Show Them Jesus: An Interview with Jack Klumpenhower (part 2)

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Interviews | One Comment
Show Them Jesus: An Interview with Jack Klumpenhower (part 2)

We are glad to be back with the second half of our two part  interview with Jack Klumpenhower, author of Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids. Today he answers a few more questions for us, and reminds us of the great privilege we have in being entrusted with the gospel.

show_them_jesus_thumbnail__26699.1404693685.451.416Though definitely not the norm, with the ever increasing abundance of gospel-centered books and curriculum geared towards teaching kids to see Jesus in all of scripture, why is it not enough to simply read/teach from these resources verbatim as if from a script? Doesn’t this approach ensure the message won’t be obscured?

Discipleship is personal. Good material can help greatly, and I certainly recommend that teachers make use of lessons that help them teach the gospel. But in the end, the old maxim that students learn more from what we do than from what we say is true. Students also tend to remember those things their teacher is most excited about, and teachers get excited about truths they’ve studied and discovered for themselves. For these reasons, it’s at least as important to have gospel-saturated teachers as it is to have gospel-centered curricula.

You’ve included many practical helps for parents to implement at home in teaching their children the gospel, some of which are variations of the same tools you give that can be utilized in the classroom. It seems however that there can often be a disconnect between what kids are being taught at church in their youth classes, and what parents are (or are not) reinforcing at home. In chapter eight you layout a helpful framework for having good-news discussions that can help serve to bridge this gap. What other suggestions would you offer both parents and youth workers towards this end?

The gap exists because both parents and teachers easily get lazy, so that parents don’t bother to find out what’s happening in class and teachers don’t take the time to tell parents. It happens to me all the time, and the best solution I know is to make a habit of regular communication. When I teach I need to distribute lesson summaries to parents every week, even if most parents seem uninterested. As a parent I must ask about class even if the teacher seems too busy to be bothered.

Habitual communication not only builds relationships and keeps parents informed, it also encourages teachers to do their jobs well. I take more care with my lessons when I know I’m going to give a summary to parents.

Another good practice is to make classrooms and youth groups places where parents are encouraged to visit anytime. If it works with a church’s child protection policies, that kind of open classroom goes a long way to creating the feel of a group effort. Holding whole-family classes where parents are not just invited but expected to attend with their kids helps as well, as does bringing parents in on a rotating basis to help lead prayer time or contribute to class in some other way.

You write, “One test of any kids-ministry gimmick is to ask what we’d think if adult ministries used the same technique.” What do you mean by this statement? Shouldn’t we contextualize the gospel differently for adults and youth in a way that is age-appropriate?

I do many things differently when I teach kids rather than adults. I use age-appropriate language and concepts. I teach shorter lessons with more repetition. I’m careful to incorporate a variety of learning styles (visual, auditory, hands-on). I also use examples that fit kids’ lives. This is effective teaching that keeps the students in mind.

Gimmicks are different. A gimmick is something contrived to get kids involved for reasons that have little do with Christ: memorize verses to win a toy; bring a friend to earn a candy bar; come to Sunday school because we have a cool space station theme; attend youth group because the music absolutely rocks.

We must be careful with gimmicks. The subtle message in many gimmicks is that the toy, candy bar, space station, music, or whatnot is better and more interesting than Jesus. If Jesus were better, wouldn’t he be our motivation? And if you think about it, if someone suggested offering prizes to adults who brought friends to church we’d probably object that doing so not only is childish but also violates the spirit of why we ought to invite people. That Christ-first spirit is violated when we use the technique with kids, too.

That said, I’m all for having fun. Christians should be joyful people, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with fun activities or great music or little celebrations of achievement. We just need to include such things carefully so that Jesus remains our focus and our chief attraction.

In teaching children and in the context of youth ministry, why do you think there is a common tendency to want to teach a safe, sanitized version of the Bible, and not the scandalous message of redemption as narrated through the scriptures? Along those same lines; just as in your book you described teaching the story of Achan from the book of Joshua, how we can teach the “scary” parts of scripture to kids as opposed to skipping over them in the name of “playing it safe”?

I find that many teachers are uncomfortable talking about sin and the cross. I know I used to be. Even though I believed the cross was central to Christian faith and I had no theological problem with it, it felt weird to talk about it much—like venturing into somber territory that always increased the stress level in class.

Beyond that, practicing faith in the God who saves can feel uncomfortable too. Healthy faith begins with tons of prayer. It’s accompanied by things like confession of sin and accountability in repentance. None of this comes naturally to proud, self-sufficient people like us. So this too makes it more comfortable to skirt the gospel when teaching Bible lessons.

However, when we dare to embrace the gospel it actually ends up bringing great comfort. It allows both students and teachers to stop hiding behind appearances and instead rest openly in Christ. Once we get over the initial hump and start talking about the gospel regularly, it starts to feel more natural and becomes a delight rather than a source of unease. Studying Jesus in depth also helps. Jesus spoke directly and challengingly about the issues that feel uncomfortable to us, yet he also has compassion for struggling sinners. Getting to know him gives us the courage to talk about deep things too; sin, atonement, repentance, God as Father, death and eternal life—all the grand themes of the gospel.

As for Bible passages that are disturbing due to violence, it’s fine to shield the youngest kids from a few things they aren’t ready for yet. But in general, it’s good for kids to see that God is at work even in the most horrific and appalling events of life. The gospel comes to us in the context of such sin and misery, and there it gives us hope and life. We can’t sanitize the Bible without also reducing our wonder at the gospel.

Jack Klumpenhower, author of the new book, Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids, is a Bible teacher and a children’s ministry curriculum writer with more than thirty years of experience. He has created Bible lessons and taught children about Jesus at churches, camps, clubs, conferences, and Christian schools all over the world, including Serge conferences. He is currently working on his next publication, a middle-school gospel discipleship curriculum titled What’s Up? Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are. He lives with his wife and two children in Durango, Colorado. Check out Jackklumpenhower.com for more of Jack’s writing as well as resources from his latest book.

David Livernois is married to Nicole, the love of his life, and they have three amazing children, Riley, Sarai and Abigail. They live in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina where they are active members of Missio Dei Asheville.

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Show Them Jesus: An Interview with Jack Klumpenhower (part 1)

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Interviews | No Comments
Show Them Jesus: An Interview with Jack Klumpenhower (part 1)

 As the subtitle suggests, Jack Klumpenhower’s new book, Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids, is about teaching the gospel to kids. Much more than a “how-to” however, this book not only delivers what it promises, but far exceeds it; one cannot read it and not see the immense beauty of the gospel explicitly woven throughout every chapter, making it an excellent read for anyone, not just parents and teachers. In a word, this book not only shows us how to show kids Jesus, it shows us Jesus.

With that said, we are pleased to welcome Jack Klumpenhower here for the first time on Credo, as recently we had the privilege of him answering a few questions for us based on his new book and more than thirty years of experience as a Bible teacher.

show_them_jesus_thumbnail__26699.1404693685.451.416At one point in your book you mention that we essentially have two options when presenting the gospel: either offend people with the gospel, or offend the gospel itself. What exactly do you mean by this?

The gospel is such a grand display of justice and mercy that it tends to offend the sensibilities of sin-damaged people like ourselves. Some people are bothered by the justice side of the gospel; they think it’s barbaric to believe that atonement for sin required the death of God’s Son. Others are bothered by mercy; they secretly like comparing themselves to others, and talk of absolutely free grace sounds dangerously permissive to them. Still others bristle at the suggestion that a God of such justice and mercy has the right to require them to repent daily and live exclusively for him.

Because of this, we can expect that a no-holds-barred explanation of the gospel will often bother some people—even in church! They will suggest we tone it down. They will ask us to back off a bit on one point or another to make it all sound more palatable.

If we do this, though, we are bound to make God sound less holy, or less loving, or less sovereign than he actually is. We will also make the saving work Jesus accomplished sound less necessary, less complete, or less transforming than it is. If you think about it, you’ll see that this is offensive to Christ and to the gospel.

This doesn’t mean we ourselves should be offensive. We must be humble people. But if our gospel teaching never causes anyone to complain that we’re too radical about either justice or mercy, we have to wonder if we’ve been too timid.

In chapter two you reference what has become known as “moralistic therapeutic deism” and then allude to this in several other chapters as well. For those of us who may be unfamiliar with this term, can you explain what this phenomenon is, and what can be done to combat and correct it?

The term “moralistic therapeutic deism” comes from a study of American teenagers. The study found that our teens, even many of those in church, really aren’t Christians as the Bible defines this. Instead of faith in Jesus Christ as the Prophet, Priest, and King who’s their ever-present Savior, they have a vague sense of a largely detached God (deism) who wants them to be basically good (moralism) and can be used to help cope with life’s occasional struggles (therapy).

The scary thing is that if this is what young people believe, they learned it from us. They got it from watered-down teaching that avoided talk about sin or atonement or salvation, sidestepped the cross and empty tomb, and was content to tell kids to behave and to go to church and pray if they want to feel better. Moralistic therapeutic deism isn’t so much an alternative religion. Rather, it’s what Christians are naturally left with when they downplay the gospel.

