White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Should You Pray for God to Save Your Loved Ones?

 

Calvinists hear Arminian friends ask this question all the time. It’s usually intended as a rhetorical question. In other words, it’s really a statement: If you believe that your unbelieving friend is dead in sin until God unilaterally regenerates him or her, and that God has unconditionally chosen whom he will save, then what’s the point? Que sera, sera: Whatever will be, will be.

Of course, this is a terrific objection to hyper-Calvinism, but misses its Reformed target. Our confessions teach that God works through means. Though the Father has chosen unconditionally some from our condemned race for everlasting life in his Son, the elect were not redeemed until he sent his Son “in the fullness of time,” and they are not justified until the Spirit gives them faith in Christ through the gospel. To invoke Paul’s argument (on the heels of teaching unconditional election), “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14-15, 17).

For years now, I’ve reversed this rhetorical question, asking, Why would anyone pray for the conversion of their loved one if God were not sovereign in dispensing his grace? Arminians shouldn’t pray for God to save their loved ones, because God could reply, “Look, I’ve done my part; now the ball is in your court.” Yet, I note, Arminians are typically no less zealous in praying for the salvation of the lost than Calvinists. We’re at one on our knees.

Not so quickly, says Roger Olson, a distinguished Baptist professor and author of Arminian Theology. By now, readers of this blog may know that my friend Roger and I have been engaged in conversations about these things. He wrote, Against Calvinism, and I wrote For Calvinism, and we have taken up these issues in person as part of our White Horse Inn “Conversations” series. We’re both trying to understand each other’s views charitably, if nevertheless critically. In that spirit, the following…

In a recent post, Roger stirred up a hornet’s nest by suggesting that “Arminians should not pray to God to save their friends and loved ones.” It may be that one is using “save” differently. However, “Normal language interpretation would seem to me to indicate that asking God to save someone, without any qualifications, is tantamount (whatever is intended) to asking God to do the impossible (from an Arminian perspective).”

He adds, “So, if a person asks me about such praying I will lead off the discussion with ‘What do you intend for God to do?’ If the person says ‘I am asking God to intervene in their life to force them to repent and believe’ I will say ‘That’s not possible’ and explain why.”

(Now, Roger, I do have to quibble here: Who on earth, including the staunchest Calvinist, is going to mean by that, “I am asking God…to force them to repent and believe”? Again, you have to look at our confessions for our views on the subject and they all unanimously teach that in effectually calling us the Spirit does not coerce or force our will, but frees it from its bondage to sin and death. Faith is entirely the gift of God and entirely the free response of a human being who has been made alive by the Spirit through the gospel.)

Roger’s point is that an Arminian who prays this kind of prayer is acting like a Calvinist, but in fact asking God to “force them to repent and believe” is not a Calvinist way of praying.

Having said that, I do think that Roger has consistency on his side when it comes to his own position. “‘Lord, save my friend’ (without qualification) normally reflects monergism, not synergism.” (Since Paul said that “my heart’s prayer to God for [fellow Jews] is that they may be saved” [Rom 10:1], I’m delighted now to find that this is yet another proof-text for monergism!)

Professor Olson is not being picky, going around telling fellow Arminians not to pray for folks; he just wants their prayer to be consistent with their theology. He explains, “If I hear my pastor or Sunday School teacher or a student pray something like ‘God, please save so-and-so’ I will probably go to that person and inquire what they meant and suggest changing the words in the future to match the intended meaning. Why? Because public prayers also teach. People hearing a pastor or Sunday School teacher or student pray such a prayer will probably get the wrong idea (unless the prayer was intended monergistically).”

I’m glad that most Arminians are not consistent on this point. Since God does use means (including our prayers) to accomplish his purposes, it is a good thing indeed that Christians of any stripe are asking God to bring their loved ones—and ours—to saving faith in Christ, just as God used the prayers of all sorts of people in our case. And it’s a good thing that God can in fact answer that prayer, isn’t it?

