying in Education and Life." Cultural Encounters 14.1, Winter 2019, 56-67.

Bret Saunders is Associate Professor of Humanities at John Witherspoon College.

Related Links

Fathers, Sons, and Daughters [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

Liberal Arts for the Christian Life, ed. by Philip G. Ryken & Jeffery C. Davis

Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts by Phillip G. Ryken

Cultivating a Christian Worldview [ Audio Disc  |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]




Known by His Works


Editor's Note: This is the second part in a series on the relationship between education and fatherhood. Read part one here, and watch for more in the weeks ahead!

As mentioned in my last post, education means shaping and filling, admonition and nurture, law and story. That should sound familiar as the two basic components of covenant faithfulness, and the best place to see this is the book of Deuteronomy--which also features God's fatherhood over Israel as a central theme.[1]

In considering Deuteronomy, especially with a view to education, our attention will rightly be drawn to the Shema (6:4-9). Here Moses describes an educational methodology that strikingly matches what the New Testament readers would have understood by Pauline paideia (Eph. 6:4)--the way our identity in God floods every crevice of life, like sunlight at noon. In this nurture, the knowledge of God must mark key times, actions, and places; and the important divisions of ordinary life must fall under God's dominion. Education requires a liturgy that testifies to God's claim--and his name--on all of our person, all of life, all of space.

But when Moses tells fathers to teach "these words diligently to your children," what is he referring to? Deuteronomy begins:

"These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness..."

Inspired by God (1:3), Moses first retells the history of their initial approach to the promised land, God's provision of judges, the people's faithless rebellion in the wake of the twelve spies' report, God's curse for this rebellion and their subsequent wandering in Edom and Moab; he retells the defeat of Sihon and Og, all the way to Beth-peor and the commissioning of Joshua.

The first three chapters of the book are therefore a retelling of the story, so the young Israelites born in the wilderness may see afresh "how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place" (1:31). God has marked out a faithful remnant to fill and subdue again, starting with their new Eden (1:39).

Chapter four narrates the covenant renewal ceremony in a passage heavy with commands, warnings, and promises; then in chapter five Moses rehearses the Decalogue. For our purposes, what stands out are concerns about covenantal memory and generational transmission:

"Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them to thy sons, and thy sons' sons" (4:9).

Here at the intersection of the first and fifth commandments, where culture is rooted in cult, education is essential to the success of dominion (cf. 4:10, 23, 25, 40; 5:16, 29, 33).

As I have said, the two essential parts of education are storytelling and law, which are both captured in the movement from the prologue to the first commandment: 

"I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me" (5:6-7). 

God says, this is who I am, as known by (the story of) my works, and this is what you shall do to be what I have named you. God commands their love, expressed from their hearts in specific forms of worship and life, because he first earned it as the author of their story (4:37; I Jn. 4:19).

Likewise, before we human parents ever issued the first 'no,' the first punishment in the wilderness of life, our children had wallowed in a thousand hours of cuddling, feeding, and comforting. Children learn because they love, because they are loved. Story, culture, and relationship all provide the context for law.

I have been presenting Deuteronomy as a compendium of formation and instruction by father Moses from Father God. Now, moving backward a little in the Pentateuch, I want to highlight the role of storytelling in the context of symbolic memorialization. Much of Israel's God-ordained religious practice was situated around symbolic objects and actions. There were rituals like Passover and the firstborn male consecration; there were cult artefacts like Joshua's pile of stones and the jar of manna. But all this symbolism would be pointless without storytelling. God hardened Pharoah's heart "that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt . . .; that ye may know how that I am the Lord" (Ex. 10:1-2). Later, God explains the reason for Passover as follows:  "[W]hen your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by this service? That ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians, and delivered our houses (Ex. 12: 25-7; also 23:15)." The stories would keep the record of God's salvation near and fresh and bolster the faith of leaders (Ex. 17:14). God admonishes parents, especially fathers, to interpret symbols, maintain ritual practice, and take the effort of telling the stories that give heart and flesh to what would otherwise fade into formalism. Without stories, how shall our sons and our son's sons know the personality, the identity, of the God who rules their space and time? 

One might expect that if parents became busy and distant, if the attention spans and curiosities of their children shrank, then the monuments would fade into the landscape while the rituals faded to mumbling and religious robotics. If that happened, then the people would be God's in name only. We can guess that something like that happened, because "there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel" (Judges 2:10; cf. Ex. 32:1). Described here is the ignorance, the vacuum, that prepared the way for idolatry; but the vacuum was pumped by the withering of ritual and the silencing of stories. The fathers' failure to educate recoiled on their children.

We know that fathers were primarily, though not exclusively responsible because God issues the storytelling mandate in terms of "sons" and "son's sons." The same is implied by Psalm 78:1-11:

Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.

For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:

That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.

The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.

hey kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;

And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them. 

Here we witness both the importance of hearing the law and story from a father-figure and also, as fathers, the importance of telling our children. Except they are in a sense not our children, but belong to the previous generation ("their children"). 

Why are the fathers of the present thus effaced? Because, in a way, we are just the messengers. We should resist the anxiety to put a personal mark on our children, at least if that means some quality "uniquely myself." Our burden should be to leave to our children the Great Story, the perennial Wisdom, the Everlasting Man. What's more, we should maintain, as the Psalmist does, tremendous hope in unseen fruit, far beyond our lifetime and personal influence. 

Though functioning as conduits of tradition, we do so through our unique personal presence.  Law cannot be dictated from a distance; rather, adherence to law is bought with a nurturing presence. We have already seen that ritual observation-interpretation assumed parents walking and talking with their children--assumed, in other words, what we call "teaching moments." We are the steward-investors of God's love for our children, presenting that love through story and law. 

Psalm 78 assumes this too, along with what I would call the main "tool" of biblical education--mimesis or imitation. When parents attend services, pray, catechize, admonish, and narrate, they invite observation from young eyes down the row. Do they pray with real anguish, heart, and faith, or the easy swing of rote expression? Do familiar characters, events, and details still sting their imagination and kindle wonder? What gets the sharp edge of our attention and energy? Where does our thinking most readily go in trials of varying degrees? 

Note the Psalmist's call to "shew to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done." How tragically ironic would it be to tell God's praises without showing praise, to tell of his works without wonder? 

The end of the passage implies a painful honesty about storytelling. We are handing down from fathers to grandchildren the bad news that some of our fathers did not keep the faith. They broke covenant (idolatry), disobeyed, and forgot God's works (ingratitude). Do not imitate them, we must say. Right storytelling requires humility. The story of God's electing grace includes how our ancestors cheated on God. We may not skip those chapters, whether from church history or American history. Hard honesty about one's fathers is good training in confession, because it compels children to acknowledge an objective standard and invites them to show humility before the standard. 

We would, unlike some of our fathers, be "steadfast with God." 

Previous Posts

1. Education and Fatherhood


[1]  Ralph Smith makes this case in Hear, My Son (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2011), discussing the pervasiveness of the fifth commandment. 

Bret Saunders is Associate Professor of Humanities at John Witherspoon College.

Education and Fatherhood


Editor's Note: This is the first part in a series on the relationship between education and fatherhood. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for part two!

"One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters." -- George Herbert

"I write not these things to shame you, but as beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." -- I Cor. 4:14-16; KJV

I have long been acquainted with the phrase in loco parentis ("in a parent's place"). It is often applied to Christian school teachers, though for a while I considered it little more than hyperbole for a special kind of supervisor. Then I started rethinking another familiar expression: "fathers . . . bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4 KJV). I had always taken this verse as a biblical theology of education in general, distilled in a few clear drops. The words for "nurture" and "admonition" overlap somewhat, but suggest two main actions in education: Instruction (telling) and enculturation (showing). In this case, fathers are responsible for the showing and telling that shapes character.

