Saturday, September 30, 2006

Spurgeon on Raising Children

While I like to use this blog as a place to record and flesh out my own thoughts and ideas, I came across on Scott Brown's blog an incredible quote from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, on the raising of children. With his usual direct style, he makes very clear the priorities Christian parents should be having when raising children...and for that, he would probably be considered "radical" in today's world. Note also how he pulled no punches in the last paragraph in describing particular parents who aren't heeding his wisdom. That, too, would be considered "judgmental" in today's evangelical world.... But could it be that the very thing Spurgeon is warning against is exactly why over 75% of our evangelical young adults are walking away from the faith by their early 20s (Southern Baptist Convention stats)?

“It is very grievous to see how some professedly Christian parents are satisfied so long as their children display cleverness in learning, or sharpness in business, although they show no signs of a renewed nature. If they pass their examinations with credit and promise to be well fitted for the world's battle, their parents forget that there is a superior conflict, involving a higher crown, for which the child will need to be fitted by divine grace and armed with the whole armor of God. Alas, if our children lose the crown of life, it will be but a small consolation that they have won the laurels of literature or art.

Many who ought to know better think themselves superlatively blessed in their children if they become rich, if they marry well, if they strike up into profitable enterprises in trade, or if they attain eminence in the profession which they have espoused. Their parents will go to their beds rejoicing and awake perfectly satisfied, though their boys are hastening down to hell, if they are also making money by the bushel. They have no greater joy than their children are having their portion in this life and laying up treasure where rust corrupts it. Though neither their sons nor daughters show any signs of the new birth, give no evidence of being rich toward God, manifest no traces of electing love, or redeeming grace or the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, yet there are parents who are content with their condition.

Now, I can say of such professing parents that they have need to question whether they be Christians at all and if they will not question it themselves, they must give some of us leave to hold it in serious debate.

From a sermon, “The Parent’s and Pastors Joy”

Oh, that we could have more "radical" preachers...and more parents who would heed them....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Where's Your Identity?

In the previoius post, "Implications of Individualism," I used an example from Dr. R.C. Sproul, Sr. wherein he spoke of teaching his children the value of their membership in his family...that the Sproul family was their identity. Now, knowing how much Dr. Sproul understands and values the majesty, supremacy, and sovereignty of God, I know he cannot be discounting the fact that a Christian's identity is in Christ.

So as I mused over what I had written, I couldn't get past the thought of a person finding his identity in his family being at odds with a person finding his identity in Christ. But as I thought further about the quandry, I believe that it can be answered because God is sovereign in placing a person in a particular family. None of us is in our family (either of origin or of marriage) by accident. God has sovereignly ordained that you be there.

I can see a few scenerios playing out:

One is that you are not a Christian and not from a Christian family. In this case, the whole discussion is meaningless because you would be finding your identity just as the culture yourself.

Another is that you are a unregenerate child in a Christian family. There is no problem with the family encouraging you to find your identity within the family. And if by the mercies of God you become regenerate, then melding an identity in Christ with an identity of a Godly family should not be an issue.

And lastly, you are a new believer in an unregenerate family. Your new identity is in Christ, but there is probably not a family identity anyway...nor will there be unless the family comes to faith in Christ. So the family identity is a nonissue here.

So in the long run, a Christian who finds his identity in his God-fearing family is not at odds with his finding his identity in Christ.

Implications of Individualism

Over at my Get Serious blog, I wrote a piece about individualism and it's impact on America, both in the family and in the community. The foundation for the argument rests upon the family and how its members see themselves in relation to it. As such, there are implications for our children and how we raise them.

In our culture we raise our children with the ultimate vision of sending them off to make their own way in the world, independent of their family. The children know this, and anticipate that day of emancipation. If you were to ask "Johnny" who he is, he would reply, "I am Johnny." followed by a quizzical look as to why you wouldn't understand that. This reply shows that he has been fully inculcated with the concept of individualism: the world begins and ends with him.

The result is that our culture is full of a bunch of individuals, each doing his own thing in his own direction for his own satisfaction. In some sense, this results in a culture of success...monetary, standard of living, etc. But in a darker sense, it results in a culture that doesn't connect with each other. Everything from the culture of success is temporal; it is only relationships that will last eternally, and even then, only those relationships between people for whom Christ is their Lord and Savior.

I once heard R.C. Sproul, Sr. discussing the issue of family and how children related to it. He pointed out that in the Sproul family, the children were taught at the youngest age that when asked what their name was, they were to give it. But when asked who they were, the answer was "I am a Sproul." They would then follow it up with "A Sproul does (a list of what the family values were)." Note the difference between what a child's name is and who they are. Dr. Sproul taught his children that their identity was in their membership in the Sproul family and that the Sproul family had a direction and a destiny...and they were a part of it! This is what's missing in most every American family today. The sad part is that it is missing in the families who claim to be evangelicals as well.

If we are to reclaim Christian witness as well as our families, then we must change the direction of our families, and by implication, the way we raise our children. The Sproul example points out two items that have to happen if our families are to become unified points of light for the Kingdom: 1) There must be a vision; a discernible, defined direction for the family, and 2) the members of the family MUST come to understand they are not just (for example) Johnny and Susie and Joe and Pam...but that they are "Stewarts" and as such, bring their own gifts to the Stewart family in order to further the family vision.