Muslim Persecution of Christians

As we have seen the Arab Spring turn into a scorching summer throughout many countries in the middle east, we are also beginning to hear more and more about the difficulties faced by minority Christian populations in those regions. Even where somewhat democratic regimes have offered promising hopes for religious freedom (as in Indonesia), the pace of persecution is stepping up around the world. A recent article by the Gatestone Institute provides an up-to-date summary:

Muslim Persecution of Christians: May 2012

Unlike those nations, such as Saudi Arabia, that have eliminated Christianity altogether, Muslim countries with significant Christian minorities saw much persecution during the month of May: in Egypt, Christians were openly discriminated against in law courts, even as some accused the nation’s new president of declaring that he will “achieve the Islamic conquest of Egypt for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam;” in Indonesia, Muslims threw bags of urine on Christians during worship; in Kashmir and Zanzibar, churches were set on fire; and in Mali, Christianity “faces being eradicated.”

Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa—in Nigeria, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, the Ivory Coast—wherever Islam and Christianity meet, Christians are being killed, slaughtered, beheaded and even crucified.

To read the rest of this article click here: Muslim Persecution of Christians: May 2012.

To read more about Christianity and Islam, check out the July / August 2012 issue of Modern Reformation “The Cross and the Crescent

WHI-1108 | Understanding Islam (Part 1)

Islam is in the news a lot these days, but what do we really know about this world religion? Who was Mohammed, and why did he set out to write the Koran? How did Islam evolve into its present state? Can it coexist with other religions and political regimes? On this program, Michael Horton discusses these questions and more with Islamic specialist Adam Francisco.

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Christ & Islam,
Michael Horton

MUSIC SELECTION

Dave Hlebo

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Review of Simonetta Car’s Weight of a Flame

Olympia Morata (1526-1555) was without doubt a woman full of potential, even from her earliest years. As a brilliant young scholar with a passion for knowledge and an immense capacity to learn, she held the opportunity for an illustrious career in the palms of her hands. However, Olympia’s legacy lay not in her contributions to any field of academic study, nor in the power and fame she easily could have attained through her work. Rather, she lived, worked, and endured persecution for a goal that she considered to be far greater than any recognition of men—her faith in her savior. Simonetta Carr’s novel Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata recounts the story of this godly woman and her growth from a young girl brimming with an eagerness for knowledge to a mature adult striving for the sake of the gospel. As part of the Chosen Daughters series, this novel is intended for an audience primarily comprised of young girls, but Olympia’s riveting story and inspiring example is beneficial for any Christian to read.

The novel begins with Olympia’s early teenage years just before she leaves her home to work as a tutor in the court of the Duke of Ferrara. While employed there, Olympia is exposed to a wealth of learning and opportunities, and at this time her highest goal is to attain academic excellence and recognition. The plight of the Protestant faith, both in her native Italy and throughout Europe, is well known to Olympia, as her family and members of the court constantly fear for their safety due to their beliefs. However, the young teenager doesn’t place great importance on the issue at first. She questions her faith and is full of doubts, but she doesn’t seek advice or help with her struggles because her academic pursuits are her first priority.

At this point, Carr masterfully communicates the transition in Olympia’s character that grants this novel its power. After serving the court for many years and growing in academic knowledge, Olympia suffers two losses: the death of her father and the end of her position in the court. The first tragedy brings her faith to the forefront of her mind, as her devout father was always an inspiration to Olympia. However, it is the second event that causes a turning point in the young woman’s life. Without a position in the powerful court and a budding reputation as a brilliant scholar, Olympia is stripped of the earthly power that made her feel secure in the world. She is forced to realize that truly, the accomplishments of men are merely temporal and can be snatched away in a second. It is here that Olympia finally relinquishes her pride, her abilities, and her service, taking them away from focusing on worldly pursuits and instead dedicating her life to the glory of God.

After this turning point, Olympia’s example is even more inspiring. She continues to write and work diligently over academic activities, but now her first priority is using her talents for the benefit of the faith she confesses. The rich history of this time period is explored as Olympia and her husband, Andreas Grunthler, endure persecution, war, and sickness in their struggle to survive the harsh anti-Protestant climate that engulfed most of Europe. Sadly, Olympia died from the lingering results of a fever acquired during wartime; she was not quite twenty-nine at the time of her death.