What I began to realize--possibly because the arrival of my third child instilled a new pressure to consider the implications of fatherhood--was how much biblical education is intertwined with the theology of fatherhood. At the same time, I began to see how Ephesians 6:4, far from being a Pauline innovation, was really a summary of God's fathering of his covenant people throughout the Old Testament. Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised; the more we see things in light of the Word, the more they "hold together" (Col. 1:17). 

In this series, I will work backward from more familiar passages in the New Testament to less charted passages in the Old, all in order to examine some crucial intersections of fatherhood and education. My goal is to persuade you of the importance of fathers and father-texts within a biblical theology of education. Although I let readers draw their own practical conclusions, I believe many criticisms of education and culture in our father-hungry age will become obvious.

At the outset, it is worthwhile to notice that Paul relates paternally to his churches (I Cor. 4:15-17; Gal. 4:19-20), while emphasizing the ultimate fatherhood of God (Eph. 6:4), and that his epistles generally present doctrine before practice. We have to know who God is and who we are before we can work on being what God wants us to be. This does not mean that Paul is evangelizing to obtain "buy-in" from his children; he is teaching them as his children because they have already been "begotten through the Gospel" and therefore believe. God made Paul a father by the Spirit through the work of Christ, and so he instructs. In the Christian view, the basis for teaching is the Spirit waking dead hearts to the glimmers of truth. A father's nurture or enculturation begins with the conversion, the renewal of the heart, then spreads to the mind, imagination, body, relationships--the rest of a complete human life. The work of a father--whether pastor, teacher, or family father--begins with God. 

Richard John Neuhaus used to say "culture is the root of politics, and religion is the root of culture." Culture sprouts from "cult," which is simply right worship. And yet only God can sow this seed (Ex. 7:16). Biblical education nurtures, trains the sprouts from the heart in a multitude of directions, sounds, motions, shapes, and desires--all of which form the total identity of a person. Only then does instruction--"fathers, train your children; wives, love your husbands; children, honor your parents"--sprout in this garden, in a heart already aimed at "one God and father of all." Fathers work out what God has worked in.

If we look to fathers to educate, and if God is the "one father of all" (Eph. 4:6), then we should look to God for the basic pattern of education. And we find this pattern in the creation story. God begins with formless and void matter, takes it in his "hands," imposes order on it, and fills it with life. In a six-day ritual God divides (1:4, 6, 7, 9, 14, 18) while also naming to distinguish, to mark out, the differences in cosmic order. Thus God's dividing, his distinguishing and ordering, is the structuring of world-making. The cosmos is a hierarchy of rule and service. Sun and Moon are distinguished, appointed to divide the two main time-phases, just as Man is marked out from the other creatures for rule (1:16, 26). [2]

The Creator doesn't leave us with a formal-yet-void cosmos; he enables creation to engender new forms, to self-divide and swell with new life. So the earth brings forth grass, the waters fish and fowl, and woman is divided from man, completing him. Distinction without separation seems to be the guiding principle as God shapes and fills. Sun and Moon distinguish the times; God distinguishes man from the other creatures and the Sabbath from the other days. 

When God made man, he divided his matter from the ground; when God made woman he divided her matter from man. Division leads to multiplication (2:24); one merges with another to bring forth fruit (Jn. 12:24); structure makes fullness.

Man's vocation was dominion for the sake of fruitfulness. We know this because God gave man the same blessing he had given the other creatures (1:22, 28), and so when he appointed man to rule, he was delegating responsibility for creation's fullness. The training ground for man's vocation was the garden, a microcosmos (2:8-10) that springs of water symbolically designated to be the source of man's dominion practice. The garden was the first schoolroom, the first nurture and instruction. 

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (2:15-17)

God comes to man, touches and handles him, divides him from the others, favors him with the gift of authority and purpose (protecting and adorning the garden). God acts for, nurtures, hovers over his son, and on that basis follows law, guidance, instruction. A structure is imposed to which man must conform. To obey, freely and repeatedly, is to embed the structure in oneself, to take shape, gain strength, and increase in capacity.

Education, therefore, is just this: shaping and filling, admonition and nurture, law and story.

[1] In the wake of the 60's cultural revolution, we take a dim view of authority in general and paternal authority in particular. For an excellent discussion of the result, see Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012). Mary Eberstadt makes a striking albeit somewhat intuitive case that identity politics is a symptom of father hunger. See "The Primal Scream of Identity Politics." The Weekly Standard. October 27, 2017. Accessed July 8, 2019.

[2] James Jordan first called my attention to the pattern of structuring-filling in his book Primeval Saints (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), ch. 1. 

Bret Saunders is Associate Professor of Humanities at John Witherspoon College.

Sufficient Hope


If you could give a new mom the perfect gift, what would it be? Would it be full night's sleep? Maybe you'd give her a hot meal without interruption or maybe the confidence that she'll be a good mom. Those would be precious gifts to any mom. But what do moms need most?

More than any of these things, moms need the gospel. This isn't just a "Jesus juke" or an attempt to be more "spiritually-minded." It's the fundamental truth that the gospel fulfills our greatest needs. The gospel isn't something basic that mature Christians move past. It isn't the stepping stone for the really important things in life. The gospel is our lifeline. It's our hope and our future. It's our daily help and comfort.

How does the gospel apply to moms? In her new book, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms, Christina Fox seeks to apply the hope and help of the gospel to our lives as moms:

Whatever experiences we face in motherhood, we all need Jesus--and he is sufficient. That's what this book is about: our need for the gospel of Jesus Christ. In every moment, in every season, and whatever our circumstances, the gospel is sufficient to give us hope. (14)

Christina's book is composed of short meditations on the gospel and practical applications to various aspects and challenges of motherhood. Each chapter closes with a gospel-centered prayer highlighting the focus of that chapter. In modern discussions, too often "the gospel" is left undefined or poorly explained. Thankfully, Christina gives a comprehensive explanation of what the gospel is and why we need it.

Our understanding of the gospel should always begin with who Jesus is and what He's done for us. As Christina reminds us:

Jesus Christ came to rescue you and me from our greatest problem: the sin that separates us from God. He came to live the life that we could not live and to die the death that we deserved for our sin. In doing so, he rescued us from our slavery to sin. He freed us from trying to live life on our own apart from God. He delivered us from seeking our hope outside of him. And he has promised to be for us what we can't be for ourselves. (51)

Because Jesus has lived and died for us, we are at peace with God, we are united to Christ, and the Spirit is at work in us. God's grace is sufficient for us, and no matter what we face in our lives and as mothers we can rest and trust in Him to be with us and to preserve us (44). Life is hard. Motherhood is hard. But we aren't alone:

Whatever we face in our day--whether hardship or joy-- the grand story of the Bible gives shape to our expectations. It explains our longings. It gives hope to our struggles. And it points us to the glory to come. (45)

When we go through challenges and struggles, Christina calls us to remember the gospel, to remember who Jesus is and what He's done for us. Jesus is our hope and our help.

The gospel also reminds us of the grace and mercy that God has given and continues to give us every day. As moms, we want to be perfect. We hold ourselves up to impossible standards. We want to believe that we can do all the right things and protect our children from all harm. But we're not perfect. We're sinners, and we can't possibly do it all.

In God's grace, we have forgiveness for our sins, and we can find rest. We don't need to worry over the future or our failures. We don't have to shoulder our burdens alone (95).

With this gospel foundation, Christina addresses specific challenges that we face as moms. These include finding contentment, fighting loneliness, what to do when our children sin or are hurting, and how to handle guilt. With each topic, she graciously applies the truths of the gospel to our lives as moms.

We all need the gospel, in good times and bad. Whatever our daily circumstances, we need to remember and dwell on who Jesus is and what He's done for us:

Turn to Jesus and keep your eyes fixed on him. Remember the story of redemption, and recite what God has done for you. Remember why things in life don't work out as they should, what God did about it through his Son, and how he gives you great hope for the future, when all things that are broken will be made whole. (46)

I strongly recommend Christina's book to moms, both new and experienced. I hope you are as blessed by this book as I've been.



