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Category: Theology

A Follow Up On “Salt and Light”

I recently linked to an article on the sensitive subject of how Christians ought to make educational choices for their children. Of course, this is a controversial area and it stirred some pushback to my basic stance that, generally speaking, sending a child to public school is not the best choice a Christian parent can make (in fairness I’d add: keep your kids out of most Christian schools as well. But that is a matter for a different article). Since my previous post was primarily a link to someone else’s thoughts I’d like to briefly summarize my own thoughts on the issue and also disclose my motives for choosing to publicly state them. Let’s start with motives.

First off, my goal is not to pass judgment on decisions made thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago by parents who now have older teens. My aim is to help parents who are currently making this choice to think through the implications of sending a child to public school as our culture and civilization continue their dramatic moral decline.  I realize that this still will cause disagreement, and maybe even offence (though I do not delight in giving offence and it is not my aim). However, given the magnitude of the question, this is not sufficient reason to remain silent.

And magnitude happens to be my second motive. This is a critical issue, because early influences shape children for the rest of their lives, and school is obviously one of the most significant influences in a child’s life.

Public schools, by and large, are a place where God, Scripture, absolute truth, absolute goodness, and absolute beauty are scorned and hated. Oh, to be sure, a child might hear the words ‘virtue,’ ‘truth,’ ‘good choices,’ and ‘kindness’ at school. But in a relativistic culture where each person’s ethical decisions are personal choices cut free from the cumbersome anchor of universal morality (and accountability to a Supreme Being), you can be sure that some of the ethics taught will vary from school to school and teacher to teacher, and too often will  contradict the God-designed universal standard. In our culture, good is evil and evil is good. Every man does what is right in his own eyes. And public schools might be more, but most are surely nothing less than culture inculcating, truth-hating, sanctification-destroying centers of illiberal closed-mindedness.

And this is precisely the point at which some parents might be tempted to shout, “That’s what I mean! The public schools need salt and light! How will we ever influence them for good if we don’t send our children there?”

Here are my top two objections to this thinking.

STOP TREATING YOUR UNBELIEVING CHILD LIKE A CHRISTIAN
It astounds me how many (Protestant! Dispensational!) Christian parents assume their child’s salvation and treat them like a believer. As if the very fact of having believing parents and being very cute qualifies a second grader to waltz into Mrs. McGillicuddy’s socialist classroom and hold a tent meeting. This is part of a much larger problem among Christian parents and churches (where unbelieving children of members regularly lead the sentimental congregants in worship simply because they are children – an error a faithful church would not allow for in any other age group), but the salt and light argument is one place it rears its head. If the Spirit of God does not dwell in your child, it is harmful to them and to others to pretend that it does. They do not possess the requisite salt or light necessary to validate the argument.

STOP EXPECTING THE IMPOSSIBLE FROM YOUR BELIEVING CHILD
Let’s say the first point does not apply to you. Your child has made a profession of faith that, in your best judgment, seems genuine and is bearing fruit. There is still a significant problem with the salt and light approach to educational choices. If we’re honest, we’d have to admit that even most Christian adults in our day would be ill-equipped to stand up against what children face in public school. So putting a child into a situation that would be a significant challenge for the average forty year-old Christian seems very unwise. Part of our incorrect thinking here stems from too light a view of sin (both its allurements and results), and our sentimental view of the unbeliever (both the children at your child’s school and the adults). So, before you make the decision to send your child to public school, please ask yourself, “How does God describe the unbelieving worldview my child will face at public school?” And then read Romans 1. Is your believing five, eight, thirteen, eighteen year old adequately prepared to face this? Are you?

It seems to me that using the salt and light approach to educational choices for a child is analogous to tossing that same child into the middle of the Atlantic to save a drowning sailor while the parents provide support from the life raft. We are asking children to do something God did not design them to do – to face mature and seething immorality, atheism, and secularism, and to turn that tide. It’s no wonder that so few children of Christians make it to adulthood still claiming the cross of Christ, for too many Christian parents, ill-equipped themselves, are unwittingly sowing the seeds of destruction before the child is remotely capable of weathering the storm.

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For Glory

Christians readily confess that the ultimate end of man is to glorify God. Further, we are quite comfortable saying that all things are ultimately for his glory. And we have much Scripture and rich Christian orthodoxy to back this idea.

Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 10:33 that even in the most menial of daily rituals, God’s glory is supreme: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (KJV)

This principle is no less true in the greater matters of life. Regarding salvation, Paul states in Ephesians 1:4b-6: “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” And later in the same passage, as if to ensure we cannot miss the point, he states it two more times:

In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

This same truth shows up in our rich heritage of orthodox Christian writings, a tradition we ought to honor and heed. The Westminster Shorter Catechism famously states:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
(https://www.opc.org/sc.html)

Simply put, God’s glory is the ultimate purpose for all of history, from the meanest of daily tasks to the life and death of Christ.

But here’s the rub. In practice, and often in careless ways of speaking, we deny this reality. This is especially easy for us to do in our soteriological banter. I often hear Christians speak of salvation as if the supreme (or only!) reason God predestined Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Ac 2:22-24) was for our benefit. To be clear, I do not deny that priceless gifts like salvation from eternal hell or union with Christ are significant benefits, nor do I deny that these are some of God’s purposes in redeeming us. Remember, this article is about the ultimate end, not just any end and I am arguing that his glory is the ultimate end of all things.

Our incorrect thinking crops up again when we speak of unbelievers as “poor little lambs who’ve lost their way.” This is not the way that Scripture speaks of the wicked. Romans 1 gives us a clear description of God’s view of the lost, and it is not warm and fuzzy. The Bible puts it even more bluntly in Psalm 5:5 and 11:5. And when we incorrectly prop up unbelievers as merely poor lost sheep, we actually rob God of glory for his sovereign work in salvation. Ask yourself what is more glorious: saving a poor little sheep who has lost his way, or regenerating a rotting corpse that is disgusting in God’s sight? After all, if sinners are merely cute little lambs bleating for the shepherd to finally find them and steer them towards the fold, then all they really need is a little nudge from Jesus to get them going in the right direction. In this alternate reality, being lost really isn’t so bad to begin with. And so salvation really isn’t that magnificent. But if sinners are something desperately worse (as Scripture describes them), it would take amazing power (and grace, and love, and mercy, and on and on) to bring about a completely new birth. And this would result in more glory for the one displaying those attributes and performing the saving act.

What I am arguing is that this is actually how it works.

Let me close with examples of God’s glory as ultimate in two other areas of theology: wrath and the salvation of the nations. These observations come from two Psalms that I’ve recently been meditating on.

GOD’S GLORY IN WRATH
In Psalm 21, David spends quite a bit of time describing how God treats his enemies (and the enemies of his covenant people). Observe:

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
Your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger;
The Lord will swallow them up in His wrath,
And fire will devour them.
10 Their offspring You will destroy from the earth,
And their descendants from among the sons of men.
11 Though they intended evil against You
And devised a plot,
They will not succeed.
12 For You will make them turn their back;
You will aim with Your bowstrings at their faces.

The mental images of the fiery oven, and the swallowing up in wrath, and of shooting someone in the face with a bow and arrow don’t leave much room for wondering how God actually feels about the wicked. But why does God respond this way? And why does David talk about it? And why do we need to read it? For his glory. How do I know this? David leaves no room for uncertainty. Verse 13, the closing verse of the Psalm states:

13 Be exalted, O Lord, in Your strength;
We will sing and praise Your power.

We are tempted to read this verse in a vacuum, as if it is somehow detached from the preceding five verses. And this is understandable at first glance. The verse seems like a total subject change, utterly unrelated to its predecessors. But it’s not. It’s David’s doxology – his reaction to all the truths that he’s disclosed in this psalm. David models for us the proper response to God’s wrath and vengeance upon his enemies (and upon ours): worship. David is showing us that God’s destruction of the wicked displays his awesome power on behalf of his people, and for this, we ought to glorify him.

GOD’S GLORY IN THE SALVATION OF THE NATIONS
In the very next entry (Psalm 22), we find a famous Messianic Psalm with many familiar verses. Near the end, we hear the prophecy that “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You” (v. 27). This is a beautiful promise of the gift of dramatic, widespread salvation coming in the future. And why is it going to be this way? Why is God going to outstretch his mighty saving hand and spread salvation across the earth? You might have guessed: “For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations” (28). He will do it as a reminder of his universal kingship. He will save many to display his sovereignty, his authority, his rule. In other words, it is primarily about him.

Having read and mulled these Psalms recently, I desire that at least three things would result:

  1. That I might believe, in fuller and richer and truer form, that the grandest purpose of all of history is to glorify the one who created it.
  2. That my speech might better reflect this reality in the future.
  3. That my heart might love him more fervently.

I hope it does the same for you.


All Scripture references taken from NASB unless otherwise noted

O Christ, What Burdens Bowed Thy Head!

O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A Victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.

Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.

Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.

The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.

Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.

For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me!

Anne R. Cousin (1824-1906)

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