At first, it may sadden the reader to realize that, due to Olympia’s brief life, she was never able to impact the world around her to a greater extent through her prodigious learning and academic abilities. However, thanks to Carr’s beautiful portrayal of Olympia’s spiritual dedication and maturity, the reader is reminded that Olympia’s true legacy is far greater than any written work or course of study. Her brief but shining example of godliness and devotion to her faith is more inspiring than all the temporal achievements and accolades of a long and prolific life. Carr’s novel is intended to share Olympia’s story with young girls, but the lessons contained in this tale are ones that would benefit a Christian of any age. Olympia Morata is a powerful example of the importance of dedicating one’s ambitions, talents, and life to God, and striving not for glory here on earth, but desiring ultimately “to live in that heavenly home in which it is more pleasant to dwell for one short day than it is to spend a thousand years in the courts of princes” (141).


Madeline Taylor is a member of Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA.

The Parent as Youth Pastor

“Doing youth ministry without parents is like driving a car without the engine.”
- Mark Devries[1]

It’s no secret anymore, youth ministry is in a state of crisis. Polls of recent years report over and over the dire percentages of youth who leave the church after high school. Whatever the exact percentage actually is, what seems clear enough is that more young people are choosing to leave the church than choosing to stay. [2] The million dollar question is, of course, “Why is this happening?” And while there are certainly multiple factors involved in this mass exodus, I believe that a primary contributing factor is the loss of emphasis on the central role of the parent in the spiritual nurture of their children. Much of the youth ministry done in recent decades seems to have forgotten that parents are commanded to be, and by God’s design will necessarily be, the primary youth pastors for their children—for better or for worse. And when the central role of the parents is neglected, a major deviation from God’s design for youth ministry has taken place that can only be harmful for youth in the long term.

In order to start righting the ship, churches must first of all re-embrace the responsibility given to parents by God to be the front line “youth pastor” for their children. In the Old Testament, the priests had the general responsibility to teach all of the people the Word of God, but parents were given a special responsibility to teach their children. Moses commanded the people of Israel “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut 6:6-9). The same principal is in the New Testament. Pastors have the general responsibility to preach and teach God’s word to God’s people (including the youth), but the only command regarding the training and discipling of children is given directly to parents: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). This does not necessarily mean that there is no place for a church to have a “youth ministry” apart from parents, but it does mean that youth ministry must be built on this central foundation. Proverbs 22:6 states “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This proverb is not a universal promise that every child who is trained by his parents will grow up to be a Christian, but it is a general principal that God has given for us to live by. Generally speaking, God uses the means of Godly parents who prayerfully and diligently seek to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” to convert them. God has designed the home, not the youth group, to be the spiritual nursery where the Christian faith is taught and modeled to children from their earliest years.

Secondarily, parents and churches must embrace a more sober estimation of what youth ministry actually accomplishes. Part of what has created the current crisis in youth ministry is that churches have assumed that the youth pastor and youth programs are more important than they really are. Again, this is not to say that there is no place for a youth pastor, youth group, or youth programs. When these things are Biblically grounded they can be a real blessing to youth. The reality is, however, that in most cases the overall influence of a youth pastor and youth group on a child will be insignificant when compared to that of the parents. “It’s time for a reality check,” says Mark Devries, “Youth ministries, in and of themselves, have limited power to produce lasting change in young people’s lives.” [3] As case in point, let me use myself as an example. As a youth pastor, one of my priorities is to spend as much time as I can with the youth. On a good week, a week that I am able to see a specific youth in several different venues, I may be able to spend 6-8 hours with him or her, although most of that time is in a group setting. On other weeks, the only personal interaction I may have with them is at Church on Sunday morning and a text or facebook message during the week. I pray that God will bless the time that I have with them, but I know that it is not enough.