When Our Children Sin


Do you remember when you first learned you would have a child? You likely prayed over your little one day after day. Even though you'd never met him or her in person, you loved your child more than anything. You waited for months--and if you were an adoptive parent, sometimes years--anticipating the amazing moment when you would hold that precious gift of God in your arms.

As new parents, it can be hard to think of our sweet baby as a sinner--unless he or she cries all night, then we are convinced of it! It isn't until our precious little one starts to move around, gets into things, and even starts to talk back that the evidence of their sinfulness hits us. That first time they reach out to touch something right after we told them not to, or the first time they yelled "No!" in response to an instruction we give, the truth that we knew in our mind about their sinful state is fully realized. The doctrine of sin we learned in church hits us square in the face: our children inherited the same sinful state we all inherit from Adam (1 Cor. 15:22, Ps. 51:5).

Despite this theological knowledge, sometimes it's shocking to see our children's sin on full display: angry outbursts, lying, stealing, idolatry, bullying, defiance, to name a few. And all this can happen before a child enters kindergarten! As our children grow into their teen years, they will face greater temptations to sin. More than shocking, it's often disheartening to watch our children sin. It can break our heart when our children make choices that lead them farther and farther off the path of life. Many a parent has wept over a child's sinfulness.

Preach, Point, and Pray the Gospel

When we see our children sin, whether as a young toddler touching breakables on the shelf or as a first grader lying about a school assignment or as a teen watching a movie they were forbidden to watch, we need to remember the gospel. When we despair over our children's choices, we need to remember the gospel. When we fear the path our children are headed down, we need to remember the gospel.

We need to preach the gospel to ourselves, remembering that we are all born fallen in sin. We were once separated from God, and it was by his grace that he saved us. We must remember that our children need the same gospel we need. It's not going to be our excellent parenting, or the top-notch education, or the amazing life experiences that transform our children; rather, it's going to be the power of the gospel. We must trust and look for God to work in their hearts and lives. We also need to point our children to the gospel. We have a responsibility as parents to teach and disciple them in the faith (see Deut. 6:6-9).

We need to teach our children who Jesus is and what he came to do. We need to teach them about his perfect life lived for them, his sacrificial death, his triumphant resurrection from the grave, and his ascension back into heaven. The gospel is the story we tell them when they sit, when they walk along the way, when they lie down, and when they rise. At all times and in all places, we point our children to the gospel. While it is the Spirit who brings our children from death to life, God uses us as parents as one of the means through which he saves our children. Perhaps it could be compared to how God uses our prayers to carry out his will; he doesn't need to, but he chooses to. This truth should compel us all the more to be diligent in our labors to teach and instruct our children in God's Word.

Third, we need to pray for the Lord's work in our children's heart. As parents, it's easy to focus our prayers on the health of our children or our children's success in school. We may find ourselves praying they would develop good friendships or that they wouldn't be bullied on the playground. We may even pray that they would stop fighting with their siblings or having tantrums. These are all excellent and important prayers. But the prayer we can't forget to pray is that God would ratify his covenant in our children's hearts. We must pray that God would save our children from their sins.

A Parent's Prayer

Father in Heaven, I come to you today with a burdened heart. A weary heart. A heavy heart. Parenting is hard. Just when I think I know what I'm doing, something changes, and I need to learn something new. Some days I wonder if I'll ever feel confident in my parenting. But maybe that's the point. Maybe I'm not supposed to be confident in my methods and strategies. Maybe those methods aren't supposed to always "work." Maybe parenting is supposed to keep me on my toes because instead of trusting in what I am doing as a parent, I need to trust in you. Maybe parenting is hard so that I would learn to depend and rely on you and your Spirit to be at work in my life and in the life of my children.

Father, I bring my children before you. They are covenant children and enjoy all the rich benefits of being a part of the church, of hearing the Word preached each week, of having other adults pour into their lives, of learning and memorizing your Word. I pray you would ratify the covenant in them. Bring them from death to life by the power of your Spirit. Open their minds and hearts to see their need for Jesus. Convict them of sin and draw them to repentance. Help them to love you with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Be at work in them, refining and shaping them into the image of Christ. Protect their minds and hearts from evil and may they never know a day when they did not know you as Lord of their lives. May Jesus always be their greatest treasure.

I pray for my parenting decisions and responses. Help me to parent out of your wisdom and not my own. Help me to seek your glory and not my own. Help me to speak the truth in love, point my children to Christ, teach and discipline them according to your Word, and love them as you have loved me. Help me not to fret, worry, or fear. Help me not to despair. Help me not to react. Help me to remember that they are sinners, just as I am. Help me to remember that they need a Savior, just as I do. Help me to trust and rest in you and the power of the gospel at work in me and in them. Help me to be quick to repent, slow to anger, and generous with love and affection.

Good things happen while we wait. It took time for these precious souls to be knitted in the womb--what joy I felt at their arrival! May I be patient as I wait for the work you are doing in their hearts. Help me to watch and wait with hope and trust. Help me to see and trace the evidence of your grace at work in their hearts. Help me to glory in your goodness and faithfulness in Christ.

Please hear all these cries of my heart. In Jesus's name I pray, amen.

Note: This post is based on Christina's new book, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms, published with P&R Publishing.

Bio: Christina Fox is a graduate of Covenant College where she currently serves on the advisory board. She received her Master's in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University. Christina serves on the national women's ministry team of the PCA and is the editor of enCourage. She is a speaker and author of several books, including Closer than a Sister, Idols of a Mother's Heart, and Sufficient Hope. You can find her at


What Will They Do When I'm Gone?


This morning I was reading a well-written and edifying article about cancer, the sovereignty of God and facing the reality of an uncertain future (humanly speaking). I think most parents have, at some time, gone through this thought process: what will happen to my children if something happens to me?

We can plan, and we should plan, for such eventualities, both spiritually and materially. I have life insurance for myself and my wife; we are working on finding guardians for our children should both of us die. Our financial plans are in place, more or less. Material planning is so very important. It is not, however, as important as spiritual planning for our children and loved ones.

I frequently speak of death and resurrection to our children, indeed in family worship last night, the subject came up again. I hope, by the drip-drip of teaching on death, resurrection and eternal life my children will become accustomed to the idea of all three realities. My third son, already, tells me he wants to be in heaven already. I also prepare my boys for the eventuality of my passing, or my wife's passing. We have told them about both material and spiritual needs and how they will be met by God.

I do wonder how they will fair if God calls me and or my wife home. I have fears for them. Will the be looked after? Will they walk with the Lord? Will they trust him all their days? Will they be spared the sins and mistake I made? How will they cope with the loss of a parent?

The above article caused me to realize this important truth: my children's need for God is greater than their need for me. That's right. How could it not be? We believe in an almighty and sovereign God who "ordains whatsoever shall come to pass" - of course their need for God as their Heavenly Father, for Christ as their Savior and the Spirit as their Comforter is greater than their need for me! They need to see and believe that God, should He take me or my wife, is simply enacting a just, wise and righteous plan. They need to know and believe that the God who they all profess to love is able and more willing to care for them than I ever could. They need to know, in a real and true sense, they will be better off without me, simply because that is the perfect will of God. (Jesus said the same to his disciples, John 16:7).

Is that not one of my great tasks in life? To teach them, by example and by the Word, that they are to long for God more than for me? To teach them that their need for God and reliance upon his grace and mercy is more than an earthly parent could ever give them? Yes, I believe my children need to know that we are made for eternity, and they must know this truth in the days of their youth. They must know, that to be with the Lord is better (Phil. 1:23), even if that means separation in this life.

Yes, they need to learn that their need for God is greater than their need for me.

But what if the shoe is on the other foot? Frankly, for myself, this is even more fearful option than the earlier one, if I am honest. What will happen to me if something happens to them? How will I cope with the sorrow and brokenness that some of us know and live with daily - the death of a child?