The antidote is simple: teach the gospel. Be relentless about showing kids Jesus—both the wondrous person he is and his work to save us from sin. Most teaching in most American churches, even those that affirm sin and salvation in Christ alone, barely touches on the full richness of the gospel. I talk to teenagers who’ve spent their whole lives in evangelical churches but can only think of two or three benefits of faith in Jesus. They have trouble describing his character too, and have virtually no personal engagement with him through private prayer. No one has taught them.

In your introduction you touch on the fact that in many churches there never seem to be enough volunteers to work with children’s programs. Tell us more about why the “it’s easy, anyone can teach kids” recruitment approach for volunteers is more harmful than helpful, and the disservice we do to our youth and our churches at large by going about finding teachers this way. Based off experience, can you offer a suggestion or two on how a church might gain volunteers in a healthy manner?

It’s easy to take an approach that says, “This person is really good with kids, so let’s recruit her to teach Sunday school.” Now, it does help for a teacher to be comfortable around kids. But an even better approach is to think, “This person loves Jesus and spends time in prayer and really knows the Bible, so let’s train her to work with kids.” Good programs use volunteers with many different skills, but having several who fit that second description makes a huge difference.

Faith matters more than ministry skills. Our children and youth are the most impressionable, ready-to-learn people in the church. They need our most faith-filled teachers. Many of those kids will decide by the time they finish high school whether or not to follow Jesus for the rest of their lives, and those who quit often say it’s because they found no spiritual depth in the church. We need to make sure that before they get to that point they’ve had a chance to learn from the godliest men and women we can find.

Such people can be hard to recruit. They want to know that the work is meaningful and spiritual. If you pitch the job as an easy one anybody could handle, you’ll be devaluing teachers and you’ll make them uninterested.

When I’ve been involved in recruitment I’ve preferred to personally approach people I know are mature believers rather than making announcements to the whole church asking for volunteers. I get better teachers that way and they feel more called to a spiritual task. If they’re uncomfortable with kids, I let them assist an experienced teacher first. They can learn how to teach. That is fairly easy compared to learning to walk with Jesus.

I also like to get a few elders (or whatever church leaders are in charge of the overall spiritual shepherding) involved in Sunday school recruitment. The people who’ll be best at shepherding our children often respond well when the church’s spiritual leaders challenge them to take on that task.

Let’s say you have two kids in your weekly children’s class, one comes on a regular basis and has even made a credible profession of faith, the other comes every now and then and demonstrates little if any evidence they are saved. You indicate that your approach to teaching both these students would be largely the same. How come?

Unbelievers need to repent and turn to God in faith, so they need to hear the gospel and be challenged to believe it. Believers grow by continuing to repent and practice faith in God, so they too need to hear the gospel and be challenged to believe it more fully. Unbelief is at the root of all sin (for example, a greedy kid is not believing that Christ is all he needs), so continuing to believe the gospel is a key part of fighting sin and growing as a Christian.

Both kinds of kids also need to get to know Jesus. Jesus said the way to see the Father is to know him, so one chief aim of any Bible lesson should be to see more of the person and work of Jesus. Unbelievers need this in order to have good reasons to put their faith in Jesus for the first time, and believers need this in order to love him more and have good reasons to keep trusting him.

For these reasons, I show all kids Jesus. I teach all kids the gospel and urge them to believe it. I might take a somewhat different approach to God’s commands if I’m reasonably sure I’m dealing with an unbeliever rather than a believer, but most of the rest of my teaching will be essentially the same. One benefit of this is that I don’t have to try to figure out which kids are true Christians and which aren’t; I just teach the gospel.

…come back tomorrow for part 2 of this interview!

Jack Klumpenhower, author of the new book, Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids, is a Bible teacher and a children’s ministry curriculum writer with more than thirty years of experience. He has created Bible lessons and taught children about Jesus at churches, camps, clubs, conferences, and Christian schools all over the world, including Serge conferences. He is currently working on his next publication, a middle-school gospel discipleship curriculum titled What’s Up? Discovering the Gospel, Jesus, and Who You Really Are. He lives with his wife and two children in Durango, Colorado. Check out Jackklumpenhower.com for more of Jack’s writing as well as resources from his latest book.

David Livernois is married to Nicole, the love of his life, and they have three amazing children, Riley, Sarai and Abigail. They live in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina where they are active members of Missio Dei Asheville.

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Recovering Eden: An Interview with Zack Eswine (Matt Claridge)

Recovering Eden: An Interview with Zack Eswine (Matt Claridge)

In the church traditions I grew up in, a popular favorite was the “Gospel Song” Victory in Jesus. It still makes me cringe. The theology of the song is actually not terribly bad; it’s even a bit Calvinistic–”he sought me and bo’t me with his redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him.” And there’s nothing inherently wrong with celebrating the victory we do have in Christ over sin’s power to condemn us. Nonetheless, it is the poster-child anthem of triumphalistic Christianity. One reason for this, I believe, is the wedding of a lamely peppy tune with a spiritual conteRecovering Edenxt that subtly shifts the focus of the song from “His” victory to “My” victory. The song makes you feel good about yourself for all the wrong reasons. In that sense, the effect comes out Arminian in the end. The “I, I, I” peppered throughout the song becomes all consuming.

But my uncomfortableness with this song pales in comparison to the jarring and subversive intent of the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s subversive because it too is peppered throughout with “I, I, I,” but for an entirely different reason and with a totally different effect. It’s jarring because it cynically regards “victory” as an impossible outcome for anyone living under the sun. I loathe Victory in Jesus, but I’m scarred of Ecclesiastes. Its easy to poke holes in Christian triumphalism, but its difficult to find hope when we honestly face the brutalities and vanities of life. Ecclesiastes is a corrosive that is capable of not only undermining our American consumer paradise, but also vaporizing the shreds of Christian joy we maintain in this mad, mad, world. Enter Zack Eswine and his commentary Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes. In his hands, this dangerous acid of a book is handled with appropriate care and applied with appropriate force. In his hands, it becomes a gospel summons, not a gospel embarrassment. In this book, we find the appropriate place where we all ought to stand and live as fragile creatures under the fathomless Sun of Righteousness.

Were you assigned the task of commenting on Ecclesiastes or did you ask for it? If the latter, why?

I asked for it. Imagine the shock if your pastor stood in the pulpit this coming Sunday, opened his Bible and shouted, “Everything in life that you care about is nothing! It’s all meaningless! In fact” he continues, “I hate life. I hate it because of the grief we all experience in it. I’m bone tired of it! It seems like God has just given us all busy work. Seems like he just wants to frustrate us and he won’t even tell us plainly what we are supposed to make of it all. I tell you this morning that it would be better if none of us had been born than to have to go through this.”

At this point, some of us as Christians would be very concerned about our pastor’s state of mind or salvation. We would have very little patience to sit through this kind of human experience and might seek immediately to squelch it or to get immediately to the offer of the good news in Jesus. But the fact that God has inspired and given us such a preacher with such language, with no haste to get to the good news, is intentional and it instructs us about God. God has provided with this book a needed gift of grace for our neighbors who are unfamiliar with the Bible and disinterested or suspicious of Christian life.

What I mean is that a Christian who listens to that opening by the pastor might react with concern. But many neighbors who do not follow Jesus would respond with pleasant surprise. Their inmost feelings are given a hearing on the lips of the preacher. It is as if the preacher has read their hearts. The spokesperson for God seems to know their innermost and unvarnished sentiments. What’s more as the preacher shares his heart they see themselves in him. Never has a “god-talker” sounded so true, so honest, so knowledgeable, so relevant.

Ecclesiastes provides a needed primer for listening and talking humanly with our neighbors. These neighbors may have very little familiarity with the Bible but what they are familiar with is suspicion and caution regarding “church” and “religion.” They’ve been hurt by “god-talkers” or they know people who have. Or the “god-talk” they hear seems trite and irrelevant in comparison to the raw and real circumstances of their lives and in our world. The preacher in Ecclesiastes speaks to us, not as a churchy evangelist but as a human being who looks at the world, not as it is supposed to be, but as it is. His fear of God does not lead him to pretend away his questions or his pains and frustrations. His way of relating to the world is anything but trite.

I asked to comment on this particular book because I want to learn from God how to live this humanly as a preacher, how to hear my neighbor’s heart and my own this honestly, and how from there to point to the provision, character, redemption, wisdom and grace of God for the hope our hearts long for. Ecclesiastes is God’s primer for this kind of life and evangelism.

 What does the title of your book, Recovering Eden, say about your approach and interpretation of Ecclesiastes?

As the preacher gives voice to the empty pursuits, injustices, and complaints of our earthly lives, he cycles back to repeat a conclusive theme over and over again. “There is nothing better” he repeats, then to enjoy the lot in this life that you’ve been given. The work you’ve been given, the food and drink that you have, the people with whom you share these good things with, the wife you love, this is a gift from God for your joy.

It is like the preacher in Ecclesiastes has been away from home for a long time. He comes back and everything has changed and this for the worst. His fond memories of the goodness that once was are shattered by the painful realities of what now is. This disorientation rouses his lament. But he keeps coming back toward the dream of what once was and he asserts that as the way that we take our stand now against the tide of emptiness and violence. No matter what happens during the seasons of this life, God’s good gifts of a place to be, a thing to do in that place, and a people to share it with, remains.

To me, this sounds like a lament for the Eden that was lost, and an assertion that what God gave us then, remains true for us today. Even though everything is meaningless and broken, we still can taste the goodness of His gifts to us. We can derive the joy He intends with food, family, work, and place. We do so as a feisty witness to something good that once was and that will one day find its restoration again.

