A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting

book_cover_everyday_parentingMelanie and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a recently-released book entitled, Everyday Parenting. While we still have much to learn in the realm of parenting, we are hopeful that our chapter, “A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting” will be helpful. Below is an excerpt from our chapter. You can purchase the book from Seminary Hill Press.

The word “parenting” brings to mind many words that could be paired alongside it. Wonderful. Exciting. Exhausting. Loving. Frustrating. Joyous. Sweet. Stinky. Gracious. Sacrificial. Heartbreaking. Precious. Blessing. But the one word that has proven to be the overarching theme throughout our parenting adventure is “humbling.”

We do not necessarily mean individual incidents that prove to humble a prideful soul—although plenty of those exist. For example, when your young child throws a gallon of milk out of the cart, and it explodes all over the frozen food section with the force of an atomic bomb.  Or when your teenage daughter chooses the middle of a clothing store as the best place to loudly discuss the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt. These are humbling situations where you hope the floor will open up and swallow both you and your child and transport you quickly back to the privacy of your own home.

Those situations are real, but they are not the extent of parenting as a whole. The humbling experience we refer to is the constant act of dying to yourself and your personal comforts for the sake and well-being of your children. Thus, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have.

In every stage of rearing a child, the Lord must work on the heart, mind, and soul of both parents to continue to place them in the position where they can effectively guide their child. We have been on this journey for more than twelve years now, and while there is still much opportunity for successes and mistakes, we have noticed one common thread. The daily act of caring for someone else causes great friction in a heart that primarily wants to tend to its own needs. The friction causes a hard, self-sufficient heart to soften and become moldable, allowing God to work greatly in the life of that parent. With God’s tender leading, the parents die to their own selfish tendencies, see their child’s needs, and reach out to connect to their child in whatever way is necessary.

In light of dying to our own desires and recognizing the needs of our children, we periodically sit down to consider our goals for the four children whom God has entrusted to us. We have a number of goals along the lines of education, physical activity, and spiritual development. Those goals change over time as our children grow older, but the main focus of those goals remains to see our children grow into responsible, productive members of society who know the truth of the gospel and follow after Christ with all their hearts.

The one constant in our parenting strategy is that we would be guided by the principles and promises of Scripture. You could call this “text-driven parenting” in the sense that we want our parenting to be the product of our study of Scripture. We lay no claim to being experts in parenting since our journey as parents is still in-process. However, we want to offer some basic biblical principles that can serve as a philosophy of parenting. In so doing, we want to look at the effects of parenting on both children and parents. Seeing the effects on children may seem obvious, but the effects of parenting on the parents less so. Yet, our conviction is that parents are both humbled and changed in the process of parenting according to God’s Word.

*Everyday Parenting is available from Seminary Hill Press here.

Theological Matters: The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

LenowTXRangerThis post originally appeared at Theological Matters on May 2. You can read the full post here.

Last month, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. . . .

*Read the rest of the post here.

It’s Been a Long Time: Reflections on Ten Years at SWBTS

320px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29This week I will attend my twenty-first convocation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. January 1 marked my tenth anniversary at SWBTS. Over the last couple of months my wife and I have reflected on the last ten years in Texas and one point that keeps coming back up is the fact that we are still in our first post-seminary ministry. Compared to many of our seminary classmates, this is unusual.

A couple of years ago, Lifeway conducted a survey on pastoral tenure. It found that the average tenure of a pastor at a church is 3.6 years.[1] I’m not sure of the average length of time a professor stays at a seminary, but I have seen enough come and go through the years to know that transition happens on a fairly regular basis.

When I arrived at SWBTS in January 2007, I was a young 28-year-old fresh off comprehensive exams from my PhD coursework. I had a little teaching experience and a little bit more administrative experience. I jumped into the administrative side of things from day one and started teaching that fall. I’ve worn more hats at SWBTS than I can remember. I’ve had to request new business cards more often than most people. And I can rarely get through my current list of titles (of which my business card has four and one is now wrong), much less the ones I no longer hold.