I would suggest that we can also reverse the principle above. Not only is my children's need for God greater than their need for me, my need for God is greater than my need for my children.

Should God take one or all of my children from me, it would most assuredly break my heart, but not my faith. I would have to learn, experientially, the truth of my own belief - I need God more than I need my children. If it were God's will to take those whom he has given to me, that will remains good, just and wise. I know it is for my good because God is good (Rom. 8:28). I know it is tailored for me perfectly because God is wise (Rom. 16:27). I know it is just, because God only does what is right (Gen. 18.25). I could go on...

The reality is that while God has given us many, many, great blessing, we ought always remember two things: first, he gives and he takes away, and both actions are perfectly consonant with his excellent character. Second, his blessing is in both giving and taking away: he gives to show us his great love for us, and he take to reveal our great need for his excellent character and provision.

And so, in days of blessing, let us situate these truths in our hearts, to be ready for the day of hardship: we need God more than we need anything or anyone on this earth. It is the same God who gives and takes away and His name is always to be blessed.

Matthew Holst is the Pastor of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC. 

A Child's Prayer


Dear father in heaven,

Thank you for giving me sleep last night, and for keeping me safe to live this new day. I am a child, so please help me to do all things through Christ, the One who strengthens me. I am a sinner, so please keep me from temptation, and bring me friends who will encourage me to love you.

Please make my eyes able to spot people in need;
my ears happy to hear others (and not simply myself!);
my hands ready for work;
my tongue respectful and kind;
my feet quick to run away from sin;
my heart burning with love for you.

By your Holy Spirit, help me to repent quickly and truly if I sin against you. Forgive my every sin, I ask. And remember the goodness of Jesus, who died for me on the cross.

I pray this in the name of my wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord, AMEN.

Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn (PhD, Cambridge University) is a Professor of Church History and the Director of the Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also serves as an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.

When Your Child Sins, Good News!


Too often, parents respond to their child's sin by focusing on how our child is letting them down. They make it clear that the child is failing to live up to the family standard of righteousness. Such an approach fails to clarify God's standard of righteousness and fails to pave the way for clarity about the good news of salvation. Uncovering a child's sin provides a strategic opportunity for the Christian parent to say something like, "You sinned. I am not surprised by your sin. The Bible calls your sin ________. I have sinned too, but I have been forgiven of my sins by faith in Jesus Christ, and I am praying that the discipline you receive will remind you that sin has consequences and that you need to seek forgiveness in Jesus Christ."

Framing discipline in an anti-gospel way places children on a performance treadmill. Their lives are based on meeting your expectations. And the only outcome of that approach is defeat and despair. Conviction of sin will bring no joy. It will only bring shame because they will reason, "I have failed my parents who thought I was a good person. Now, they know I am not a good person because I have these thoughts and act this way. I must be worthless." Constant accusation without the gospel is hellish, not holy.

As Christian parents, we need to make sure our words and actions match our doctrine when we discipline our children. Every instance of parental discipline is a strategic opportunity to expose our children's true identity (and ours too)--sinners who need a Savior. That is what is so powerful about gospel-focused discipline. When a parent clarifies the sin, points to the gospel, administers the discipline, and then embraces the child joyfully and forgivingly by declaring, "I love you no matter what!" the child gets a small taste of the glorious and absolute freedom offered in the gospel (Gal. 5:1).

Christian parents often fall into the trap of merely parroting the culture's expectations for our children's lives. We often raise our kids based on the same things non-Christian parents value rather than anything distinctively Christian. We are called to love God by loving our children, but too often we love the idea of raising (culturally) successful children. Seeing a child meet cultural expectations can easily become the way parents validate themselves.

Christian parents who base parenting decisions on other people's perception of them and their family's social standing are tragically treating their children like props in a public relations campaign. Faithful, cruciform, Christian parenting demands an intentional commitment to take every parenting thought captive to obey Christ and embrace distinctively Christian, gospel-focused aspirations.

In Ephesians, Paul declares that the triune God is at work in heaven and on earth summing up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10). Like all things, Christian parenting is to be summed up in Christ. This means that there is a Christ-centered, gospel-saturated, and cruciform distinctness to faithful Christian parenting. Our parenting must create a culture in our home where the gospel is becoming more intelligible, or we will inevitably design a culture where the gospel is becoming unintelligible. Failure to cultivate a gospel-filled home will yield children who may speak the language of the Christian faith but are saturated in the wisdom of the world.

Worldliness is not a word that Christians use much anymore. According to Paul, worldliness is defining the world outside the lens of the gospel. It comes packaged in both conservative and liberal morality. While worldliness can sometimes come with bad manners, it can easily come with good manners too. Our goal must be to teach our children that the gospel redefines every category in their lives (2 Cor 10:5). It gives them a new lens through which to see the world.

The dividing line between the Christian and the world is not found in moral superiority, but a crucified Messiah. We are all guilty sinners in need of a Savior. Consequently, we cannot discuss our child's behavior on the world's terms and simply tack Christianity on as an addendum to the discussion. The Christian parent's goal is not good kids--it is gospel kids. The Christian parent's goal in discipline is not low-maintenance, well-mannered children, but gospel proclamation.

When the apostle Paul declared, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified," he was not suggesting that the cross of Christ was the only thought that ever entered his mind, nor was he saying that he tacked on some commentary about Jesus' death to every dialogue (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was contending that the power and wisdom of God on display in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ served as the only proper frame of reference for every single thought.

So how should committed Christians think about and react to sin in the life of their children? The pattern begins with confronting the child about their sin. Following this, we must learn to explain to our children that they are praying that God will use the discipline to teach them that they need to ask forgiveness for their sin. Gospel-focused parents teach their children that sin is a heart problem and has consequences. They point to the gospel as the only ultimate answer and thank God for another strategic gospel opportunity. After all, that is a Christian parent most important job.

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

The Father and his Flock


Husbands and fathers are called to be pastors in their homes. "What the preacher is in the pulpit," Lewis Bayly declared, "the same the Christian householder is in his house." The idea of fathers as the pastors of their homes arises from the testimony of Scripture. The word "pastor" comes from the Latin word for "shepherd"--and every father is called to serve as a shepherd in his home.

The application of shepherding imagery in the Bible does not end with the call for pastors to reflect the ministry of the good shepherd Jesus in the local church. Scripture also draws parallels between the responsibility of Christian fathers to pastor their families and the responsibility of called men to shepherd the local church. Paul had this to say about anyone who might become a pastor/elder: "He must manage his own household competently and have his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God's church?)" (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

Pastoral leaders must be good shepherds of their little flocks at home before they are qualified to serve as shepherds of God's flock, the church. Every man in a local church should be able to look to his pastor's ministry as a model of faithful shepherding to be imitated on a smaller scale in his own home. If the congregation's pastor is shepherding the church but not his own family, his influence is muted and his model is one of tragic hypocrisy.

A family is not a church; every Christian believer, as an individual, functions under the authority of the congregation. Yet the principles of directing and caring for the church and the household are the same. Paul called local churches "the household of God" (1 Tim. 3:15) and he uses family imagery to exhort congregations (1 Tim. 5:1-2; 1 Cor. 4:15-16; 1 Thess. 2:11). The interplay in the Scripture between the household of God and familial households, as well as the interplay between pastors and fathers, should arrest the reader's attention.

"The church is the family of God," Randy Stinson asserts, "and family relationships represent a divinely-ordained paradigm for God's church--which is why it is so important for our relationships in the family and in the church to reflect God's ideal."1 It is common today for families to have the mentality that the church exists to serve the family. In reality, such a view needs to be turned on its head. Our households exist to portray to the world the church, the household of God. The congregation, then, is to be conformed to the Word of God and be determined to know nothing but Christ and him crucified--and families are called to do the same.

