Book Review: Urban Legends of Church History: 40 Common Misconceptions

Urban Legends of Church History: 40 Common Misconceptions by Michael Svigel and John Adair is the third book I’ve read in the “Urban Legends” series by B & H Academic. The first two address commonly repeated inaccuracies about the Old and New Testaments. Though all written by different scholars, all three books have the same accessible format, and all three books are extremely helpful to both the layperson and to those in ministry. Of the three, I found Urban Legends of Church History most interesting probably because (like many) my Bible knowledge is better than my church history knowledge. So, Urban Legends of Church History is a welcomed and much-needed tool, conveniently packaged. 

I would recommend all Christians—for their benefit—to pick up a good overview of church history, such as Church History in Plain English by Bruce L. Shelley or Justo L. Gonzalez’s two-volume The Story of Christianity to get a good grasp of the key events and movements in Christianity’s board and diverse 2,000-year history. Then, read Urban Legends of Church History as a helpful side-kick for tightening up that new knowledge. I believe all Christians and the Church at large can benefit by having a firmer grasp of Christian history. 

The book is broken into four parts: early church (AD 50-500), Medieval period (AD 500-1,500), the Protestant era (AD 1,500-1,700), and the modern age (AD 1,700-present). Some would want to read it from front to back, but if you don’t have time for that, when reading through the titles of the 40 chapters, many will jump out at you and pull you in for a reading: “The Earliest Christians Worshipped on Saturday”; “Nothing Good Came from the ‘Dark Ages’”; “John Calvin Summarized His Theology in ‘Five Points’”; “None of the American Founding Fathers Were Orthodox Christians”; “Women Never Served as Church Officers in the Early Church.” My only complaint is that since the book is just under 300 pages, I always ended up wishing that many of the more compelling chapters were longer. I was left wanting more explanation and details, even opposing viewpoints, but such is not the nature of this book. Anyhow, the authors provide plenty of references and recommendations for further research. 

Finally, I wanted to comment on the apologetic value of this book. As one who is in ministry where I defend the faith and teach others to do the same, I found it helpful as a quick resource to point people to. Everyone in ministry regularly hears “urban legends,” so where this might not be considered an apologetics book, I would point out the apologetic value of it. I especially found the first part focusing on the early church (AD 50-500) as helpful for addressing attacks on historical, orthodox Christianity by anti-theists, cults (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons), and “progressive” Christians, chapters like “The Church Apostatized Shortly after the Apostles”; “Pagan Philosophy Contaminated Christian Theology”; and “The Doctrine of the Trinity Developed Centuries after Jesus.”

*B & H Academic provided me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (Book Review)

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out is a book I wish someone had handed me early in my walk with Jesus. I came to Christ as an adult after over a decade of skepticism of all things religious, and it became clear to me early on in my walk with Christ that part of following him was sharing my faith with others. The thing with evangelism is that though all Christians are called to share their faith, not every Christian has the calling of an evangelist. Forget standing on a street corner and proclaiming the good news of Christ, most of us aren’t even comfortable having a spiritual conversation with a coworker at lunch. So, if you’re a natural evangelist, the church thanks you because the church needs you! But, as I said, Christ calls all of his people—not just pastors and missionaries—to be disciple-makers and witnesses of his goodness and salvation—no exceptions. D. Scott Hildreth and Steven A. McKinion have written a book for the rest of us, who “freak out” when we think about sharing our faith. 

What they lay out can best be described as “lifestyle evangelism,” and it’s so common-sense-based, you almost ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of this?” Yet, I think so many of us have been thinking of evangelism in such a narrow way we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t do it. We think that if every conversation doesn’t end with us calling the person to repentance and faith (with complementary Bible verses), we’re not doing evangelism right.

To start, one way to open the door to sharing your faith is to live as Christ calls us to live, which includes caring for people and letting those relationships bloom and lead to conversations—conversations which will allow you to share your faith naturally. Instead of worrying about how to answer every objection, instead focus on simply explaining the big story of the Bible and making sure the person understands it. I even once said to someone, “Listen, I know you don’t believe in it, but I just want to make sure you understand what the Bible teaches and what I believe.” Your goal isn’t to win a debate, but to tell the story of the Bible. Again, this happens best in dialogues—not monologues—in relationships. 

The authors remind us that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit; we don’t convert anyone, but we’re called to be faithful. Our role is to “(1) retell the story of the gospel clearly, accurately, and convincingly; (2) try to eliminate any roadblocks or stumbling blocks from their minds that may keep them from understanding what Christ did for them; and (3) bring questions to their minds that show their need for a savior.” (I highly recommend the book Tactics by Greg Koukl, which compliments this book beautifully. If I were to teach an evangelism class, these would be the two main books I would use.)

Hildreth and McKinion’s book could easily be re-named, Don’t Be Scared: It’s Only Evangelism. I’ve been in ministry full-time a few years now, and I’m still not a natural evangelist. It takes effort and intentionality for me. There are certainly times when the Holy Spirit is already working on someone and that person is ready to receive the gospel as soon as they hear it proclaimed. But my experience has been that the most fruitful gospel encounters have taken place in the context of conversations between friends. Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out is a welcomed guide for those of us who don’t want to come across as salesmen making a pitch, but instead as lovers of Christ sharing Christ in love.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by D. Scott Hildreth and Steven A. McKinion

*B&H Publishing provided me with a free copy of this book for review.

Dealing with “Apatheism” & Understanding the Joy of New Creation (Book Reviews)

Apatheism: How We Share When They Don’t Care by Kyle Beshears (B & H Academic)

Kyle Beshears’ book tackles an extremely problematic question that is often overlooked in discussions on evangelism: How do you share your faith with those who simply don’t care about God? Even if you share your faith, how do you get the person to care enough to consider what you said?

When you get down to it, it’s actually easy to get into conversations with ardent atheists. Ardent atheists have strong beliefs and they want to talk—or at least debate—about those beliefs. In the same way, it’s easy to get into a spiritual conversation with a religious non-Christian because they care about spiritual things. But how do we engage the “apatheist”—someone who believes God is irrelevant? 

Beshears lays out the symptoms in a society that lead to apatheism: secular, comfortable, and distracted—all aspects of American culture. Further, radical individualism feeds it, where it’s believed we can create our own meaning to life. Additionally, mix in pluralism and the internet age of too many options. Not that exposure to other beliefs is bad within itself, but too many options leads to many experiencing a mental fatigue, so they don’t hold to any belief all that strongly or simply don’t wish to engage with anyone about them. Keep in mind, even a professed Christian can still be an apatheist. This is the “practical atheist” (or what I often call a “functional atheist”) in your pews whose Christian identity has no impact on their lives.

Since the “apatheist” is one who both “believes God is irrelevant and feels apathetic towards him,” Beshears proposes that we have to hit them first emotionally to wake them up. How do we do this? We go after their idols. We make them aware that anything other than God that they find their happiness in can be taken away; it will ultimately let them down. Then, once we jolt them enough to listen, we point them to Christ as the only lasting source of joy. Augustine wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it comes to rest in you.”

Beshears points out another important point many would overlook: Before doing this effectively, we can’t be apatheists ourselves! We have to ask ourselves, Have I lost my joy in Christ? What must I do to recapture it? Does my life display the joy and hope I have in Christ? After all, we don’t just want them to know Christianity is true, but we want them to want it to be true. Anselm once stated that an emotional desire for Christianity to be true is a necessary step before someone could be intellectually convinced of the gospel.

At barely 100 pages, Apatheism: How We Share When They Don’t Care is certainly worth the read. Whenever I read a book like this, I always end by wishing it had more practical advice and real-world examples, but Beshears has written a book with both those things that is a great help to anyone hoping to share their faith. Beshears has written a much-needed book that is a welcomed gift to the church. I hope this book will start a conversation and lead to more Christian thinkers tackling this topic.

*B & H provided me with a free copy for review.

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture by Frank Thielman (Crossway)

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture is the third book I’ve read (and reviewed) from the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series by Crossway. So far, I’ve enjoyed and benefited from the books tracing an important theme throughout the Bible. That would include this book, which follows the prominent biblical theme of new creation. Of the three Short Studies books I’ve read, this is the most basic; new creation is a biblical theme many Christians are aware of already. If you are already familiar with the big story of the Bible, it’s a theme that’s not hard to see. So, I would recommend this book to someone as an introduction to biblical theology, someone who doesn’t have a good grasp of the overall storyline of the Bible.

This is by no means a negative thing; tracing the theme is both essential to the Christian worldview and beautiful to see in Scripture. From the moment the new creation fell under the destruction of sin, God put his plan into effect to restore it, from the proclamation of the coming one who would crush Satan’s head, to the establishment of the nation of Israel, to the prophecies of the prophets, to the miracles of Jesus, to the born-again followers of Jesus becoming “new creations,” to the vision of the New Heaven and New Earth in the Book of Revelation. As I said, it’s a beautiful and essential thing for Christians to understand, showing us how we can have both hope and joy in the face of current turmoil and suffering.

*Crossway provided me with a free copy for review.

Understanding Divine Blessing: Does the Prosperity Gospel Get It Right? (w/ Book Review)

The biblical concept of “blessing”—as in being blessed and blessing others—is not a topic any church I’ve attended focused on, so when I had the opportunity to read and review Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God by William R. Osborne, I took it. This is the second book I’ve read from Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, where in relatively short, readable books a certain theme is explored throughout the Bible. As a former high school English teacher, I have a bit of a thing for themes, and I found both books helpful, accessible introductions to important subjects of biblical theology. Biblical theology is the practice of tracing a particular theme or idea throughout the entire biblical story and connecting the dots.

Divine blessing isn’t a topic I’ve explored before, but being familiar with the Bible I knew “blessing” is a word that comes up quite a bit. As both an apologist and pastor, this was a topic I needed to grasp because of the prevalence of the “prosperity gospel” and “health and wealth gospel.” Even if a Christian doesn’t subscribe to the false prosperity gospel, understanding biblical blessings is essential to addressing a sort of prosperity gospel thinking that intersects with the problem of evil and suffering. This is the thinking that expects God to always intervene in times of trouble. This is the person who asks when they hit a rough patch in life, “Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” with the underlying idea that God should never let anything bad happen to his people.

Let’s be honest, a lot of evidence exists both in and out of the Bible that doesn’t support the idea that if you’re a “good” Christian you get blessings and if you’re “bad” you’re cursed. If the apostle Paul can ask God three times to remove the “thorn” in his flesh and God refuses (2 Cor. 12:1–10), then that destroys the whole health and wealth gospel thesis right there. So, as Osborne asks, “What about when God’s covenant people live faithfully, trusting in his word, and still experience tragedy and sorrow?” Further, there appears to be “a theological rift” between the Old and New Testaments’ portrayals of divine blessing. The Old “seems focused on the material wealth, health, and success of the faithful,” while the New “portrays the most faithful as martyred and imprisoned.” 

In addressing all of these issues, Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God is a welcomed (and much-needed) help.

THE BASICS OF BIBLICAL BLESSING

In the rest of this blog, let me give you some insights into what the Bible says about divine blessing. To start, here are some basics:

  • “God’s blessings for his people are relational, spiritual, material, present, and eschatological [future].”
  • Like when exploring any biblical concept, we need to differentiate between the Old Covenant (exclusive to ancient Israel) and the New Covenant (for Christ’s people) when talking about divine blessings.
  • Where blessings under the Old Covenant is exclusive to ancient Israel, not Christians, and “the material wealth, health, and success of the faithful” appears to be part of that covenant, the Bible also often portrays these blessings as stumbling blocks. 
  • Both the Old and New Covenants have a spiritual and physical aspect of blessing. “[D]ivine blessing was always intended to be material, spiritual, [but also] relational.” That it, based on a relationship with God, which is the ultimate blessing within itself.
  • All biblical blessing is “fixed upon the reality of the fullness of life in the presence of God,” which includes being in a right relationship with God and God dwelling with his people. “True blessing, no matter the form, always leads us near to God.” “Unlike what is commonly heard in prosperity [gospel] circles, you don’t go through God to get his blessings. Conversely, we might say you go through his blessings to get to God! God is the end to be pursued because his blessing is experienced only by living in his presence.” 
  • Divine blessing coincides with obedience to God’s will, which include his divine directives and commands. Living according to God’s wisdom brings consequential blessings, which is rooted also in a proper fear or respect of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). 
  • God always intended to bless his people and for his people to be a blessing to others.
  • God is under no obligation to bless or guarantee a certain fullness of life. We have privileges as Christians as God’s children, but these aren’t rights. As I like to say, we can’t sum up God’s ways in a mathematical formula. In other words, we can’t put God in a box.
  • In one sense, the delay of God’s wrath is a blessing!

BLESSING IN THE BIBLICAL STORY

God created to bless. We see three blessings found in the creation narrative. Before the fall, humankind was to “experience the fullness of life in God’s presence in the garden.” Humankind was to walk in the presence of God (quite literally before the fall). Humankind was also to be a blessing to creation by fulfilling God’s “creation/cultural mandate” to be fruitful and fill the earth and be stewards of creation. But the first man and woman screwed this all up. In the post-fall world, God put another plan into effect to bless the world:

Now the Lord said to Abram [Abraham], “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1–3)

So, God chooses a person to bless, and through that person he will bless the whole world. Through Abraham, God will build a people—Israel—to be a blessing to the world. Of course, the biblical story shows the Messiah—Jesus of Nazareth—is a descendant of Abraham. The “promise land” God will give Abraham’s people will serve as a light—a blessing—foreshadowing the new creation (“the new heaven and new earth”) ushered in by Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament, under the Old Covenant, which is specific to Israel, God makes a covenant of blessing and cursing. Material blessing is part of this, including health and fertility/procreation. Under the Old Covenant this is conditional, based on Israel’s upholding their side of the covenant; they must obey and be loyal to their God. But at the same time, God has made an unconditional commitment to bless his people regardless. In the fallen world, whether under the Old Covenant or New Covenant, this will only ever see partial fulfillment. Those bemoaning a lack of blessings are too shortsighted and need to keep focused on the future new creation where God’s people will live with him.

Further, “in a fallen world, the way to divine blessing always involves suffering.” See Luke 9:23–26 and Romans 8:17, but this is seen in the Old Testament as well. For instance, “Jacob’s life challenges our simplistic categories of ‘do good things and be blessed’ or ‘you are blessed so nothing hurts.’ In Jacob’s limp we see God’s severe mercy going to great lengths to produce the transformation and blessing in our lives, but not always in the way we wanted.”

As we leave the Old Testament and enter the New Testament era under the New Covenant, “For all the promises [and, thus, blessings] of God find their Yes in him [in Christ]” (2 Cor 1:20). “[I]n the New Testament, blessing is always specifically in Christ” and Christ’s blessings can’t be disconnected from eternal life and the Kingdom of God. With this, the Holy Spirit is another blessing to Jesus’ people, who also empowers them to bless others. The indwelling Holy Spirit, along with Jesus’ resurrection (and even the church itself), are down-payments—assurances—of the coming fulfillment of divine blessing in the future new creation, ushered in by Christ. In the New Testament—under the New Covenant (Luke 22:20)—we experience the “partial fulfillment” (the “already/not yet” nature) of God’s blessing, which will be fulfilled when Christ returns. Even the Old Covenant’s physical blessings are a foreshadowing of the material blessing in the new creation, where there will be no more hunger, sickness, or death, and every tear will be wiped away (Rev 21). Again, those bemoaning a lack of blessings are too shortsighted.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). 

