When Theology Gals decided to take on the subject of Federal Vision and release episodes discussing the errors, we knew we would get push back. Some people urged us to “hear them out” and let them come on the podcast to explain their side. We will not be doing that because the Reformed churches have spoken, and the debate is already over.
Below are links to the various reports from the PCA, OPC and URC, along with the main points outlined in each. Following are more resources for further study.
If you are someone that has held to the errors in Federal Vision, I pray you’ll repent. Here’s A Form For Penitent Ex-Federal Visionaries
REPORT OF AD INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEE ON FEDERAL VISION, NEW PERSPECTIVE, AND AUBURN AVENUE
From The Heidelblog, here is The PCA’s Nine Declarations Against The Federal Vision:
- The view that rejects the bi-covenantal structure of Scripture as represented in the Westminster Standards (i.e., views which do not merely take issue with the terminology, but the essence of the first/second covenant framework) is contrary to those Standards.
- The view that an individual is “elect” by virtue of his membership in the visible church; and that this “election” includes justification, adoption and sanctification; but that this individual could lose his “election” if he forsakes the visible church, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that Christ does not stand as a representative head whose perfect obedience and satisfaction is imputed to individuals who believe in him is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that strikes the language of “merit” from our theological vocabulary so that the claim is made that Christ’s merits are not imputed to his people is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that “union with Christ” renders imputation redundant because it subsumes all of Christ’s benefits (including justification) under this doctrinal heading is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that water baptism effects a “covenantal union” with Christ through which each baptized person receives the saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, including regeneration, justification, and sanctification, thus creating a parallel soteriological system to the decretal system of the Westminster Standards, is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that one can be “united to Christ” and not receive all the benefits of Christ’s mediation, including perseverance, in that effectual union is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that some can receive saving benefits of Christ’s mediation, such as regeneration and justification, and yet not persevere in those benefits is contrary to the Westminster Standards.
- The view that justification is in any way based on our works, or that the so-called “final verdict of justification” is based on anything other than the perfect obedience and satisfaction of Christ received through faith alone, is contrary to the Westminster Standards
Report on Justification – Orthodox Presbyterian Church
An article by Alan Strange on the OPC website on Understanding the “Federal Vision”, outlines the errors from the OPC’s report :
“Twenty errors that are held by one or more advocates of the Federal Vision are listed in the conclusion of the report of the OPC’s Committee to Study the Doctrine of Justification:
- Pitting Scripture and Confession against each other.
- Regarding the enterprise of systematic theology as inherently rationalistic.
- A mono-covenantalism that sees one covenant, originating in the intra-Trinitarian fellowship, into which man is invited, thus flattening the concept of covenant and denying the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
- Election as primarily corporate and eclipsed by covenant.
- Seeing covenant as only conditional.
- A denial of the covenant of works and of the fact that Adam was in a relationship with God that was legal as well as filial.
- A denial of a covenant of grace distinct from the covenant of works.
- A denial that the law given in Eden is the same as that more fully published at Mt. Sinai and that it requires perfect obedience.
- Viewing righteousness as relational, not moral.
- A failure to make clear the difference between our faith and Christ’s.
- A denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification.
- Defining justification exclusively as the forgiveness of sins.
- The reduction of justification to Gentile inclusion.
- Including works (by use of “faithfulness,” “obedience,” etc.) in the very definition of faith.
- Failing to affirm an infallible perseverance and the indefectibility of grace.
- Teaching baptismal regeneration.
- Denying the validity of the concept of the invisible church.
- An overly objectified sacramental efficacy that downplays the need for faith and that tends toward an ex opere operato [automatically effective] view of the sacraments.
- Teaching paedocommunion.
- Ecclesiology that eclipses and swallows up soteriology.”
Report of the Synodical Study Committee on the Federal Vision and Justification
The URC’s Nine Points Against The Federal Vision
- Who deny or modify the teaching that “God created man good and after His own image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness,”” able to perform “the commandment of life” as the representative of mankind (HC 6, 9; BC 14);
- Who, in any way and for any reason, confuse the “commandment of life” given before the fall with the gospel announced after the fall (BC 14, 17, 18; HC 19, 21, 56, 60);
- Who confuse the ground and instrument of acceptance with God before the fall (obedience to the commandment of life) with the ground (Christ who kept the commandment of life) and instrument (faith in Christ) of acceptance with God after the fall;
- Who deny that Christ earned acceptance with God and that all His merits have been imputed to believers (BC 19, 20, 22, 26; HC 11-19, 21, 36-37, 60, 84; CD I.7, RE I.3, RE II.1);
- Who teach that a person can be historically, conditionally elect, regenerated, savingly united to Christ, justified, and adopted by virtue of participation in the outward administration of the covenant of grace but may lose these benefits through lack of covenantal faithfulness (CD, I, V);
- Who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone (HC 21, 60; BC 29);
- Who teach that Spirit-wrought sanctity, human works, or cooperation with grace is any part either of the ground of our righteousness before God or any part of faith, that is, the “instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness” (BC 22-24; HC 21, 60, 86);
- Who define faith, in the act of justification, as being anything more than “leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified” or “a certain knowledge” of and “a hearty trust” in Christ and His obedience and death for the elect (BC 23; HC 21);
- Who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).
For Further Study:
For Those Just Tuning In: What Is The Federal Vision?
Federal Vision Audio
Forty Three Years Of Federal Vision Theology
With The Presbycast On The Federal Vision podcast
With The Regular Reformed Guys On The Federal Vision podcast
Justification By Faith Alone Is The Normative Reformed Doctrine
Heidelcast 55: Why We Can’t Move On (1)
Heidelcast 56: Why We Can’t Move On (2)
Heidelcast 57: Why We Can’t Move On (3)
Striking At The Vitals Of Religion: Understanding The Federal Vision links on Federal Vision
Resources on the Federal Vision Theology
Federal Vision with Dewey Roberts Part 1 | Episode 76
Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision by Dewey Roberts (currently offered at special price – $14 which includes shipping and handling)
I hear quite often from women who are struggling to find other women who are interested in theology. In some cases women are intimidated by it and in many cases they just aren’t interested. A lot of Christian women don’t understand why theology should be important to them.
If you visit a Christian bookstore, you’ll quickly see the result of women neglecting theology. Most popular resources for women are not grounded in Biblical truth, and many women don’t have the discernment to recognize it. In so much of American Christianity, the emphasis is on “experiencing God” over knowing Him through what He’s revealed about Himself in His Word. This tends to be the primary emphasis of many Christian women and the books they love. Some even think doctrine is a distraction from their experience. That’s exactly what one woman told me upon leaving the Theology Gals Facebook group recently. An emphasis on experience at the expense of truth is just one example of the problems you’ll find in the most popular of these books.
Theology is important for every believer:
“Theology simply means ‘the study of God,’ and doctrine means ‘teaching.’ Since the main message of Scripture is the unfolding mystery of Christ, who reveals his Father and reconciles us to him, theology is a central concern of every believer. It would be odd if we told our spouse or other loved ones that we wanted to spend time with them and experience their fellowship regularly but did not want to know anything about them—their characteristics, accomplishments, personal histories, likes and dislikes, and plans for the future.” – Michael Horton
Here are just a few of the reasons why women should be studying theology:
- To know God As children of God, we should know the One who has saved us, and how He has saved us, the story of redemption. We should know our Lord, who we are to love and worship. How can we love and worship a God we don’t know? In Pilgrim Theology Michael Horton explains, “Many Christians assume that we can just experience God in a personal relationship apart from doctrine, but that’s impossible. You cannot experience God without knowing who he is, what he has done, and who you are in relation to him. Even our most basic Christian experiences and commitments are theological. ‘I just love Jesus,’ some say. But who is Jesus? And why do you love him?”
- For discernment We need to discern those things which are consistent with Scripture and those which are not. We learn discernment through the knowledge of God’s Word. Philippians 1:9-10 says, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;…”
- For life Whether it’s parenting, suffering, or a variety of other life issues, God’s Word gives us everything we need for Christian faith and practice. Understanding who God is – His sovereignty, love, grace and other attributes – brings us comfort during suffering. It’s through His Word that we find wisdom for our lives. There are a lot of practical books available for women, but many of those are absent of doctrine and based on unbiblical principles.
- To understand who we are in Christ Many of the resources available for women downplay sin, and therefore don’t emphasize our need for and magnificence of the gospel. Knowing theology is essential in helping us understand the weight of our sin, along with the the amazing grace lavished on us through the gospel. As believers we don’t hear the gospel once and then we’re done. As Rod Rosenbladt says, “The gospel is for Christians too.” I’ve spoken with women who lack understanding of the true gospel, including justification and sanctification. It’s through theology that we know what Christ has done for us. It also points us to the how and why of obedience, along with our standing before God through Christ, even as we continue to struggle with sin.
One reason Theology Gals exists is to encourage women in the study of God’s Word. We want women to understand why theology is important, and also offer resources which may be less intimidating for women who are new to the study and understanding of theology. On our podcast we will be discussing various topics and encouraging further study. Please write to us with any ideas you have on things you would like us to discuss.
Some of our favorite sites for women:
Wise in His Eyes
Narrow Minded Woman
I’ll never forget the day my husband said, “You just can’t do it, not now, not with how sick you are. I think we need to send the kids to school.” I’d been sick for a while and things were only getting worse. I think I’d ended up in the hospital something like fifteen times already that year. It wouldn’t be long before I’d spend a month at the Mayo Clinic in another state. I knew he was right, I was barely able to care for myself, let alone homeschool four children. My children were already falling behind. There may be people who are thinking we could have continued homeschooling if we “really wanted to”. There is nothing you can say to me that I have not already heard from my circle of homeschool parents, or that I myself would have thought about someone in my situation. This was my husband’s decision, and I respected it. My husband is amazing, everything he has done to love and care for me through a horrible illness, while he provided for us and made sure our household ran smoothly. There was a time that I would have also been very judgmental of others in our situation.
We were never going to send our children to public school, not that awful place. Even before our first date, my husband and I talked about homeschooling our children. Brenton announced, “My children will be homeschooled.” This was great with me since I wanted to homeschool my children one day. Those of you who may judge our family now for sending our kids to school, you are probably not thinking anything that I did not also think when I would hear that a Christian was sending their child to that ungodly place we call public school. If there was an award for being a self-righteous, judgmental, homeschooling mom, I would have won first prize. I had no grace for families who weren’t homeschooling. Surely they hadn’t done everything necessary to make it work. I believed every mom could find a way, and if you weren’t homeschooling, then you just hadn’t tried hard enough.
There’s nothing like finding yourself in a situation like we did, which was in many ways humiliating, but also brought other moms and dads our way with their own stories. And what I’ve learned is that there are many wonderful Christians in situations where homeschooling wasn’t the answer. It simply wasn’t possible. I have heard from parents who are single due to divorce or the death of their husband or wife, from parents with a severely ill spouse, and other situations.
Homeschooling has been a good option for many families
In the last 25 years the homeschooling movement has grown quite rapidly, especially in Christian circles. With the decline of public education, many Christian families have looked for educational alternatives for their children and in many cases homeschooling has been the best option available to them. In recent years Christian attitudes towards public education have become more and more negative, and rightly so. In some circles, especially my own, Reformed and Calvinistic, some will go so far as to accuse Christian parents of sin if they send their children to public school. I’ve been a part of multiple conversations where such a view has been expressed. There are parents who find themselves with no other options but public school, who are struggling because of it, especially because they themselves often desire other options, but have none. They are being judged by their brothers and sisters, which adds to their heartache. Often those judging don’t know all of the details of the situation one finds themselves in, and may be making assumptions.
Is public school a sin?
Accusing Christians who send their children to public school of sin concerns me, because while I believe there is often wisdom in choosing alternatives, there are situations where homeschooling isn’t an option. I’m not going to address the arguments at this point about whether it’s a sin, but rather explain why we should be careful with such accusations. If it is a sin to send children to public school, then it would require confrontation with the hope of repentance and ultimately church discipline if the unrepentant sin continued. I know only a few churches, generally small and independent, which are known for their stance on homeschooling, that would take it that far, and yet many are still being accused and condemned on places like social media. Few Reformed churches would consider it a sin or a church discipline matter. When I bring up single parents who find themselves with no other options, or my situation, I’m often told, “That is different, and the judgments aren’t for those parents.” The problem is that it’s either a sin for Christian parents to send their kids to public school or it isn’t. More care should be taken with accusations of sin, especially if it’s not something which would be dealt with in the church the same way as we deal with other unrepentant sin. And even if one isn’t going so far as to accuse sin, the judgments are often quite harsh, much like my own were. What I can still agree with is that there is wisdom in finding other educational alternatives aside from public schooling. Many Christian public school parents would say the same, but feel stuck without any other options.
Public education is rapidly declining
There have recently been bathroom policies being enforced in public schools so that boys can go into the girls restroom if they identify as one, and vice versa. I know some schools are coming up with alternatives, like making a private bathroom available when necessary, and not all schools have such children which are needing to be accommodated. We will continue to see changes in public education which will make us uncomfortable.
Christians have valid concerns regarding public education: non-Christian teachers, curricula which is not from a Biblical perspective, the influence of peers, a science curriculum which teaches against a Creator, sex education which finds homosexuality and sexual immorality acceptable, and an overall non-Christian worldview. Entrusting our children to the ungodly for their education may be a valid concern.
I don’t want to neglect to recognize that public schools can vary, something many parents have pointed out to me. A public school in a small, midwestern town may be quite different than one in an urban area. I spoke with one public school mom who lives in a small town and works at the school her children attend. A lot of the staff are people from her church. Having spoken with many public school parents and teachers from different areas, the vast differences are evident. I understand that all are still run by the state and are not Christian, but the tendency towards broad generalizations is not helpful, nor fair, nor the consistent experience of all of those who have chosen public schools. There are often statistics mentioned by the homeschool crowd which are not representative of each and every individual public school.
Should Church schools be an option?
J. Gresham Machen talked about Christian schools. He said, “I can see little consistency in a type of Christian activity which preaches the gospel on the street corners and at the ends of the earth, but neglects the children of the covenant by abandoning them to a cold and unbelieving secularism.” Many covenant children are being abandoned and left with only public schooling as an option. Even most Christian schools today are full of children from outside the church and promote theology contrary to what most of us are raising our children in. Machen went on to say, “But one of its marked characteristics, in sharp distinction from the secular education of today, is that it exalts the family as a blessed divine institution and treats the scholars in its classes as children of the covenant to be brought up above all things in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” I think the church’s help may be necessary in starting these sorts of schools, as few exist. I think what Machen is referring to is not happening in most Christian schools today, but I believe would happen in church schools. I’d like to see the kind of schools Machen is referring to. How can we provide a good Reformed Christian education which is available to all covenant children? While homeschooling is working for many, there are those who are left out who are ultimately being abandoned to a cold and unbelieving secularism as Machen said.
“Christian education of our covenant children is a moral obligation of Reformed families,” says R. Scott Clark. “I don’t want to hear from any of you about how I’m denigrating Christian education. I’m not. There is no question about the necessity and importance of Christian education of our covenant children. If we are not diligent to see to it that our children receive a Christian education, we will reap the whirlwind. Nevertheless, the local Christian school is not a divine institution and neither are the several dozen other Christian agencies that we often support. The only agency directly instituted by our Lord for the advancement of His kingdom is the agency to which He gave the keys of the kingdom: the visible, institutional church (Matt 16:18; 28:18-20). As important as it is as an aid to the Christian nurture of our children, the local Christian school may not preach the gospel in an official way, it certainly may not administer the sacraments or church discipline. It belongs to the sphere of the family, not the sphere of the church. That’s why we don’t have parochial schools.”
I agree with Dr. Clark that the education of our children belongs in the sphere of the family. The problem is there are few options for Reformed Christians. I think at this point we may need the church’s assistance in providing a good Christian education to all covenant children, especially one that will teach correct theology and exalt the family. We need to talk about how we can make Christian education available to those with no options. I’m not sure how good Reformed Christian schools could be created at this point without the church. At the least, we need to be having conversations about future options for Christian education.
Church schools could be the answer. I am not denying the primary work of the church, preaching of the Word and administering the sacraments, but I still believe the church could assist in helping to offer educational alternatives for its covenant children. After speaking with many and researching, I don’t see a lot of educational options for the children of Reformed Christians. Homeschooling just isn’t the answer for everyone as it leaves so many families out and most Christian schools don’t promote Reformed theology. I’ve also spoken with many homeschooling parents who are struggling to provide an adequate education for their children, especially as they get older, and who would love to see church schools as an option. While many homeschool children are succeeding academically, there is also the problem of educational neglect in some Christian homeschools.
Answering the objections to church schools
I’d like to address some of the initial objections that Christians make to the idea of church schools:
- I attended a Christian school and it was no better than public school.
A church school isn’t a Christian school that is open to anyone who can pay. I’m speaking of parochial schools that would be available only to the children of members of that church. It is staffed by the people in the church. It’s run by the church community.
- Most of our members can’t afford any extra expenses like tuition.
I agree, especially those families who are unable to homeschool. These schools are provided regardless of ability to contribute financially, but we need the help of those in the Church to make it work. There are several different models and there are churches who have them in place already. I have even talked with a couple of very poor churches which have made this happen. There are ways to do it which I will explain in more detail later in this series.
- We’re a small church, we can’t afford it, and we don’t have the space.
The wonderful thing about putting together a church school is you can be flexible. There are different models and inexpensive options which I will be talking about later in this series. Church schools are staffed by members of the church, often moms. I’ve seen a one room schoolhouse model in the basement of a member’s home. It’s possible with the church working together. If moms can homeschool, they can help run a church school. It can even look like many of the homeschool co-ops that homeschoolers are a part of, and where many moms teach.
- Our church already has something in place for those unable to homeschool.
If this is the case, wonderful. I have heard of churches that have put into place ways to assure each of their children are receiving a good Christian education, especially in situations where the parents themselves are unable to homeschool. I have in the past, homeschooled the children of a single mom, and other children whose parents are not able at that point. I don’t think that happens very often though. When I found myself in the same situation, not one person offered assistance, except my mother, and she could only offer so much help. I’m not upset at those in my circles for not offering help. It’s hard enough homeschooling your own children. Regardless of what educational options we come up with, I think it needs to be a joint effort.
My family’s story
You may be wondering what happened with our family since I started this article on a very personal note. All of my children were homeschooled for quite some time before they were sent to school. When we initially enrolled two of them in school, and eventually a third in our local charter school, I received some help with my children still at home from my mother, a retired teacher. I heard from people in our homeschool community about someone who homeschooled through whatever illness, and if they could do it, so could I. I think it’s dangerous and unfair to make comparisons. I won’t get into the details now of the illness which continues to be debilitating. It has been quite life changing, but I can point to God’s grace, even though we had to make some difficult decisions. It’s not an exaggerating when I say that there were times when both my husband and I wondered if I would live through it. During one of my hospital stays, the Dr. Sat by my bed and said, “Do you understand you almost died last night? Do you understand how serious this is, that you could die?” I was clearly aware. That was right before we put the kids in school. We were in survival mode for a while.
Three of my children have attended small charter schools and have done quite well. We’ve had a fairly good experience with the charter schools in our small town. We are especially grateful for the small math/science/technology charter high school only a few miles from our home. They have a great program with our local college. My son who is a junior now hopes to graduate with a year of college under his belt. The school also has home study days. That same son was able to start with Algebra 2 in 9th grade followed by trigonometry, calculus and so on. He’ll graduate with five years of math, which will be beneficial for the things he’s considering studying in college. I don’t doubt that the foundation I helped build in our homeschool has been helpful. I also have to recognize he has received a better high school education than I could have provided at home. My youngest son will be a freshman next year and is on much the same educational track.
My children love learning, which I believe my husband and I have instilled in them. My 11th grader goes to bed early so he can wake at 3:30am to finish up any studying, but especially to have extra time to work on the languages he’s been learning on his own through an online program. He’s gotten quite good at Swedish and is working on two other languages besides the Spanish he’s taking in high school. Each of my children have things they enjoy studying on their own, specific areas of interest which they plan to pursue in some way and I’m quite proud of them. They love learning and have many ambitions. My kids are doing well and I’ve enjoyed the teenage years.
I will be writing more on this topic. We do have a problem, and we need to be talking about it. There are several who are preaching the evils of public education and homeschooling has worked for many as an alternative. But there are more reasons than what I’ve outlined here why I’m unsure if homeschooling is the answer. Let’s start talking about some long term solutions for educating covenant children.
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When I started having children I was going to do everything right as a mom and my children were all going to grow up and live committed Christian lives. That was the plan at least. So many things didn’t turn out the way I planned, but the Lord has used some of those difficult things in my life.
My oldest son Jonathan was an intelligent and determined kid from the time he was quite young. He was an early talker and once he started, he never stopped. He’s almost 21 now and we’re still listening. He always loved to sing the Psalms and hymns. Before he was three he could sing through all verses of his favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. On Sunday evenings when our church would take hymn requests, his hand was the first up. He had many favorites, oftentimes it was whatever hymn we’d been working on in family worship.
As a little kid he loved playing pretend church. He received a children’s microphone and mic stand for his fourth birthday. He would set it up in front of the fireplace and say, “We’re doing church now.” He’d get frustrated with his little brothers when they wouldn’t sit still while he led music and preached a mini sermon. It wasn’t just the playing though; he liked to talk about the Lord and things from Scripture and discuss what he was learning from the children’s catechism.
At four-and-a-half years old he came to me and said, “Mommy, if Jesus paid for all my sins, why did he only die on the cross once?” I tried explaining but he looked at me puzzled and said, “Can you call Pastor now and get the right answer?” He wasn’t satisfied with Pastor’s answer either, declaring it was “too much.” When an OPC Pastor friend was visiting, he gave Jonathan an answer that made sense to him and that he finally understood. These were the sorts of things he was thinking about and trying to understand at an early age.
I was encouraged from the time he was young that he was thinking through things of the Christian faith. During family worship he was excited to learn, loved to ask and answer questions and prayed fervently. He was determined to memorize the Children’s Catechism and had all 145 answers memorized by the time he was six-and-a-half. We sometimes even wondered if he would be a pastor one day. As he got older he became increasingly passionate about the Christian faith. He was unashamed and would talk to anyone who would listen. By middle school he was learning more about apologetics and reading various Christian books. We continued to have these amazing conversations with him about the faith. We were convinced he had truly trusted in Christ.
Then everything changed.
I really can’t tell you exactly when, but sometime in high school he began questioning things. Our family had entered into a difficult season. I became very sick and was in and out of the hospital, and I knew he feared losing me. It changed our lives in many ways. He observed me in excruciating pain and physical misery. We also suffered several losses close together. My children have been to more funerals than some adults. He witnessed the difficult and untimely deaths of several people close to us, both family and friends, including the suicide of a family member. We became well acquainted with the horrors of cancer and other life threatening ailments. He saw the suffering of many and he himself was suffering, as he had begun to struggle with depression and anxiety. And then he revealed something I’d began to suspect. One day he said something to me I’ll never forget. “I can’t believe in a God who allows those who love Him to suffer so much.”
I was crushed. What had I done wrong? Did he not see me trusting Christ in the midst of suffering? Had he not been listening when I shared of my comfort in Christ through this difficult season? What could I do to get him to understand? It’s been a few years since that day, when my mother’s heart broke. The Lord has used this in my life in so many ways and I’ve learned many things.
- The importance of grace in our parenting
Around the time I first found out he was questioning things, I knew it wouldn’t be long, a few short years, before he’d be 18 and possibly out of our home. I asked myself a question: “What is the most important thing I want my children to understand before they leave home?” The gospel was that thing, but how was I going to do that? I’d already been preaching the gospel to him since he was a baby.
It was around that same time that I had a conversation with someone I’d attended church with as a teenager. We had reconnected after many years. I learned he had left the church and so I asked him “why?” He answered, “I was never good enough for my parents. How was I ever going to be good enough for God?”
His answer shocked me because the church he and I attended was excellent about preaching the gospel of justification by faith alone. It made no sense to me how he obviously didn’t understand the gospel at all. I did a lot of research and spoke with several people about it and became convinced that we as parents can help or hurt our children’s understanding of the gospel by our parenting. So often, we are focused more on obedience itself than the “why” of obedience. We excel at preaching the law in our home, but the gospel is often an afterthought. This can be damaging to our children.
I learned from and was encouraged by the stories I’d heard through the years from both Rod and Ted Rosenbladt (father and son). They both have very specific stories of how they understood the gospel and God’s unconditional love for them because of the grace their earthly fathers displayed. Legalism isn’t the answer. All law and no gospel isn’t the answer. Getting your children to obey perfectly apart from the gospel is not the answer.
I’ve noticed whenever I talk about grace in parenting, some people get nervous or uncomfortable because of assumptions that are sometimes made about what it looks like. We had Dr. Scott Keith on the Theology Gals podcast to talk about his book Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. He said something that I believe to be extremely important in this discussion: “Permissiveness is not synonymous with grace.” Parenting in a way that demonstrates the gospel in our home is not some “hyper-grace” or antinomian parenting model. It’s not permissive parenting. While we’ve attempted to demonstrate grace in our home while preaching the gospel to our children, there are still rules and punishment for indiscretions. We preach both the law and the gospel to our children appropriately. But there are also opportunities for demonstrating grace. Dr. Keith’s book tells many of those stories, a couple of which he shared on our podcast. Dr. Keith in his tribute to Dr. Rod Rosenbladt on Being Dad says:
“Though I have always wanted compliant children, I am proud to say that I think I have throttled that sinful desire enough to have raised gracious and kind children instead who know that they are forgiven on account of Christ.”
- Trusting in the Lord for my children’s salvation
I didn’t realize it immediately when my son confessed his unbelief, but sometime later it hit me: I was trusting in myself for my children’s salvation and not in the Lord. I thought I was trusting in the Lord for their salvation, but I really wasn’t. I believed the lie that if I just did everything right, took them to church, taught them the Bible, prayed with them, protected them from the world and so on, that of course they’d trust in Christ and walk with the Lord and never live in rebellion.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do the things I mentioned, we absolutely should train them in the Lord, but we must not forget that salvation is of Him. We must trust in Him for our children’s salvation. When the Lord convicted me of this and through repentance, prayer, and His work in me, I began to trust Him and something amazing happened: the Lord gave me great peace. God’s power is far greater than we often recognize, and there’s great peace and joy in trusting in His work in our children’s lives, and trusting in our Lord’s goodness and sovereignty.
I know that by even writing this and revealing I have a son who doesn’t walk with the Lord that some people may be asking, “I wonder what they did wrong that their son rebelled?” I probably would have thought the same thing once upon a time. And it’s not because I have a son who rebelled that my views have changed. I was wrong to believe that my children’s salvation was a result of the things I did.
Someone asked a question in a large Reformed Facebook group about whether it’s the parents’ fault if a child rebels. Had you asked me 20 years ago, I would have answered the same way most of the other parents of young children did, “Of course.” There was a clear difference between the way young parents commented on that post than parents with older children did. While yes, the Lord can and will use our obedience in training our children in “the way they should go,” those things do not promise they will never rebel. Even if we have a child in rebellion now, it doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t working in their lives to bring them to salvation. I’m grateful we taught our son Scripture, that he memorized the catechism, and understands the gospel. I pray the Lord uses these and will bring him to saving faith in Christ. I find comfort in the sovereignty, wisdom and love of God.
- The idol of obedient children
Our homeschool mom’s group did a study together and we talked about idols women can have: a good marriage, a clean house, and obedient children. Some women objected to the idea that good things could become idols, but they absolutely can.
Michael Horton says:
“We picture idolatry as the worship of something evil. However, most of our idols are good servants, that we have made lords.”
The Heidelberg Catechism on idolatry:
Q. What is idolatry?
A. Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in the Word.
Obedient children was one of my idols. And I was trusting in myself over God to work in my children’s lives to bring them to salvation. I was often more concerned with what other people observed than I was with my children’s hearts. I even gave myself credit and was proud of myself when my children did seek the Lord and live in obedience. When our children do come to saving faith, it is because of the work the Lord has done in their lives. It is He who makes one alive when they were previously dead in their trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:5
- He’s still my son
One day an old friend of mine asked me in a general way, “How’s Jonathan doing?” I explained that he was doing well, had a good job, a new apartment, was hoping to marry his girlfriend one day. In response she said, “Oh, I thought he didn’t believe in Christ and wasn’t going to church anymore.”
I understand she may have been referring to how he was doing spiritually, but I sensed it was more than that and it brings up something which concerns me. There’s anattitude from some parents when their children rebel, something I’m not sure I can describe well, it’s like they’re being given the message that they just aren’t good enough. The thing is, none of us are good enough, that’s why we need Christ. I think if we give our children this message, we’re neglecting to really give them the message of the gospel.
My son is still friends with several people he grew up with from our homeschool co-op and many of them have left the church. This response from their parents is something that these other kids sense. Jonathan has told me on several occasions that some of these friends will speak poorly of Christians, I think in part because of this attitude, and because of the legalism they grew up in. Jonathan tells me about these conversations he has with his friends who have also left the church. I was a bit surprised when he explained that he tells them, “Not all Christians are like that. My parents aren’t like that.” I think many of them view the heart and theme of Christianity as a list of rules rather than the gospel.
The same things that were important to teach and demonstrate to my son in his teenage years, continue to be important now. Being good enough is not the right response to our non Christian children, the gospel is. Unfortunately in some of our circles, I see lots of law and little gospel. This creates the hopelessness the friend I grew up with felt when he told me, “I could never be good enough for my parents. How will I ever be good enough for God?”
Why would we show less love in our interactions with our own child than we do to our non-Christian neighbor? Of course our relationship with our non-Christian child will have some differences from our relationship with our Christian child. I am grateful however to have a good and close relationship with my son still. I think that, because we’ve maintained that close relationship, he has felt free to continue to ask us questions about Scripture and the Christian faith. I have failed at times though, in my responses to Jonathan, and become defensive when it feels like an attack on my faith. I’m still learning.
The Lord will use this for my good and His glory
I don’t know what the Lord’s plans are for my son, but I can tell you the Lord has already used this experience in my life. I have told those close to me that this has been an exercise in trusting in the Lord. This has been a sort of trial in my life and I’ve experienced some suffering because of it. On the Theology Gals episode on suffering, we talked about some of the reasons laid out in Scripture for suffering, along with the ways the Lord uses our suffering and trials. I’ve witnessed some of those things first hand through this season which has included a difficult illness, the loss of people I love, and my son’s unbelief.
While my heart is still broken by my son’s lack of faith, the Lord has used this to teach me to trust Him and to draw me closer to Himself. It’s easy for us to blame ourselves when our children make bad decisions and fail to walk with the Lord. I’m sure many parents have had occasion to ask themselves, “What did I do wrong?” There isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t had failures in their parenting since we are sinners. The good news is, the gospel isn’t just for our children, it’s for us parents too.
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Check out our podcast episode on The Shack & Christian Discernment
The book The Shack has sold over 25 million copies worldwide and has been translated into numerous languages, so it’s not a surprise that Hollywood has decided to cash in on its popularity with a blockbuster movie. While the book is marketed as a “Christian novel” and the movie is marketed to Christians, it simply isn’t based on Biblical Christianity. In fact, it’s full of heresy. The number of Christians who are singing its praises is evidence of the lack of discernment prevalent in American Evangelicalism. What’s even more concerning is that many Christian pastors and teachers are endorsing the book and movie.
The Shack was written and self-published by William P. Young and gained popularity with very little marketing. It’s the story of Mack (Mackenzie) Phillips after the abduction and murder of his daughter while on a family vacation. While her body is never found, evidence of her murder by a notorious serial killer is discovered in an abandoned shack. Years later, in his great sadness, Mack receives a mysterious note from “Papa” that seems to be from God, inviting him to the shack. While he is there, the shack is supernaturally transformed into a beautiful scene and it is there he has encounters with manifestations of the Trinity, who communicate with him through much of the book.
While The Shack is a work of fiction, it points to ideas based in Scripture and attempts to answer questions about God and why He allows evil. The Shack endorses ideas that are not Biblical and at points are even heretical, including its portrayal of the Trinity. It also uses actors to represent the persons of the Trinity, which is a violation of the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6). This simply is not a book or movie that Christians should watch or endorse.
Discussions of the upcoming movie may offer opportunities for conversations with friends and family about Biblical Christianity. Several trustworthy Christian sources have offered reviews and commentary on the book, along with a more detailed analysis of the theological errors and heresy within it. These resources should offer help in understanding and discussing with others why the book and the upcoming movie is not something Christians should get behind.
1. The Shack: Its dangerous theology and error (full documentary) by Paul Flynn
In his documentary, Paul Flynn discusses in detail the theology in The Shack and where it is not consistent with Scripture, including the heresies which it promotes.
2. The Shack vs The Bible (Video) WWUTT (YouTube video)
This video from WWUTT (When We Understand The Text) is a short summary of the Biblical issues in The Shack. This is a great resource to share with believers who are planning on seeing the movie.
3. The Shack by William P. Young by Tim Challies
Tim Challies has written a longer, more detailed article about The Shack. He explains in detail the Biblical issues with the book, including on the Trinity, salvation and forgiveness. This is one of the most thorough reviews of the book and discussions of its theological errors.
4. Why I Won’t Be Seeing (or reviewing) The Shack Movie by Tim Challies
In this article, Tim Challies explains why he’s decided not to see the movie The Shack, even for the purpose of reviewing it. His biggest concern is “its visual representation of God.” He explains that “To watch The Shack is to watch human actors play the roles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I take this to be a clear, serious violation of the second commandment.” He also reviews some of the same concerns from his earlier article.
5. Is the Shack Christian? by James B. DeYoung
James B. DeYoung, author of Burning Down “The Shack”: How the “Christian” Bestseller is Deceiving Millionsargues in this article that the “novel and the movie are becoming the greatest deception to blindside the evangelical church in the last 200 years.” He also discusses Pilgrim’s Progress, another Christian allegory which some have tried to compare to The Shack.
6. The Shack: The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment by Albert Mohler
Albert Mohler points out several theological issues withThe Shack arguing, “The popularity of this book among evangelicals can only be explained by a lack of basic theological knowledge among us.” Along with showing several things in the book which are contrary to Scripture, he also spends some time talking about why The Shack is so popular among Evangelicals, not just the storyline, but even the theology, when it’s so obviously not Biblical. He argues that we desperately need a “theological recovery” and that this should be a “wake up call for Evangelical Christianity.”
7. Shack Ebola Virus Outbreak 2 (audio) Fighting for the Faith with Chris Rosebrough
During the first hour of this episode of Fighting for the Faith, Pastor Chris Rosebrough talks about “Cru’s (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) Nonendorsement/Endorsement of The Shack.” He also gives “an Overview of the Theological Errors and Dangers of The Shack and Wm. Paul Young.”
8. “The Shack” to be the next blasphemous blockbuster [VIDEO] Berean Examiner by Amy Spreeman
In this article, Amy Spreeman talks about blasphemy inThe Shack and lists the book’s heresies which Michael Youssef has identified. She also points out that, “Everyone gets into heaven in Young’s story. No sin or repentance, no need for a savior, and no need for a Gospel at all.”
9. William Young, Author of The Shack, Outright Denies the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (starts at the 45 minute mark) Fighting for the Faith with Chris Rosebrough
Pastor Chris Rosebrough plays an interview with William Young, author of The Shack, where Young denies penal substitutionary atonement. Young also embraces other unbiblical theology, such as aspects of pelagianism.
Check out the most recent episode of Theology Gals
With all of the acronyms and abbreviations used in Reformed Christian circles, we’ve put together a reference list as we often get questions about what these things mean. Not everything on here is specifically Reformed, but are things which may be used in various theological discussions and writing.
2C 2nd commandment
2CV 2nd commandment violation (3CV and so on depending on the commandment violated)
2K two kingdoms
3FU Three Forms of Unity
3PC/4PC three point Calvinist/four point Calvinist
AACC American Association of Christian Counselors
AALC The American Association of Lutheran Churches
ACA Anglican Church in America
ACBC Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
ACE Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
ACNA Anglican Church in North America
AoG/AG Assemblies of God
APA Anglican Province of America
APC Associated Presbyterian Churches
APM A Puritan´s Mind
ARBCA Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America
ARP/ARPC Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
AV Authorized Version, Bible (same as KJV)
BCF Belgic Confession of Faith
BCO Book of Church Order
BCP Book of Common Prayer
BCT Baptist Covenant Theology (1689 Federalism)
BoT Banner of Truth
BPC Bible Presbyterian Church
BPS Book of Psalms for Singing
BT Biblical Theology
CanRC The Canadian and American Reformed Churches
CARPC Covenanting Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches
CB Credo Baptism
CBMW The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
CCCC/4C’s Conservative Christian Congregational Conference
CELC Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference
CmL Ceremonial Law
CofC Church of Christ
CoG Covenant of Grace
CoR Covenant of Redemption
CoW Covenant of Works
CREC Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (formerly the confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches)
Credo credoBaptism (believers baptism)
CRC/CRCNA Christian Reformed Church in North America
CRPC Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church
CT Covenant Theology or Critical Text
CTS Covenant Theological Seminary
CvL civil law
DPW Directory for Public Worship
DoG Doctrines of Grace
EFCA Evangelical Free Church of America
ELCA Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
ELS Evangelical Lutheran Synod
EP Exclusive Psalmody
EPC Evangelical Presbyterian Church
EPCA Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia
ERLC The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention
ERPC Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church
ESS: Eternal Subordination of the Son
ESV English Standard Version, Bible
ERQ Eglise Reformee du Quebec (Reformed Church of Quebec)
FACA The Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas
FCC Free Church of Scotland, Continuing
FCS Free Church of Scotland
FoG Form of Government
FotF/FOTF Focus on the Family
FPCNA Free Presbyterian Church of North America
FRCNA The Free Reformed Churches of North America
FV Federal Vision
GA general assembly (the highest court of presbyterian polity)
GPTS Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
GSB Geneva Study Bible
HCSB Holman Christian Standard Bible
HNRC/HRC Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation/Heritage Reformed Congregation
HRC The Heritage Reformed Congregations
ICRC International Conference of Reformed Churches
IFB Independent Fundamental Baptist
HC head covering
IHOP International House of Prayer
IRBS Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies
KPCA The Korean Presbyterian Church in America
kirk Scot word for the church
KJV/KJB King James Version, Bible
KJO King James Only
KTS Knox Theological Seminary
LBCF/1689 LBC Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
LCMS Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
LD Lord’s Day
LS Lordship Salvation
MDiv Master of Divinity Degree
MERF Middle East Reformed Fellowship
ML moral law
MLJ Martyn Lloyd Jones
MOS Mortification of Spin (podcast)
MT Majority Text
NAPARC North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council
NASB New American Standard Bible
NCT New Covenant Theology
NGSB New Geneva Study Bible
NIV New International Version, Bible
NKJV New King James Version, Bible
NLT New Living Translation, Bible
NPP New Perspective on Paul
NPW normative principle of worship
NRC Netherlands Reformed Congregations
NRSV New Revised Standard Version, Bible
OCRC Orthodox Christian Reformed Church
OPC Orthodox Presbyterian Church
OPCGA Orthodox Presbyterian Church General Assembly
Paedo paedobaptism (infant baptism)
PB Puritan Board or paedobaptism
PCA Presbyterian Church in America
PCAGA Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly
PCUSA Presbyterian Church USA
PSA Penal Substitutionary Atonement
PRCT Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology
PDM Psalms of David in Metre
PresRC The Presbyterian Reformed Church
Presup presuppositional apologetics
PRC/PRCA Protestant Reformed Church in America
PRTS Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
PTL Praise the Lord
R2K Reformed two kingdoms or radical two kingdoms
RB Reformed Baptist
RCA Reformed Church in America
RCC Roman Catholic Church
RCJ Reformed Church in Japan
RCM Reformation Christian Ministries
RCUS Reformed Church in the United States
RE Ruling Elder
REC Reformed Episcopal Church
RES Reformed Episcopal Seminary
RPCA Reformed Presbyterian Church of Australia
RPCGA Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly
RPCHP Reformed Presbyterian Church (Hanover Presbytery)
RPCNA Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America
RPCS Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland
RPCUS Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States
RPTS Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
RPW regulative principle of worship
RSC R. Scott Clark (for TG listeners)
RSV Revised Standard Version
RT Received Text
RTS Reformed Theological Seminary
RUF Reformed University Fellowship
SBC Southern Baptist Convention
SBFA Salvation by faith alone
SD Sabbath Day or Savoy Declaration
SDG Solo Deo Gloria
ST Systematic Theology
SWRB Still Water Revival Books
TE Teaching Elder
TEDS Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
TG Theology Gals
TGC The Gospel Coalition
TR Textus Receptus or Truly Reformed
TFoU Three Forms of Unity: Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort
TULIP Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints. (The 5 Points of Calvinism)
URC/URCNA United Reformed Churches in North America
VT Van Til
WELS Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
WCF Westminster Confession of Faith
WHI White Horse Inn (radio show/podcast)
WLC Westminster Larger Catechism
WPCUS Westminster Presbyterian Church in the United States
WRF World Reformed Fellowship
WRS Western Reformed Seminary
WSC Westminster Shorter Catechism or Westminster Seminary, California
WTS Westminster Theological Seminary(PA) or Whitefield Theological Seminary or Western Theological Seminary
YRR Young, Restless and Reformed
*If I’ve missed something or need to make any corrections, you can either comment on this post or email me. Some things may be more specific to Theology Gals listeners than the Reformed community as a whole.