Parents, by contrast, spend every day with their children. For 18 years they live life with them: waking, eating, sleeping, praying, playing, laughing, crying, arguing, and the list goes on. As a result, parents know their children like no other adult will ever know them, and they will have more influence on them for spiritual good or ill than any other adult ever can. Thomas Manton, writing in the 17th century, called on the “Heads of Families” to recognize this special influence:

How much the serious endeavors of godly parents and masters might contribute to an early seasoning the tender years of such as are under their inspection, is abundantly evident, not only from their special influence upon them, in respect of their authority over them, interest in them, continual presence with them, and frequent opportunities of being helpful to them; but also from the sad effects which, by woeful experience, we find to be the fruit of the omission of this duty.” [4]

If a child has a negligent youth pastor, Godly parents will easily counter his influence. But if a child has negligent parents, very rarely will a youth pastor be able to overturn the “sad effects” of which Manton speaks. Jonathan Edwards put it boldly: “…Family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual. If these are duly maintained, all other means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful.” [5]

Thus, if we are going to stem the tide of youth leaving the church, I believe a key component is a fresh awareness of the centrality of the parents for youth ministry. Parents are the church’s primary youth pastors, and a central place in youth ministry today must be given to helping parents embrace that privilege and responsibility, and equipping them to do it. Youth ministry has a valid and important supporting role to the parents, but it must never become a substitute. Our youth are too important to allow that to happen.


Scott Korljan is an assistant pastor at North City Presbyterian Church in Poway, CA.


1. Mark Devries, Family Based Youth Ministry, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1994), 85.[Back]

2. www.christianitytoday.com/le/2009/summer/istheeraofagesegmentationover.html?start=1 This is not an isolated report, the Southern Baptist convention in a 2002 Report on Family Life reported that 88% of children in evangelical homes leave church at the age of eighteen. [Back]

3. Devries, Family Based Youth Ministry, 78. [Back]

4. Document online at www.reformed.org/documents/index.html. [Back]

5. As quoted in Devries, Family Based Youth Ministry, 85. [Back]

What are you reading?

Thad Bergmeier is a pastor in Ohio who recently blogged about his experience reading through Mike Horton’s Christless Christianity with a group of other pastors in his area. He says,

I would recommend this book with one caveat. Make sure you know what you are in for when you pick up this book. He withholds no punches. He is sarcastic at times. It is a sad, but accurate, picture of the current church in America. And it is not the easiest book to read. But if you want to come face to face with a message that speaks truth and isn’t afraid to use names, this will be a good book for you.

Thad’s recommendation got us thinking: what are you reading right now and how is it making a difference for you? Especially in light of our recent White Horse Inn episode on Scatterbrains, we want to encourage you to do some heavy intellectual lifting, maybe even turn off the computer (gasp!), and equip yourself with tools for ministry (like Thad) or information that expands not just your head, but also your heart.

Go ahead: close the browser, then pick up a book. After you read it, come back and tell us what’s changing in your life.

WHI-1107 | The Narcissism Epidemic

Many churches in our day offer entertaining music, fluffy sermons, and demand nothing. In short, they give people what they want. But what if “what they want” is informed by a culture of narcissism? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton talks with psychology writer Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and coauthor of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (originally aired Aug 2, 2009).

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E-Pop, I’ll Fly Away

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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Narcissism Epidemic
Twenge & Campbell
Generation Me
Jean Twenge

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“It’s a wonder I didn’t leave the church…”

The need is still great for missions to far-flung regions where the gospel is virtually unknown. One of the things I’ve become more convinced of over the past 20 years, however, is that the gospel is as foreign to us in the West (including North America) as anywhere. You can get a lot of support from Christians on that point when you’re talking about the culture, but I’m talking about churches.