Pastors reflect Jesus in the church by feeding, directing, disciplining, and defending the flock of God, and fathers must do likewise with the little family flock God has entrusted to them. What must not be overlooked in all of this, however, is that the most important reality in the life of the family is not the family, but Jesus Christ. It is God's eternal plan to sum up all things in Jesus (Eph. 1:10) and it is a father's primary job to lead in doing so in his little flock at home. Any father who fails to focus on the Gospel and settles for behavioral change and isolation from the world is cultivating an idolatrous focus on their own family. Family issues are, however, deeper than behavior; they are issues of the heart for which the only answer is the Gospel. A home full of well-behaved, well-mannered children whose obedience is not understood through the lens of the Gospel is not holy but hellish.

A father is the head of his home, the spiritual leader, who has the responsibility to feed his family the Word of God on a daily basis. He also must know that, even though he is the shepherd of his little flock, "the chief Shepherd" has graciously placed him under the authority of the church and its shepherds, "the flock of God" (1 Pet 5:2, 4). Therefore, each father should lead his family to the church as a vital partner as he guides his family. He should be able to say, with the apostle Paul, that he ministers night and day with tears, declaring the whole counsel of God and refusing to count his life more dear than his ministry to his family (Acts 20:17-38). How are you doing pastor dad?

1. Randy Stinson, "Family Ministry and the Future of the Church," in Perspectives on Family Ministry, ed. Timothy Paul Jones (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 3.

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

Wise Technological Parenting


It is the apex of foolishness for parents to allow their children to have free and unaccountable access to technology-- smart phones, tablets, iPods, computers, etc. Before I explain the reasons why I believe this, I want to make clear, in no uncertain terms, that I'm not a Luddite. I'm not against the advancement and use of modern technological devices. Indeed, I have no desire to go back to the sixteenth-century! Quite the contrary, I'm profoundly grateful for the seemingly endless and valuable functions of iPhones, iPads, and computers. It's wonderful to be able to stay in touch with family and friends around the world through FaceTime and Skype, as well as through social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram. Even so, there is a dark and insidious side to our brave new world of information and connectivity; and, we would be exceedingly foolish to ignore it. Here are a few reasons why our children should not have free and unrestricted access to technological devices:

Internet Pornography. Internet porn is a pandemic of massive proportions. The statistics related to this wicked industry are staggering (see The porn industry generates thirteen billion dollars of revenue each year in the United States alone. One in eight online searches is for pornography, and the same goes for one in five searches on mobile devices. Twenty-four percent of smart phone users admit to having pornographic material on their device. Fifty-six percent of divorce cases involve one spouse with a porn addiction.

These statistics do not bode well for our youth. Did you know that nine out of ten boys and six out of ten girls are exposed to pornography before the age of eighteen? The average age that boys first come into contact with porn is twelve, and sixty-eight percent of young adult men (18-24 years old) use porn at least once a week. Nineteen percent of 18-24 year olds have sent a pornographic text (i.e. sext). It is most often during puberty that our youth get addicted to porn. Seventy-one percent of teens hide online activity from their parents, and the kinds of porn that teens access are too repulsive to even mention.

Yes, the problem of porn really is this bad. Having served in youth ministry for over ten years, there was always a steady stream of students confessing to me their deep struggle with internet pornography. Many at age fifteen or sixteen had already been regularly looking at it for several years. Over the course of my ministry I have counseled dozens of men (all ages) struggling with porn addiction. It has caused serious marriage problems.

For most the problem begins in their youth. And this makes sense, doesn't it? Tweens and teens are hormonal, curious, and immature. They are becoming more aware of their bodies and their attraction to the opposite sex. These discoveries and desires are natural and good. But the evil one seeks to twist, corrupt, and pervert these desires. Satan has come to "steal, kill, and destroy" (Jn. 10:10) our covenant children, and he is actively doing so through the porn industry.

To allow our children to have free and unrestricted access to the internet on one or more of their devices is to practically guarantee that they will be exposed to all manner of sexual perversion online-- and the consequences will be long-term. Therefore, any parent that knowingly gives their children this kind of freedom on their devices is acting profoundly foolish.

Ungodly Relationships. The world of social media and mobile connectivity is also causing significant issues among our youth. With little to no parental oversight, youth ages ten and up are privately texting, instant messaging, emailing, and calling friends, acquaintances, and those whom they hardly know. One friend shared with me that their seventh grade granddaughter had sent and received over 10,000 texts in a couple of weeks-- partly because she was texting half the night with her friends. Her parents weren't too happy with the over-usage fees that appeared on their monthly bill!

Many of the friendships and conversations that occur through these media sites would be off-limits if parents actually knew what was being seen and said. How are we to teach, shepherd, and protect our impressionable children if we are ignorant of the substance of their relationships? God's Word teaches us that "Bad company corrupts good character" (I Cor. 15:33). If our children are sending and receiving thousands of texts, instant messages, and emails per month without parental accountability and oversight, then we are being unwise at best.

There is a lot more that we could unpack on this important subject. But for now we must ask, "What should we do?" How should we, as Christian parents, approach these thorny issues related to modern technology? Well, certainly not as the world handles it. The world says to give kids what they want. The world says that kids will be kids, and we should let them sow their wild oats. The world says that everybody's doing it and we shouldn't make such a fuss. The world says that we shouldn't be so prudish. But none of these responses takes into account the word of God and the spiritual health of our children.

Christian parents are commanded to bring up their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). This entails protecting our children from the deceitfulness of the world, the schemes of Satan, and the foolishness of their youthful hearts. Here are a couple of simple ways to protect our children in our fast moving, technological age:

Password Protect/Block Internet Access. Can anything be more commonsensical? Make sure that every device in your home with internet access is password protected! This includes devices that a friend or neighbor may bring into your home. Make sure that you change your device passwords on a regular basis in case one of your kids may have looked over your shoulder and figured it out. If your child has an iPod, smart phone, tablet, or laptop, be diligent to password protect the internet access on the device and any other apps that might be an avenue for porn or soft porn (e.g. iTunes is full of illicit album and movie covers, and the search engine for Instagram contains a cesspool of filth). If you are unsure how to password protect the web browser on a device simply go online and find out how. If your kids need to get online for a school research project or for some other reason, make sure they do it in a visible location in the home (e.g. living room, kitchen table, etc.). Moreover, it is critical that you prepare your kids for what they might encounter outside the home, and how they should respond in situations where others seek to show them illicit images.

Strict Oversight/Social Media. How many of you would allow strangers to walk into your child's room, talk to them for several hours per day, and show them lots of personal pictures? How many of you would shrug your shoulders if your teenager developed inappropriate online relationships? That's essentially what's happening when we allow our kids to have unrestricted and unsupervised social media, texting, emailing, etc. Parents, it is extremely unwise not to monitor and limit your child's time on social media, especially in the early tween and teen years. Apps like Facebook and Instagram can be fun, but you need to set down clear rules, and consequences for breaking those rules. Also, please be aware that apps like Snapchat are almost impossible for parents to monitor, since images that are sent disappear almost immediately. It is easy to see how Snapchat has become a primary means of sexting among teens. I would recommend that it be deleted from our children's phones.

Of course, as our children get older, and as they approach college years, we need to slowly loosen the reins of parental oversight. One day our covenant children will be out on their own. Hopefully they will have gained some considerable wisdom and maturity before they go. However, especially in the early tween and teen years, they need consistent, firm, and loving oversight.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface of this important subject. Allowing our tweens and early teens carte blanche freedom on their devices is equivalent to letting our toddlers play soccer next to the freeway during rush hour. It's absolutely foolish, plain and simple. If ever we needed to be wise and courageous in our parenting, it is now.