How is this different than many of my seminary classmates? Some of them are easily at their third or fourth ministry assignment in the last ten years. A few may have even passed five or six. This is not to say that something is wrong with them. In many cases, God has led them to new ministry assignments for specific purposes. In some cases, the current ministry was too burdensome and a new opportunity was in order. In a handful of cases, the lure of a larger ministry with more influence has pulled them away from an otherwise effective ministry.

In my case, I have been able to work along steadily in the same place for a decade. I’ve had opportunities to perform different roles at the same institution, so that probably makes my ministry a little different than many pastors. However, I still feel that there has been great benefit in staying as long as I have. Here are just a few:

  1. Stability for my family. When we first arrived in Fort Worth, we knew just a couple of people. We set out to make new friends as our own family continued to grow. I’ll never forget one couple at our church who were hesitant to get too close because they feared that we would move on in a couple of years just like the other seminary families they had known. They were pleasantly surprised to hear that we had not come to SWBTS for school but to serve. We’re still friends today. The result of this longevity has been that my family has been able to plant roots that continue to grow deeper. Three of our four children are native-born Texans. They have enjoyed friendships with other children from their earliest memories just as I did. This is important for us as a family.
  2. Long-term investment. A few semesters ago I was teaching a night class when an older gentlemen in the class shared a memory from years earlier. He told me that he had been in my very first seminary class approximately eight years earlier. I cringed a little. I shared with him that I hoped this class was better than that one. He laughed and said that he didn’t remember much about the class except that we spent a lot of time working through Scripture (I was so relieved to hear that!). Through the years I have seen many students come and go, but I especially enjoy the opportunity to have some of them more than once in class. There are a few students with whom I remain in contact after their graduation. No matter where they go, they know where to find me. Investing in others over the long term is what my boyhood pastor encouraged me to do just months before he died.
  3. Personal growth. I am not the same person I was ten years ago. Staying at the same ministry has forced me to grow. I can’t impress people at SWBTS with my skill set because they’ve seen it for years. As a result, I have been forced to grow as a professor, mentor, administrator, and colleague. This takes time and more effort than most of us would care to admit.
  4. Constant learning. Related to personal growth is the fact that staying in one place for a long time requires constant learning. Just the other day, my wife and I were talking with another couple about how much I read and study. I told them that I read more today than I did during PhD coursework. This is required to stay abreast of the changes in my discipline. Unfortunately, I don’t read as much as I should. There is always more to learn. Had I moved on to another ministry every few years, I might have been able to get by with less, but now I have to strive for more.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last ten years at SWBTS and look forward to this eleventh year with great anticipation. If I were to retire at 73, I could spend 45 years at one place. Who knows if that will happen, but I appreciate the opportunity SWBTS has given me to plant some roots here for the last ten years.

[1] Thom S. Rainer, “8 Traits of Effective Church Leaders,” (20 August 2014). Available at http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2014/08/20/8-traits-of-effective-church-leaders/.

Radio Interview about First Freedom

knowingthetruth-kevinbolingToday I had the privilege to join Kevin Boling on his radio program “Knowing the Truth” out of the Greenville, SC area. I have known Kevin for several years now and have been honored to join him on his show a few times.

In this interview, we discussed the new edition of First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty. I contributed a chapter to that volume entitled, “Religious Liberty and the Gospel.”

Over the course of our discussion we covered some of the biblical context for religious liberty, the connection between America and the ancient Roman Empire, and implications of religious liberty for all religions.

You can listen to the interview here. You can purchase a copy of the book on Amazon or other book retailers (as of Oct 17, the first print run of the book sold out, but the publisher assures us that more copies will be available sooner than Amazon currently reports).

Religious Liberty and the Gospel

91cer-paj4lReligious liberty has become a major topic of discussion in this current political cycle. There are worries about presidential candidates or potential Supreme Court justices who may scale back the freedoms that have been enjoyed by Americans for more than two centuries. However, not everyone understands the full extent to which religious liberty should be applied.

