Families and technology

The Gospel Coalition podcast recently featured an interview of Andy Crouch by Collin Hansen. They discussed how technology (particularly smartphones and similar devices) affect children and family life . They share valuable reflections on the sort of serious considerations Christians should give to how we use technology.

Andy Crouch on How to Become a Tech-Wise Family: Collin Hansen interviews Andy Crouch about putting technology in its proper place.

Read more about the podcast episode.

This article is part 1 of 1 in the series Faith & Technology.

On the responsibility of parents for their children before God

Reflections on Ephesians 6:1-9.

Some of the memories I have of childhood are from the primary Sunday school class. My mother was the teacher for most of what I can remember, though there were some other teachers in later years. I obviously benefited from what I was taught in those early classes, and I still draw on the knowledge that was imparted to me there.

One of the unique things about my childhood Sunday school class, perhaps not so unique when compared with many other classes of the time, was the flannel board. Do you remember the flannel board? I’m not sure if they are still in use these days in our high tech world when we seem to prefer moving pictures over anything else, but the flannel board seemed high tech in the 70’s and 80’s, at least to a small child.

It seemed a bit like magic how Moses and the entire Hebrew people could walk across the wilderness right in front of the class, passing through water without getting wet. Flannel board Jesus turned those water into wine before our eyes, and it was almost as miraculous as when the real Jesus did it. And, of course, in my little country Pentecostal church, we were pretty sure we could feel the heat from the paper tongues of fire that appeared on the disciples’ heads as they tarried in the upper room.

Flannel boards and the like have their usefulness as tools for instruction. Yet, they can’t convey the fullness of the faith. Two-dimensional Jesus can’t really turn water into wine. Even though the fall of flannel board Eutychus from a third story window might help press home the image of how dangerous it is to sleep during the sermon, what I really learned wasn’t bound in the paper images of Bible characters. Instead, my learning was necessarily bound with my mother’s heart. My learning was tied with how my mother treated the Scriptures. She believed in them. She knew they were alive. These stories she told me weren’t from the Brothers Grimm collection. They were history; they were moral instruction; but they were also real–they are also real.

Parents are entrusted by the Lord with a special responsibility for their children. The Lord gives parents children as a blessing, a blessing of great joy. In so giving, he requires the parents to care for their children, and not only physically and emotionally, but also spiritually. Parents bear responsibility for their children before God.

Parents bear responsibility to teach children how not to be conformed to the world. We do this with structure and discipline. We do it with mercy and compassion. We do it with a firm but gentle hand. In teaching them, with both words and deeds, our goal is to help them have renewed minds, not minds that are shaped by the world, the flesh, and the devil. A parent’s example of life is his foremost tool in so shaping his children in the image of Christ.

Does your example convey how sincerely you hold the faith? Doubtless it does, whether you intend it so or not. The Proverbs exhort us to disregard the fool because imitating him leads to folly. The Proverbs also exhort us to pay close attention to the fool so we will know what behavior not to imitate. All of us, living in the fallen world and tainted by sin, will continue to make mistakes, sometimes big mistakes. Yet, through confession and God’s forgiveness, we can still provide a worthwhile example to our children. When they see that we acknowledge our sins and are sincere in our repentance, they’ll understand all the more how we are sincere in our devotion. We can show them that it is only the fool who, having stumbled, goes on his way without dealing with the stumblingblock.

What is our goal? Toward what end are we nurturing and teaching children? It is, of course, to teach them what is their “reasonable service”. We are to show them how to be living sacrifices: to be holy and acceptable to God. We teach them how to emulate Christ so that the Father in heaven might receive honor. We instruct them in righteousness, teaching them that we are not our own, but we belong to God; that we do not live and die to ourselves, but that we live and move and breathe because God himself wills it; that all we say and do in life is either honoring or dishonoring his holy name.

We teach them that man does not come to God on his own terms. While the tenets of postmodernism suggests that man can create his own world, do his own thing, please himself, the worldview of the Christian mandates that we bring pleasure to the Lord. We are to teach them, to show them, to lead them, and to equip them so that, in the end, when they think and do for themselves, they may “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”.

As the Lord does with his children, we are to gather these chicks under our wings, saying, “Come, ye children, and hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:11).

Gathered around the kitchen table with her six children, my mother read to us the words of Scripture before sending us off to school each morning. I’ll probably forget many things about my early years, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing the Psalms and the Proverbs and other passages of the Bible being read at that table. Sometimes, my mother read; at other times, she’d have us read. Sometimes, my mother would pray, and at other times, she’d have each of us offer a petition.

Teaching children to read and meditate on the Scriptures and teaching them how to pray: these are duties of parents. In some moments, children are intrigued and inspired by what they hear; at other times, they may find it more difficult to concentrate and understand. At all times, they are observing us, learning from us. They will know if we believe, and because we believe, they may understand that what we teach is real and begin to take it for their own.

May we teach and exhort our children, as St. Paul did with Timothy (2 Timothy 3:14-17),

But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

The darkest day in American history

Genesis 1:26-31.

Forty Long Years

Perhaps you’ve heard the old saw that goes like this. A man turned to his friend and said, “Do you know that the two greatest problems in our country today are ignorance and apathy?” To this his friend replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

That is, perhaps, a most fitting assessment, and especially on this day. This day marks, among all others, the sins and failures of mankind. In this regard, it is not unlike other days. But this day marks a great darkness, a great evil, a great forwardness, a rebellion of the hearts of men against their Creator. This day marks what is most assuredly the darkest day of all in our American history.

Forty long years were God’s people in the wilderness after Moses led them out of Egypt. In fits and starts they followed him and obeyed his commandments. Sometimes, they honored him; sometimes, they complained against him, accusing him of injustice. At least once, they turned to worship a false God.

Likewise, for forty long years, the Church in America has largely ignored the darkness of the murder of innocents in our land. Too many Christians sit comfortably in their churches without regard to the blood of the unborn being shed around them every day. In fits and starts has the Church, too, honored the Lord’s commandments. At times, Christians have spoken plainly of God’s truth and honored him in deeds. At other times, and in critical times, we have preferred our own convenience.

Those of you who are older than I may remember the political struggle over abortion in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The argument was that abortion was a medical necessity. A handful of states began to legalize abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court declared it to be legally acceptable to murder children in the womb. Since that time, the argument for medical necessity has virtually disappeared, while we kill children in the womb for the sake of our convenience.

For 40 years, the courts have declared acceptable that which God has condemned. Since 1973, more than 50 million children have been murdered in the womb. Our chief executive, before he took office, stated that he was in favor of killing children after they were born. (source) This is the state of our nation after 40 years. We have embraced a culture of death.

The culture of death brings about disrespect for human life across the breadth of our society. You may remember the death of Terri Schiavo in 2005. She was physically and mentally disabled, and her husband sought to have her put to death because she was an inconvenience to him. A state court ordered that food and water be withheld from her. After fourteen days without food or water, Terri died of dehydration. This is the culture of death we have in this country.

Every day, the disabled and elderly are neglected because they are inconvenient. I think of the nursing home where I lead service each month, of how many of the elderly are dumped there by their families. They are abandoned because they are inconvenient. Children shuttle off their parents to a place where they can die because it’s inconvenient to deal with them. This is the culture of death.

Murder Condemned, Life Affirmed

Abortion is an old sin that has been with us since the early days of mankind. It was spoken of in the Old Testament. References to it have been found in ancient texts.

Elsewhere in the book of Genesis, the Lord said unto Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). Here the Lord made plain to Noah that the life of every man is sacred. It is sacred because man bears God’s image.

From the time of the early church, abortion was condemned as murder. In the Didache, the oldest known catechetical document of the Church, written sometime around 100 A.D and intended as a summary of the Apostles’ teaching, are these words: “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born” ([tooltip tip=”Didache, c. 80-140, as quoted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1998), 2.”]source[/tooltip]). We see that this sin has been around for a long time, and it is practiced with impunity in our own time. The Church has always looked upon this act as an offense against both God and man.

Tertullian, in about 210 A.D., wrote this, “Life begins with conception, for we contend that the soul also begins from conception. Life takes its commencement at the same place and time that the soul does” ([tooltip tip=”Tertullian, as quoted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1998), 172.”]source[/tooltip]). That is to say, at the moment when God causes two cells to combine–in that moment when he creates the body–he also animates the body with his own breath. Into a man fashioned from clay, the Father breathed life. Therefore, we honor life, not only because it came from that first receiving of God’s breath, but also because it is that continued receiving from God, that continued imprint of his image upon men.

Christ affirmed the value of mankind throughout his ministry. He did so when he declared them to be made whole by speaking words of healing or laying his hands on them. He did so when he called them to repentance so that they might be saved from destruction. He did so when he said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).

