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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 should preface this entire post by saying there is no possible way to say what I’m going to say without bothering some folks. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that everyone ought to do it this way, hell, I’m not even sure if my wife agrees with me or not as we haven’t talked about this (so maybe blogging about it isn’t the best, but hey). Also, these are not entirely complete thoughts, so I welcome dialog and push-back wherever you may see fit. OK, onwards and upwards..

I remember when I found out that the whole jolly-fat-guy-with-a-white-beard-and-a-red-suit thing was a hoax. Yeah, Santa. That guy. The guy upon whose lap your little children sit as they tell him all the shitty things they want for Christmas (God, it sounds pathetic, don’t it?). But anyways, if I’m remembering this correctly I think I was in about the 3rd or 4th grade and Ryan Neily told me it was all a lie. I went home that day and conned my mother into telling me the truth (i.e. “Mom, if I ask you something do you promise to tell me the truth?”). It worked and I never looked back, except for that time…

Christians understand time differently. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Church understands time differently so Christians ought to do so. For example, the secular year runs from January though December and has something to do with the rotation of the earth around the sun, or the tides, or werewolves or something. In contrast to this, the Christian year begins with the season of Advent and culminates with the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe (in many Western churches, anyway). That is to say, the Church does not understand time in light of the rotation of the earth around the sun but in light of the redemptive work of God in Christ. We begin not with “January” but with eagerly awaiting the coming of Christ. We end not with “December” but with the proclamation that Christ is indeed enthroned in power and glory in this very moment. This is central to how Christians (ought) to understand time, and it is indeed central to our identity.

The Church Year is peppered throughout with various holy days and festivals. The two big ones are, no surprise here, Christmas and Easter. Christians understand these in light of how they understand time, that is, they understand these seasons in light of the coming of the Son of God to the world and so on and so forth. This is what seasons like Christmas and Easter are about. When we dumb this down, or remove it entirely, or remove just enough of it to make it non-sensical we are left with a vacuum. Now, I can’t speak to the origins of Santa Claus (rearrange “Santa” and you get “Satan”, just saying. Kidding.), and/or the Easter Bunny but insofar as they have meaning in Western society it is to fill the void that is left when we forget the story that we’re meant to remember. Now, this is to be expected of the world, of course…the forgetting of the story that is. Amnesia. Christians on the other hand, must not forget (though we often do and that’s another matter entirely). How the Church guards herself against amnesia is via anamnesis. You’ll notice the etymological similarity here (the words look awful alike!).

Anamnesis means to remember, but it’s more than that. It’s not simply a recollection of a past and distant event, rather, it’s the re-presentation of that event, it’s being-made-present. There’s a sort of defiance when it comes to anamnesis, I think. A sort of, “yeah, it might not appear to be so but it damn well is!”

Aside from the fact that Santa Claus is a bold-faced lie, I’m interested in the possibility of cultivating our children to see and understand the world rightly, in light of the in-breaking work of God in Christ. Maybe this means resisting the vampiric, soul-sucking, death-dealing consumerism that seems to be associated with Christmas (and, yes, Easter). Maybe this means forgetting about a fat guy that gives you everything your grubby, selfish little hands can grab at and remembering the Advent of the Son of God. Hell, St. Nicholas is where this mythological beast named Santa got his beginnings, and he’s certainly a fellow worth remembering. (UPDATE: Did you know that St. Nicholas allegedly punched Arius? Well, he did. Take that, fat man.)*

What do you think? Am I being a grump? Should I just back off and let my kids enjoy the magic of Santa and his gift-giving goodness?

Let me know what you think. And if you have kids or plan to I’d be interested in hearing what you’ve done or plan to do.

Postlude: I should say, in light of some expected criticism, that this all only makes sense when our lives are located within a particular story. That is to say, this post is addressed primarily to myself, and then to my Christian brothers and sisters.

*Thanks to Paul Lubberts for this tidbit.

I posted last week about some of my pet peeves with children’s bibles, among other things. I’m the father of a 15 month old girl, so this is a new and live topic for my wife and I. At any rate, a few people recommended The Jesus Storybook Bible. I looked it up online and saw that the subtitle was, “Every story whispers his name.” I was immediately impressed at this perceived spiritual reading of scripture and became curious to check it out.