Many people consider religious liberty to mean the freedom to worship at whichever house of worship you choose. However, the free exercise of religion extends to all aspects of life, especially the right to share your beliefs with others. In the second edition of First Freedom (which becomes available on Oct 15), I write:

With the First Amendment’s promise that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” adherents to all faiths were guaranteed the right to the free exercise of religion. As a result, religious groups were free to take to the highways and byways to proclaim what they believed. The right to religious liberty ensured that Christians and others would have the freedom to gather for worship, change their religious beliefs, and proselytize. However, such freedom is a delicate balance. No one religious tradition can be privileged over another. The predominant religion of one generation may be the minority in the next.

The religious liberty we enjoy today is much like the unique features of the Roman Empire that aided the spread of the gospel in the first century. The network of roads between major commercial cities, the common Greek language spoken throughout the empire, and the relative peace brought by Roman military dominance assisted the early believers in taking the message of Christ throughout the empire.

Today’s political landscape is vastly different from first century Rome, but the religious nature of society is similar. We live in a syncretistic culture where people pick and choose what they want to believe. While this may seem like a detriment to the overall religious health of our American culture, it can also serve as an aid in sharing the gospel. Christianity should not be privileged in an environment of religious liberty, but I believe it can win the day in the marketplace of ideas when we take the opportunity to proclaim its truth.

In the closing paragraphs of my chapter in First Freedom, I note:

Religious liberty does not give Christianity a privileged position in the culture. In theory this freedom puts all religions (or even the lack of religion) on equal footing. Consider this for a moment. The next time Mormon missionaries knock on your door and try to convince you that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the restoration of the true church and that you need to be baptized in their church in order to enjoy the benefits of salvation, remember that they are exercising religious liberty. The next time that the Muslim community decides to build a mosque in your neighborhood (or even next door to your church), remember they are exercising religious liberty. Since religious liberty guarantees us the right to exercise our faith freely, the government cannot coerce what we believe to be false religions to give up their beliefs or plans for worship. Thus, religious liberty ought to motivate us to share the gospel. In a country where religious liberty is currently protected, we should take advantage of this freedom and reason with others, persuading them to hear and receive the gospel.

This is the unique connection between religious liberty and the gospel. May we not take for granted our liberty and fail to share the truth with a lost and dying world.

If you want to read more about religious liberty, let me encourage you to pick up a copy of First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty from Amazon or any other book retailer starting October 15. To see more about the book and contributors, visit the page of one of the editors, Jason G. Duesing.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously . . . And Other Admonitions: Traits for an Effective Administrator

800px-bh_carroll_memorial_building_rotunda_28southwestern_baptist_theological_seminary2c_fort_worth2c_tx29A few weeks ago I had the privilege of sitting down with Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, to ask a question I had never heard him answer. I wanted to know what skills and traits he believed are necessary to be an effective academic administrator.

Dr. Patterson is uniquely gifted to address these qualities because he has served as a college or seminary president for over forty years (Criswell College, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). But more interestingly, many people who have served under him have gone on to serve as administrators at other institutions. Some would say that he has launched some of these “sons in the ministry” on their own paths to success in academic administration.

With no advanced preparation or notes, he described to me ten essential traits for an academic administrator (and there was an apparent hierarchy to this list in the order presented below):