It’s increasingly possible to grow up in the church today without ever having really heard the gospel. In fact, many churches – and the parachurch Christian subculture – actually move people further away from Christ, even in the name of mission and “reaching the kids.” In response to a recent White Horse Inn program on “Reforming Youth Ministry,” a young adult named Kristy wrote in:

It is a miraculous wonder that I didn’t leave the church completely. I had never heard of apologetics, reformed theology, justification, etc… until I was in my late 20′s. I grew up in a very small country church. I learned much about love & serving others but nothing about sound theology or doctrine. I don’t completely fault my home church because I doubt the majority of the adults in the church had ever heard any of those topics. Most of the elders probably didn’t even have a high school degree. They taught us what they knew, the love of God. However, when I went off to college, I didn’t have the solid foundation that I should have. I was…still am…very drawn to New Age/The Occult. It was only for the Grace of God that I didn’t end up in some weird cult. I feel like I am now having to play catch up. Comments like “they won’t understand,” “they’ll shut off,” “they won’t remember this stuff” make me SO angry. It really irritates me to think how they underestimate these kids. If you don’t expect much out of kids, you won’t get much. Expect the most from kids & most of them will strive to prove themselves to you & the ones who don’t will catch a couple of nuggets that may return later in life. If you expect someone to fail, they will be less likely to give it their all. If you are there as a support & encourager, they will thrive & even surprise you down the line.

We can’t repeat it often enough: we’re not a church. Still, God is using White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation to introduce people to solid biblical teaching, to give them the criteria and passion for finding a good church, and to reform churches that have found themselves drifting into “mission creep.”Through your generous support, conversations in homes, schools, lunchrooms, and churches are changing and the scandalous gospel is being rediscovered – and discovered for the first time – by people who had thought previously that they knew it all along.

Would you please consider a special gift in support of our work, here and abroad, as we conclude our fiscal year end? Donate any amount by June 30 (only 10 days left). All gifts are important! Donate $100 and receive an MP3 cd of your choice loaded with White Horse Inn episodes and articles from Modern Reformation magazine.

WHI-1106 | Scatterbrains

In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicolas Carr writes, “When we go online we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. The net seizes our attention, only to scatter it. We become mindless consumers of data.” On this edition of the program, the hosts discuss this disturbing trend as it relates to our understanding of the faith. How can we become true disciples if we are all becoming superficial learners? How are we to be people of the Book in the age of Google?

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Is Google Making Us Stupid?
Nicholas Carr (offsite)

MUSIC SELECTION

Doug Powell

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Give Me Grace: review and response

Brittany Norris asks a few questions of Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s Give them Grace in her review, “Give Me Grace.” In the spirit of conversational theology, we asked Fitzpatrick and Thompson to write a response, which you can find below.

Give Me Grace

We are not nor can we be the saviors of our children. He is the Savior. When we forget this, our parenting will be pockmarked by fear, severity, and exhaustion. (Give them Grace, p.55)

Does this parenting “style” sound familiar to anyone else but me? Like many mothers, I am prone to think too much of my abilities and too little of God’s. Even when I have a dreadful day with the children, I still wake up the next morning thinking that if I just try harder, I can get my children to act more sanctified. Enter Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s Give them Grace, a helpful antidote against the poisonous legalistic bent in parenting.

As this mother-and-daughter-team see it, Christian parents too often make the goal of their parenting Judeo-Christian moral training, which any Mormon or Jewish parent could accomplish as well as we can. What makes parenting truly Christian, the authors suggest, is steeping our training in the message of our children’s inability to keep the law, and their need for a relationship with the Obedient Son who kept the law in their place. Though we know that our own salvation is accomplished this way, somehow we get gospel-amnesia when it comes to raising our kids. After all, “[i]n the same way that iron filings follow a magnet, our hearts chase after rules—not because we ever really obey them but because we think they make life manageable” (p. 81). According to Fitzpatrick and Thompson, our children are often “taught that God wants them to be good, that poor Jesus is sad when they disobey, and that asking Jesus into their heart is the breadth and depth of the gospel message”  (p.18). In this way, Jesus simply becomes the extra boost the kids need to be good enough. But when we teach them obedience while neglecting their need for the righteousness of Christ to cover their (constant!) disobedience, we give them a false confidence in their flesh—a sure path to Hell. Nevertheless, the authors encourage us to teach our children the Law—over and over—not because they can obey, but to help them see that they can’t.