Tuned in Parents on the Technological Frontier

I am a child of the technological frontier--the brave new world of exciting potential and seemingly limitless possibility. I learned how to type on a typewriter; but, how to spell on a Speak&Spell. As a young boy, I played video games on Commodore 64 and Atari. It wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 that Nintendo became a household object. Our family had one small TV with a rabbit ear antenna. We didn't have cable until the mid-90's. I distinctly remember my mom being enamored with Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and that she really didn't like me watching the Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy (which I, incidentally, loved watching). I'll never forget the day that my dad walked us into a computer store to buy our first home computer. I was around 10 or 11. The salesman tried to convince my dad that we would never need more than 256 MB of memory (we had absolutely no idea what that meant at the time, but now realize that he had no idea what he was talking about). Neighborhood friends had boxes full of floppy discs--on which they traded video games with each another. When I was 13, one of those friends showed me pornography for the first time on one of those discs. This brave new world of technology was becoming a frightening new world of evil breaking into our neighborhoods and homes. Now, fast-forward 30 years.

Computers, smart phones, video game consoles, held game systems and just about all other electronic devices give us instant access to everything the world has to offer. Our children will grow up in a world of virtual reality and interactive online communities. There are an estimated 4 million pornographic websites online. That number will only increase. What was once filled with shame and indignity is now celebrated and promoted at an alarming rate. Tragically, more and more children from Christian homes are being drawn to cutter websites and pagan forums--often unknown to their parents. Many are simply being secularized through the influence of their friends online. There is no way to know exactly how quickly things are moving or where it is all heading; but, if our parents were concerned about how to protect us from the worldly influences on the radio, videos, magazines and cable TV, how much more do Christian parents need to be informed, alert and vigilant in seeking to protect our children in this day of technological hyper speed!

I've been considering these things with an ever-increasing sense of urgency and sobriety as my sons near the age at which they become more and more susceptible to the allure of the evil in the world. There are several things to which I return again and again as I seek to counsel myself and other parents in our congregation regarding this issue. Here are four things to which we can commit as we labor to bring our children up in a way that is pleasing to the Lord:

  1. We Must Make Every Effort to Protect Our Children from the Unwanted Influences of the World.
  This necessitates that we are tuned into what our children are doing. We need to take an interest in what they are watching and in that with which they are involved online. I'm not suggesting that we suffocate or micromanage their lives. However, it is incumbent for us to protect our children, as much as possible, from the evil influences of the world around them. This does not mean that we will not have our children in the community--playing sports and actively involved in community events--or that they will not be allowed to have friends from unbelieving homes. It will mean, however, that we will closely monitor what they are saying and doing in the community and with those friends. It means teaching them what it means to be a witness to Christ to their unbelieving friends. After all, the Apostle Paul, taught the members of the church in Corinth that there was an expectation that they would have relationships with unbelievers:

  "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:9-10).

  Protecting our children from the unwanted influences of the world will mean using programs like Covenant Eyes on every electronic device on which we can put them in our homes. It might mean locking down their smart phones so that they cannot download apps that will give them unfiltered or unmonitored access to the internet. It does mean that we should know who they are texting and what is being texted. After all, the world can now reach into the lives of our children in their bedrooms in a way in which it could never in all of human history before the invention of the internet and smart phone.

  1. We Must Learn to Talk with Our Children about the Dangers That They Face.
  This is crucial. If we don't speak with our children about the wickedness of the world, rest assured that others will. It's vital for us to come to terms with the fact that we must start talking to our children about the evils with which they will be confronted. Recently, I was speaking with someone who has a friend involved with Backyard Bible Club (a Christian outreach to public school children) in a significant Southern town. The individual to whom I was speaking told me that sex was the overwhelming focus of the conversation of the fourth graders being picking up every week. We must now assume that children are being exposed to conversation about sexual matters at a much younger age than was true for many of us. A few months ago, I wrote a post at the Christward Collective that deals with the necessity of teaching our children the raw portions of Scripture. Teaching our children a biblical view of the blessing of sex and the evil of sexuality immorality is one of the best things that we can do for them. Teaching our children, from God's word, about the forms of evil with which they will be face is vital.

  1. We Must Remember that We Can't Change the Hearts of our Children.
  No amount of sheltering our children from the evil of the world without will keep them from acting on the evil of their hearts within. We can neither regenerate our child's heart nor bring him or her to a place of spiritual maturity. We must teach our children the Scriptures, pray with and for them, gather with the people of God for weekly public worship and discipline them in love...but you can't secure results. Only the Spirit of God, taking the finished work of Christ and sovereignly applying it to the hearts and minds of our elect children, can do this work in their hearts. The Spirit of God is the only One who can regenerate our children and He is the only one who can bring our children to spiritual growth and maturity.

  1. We Must Seek to Model Godly Living and Marriage in the Home and Church for our Children.
  While we recognize that we are powerless to change our children's hearts, we also recognize that the godly example that parents set in the home is one of the ways that the Lord works in the lives of our children. The means of grace that God has appointed in the church for the salvation of His people (i.e. the word, sacraments and prayer) are complemented by the godly example of believers. If our children see us loving our wives and modeling for them what it means to be a Christian family in the home--delighting in Christ together, as well as being deeply committed to Him in weekly worship and service in the Church--we can expect them to want to follow that example. If our sons see us speaking lovingly to and about our wives and showing affection for them (and for them alone!) that will be a powerful example for them to follow. At the end of the day, we want our children to see how different a Christian home is from the world--not in a fundamentalist or separationist sense, but in a Spirit-filled, word-saturated and Gospel-exalting sense. While I wandered from the Christian home in which I was raised, the godly example my parents set in the home was indelibly etched in my mind and heart. It stayed with me through the years of rebellion and wandering, and, has continued to aid me as my wife and I seek to raise our own children. The importance of godly example is something that is not always emphasized in this regard.

Sometimes it's difficult to teach our children the more raw parts in scripture. Pastor Nick Batzig covers this sensitive topic in his latest article at The Christward Collective.  

One of the things that I realized the first time that I taught through the book of Genesis is that the patriarchal narratives look far more like something that you would see on Showtime than something that you would hear on Focus on the Family. Whether it is the record of Cain murdering his brother, the sexual sin of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham's sin with Hagar, Judah's sin with his prostitute-pretending daughter-in-law, Simeon and Levi's cruel treatment of the men of Shechem, the betrayal of Josephs' brothers or the attempt of Potiphar's wife to lure Joseph into her bed, you don't have to move out of the first book of the Bible to come across what I like to call the "raw parts of Scripture."

As a pastor, I sometimes have parents express concern about that to which their young children are being exposed in church. Whether it is a reference to the Old Covenant sign of circumcision going on the male reproductive organ or some part of a biblical story being discussed in Sunday School--there is no way to avoid exposing our children to the raw portions of Scripture in a biblically faithful church. In fact, I would suggest that we are called to expose them to the reality of these things in the right way. The Bible is far more raw throughout than many of us wish to admit. In the words of Rich Mullins: 

The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart -- it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice -- it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.1

In fact, the central message of the Bible is the most raw--namely, the murder of the Son of God, who was torturously beaten, scourged and nailed to a tree by men in order to bleed to death for the raw sins of His people. Surely, we are to teach our children that raw truth from their earliest days!  As we consider this extremely difficult (and widely debated) subject, here are three reasons to teach your kids about the depravity of men as it is revealed in Scripture:

1. God Commands it. The Lord commanded the Israelites to diligently teach all of His word to their children. In Deuteronomy 11:18-21 we read:

Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.

Certainly this command, in the last book of the Law (i.e. Deuteronomy), includes teaching our children those raw portions of the first book of the Law (i.e. Genesis). Additionally, it includes teaching them those extremely specific laws against sexual sin (e.g. Exodus 22:19; Leviticus 18:6-18; 23; 20:13, 15-16, 17). This does not mean that we need to go into great detail with our very young children. Surely, the better part of wisdom is to teach them the whole counsel by reading through books of the Bible and wait until they ask particular questions about things that they hear. Even though the Bible is raw in its content, there is a measure of discretion in the way in which it speaks about sexual sin. For instance, it uses the euphemism "uncovering the nakedness" as code language for sexual intercourse. It uses the phrase, "He knew her," to describe a husband's sexual intimacy with his wife. Nevertheless, we must come to terms with the fact that God told the Old Covenant church members that they were not allowed to "mate with an animal" (Lev. 18:23). They were to teach their children this as well. 