Well, I picked it up today for 40% off (The Anglican Book Centre in Toronto is closing in January, so big sales!). Here is a snippet of how the book begins:

…Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heros in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne — everything — to rescue the one he loves…There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the centre of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

I’m very impressed! What a wonderful beginning! We’ve only read the first few pages, but already this book gets the JT stamp of approval. To all you parents of young ones out here, this is a great resource.

As the father of a 15 month old, I’m quickly coming to realize that being a parent works your theological muscles! There is so much about parenting that requires theological reflection and practice. Everything from education and schooling to bibles made for children.

One idea that I’ve been thinking about lately is how to pass on the faith to your children. When St. Paul talks about “passing on” or “handing over” the faith he’s literally talking about a traditioning. The Christian faith is not something we invent, nor is it something that simply falls out of the sky into our laps. You don’t get to make the Christian faith up, unfortunately. The life of faith has built into it a traditioning, a “handing over”.

Interestingly, the Christian faith is not dependent on having children. The survival of the people of God is not premised upon “being fruitful and multiplying”. Rather, the Christian faith is premised upon baptism. New folks, responding to the gospel and being baptized into the life of the church.

But what does this mean for children, once they are baptized? What does it look like for parents to “tradition” the faith to their children?

It seems to me that we generally understand this to be the job of the parents. But is this necessarily so? When a child is baptized they too are taken up into the life of the church and made a member of Christ’s body. Thus, the faith of the child is dependent, not upon the parents didactic teaching of the faith, but on the passing on of the faith to the child from the whole church. In worship the child learns the rhythms of a life in the hands of God. In the liturgical year the child learns that time itself is God’s very own creation and it’s fullness is found in the life of Christ.

Of course, this isn’t to say that parents don’t play a roll in all of this. Certainly they do. It’s just to say that the parents roll needs to be understood in light of the life of Christ as present in the church.

Yet, this is precisely the opposite message you most often hear (at least in Protestant churches as I am most familiar with). Within the wacky world of Western Evangelicalism you have all sorts of products geared towards children, products meant to teach them the faith. Take my latest annoyance, the children’s bible. This has been a sort of theological conundrum for me recently. What the hell am I to do with this thing? “Little Girls Bible Storybook”? Lord, come quickly! There’s all sorts of problems I see with this stuff. There’s the obvious selection of particular stories, the kind that look and feel good in a storybook. With selection, of course, comes neglect. There’s the sentimentalizing of the Bible: “Aww, look at Noah with his big boat and all those cute fuzzy animals!” There’s the glaring consumerism: Bible’s made and marketed to a particular demographic (i.e. little girls and their mothers) because there is money to be made, obviously. And of course, this all presupposes that the parents will sit down and read these shitty sentimental stories to their children. One-on-one, parent to child discipleship of sorts.

Let’s be clear, though, can we? This hurts our children more than it helps, I think. Children will not be formed in the faith via sentimental and consumerist products. Well, to be sure, they’ll be formed in a particular faith, but it’s debatable how closely this resembles the Christian faith. I’d like to see us recapture the life of the church here. This is where children are formed, this is where the faith is traditioned to children – not the faith of the parents, but the faith of the church.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh here? Unrealistic? Naive? I’m a first time parent, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

In this post I’d like to make an attempt to argue for infant baptism. Specifically, I want to counter some of the main evangelical arguments against that I outlined earlier in this post. Thus, the argument I want to make here consists of 3 main points: 1) A focus on the communal/relational nature of our faith, 2) grace, and 3) baptism as a real event.

1) Community over individual.
The evangelical community treats baptism as the public display of a decision made by a particular individual. To be baptized one must “own” their faith and make a cognitive “decision for Christ”. I would argue that the individualism so prevalent in this persuasion is rooted in Western (post) Enlightenment thinking wherein “the individual” became the preeminent being. Against this the Judeo-Christian faith is not an individualistic faith. While always personal it is never private. While we can really have a relationship with God this is a relationship that takes shape in a real community of believers rather than locked away in your bedroom with your bible (nothing against personal devotions here). Fundamentally as human beings we are not individuals. Our very being is constituted in relation (with God, others and the non-human creation). If then our very being is relational it is harmful to frame baptism with the individualism we inherit from the forefathers of Western thought.