  1. Good husband and father. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Patterson’s focus on the priority of the family, it may come as a surprise that this trait lands at the top of the list. However, a family man fits the Pattersonian mold for leadership. In much the same way that Paul describes the pastor as “one who manages his own household well” (1 Tim 3:4), Patterson believes the lessons learned as a good husband and father serve an administrator well. In addition, a man who is faithful to his wife and children demonstrates the commitment to lead with integrity.
  2. Commitment to inerrancy. If one could boil down Patterson’s legacy to a single word, it would be “inerrancy.” The complete truthfulness and authority of the Bible serves as the foundation for everything he does. His work in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention helped change the course of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. If an administrator is not committed to the Word of God, he is not really committed to anything.
  3. A faithful churchman. The local church is vital to the life of every Christian. Unfortunately, some Christians believe that they don’t need the body of Christ. For Patterson, however, he wants to know if you are committed to your local body of believers. Do you support the church with your time and money? Are you plugged into the ministries of the church? Do you exercise your gifts for the edification of the body of Christ? These are essential questions in determining one’s fitness for administration.
  4. Courageous. I have been on the receiving end of a few variations of Patterson’s questioning regarding courage. They are usually posed as ethical dilemmas that require tough decisions. What will you do when you find yourself between Scylla and Charybdis? Will you demonstrate courage or cower in fear? If the candidate lacks courage, then he is not qualified.
  5. Ability to assess himself. This is perhaps the most difficult trait to attain. Those being considered for an administrative post are clearly good at what they do. The question is whether they know what their weaknesses are. If you have an exalted opinion of yourself and cannot assess your own strengths and weaknesses, then you are probably not ready for this type of leadership. Those who can accurately assess themselves will then place people around themselves to supplement areas of weakness.
  6. Good with people. By their very functions, administrators deal with people. An academic administrator may have to wrangle faculty, shepherd students, and engage the community. In addition, some administrators may also be tasked with fundraising. In all of these functions, the administrator will have to interact with people. Some people who transition from faculty to administrator may find this difficult. Faculty are often stereotyped as contemplative, introverted hermits, who think about concepts that the average person cares little about and then cannot understand why they put people to sleep when talking about them. While this may be an unfair mischaracterization, there are elements that hold fairly true. However, an administrator cannot function without good people skills because the job requires interaction with living, breathing human beings, not just books.
  7. Ability to disengage. What do you do for fun? If your answer is to read a book in your academic discipline on an obscure topic, then administration is probably not for you. Patterson is an accomplished hunter with a penchant for showcasing his impressive trophies in his office. For someone else, it might be baseball, fishing, hiking, or another hobby. Because administration requires long hours of deep deliberation, there must be something that helps the administrator turn the switch off for a while. Otherwise, the administrator who cannot disengage will burn out.
  8. Reads widely. This trait and the next go together. Because an administrator deals with faculty across a multitude of disciplines, he must read widely in order to have an intelligent conversation with those outside his academic field. The president of a seminary needs to engage in biblical studies, history, philosophy, ethics, education, music, etc. A university president has an even wider field that includes the sciences, literature, political science, and more. To be an effective administrator in these settings, Patterson contends that you must read beyond your discipline.
  9. Be a generalist. Due to the nature of the job, an administrator does not have the time to devote to intense study within his academic field. As a result, he tends to be a generalist (as demonstrated by the previous trait).
  10. Have a sense of humor. Patterson is notorious for his practical jokes. I have often heard him say that you cannot take yourself too seriously. This does not mean that you have to take great pleasure in seeing a colleague squirm after being the target of a prank (although Patterson finds such a circumstance to be quite enjoyable). What it does mean is that you must have a side that is not so serious. The culture around schools under Patterson’s leadership has always included an undercurrent of humor. And the president is always fair game for a humorous barb. Just watch one of our faculty introduce him at a recent chapel service to see what I mean.

Interview with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Back in November I had the privilege of sitting down with Scott Corbin from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) for an interview. The interview is now available as part of the CBMW podcast series.

Over the course of about 20 minutes, we covered topics ranging from why I chose to study and teach ethics, the nature of marriage, the place of friendship, and the work of the church.If you endure to the end, you can even here a quick synopsis of the paper I presented at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (aka, my nerd convention) about third-party gamete donation in assisted reproductive technology. Is the use of donor sperm and/or eggs adultery? Listen to find out what I concluded.

You can listen to the interview at the CBMW website or download it here.