On a whim last week I stopped to try and think about who, out of the various books, pastors, and theologians I’ve been shaped by, has most shaped me theologically. I started rifling through the names–Calvin, Vanhoozer, Horton, Wright, Barth, Newbigin, Kreeft, Lewis, Kierkegaard–and came up with a surprising answer: my mother, Arliett. This is no joke, or even my attempt at a heart-warming post about dear old mom (who really isn’t old anyways), it’s just a practical point. For all the Calvin or Vanhoozer or Horton I quote, the deepest roots of my theological instincts can probably be traced back to my mom’s early instruction in the faith.
I’ll be straight with you and say Mom doesn’t have what most would consider formal theological training. She was raised in a Catholic school and got saved in a Calvary Chapel Bible study a couple of years before I was born. There was no seminary and I don’t recall us owning a single systematic theology text in the home before I bought mine in seminary. Mom learned what she knew from a lot of Bible studies, personal reading, and a lot of hours listening to sermon tapes from Bible teachers. Still, she learned enough to be recognized by the leadership and was eventually asked to be a bible study leader in the women’s groups at our churches.
Her first aim though, besides knowing and loving Jesus herself, was that my sister and I would know him too. For the first few years of my life in church, she was my Sunday School teacher using the flannel-graphs, telling us the stories, and teaching us from the Word of God. When she had a major surgery related to a tumor when I was in Jr. High, she told us afterwards, that her one prayer was that she would live so she could make sure and encourage us in our faith until we were adults. And honestly, I can attest she did not let up–ever. Whether it was playing hundreds of hours of sermons in the car, buying us teenage devotionals, making sure we were in Bible studies, or praying for us in moms’ groups, we had a full-time spiritual cheerleader and gadfly in my mom.
So what exactly did my mom teach me that’s still with me today? Plenty, but I think I’ll limit it to 5 key points:
- The Trinity is Non-Negotiable – Back when I was a kid we had Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons walking door to door a lot in our neighborhood. My mom was aware of this and told us one key question we should always ask when someone came around trying to talk about Jesus was “Do you believe in the Trinity?” If they didn’t, just tell them you do and don’t continue the conversation. While maybe not the best example of ecumenical dialogue, she wasn’t much interested in it at that point, but rather with the spiritual health of her children. She never mentioned Arianism, tri-theism, modalism, or the difference between the economic and immanent Trinity, but she did teach us very clearly that Christians confess a Triune God who is wonderfully Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Anything else is not the God of Jesus Christ.
- Is it in the Bible? – Next, she taught us the importance of the Bible. Her and my dad both would read the Bible to us at night, (although she preferred my dad to do the reading before bed because she didn’t want us picking up her Honduran spanish accent in our English). In that, and a million other ways, she was always telling us that the Bible was where the truth of God was found. We weren’t fundamentalists rejecting all other books (my parents took me to the library a lot), but the bottom-line was, for faith and morals, if it wasn’t in the Bible, then it wasn’t binding on us for salvation, and should probably be avoided. Now, of late I’ve come to a more appreciative view of the weight of tradition, creeds, councils, etc., but that basic instinct to strive to trust the Word of God above all other words came through the words of my mother.
- We Have a Story-Shaped Gospel – This one’s kinda simple. Like I mentioned above, my mom taught us Sunday School. I learned a lot of Bible stories at her knee. Also, I don’t know if it was my dad or my mom who made the decision to use the sweet comic-book-style Picture Bible when we were kids, but that was a great move. From a very early age I had the inarticulate sense that the Bible was not just a collection of disembodied truths, but a series of stories telling the spiritual history of all the generations of believers that came before, leading up to the saving actions of Jesus Christ. Long before I read Hans Frei, my mom taught me about story.
- Balance – Another theological instinct bequeathed to me by my mom was a sense for balance. I’ve never been a fan of extreme positions or false dichotomies. For instance, I’ve always been peeved at those who try to pit a Christus Victor angle against the penal substitutionary angle or vice versa, in the atonement discussion when they’re both fully compatible with each other and found in scripture. (Col. 2:14-15) The one issue that I remember my mom giving me a sense of balance about when I was a kid was regarding spiritual gifts. We were at a decent Assembly of God church for a couple of years because they had a good kids program, but when I came home asking why I didn’t have the gift of tongues in the 3rd grade, my parents decided it was time to roll out. She made a point to tell me that yes, the ‘charismatic gifts’ like tongues and prophecy were real (not cessationism), but they were always to be used in proper order, and they weren’t necessarily for everybody (charismaniacs). We all have different gifts. Again, I’m pretty sure she’d never read Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1 Corinthians, but she taught me to handle the Word in a way that wasn’t reactionary or ‘enthusiastic’, but calmly responsible.