 I think I can say that one of the major themes you discover in Ecclesiastes is appreciating our “humanness.” This theme is also present in your book Sensing Jesus. What’s the significance of this idea in Ecclesiastes and your view of the Christian life?

In my book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, I meditate on our temptation to fix-everything, know everything and be everywhere at once. We are applauded for such attempts, particularly as those who lead others, and yet, only God can fix everything (omnipotent), know everything (omniscient) and be everywhere at once (omnipresent). For example, we needn’t repent that we don’t know everything. We were never meant to know everything. Instead, we need to repent for trying to know everything, for trying to fix everything and for trying to resist the fact that we can only be one place at one time (even our use of social media cannot reverse the fact that we sit in one particular chair in one particular place in the world when we push “send.”) To embrace these noble limits is to glorify God by powerfully surrendering to our creatureliness, our being human and not divine. In this, the joy and sense of home that God intends for us is found and experienced through Jesus. I flesh out the implications for this for our daily life in ministry and the world. In short, I read my Bible with reading glasses. I pray with coffee breath. Even if spiritual awakening should break out in my town, I’d still have to take a bathroom break.

So, in Ecclesiastes, this preacher is a King. More than that, he wears the mantel of Son of David. More than that he professes to have had access to wisdom unlike any other of his time. And yet, Ecclesiastes is written in the first person. It comes to us as a testimony from a preacher who is a man, a human being, who shares his heart with us. It is almost like reading someone’s unedited journal. Not only does he shed his position and power in order to speak to us, he also commends that we discern God’s presence in our daily lot, and in our lot to enjoy the ordinary gifts of human life. The great answer to life under the sun is to live humanly in the fear of God as were meant to from the beginning. We do so in hope of the one greater than Solomon who has come, Jesus our wisdom.

With that in mind, we are tempted to believe that we should respond to the swirling worldviews, injustices, misguided uses of peoples and things by doing something large, famous and right now. But the preacher seems to say otherwise. Our great hope is found in recovering the ordinary, small, often overlooked gifts of God for human flourishing. By tending to our lot throughout the ebb and flow of delightful and disconcerting seasons, we continue to pursue what it means that we are human and that God is God, no matter what the cultural weather forecasts for us today.

By trying to engage the world as if we are not human and as if our ordinary lot isn’t God’s gain for us, we repeat Adam and Eve’s forfeiture over and again by trying over and again to be like God and do what only God can do. Ecclesiastes sets these truths in front of us boldly and plainly.

 One could almost imagine a noble pagan being responsible for Ecclesiastes. His Carpe Diem mentality seems more at home in the jaded Greco-Roman world than a Judeo-Christian one. How do we redeem or integrate this focus with the rest of the Bible?

That is a good question. Perhaps we can begin an answer in this way. Because this book was written by Solomon himself or in Solomon’s name, we are already encountering a kind of message that stands squarely in the Judeo-Christian tradition. First, Solomon made tragic errors in his life. Ecclesiastes offers an implicit rebuke or corrective for these errors. Second, the King doesn’t talk like a King but like a man who is human, searching, and full of questions. On both counts, this is rare in the history of the world. Most Kings re-write their histories. Ancient nations hide the faults of their rulers and accentuate their conquests. But the Old Testament constantly reveals a storyline in which the faults of its kings and heroes are on full display so that we are left ultimately to look off of them and onto God our true hero and king. The carpe-diem sentiment, if it is there, comes to us clothed in confession, corrective and humility. Thirdly, the day or the moment that we seize is explicitly God given and saturated. There are things we are not meant to seize—they will not provide the gain or freedom we thought they would. Rather, our hope will only come as we entrust ourselves to the lot, the gifts, and the wisdom that God has given to us within the seasons of purpose that God works for us. In essence, what we are to seize moment by moment is God himself—we detect his presence and provision moment by moment, believing by faith, that He, and not the swirling miseries under this sun, will have the last word. Finally, we integrate Ecclesiastes by recognizing its place in redemptive history. What I mean is that it comes to us after the promise of a coming messiah has been made and before that messiah arrives. It therefore points us forward, as I hinted at earlier, to the one greater than Solomon who will come.

 I personally think Ecclesiastes might be the hardest book of the Bible to preach. How would you recommend it be broken up into preaching portions?

I agree that it can challenge us and our congregations to preach through Ecclesiastes. Mainly, because as American Christians we are by and large unaccustomed to the wisdom literature of the Bible. So, the first time one preaches through this book, it might serve the congregation well, to survey the themes rather than plow through verse by verse. The chapter titles in my book offer a guide to what these over arching themes are. Then, come back to the book more fully later on in the life of the congregation. Or, if you pursue chapter-by-chapter or verse by verse, you might need to start with the end. That is, go ahead and alert the hearer to chapter 12 and to what the point of the book is by spending time on this as an opening sermon for the series. Then frame each subsequent sermon with this reminder of the point. In other words, with a pastoral mindfulness of how different and uncomfortable this book can be, approach the sermon series in a more deductive fashion even though the book itself is inductive in nature.  If you preach in a setting that is not predominately made up of Christian hearers, it is probable that you can simply walk through the angst chapter by chapter building to the main point at the end, because oftentimes such hearers have more patience with less tidiness. What they hear will likely refresh and compel them to want to learn more about the God who can talk like this.

 What are some good books to be reading alongside your commentary?

My writing style leans poetic. For a reader less accustomed to this kind of writing, a good commentary such as Philip Ryken’s or Derek Kidner’s will serve as a helpful verse by verse companion.

 Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children.

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Of God and Slot Machines: An Interview with Vern Poythress

Posted by on Jun 10, 2014 in Interviews, Matthew Claridge, Philosophy, Videos | No Comments
Of God and Slot Machines: An Interview with Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress has published a new book entitled, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events. Poythress is Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, as well as the Editor of the Westminster Theological Journal. He earned a B.S. in mathematics from California Institute of Technology (1966) and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University (1970). After teaching mathematics for a year at Fresno State College (now California State University at Fresno), he became a student at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he earned an M.Div. (1974) and a Th.M. in apologetics (1974). He received an M.Litt. in New Testament from University of Cambridge (1977) and a Th.D. in New Testament from the University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa (1981). He has been teaching in New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia since 1976. In 1981 he was ordained as a teaching elder in the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, which has now merged with the Presbyterian Church in America. He is the author of numerous books, which you can read about here.

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Poythress about his new book on chance and divine sovereignty.

Honestly speaking, I was a bit surprised by the topic of your book. What can really be said about chance if one firmly believes in the sovereignty of God?

God has created a world in which we experience surprises, both big and small. God knows the future in every detail, so there are no surprises for him. But he has designed the world and providentially governs it so that there are many surprises for us. TChance and the Sovereignty of Godhese surprises can be called “chance.” For example, we may say that we met an old friend “by chance.”

Now we must be careful. The word chance can be used in more than one way. Some people use the word to describe events that they claim are outside God’s control. This claim is not true. The Bible indicates that God controls even the details in this world (Prov. 16:33; Lam. 3:37; Matt. 10:29-30). But the word chance can also be used in an innocent way to describe events that we human beings cannot predict and events for which we do not understand all the causes. (“Time and chance happen to them all,” Eccles. 9:11 ESV.)  “Chance” events are unaccountable only from a human point of view. So we might say that there is no chance from a divine point of view.

But it is also important to observe that God designed us in such a way that we experience “chance”–we experience surprises. Our experience of chance is not an illusion, and we should not see it as an “unfortunate” limitation. Rather, it is fortunate; it is a blessing from God. We have just the kind of experience of unpredictability that God designed us to have. In addition, God understands completely every human point of view and all the effects that our limited human knowledge brings with it.

Chance events are important in revealing the very character of God to us. For one thing, they remind us again and again that God’s knowledge is greater than ours. Properly understood, they encourage us to trust in God and not in ourselves. God controls the events, but they are outside our control and outside our ability to predict.

Chance events also exhibit in a powerful way God’s creativity. God did not need to create the world. From everlasting to everlasting he is God, even without the existence of the world. He did not need the world. And, having decided to create the world, he had many choices about just what kind of a world he would create. The same goes for his providential governance of the world, now that he has created it. God decides that weather, plants, animals, and human history develop in one way and not another. His decisions are creative and often surprising. All these creative decisions remind us that he is the original creator, which every instance of human creativity imitates.

In this way, chance is a wonderful thing. Chance events display the glory of God and his character.

Is “chance” an indispensable tool for the scientific enterprise?

Many areas of science focus primarily on the regularities concerning how God governs the world. But chance also plays an indispensable role in experimental science. Experimental science depends on repeated experiments. And repeated experiments never come out exactly the same. There are small “chance” variations in the measurements. Many experimental scientists use sophisticated tools from the theory of probability and statistics in their analyses of these variations. So we can say that chance plays an integral role. All of science is influenced by experiments, and experiments always depend on a conception of the meaning of chance variations. Science depends on God, who governs the chance variations in a dependable way.

I think this topic can hit a spiritual nerve because, if we are honest, most things in our life appear to happen completely at random. Prayer may seem just as chancy as a roulette machine: we pray and sometimes results appear and just as often they don’t. Life doesn’t appear to be like a sit-com where serendipitous events happen with uncanny frequency. Are we just interpreting life with purpose when there is none?