By never talking about the raw parts of Scripture with our children, we inadvertently suggest that God shouldn't have included it in Scripture. We do not want to fall into the trap of being "more decent" than God. That will only harm our children's faith when they do finally come across these portions of Scripture about which we never had the courage to teach them. When they are faced with these things in the world, they will either not know how to engage sexually perverse unbelievers for the sake of the Gospel (1 Cor. 5:10) or they will be drawn into the perversity of their sin (Lev. 18:24). Ironically, many who think that they are sanctifying their children by not exposing them to the raw portions of Scripture are actually failing to make use of what God has given for our sanctification. God commands us to diligently teach our children the Scripture--including the raw parts--because they are a means to our sanctification (John 17:17) when taught in light of the Gospel. 

2. Culture Necessitates it. A friend and mentor recently said to me, "With the increased accessibility to, and acceptance of, pornography we will see an increase in perverse sexual sin in the church." Sadly--though I don't want it to be--I know that this is true. Far from isolating the Old Covenant church from knowing about gross immorality, the Lord instructed them concerning these things on account of the exposure that they would have to them by virtue of their nearness to pagan nations around them. God told Israel that they needed to avoid these things "for by all these the nations are defiled" (Lev. 18:24). It was precisely because of the actions of those around them that the Lord commanded Israel not to practice these things. So too, in our day--with the culture glorying in sexual immorality--it is incumbent on us to instruct our children about what they are to avoid. Ironically, when parents fail to do so, the result is often the opposite of that which they had intended. Many times, children--who have been isolated from the truth of the depravity in the world and of their own hearts--end up running headlong into the perversion of the world when they reach adulthood. Isolating our children from these things does not change their hearts. Their hearts will only be changed by the truth of the Gospel and the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit to regenerate them. 

Additionally, culture necessitates that we instruct our children for the sake of the defense of the faith. It will severely hurt our effectiveness in witness if we are not conversant with and able to explain the raw portions of Scripture. I have many times been challenged by an unbeliever regarding such things as herem warfare. It is important for us to explain to our children why it was that God commanded Israel to eradicate all the inhabitants (men, women and children) of the Promised Land. Of course, we need to know more than simply that He commanded it--we also need to know why He commanded it, in order to explain it. (Here is my attempt to bring in the importance of the redemptive-historical element). We need to be able to teach our children how to distinguish between the those ceremonial laws in the Old Testament--that were only for Israel until Christ came and fulfilled them in redemptive-history--and the moral laws against sexual sin found in the same books. In his article, "Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency," Tim Keller has done an excellent job of helping us defend our faith in this regard. Our children need to grow up learning about all that God has revealed in Scripture and how to defend the faith in relation to it. 

3. Our Hearts Need It. I sometimes wonder whether those who are overly cautious and overly zealous to protect their children from being exposed to the truth of depravity in the world--as it is revealed in Scripture--are simply not wanting to face up to and confess their own depravity. Allow me to explain. In legalistic, fundamentalist homes, there is often an attempt to isolate from the knowledge of the depravity of world in the name of holiness, while not owning up to the fact that we cannot isolate from the depravity of our own hearts. The self-righteous heart wants to acknowledge depravity "out there"--and insist that contamination merely comes from nurture--rather than pointing the finger "within"--and insisting that depravity is in all of us on account of the sin nature that we have all inherited from Adam. Without doubt, we want to guard our sinful hearts--and the sinful hearts of our children--from an unnecessary contamination of the depravity "without' (by what we perceive to be an overexposure to it)--but we don't do so by not talking about it. We do so by acknowledging that we have the same nature as those who practice such things, and that our God has taught us about the evil of these things so that we may--by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel--avoid them. 

That being said, I do believe that there is a right way to expose our children to these things. There can be an inappropriate crassness with which these things can be presented to children. In some homes, the pendulum swings the other way. Immature parents (and, yes, there are immature parents in any given church) who joke about perverted things can--and most certainly will--do irreparable harm to their children. Additionally--as I have already noted--when the Bible warns against sexually perverse sin, it does so in very specific ways--but it does so with a measure of verbal propriety. Thankfully, there are many other things in the Bible than these raw parts. This means that our children should be getting a healthy diet of all the different parts of Scripture and truths taught in the Scriptures. The raw parts are necessary parts, but they are not the only parts. They should be taught in proportion to the other truths of Scripture. When we are committed to reading through books of the Bible with our children, this will work itself out for us.  

When a pastor is about to preach through a book of the Bible that contains raw parts (e.g. Genesis, Leviticus or Judges), it would be a good thing for him to help prepare the parents for what their children are about to hear. If a minister is about to preach on Judges 19, it might be wise for him to give the parents of young children some notice--not so that the parents will keep the children out of the service that Sunday, but that they would be prepared to talk with their children about these things if their children ask them questions after the service. As a pastor of a congregation with many young children, I personally do not dwell at length on the raw parts of a text; however, I do not, skip over them since I am obligated by God to diligently teach the whole counsel. By giving the parents a "heads-up" regarding an intensely raw portion of Scripture, a pastor is really coming alongside the parents as they instruct their children in the home. 

There is always a spectrum regarding when--as well as to how much or how little--we expose our young children to biblical teaching on sexual sin, violence, etc. I lean to the side of exposing them for the sake of the reasons set out about. Others, however lean to the side of protecting their minds and hearts from what they deem to be unnecessary exposure. I am certainly not insisting that I have it all figured out. There is an inescapable uncomfortableness in talking about these things because of the shame of sin. I am not suggesting that we should have the "Rated-R Children's Story Bible," but I am suggesting that we do our children a disservice by skipping over the raw parts of the Bible in most of our children's story bibles. After all, we do have to ask the question, 'Where's Drunk, Naked Noah on the Sunday School Felt Board?" Teaching our children the raw portions of the Bible--as challenging as it may be--is a necessary part of the sanctification process for them. May God give us wisdom to do so for the good of their souls. 

To read this article online visit The

1. An excerpt from Rich Mullin's booklet, The World As Best As I Remember It.

Rewarding our Children for Obedience?

When it comes to parenting, I think there are some general principles that we can draw from the way God the Father treats his children. That is why I am not, in principle, opposed to various types of punishments for our children when they are disobedient. A spanking may be the best, most appropriate way to deal with sin in our young children (Prov. 23:13), but withholding privileges, for example, may also be a suitable punishment.
What about promising our children rewards for obedience, with the intention of motivating them to do what we ask?
Here I believe we may look at the way in which God rewards his children and appropriately, with great care and wisdom, apply this principle to the way we raise our children.
Given the plethora of teaching in the Scripture on rewards for good works (Rev. 22:12; Matt. 16:27; 25:14-30; Lk. 19:11-27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 11:26), I'm surprised the topic does not surface more than it does. God rewards our good works (WCF 16.6). Of course, we cannot merit rewards from good works because these good works are graciously given to us to do from eternity (Eph. 2:9-10). And the issue is not whether God rewards our good works, but can rewards for good works motivate us in any way?
It may be that some think that promising rewards for obedience leads to a slavish spirit. Anticipating this objection, John Owen acknowledges that some think "to yield holy obedience unto God with respect unto rewards and punishments is servile, and becomes not the free spirit of the children of God."

In response to this objection, Owen asserts that such a reaction is a "vain" imagination. Only the bondage of our spirits can make what we do servile. "But," says Owen, "a due respect unto God's promises and threatenings is a principal part of our liberty." He argues that in the new covenant the hope of rewards, for example, is actually a liberating motive for holiness. 

Those who are made partakers of the covenant of grace, and make use of the means of grace that God has appointed for believers, may find comfort in the fact that they will not fail to perform the obedience required by God "merely for want of power and spiritual strength" (2 Pet. 1:3; Matt. 11:30; 1 John 5:3).

