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missiology

Welcome to the second in what is likely to be a blog series that will last me the rest of my life (should blogs still be a thing in the future). This is a series where I freak out at the prospect of having to raise a real-life human creature! This is also a series in which I take my expensive theological education and figure out what that looks like on the ground, in real life, as a parent.

Youth group was a formative time for me, despite my absenteeism. Before I was ever married I accepted a job as a youth pastor at a church. All of this to say, the formation of children and young people is something that I thought about before ever having children. With marriage, comes talk of children. And with talk of children, comes talk of how you will raise said creatures and this of course involves matters including but not nearly limited to education.

Christina and I have spoken at decent length about education and what we’ll do when Charlotte and our other children reach that age. We’ve had similar conversations with our parents and family members. We have friends who homeschool, un-school, send their kids to private Christian school, send their kids to montessori school…the list goes on. For someone unfamiliar with options other than regular old public school these other methods may seem strange and scary. There are, however, some significant philosophical and methodological questions being asked here. There are significant advantages to pursing a non-public-school education for your children. Furthermore, for the Christian, there are really important issues to be grappled with here.

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I got into a discussion, of sorts, with some folks on facebook (where else?) the other day on the subject of what Christian parents ought to do about their children’s education. It was sparked by the video embedded above. The video is of Gary DeMar, founder (I think) of an organization called American Vision whose mission is to, “Restore America to its Biblical Foundation” by “Exercising Servanthood Dominion”. Then, when America “recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life…America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.” Phew. That was a mouthful.

At any rate, this is a growing opinion in some Reformed circles (though, I hesitate to even attribute the term “Reformed” to these groups as I’m not sure they’re getting the Reformers right…but I digress!). Here in Ontario, Christian parents are increasingly concerned about the public school curriculum (and for good reason, I might add). We are told all sorts of things about said curriculum: you’re child will learn about same-sex marriage in the 2nd grade; anal sex in the 7th grade; evolution (!); and so on and so forth. Worst of all, we’re told that parents have no say in the matter, perhaps because it may well be the case that parents do not have the right to control how their children will be educated. Now, some of this is indeed problematic and is worth challenging, but how?

Some of my brothers and sisters argue that Christian parents should withdraw their children from the public school system entirely. Indeed, this is touted as not only a Christian response but the Christian response. Listen to Gary in the video above: “If you really really believe in a Christian worldview and you really want to believe that you can make fundamental changes in the world, you’re not going to be able to do it with someone educating your children 6 hours a day 5 days a week 10 months out of the year for 12 years.” And again: “Every aspect of your life has to be awash in the things of God’s word, you can’t do that if you’re sending your kids off to a completely different worldview.”

Did you catch that? (I hope you did, I italicized it.) “You’re not going to be able to do it”. “You can’t do that if…”.

Removing one’s children from the public system is held up as the only fitting Christian response to this current crisis. This, I argue, is at best fear-mongering rooted in ignorance. And, (perhaps) well intentioned but ultimately irresponsible leaders like Gary here are having a negative impact on everyday Christians (surprise!). I recently had a sister in the Lord tell me that if I sent my daughter to public school that she would come home dressed as a boy and confused about her gender (!). I had another conversation with a university professor at a Christian institution who attempted to convince me that not only was the public school system “at odds with the Christian faith” but that Christians in N. America are a persecuted people group and that the public school system is out to teach our children that “white, male, heterosexual, evangelicals” are “archetypal oppressor(s)”. Thus, Christian children will be educated within a system that considers them “structural oppressors”. As a result, our children will be unable/unwilling to self-identify as a Christian in the public system. When I was unconvinced by this gentleman’s arguments he proceeded to tell me that I was naive, irresponsible, and putting my children’s innocence at risk.

I sincerely wish I was making this up.

The new face of "structural oppression", according to concerned Christian parents and their understanding of the public school curriculum.

The new face of “structural oppression”, according to concerned Christian professor and his understanding of the public school curriculum.

This post is already getting long-winded. My point here is simply to suggest that (1) Christians have nothing to fear from the public school system because Christians have nothing to fear, and (2) there is not a Christian response to this matter only varied responses from varied Christians whose ultimate desire is the same — faithfulness to Christ in the midst of a watching world. These matters take wisdom, patience, and much prayer. I’ll try to make a point of writing a follow-up post in which I will offer another possible option for Christian parents that differs from the one expressed in the video above. In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Michael Ramsey:

“Let me add one final counsel. Beware of attitudes which try to make God smaller than the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus…Whenever exponents of the Christian faith treat it as something which we have to “defend” like a beleaguered fortress or a fragile structure they are making God to be smaller than he is…(c) So too there is a spirit of fearfulness which thinks that no good can ever come of movements which are outside the camp of Christendom, forgetting that God could use a Cyrus, an Assyria, or an altar-to-an-unknown-deity in his great purpose in history. We are not indeed to confuse what God does as redeemer in the unique sphere of gospel and Church with what he does as illuminator through the light that lighteth every man (sic); but to be blind to the latter is not to enhance the former or to understand it better.”

And again: “But certain distinctions can be drawn. It is one thing to state main Christian principles, or to denounce a particular downright evil. It is another thing to commend a particular programme, on which the technical skills and wisdom of competent Christians may differ, and to say “This is the Christian programme”, as if to unchurch or label as second-grade any Christians who might for good reasons dissent.

I welcome input and even push-back on this matter! Thoughts?!

Lord, grant us wisdom. Amen.

A group of persecuted Christians praying outside of the Canadian Parliament, Ottawa.

A group of persecuted Christians praying outside of the Canadian Parliament, Ottawa.

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I was recently talking to someone about church planting and I was struck by some things. Andrew Jones recently suggested that we fore-go planting churches for “kingdom activity”. The person I had been talking to proposed that in a church plant situation you may not actually have a public worship gathering for 3-5 years. Generally, I think, missional wisdom begins with inhabiting a neighbourhood incarnationally, discerning the needs of that neighbour and seeking to meet them, evangelism, discipleship, and then a public worship gathering.

My fear here is that we have separated missiology from ecclesiology. David Fitch expresses this same concern here. Mission is not something which can be lopped off from the life of the church and done “out there”. Missiology is ecclesiology. Evangelism and discipleship, good as they are, are nonsensical apart from the Christian community in which the claims of the gospel are made sense of. What good is an argument for the gospel apart from a community where that gospel is embodied and lived out, where that gospel is transforming lives.

So then, it would seem that the above church planting logic is theologically suspect for it assumes that the gospel can be rationally understood apart from a community which forms people who can understand the gospel. One cannot understand the gospel apart from Christ and Christ is present in the community of faith which is his Body, in Word and Sacrament. Thus, any sort of church planting expression must begin with a community that worships together publically. This is not the end and hopeful goal. This is the beginning from which a life of mission can be lived. For it is only in the church that folks learn what it means to be people on mission, for the good of the world. There is no mission without the church. There is no church that is not on mission. The church is, as someone somewhere has said, the hermeneutic of the gospel, that community which embodies and is embodied by the gospel, that community where people are formed who are capable of bearing in their life together the love of God for the world. Thus, any mission effort which attempts to exist apart from the life of a worshipping community is ultimately misguided.