I would argue instead that baptism is entrance into the people of God. While this is most evident in the NT we see it also has effect in the OT (i.e. 1 Cor 10:2). To be baptized is to be baptized into something. We descend in the water with Christ and in so doing participate in his death with him and with our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. When we come up out of the water we are raised with Christ and with those who have gone before us into the eschatological community which surrounds Jesus. As such, baptism is much like the eucharist in which we are consumed and become  a Body.

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ,” (Gal 3:26-28).

2) Grace over cognition.
The evangelical community makes the content of one’s baptism their “decision for Christ”. Thus, what becomes important (and must come prior to baptism) is a cognitive decision that is made for Jesus (believe and be baptized!). Yet, in contrast with this view I find myself sympathetic with Luther on the matter of baptism. Luther viewed infant baptism as pure grace. For here is a tiny helpless infant, she cannot make any sort of cognitive decision for Christ nor can she publicly proclaim her faith yet she is initiated into the people of God. She could do nothing to earn this. Grace.

The Meeting House is doing a series at the moment in conversation with various Christian traditions. The first talk in this series was in conversation with Anglicanism and featured a dialogue between Bruxy and John Bowen (a prof of mine from Wycliffe). Bowen asked the question, “What if we think of baptism as the way you register in the school of Jesus Christ?” So, perhaps you enter the school of Jesus at 13, 25, 60. Naturally, you are baptized. But suppose you raise your child in this school from day 1? Why not baptize them as well? This is the view that I have become convinced of myself. Baptism is not the medal you get for crossing the finish line and arriving at all the right conclusions about Jesus. Rather, baptism is the gate through which you enter into the people of God and journey with them to discover and be formed by the God revealed in Christ Jesus.

My friend Jason gave this as a counter argument to the “cognitive decision” that evangelicals argue must come before baptism: “A related test case might be the baptism of mentally challenged people who are unable of making adult decisions. Do we baptize people who are incapable of uniting their faith with the water? Or do we baptize them as a sign that God’s love overcomes even this weakness?”

Baptism is not earned by confessing the right thing. Rather, baptism is entrance into a community where we learn to confess the right thing. Grace.

3) Real over symbolic.
Thus, where evangelicals speak of baptism as a symbolic action that points to the inward (real) faith of a particular individual I would argue that baptism is a real event (not just a symbol) and a real sacrament of God’s grace in our lives whereby we actually are baptized with Christ into his death and resurrection and actually are raised to new life in the midst of a community of resurrection. Baptism is thus important. It’s not simply one possible option that a cognitive individual can add on to their faith like adding power windows to the base model of your new car. Baptism is not just another possible choice at the buffet of religious goods and services. Baptism is, rather, a real event with real bearing in the life of faith.

In closing and in relation to all 3 points above consider this. Christian parents do not bring their children up neutrally. They do not bring them up so that one day they may make a decision (at age 16, obviously) and become part of the Body, rather, they bring them up as part of the Body. Faith is not merely a decision, it is a habit that you learn and children are capable of learning the habit of faith long before they ever “make a decision”. Thus, Christian families should baptize their children as infants because they are being enrolled in the school of Jesus from Day 1.

John Bowen published a book on the life of the Catholic missionary Vincent Donovan (actually the book was a collection of Donovan’s missionary letters). In some of his letters Donovan recalls how he would meet a new tribe (he was somewhere in the African continent) and teach them the faith for a year. Then, at the end of the year he would ask them to be baptized. Of course, there was a problem. You see, that old gentleman over there, well, he slept through 3/4 of the classes and that young girl over there, well, she ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed. So everyone else could be baptized but not them. The chief of the tribe then approached Donovan and said something to the effect of, “Either you baptize us all or none of us will be baptized. We will help each other along.”

Thoughts?

ps – While I agree with all of this in theory the real church community that we are part of does not practice infant baptism, unfortunately. Since that is our community it looks like little Charlotte will be unable to be baptized although I hope that in the future denominations that hold to “believers baptism” will recognize that this does not necessarily require a “decision for Christ” on behalf of the person being baptized. Charlotte, despite the fact that you are fed from a breast and constantly poo yourself, despite the fact that you can’t decide what you want to do for the day let alone decide to follow Jesus, God’s grace is extended to you anyways. You are a part of God’s people and no decision could earn that reality for you.