- Humility – Finally, my mom strove to teach me humility. I can’t tell you how often she would talk to me about Solomon’s humility in asking for wisdom. In a hundred different ways she warned me against pride in thinking I knew more than I did, simply because I usually knew a little more than the rest of my friends. This continued from the time I was a small child until I was in high school, and then in college, and on into grad school, and–you get the picture. For natural born sinners, humility before the Word of God and the God who is beyond fathoming is a lesson that can never be taught too early or too much.
What Does this Have to Do with You? As I mentioned earlier, I’m not just trying to write a heart-warming post about my mother, or my childhood. My point in ripping through all of those truths my mom taught me is to encourage parents to understand their primary role in the spiritual education of their children. I didn’t learn those very important lessons in seminary, but in the home.
I say this as someone who works in student ministries. I know about the wonderful programs, Sunday School teachers, directors, studies, and lessons that can be used to help shape the spiritual life of your child. The plain fact of the matter is that, at best, we get your kids for about an hour or two a week while you have them for the rest of it; there is simply no competition.
You need to realize that your child’s spiritual life is not the church’s responsibility, but yours. We are there to help you do your job as a parent. See, your primary job as a parent is not to make sure that your kid gets on the right sports team, or the right college, or has a “successful life”, or is even “happy”. Your primary job is, by implicit example and explicit instruction, to point your child to Christ in all that you do.
If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of being responsible for the spiritual well-being of your child hear me say three words of encouragement:
- First, good for you–it is a big deal and from my experience in student ministries not enough parents care about it beyond wondering why we haven’t speed-sanctified their child for them. A little urgency isn’t a bad thing.
- Second, calm down–you are not responsible for converting them, as that is work of the Holy Spirit, but pointing them to Christ. Too much urgency will make you crazy.
- Third, take heart–you are not alone in this. You have the promise of Jesus that he will be with you until the end of the age as you go out to fulfill the Great Commission even unto the ends of your own backyard. (Matt 28)
Soli Deo Gloria
Some resources for newly-inspired, but lost parents:
1. The Jesus Story-Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
2. Big Truths for Young Hearts by Bruce Ware
3. The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung (More for parents who feel shaky about theology)
Warmed my heart on a Tuesday morning. Why are you thinking about parenthood, Derek? Looking to be fruitful and multiply?
It is a great joy of mine to chat with my little ones about who the Lord is. A few nights ago my 3 1/2 yr old asked me as we lay in bed together: ‘Daddy, why is God three people?’ Made me very happy but couldn’t shake the feeling that she was stalling going to sleep.
Ha! No. My sister just had a kid right now and that’s enough for the family. I just happened to be thinking about it the other day.
Also, your daughter sounds awesome.
Yeah, she’s pretty great (and crafty too)
My experience with my kids is that if you’re praying with them and telling them the Great Story they will be interested in theology in their own little way. They ask such good questions! They say: “Jesus is God, right?” yeah. “But isn’t He the Son of God too?” That right there is the start of Trinitarian theology!
I loved this post! This simple blog brought back alot of good memories–and many good reasons parents need to be spiritual mentors for their children. Although the kids may drift from time to time, planting seeds of faith is so important, maybe the best gift parents can give to their children. Thanksomuch.
I am so glad it blessed you! And yes, I whole-heartedly agree. I always encourage my students’ parents, especially those whose hearts are wandering currently. We don’t know what God will do with our faithfulness.
Love this! I’m about to write about a similar topic…Thanks for writing!
Well, I’m looking forward to what you have to say about that. I’m always blessed by your work. Thanks!
Derek- great job!! Thank you so much for providing resources to those who are inspired but don’t know where to go next. My favorite part of your post, “See, your primary job as a parent is not to make sure that your kid gets on the right sports team, or the right college, or has a “successful life”, or is even “happy”. Your primary job is, by implicit example and explicit instruction, to point your child to Christ in all that you do.” With the craziness of today that focus is so often lost. thank you!
I’m so glad this blessed you! You and Ross are going to be great at this for little Ava. I’m so excited to see that beautiful little girl grow up in the Gospel!
I love this! Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m working on writing some curriculum and hitting on what it means to be “saved through childbearing” which has gotten a bit of a bad rap for many women. But this! This encourages so much. Thanks!
That is so encouraging to hear! I’m glad and I pray God blesses you as you strive to bless the Church.
I love your post! Good work, young man! My husband and I will be leading a Sunday School class on parenting and will be using the book by Fitzpatrick and Thompson called “Give Them Grace” This is an excellant resource to add to your list. The authors include your three words of encouragement in various ways!