One of the most powerful sections of Give Them Grace is their discussion of the familiar parable of the Prodigal Son (or, as Fitzpatrick calls it, the Story of the Welcoming Father). As the authors demonstrate from the parable, both sons sin, and the Father welcomes both into the abundance of his grace. Yet many of us tend to focus our disciplinary efforts on the “prodigal” child or behavior and overlook the pharisaical, “older brother” ones (read: outward compliance and self-righteousness). The older brother, with his indignant reaction to the younger brother’s restoration, is just as guilty of wandering away from his Father’s love as was the Prodigal. I need this reminder when I encounter both the Prodigal and the Pharisee in my own home (and in myself). It is often tempting to squelch the licentious eruptions from my children because they are showily disobedient. Meanwhile, I may notice the whiney legalism that surfaces (“She took an extra turn, Mom!”), but I mistakenly think that the self-righteous lack of mercy is not equally worth correcting. Fitzpatrick and Thompson rightly point out that the Heavenly Father welcomes both Prodigals and Pharisees with open arms, and suggest that even little pharisees should be lovingly shown their sin as we point them to the true, merciful Law-Keeper.

Also helpful is that co-author Jessica Thompson is herself in the process of raising children according to the gospel principles outlined in the book. With four young children of my own, I need both to steep myself in the theological underpinnings of Christian parenting and to see real-world examples of these same principles in action. In the immediacy of a teachable moment—with spaghetti boiling over on the stove and the baby crying—I may not remember the finer points of Jesus’ passive and active righteousness on my shouting three-year-old’s behalf. I may, however just manage to remember a similar moment that Thompson shared from her own life and be able to apply the Gospel Story to my child’s sinful behavior in like manner. Or not. And when I fail, then I can lead my daughter to the foot of the cross where we can both seek forgiveness: her, for her rebellious tantrum, and me, for my angry knee-jerk reaction.

Nevertheless, my main criticism of the book is one that other Reformed reviewers have noted: Fitzpatrick and Thompson have a decidedly non-covenantal view of the regenerate state of children. Because none of us know whether our children have yet experienced God’s redeeming grace, the authors encourage us to treat our children as unbelievers unless the child has formally announced his own salvation. An otherwise helpful appendix in the back of the book which suggests gospel-based responses to children needing discipline for common offenses (lying, blame shifting, disobeying, etc.) offers different presentations for Christian and non-Christian children. With Fitzpatrick coming from a Reformed Baptist background, this viewpoint is not surprising. And, as they do throughout the book, the authors are right to point out the dangers of breeding hypocrisy in our children, whether through coerced apologies or presumed regeneration. The real pitfall of hypocrisy, however, is not merely in pretending to be something we’re not. Hypocrisy is deadliest when the hypocrite actually thinks the outward show is good enough. We unintentionally teach our children that their sinner’s prayer/formal profession of faith/declaration of Christian identity itself (forms of outward conformity) is enough to please God, since it is apparently enough to please us…else we continue to treat them as little heathens. It would surely be a recalcitrant child who refused to pray the Prayer for Salvation by the age of four or five in such an environment. So making a strong distinction—as the appendix charts do—between how you present the gospel to your children based on some singular point of decision may actually drive them to believe that their faith must reach a certain minimum of sincerity in order to earn righteous standing. To a lesser extent, this may be an inadvertent danger in the authors’ insistence on waiting until the child initiates an apology before forgiveness is articulated. Am I sorry enough? Yes, I think I am. The unspoken message is that the purity of Johnny’s repentance—or faith, when considering his own regenerate state—is the basis for his forgiveness. And here we are, coming in the back door of works-righteousness. For, of course, none of us—children included—are capable of pure repentance or faith. Our most lofty spiritual impulses are always co-mingled with sin. The only standard for “sorry enough,” or “believing enough,” is perfection, and none of us can manage that, which is why we need Christ’s perfection credited to us. Certainly, paedobaptists have their own pitfalls; presumption comes to mind. But it seems better to treat your children like members of the visible Church that they are, while daily lavishing them with their need for the same Gospel that unbelievers need. As the parable has it, wheat and tares really do grow together, and can only be distinguished in the Final Harvest.