The very fact that God promises rewards to his children will necessarily motivate his children to seek these rewards. How could we be indifferent to such promises? We would be disobedient children if we did not, in some measure, seek that which is so clearly promised in God's word. 

How, then, does this relate to parenting?

Parents, if they are able, naturally want to bless and reward their children. There is always a fine line between good theology and bad theology, and that line is perhaps a lot finer than we'd like to imagine. Some parents may seem to only be able to get their children to obey by either promising the child something if he/she does what is requested or by issuing a harsh threat (e.g., raising their voice even louder). Sometimes the parenting style is nothing more than a perpetual form of bribery, which ends up enslaving not only the parents, but also the children.

Our children need to know that they need to obey simply because this pleases the Lord (Col. 3:20). Even here, there is the motivation to please the Lord. Nonetheless, arriving at the place where they are only prepared to do something if they are promised this or that is a dangerous place to be. 

Yet, that doesn't necessarily mean we cannot motivate our children by sometimes promising them a reward for their obedience. Godly wisdom from the parents will, of course, dictate how often and the nature of the reward; but the principle itself is a way - not the way - to help our children obey. 

Returning to my original point, our Father in heaven has promised to reward us for things done in the body during this life (assuming they meet the requirements for what constitutes a good work). While we need to be careful in this matter, I think parents should, as they are able, learn to reward their children in appropriate ways so that they can teach their children, tangibly, what our Father in heaven is like towards his children. While there are many unconditional promises, there are plenty of conditional ("if you do this then ....") promises (and warnings) made to God's people.

To expect our children always to obey without ever promising a reward may be a case of provoking them to wrath. And here, as earthly parents, we may end up very much unlike our heavenly Father. 

God loves his children and delights to reward them for their imperfect obedience. Should we be any different with our own children?

By virtue of his sin Adam "was banished from that royal palace of which he had been the lord." Yet God did not leave Adam homeless; "he obtained elsewhere" -- somewhere east of Eden -- "a place in which he might dwell."

Adam quickly learned how complicated life in his downgraded digs would be. Everywhere he turned he was confronted with the consequences of his sin: "innumerable miseries;" "temporal exile;" ultimately "death itself." Everywhere he turned he was equally confronted with evidence of God's "paternal love" for him, even in the face of his rebellion, and sustained by reminders of the promise delivered to him and his wife of the "seed" who would one day triumph over the Serpent and thus regain for true believers that "life from which he had fallen."

Calvin discovers a case study in the complexities of life lived between the fall and the consummation -- life lived, that is, with constant reminders of both sin's consequences and God's "paternal love" -- in the meal plan that comes with Adam's new accommodation. Adam was "bereft of his former delicacies," but "he was still supplied with some kind of food." Adam could fill his belly, but nothing tasted quite so good as Eden's fruits had, and he had to eat his food with bandaged fingers (having wrestled with thorns and thistles to secure his meal).

A far more poignant reminder -- or two reminders, as it happens -- of the complexities of life lived between the fall and the consummation presents itself to Adam and Eve in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 4, in the form of twin baby boys. Calvin concludes that Cain and Abel were twins from the fact that Genesis mentions only one act of conjugal relations between Adam and Eve and one subsequent conception (Gen. 4.1), but two births (Gen. 4.1-2). According to Calvin's reasoning, humanity's first naturally born children were actually identical twins, though Calvin wouldn't have had the biological wherewithal to grasp the point. Twins, in Calvin's judgment, were far more common in the early years of humankind's history, "when the world had to be replenished with inhabitants."

"Adam recognized, in the very commencement of having offspring, the truly paternal moderation of God's anger." He recognized, in other words, how good God intended to be his human creatures, even when he had every reason to withdraw his goodness from them entirely. Few human pleasures, to be sure, compare with the birth of healthy babies, or speak so loudly of God's liberality towards us. Newborn babies trigger emotions of love, joy, and responsibility within us that we wouldn't have known we were capable of, and those emotions, most importantly, give us a partial glimpse at least into the "paternal" nature of God's sentiments towards his own image-bearing offspring.

But as every proper parent knows, the birth of children can also trigger emotions of fear and anxiety. The world is full of sinners (not least of all us), and we cannot help, as we hold our newborn children in our arms, but wonder what crimes will be committed against them (or, worse, what crimes they will commit) in however many years God gives them.

Of course, the worst fears of Adam and Eve for their twin boys came true. One son was brutally murdered. The other son committed the brutal murder in question. Adam must have felt both realities in a particularly poignant way, since his own personal decision to violate God's commandment lay at the root of his children's wayward inclinations and the tragic outworking of those inclinations. Adam's sense of horror at the perversity he had unleashed on the world by his defection from God could only have deepened as he lived to witness Cain's great-great-great-grandson Lamech both up the ante on Cain's violence (Gen. 4.23) and "violate the sacred law of marriage ... [and] perpetual order of nature" by committing polygamy (Gen. 4.19).

So "horror-struck" were "our first parents... at the impious slaughter" of their son and the subsequent crimes of Cain's lineage that they "abstained for a while from the conjugal bed." It would seem that Adam and Eve stayed out of "the conjugal bed" for quite a long "while" in fact, since Calvin apparently reads the renewal of relations and conception of Seth (Gen. 4.25) as chronologically subsequent to Lamech's misadventures (Gen. 4.19-24); i.e., Adam and Eve effectively "abstained ... from the conjugal bed" for a succession of five generations. Adam and Eve thus became the first of many human beings to wonder whether it's really a good idea to bring kids into this messed up world.

Calvin offers no insights into what, on his admittedly suspect reading of Adam and Eve's marital relations, eventually incited our first parents to re-ignite the procreative flame. But if we were to adopt his reading and push it even further, we might speculate that Adam and Eve's renewed inclination to have children was driven by the hope that their next named child, Seth, would be exactly who Seth turned out to be -- that is, one who, like his brother Abel before him, "called upon the name of the Lord," which Calvin reads as shorthand for engaging in "the whole worship of God." In Seth, and in Seth's own "rightly constituted family, the face of the Church began distinctly to appear, and that worship of God was set up which might continue to posterity."

Adam and Eve, in other words, overcame their fear of whatever evils their children might encounter or propagate in this life by resting upon God's promise that his ultimate gift, paradise regained, belonged to them and to their children. And in Seth (as in Abel) the highest hope that believing parents can sustain for their child, the hope that their child will himself or herself also believe by virtue of God's own faithfulness and gift, was realized. Adam and Eve eventually recognized that the worst thing about Cain's crime was not the crime itself, but the unbelief that informed his aggression against Abel and marked him as an alien to God's eternal fellowship. They likewise realized that however horrible the loss of Abel had been, Abel was an heir with them of God's eternal promises appropriated through faith; although they were deprived of Abel's company in this life, they would enjoy his company in the life to come forever.

Adam and Eve thus experienced the ultimate joys and sorrows of parenting. But the ultimate joy (the believing child) was joyful enough to lead them to entrust their future children's fortunes to God and fulfill his abiding command to be fruitful (Gen. 1.28). Though they had experienced the ultimate sorrow  (the unbelieving child), Adam and Eve moved forward in faith, confidant that even their tears over Cain and his sin would, in some way presently incomprehensible, be one day wiped from their eyes (Rev. 21.4).

As a footnote, it's worth noting that Calvin himself, when he wrote these comments on Gen. 4, had himself experienced his share of sorrows relative to children. During the nine years of Calvin's marriage to his wife Idelette (who was five years dead when Calvin published his Genesis commentary), none of the several children they conceived survived birth. Calvin knew the unfathomable sorrow which the loss of children can bring. But he, also, I think, knew some significant joy in the midst of the pain that losing children brings. He almost certainly had his own stillborn children in mind when he noted in his Institutes that "God... adopts our infants as his children before they are born." Though deprived of the company and joy of his children in this age, Calvin had every expectation of enjoying the company and joy of his children for eternity in the age to come.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL.