The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
This is the first and only time in my Big Box that I’ll be interacting with Voddie Baucham, pastor of Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, TX. The brief bio on his church’s website should serve as a good introduction (emphasis mine):
It is impossible to understand Voddie’s approach to the Bible without first understanding the path he has walked. Raised in a non-Christian, single-parent home, Voddie did not hear the gospel until he was in college. His journey to faith was a very unusual and intellectual one. Consequently, he understands what it means to be a skeptic, and knows what it’s like to try to figure out the Christian life without relying on the traditions of men. As a result, he speaks to ‘outsiders’ in a way few Bible teachers can.
Whoever wrote the above is absolutely correct. Baucham’s views are, by his own admission, inextricably tied to his conversion experience and the events that followed shortly after. He states that he was given three passions – apologetics, evangelism and concern for the spiritual condition of his family – immediately upon coming to faith, and that he led several members of his family to Christ within a few months of getting saved. Per his family situation, it seems to have been much worse than the bio indicates (he was raised by a single mother in gangland Los Angeles).
Now I don’t doubt Baucham’s passion, and certainly not the sincerity of his profession. But passion does not necessarily equal correctness, so let’s take a closer look at The Centrality of the Home in Evangelism and Discipleship.
B.D. (Before Darwin)
Baucham begins with statistics about American and European birth rates and the appallingly large number of young people leaving the church. Using the example of Southern Baptists (who currently number 16 million), he claims that in four generations, if current trends continue, there will be only 250,000 Southern Baptists. (There is also a not-so-subtle militant fecundity subtext, as Baucham makes a point of emphasizing the high birth rates among European Muslims.) The only way to counteract this population decline, according to Baucham, is for Christians to turn to their homes and reject (or at least greatly shrink) modern children and youth ministries, which he believes have undermined or eliminated parental instruction:
It is the responsibility of the home, I am about to argue, and not the responsibility of the church, to evangelize and disciple my children. It is not. It is my job, it is not the church’s job. Now the church is there to equip and assist me in this process. The church is not there to do this for me. …
We have done this in the area of evangelizing and discipling our young people and we have created spiritual welfare systems. And we have Christian families on spiritual welfare as it relates to their responsibility with their children. And this welfare has been crippling. This welfare has created a dependency. This welfare has created a mentality in the mind of Christian parents in our culture that says, “Our responsibility is to find the most entertaining youth and children’s ministry available for the satisfaction of our children.”
This should sound familiar to readers of previous Big Box posts about the Family-Intregrated Church (see here and here). Though Baucham never mentions age-segregation in this lecture, he has spoken against it elsewhere:
…before [Sunday School] was here in America, it was actually in England. And actually in England, Sunday School ministry started not just to minister and disciple, you know, lost kids. But remember, this was before child labor laws, so small children were working in factories because they had smaller hands and could do things with, you know, smaller pieces of material. They weren’t going to school. They weren’t being educated at all in any way, some of them. And again, especially in the lower classes. So the Sunday School movement…was designed to make these kids literate. It was literally “School on Sunday” because they weren’t going to work on Sunday, so they could go to school on Sunday and use the Bible to teach these kids and make them literate.
Now there have been two complaints about the Sunday School movement, even from its inceptions, from its origins. Complaint number one is that if we do this, eventually we will make it available to Christian kids. … Argument number two is that when we begin to make this available in the church, families will stop catechizing their children. That was the argument. And people screamed from the rooftops. …
The idea that you have a class for people of this age and a class for people of that age that we do now in our Sunday School movement? Not a Biblical construct at all. Well where does it come from? Well, that comes from the modern education movement. Well, where does the modern education movement get it from? Darwinian evolution. Yes. The idea of age-segregation has its roots in Darwinian evolution.
At least Baucham addresses the historical roots of the Sunday School movement, which puts him miles ahead of John Thompson. However, he conspicuously fails to include any dates in his historical discussion. Had he done this, those dates would have shown that the Sunday School movement predated Darwinism by around eighty years, which makes the last paragraph of the above quote a historical impossibility. (For a more detailed refutation of this idea, see here.)
Per the idea that Sunday School leads to a failure of parental instruction, I have two concerns on this point. First, Baucham did not cite any historical sources for his claim that alarms were sounded from the beginning about Sunday School. I can’t write the claim off as specious on its face, but I’d be interested to know more about it and would appreciate any tips on resources about this topic.
Second, I’m not convinced that Sunday School inevitably leads to the elimination of family instruction. Certainly it could lead to this if improperly done, but there are a lot of perfectly good things which could lead to unpleasant outcomes if improperly done (driving cars, open heart surgery, etc.). It’s also not hard to imagine a situation in which Sunday School operates in exactly the way Baucham described his ideal church:
Now the church is there to equip and assist me in [evangelizing and discipling my children]. The church is not there to do this for me.
In other words, if Sunday School acts as a supplement to parental instruction (as it should), there’s no problem.
(I’m also curious to know how Baucham intends to reach children, inside or outside the church, whose parents are failing to instruct them for whatever reason. The Puritans had a neat solution – legally mandating catechesis – but then they had the teeth of the colonial government behind them.)
Shooting at straw men
As we all know, it’s easy to “spin” a given situation to look better or worse than it is in reality. In fact, if we’re selective enough in choosing our information, we can make something appear to be the exact opposite of what it actually is. To illustrate, I’d like to share a movie trailer with my readers. You’ll probably recognize the film, but it may be a bit different than you remember:
Unfortunately, the above trailer is a lot like Baucham’s arguments about youth ministry (which are baseless to begin with, since they derive from his unprovable statements about a Darwinian source for age-segregation). He finds the information he wants to present – in this case, the worst kind of youth ministry, the kind that many youth ministers themselves wish to avoid – and then uses it to condemn all youth ministry:
This welfare has created a mentality in the mind of Christian parents in our culture that says, “Our responsibility is to find the most entertaining youth and children’s ministry available for the satisfaction of our children.”
…if a church is genuinely concerned about the spiritual lives of children, what we will do is point them toward home and the importance of their obedience in their home to their parents, and not usurp that and replace that with some 25-year-old kid with spiky hair and no kids of his own to point to to prove that he knows what he’s doing in raising teenagers. We do not put a play figure in the lives of our children as the spiritual centerpiece and determine their discipleship and spirituality by how they respond to the play figure.
No one denies that there are problems in modern youth ministry, and that many stupid, ridiculous things have been done in the name of reaching youth. And to be honest, these problems may be more widespread than many would like to admit. However, just like with Sunday School, unless Baucham can prove that youth ministry must inevitably lead to these negative outcomes (which he can’t), he cannot justify scrapping youth ministry wholesale. Also, his portrayal of youth workers in the second quote is nothing more than a stereotype, and is rude and demeaning to the many sincere and hardworking youth ministers across this and many other countries.
When I say jump…
A lecture by Voddie Baucham would hardly be complete without what appears to be one of his all-time favorite topics, first-time obedience. (Cindy Kunsman has written much on this topic and I recommend her posts.) First-time obedience is probably best summed up by Baucham’s own description: “Teach them to do what they’re told, when they’re told, with a respectful attitude.” “Them,” of course, refers to a Christian couple’s children. Baucham touches on this topic while discussing Ephesians 6:1-4:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Baucham’s observations on this passage will serve as a good jumping-off point (emphasis mine):
Teach them to do what they’re told, when they’re told, with a respectful attitude. Why? ‘Cause that’s what I want? No, because that’s what this text teaches. Verse 1, children obey your parents in the Lord. Verse 2, honor your father and your mother. To obey means to do what you’re told. If you’re not doing what you’re told, you’re not obeying. If you’re not doing what you’re told when you’re told to do it, you’re not obeying. And so if I have a child who’s not doing what I tell that child to do, that child is disobedient, and if I accept that, I’m okay with my child becoming a picture of Romans 1. If I have a child that I have to tell something four, five, six, seven, twelve times, I have a child who’s disobedient, and if I accept that, I am accepting a child who looks like Romans chapter one.
Let’s look at the bolded statements in the above paragraph. In the first, Baucham claims that delayed obedience is not true obedience (an idea commonly repeated not only by Baucham, but by many other Christian authors). Unfortunately Baucham is flatly contradicted by Jesus Himself:
“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.” Matthew 21:28-32
In this parable, even though the first son did not obey immediately, Jesus regards him as truly obedient. I’m sure He probably would have preferred that he obey right away, but this apparently does not affect the final verdict. This is a serious wrench in Baucham’s theory, as it means he’s setting a higher standard for his children than God sets for His! In fact, Baucham reaps the benefits of God’s “lower” standard daily, because, unless he’s perfect, he doesn’t always immediately obey whenever he encounters one of God’s commands.
The second bolded statement in Baucham’s quote references Romans 1, specifically the last part of that chapter:
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the women, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty for their error which was due.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:24-32
Baucham claims that this passage describes a three-tiered, temporal sequence of ever-increasing cultural degradation, with disobedience to parents at the bottom. This leads to him stating later in the lecture that “a child’s disobedience to his or her parents is as grievous to God as homosexuality.”
I have a few problems with his reading of this passage. First, I would tend to read the descriptions following each appearance of the phrase “God gave them up…” not as sequential or progressive steps in time, but as different concurrent aspects of a decline. Second, the list of “those things which are not fitting” mentions no less than twenty-four sins, of which disobedience to parents is only one. Some of these sins are ones most of us commit daily, such as being unloving. So Baucham cannot necessarily single out disobedience to parents as some kind of rock-bottom cultural nadir, since many other very common sins are presented as equally offensive.
Third, I personally doubt that this passage refers to very small children. Not only are many of the sins listed clearly adult (esp. the prominent sexual ones), but there several clues that tell us the passage is primarily talking about mature, mentally competent adults (including adolescents or “youths”) who ought to know better. Notice the phrases “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (v. 25), “retain God in their knowledge” (v. 28), “knowing the righteous judgment of God” (v. 32), and, in the passage immediately preceding this one, “professing to be wise” (v. 22). Before a certain age, children do not know “the righteous judgment of God” and thus do not fit the description of the sinners referred to in this passage. So while I agree that small children can sin, they are not committing the kind of hardened rebellion described here every time they disobey their parents. A far better candidate is probably the defiant teenager who openly flouts every one of his parents’ rules, simply because they came from his parents.
Before we close, I’d like to briefly address Baucham’s attempt to refute the egalitarian interpretation of Eph. 5:21-33. The egalitarian interpretation states that 5:21 calls all believers, including husbands and wives, to submit to one another; this essentially makes submission between spouses mutual, instead of “one-directional” submission done only by the wife to the husband. Baucham, unsurprisingly, has a problem with this, and even implies that those who hold to this interpretation are not “Spirit-filled” (not sure whether he means “saved” by this phrase or not):
Submit to the authority that God has placed in your life. Show me a person who’s not submissive to the authority that God places in their life, I’ll show you a person who’s not submissive to the Spirit of God. They’re not Spirit-filled. You cannot tell me that you are a Spirit-filled person when you balk against the authority that God has placed in your life.
You might be able to guess from this that Baucham thinks the phrase “submitting to one another” in Ephesians 5:21 does not mean that all believers submit to all other believers, but that certain believers (outlined in 5:22-6:9) submit to certain other people whom God has made “authorities” in their lives.
I have a few concerns with this interpretation. First, Baucham objects to the egalitarian interpretation because it starts at the end of a “paragraph.” It’s true that in many English Bibles, a section break is inserted between 5:21 and 5:22. Unfortunately for Baucham, the original Greek manuscripts of the Bible usually don’t have paragraph breaks, so his objection is anachronistic. Second, there are other passages in the Bible which seem to indicate that all believers should submit to each other (Luke 22:24-27, 1 Peter 5:5), so even if Baucham turns out to be right about Ephesians 5:21, he may still have some explaining to do.
Third, the word for “one another” in 5:21 (allelon) is a pronoun defined as “one another, reciprocally, mutually.” It’s also translated as “among themselves” or “together” in several places and is commonly found in directions to believers in the epistles:
All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. Matthew 25:32
Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” Mark 15:31
Greet one another with a holy kiss. 2 Corinthians 13:12
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16
And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 11:10
I’m not an expert in Greek, but it seems that in each of these examples the entire group is in view. All the sheep are divided from all the goats; all the chief priests mock Jesus; all Christians are supposed to pray for each other. In fact, as I looked through the list of translated instances, I didn’t see a single example that appeared to indicate only part of the group in question engages in the specified activity. So when Baucham claims that only some of the Ephesian believers should submit, I am suspicious as none of the other occurrences of this word seem to allow for this interpretation. The fact that 5:21 is immediately followed by some specific examples of submission does not seem to be enough (to me, at least) to overturn the testimony elsewhere in the Bible.
In short, I found Baucham’s arguments lacking on this point (and many others). They certainly didn’t carry enough weight to warrant the description on the back of the CD case:
His exposition of Scripture is clear and his arguments unassailable.
Color this listener unimpressed.
Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 87-88.