Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell

20816513I read this on Kindle and enjoyed it so much I ordered one with poundage.

This book was so good because Bushnell takes the opposite tack to the vast majority of Christian parenting books. Rather than highlight all the hardships, heavy lifting, uncertainties, and qualifications that make parents feel like raising their kids to love God and walk with him is an exploding minefield, Bushnell takes the Bible’s promises, lobs them up off the glass, catches and slams them home. It’s fun to watch.

The book could be summarized as “I will be your God, and you will be my people” applied to the family. Like he did with Abraham, God calls men and women and their households into covenant with him. Bushnell is not sentimental about kids or about how hard parenting can be, so he avoids presumption. The only way kids follow the Lord is by faith, but faith works by love in raising them. He addresses baptism and church membership, the problem of denying children the Lord’s Supper, Christian education, holidays, hypocrisy, the Sabbath (“a day of humanity”), family prayer and all sort of possible objections.

In such a thorough and serious book, one of the best thing is the impression Bushnell gives of the light, joyful, and gracious environment of the Christian home. You wouldn’t know it by looking at picture to your upper left, but if he put into practice what he wrote, this is a happy man whose house you’d be glad to visit. Christians who are serious about discipleship often create a laborious and fussy atmosphere–let’s make the kids memorize the Catechism all day on Sunday! Bushnell reveals this for what it is: disobedient and counterproductive.

The only regret about this book is that it’s 300 pages long with 130-year-old 19th century prose. That will scare many off who would benefit enormously from it. Take up and read.

More About Formation than Information

The kids are back to school and the bustle begins: schedule, curriculum, books, assignments, all the fantastic accoutrements of learning. As this process picks up speed and the details of life in a classroom come flying at students and parents, it’s important to remember what is actually happening in this thing we call education.

What did you learn in eleventh grade? What classes did you take? If you can remember half the classes you took that year, you would be better off than most. If you can remember and put into practice particular skills you may have acquired or facts you memorized–equations from physics or calculus–it’s almost certainly because you use them today in your vocation or you happen to have a photographic memory. Or you cheated and just looked them up on Wikipedia.

I think it was Dorothy Sayers who pointed out in her essay The Lost Tools of Learning that a student is expected to forget most of what he learned in school by the time he is an adult. I feel better already. Of course she wasn’t talking about the ability to read or do basic math, but rather the vast minutiae of information we acquired and dutifully divulged on tests. Three years of college French left alone for ten years will be as forgotten as a campaign promise, n’est ce pas? Okay, at least the French can be recovered with review. But the point is that more is going on in education than a transfer of data. More is being learned than information.  Continue reading

A word about the Word

I continue my series of posts for fathers of young children. With you in mind, I write these infrequently knowing how busy you are. Welcome!

This is definitely a “God, Jesus, Bible” topic. You gotta have it. If I were the devil, I would: 1) want you to think of the Bible as something you have to do in a burdensome way, not something you get to do in a refreshing way; 2) think of reading the Bible as a heavy, difficult thing; 3) make you feel guilty for not trudging your way through. This way, when you actually take it up, you’re already a bit tired, likely trying to rush, and most interested in doing the minimum to get rid of that guilt.

Before you can open the Bible to your kids you need to open it to yourself, and if it’s a burden for you it will be the same for them. You can only give what you have. Jesus says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). When the disciples ask him how to pray, he tells them to form a prayer chain and pray continuously one hour each for 24 hours. Oh wait, I had him confused with someone else. He told them to pray for about 45 seconds: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13).  Continue reading

A Father & His Raucous Marriage

My first post in this series for fathers of young children centered on taking responsibility for everything in the household. This included recognizing this enormous task for the impossibility it is and therefore knowing from the outset how much grace will abound to get it done. When Lazarus is dead and beginning to stink, you don’t put your hope in a doctor.

This second post is on marriage, and while it might seem tangential, it is absolutely central for fathers. It’s astonishing how many books on parenting and fatherhood leave marriage entirely out of the discussion. Being task-oriented, the first thing we fathers think regarding taking care of our kids is about what to do with them: spending time, checking homework, reading, playing sports and games, schedules and plans and so forth. Tasks, skillsets and toolboxes are good in their place, but the first thing God gives a man is a woman, and if she is unloved, the foundation is cracked.

This isn’t true simply in an emotional environmental, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” sort of way, although that may be true too! It’s true because your marriage is the thing which communicates the gospel to your children more than anything or anyone else. Continue reading

Grab Your Water Wings

The learning curve for fathers of young children is steep. It’s like being in graduate school with long hours, deadlines and lots of pressure, but with the added responsibility of tending an ant farm that has no walls. The kids are bigger and theoretically less numerous than the ants, but their strength-to-body-weight ratio seems comparable. In addition to figuring out how to nurture small people and cultivate his marriage, a father of young children is usually laying the foundation of his career. He is likely training, gaining new skills, changing companies if not jobs every few years, and navigating the new economy to provide now and plan for the future. His professional life is as new and demanding as his home life, both requiring intense focus, and both easily overwhelming.

It’s for fathers in this stage that I’m writing a series of posts because this is where I am. I have four kids between eight years and six months old. These issue have been, some still are, and others no doubt will again soon be mine. In many parenting aspects a father’s role is less demanding than a mother’s. I am not with the kids throughout the day changing diapers (that is what evenings and weekends are for, right? Heh.). My wife is like the heart of our home, pumping grace and wisdom to the kids all the time. But in other ways the role of father is more demanding and greater in scope. He has less direct time with the kids, but the responsibility for their upbringing resides with him: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the education and exhortation of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). He is like the immune system, responsible to make sure all parts of the body are healthy, thriving, and protected. And of course he has to nourish and edify as well. He is like a quarterback and coach, responsible to serve, lead and oversee the team. If she is the master of the house (1 Tim. 5:14), he is the head of the household, responsible for providing, protecting, blessing in the here and now, and prudently planning for the future. Continue reading

Lead Them to Love It

If you cannot get the kids to love the standard, then lower the standard. I am not talking about God’s commandments (His standards), which we have no authority to lower, but rather addressing the questions that surround what might be called house rules. Lower the standard to the point where everyone in the family can pitch in together  This not actually lowering  standards, but rather raising the parental standard, which is the real reason we don’t like it. Father must embrace the task of communicating, in a contagious way, love for the standard.

–Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger