Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Needed Post About Parenting and the Bible That's Actually About Neither

A disclaimer: This was going to be a post about religious freedom, a foray into the national conversation about gay weddings and florists and conscience and who Jesus would or would not bake a cake for, but this is not that post. This might also have been a post about what goodness truly looks like—whether it's possible to experience things that are truly good apart from God. But this is not that post either.

This is, instead, the post I was led to write after wrestling with both of those things, and it's the result of the conviction I felt after hearing Andy Stanley speak earlier this week. He said a couple of things that have stirred my heart since I heard them. I've been told they're things he says fairly regularly, so forgive me if you've heard them before.

The first thing Andy said that got me thinking was this: "Our goal is to have the kind of relationship with our kids so that, when we no longer have to be a family, everyone will still want to be a family." (That may not be the exact way he put it, but that's the idea.) Since Laurin and I don't have kids yet (our first baby is due in July!), I feel like I have a perfect record as a parent. No complaints. No dysfunction. I am acing this whole parenting thing. And when our baby is born, that will be my goal—to keep our family relationship strong. Think about it: No other goal we have for our families will matter if we miss this one. No matter how much we want our kids to love Jesus, succeed in life, or become contributing members of society who love their fellow man, we'll have no opportunities to speak into their lives if they don't want to be around us.

The other thing Andy Stanley said that stopped me in my tracks had to do the Bible. He said we should avoid using the phrase "The Bible says ..." when teaching and preaching. Having worked at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association a number of years ago, I can't hear that phrase without imagining Bill Graham delivering it in his commanding southern drawl to a packed stadium. But Andy's purpose in saying this was not to second-guess the Bible's authority or to downplay the effectiveness of men like Graham. Instead, he was arguing that in today's modern, ever more secular context, the Bible carries little weight with most people—especially the unchurched.

He made the case that it's more powerful to appeal to Jesus or one of the New Testament writers. Jesus is still well-respected by all but the most cynical. And the New Testament writers—specifically Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and James—each have a wonderful testimony that can be shared when we mention their names. For instance, instead of saying, "The Bible says if anyone needs wisdom, he should seek God," we could say, "James, Jesus' brother, says if anyone needs wisdom, he should seek God. Oh—by the way, have you ever thought about how powerful it is that James believed Jesus was the Son of God? I mean, what would your brother have to do to convince you that he was the Son of God?" Much more powerful, right?

But what do these two statements from Andy Stanley have to do with anything? And why did I bring up what I was going to write about but didn't? Because Andy's way of thinking got me thinking, How much time do I spend contemplating things that are right, good, and true but ultimately do nothing to draw people into the next conversation? We can be absolutely orthodox and even rather brilliant, but if we're not making it so people want to continue the conversation, what difference does it make? As someone who loves words and is honored to make a living writing and editing them, I am thoroughly convicted that I don't spend nearly enough time thinking about my approach.

The most loving thing we may be able to do for people is maintaining the relationship—this is true with our children, and it's true with everyone else God places in our paths. And when it comes to wanting to share the gospel with people, this is so very important—it makes no difference if we're right if no one is listening.

This post began with a disclaimer, and it ends with a confession: Too often, I've failed to keep the conversation going. Too often, I've used the gift of words to be right, rather than to cultivate an approach that draws people in. And for these things, I'm sorry.

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