It seems that every time we turn around there is another famous, semi-Christian famous, wanna-be-famous person sticking a skewer in the heart of Christian Orthodoxy. A couple of weeks ago the latest person to come out for the redefinition of Christian marriage was Eugene Peterson. He is also the latest person to come out and then affirm the Biblical view of marriage. I have grown to really respect Peterson over the years and I am not here to let Peterson have it. I think there was a lack of clarity in even his retraction yet I am comforted by his understanding of scripture and his years of faithful teaching. I do think this “Peterson” moment is instructive for us in a couple of ways. 1. You will be asked what you believe no matter who you are. 2. You will be asked to clarify why you believe what you believe.
Healthy things grow, is one of the things I used to say to describe something successful. I once thought that something must be healthy because it is experiencing some measure of success. I would see more families come to our church or see and organization flushing and would say: healthy things grow because of their growth I assumed a) they were a healthy organization b) their growth was a sign of God’s blessing. While this may be true in some cases overall assuming healthy things grow is not helpful at all. Here is why.
Should your kids watch 13 Reasons Why? When you are asked this question what are you going to say? Questions about watching things or consuming culture that is questionable come up over and over again in life and ministry. I remember when I was first a kids pastor Harry Potter and Pokemon were all the rage. Parents would ask if their kids should participate at that time I looked at everything in the world with two lenses that aren’t horrible just incomplete. I saw everything through a secular/Christian framework. If you lead with only this framework, you tend to create kids who feel they are good based on what they avoid rather than see the world the lens of what they should love. It also tends to create a Christian subculture that the Bible never advocates for. We are to be in the world not separate from but also not defined by the world. This creates for us a paradoxical relationship between us and the world we live in.
In making things about what we avoid we unintentionally do what the Jews did we add to the Law of God many times good prohibitions that end up being a crushing burden the law was never intended to be. The role of the law was to reveal our sin, show us our need for a savior, and then direct us to how life works best. It was never intended to create a crushing burden. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music much of which my parents were right to prohibit. The problem is how the line was drawn. Christian music was defined primarily by the personal profession of faith by the lead singer of the band. I could never understand why this didn’t apply to clothing labels, movies or restaurants but I digress.
To distil everything into a good/bad litmus test you end up creating weird rules to determine what is ok and what should be banned. This can work, but it doesn’t give kids the tools they need to analyze culture the turn to cultural experts they trust to give them the thumbs up or thumbs down. This does little to help our kids navigate the complex world we live in. The question we should be asking is not is the good or bad? But is this true, good and beautiful.
Is this true?
The first question we have to ask is “Does this align with the truth of God’s word?” There are many things in this world that are not mentioned in the Bible such as Pokemon but does the story that the cultural good in question tells point us to the truth of God’s word or away from it. All truth is God’s truth, so even people who don’t profess to know Christ can proclaim his truth because of common grace. Does 13 Reasons Why advance God’s truth? No, it doesn’t. It diminishes the understanding that man is made in the image and likeness of God. It attaches our hope to our appetites.
Is it Good?
Is this thing good? We must teach our kids to cultivate goodness. The question for music, books, clothing is not “Did the person who created this ever make a profession of faith in Christ?” The question should be “Is this cultural item good or bad? Music is either good music or bad music. The goodness is defined not by the style but the content message and call to action. Does this song, book, clothing or art piece lead to human flourishing?
Is it Beautiful?
The God we serve is a self-revealing God. Does the cultural item in question point beyond itself and point you toward that which is truly beautiful. The pastor and poet George Herbert does this for me, but he was a Christian. Augustine does this for me. What about pagans? Plato, Aristotle, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were atheists all of which produced art that is beautiful because it points beyond itself to the world that created by God. Does 13 Reasons Why point to beauty beyond itself. I would say no as it has inspired many kids to take their lives because of the despair they find themselves in. Rather than point kids to greater hope, it feeds their despair.
Does it Glorify God?
The Last question we ask is, does this glorify God? As those who follow Christ, we are to live for the Glory of God alone. One of the foundational principles of the Protestant Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria for the glory of God alone. We must live, work, create and consume with this question “Will God be glorified by my creation or enjoyment of this thing?” If the answer to this question is no then avoids it if it is yes enjoy it and thank God for it. As Christians, we must be careful that we are not defined primarily by what we avoid, but we must strive to be defined by who we do all things for.
If our kids grow up with a secular sacrad view of the world they live in they will be unable to meet the demands the world creates. They will be ineffective at best and Pharisees at worst. We must teach them to long for the the good, the true, and the beautiful that in their lives Christ would be glorified.
Soli Deo Gloria
Recently I picked up a book by Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet called A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. So far it has been excellent. I would strongly encourage you to read this book, particularly if you have kids that are still living at home. Stonestreet and Kunkle issue a wake-up call to Christian parents in the opening chapters of the book.
“Dreher (in his book the Benedict Option) insists that, currently, culture is shaping the next generations’ understanding of faith far more than their faith is shaping their understanding of culture. Sociologist Christian Smith, who has conducted extensive research on American teenagers, coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” to describe how they understand religion and spirituality. For these teens, faith is about being nice and happy and believing that God is always there to help them when they need it.
Moralistic therapeutic deists believe that God visits their world not that they live in God’s world. They believe that God serves their agenda, helping them feel good about themselves along the way. God, in their view, demands nothing of them. Rather, He exists to help them in whatever way they wish. Moralistic therapeutic deism is not Christianity at all.”
The challenge to parents and pastors is to not ignore or even demonize culture but rather to help see culture through the lens of the gospel. Empowering our kids to see culture through their understanding of the faith that has been handed to them. The reality we face as parents are that our culture is doing all it can to erase and expunge the existence of God from the collective conscience of our country. Perhaps even more tragic is that the often the messages Christian kids hear within the church is one that pushes the Moralistic therapeutic deism that is not Christianity at all. They walk away from church believing “faith is about being nice and happy and believing that God is always there to help them when they need it.”
The past several days I have been listening to a song by Shane and Shane such a powerful song of lament and pain taken from the book of Job. The lyrics are both challenging and life-giving.I come, God, I come
I come, God, I come
Return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering
For those who don’t know or profess Christ’s name, there are no guarantees in life. As an adopted son or daughter of our Heavenly Father, we have a couple of powerful guarantees. We are guaranteed that we will suffer in this life.
We are also guaranteed that that suffering will be momentary and also meaningful. Paul says this so powerfully in 2 Corinthians 4
17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
John Piper expounding on this passage says the following: