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Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace
Questions to ponder:
1. What is the state of fatherhood in America?
2. Is fatherhood any different in the church or for Christians?
3. What does it mean that fatherhood is at the core of the universe?
4. How does the story of the Prodigal Son relate?
5. What does it mean to be a masculine man?
6. Sometimes kids like to “play” their parents against each other. Shouldn’t fathers and mothers always back one another’s “play” and support one another?
7. Dad as being a “mouthpiece of grace.” What does that mean?
8. So then, are fathers supposed to be permissive?
9. So what is this Being Dad stuff supposed to look like in everyday life?
Points from Keith:
1. A Dad is the Model of Grace in the Home
We need to know that God calls dads into the lives of their children so that through them children may experience God’s grace in a very personal way. The fathers vocation in the home is to point his children to the graciousness we have received because of Christ. A father is called to be a little Christ to his first neighbors: his family. Fathers teach grace and forgiveness to the family by being the voice of God’s grace in the home.
If you are a father, you are not a mother with bigger muscles and a deeper voice. Sure, Mom will need your help to discipline your children. But the temptation is to mistakenly believe that Dad’s full-time calling is being the heavy hand in the family. Dad is not the bicep! The father is the head of the family, and thus as Christ is the head of the church, he is grace, forgiveness, and graciousness to his family. That is what God has called dads to be.
3. On Compliance and Good Behavior
Most dads want compliant children. I pray that I have throttled that sinful desire enough to have raised gracious and kind children instead who know that they are forgiven because of Christ. Compliance is of the Law. The Law always condemns. Therefore, compliance equals condemnation. It is our sin that leads us to believe that adding more law, more demand for compliance is the answer to every, or any, problem. How can a father be about grace and forgiveness if he is rather about compliance, which equals condemnation? He can’t.
If we as dads want our children to be good, or gracious, or kind, first we need to try to preach, teach, and model to them the gospel of Christ, which is God’s grace and forgiveness.
4. Fathers Need to be Masculine
Masculinity, in turn, does not need to be a bad thing, but rather like what a man was created to be: a man!
Sometimes men are coarse and gruff, and rough around the edges, and callous, and offensive, and brave, and daring, and careless, and quietly kind. A man will often say that he loves you as much with his gestures as with his words. A man, a dad, will encourage you to be adventurous while mom is telling you to be careful, and that is okay. Masculinity is about teaching the qualities of a man through being honorable, trustworthy, brave, and strong while being kind and forgiving all at the same time.
5. Lastly, Dads Need Forgiveness as Much as They Give It.
Being the model of God’s grace in the home is not an easy position to take. I have lost my temper and been the heavy more than I have been this idealized model of grace. Too often I have praised the use of the Law in my house over and against the need for the Gospel. I am sorry for this and ask forgiveness from my entire family.
I need forgiveness because I am a dad. Having found perfect forgiveness in Christ, I am now set free from the Law that binds me. I am free to be forgiveness to those God has placed in my care. I am a dad!
I am at a seminar. Fred comes up having freshly kissed the Blarney Stone, and after all of the blather about how great I am, asks me to father him.
He is followed by Sally who gives me an equally detailed story line, this time of how fatherless her childhood was. Based on her pain, she asks me to father her.
I decline both.
I do that even though I am very clear and very confident that by design, at my core, I am a father. It is who I am, what I was made for, where the grace from God is and where I find deep fulfillment.
So why won’t I father people who so overtly ask me to father them, and so clearly need it?
The problem is in the social contract that is embedded in their understanding of fathering, vs. mine.
You see, there is an issue of rights and responsibilities.
In the Biblical model of fathering, the father has most of the rights, and the children have most of the responsibilities at the beginning of the relationship.
For example, can you find a picture in Scripture of the child choosing his father? Doesn’t the spiritual father usually initiate reaching out to select the child?
Think of all the mentoring relationships in Scripture that were inherently fathering.
Masses of people followed Jesus, but He picked the men He was going to father.
Paul picked his sons.
Admittedly, God picked a son for Elijah, but for sure, Elisha did not pick his own mentor.
Then look at the terms of the relationship.
It is always a responsibility-based relationship at first. Jesus laid it on thick. “Come follow me.” No discussion of boundaries. No full disclosure statement. No promise of deliverance and inner healing. No discussion of the stress it would put on them to be on a different track than their family….
“I’m always reminded of the documentary I saw about elephants. Young male elephants were running wild destroying villages. The authorities dropped a few adult male elephants among them and they immediately settled down. Oh, well. I don’t expect everyone to agree; in fact I know they won’t. But I wish more would simply open their minds to the possibility that boys could benefit from having good male role models—including teachers—in their lives.”
It seems to me that far, far too many disputes among Christians — especially (God help us) on social media — resemble the approach American fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals took to Barth. What seem to be questions are usually veiled accusations (though often enough the accusations are explicit); the questioners have not worked to discover what the person they suspect really thinks; they (therefore) neglect actual quotation in favor of tendentious and inaccurate summaries in the form of what I call “in-other-wordsing”; and they show no signs of “seeking the truth that is greater than us all,” but rather seem merely to want to declare other people wrong in the name of doctrinal boundary-policing. There is no way to have a conversation under such terms, and no one should even try.
Barth was never short of critics, and some of his most vocal opponents came from the conservative evangelicals within the United States. The details of the relationship between conservative North American evangelicals and Barth are a bit complicated, so I will save you from a long discussion about the matter. But in short, conservative North American evangelicals were concerned with Barth’s views of Scripture and his doctrine of election (read: universalism). On June 1, 1961, Barth wrote the following letter to Dr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley who was the former president of Fuller Theological Seminary. At the time, Bromiley was also the co-editor of Christianity Today and asked Barth if he would write a response to various questions that were put forth by certain men such as Van Til, Clark, etc. To be clear, I don’t think that Barth ever cared that conservative evangelicals like these men disagreed with him. Afterall, Barth did hold rather revolutionary views of the doctrines of Scripture and election. Admittedly, the letter has a very frustrated tone. But in the end, agreement was never the main goal; I think Barth was more concerned about the posture and the lack of charity that he witnessed from them since most know that Barth was never shy of criticizing the work of other theologians! In the end, Barth simply wanted these men to agree, not merely in words, that the truth always transcends us all. Theology is never simply a regurgitation of and allegiance to orthodox belief, but an ever-unfolding task for the community of believers in Jesus Christ:
[The letter. (Bold type emphasis by Alan Jacobs)]
Dear Dr. Bromiley,
Please excuse me and please try to understand that I cannot and will not answer the questions these people put.
To do so in the time requested would in any case be impossible for me. The claims of work in my last semester as an academic teacher (preparation of lectures and seminars, doctoral dissertations, etc.) are too great. But even if I had the time and strength I would not enter into a discussion of the questions proposed.
Such a discussion would have to rest on the primary presupposition that those who ask the questions have read, learned, and pondered the many things I have already said and written about these matters. They have obviously not done this, but have ignored the many hundreds of pages in the Church Dogmatics where they might at least have found out—not necessarily under the headings of history, universalism, etc. —where I really stand and do not stand. From that point they could have gone on to pose further questions.
I sincerely respect the seriousness with which a man like [G.C.] Berkouwer studies me and then makes his criticisms. I can then answer him in detail. But I cannot respect the questions of these people from Christianity Today, for they do not focus on the reasons for my statements but on certain foolishly drawn deductions from them. Their questions are thus superficial.
The decisive point, however, is this. The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, they will cling to it at all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and the world that I do not share this happiness. Indeed they have long since decided and publicly proclaimed that I am a heretic, possibly (van Til) the worst heretic of all time. So be it! But they should not expect me to take the trouble to give them the satisfaction of offering explanations which they will simply use to confirm the judgment they have already passed on me.
Dear Dr. Bromiley, you will no doubt remember what I said in the preface to Church Dogmatics IV/2 in the words of an eighteenth-century poem on those who eat up men. The continuation of the poem is as follows: “… for there is no true love where one man eats another.” These fundamentalists want to eat me up. They have not yet come to a “better mind and attitude” as I once hoped. I can thus give them neither an angry nor a gentle answer but instead no answer at all.
With friendly greetings,
P.S. I ask you to convey what I have said in a suitable manner to the people at Christianity Today
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
21 Suggestions for Success
-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
- Marry the right person. This one decision will determine 90% of your happiness or misery.
- Work at something you enjoy and that’s worthy of your time and talent.
- Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.
- Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
- Be forgiving of yourself and others.
- Be generous.
- Have a grateful heart.
- Persistence, persistence, persistence.
- Discipline yourself to save money on even the most modest salary.
- Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.
- Commit yourself to constant improvement.
- Commit yourself to quality.
- Understand that happiness is not based on possessions, power or prestige, but on relationships with people you love and respect.
- Be loyal.
- Be honest.
- Be a self-starter.
- Be decisive even if it means you’ll sometimes be wrong.
- Stop blaming others. Take responsibility for every area of your life.
- Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.
- Take good care of those you love.
- Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mom proud.
- If you’re looking for a big opportunity, seek out a big problem.
- Be smarter than other people, just don’t tell them so.
- Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.
- If someone offers you a breath mint, accept it.
- Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.
- If you’re doing your best, you won’t have any time to worry about failure.
- Love is when the other person’s happiness is more important than your own.
- Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.
- You can’t hire someone to practice for you.
- People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.
- If your life is free of failures, you’re not taking enough risks.
- When you’re feeling terrific, notify your face.
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