Likewise, when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), he was affirming the value of life. He was affirming the value of human life in his eyes, both the life of that first breath and the new life that comes through the saving work of Christ our Savior. This is everlasting life given to those who repent of their wickedness and follow after Christ.

Instead of taking life, Jesus gave his life, saying, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He showed the value of men in God’ eyes: not that men are worthy, but God has made them worthy through his first Creation and his New Creation.

Made in God’s Image

What does it mean to be made in God’s image? That has been an important question throughout human history, and it is no less important to us now. The answer to this question have tremendous implications for our understanding of God, of man, of how God has revealed himself to man, and, especially, our understanding of Jesus, the incarnate God, God in human flesh.

In seeking to explain this impression of the image of God upon the soul of man, we use a variety of terms. We speak of being made in God’s likeness, made in his image. We talk of the sacredness of human life, the dignity of men. The American Founders spoke of it in the Declaration of Independence in those words that are familiar to most of us: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We speak of the inalienable nature of the right to life. This means that the right to life is inherent to our identity as humans. God made us such that this right is essential to our being. This right can neither be taken from us nor can it be given up; it is inalienable–we cannot be separated from it. This is the value that God gives mankind. We have value because he has deigned to leave his fingerprints in the clay with which he made man and woman.

What might we learn from the passage we read in Genesis 1? Firstly, that God has given man dominion. He gave mankind authority over every creature, every creeping, flying, or swimming thing. He gave man authority over the trees and other plants.

Insofar as this authority of dominion is practiced by man with uprightness, he reflects the image of God. Just as the Lord rightly exercises his authority over all things, so man rightly exercises his authority over those things placed under his control. Man may use the things of Creation for good purposes, just as the Lord has made them all for his good purpose. As God has exercised his creative power, man may exercise the power of creativity bestowed upon him by the Creator.

Secondly, we bear the image of God in our moral nature. That is, we are formed according to his character. The Lord has endowed each man with conscience, with some ability to discern right and wrong, to seek goodness. Certainly this desire for goodness, this ability to discern what is pleasing to God, has been marred by sin. We see with dimmed eyes; we stumble in the darkness because we have shut out the light. Our consciences are seared by sinfulness such that our minds are faulty and our wills given to that which is evil. Certainly, our natural tendency is toward sin and all that is displeasing toward the Lord.

Yet, however dimly we may see, and however vainly we may grasp at goodness without the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit, mankind is not entirely divorced from the goodness of God. Because of the mercy of the Lord, it is this indelible likeness of the Father upon us that gives us any inclination to do that which is good. It was of this impression of the Father’s character on us that Christ spoke when he said to his disciples, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11).

Take Up the Tools at Your Hand

How do we address this sin of the devaluing of human life? How do we act in such ways as to affirm life?

Some years ago, I was seeking work through a temporary staffing agency. Reviewing the agency’s advertisements for jobs, I discovered one that was a bit cryptic. As I carefully read over the words, it became apparent that the temp agency was seeking a nurse to work in the abortion clinic in town. I spoke with the local manager of the service, who referred me to the corporate office. I spoke with the president of the company, who dismissed my concerns about the murder of the innocent, stating that they were supporting a business engaged in legal activity.

I called friends in the area and asked them to pray and to participate in an effort to stop the supply of nurses to the abortion clinic. After several days of standing on the sidewalk in front of the employment agency, greeting the folks who came in and out of that business and explaining to them what sort of services it supplied, we were able to impact the abortion industry in our town. People who sought help in finding a job through this agency were shocked to learn that it was working for the abortion industry in this way. Some learned for the first time that an abortion clinic even existed in the area.

Eventually, we were able to have an impact on the staffing of the clinic, and its hours were reduced after the prayers and faithful witness of many in the pro-life movement. Its sister clinic in another city was shut down by the state.

I think also of my friend who heads a ministry dedicated to teaching Ukrainian orphans about Christ and showing them compassion. He and his wife help coordinate the adoption of scores of children each year. These are children who would be abandoned; those who make it to adulthood often turn to prostitution and other crime to support themselves. Now, instead, they have the love of adopted parents. They have the love of Christ shown to them through the acts of men and women who understand the value of human life.

These are only some of the things that we can do when we take up the tools that are at hand. Perhaps the most important and the most expedient thing you can do to honor the sanctity of life is to teach it to your children. We so often spend time seeking magic solutions that we neglect the work before us. We do not live in a fairy land; there are no magic beans. Let us teach our children about the sanctity of human life.

