Objects in the Mirror . . .

by Jason Stover

Two hours of Lamaze class conquered, I was convinced my wife and I could handle anything our soon-to-be-born twin boys could dish out. After all, the teacher gave me a gold sticker. Some people call it pride; I like to think of it as “deferred humility.” Whatever it was, it spilled over into a discussion after Wednesday night Bible study at the church I was pastoringstover_mirror.jpg in Chicago. One wonders how the dear old ladies at Bible Baptist Church, who had raised their children and grandchildren, handled a lecture on child rearing from their 25-year-old pastor. Nevertheless, they held their tongues as the lecture followed a winding rabbit trail to the topic of sleeping positions for infants.

I proceeded to tell them that “an infant must only sleep on its back, and allowing him or her to sleep in any other way is rather careless.” Baffled as to why the ladies were now laughing and looking down at their feet, I posed an intelligent question. “What?” After a minute or two of silence, one of the ladies said, “You know, pastor, it’s a miracle any of our children ever survived childhood. What with sleeping on their stomachs, oversized pacifiers, and even worse, no child seat in the car after four years of age.” I got the point though I was admittedly appalled at their medieval child-rearing techniques. Recommendations for infant sleep have come full circle in the last 40 years, but one constant still lingers: the younger generation remains convinced of its child-rearing superiority—that is, of course, until the twins are born, and all the relatives return home. Suddenly, more than two diapers need changing. Seriously, must we always be brought low before we shut our mouths and listen?

I was recently “brought low” again as I read D.A. Carson’s Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. He offers a comprehensive critique of McLaren and his fellow “emergents.” One of the author’s most pointed criticisms is titled “An Almost Universal Condemnation of Confessional Christianity.” Carson writes,

Not only are some emerging church leaders, at best, painfully reductionistic about modernism and the confessional Christianity that forged its way through the modernist period. They also, in failing to understand, almost universally give the impression of dismissing this Christianity. They could humbly offer critiques of modernist confessionalism at its best and gratefully acknowledge that many of us are Christians today because of our forbears, sustained by grace, were faithful to the gospel. Instead, they tend to gravitate to the worst exemplars and seem to mock them (p. 64).

As I read this critique, I found myself saying, “Yeah, go get ‘em D.A. You are the man!” only to quickly be smacked with the reality that this too has been my attitude toward my spiritual forbears. One could make the argument that this very criticism could also be said about younger fundamentalists in general. I speak of younger fundamentalists not as a monolithic movement but as simply a generation that is in or has finished college or seminary and has begun ministry work. As someone who is defined by those parameters, I fear that we are making the same mistake as the emerging church in that we “tend to gravitate to the worst exemplars and seem to mock them.” Does this criticism not hit the nail on our collective head?

We sit at our laptops with a Starbucks frap, using both personal and community blogs to condemn all that was and is wrong with the movement from which we came, condemning the standards, the preaching, and the ministries. When reunited with our parents at the holidays, we criticize their educational choices for us and wonder how we ever survived in the “bubble.” It wasn’t education; it was only regurgitation, yet the ability to reason, debate, and think outside the box came from somewhere, did it not? Or did we magically acquire those abilities on our own after high school and college? On the one hand, we sit at the feet of Driscoll and Piper, catching all that falls from their golden pens, committed to defending them and accusing any and all critics of a lack of graciousness.

But where is that grace for those who invested 20 years into our lives? Certainly egregious errors have existed in our movement, but the errors of a few have blinded us to the impact of the many. For instance, that seventh-grade Sunday school teacher who first impacted you with the Gospel and the high school history teacher who was grossly underpaid yet committed to investing hour upon hour in your education and the youth pastor who gave you the first real picture of personal discipleship and the parents who at great expense funded the very education that though invaluable has resulted in a 1 Corinthians 8:1 side effect. Don’t miss the point; criticism is right and healthy when tempered by humility. New ideas are refreshing, but have we become so educated and jaded as to think that our generation doesn’t have glaring blind spots? Do we not think that the very children who are listening to our rants won’t one day return the favor to their parents and churches? The rearview mirror of hindsight has brought clarity to the errors of Fundamentalism past, but unbridled pride and self-indulgent rubbernecking threaten to bring those errors to the forefront once again.

In his book Humility, C.J. Mahaney argues that one of the best ways to overcome a critical spirit is to identify evidences of grace in the lives of others. My heart was truly rebuked when I read this truth. I ask you, “When was the last time you identified evidences of God’s grace in the lives of the people and ministries you constantly criticize?” We are the new kids on the block, frothing at the mouth for the day when the ministry reins will be ours. As with our child-rearing skills, we are convinced of superiority. That day of responsibility is coming. “The baby will be home, and the relatives will be gone.” This truth ought to bring us to our knees before Jehovah God.

stover_fam.jpgJason Stover and his family are part of a church planting team in Siedlce, Poland. He graduated from Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) with a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing a master’s degree from Faith Baptist Theological Seminary (Ankeny, IA). His sending church is Bible Baptist Church in Romeoville, Illinois, where he served as both youth pastor and senior pastor. God has blessed him and his wife with three children. Check out his family blog.
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