Voddie Baucham, Jr. Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007). 222 pages. $19.99.
Dr. Voddie Baucham notes a disturbing trend in the American church. According to researchers, between 70 and 88 percent of Christian teens are leaving the church before their sophomore year in college. Dr. Baucham encourages parents and churches to rethink both child-rearing and family ministry. He calls for a paradigm shift away from models based on popular psychology to an approach that is built exclusively on the Scriptures:
This is the linchpin in every argument I have made or will make in this book. God has designed your family--not the youth group, not the children's ministry, not the Christian school, but your family--as the principal agent in your children's lives. The most important job you have as a parent is to train and disciple your children (118).
So far, so good. Taking principles from Deuteronomy 6, Dr. Baucham addresses seven key areas that parents must address if they are to fulfill their biblical calling:
- Parents must make worshiping the true God a priority by personally repenting from the idols of self-fulfillment and success (Ch. 2, "A God With No Rivals").
- Parents must cultivate a biblical rather than a romantic understanding of love (Ch. 3, "Learn To Love").
- Parents must teach their children a biblical worldview (Ch. 4, "Give Him Your Heart").
- Parents must teach the Bible to their children at home (Ch. 5, "Teach the Word at Home").
- Parents must implement biblical discipline that is both corrective and formative (Ch. 6, "Live the Word at Home").
- Parents must practice regular family worship (Ch. 7, "Mark the Home as God's Territory").
- Parents must make family time a higher priority than wealth and personal success (Ch. 8, "Enjoy the Gifts without Forgetting the Giver").
There is much to be gleaned from Baucham's approach. His biblically-based focus on the home is welcome. His unapologetic advocacy for biblical marriage, biblical families, and biblical church leadership is right on target. The practical suggestions given for cultivating marriage (Ch. 3), teaching the Bible to children (Ch. 5), and catechizing (Ch. 6) are particularly helpful. I am personally thankful for them, and I highly recommend these chapters. Baucham is right. Certainly the home (not the Sunday school or public church gathering) is the front line of ministry to children and youth.
A Subtle Danger
On the other hand, there seems to be a subtle danger in Family Driven Faith--a danger that first appears in the book's title. To put it simply, I would suggest that the next generation does not need a family-driven faith so much as it needs the faith-driven family. Pastor Mark Driscoll has suggested provocatively that it is "sometimes a sin to focus on the family." It is particularly dangerous if our message about biblical families begins to eclipse the gospel. It is possible, after all, to keep the commandments from one's youth and still lack that one thing--a personal faith in Jesus that results in repentance (Mark 10:20-21). It is even possible to teach the Scriptures, catechize, and practice biblical parenting principles without knowing the Savior.
The statistics quoted at the beginning of this review are so daunting. Nearly 8 of 10 students leave the church by their second year in college. Baucham admits that the majority of these kids did not embrace the gospel in the first place.
The problem is not that these children are leaving Christianity. The problem is that most of them, by their own admission, are not Christian! Hence their leaving makes complete sense... Thousands, if not millions, of people have been manipulated into 'repeat after me' prayers and 'if you ever want to see that dearly departed loved one again...' altar calls without a trace of the Spirit's regenerating power (12).
However, Baucham does not address this problem by exploring what it means to preach the true gospel--God's power for salvation--to children. He does not even explore how the gospel message informs our family life. Rather, he suggests that the church begin to think of itself as a "family of families" (191). As Michael Lawrence points out, this puts the cart before the horse:
The church is not a family of families. The church is the family of God (1 Peter 4:17; 1 Timothy 3:15). This means it's a family of believers who have been grafted into Christ and so adopted into God's family (see John 15; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2:19; Galatians 4:1-7). It may seem like a small point, but the shift of emphasis makes a difference (HT: 9 Marks See Baucham's response).
The church's identity is formed by the gospel. We must be careful not to put anything else at the center--even a biblically informed understanding of family life. It will be powerless apart from the word of the cross. We should not expect a renewed emphasis on biblical manhood and womanhood, marriage, parenting, and family worship to bear any fruit unless the gospel of Christ crucified and risen for sinners drives this message. "If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21).
Young People in Church Life: Abandon Age-Segregation?
Baucham's emphasis on the family's central place in church life leads him to abandon all age segregation in church ministries. Baucham is a strong advocate for family-integrated churches (FIC):
While I believe the vast majority of those who shepherd segregated congregations are well meaning and would never presume to replace parents in their biblical role, I believe the modern American practice of systematic age segregation goes beyond the biblical mandate (178).
Our church has no youth ministers, children's ministers, or nursery. We do not divide families into component parts. We do not separate the mature women from the young teenage girls who need their guidance. We do not separate the toddler from his parents during worship. In fact, we don't even do it in Bible study. We see the church as a family of families (191).
Baucham's suggestion is certainly provocative, and I agree that exposing our young people to church life is essential. It is essential to give our youth the gospel message and our lives as well (1 Thessalonians 2:8). As Tim Chester and Steve Timmis have said:
Our experience suggests that more significant than peer relationships are relationships with Christians who are older than the teenagers, but not as old as their parents--adults who may not be 'youth workers', but who are committed to young people just as they are committed to other people in the church and who model gospel living and make young people feel part of the Christian community (Total Church, 181).
Part of the discipleship of young people is encouraging and equipping them to be willing participants in diverse congregations (Total Church, 182).
Baucham argues that there is no clear biblical mandate for the current age-segregated approach. I would argue that it is hard to find the biblical mandate for family-integrated public gatherings as well. I am aware that some passages in the epistles address children directly (e.g. Ephesians 6:1-3) implying that kids were present in the public gatherings where the NT letters were read aloud. But this does not mean families sat together. After all, in first-century synagogues, men and women sat in separate sections.
Age-segregation is culturally accommodating, but it is unrealistic and wrong to think that all cultural accommodation can and should be avoided. I am convinced that age-segregation has its dangers--the chief of which is accentuating a cultural gap between generations in a church community--but it also has its advantages--chiefly the pedagogical advantage of age-directed lessons.
The full-fledged FIC model also has both positives and negatives. On the negative side, it can be a gospel-preventing social barrier:
[Some] churches encourage children to remain in the meeting throughout, expecting them to behave like little adults. Children trained in this way from an early age may pull it off... It is completely unrealistic to expect this for unchurched families whose family life may be too chaotic to conform to this pattern. If your church manages to keep children quiet during sermons then it is probably because you are failing to bridge other social divides! (Total Church, 183).
We must not knowingly set up such social barriers to the gospel (Galatians 3:11ff).
Baucham's advocacy for the FIC model is symptomatic of a more deeply held separatist attitude toward culture. Another symptom is his suggestion that all Christians should pull their children out of government schools. He states:
We cannot continue to send our children to Caesar for their education and be surprised when they come home as Romans. More importantly, we cannot continue to use Caesar's methods in our Christian schools and expect a different outcome. Education is inseparable from discipleship (200).
I agree with Baucham that homeschooling and private Christian education often has its advantages. However, I am not comfortable making such sweeping statements. Our convictions about education or ministry programs should not be held so tightly that they keep us from sitting at the same table and celebrating the gospel with a family or church leader whose context and conscience have led them to differing conclusions. The "new tribe" of Christianity both creates its own culture and actively engages the cultures of this world. The gospel leads the Christian to contextualize his message (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) and avoid the extremes of both culture war and full-scale cultural accomodation.
Listen to Gary Shavey's audio interview with Dr. Bauchum at the Resurgence.