So, Christ’s people already have “every spiritual blessing” in heaven at this very moment, yet full experience of God’s blessings won’t be obtained until the New Heaven and New Earth. As Osborne puts it: Cross, then Crown (for both Christ, and Christ’s people). But Christ’s people are also blessed because God will use all their suffering for our good (Rom 8:32). “If our notions of divine blessing require freedom from suffering or persecution, then our hope is grounded in the wrong thing, or maybe the wrong age.”

Osborne proposes a great test for the believer: “Does this ‘blessing’ draw me closer to the triune God? Does this need being met bring me nearer to the giver, or is it a distraction? No perceived ‘good gift’ will ever drive you away from the Lord.” 

(Crossway provided a free copy of this book for me to review.)

The Serpent, Dragon & Leviathan in Symbol & Scripture (w/ Book Review)

LITERAL OR FIGURATIVE?

As Christians, we often have to defend our belief that the Bible should be taken literally. The writers of the Bible present much of the information as historical truth, and Christians need to accept certain claims of the Bible as fact to be true Christ-followers. For example, the apostle Paul wrote that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then our faith is false (1 Cor. 15:14–19). Often, orthodox Christians find themselves battling against the idea that the claims of the Bible are purely symbolic of spiritual truths. One must believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead to be a Christian.

Yet, we also have to accept that the Bible is a work of literature, and sometimes the writers of the Bible do, in fact, use symbolic language and metaphor. By identifying the genre of the book of the Bible, this becomes clearer. For instance, the Psalms are poetic songs. The Book of Revelation is a highly symbolic style of ancient writing called apocalyptic literature. So, both Psalms and Revelation use figurative language much more than other books of the Bible. Often, we have to ask about any given verse in them: Are we to take this literally or figuratively?

On the other hand, works like 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, the four Gospels, and Acts are historical narratives, so we take them as factual history. Yet, even these historical narratives have non-literal elements. For instance, Jesus often teaches in parables. We all know parables are short fictional tales to teach a lesson. Jesus also uses metaphors when he teaches. He calls himself a door and bread and a shepherd, but even the most uninformed reader understands that he’s speaking metaphorically.

As a former high school English teacher, I enjoy learning about the often-overlooked literary elements of the Bible, including symbolic themes—elements that may not be so obvious to modern readers but repeat throughout God’s Word. The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer by Andrew David Naselli is part of a series called Short Studies in Biblical Theology. It’s a quick read exploring the symbolism in Scripture of the serpent and dragon. 

THE SERPENT (AND DRAGON) AND THE SERPENT (AND DRAGON) SLAYER

Naselli writes of the love of dragon-slaying stories throughout history, all of which he sums up with a pithy explanation: “Kill the dragon, get the girl.” He claims this is the theme of the Bible as well: Satan is the villainous serpent/dragon; the damsel in distress is God’s people; and the serpent slayer is Jesus. This may seem like a stretch, but once we consider the symbolism of the snake and dragon in Scripture—as well as the Church as the Bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7–9, 21:1–2; Eph. 5:25–32)—it might not be so far fetched.

Even someone with a cursory understanding of the Bible knows that Satan, as a serpent, tempted the first humans to rebel against God. Less known is that just after this, God declares the coming of the one who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Though Genesis 3 doesn’t anywhere call the serpent Satan, the writers of the New Testament certainly connected the two (Rev. 12:9, 20:2; Rom. 16:20). Michael S. Heiser, in his book The Unseen Realm, makes the case that the Hebrew word for serpent (nachash) in Genesis 3 is a play on words pointing towards a spiritual being. Regardless, the serpent was definitely “representative of someone or something” bigger, something “beyond this particular snake” [1].