Men who are not taught love as children will seldom love when full grown. We must speak the message of truth in our homes and in our churches. We must teach children about the dignity of all men. We should teach them how we are fearfully and wonderfully made–by God, in his image. We should teach them how to love others, that humiliation and ridicule do not show our appreciation of human worth. We should teach them that children are a gift from the Lord, not an inconvenience to be avoided or disposed of. We should teach them that God will hold us accountable for all our deeds, both good and bad. We should teach them that, in honoring the value of men, we honor the Lord.

Let us not forget prayer, that most important discipline of Christian life. Pray for the safety of children in the womb. Pray for the hearts of men in authority, that they will respect the value of life. Pray for doctors and nurses, that they will seek to preserve life, not to destroy it. Pray for all who suffer from abortion, the childless mothers and fathers who need the forgiveness of the Father. Pray for those in the nursing homes, the elderly and the disabled, that they will be comforted by the Holy Spirit in their moments of loneliness and distress.

Take up the tools that are at your hand and work in the Lord’s kingdom. Work to affirm the sacredness of human life. Work to glorify God by honoring his Creation.

Embracing Life

In exercising dominion, we do not seek dominion over others. We do not seek to control them, to limit their freedom, to make them slaves. All of these things attack their dignity and show that we have no value for them. We do not dominate or subjugate others or murder them. We are to exercise dominion in goodness, in all that pleases the Lord. When we offend the dignity of men, we offend the majesty of God.

We may embrace the fullness of life by following after Christ. We show this by speaking and acting in accord with his word. We show this by affirming human life in all its forms, in all its locations, in all its conditions. We show our reverence for God by our respect for men–men who are created in the image of deity.

May we honor all men and so honor God.

St. Augustine

St. Augustine on marriage

From Of the Good of Marriage.

1. Forasmuch as each man is a part of the human race, and human nature is something social, and has for a great and natural good, the power also of friendship; on this account God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred. Therefore the first natural bond of human society is man and wife. Nor did God create these each by himself, and join them together as alien by birth: but he created the one out of the other, setting a sign also of the power of the union in the side, whence she was drawn, was formed. For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk. Then follows the connection of fellowship in children….

4. There is this further, that in that very debt which married persons pay one to another … they owe faith alike one to another. Unto which faith the Apostle allows so great right, as to call it “power,” saying, “The woman has not power of her own body, but the man; again in like manner also the man has not power of his own body, but the woman.” But the violation of this faith is called adultery, when either by instigation of one’s own lust, or by consent of lust of another, there is sexual intercourse on either side with another against the marriage compact: and thus faith is broken, which, even in things that are of the body, and mean, is a great good of the soul: and therefore it is certain that it ought to be preferred even to the health of the body, wherein even this life of ours is contained. …..

6. ….. Therefore married persons owe one another not only the faith of their sexual intercourse itself, for the begetting of children, which is the first fellowship of the human kind in this mortal state; but also, in a way, a mutual service of sustaining one another’s weakness, in order to shun unlawful intercourse: so that, although perpetual continence be pleasing to one of them, he may not, save with consent of the other. For thus far also, “The wife has not power of her own body, but the man; in like manner also the man has not power of his own body, but the woman.” …..

8. “Honorable,” therefore, “is marriage in all, and the bed undefiled.” …..

11. ….. But now what shall we say against the most plain speech of the Apostle, saying, “Let her do what she will; she sins not, if she be married;” and, “If you shall have taken a wife, you have not sinned: and, if a virgin shall have been married, she sins not.” …..

18. For what food is unto the conservation of the man, this sexual intercourse is unto the conservation of the race: and both are not without carnal delight: which yet being modified, and by restraint of temperance reduced unto the use after nature, cannot be lust. But what unlawful food is in the supporting of life, this sexual intercourse of fornication or adultery is in the seeking of a family. And what unlawful food is in luxury of belly and throat, this unlawful intercourse is in lust that seeks not a family. ….. It is better to die without children, than to seek a family from unlawful intercourse. But from whatever source men be born, if they follow not the vices of their parents, and worship God aright, they shall be honest and safe. For the seed of man, from out what kind of man soever, is the creation of God, and it shall fare ill with those who use it ill, yet shall not, itself at any time be evil. But as the good sons of adulterers are no defense of adulteries, so the evil sons of married persons are no charge against marriage. …..

24. Marriage, I say, is a good, and may be, by sound reason, defended against all calumnies. …..