Underlying people’s uneasiness about the meaning of life is the question of God. Does God exist? And if he does, what kind of God is he? Here is one place where the Bible has an important role to play. God gave us the Bible as the very word of God, and it introduces us to Jesus Christ, who is the one whom God the Father sent in order to restore us to a personal relationship to God and gives us a knowledge of God. When we come to know God and trust in him, we gain confidence about the way he is governing the world.

Many people are trying to get answers for themselves, all by themselves, without admitting that they need God. They need God himself even to provide solid answers about God. But once we humble ourselves to admit that we need God’s instructions, and when we come to God through Christ, we get more and more answers.

There are still many events that happen in surprising and unaccountable ways. The Book of Job and the Book of Ecclesiastes in their own ways tell us that we cannot master life or find out all the purposes. But if we know God, we know that he has purposes, even when those purposes are beyond our understanding. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God calls us to trust his promises, even when we cannot see what are his purposes.

Would you mind responding to this video?

 

Dr. Tyson has a lot to say in two and a half minutes, and it is difficult to respond to all of it in a few paragraphs. I can only touch on a few points.

Dr. Tyson argues that the universe does not have purpose. He appeals mostly to scientific information and scientific theories. In fact, scientific laws testify to God who ordained them (see Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science). So science itself shows divine purpose from one end to the other. Dr. Tyson’s reliance on science is actually a nonstarter if he wants to show the opposite—that there is no purpose.

A good deal of the video amounts to citing the big spans of time involved, compared to human life times, and the huge number of living things involved, in comparison with humanity as a single species. To Dr. Tyson, all this seems “inefficient.” And the presence of natural disasters suggests to Tyson that the universe is not friendly to us. In the end, Dr. Tyson is revealing to us his personal preference: if he were God, he certainly would not have done it this way.

Dr. Tyson criticizes those who in “hubris” think that humanity has a central role in the universe. And indeed it would be hubris to project human guesses out into the world without divine revelation. The decisive question that Dr. Tyson travels by too rapidly is whether there is such revelation, both in the world that God made and in the Scripture that he has provided as his word. It is not hubris, but wisdom, to listen to God. Ironically, Dr. Tyson is doing something similar to what he criticizes: he is projecting into the world his human guesses about how a god should have done things. It is hubris to imagine, as Dr. Tyson does, that one’s personal preferences for how God ought to do things constitute a weighty argument.

I suppose that I am being asked about this particular video because near the end Dr. Tyson makes a statement that depends on probability: he writes “99.9999%” on a whiteboard. The context suggests that he is 99.9999% certain that the universe does not have a purpose. The irony is that his statement relies on God. God’s purposes establish the very meaning of 99.9999%. Without God’s purpose, there is no meaning in language, and there is likewise no meaning to probability. The very conception of probability depends on the complex interplay of regularity and unpredictability, both of which are established by God in his faithfulness and creativity. I discuss this issue at greater length in the chapter of my book entitled, “Is God Probable?” The answer is that God is not “probable”: he provides the very foundation through which probability exists.

So far, I have focused on the more theological or spiritual dimensions of your book. Do you feel you are also making a contribution in your book to the academic study of probability?

Yes. Parts III and IV of the book discuss the nature of probability. There are two main challenges here. One is to understand what probability is. Philosophers have given multiple explanations, but only a Christian approach provides a satisfactory answer. The second challenge is to understand how God reveals his character, wisdom, and majesty right in the midst of the academic study of probability. I attempt to show people how God’s eternal power and deity are displayed in probability, just as they are displayed “in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:19-20).

Could you explain the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, what it demonstrates, and how we should evaluate it through a Christian framework?

Within quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a principle originally formulated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927. It has an exact mathematical formulation, but the details are not essential at this point. Roughly speaking, it says that you cannot simultaneously obtain precise information about the location and the velocity of a particle of small mass. The more precise the information about the location, the more uncertain must be the estimate of velocity—and vice versa. The smaller the mass of the particle, the more pronounced becomes the difficulty. This uncertainty seems to be an intrinsic limitation, rather than a temporary limitation imposed by the current physical apparatus used for measurement.

This principle has become an important discussion point because, if it expresses an intrinsic feature of physical reality, it spells an end to physical determinism. The behavior of a single small particle cannot be perfectly predicted, even in principle.

This principle also sometimes comes up in discussions about God. Some people think that even God is limited and cannot make perfect predictions. But such an inference fails to distinguish between God and man. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a principle ordained by God, who specifies the very nature of the world. The principle specifies limitations in human measurements. It does not imply that God is limited. In fact, the uncertainty principle is a vivid illustration of the supremacy of God in his knowledge and control, in contrast to the limitations in human knowledge and control. In other words, it reveals the glory of God.

 Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children.

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An Interview on Sex and Violence … in the Bible (Matthew Claridge)

An Interview on Sex and Violence … in the Bible (Matthew Claridge)

Who says the Bible is prudish? Who says the Bible is tame? Not the author of the recently published Sex and Violence in the Bible: A Survey of Explicit Content in the Holy Book. Here to scintillate and educate us on the Holy Book’s seedier side is Joseph W. Smith III, a teacher of English at Loyalsock High School, Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He formerly worked for sixteen years as a film critic for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. Its a pleasure to have Mr. Smith featured here on Credo to fill us in on the juicy details.

Tell us a little bit about how you were drawn to the subject matter of this book and what reader expectations should be for it?

Nearly everyone can recall reading some explicit Bible passage and thinking, “Whoa — does it really say THAT?”  In many cases, the answer is YES — and I wanted to confirm this, because those are the very passages we seldom hear about in sermons and Sunday school.  I don’t know — have you ever heard a sermon on Onan in Genesis 38 or Eglon’s grisly murder in Judges 3?  I don’t think I have — despite a lifetime of regular church attendance!  So … I wanted to tackle these passages that we rarely study, and understand what they really say — and how they say it.  That is, I wanted to use the Bible as a sort of “aesthetic guideline” to help Christians understand “how much is too much” — that is, to see where the writers of Scripture draw the line with graphic content.  What I found was that they are indeed sometimes quite blunt — but not too often; it’s a very small percentage compared, for example, to a Stephen King novel or a Tarantino film.

You raise the point that Christians should not be squeamish to view R rated content when the Bible itself contains much R rated descriptions.  Some have responded that this argument fails to take into account the profound difference between exposure to visual mediums and to literary mediums.  Any thoughts on that?

sex and violence in the bibleWell, I can’t say I had a goal of making it “okay” for Christians to see R-rated films; many of those go far beyond the bounds of moral and even artistic propriety.  (Though I did hope to curb the knee-jerk reaction — “R = NO” — that some folks experience in this area.)

At the same time, you raise a hugely important issue, one that’s somewhat beyond the scope of my book; we might need another volume entirely to deal with the moral distinctions between visual and verbal material!

Clearly, there is a vast difference between reading a Bible story about rape and actually watching some rape scene in a contemporary film; or, for that matter, between reading about nudity and seeing it on screen.  That goes for violence as well, of course.  The “line” all of us constantly try to find when interacting with modern culture does, I think, need to be much more conservative, and much more cautiously drawn, with visual media.  For instance:  Despite the frequent nudity in the Bible (I have a whole chapter on this!), most Christians are profoundly uncomfortable with nude scenes — and rightly so.  At the same time, the mere fact that certain material is verbal instead of visual does not make it automatically OK; the recipient can process this sinfully too, of course.  Even Bible content could conceivably be abused in this way — as in the final scene of Clockwork Orange.

For this reason, my own feeling is that much of the “OK / not OK” question depends on individual viewers and readers — whether a given person can process this material in a way that does not lead to sin.  Much self-searching and brutal honesty is necessary here, and I don’t think the “line” is by any means the same for every person.  The issue, as I suggested, needs much more space than I have here; but I will also observe that every Christian needs to have a line he or she won’t cross — especially with visual material.  If you have no boundaries, you haven’t been thinking biblically on this matter.

Unpack this statement for us: “[the Bible’s] approach to indecent matters is not that of a twenty-first-century schoolboy, nor is it that of a nineteenth-century Victorian housewife.”

Good pick on that line, Matthew — it’s kind of a thesis statement for the book.  Like the Bible, we aren’t to be obsessed with sex and violence the way so many folks are today (and not just schoolboys either!) — constantly cracking raunchy jokes, finding (and enjoying) unseemly implications all over the place, and using these hot-button items merely to generate interest, humor, excitement — even lust!  On the other hand, it’s insane to pretend these issues don’t exist or aren’t important.  We all know, for example, how much behavior is driven by sex; it’s certainly a factor in numerous Bible stories!  In addition, all parents are familiar with vomit and excrement (topics also covered in my book) — these are a huge part of life, and not something we can simply ignore.  The Bible approaches these issues in a boldly matter-of-fact manner — not obsessed, not ashamed — frank, but not detailed or pornographic.  I suspect this ought to be our approach as well.

What makes Ezekiel 23:20 a good candidate for the grossest verse in the Bible?

Well, it’s got male genitalia, semen and implied bestiality; and it talks about the donkeys having unusually large “members.”  That’s kind of a quadruple whammy.  Incidentally, it’s significant that such strong language — rare in Scripture — is reserved in this case for idolatry and faithlessness on the part of God’s people; if we are so disgusted by this verse — well, that’s how disgusted God was by the covenant unfaithfulness of his people!

I honestly found your discussion of the Lord’s use of sexual terminology to describe his relationship with his people quite shocking. Give us an idea where and why the Lord uses such language, and how we should tread carefully here.

Yeah, I was surprised by that too, Matthew — and I tried to tread carefully, as you say.  But we’re really talking only about two short passages — Ezek. 16:7-9 and John 3:29, in which coitus is used (metaphorically, of course) to describe God’s relationship with his people; so it’s not exactly a major strand in Biblical writings.

But I think the main thing to say is — maybe it’s time for folks like you and me to not be so shocked by our heavenly father’s attitude toward sex.  As my pastor sometimes says, “Let’s not try to be holier than God!”  (I almost used this as the subtitle for my book.)  Sex is a good thing — a great thing, as Song of Solomon makes abundantly clear.  God created it — he’s the one who made it so great!  Like so much else in creation (food, sunsets, animals, work, music), he didn’t have to make it that good; but he did, because that’s his nature:  He likes to make and bestow really good things!  There’s absolutely nothing “unholy” about enthusiastic marital sexuality (again I point to Solomon’s Song) — any more than there is about good wine or fresh-baked bread (both also used to help us understand God’s love).  Since most of us are very familiar with the intimacy, the joy and even the spiritual depth of biblical sexuality, God is trying to tell us something about the kind of relationship we can have with him.  Yes — it can be that good!  And maybe one adjunct he’s trying to convey is:  This weird reaction we have when we think sex is somehow separate from God, something we must not connect with him?  Sorry, that’s not biblical.

I’m hoping very much that my book helps demonstrate this.

(Your question also cautions about treading carefully, so I will add that we don’t tread much differently here than we do when eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood; obviously that’s not literal — it would be gross and silly to approach it that way; and we accept God’s use of sex here in a similarly figurative manner.)

What’s distinctive about the way the Bible describes “rape” in comparison to other violent acts?

I think the most significant difference is that all three of the principal “rape narratives” in the Old Testament express strong condemnation for the act.  In Judges 19, one character calls it a “vile thing” (v. 23 — he’s talking about the threatened rape of the man earlier in the chapter — but the idea is the same); and later the people of Israel are amazed at the depravity, for “such a thing has never happened” (v. 30).  Similarly, the rape of Tamar by her half-brother (2 Sam. 13), and of Dinah by Shechem (Genesis 34), are both accompanied by the narrator’s statement that “such a thing is not done.”  It’s actually somewhat rare to see such blatant and consistent condemnation of violent acts in the Old Testament; usually, the narrator simply reports them without much editorial comment.  But apparently, there is something especially objectionable about rape that elicits these denunciations.

How can the topic of sex and violence in the Bible actually be an apologetic for the Bible?

Let me quote from a recent review of my book at the “Schaeffer’s Ghost” blog on the Patheos website:  “Religion is useless if it only deals with the polite aspects of life.  Life is messy, earthy, full of pain and death and sex.  If your religion doesn’t have a category for these things, you aren’t doing it right” (Paul D. Miller).

And … from my own conclusion:  “We want a religion that is true not just for some of life — for spirituality, worship and service — but for all of our experience. The wide range of Scripture on sex, violence and other uncomfortable material helps us to see that the Judeo-Christian tradition is true for all of life — that it does not prudishly overlook or sidestep certain issues; rather, it concerns itself — often quite closely — even with mundane bodily matters like menses, skin disease and nocturnal emissions.”

In recent decades, our culture has gotten very good at acknowledging the seamy parts of life — movies, for instance, are sometimes praised for their “realism” in depicting life with all its unsavory messiness.  Well, folks — welcome to the Bible, which was doing this 3500 years ago.

 Have you found it awkward describing this project to others?

Once they get over the mild shock of hearing my title — deliberate on my part, of course; it’s a great attention-getter — then actually:  No, it hasn’t been very awkward.  Christians are really quite interested in this material, and some express gratitude at my willingness to tackle it.  I’ve been surprised at the number of much older women who wanted a copy — one told me frankly that when she was growing up, nobody ever talked about this stuff.

If there’s any awkwardness, it’s in having to assure folks that my angle on this is not a negative one — that I’m not attacking the Bible.  There are several books on these topics (esp. violence) that mean to undermine God and his word.  (Funny, that so many pooh-pooh the Bible for its violence but have no problem personally slaughtering thousands in some gory video game every day!)  But once I’ve assured them of my respect for God’s word, the general response has been keen interest.  I guess that’s why it’s been selling pretty well!

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children.

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Jeramie Rinne on Church Elders (Interview by Matthew Claridge)

Jeramie Rinne on Church Elders (Interview by Matthew Claridge)

The resurgence of interest in church polity is something that has taken many by surprise. Organizations like 9Marks churn out book after book, podcast after podcast, and article after article on this topic with gusto and, apparently, an eager public. Frankly, I count myself among those hungry for more. 9Mark’s success in an area usually considered the “Valley of Dry Bones” for most seminarians and lay people alike is attributed, I believe, to infusing church polity with a theological vision and purpose.

That distinctive hallmark can be seen once again in the newest booklet from 9Mark’s “Building Healthy Churches” series. Jeramie Rinne, who serves as senior pastor at South Shore Baptist Church in Higham, MA and regularly contributes to the 9Marks Journal as well as other venues, has written a practical and theologically rich treatment on Church Elders: How To Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus.

imagesYou state that “elders” are not an optional feature in church life. Everyone agrees that leadership is important, why this kind of leadership?

The short answer is the apostles specifically installed elders to lead the churches that they planted.  For example, Paul told Titus, “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).  Churches aren’t “straightened out” until they have pastoral, elder leadership in place.  A church without shepherding elders is a disordered church.

The longer answer involves the very nature of church itself.  Local churches are first and foremost spiritual families.  Churches are assemblies of people who have been united to Jesus by faith and by the Holy Spirit in order to display God’s glory.  Therefore churches need more than just good organizational leadership.  They specifically need spiritual leadership—i.e. leadership provided by godly men who proclaim and obey God’s word with the goal of leading people toward Christ-likeness for God’s glory.

In pastoral theology, the categories of Prophet, Priest, and King are often used to describe pastoral leadership. Do you find this a helpful paradigm? Should a elder manifest all the qualities associated with these offices?

I actually don’t find those categories for leadership that helpful, or even very biblical.  While the offices of prophet, priest and king exist in the Old Testament, the Bible doesn’t use them as paradigms or metaphors for leadership styles.  When prophet, priest and king are used in this way, it feels a bit like a biblical skin is being pulled over a modern personality test.

It seems to me more helpful to adopt the dominant biblical paradigm for spiritual leadership, namely the “shepherd.”  As shepherds, all elders should feed, protect and lead God’s flock well.  That being said, every elder is unique, and each one brings a different personality, gifting and life experience to that common shepherding task.  This is also one of the reasons elder plurality is such a blessing for the church: these differences among elders can complement and balance one another.

How can you encourage lay elders to feel like “real pastors”?

Allow your lay elders to carry out functions in your church that people typically associate with the role of a paid pastor.  Let elders lead communion, perform baptisms, preach sermons, visit the sick, and provide counsel.  When elders perform these functions it communicates their pastoral status to the congregation, and to themselves.

Do you see a difference between an “elder led” vs. “elder rule” model of ministry? Do you have a preference (or a biblical conviction)? And how does a decision here work out practically in how the elders serve the church?

The difference between “elder led” and “elder rule” lies in the authority of the congregation, or lack thereof, in relationship to the elders.  In elder led churches, the elders lead and direct the affairs of the church.  But the congregation still has the final authority and responsibility before God for the doctrine, discipline, and leadership of the church.  So in elder led churches, for example, the congregation typically elects its elders.

In an elder ruled church, the elders have an authority that is not answerable to the congregation in some significant way.  Elders in an elder ruled church might make major decisions without any congregational vote, or might have the sole power to choose and elect fellow elders.

I am convinced that the elder led model more closely reflects the biblical pattern.  Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom to the church, not the elders (Matthew 18:18;cf. 16:19).  While elders have an authority to lead the church and church members have a responsibility to obey their leaders, that elder authority is not absolute.  When explaining the governance of our church, I like to say that we are an elder led, congregational church. This tension best reflects the biblical pattern.

We all know that an elder needs to be able to teach. Should an elder also be someone who loves to read? Or, to put it another way, are “blue collar” redneck elders an oxymoron?

No.  Blue collar, redneck elders are not an oxymoron.  An elder need not necessarily be highly educated or widely read.  The scriptures only require that an elder be well taught and faithful to that teaching: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).  Were first-century elders well-read?  Wasn’t Peter an unschooled fisherman?  Should elders and pastors in developing nations without access to lots of books be disqualified?  We need to be careful not to impose modern, Western ideals onto the biblical qualifications for elders.

That being said, elders in modern, Western churches should strive to read more.  Given the complexities of Western life under the conditions of advanced modernity, and given the massive resources available, elders living in the United States, for example, would be foolish not to avail themselves of the opportunities to learn more so that they can faithfully articulate sound doctrine in our information age.

What is the relationship between eldership and membership?

