The Line of Responsible Parenting

blog - Adrian PetersonThe reactions to the story of NFL star running back and 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson being indicted for ‘reckless or negligent injury to a child’  have been a bit divisive, to say the least.

It’s a fascinating experiment as a pastor living in Minnesota, i.e. Vikings country, to ask your 7th/8th grade confirmation class their thoughts on the issue. For starters, it’s a perfect demonstration of someone sincerely buying their own rationale when it’s personally convenient. Adolescent boys lawyer up pretty quick when the NFL is trying to take their best player off the field.

But everyone has an opinion on this case. Everyone. Football fan or not, in this particular case, everyone seems to be registering a pretty passionate plea. Even our state governor has publicly given his stance. What was revealing to me as a pastor, was that it wasn’t until over 20 minutes into our confirmation classroom discussion, and not until after heavy prompting and hinting on my part, that any student said, “What matters most is what God says about parenting our children…” 

The fact that it took that long and that I had to tip my hand that much to get to that point…I don’t think it’s simply because I’ve been a poor theology instructor for these kids. Maybe. Rather, I think it’s because kids (humans in general, for that matter) will tend to give you responses they think you want to hear until you touch a nerve, and then they respond instinctively. This specific case happens to be a topic that everyone seems to have core beliefs about. At that point, people feel justified in letting knees jerk.

blog - Adrian Peterson 2The tipping point for my confirmation students, the moment that finally led one of them to suggesting that we see what God says about the topic, was when I pointed out on the whiteboard that all of their responses thus far had begun with the words, “I think…”; “I feel…”; “I believe…”. After those prefaces had generally come thoughts like, “I think parents should be allowed to discipline their own kids in their own homes however they want” (again, this seemed to be the preference of the diehard Vikings fans. No, they didn’t perceive their logic to be self-serving.). Another popular response was, “I feel like a parent should never hit their child, no matter what the circumstances.” When I calmly asked, “Why?”, one of the young women responded with a passionate explanation that ended, “It’s just wrong.” When I further pressed her on an explanation of WHY we should all submit ourselves to her declaration that such an act is wrong, she finished with, “Because.” There were other more “moderate” responses that went something along the lines of, “Well, it’s okay to spank your child, but you shouldn’t use an object to do it like Adrian Peterson did.” Again, when pressed, there was no conceivable WHY to the reasoning.

While this is admittedly a conversation with 14-year-olds, most of the conversations I’ve heard from full-grown adults haven’t sounded much different. For that matter, the “experts” sound very similar. I could name a dozen prominent talk radio figures who have weighed in, proposing little reasoning for their stance beyond “I think” or “I feel.” The innate pride of a sinful heart simply doesn’t understand that what “I think” or “I feel” about a given situation does not make it so, no matter how many tears I shed when offering my sentiments nor even how many logical points I string together. You CANNOT make a moral argument without an appeal to God.

Someone might contend, “Sure you can! Let’s just all do what’s best for mankind without hurting someone.” First off, why? For argument’s sake, what is the logical reason why we should be working toward the benefit of mankind? Second, even if we all agree to work to not hurt one another, who are you to say what does or does not ultimately hurt someone? What makes you the authority? What makes anyone the authority? “Alright. Well, let’s just go with the majority consensus.” Okay, are you really comfortable with the majority consensus about Jewish people in mid-twentieth century Germany? Are you comfortable with the majority consensus about black people in the South in mid-nineteenth century America? Let me reiterate: logically, you CANNOT make a moral argument without an appeal to God.

So, what does God’s Word say about physicality in the discipline of children?

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (Prov. 13:24)

This passage is by no means the only advice the Bible gives on parenting, but it appears the most relevant to the given case. So let’s dissect it a bit.

blog - Adrian Peterson 3What’s obvious at first glance is the acknowledgment of a parent using a “rod,” what’s generally been referred to in the Peterson case as a “switch.” The assertion of the first half of this passage of wisdom literature is exactly the opposite of what many Americans would categorize as loving parenting. The writer says that if you DON’T use a rod, when necessary, to discipline your child, you HATE your child.

So, at this point, the defenders of Adrian Peterson rejoice and those who don’t like the passage conclude that the Bible is “old-fashioned,” “regressive,” and “unreliable.” Well…hold them horses….

Reading on in the passage, upon further explanation, we see that a parent who loves his child is “careful to discipline them.” How does this relate to the Peterson case? Several medical examiners evaluated Peterson’s son and found the wounds on the child to be extensive, open lacerations which the doctors deemed “child abuse.”  So careful is obviously the operative word in “careful to discipline.” Was Adrian Peterson careful?

Technically the word “careful” is not in the original Hebrew text, but the idea is there. The word musar (translit.) means to chastise in order to reform behavior, for the benefit of the one receiving discipline. So the motive of the discipline is loving correction. But to what degree can physical discipline be enforced before it crosses a line from chastisement to abuse? Where does loving discipline end and out-of-control anger begin? I think we’d need to see into someone’s heart before we can say unequivocally. Since we can’t do that, in our country, we use a jury of peers. It’s not a perfect system, but perhaps the best we can do in a sinful world.

So, my point today is not whether to spank or not to spank. My point is not to suggest what the NFL should do with Adrian Peterson. My point is to encourage Christians to temper their gut reactions (and innate thoughts about parenting styles), and first carefully consider the Scriptural directives. A Christian should be able to recognize, “Well, how I was raised…” or what I think or what I feel does not make something gospel truth. In fact, a Christian who understands that he is victim to a sinful nature should actually assume that his natural instincts on moral issues are probably a click or two off from perfect.

Is it crazy to suggest I can’t even always trust my native instincts on what is right or wrong? Put differently, why should I subject my natural instincts to the authority of the Bible?

Simply this: Jesus endured the ultimate switch of discipline – the cross – upon which he received the beating we deserved for our sins. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa. 53:5) Without hesitation I can say that Jesus is a better, more loving, more self-sacrificial, gentler man than me or anyone I’ve met. Furthermore, as one raised from the grave, Jesus clearly has insights on human nature that surpass my understanding. Finally, Jesus repeatedly states throughout the Gospels that he upholds the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:27; Matt. 5:17; Matt. 23:35). This includes our Proverbs passage. Adding this all together, I would assume Jesus’ perception of loving parenting is better than my perception, which is marred by a sinful nature. In short, I trust his Word ahead of my gut.

You cannot make a moral argument without an appeal to God. So, CHRISTIAN, the world needs your guidance. It doesn’t need your natural, gut reaction. A pagan world can produce that on its own. Instead, what the world needs is a humble, counterintuitive, nuanced, informed and thoughtful response born out of the Word that brings life (John 6:63). Graciously lead the way.

Advertisements

Did Jesus Really Never Say Anything About Homosexuality?

Since I get a steady diet of this question, I thought it was probably long overdue to offer a post which I can regularly direct people to moving forward. Additionally, what’s better about this video than just an email from me summarizing the Jesus/homosexuality issue is that Piers Morgan (the show’s host) makes his case with all of the matter-of-fact bravado that someone has probably tried to intimidate you with before. But…Morgan runs into someone who understands the Bible considerably better than he does.

Morgan’s argument in the clip – “Jesus clearly didn’t think homosexuality was a big issue since he never talked about it.” – you’ve likely heard this argument before. Could it be true? Well, an argument from silence really isn’t much of an argument. As Dr. Michael Brown points out, “Jesus did not address wife-beating or heroin-shooting but we don’t use that argument from silence.” Only someone with a clear agenda would do the rational gymnastics it’d take to try to surmise that the Bible (or Jesus) was okay with such things.

An even better argument, however, is that Jesus, on several occasions, outright states that he is upholding the Jewish sexual ethic that was stated throughout the Old Testament. Dr. Brown points out three instances:

1) Matthew 5:17 – Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus is saying that the universal sexual morals taught in the Old Testament are still firmly in place.

2) Matthew 15:19 – Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.” Jesus is saying that “adultery and sexual immorality,” two terms which together fully encompass all sex that is outside of God-designed sex – i.e. between a husband and a wife – defiles people.

3) Matthew 19:4-6 – Jesus says, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus is saying that marriage was designed by God to be for one man and one woman for life. 

These passages are ONLY what Jesus himself directly says. This doesn’t include all of the specifics of the Old Testament or all of the further direction from New Testament writers concerning homosexuality.

What’s the real issue here?

I think this is another example of the trickle down effect of waning biblical literacy. People have just as strong of opinions about the Bible as they ever did, yet know their Bibles less.

Biblical illiteracy is more than the issue of people today falling for the question, “How many animals did Moses bring on the Ark?” (ANSWER: MOSES didn’t bring any animals on the Ark.) In other words, biblical illiteracy is not just a mechanical memorization of the names, places, and timeframe of the Bible. Yes, much of this has been lost. More importantly, however, the truths and themes these accounts teach are slipping from society’s consciousness…and conscience. Put differently, not knowing Jesus’ stance on homosexuality is the direct result of us becoming less familiar with our Bibles, which perfectly corresponds with our society’s increasingly lax stance on sexual immorality.

Consequently, if you hold a position different from the historically consistent biblical position, i.e. if you take the position that Jesus (and the Bible) are accepting of a homosexual lifestyle, by all means, you are free to do so. BUT, please do the name of Christ a favor. If you’re labeling yourself a Christian, please also be clear to say, “Just so you know, I’m taking a position entirely different from what the Bible teaches.” By the way, in doing so, in reinterpreting or dismissing Scripture for the sake of personal opinion, convenience, or contemporary societal assumption, just be warned that this act itself is entirely different from how “being a Christian” has historically been defined. In other words, part of the very definition of Christianity is recognizing Jesus both as your SAVIOR from sins AND your LORD, which means that you are willing to subject your personal opinions and conveniences to the truth of your master.

The case I’m trying to make here is that the clarity of Jesus’ teaching about homosexuality is not the issue. Open homosexuality taking place in our society, while not God-pleasing, really isn’t a threat to Christianity either. “Christians” not knowing what their Bible teaches and thus distorting the teaching of an inspired Word – that’s a massive threat to Christian faith right now.

Two errors to avoid

As in most cases, there are two roads Christians will hope to avoid in the conversation about the place of homosexuality in our society.

1) The self-indulgent position – Homosexuality is an important, sensitive cultural issue today. If Christians have any love whatsoever for the people around them, they will want to know how the Bible addresses an issue that today affects every single person’s life directly. A Christian will not, therefore, be unprepared when someone hits them with, “Well, Jesus never said anything against homosexuality.” If you care about that person, you will be ready to offer something about Jesus’ position on the biblical sexual ethic. If you don’t have something to say about it, you will almost invariably go along with the anti-biblical spirit of the day, the gospel conceived in the 60s sexual revolution – that love should have no borders.

2) The self-righteous position – A major part of the angst from the homosexual community when it comes to marriage legislation, etc., is that heterosexuals haven’t exactly demonstrated the beauty of God’s design for marriage and sexuality in the past half century. That’s actually a very valid argument. While our own personal failures or weaknesses don’t technically disprove a point we’re trying to make, they do tend to discredit the impact of our voice.

Consider this: nearly 80% of our country claims Christianity. Nonetheless, 50% of our country’s marriages end in divorce. Furthermore, the best research suggests that Christians are every bit as active in pre-marital sex as the non-believing world (Mark D. Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit, Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, pg. 205). According to another recent study, four out of five unmarried evangelicals ages eighteen to twenty-nine have had sex (Tyler Charles, “True Love Isn’t Waiting,” Neue 6 [April/May 2011], 32-36.). So why should anyone care what the average Christian has to say about biblical sexuality? They shouldn’t. We’ve lost credibility.

Now I’m not saying that a Christian shouldn’t be clear to explain the Bible’s stance on human sexuality (they should, or else they fall back into the self-indulgent position). I’m saying that a Christian should explain the biblical stance while at the same time never considering himself morally superior to the homosexual. I’m also saying that if we have unrepented sexual sin in our own lives, that should offend us significantly more than any sexual sin we see going on “out there” in the world. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5)

Or, as researcher David Kinnaman puts it:

“We (Christians) need a willingness to talk about and ‘own’ our struggles with sex, even as we stay on high alert or judgmentalism in our hearts. Hypocrisy might be defined as leniency toward ourselves and strict standards for everyone else.” (You Lost Me, pg. 162)

A Christian wants to boldly stand for truth even as he humbly acknowledges weakness. And if he’s guilty himself, the Christian confesses and corrects himself before he dreams of correcting others.

Conclusion

In the words of Dr. Brown, “I’d encourage you to re-study what Scripture says.” That’s it. Few things are tougher to see than Christians who think they can get away without studying their Bibles. How do we keep falling for this? If Satan could do no other single thing, it’d be to get us to not study our Bibles – the one thing that can give us spiritual life. “The Spirit gives life…The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

Scarier than having a misunderstanding of Jesus’ stance on homosexuality, however, is what this misunderstanding insinuates in the bigger picture. If I don’t know Jesus’ position on human sexuality, what else might I not understand about Jesus’ teaching? Do I really understand the depth of his love for me? Do I really understand the costliness of his forgiveness? Do I really understand that my salvation is entirely by grace?

Scripture isn’t just life-guiding. It’s life-giving. Therefore, I need to regularly re-study what it says.