Some of the same passages that equate Satan with the serpent also equate him with the dragon of the Book of Revelation:

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:8–9)

And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:2)

Naselli explains that the snake and the dragon express the two sides—or two strategies—of Satan. The snake is the deceiver. The dragon is the destroyer. He writes, “Snakes deceive; dragons devour. Snakes tempt and lie; dragons attack and murder. Snakes backstab; dragons assault.”

THE LEVIATHAN AND SEA

Understanding the symbolic nature of the snake and dragon (which is just a huge, winged snake) opens up the possibility of the mysterious “flying fiery serpent” of Isaiah (30:6–7) being a poetic symbol. Similarly, the presence of the Behemoth and Leviathan in Chapters 40–41 of the Book of Job have been a topic of debate. Some Young Earth Creationists claim these are dinosaurs. Others have tried to explain them as commonly known animals. I have to admit that the description of the Behemoth certainly sounds like a sauropod dinosaur. Some have argued it’s a hippopotamus, but a hippopotamus doesn’t have “a tail stiff like a cedar” (Job 40:17). 

Yet, an argument for the Leviathan being symbolic is more easily made. First, the language describing the Leviathan in Job appears to be highly poetic. The fact that it’s described as breathing fire (Job 41:18–19) may be a clue that this is a mythical creature. This certainly seems to be a creature that’s more than a common crocodile, as some have proposed. Secondly, the Leviathan appears elsewhere in Scripture in poetic contexts (Ps. 74:14, 104:26; Isa. 27:1; Job 3:8). Finally, we need to consider that the sea—not just this sea monster—is a common symbol of evil, chaos, and death both in the Bible (Dan. 7:2–3) and in the cultures surrounding Israel. At the Second Coming of Jesus, when he renews all of creation and ends evil, we’re told,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. (Revelation 21:1)

I don’t think this means the New Heaven and New Earth won’t have any oceans! And I do think the ancient readers would’ve understood what the sea represents here. Both the sea and the Leviathan represent “evil, primordial, cosmic, chaotic forces.” 

THE SERPENT SLAYER

The writers of the Bible often practiced appropriation, borrowing symbols and language from neighboring cultures and adapting them to their biblical worldview as a polemic against the pagan religions. In a sense, they’re saying “You know that language you use about your god? Well, we’re going to apply it to our God, the only true God!” With the Leviathan specifically, the biblical writers are essentially saying, “You know that sea monster you all fear—the one your gods can’t even stop? Our God, the true God, can catch it like a minnow on a hook.”

Interestingly, in Job, God describes the Leviathan’s armor-like scales, a common characteristic of dragons. Naselli points out two times the Bible writers refer to evil humans as having scales. First, he language describing Goliath’s armor reflects this. The NASB tells us “he was clothed with scale-armor” (1 Sam. 17:5). (The NIV translation also reflects this scale language.) Secondly, notice how God describes the Pharaoh in this passage from Ezekiel:

“Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, 

the great dragon that lies 

in the midst of his streams, 

that says, ‘My Nile is my own; 

I made it for myself.’ 

I will put hooks in your jaws, 

and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales; 

and I will draw you up out of the midst of your streams, 

with all the fish of your streams 

that stick to your scales…

To the beasts of the earth and to the birds of the heavens 

I give you as food. (Ezekiel 29:3–5)

So, the symbol of the serpent, the dragon, and Leviathan become much clearer.

Take note, a serpent isn’t always a negative symbol in Scripture. After all, Jesus told his disciples to be as wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16). But, as we’ve seen, the serpent usually represents evil (Ps. 58:3–5, 140:3), and Christ is the one who will smash the serpent/dragon. In the New Heaven and New Earth, the serpent will no longer be a threat, not even to children (Isa. 11:6–9; 65:17–25). With this, as God’s people, the Church is to participate in the defeat of the serpent/dragon. Naselli’s writes, “God is the one who ultimately crushes serpent heads, and he ordains that his people participate in the head-crushing.” (Ps. 91:13; Luke 10:19; Acts 28:3–4.)

Though there are always sections that I wish were more fleshed-out in short books like Naselli’s, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer is definitely worth the quick read if you want an introduction to these ideas.

[1] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol.2, Genesis by John H. Sailhamer.

*Crossway Books provided me with a free copy to review this book.

The Importance of Family Discipleship (w/ Book Review)

“Discipling your child is not primarily your church’s job, your child’s school’s job, or your pastor’s job. This job is yours,” Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin write in their book Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home through Time, Moments, and Milestones.

And they’re absolutely right. In our consumerist and busy culture, parents often “outsource” the spiritual development of their children, expecting the local Sunday school teacher, pastor, or Christian school for the important work of building up their children in Christ. Obviously, part of raising a child in Christ is, in fact, being part of a local church community. As I heard one pastor put it (quoting an African proverb), “If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a church to raise a Christian.” But this doesn’t change the fact that the primary responsibility to spiritually disciple children belongs to parents. “To parent without deliberately discipling your child is to build your family’s house on a foundation of sand,” Chandler and Griffin write.

Even if the Scripture didn’t put this responsibility squarely on the shoulders of parents, the fact that parents spend much more time with their children than any pastor or Sunday school teacher, it’s common sense that the main spiritual influencer in a child’s life would be his or her mother and father. Thus, Chandler and Griffin spend time on the importance of parents modeling Christian behavior and spiritual disciplines to their children. Here, Chandler and Griffin give some gold nuggets that are important for any Christian parent to hear. For one, parents’ attempts to disciple their children will often be both frustrated and frustrating! Children will break into tantrums during devotion time; siblings will fight during discipling activities (like they do with other family activities); and what you think is an important lesson will be met with listlessness. It’s a reality of being a parent, so accept it and keep doing your best! 

But, with this, parents are imperfect sinners just like their children and often fail to be perfect examples of our perfect Savior! Big surprise, right? But it’s important for parents to hear this. Thus, these failures are the opportune moments to model the Gospel to your children: To share the truth of the Gospel, to admit your sins, and to ask for forgiveness. Chandler and Griffin write, “No matter what your household looks like, your family is the primary instrument and environment for discipleship in all the fantastic and flawed ways that it might be worked out.”

Discipling your family must have intentionality and consistency, which means having a plan or strategy (which will always be getting adjusted as your children grow and change). In the core of the book, Chandler and Griffin focus on three opportunities to disciple: Time, Moments, and Milestones:

Time – Creating intentional time built into your family’s life rhythms to disciple. This might be, for example, regular family devotions.

Moments – Looking for spontaneous opportunities during everyday life to have important spiritual talks or lessons. In professional teaching, we call these “teaching moments” — unplanned opportunities to teach a short lesson.

Milestones – Marking special days and events in the life of the family and giving them spiritual significance.

If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that I would’ve liked more specific examples and idea-generators for discipling one’s family. Perhaps if the authors included examples from families other than their own, it would have filled out the book nicely. Family Discipleship is a fairly quick, easy read; still, sometimes when I read a book like this by pastors, I can’t help thinking that it didn’t need to be a whole book; the same information could’ve been passed on in a sermon (or two) or blog article (or two). (I also suspect that such books are the result of a past sermon series.)

I would recommend Family Discipleship to new parents, parents who are new Christians, or parents who have never considered how to disciple their family before and need guidance on where to start. The book certainly convinces the reader of the importance and responsibility placed on all Christian parents to disciple their own children, and the book gives a great framework for thinking about discipling. Despite my small complaint above, the personal illustrations from the authors, the ideas they give, and the end-of-chapter activities help stimulate the readers’ own ideas for their own families. Reading the book has certainly made me more aware of my discipling efforts with my children.

*Crossway provided me with a free copy of this book for review.