If elders are the church’s shepherds, then membership defines the boundaries of their flock.  When an elder takes the shepherding task seriously, a logical question comes to mind, “For whom am I accountable before God?”  Every Christian in the world?  Any Christian who happens to attend a church service on a given Sunday?  And how would an elder know that a person sitting in the pew really is a believer?  Is an elder responsible for someone attends one of his church’s Bible studies weekly, but worships regularly in another congregation?  Does an elder have a pastoral authority over and responsibility for an unbeliever who attends church faithfully with his spouse?

Membership answers all these quandaries in two ways.  First, church members identifies the sheep as sheep, to the best of the church’s ability.  And second, church membership tells an elder that he is responsible for these sheep in particular, and not for other sheep.  He can still minister to unbelievers or believing non-members in the congregation.  But at the end of the day he gives an account for the church members.

How does a plurality of elders make lay eldership more feasible?

Over the years, I have grown in appreciation for the genius of elder plurality.  An elder team distributes the ministry load and provides protection against burnout.  A group of elders complement one another’s gifts and balance one another’s personalities.   Elders can shepherd and care for one another, since in the end they themselves are all sheep as well.

There are challenges to team leadership.  Decisions can move slower and unity can be elusive.  But God uses the difficulties of communal leadership to refine elders.  Ideally, a plurality of elders provides a microcosm of love and mutual care for the entire church to emulate.

Chapter seven is about “spiritual maturity.” How can we as elders and church members avoid confusing grace and godliness for giftedness?

First and foremost, churches need to read and take seriously the elder qualification lists in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5.  Interestingly, these lists focus primarily on character qualities rather than talents and abilities.  When considering an elder candidate, we need to candle the person against the words of scripture.  We should ask things like: “Does this person model Christ-like character?  Do we see the fruit of the Spirit?  Is he above reproach?”

It’s very tempting to choose elders because of their education, wealth, personality, or worldly success.  But would those people close to the potential elder consider him a model of humility, love and self-control?  Does anyone in fact know this elder well?  Who is he already shepherding and what is the fruit of that relationship?  Pay particular attention to the candidate’s track record in the church.  Does the man leave a wake of conflict wherever he goes, or does he tend to unify and build up others in the church?

All of this suggests that churches need some sort of thoughtful, deliberate process for assessing and choosing potential elders.

What are some ways to cultivate a “prayer soaked” eldership?

The most fruitful thing our elder team has done is to carve out time for extended prayer together.  In addition to our monthly elder “business” meeting, we have a monthly prayer meeting where we pray over the membership list and the needs of the church.  This gets the elders focused on the people rather than the programs and projects, as important as those may be.

Also, create opportunities for elders to pray for church members in person.  Find a way to put James 5:14-15 into practice in your context.  If you’re the pastor, ask your elders to offer public prayers.  If you’re talking with an elder and some church members, ask the elder to pray right there for those members.  The best way to soak your eldership in prayer is to pray often.

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children.

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Christ and Culture: An Interview with Greg Forster (by Matthew Claridge)

Christ and Culture: An Interview with Greg Forster (by Matthew Claridge)

JFTWIs Christ with, for, or against culture? Whatever the answer, we cannot be content with an ambiguous “and.” This is an issue of increasing concern and urgency to evangelicals as they watch whatever common ground they assumed was in place in American culture swiftly eroding under their feet. Yet it is in these times of uncertainty and shifting worldviews that the church has the opportunity to scrutinize its role in society unclouded by cultural arrogance or ignorance.

It is a pleasure to have Greg Forster back with Credo for an interview on his new book Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It. Forster is among a cadre of evangelical intellectuals rising to the challenge the new century presents for the church. I count him among the “sons of Issachar” whom God has gifted with an “understanding of times, and what (the new) Israel ought to do” (1Chron. 12.32).

Greg Forster (PhD, Yale University) is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. He also the editor of the group blog Hang Together and a regular contributor to the Gospel Coalition, First Thoughts, and other online resources. Forster is the author of numerous articles and six books, including The Joy of Calvinism.

In recent years there have been many evangelical books coming out about engaging culture. What does your book contribute to this growing body of work?

Where most books look at “culture” generically, I look specifically at the American experiment in religious liberty and what it means for the role of religion in our civilization. I also ground my approach in scriptural teaching about how the Holy Spirit transforms the lives of believers. And rather than champion the church against the institutions of human culture as some do, or champion Christian cultural life against a commitment to the ministry of the local church as others do, I affirm the necessary roles of both. The ministry of the church (preaching, worship, sanctification) and the civic institutions of culture (family, economy, citizenship) are all necessary to a godly life and a flourishing civilization.

The conceptual center to your book is the word “Joy.” What do you mean by this term and what has it to do with influencing and rebuilding culture?

When I talk about joy, I don’t mean simply a feeling of happiness, because I don’t think that’s what the Bible means when it uses that term. “The joy of God” is the flourishing of our minds, hearts and lives, which believers have as a result of the special work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our thoughts are changed, our emotions are changed, our actions are changed. That transformation inevitably has an impact on the relationships and institutions within which we live, and thus it intersects with our culture. This is the place to start when we think about how Christianity influences culture, because this is the only thing that is really unique about Christianity. This is the one thing we bring to the table of our culture that no one else can.

I found your discussion of religious freedom quite fascinating. What are the blessings and problems of this arrangement? Can religious freedom be consistently upheld without the majority influence of the Christian tradition?

The greatest blessing is the space it creates for virtue and conscience. I think most people have forgotten that it’s very rare in human history to have a culture where people are expected to shape their lives according to an understanding of what is right. In most civilizations historically, 98% of the population was simply told how to live, and that leaves no space for people to be moral creatures. One challenge this creates is that religion and even morality can come to seem optional. Another is the fragmentation of our moral language – if you and I have different religions, we may still agree that murder and theft are wrong, but we’re likely to disagree about what actions should count as murder or theft. It becomes very challenging to hold a society together without returning to the old way of just having the elites at the top simply tell everyone how to live. Can we uphold religious freedom over time if Christianity remains a minority view? We may not need to find out, if we can reform the church effectively enough to seek revival. But if the Lord doesn’t grant that, I suppose the answer will depend on what the predominant religion ends up being. I believe that religious freedom is morally right, and I believe God gives a conscience to all people and not just to believers, so in principle it should be possible. But “possible” is a long way from a guarantee.

Explain this statement: “The people who don’t need to get into the inner ring are the people who really keep a civilization going” (157).

In that quote I’m discussing a magnificent address C.S. Lewis gave to college students about how the world works, called “The Inner Ring.” In every profession and in every other cultural group, Lewis says, there is an “inner ring” of bigshots and important people at the top of the social ladder. Many people spend their lives trying to move up that ladder, and they burn up tons of their energy and opportunities focused on that goal. It’s the people who ignore the ladder of social importance who tend to get their jobs done properly and build authentic social relationships. That’s the only thing that keeps all the professions and cultural groups from collapsing in a great heap.

Unpack this crucial strategy for cultural engagement: “embedding our opposition to the bad within the framework of the good is the best way to strengthen and empower our transformative impact” (89).

One of our greatest deficiencies in the evangelical world today is that we don’t embrace and affirm our culture and its structures. Everything outside the church, everything that doesn’t have a cross stamped all over it, is assumed to be inferior. We are especially wary of anything that smells like love of country – I can testify from experience that the fastest way to get jeered at in the evangelical world is to say something good about your country. I understand there are good historical reasons for this; we’re in detox from the Jerry Falwell generation. No one wants to go back to the Religious Right. But God loves the nations. He says the structures of human culture are ordained by him and have his blessing, and that they contribute to human flourishing. God ordains government to uphold justice. God ordains economic structures to produce the goods and services people need. God ordains the family – and not just in Christian households. By God’s grace, even after the fall these structures have a good role in the divine plan. We should love our country; we should love our democratic constitution, which gives us a role in governing; we should love the modern, entrepreneurial economy that has raised more than a billion people out of poverty. And once we truly love these structures, and prove by our actions that we accept them and want them to flourish, we will suddenly discover that we have earned the right to be heard when we criticize them. Would you let an atheist tell you how to run your worship service? No? Then why should the American people let you tell them how to run America, if you don’t identify yourself as an American who loves this country as much as they do?

Do you think the argument of Ryan Anderson that exclusively recognizing heterosexual marriage is in the best interest of the state for the raising of children is a sufficient and effective argument in the public square?

I would not limit the argument for marriage just to the goal of raising children. The state ought to institutionalize marriage only between a man and a woman for other reasons as well. And I think it is important to stress (as Ryan also does) that this is not a particularly Christian view. The proposition that marriage is intrinsically a heterosexual phenomenon is almost the universal voice of all human culture, regardless of religion, until just the other day. Even the cultures in which homosexual relationships were widely accepted and legitimized never dreamed of treating such relationships as marriages. They saw that something different was at stake in a man-woman relationship than in a same-sex relationship. As for whether the argument is “effective,” I think it is as effective as any philosophical argument can be nowadays. The deficiency is not in Ryan’s argument, but in the responsiveness of our culture to rational argument. Without leaving philosophy behind, because philosophy is critically important, I think we need a major increase of investment in other ways of making our view intelligible and plausible, such as storytelling.

You make an impassioned case for economic growth and the task of Christians to build cities, not utopias, for the benefit of others. But what about Cotton Mather’s famous statement, “piety begat prosperity, and the daughter consumed its mother”?

We have to distinguish between the warning that wealth creates temptations to sin, and the view that wealth forces us to sin by some kind of inevitable power. The latter view was held by the ancient pagans as part of their cyclical view of history; people believed they were trapped in a permanent cycle in which poverty teaches thrift, thrift leads to prosperity, prosperity leads to vice, and vice squanders wealth, leading back to poverty, and so on forever. To say that this cycle is inevitable implies that human beings do not have free will and are merely puppets. That is what the ancient pagans basically believed in – all is fate. You certainly can’t square this view with the teaching that the Holy Spirit has been given to the church to empower us to live godly lives under any kind of circumstances.

In the early modern period, this fatalistic view of economic history experienced something of a revival, and since then a lot of well-meaning Christians have been taken in by it. In scripture we find stern warnings that wealth creates temptations, and we should take that seriously. But we also find that God commands us to work for the flourishing of our households and communities – very much including their economic flourishing. And we find that the Holy Spirit has been given to the church to empower us to sustain godliness. In the Old Testament, God warns his chosen nation that they are going to get rich and it’s going to tempt them to evil – but the reason he gives this warning is because it is his intention to bless them with fabulous wealth! Israel becomes wealthy in the promised land, we are told over and over again, because it was given the law of God and it learned virtuous behavior. So does that mean God is responsible for Israel’s sin, because he taught them virtue and made them wealthy? Do we think God was just kidding when he wrote the Proverbs? The command to do honest work that creates wealth and increases the well-being of our households and communities is repeated in the New Testament. We have to avoid a prosperity gospel that says faith creates wealth by some automatic process, but at the same time, we have to avoid saying that God doesn’t care if people starve to death or die of polio. And unfortunately, the prevailing current in Christian intellectual life these days is very anti-growth. I guess I’m just not as smart as the people who take that view, because unlike them, I simply don’t know how to love my neighbor while hoping that my neighbor loses his job. In general and on the whole, virtuous behavior tends to create wealth and health for most people. God is in favor of that.

What’s the problem with “rational self-interest” as a platform for Christians and non-Christians to pursue economic growth together?

It sounds very plausible to many people – as long as we can get people to be enlightened enough to realize that lying, cheating and stealing are not in their self-interest, can’t we get everyone to behave themselves without any need for the difficult call to rise above self-interest and put other people’s needs ahead of their own? But it founders on two basic problems. First, it’s not true that lying, cheating and stealing are absolutely never in my self-interest. Mere “rationality” or “enlightenment” is not enough to transform self-interest from a selfish vice into a socially harmonious force. If I become more rational without any overcoming of the self, my rationality simply makes me more effective at cheating without getting caught. If we don’t call people to a level of moral virtue that rises above self-interest, people will not in fact behave themselves. The second basic problem is that we can’t have a legal and economic system that forbids lying, cheating, and stealing unless we have a pretty broad level of public agreement, as a culture, about what kinds of actions are going to count as lying, cheating, and stealing. People can all agree that any action that falls into these categories is wrong, yet disagree about what particular actions fall into these categories. In order to have a social system that works, you need enough shared morality to define the content of these terms. And in spite of centuries of attempts by some of the brightest minds around, it turns out you just can’t get that out of an ethic of enlightened self-interest. You have to transcend self-interest before you can really have a moral worldview.

Your key statement, when it comes to Christians and politics, I believe is this: “the most important task in political life is building moral consensus.” In what ways is this a Christian project?

Yes, that’s the top political action item in my view. We have to build consensus across all sorts of cultural lines – religion, political party, ideology, you name it – and identify shared moral commitments that define us as a people. In one sense this cannot be an exclusively “Christian project” because the whole point is to build something that has its own integrity as a shared possession. We can’t build a shared sense of who we are as a culture if we start with the presupposition that the shared culture will be distinctively Christian. At the same time, I think there is one sense in which building moral consensus is likely to be a predominantly Christian project, because it is Christians who ought to be the first to let their guard down and reach out across boundaries. Shame on us if we call ourselves Christians but don’t love our neighbors enough to try to find a way to live together in peace and harmony.

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has two children, Alec and Nora.

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Our Father in Heaven: Two Interviews on God the Father

Posted by on Feb 6, 2014 in Doctrine of God, Interviews, Trinity | No Comments
Our Father in Heaven: Two Interviews on God the Father

Interviews by Matthew Claridge–

What is the goal of our salvation? Common answers might include escaping hell fire, seeing departed loved ones, or living happily ever after in the New Heaven and New Earth.  We all should know it goes deeper than that, and more well-informed answers would refer to the famed Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But truth be told, even this classic statement isn’t as precise as the Bible puts it, or as Jesus puts it time and time again in the Gospel of John: “This is eternal life, that they know you [the Father] the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Jesus came to grant us access to the Father, not just to God generally speaking.

What differences does that make?  Honestly, despite the fact that the Father is the goal of our salvation, I think He is perhaps the most neglected or misunderstood Person of the Blessed Trinity. To help us answer that question, a couple well known theologians and pastors have penned or edited books focusing entirely on the Father–Joel Beeke, editor of the The Beauty and Glory of the Father, and Doug Wilson, author of Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families.  Dr. Beeke is president and professor systematic theology and homiletic at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. he also serves as pastor of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids. Doug Wilson is senior pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. He regularly blogs at www.DougWils.com. Taken together, these two books give us one of the most thorough treatments of the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and its implications for our personal and social good.

the-glory-and-beauty-of-the-father1Interview with Joel Beeke

Tell us a little a bit about this volume, its origin and why its theme was chosen.

We desired to consider the wonders of the triune God. The Beauty and Glory of the Father originated in a series of conferences sponsored by Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. We had done conferences on the Son and the Spirit, and so in August 2012 we gathered together under the theme of the Father. Various pastor-theologians joined our own faculty in preaching a series of stirring messages, and the manuscripts of those messages were published in this book.

There are churches named after the Son and churches named after the Spirit. Why not the Father? Do you think the Father tends to be neglected in contemporary Evangelicalism?

Church names notwithstanding, the entire Trinity often seems to be neglected in contemporary churches. If we are thinking biblically, then we cannot begin to meditate on one person of the Trinity without quickly being led to exult in the others. However, modern Evangelicals tend to focus so much on their feelings and activities that they neglect God Himself. If they speak much of God, then they tend to focus on His attributes–which are glorious–but remain strangely silent about the divine persons united as one God: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

What would you say is the difference between the revelation of the “Father” in the Old Testament and in the New Testament?

God’s fatherhood is revealed in the Old Testament (Ex. 4:22; Ps. 103:13; Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Mal. 1:6), but this theme appears with brilliant and pervasive radiance in the New Testament. One reason for this is that God the Son has come in the flesh, and His relationship with the Father illuminates the relationship of God’s redeemed children to their Father (John 1:12-14).

This may seem like a no-brainer, but what is the relationship between God as Father and the image of our salvation as “adoption”? What does this say about the nature of our salvation?

The relationship between God’s fatherhood and our adoption is Christ, for He is the Son of God. This tells us that at the core of our salvation is union with Christ (being “in him,” as Paul repeatedly says in Eph. 1:3-14). The Father sent His Son to redeem sinners from the curse of His holy law and give them adoption, and He sent His Spirit to make their adoption a reality in their personal experience (Gal. 3:13-14; 4:4-6). It is only in union with the Son of God that we have this adoption and the Spirit of adoption.

What was it about Puritan reflections on “adoption” that struck, warmed, and edified you?

More than I can say in a short space! (See my book, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption.) One thing that encouraged me is that the Puritans were the first people to put a separate section in a confession of faith on the Christian’s adoption (Westminster Confession of Faith, XII). Another thing was that the Puritans emphasized that adoption was both a legal, positional status, and also an experience to be cultivated in the Spirit of adoption. They were concerned that believers have an assurance that they are children of God, and that they enjoy fellowship with the Father in His love.

What’s so great and life-changing about the  “unlimited access to the Father we have through Christ Jesus”?

It brings the church into communion with the triune God! Paul summed up the blessings of our peace in Christ by writing, “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Eph. 2:18). In this short statement we see that: (1) our adoption leads us to consider and rejoice in the riches of Christ’s mediatorial person and work (“through him”) for His church; (2) it brings us into an experience of the fellowship with God given by the Holy Spirit (“by one Spirit”) to God’s worshipers; (3) it draws us through Christ and in the Spirit to the Father Himself (“unto the Father”) to delight in the wonders of the love that planned our salvation from eternity and now embraces us forever; (4) it unites us with other believers from Israel and Gentiles of many other ethnic backgrounds (“we both”) to know and enjoy God, not in isolation but as a loving community of brothers and sisters, God’s many colored family.

father-hunger-1Interview with Doug Wilson

What does the Fatherhood of God have to do with the fatherhood of everyone else?

In Eph. 3:14-15, the apostle Paul says that all fatherhood (patria) derives from the Father of Jesus Christ. This makes His fatherhood archetypical, and the font of everything else.

 You trace many of our current social, moral, and spiritual maladies to “father hunger.” What do you mean by this and why does it hold such explanatory power for all these other concerns?

The Bible teaches that we have fallen into sin as a race, which means that we are estranged from our heavenly Father. When we come back to Him, Jesus teaches us to pray, “our Father . . .” All our problems are in some way reflections of this central dislocation. When Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life, He is saying that no one comes to the Father except through Him. That is what we need.

 What’s the difference between “male-ness” and “masculinity”? How has the latter been “redefined by the conservative American church”?

Being male is a feature of biology. Since God the Father has no body, His masculinity cannot be a function of biology. It must therefore be something else. Masculinity in our day is defined in terms of bravado, bluster, or machismo.

 I benefited from an illustration you provided for how children learn to respect a father’s authority, namely, its like writing a check. Could you explain that illustration for our readers and how it translates into the day-to-day of fatherhood?

Exercising authority is like writing a check. Establishing a deep relationship of trust is like making deposits in the bank. When it comes to the time when you need to write a check with your kids (by saying no to something they really want), it is not enough to prove that the checkbook is yours. You have to have put money in it.

 You suggest, “I would recommend that men who have had a real shortage of practical examples should read biographies of fathers.” Any particular examples you would recommend?

Iain Murray on Jonathan Edwards, For Kirk and Covenant on John Knox, and Peter Lillback on George Washington.

 “Gratitude declares the meaning of fatherhood like little else can.” What do you mean?

Gratitude is contagious, and when a father is grateful for what he has, he is modeling for his sons and daughters how to be grateful for what they have.

 In what ways does a free society depend on families lead by masculine men?

Effeminate men can be manipulated and worked. There will always be someone available to do that. Masculine men can be led, but not manipulated. Political liberty therefore depends on a recovery of masculinity.

 “In this world, a woman is God’s chief instrument for making a man responsible.” Really?

Really. A man cannot be responsible unless there is someone to be responsible for. He needs to be needed. Without that, he is down the road.

 How should pastors resist the bumbling, nerdy stereotypes of Mr. Collins and also the testosterone induced-coma of a Leonidas? What does it mean to be a “masculine” minister?

Masculinity means to take responsibility. If a man is ordained, he is responsible to preach what the Bible says. If he does that, he will need courage enough.

Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has three children: Alec, Nora, and Grace.

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Interviews from 2013

Posted by on Dec 31, 2013 in Interviews | No Comments
Interviews from 2013

One of our favorite features of Credo Magazine is the opportunity to interview some of today’s best authors, pastors, and scholars. With 2013 coming to an end, here are the interviews from 2013. And special thanks must go to Matthew Claridge who has conducted so many of these interviews.

From the magazine:

10 Questions with Justin Taylor

Exploring Biblical Theology: An Interview with James Hamilton

11 Questions with Andy Naselli

The Undomesticated Doctrine of Regeneration: An Interview with Douglas Sweeney

5 Minutes with Douglas Houfman

10 Questions with Tim Challies

5 Minutes with Joey Allen

The Quest for the Trinity – Interview with Stephen R. Holmes

10 Questions with David and Sally Michael

5 Minutes with Lee Gatiss

What’s the Difference? Gregg Allison discusses the major differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism

From the blog:

Fit to Burst: An interview with Rachel Jankovic

Calvin’s Company of Pastors–An interivew with Scott Manetsch

A Modern Calvinist: An interview with James Bratt on Abraham Kuyper

Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 1)

Limited Atonement — An interview with Lee Gatiss (part 2)

Calvinism – An Interview with Darryl Hart (part 1)

Calvinism – An Interview with Darryl Hart (part 2)

Dying as a Christian–An Interview with Christopher Bogosh

Jesus on Every Page – An Interview with David Murray

Is God Anti-Gay? Sam Allberry Answers

Christ and the Arts: an interview with Jerram Barrs (part 1)

Christ and the Arts: An Interview with Jerram Barrs (Part 2)

C.S. Lewis: A Life – Q&A with Alister McGrath

The Conviction to Lead – Interview with Albert Mohler

Churches, Revolutions, and Empires (1789-1914): Interview with Ian Shaw

Interview: A Mouth Full of Fire

Interview: Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate

Thomas Schreiner’s Whole Bible Theology

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Fit to Burst: An interview with Rachel Jankovic

Posted by on Dec 17, 2013 in Gospel, Interviews | One Comment
Fit to Burst: An interview with Rachel Jankovic

As a mother of six children (two of them twins), author Rachel Jakovic has much wisdom to offer her fellow moms. But it isn’t the commiserating stories or funny anecdotes that draw women to her books—its the down to earth, theologically deep, biblical encouragement she offers them. Recently, I (Jessalyn Hutto) had the privilege of asking Rachel a few practical questions on the topic of motherhood in light of her new book, Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood.

In your book, Fit to Burst, you make it clear that our ability to obey God and love our families is a fruit of the gospel, yet you do not shy away from calling moms to actively pursue holiness. Why do you think it is so easy for moms to swing from on one side of the works-based righteousness/let go and let God pendulum to the other? How can moms passionately pursue excellence in their calling without leaving the gospel behind?

I see this as simply an issue of balance. Like so many things in life we tend to fall in one ditch or the other. So both keeping your house super clean and letting your house go could honor God, depending on the circumstance. And both could dishonor him, depending on the circumstance. Often times what we need to hear is not what we want to hear—because what we need to hear will make us more balanced, but it will also push against us and probably be a little uncomfortable.

As far as the gospel goes, it’s the drive. It is why we do everything. It isn’t like a statue that we look at, but more like the food that fuels us. We love God for he loved us first. When we want our hands to express our love for him, we are expressing his love for us. When we want the dinner on the table, the gifts under the tree, or the smiles on our faces to reflect our love for God, what they are really telling is his love for us. There is no threat that as we seek to honor God in our mundane work that it will in some way cover up the gospel. It is a way of declaring the gospel. The only threat here is that we leave off trying to honor God and get busy trying to impress one another, or earn our street cred as domestic superheroes.

1591281283DHow do you think the internet has positively and negatively affected modern motherhood? Do you have any warnings or encouragement for young moms as they discern how to make the best use of their time in this area?

I guess I would say that it has been a huge blessing in so many ways, but like everything it can be a stumbling block if you let it.

Things I love—being able to search for recipes, being able to get any knitting pattern I want, ordering things that I wouldn’t have normal access to, and keeping up with family and friends who are far away, as well as staying in touch with people who I see often in real life and seldom connect to.

Things that can cause you to stumble—looking at everyone’s life with gratitude except yours. Letting the filters of other people’s instagrams make you believe that they are living in some kind of paradise while you muddle around with crumbs on your feet. To whom much is given, much is required. If you have all kinds of social outlets available to you because of the internet, then God is requiring a lot of social wisdom from you. And that is something that requires a lot of discernment and self discipline—which isn’t easy, but it is good!

Being a mother is incredibly demanding, both physically and spiritually. How can moms put all they have into their children and still have something to give to their husbands? How do you balance motherhood and marriage?

I don’t feel like I do really balance motherhood and marriage—I guess because it is all just my life. Whenever we talk about balancing things we are talking like they are in opposition to one another—on different sides of the teeter totter. But with a husband and wife relationship we would be wrong. It is more like a merry go round of giving. The kids aren’t one of my jobs and Luke (my husband) another, with me standing in the middle trying to keep either from crashing to the ground. Luke and I together have children—and I spend my day on behalf of both of us dealing with them. He isn’t the extra kid who comes home at night and needs me. We are good friends—without seeing him I would have nothing to give to the kids. I understand the temptation to think that you don’t want to do anything for anyone else, but when a husband and wife fellowship together and spend time together, it should be a time of mutual giving and receiving. Much trouble can come from forgetting that you have been made one. His needs are your needs, and pouring yourself out for him fills you up. And the opposite is also true—needing him is filling him up. Wanting your husband’s input is giving to him. Needing his support and encouragement is a way to give.

The fifties housewife image we have of a woman greeting her husband with his slippers is more than a little impossible at times. Greet him with needing him, with loving him, and with wanting to give more than you have—not with a sense of foreboding that he may try to touch you at some point.

Practically speaking, my husband and I read books together sometimes—meaning we talk about them. Usually books related to work for him. We talk through how it applies to us, and we get a much fuller understanding of the work we are both doing through that. It is a great way to get on the same page about things, a way I can support him at work, and he can understand me at home.

Often young moms struggle to build genuine, sanctifying friendships with other mothers because their relationships are characterized by pride and comparison. Do you have any practical advice for women who long to have close friends, but cant seem to let anyone in?

Honestly, I guess I’d just say wad up all your expectations and throw them out. You may be trying to build some kind of fantasy land of friendship that you only think other people have. Then, when you are done with that, look at the people who are near you that you could minister to. Sometimes one of our kids goes through a phase where they are getting their feelings hurt because other people aren’t playing with them. Usually we discover that they were not actually doing anything but standing around feeling sorry for themselves that no one was playing with them, and that was the problem. Stop imagining that friend that comes over to fold your laundry with a coffee for you and a kind word. Maybe organize something yourself, something that is not focused on you, but rather gives you a chance to get to know others.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to read Jessalyn Huttos review of Rachels book Fit to Burst here.

Jessalyn Hutto is a regular contributor to Credo Magazine. She is just an ordinary wife and mother who serves an extraordinary God. Her passion for theology led her to create the blog DesiringVirtue which encourages women to study, treasure, and apply the Word of God to their daily lives. She is blessed to be the wife of Richard Hutto and the mother of three little boys: Elliot, Hudson, and Owen. She is also a regular contributor to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s women’s channel: Karis.

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