A unified family that is focused on a Godly vision is a force to contend with when it comes to spreading the Kingdom and witnessing God's grace to the world. Now just imagine what it would be like to have groups of these types of families all together in a church! What a glorious witness that would be, and what a joy it would be to be a part of such a relationship-driven Christian community!

But it all starts with the individual family and how its members see themselves....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What Exactly IS Education?

What does it mean to be “educated?” Most in today’s world answer this question by saying an “educated” person has taken the classes prescribed by a schooling institution and preferably finishes with at least a four-year degree. Our society seems to equate having a piece of paper from a four-year institution with qualifying a person as “educated.” But are they? Really?

I would challenge you to take a look at your own “education” as I look at mine. I graduated from my high school as valedictorian. I went on to get a four-year degree in Electrical Engineering from a reasonably good engineering school. So I guess I’m “educated.” At middle age, I would look back at my own personal experience and ask, “What do I actually remember from the classes that made me ‘educated’?” The bottom line is that if the information is retained only long enough to pass a test, then you really haven’t learned it; you’ve only been exposed to it. In math, I am incapable of doing anything beyond Algebra II without restudying and relearning it. This is in spite of having enough advanced math in college for math to qualify as a minor! How about Chemistry? I had an honors Chemistry class my freshman year. I could not have told you anything of substance about Chemistry within a year of completion of that class. How about all the EE specialty classes I took? None. Nothing. Nada. There is absolutely nothing remaining in my brain from those classes, and I can realistically say that there was little or nothing remaining within a year of completing those classes either.

I truly believe that I am not alone here. Unless a person becomes involved in his field, and thus immerses himself in the subject (there’s the key, folks!), it will not last. And anything that does not last wasn’t really learned in the first place. How many of your children have taken more than a year of foreign language? Have you asked them to speak it to you a year later? Or read it? Or write it? I’m willing to bet the normal child will be unable to do much more than a couple of words. (Hey, I was in Spanish Honor Society and took two years of Spanish in High School…but within a year could only count to 30 and say a few short phrases at best.)

So how does this apply to the education of our children? How did the children of the 1700s learn? They didn’t have scope and sequences. They didn’t have “professionals” to teach them. And yet the literacy rate of America in the 1700s was well over 90%! How could that be? That’s especially telling when you consider that the functional literacy rate of today’s America is around 85% (according to Wikipedia,) in spite of the enormous sums spent to “educate” our populace. And even more critical is that the average person living in the 1700s could run rings around most of us in virtually any subject outside of modern science and technology. Why? How were they educated?

John Taylor Gatto (not a Christian, that I can tell), former NYC and NY State Teacher of the Year, describes the colonial era education model as one where a child was taught the basics of reading and writing, and then allowed/encouraged to pursue his interests as far as they would take him by reading, apprenticing, interacting, debating…and then moving on to the next interest. This provided a person with an in-depth, thoughtful exposure to a subject that was meaningful to the person at the time…which then results in real learning: retention with the ability to apply, discuss, and debate what was learned. Great men like George Washington, Thomas Edison, and Ben Franklin all learned this way (Gatto profiles each them in his book, “The Underground History of American Education). And I believe this is more of the format that is used for learning at the PhD levels of higher education today. So why does one have to go that far in his journey of learning to get to a place where he can learn in this manner??? But I digress....

Back to the "key" mentioned above: My own personal example is when I finally got to USAF Pilot Training. I was in love with becoming a pilot. I dreamed about it. Every waking moment it was not far from my mind. And because of this intense interest, as well as the absolute focus of the training, I did well...and to this day can speak of details of the airplane I flew over twenty years ago, to include its aerodynamic specifics and entry speeds for various aerobatics. A second example is the Bible. Upon becoming a Christian, my interest in the Bible skyrocketed. As such, I don't chafe at learning theology...I embrace it. And by immersing myself in specific classes over time, reading good books, and discussing/debating with other Christians, I have learned a lot about the theology...and have retained it!

We in America don't educate our children that way, even as homeschoolers. Instead, we model our homeschools like a public school, with scope and sequences and hopping from one subject to another to ensure that “they don’t get behind.” (Behind "what" is never addressed.) As a result, our children never become masters at anything, but rather shallowly exposed to many things. That homeschooled children do better than their public schooled counterparts is mostly due to the effects of individual tutoring.

So maybe what we take for granted as defining an "educated" person isn't really accurate. Maybe we as parents would do well to take some quiet time and muse over what "education" actually is...even more importantly, maybe we should study our Bibles and let God inform us as to what He considers to be important. Then maybe we should wrestle with this definition and with what God shows us, discussing it with our spouses...and then most importantly, we should apply it to the raising of our children.

My guess is that the result of such an exercise will be something quite countercultural, but something that will result in children who are raised to contend for the Kingdom and who are well on their way to having the mind of Christ. That's the sort of child who will be an adult who actually impacts his culture for Christ instead of adapting to it.

Let's pray for impact!!!

[Update Oct 3, 2006... An example of impact!! I have begun reading "The Pursuit of God" by A.W. Tozer. The preface gives a profile of his life. It turns out that Tozer attended neither high school nor college! He wasn't homeschooled either. Instead, he was a voracious reader. And (to quote the preface), "With no teacher but the Holy Spirit and good books, A.W. Tozer became a theologian, a scholar, and a master craftsman in the use of the English language." He ultimately became a Godly pastor and an author whose writings have allowed millions to draw nearer to God. Now that is impact we could pray to see more often!]