Brittany Norris (MA, University of Colorado) lives in San Diego, where she’s the wife of a ruling elder and the homeschooling mother of four energetic and effervescent children.

 

Response to “Give Me Grace” and Brittany Norris
Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

First of all, we’d like to thank Modern Reformation for this opportunity to respond to the generally insightful and gracious critique by Brittany Norris of our book, Give them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus.

We appreciate the fact that Norris would take the time to read and respond to our book even though she knew going into it that we had significant differences on covenantal theology.  Generally speaking, when people know upfront that there will be as significance a difference of opinion on something as integral to their belief systems as covenant theology is for many, they dismiss the book out-of-hand. We’re very thankful that Norris took the time to read the book and demonstrate godly maturity in being able to cull out segments that she found helpful.  In other words, she refrained from throwing out the baby with the bathwater and with a book on childrearing, that’s a good idea.

We obviously agree that many Christian parents fall into the trap of moralism or as Christian Smith identified, “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” This, coupled with a pervasive insufficiency in communicating the gospel, was our primary goal in writing the book. We are gratified that Norris rightly identified and deduced our objectives.

Now to the areas of disagreement (remembering that this is disagreement between sisters for whom Christ died): We agree that we have a “decidedly non-covenantal view of the regenerate state of children.” Rather than using our response now to try to convince any of our readers of the correctness of our position (as if that would be possible), we will simply clarify the areas where we think Norris has misunderstood or misrepresented what we’ve written in Give them Grace.

To begin with, Norris references our Appendix 2, “Common Problems and the Gospel.” In her remarks she misconstrues our position on regenerate and unregenerate children. She states that we

unintentionally teach our children that their sinner’s prayer/formal profession of faith/declaration of Christian identity itself (forms of outward conformity) is enough to please God since it is apparently enough to please us…else we continue to treat them as little heathens.

This statement grieves us. If our writing was so ambiguous at this point that a parent could think that we would propagate this kind of works righteousness, we are indeed sorry. We do not think this. In fact, the heartbeat of our message is that mere outward conformity to a religious practice such as saying the “sinner’s prayer” would never merit the pleasure of God. It is simply impossible for us to overemphasize how strongly we oppose that statement. Throughout the book we say over and over again, that both parents and children must be hidden in the righteous of Christ alone and never put any trust in any outward conformity at all. Children and parents (both covenantal and non-covenantal) must trust in Christ who makes believing children and their parents righteous by faith alone.

Perhaps Norris is foisting her own presupposition of what non-covenantal people believe (and they may!) onto what we have said. If we were unclear on this point, we would simply ask for a charitable reading of what we’ve said rather than an assumption of what “reformed Baptists” believe. On numerous occasions, we say that the promises are for those who believe—no matter how they may conform to outward religious practices (or not). We assume that the promises being for those who have been given faith by Christ’s grace alone is an area of disagreement among covenantal and non-covenantal people but we never propose to judge the state of any person’s salvation no matter what they have prayed or how “good” they seem to be.

In our own home, we present the Bible’s promises for both believing and unbelieving children to our children, continually assuring our kids that if they have believed (no matter what they’ve said to us) all of God’s good gifts are already theirs. We are very well aware of the fact that they may outwardly conform to our religious practices out of a desire to please us and not out of real faith. When they exhibit what we identified as “religious obedience”(Luther’s category) in the book, we continually tell them that their obedience is not meritorious and that the Lord sees the heart but delights in their simple faith in his promise to declare that they are righteous no matter what. The issue for us is not declaration of faith but rather real faith – something only the Lord can judge.

In sum, we agree that wheat and tares do grow together and that no one aside from our Sovereign God knows those who are really his. We are continually striving to teach and believe that “salvation is of the Lord” alone and to treat each of  our dear children as fellow-sinners as in need of the grace and faith and righteousness as we are.

It is our sincere desire that this response may have cleared up any misconceptions about our book. In any case, we are thankful for this opportunity and pray that the Lord will continue to illumine all of our hearts to the glories of his grace. Again, we’re thankful that Norris took the time to interact with our book and we pray that this brief response will be helpful.

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