Great article Derek! It inspired me as a mom to continue to put Christ into my kid’s lives each day and to see how important what we do at home is for their faith. Thanks!
Thanks for the comment. I’m glad it encouraged you and you need to know what you do is absolutely crucial. God gave your kids to you and not somebody else for a purpose. Blessings!
Love this post bro. I’ve had the heritage you speak of with godly parents who fed me with the Word and made sure i was in church on Sundays and held accountable in life. For those parents who’ve done all this and still see their kids going off the rails: i was truly and finally regenerated in my 30’s and now pursuing pastoral ministry. Both my daughters have now professed faith in Christ. Bottom line: you may not always see how God is using what you put into your kids at present or for some time. But His Word will not return void and it will accomplish the purpose He has for it in your kid’s lives. Keep trusting and praying and believe Him for the transformation of your kid’s lives – He’s the only One who can do that anyways.
God’s peace –
W. (aka “the Ox”)
This is such a great reminder of the influence that we have as moms. It really helps to take the focus off our whole “Christian” celebrity culture as well. All the more reason for me to be a good housewife theologian.
Amen! The church won’t grow on the strength of rock-star pastors or bloggers, but through the faithful work of every member of the body in their various calls at home or outside of it to share and cultivate the Gospel. May God bless you as you cultivate your children.
This is such an encouragement to me (a new mom.) I’ve really struggled with whether what I am doing is really significant after all and this is proof that the role of mother indeed is! Your mom sounds just like a Eunice or Lois! 🙂
She is, Hope. She really is. She still calls me to pray about my ministry every week. And don’t for a second doubt the importance of God’s call with your children. God may have other things for you to do, which is great, but the call he places on a mother and a father to raise their child in Christ is, after marriage, the primary call to ministry we have. And God doesn’t call us to pointless work. 🙂
I just read this piece again and couldn’t resist commenting again. It reminded me of when John Piper was once asked why he believed the Bible was trustworthy. He said he had several reasons but his first was: “Because my Mama taught me it was.” He went on to have several more sophisticated reasons but insisted his first was the most Biblical one (look up 2 Tim 1:5 and 3:15 and then connect the dots).
HA! That’s great.
Reblogged this on Pastor Mike's Musings and commented:
This is a very good article praising a mother for the way she shaped a young man’s theology. This is very similar to how I feel about my mom, who instilled a love for prayer and Scripture into my life from a very young age!
Love this! Praise God for a godly heritage.
My just-turned- three year old brought us to tears the other night with his dinner prayer, “Thank you for: Jesus, Hims died on the cross, Hims alive now, Hims in Heaven, and for food. Aaaaa-men.”
My seven-year old gave us a great epiphany he had the year he turned three just before advent season, “So, really, God gave us God for Christmas!”
God is amazingly good, and His Word is powerful in even the youngest hearts. I am so unworthy to be a mom of four, but my God is incredibly great. I often have to confess my sin and shortcomings to my little ones, but I have a gracious Savior to point them to. Hearing them answer catechism questions (cutest little theologians around), reciting Scripture, and singing praise to the God of the Universe is a joy words aren’t sufficient for. I am certain your mother revels in that same joy. Thank you for this.
That is awesome!!! Kid went all the way to the Ascension! Ha! Stories like that make me excited to have my own…someday. 🙂
God bless you with your little tribe!
Thanks Derek. Excellent piece. I’m reminded of how much of our theological education comes from moms . . . and campus ministers (who are so often much like mom before the final step into adulthood).
Too true. 🙂
Finally getting around to reading this and so glad I did. Really fantastic observations and just what I needed to remind me of the significance of these little years. My husband and I have also discovered that the greatest test of whether you grasp faith is not a Ph.D. but whether or not you can communicate belief to children. Because, quite frankly, who else can wrestle through the mysteries of the incarnation like a five-year-old boy who shouts from behind the closed bathroom door, “Did Jesus have to use the toilet?!”
Amen and Amen! Actually, C.S. Lewis thought that every seminarian ought to pass a test where they translated a work of theology into the common laymen’s terms, otherwise it showed that they hadn’t understood it. Sounds like your kid’s putting you to the test in the best way possible. 🙂
Love this! This was so, so good, nicely written, very inspiring, for a bunch of reasons. Thank you so much. But those darn amazon links to those good titles means I can’t easily forward it. Showing the covers from the publishers (who would appreciate it) might be nice, rather than exclusively favoring the porno-dealing, tax-evading, literary world bullies there. Or at least you might add a line to buy the books “from your local bookseller” or “wherever fine books are sold” so it doesn’t look like a-zon is the only place in the world to buy books, some sort of neutral default. Anyway, thanks for promoting great thinking, faith-shaped learning, and good books. And God bless your mom!