A Modern Puritan

Lost in wonder, love and praise. Follow along as we seek to uneclipse Christ in our lives.


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Book Review: Pulling Back the Shades

pulling-back-the-shadesby Erik Martin

When I was asked to review Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery’s new book, Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart, I must admit I had mixed feelings. I am not an experienced literary critic and this book–written by women, for women, about women–seemed outside my area of expertise. However, the noxious and pervasive nature of erotica today caused me to pause. The mainstream acceptance of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades series told me that Gresh and Slattery’s book was worth a review.

I must admit I’ve never read any of E.L. James’ works. After reading Pulling Back the Shades, I am even more confident in denouncing such literature. Gresh and Slattery expose the inescapable perils of reading 50 Shades of Grey.

I was able to easily read Pulling Back the Shades in about two hours. It’s graceful writing style and compact size makes it manageable for even the reticent reader.

True Satisfaction

Gresh and Slattery refuse to shrink back from hard answers, even those unpopular or politically incorrect. They hold up the Word of God as authoritative, even today, to speak into the lives of Christian women. This is not just a book attacking 50 Shades of Grey, but a guide for finding genuine satisfaction. Gresh and Slattery seek true sexual intimacy–within marriage–as a picture of a Christ-follower’s intimacy with his or her Master.

Gresh and Slattery call for revival. As they write, “this book is about the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of women.” They want women to treasure Christ alone. He is the consummation of all the desires of the female heart.

Practical Yet Prudent

Both Dannah Gresh and Dr. Juli Slattery work diligently to be circumspect. They attempt to be as vague as possible about the details of erotica, while also trying to address the problems associated with the different facets of fornication fantasy. The nature of this subject requires them to delve into more detail than would be preferred, but detail which seems necessary.

Gresh and Slattery’s book is fiercely practical. It disarms those who justify erotica. It is a great resource for those entrapped in sexual sin and seeking sexual healing. While the book is targeted towards women, many of the principles should be employed by men as they also seek sexual purity.

Pulling Back the Shades is filled with helpful discussion questions which make the book a practical devotional. It features an appendix with useful resources for accountability, online filtering, Christian therapy, and other helpful books. A second appendix is filled with valuable strategies for overcoming temptation.

Conclusions:

I would strongly recommend this book for those who entertain or endorse erotica. I also think it would be helpful for those tempted to read 50 Shades of Grey. I also recommend it for those who wish to counsel women who struggle in these areas.

I would definitely not recommend Pulling Back the Shades for everyone. It is not appropriate for children or those who are innocent about erotica. It would expose the naive to areas of sin they do not even realize exist.

If you struggle with sexual purity, frequent erotic literature, or struggle with Christ’s lordship over your sexuality, then you will find this book helpful. As with any book on sex, read carefully and prudently. Gresh and Slattery seek to help you navigate troubled waters. Don’t be cavalier, or you may fall even deeper into the bondage of sin.

May King Jesus be glorified in your mind and body!


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Caesar, Coercion, and the Christian Conscience: A Dangerous Confusion

by Albert Mohler

pic2“Several states are now considering legislation that would provide explicit protections to citizens whose consciences will not allow an endorsement of same-sex marriage. The bills vary by state, as do the prospects for legislative passage, but the key issues remain constant. Millions of American citizens are facing a direct collision between their moral convictions and the demands of their government.

The cases are now piling up. A wedding photographer in New Mexico, cake bakers in Colorado and Oregon, and a florist in Washington State have all found themselves in this predicament. Each now faces the coercive power of the state. They are being told, in no uncertain terms, that they must participate in providing services for same-sex weddings or go out of business.

The bills now being considered in several states are attempts to protect these citizens from government coercion. They take the form of remedial legislation — bills intended to fix a problem. And the problem is all too real, and so is the controversy over these bills.

Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage are relentless in their insistence that these bills would violate the civil rights of same-sex couples. They brilliantly employed arguments from the civil rights in their push for same-sex marriage, and they now employ similar arguments in their opposition to bills that would protect the consciences of those opposed to same-sex marriage. They claim that the rights of gays and lesbians and others in the LGBT community are equivalent to the rights rightly demanded by African Americans in the civil rights movement. Thus far, they have been stunningly successful in persuading courts to accept their argument.

That sets up the inevitable collision of law and values and Christian conviction. In each of the cases listed above, the key issue is not a willingness to serve same-sex couples, but the unwillingness to participate in a same-sex wedding. Christian automobile dealers can sell cars to persons of various sexual orientations and behaviors without violating conscience. The same is true for insurance agents and building contractors. But the cases of pressing concern have to do with forcing Christians to participate in same-sex weddings — and this is another matter altogether.

Photographers, makers of artistic wedding cakes, and florists are now told that they must participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies, and this is a direct violation of their religiously-based conviction that they should lend no active support of a same-sex wedding. Based upon their biblical convictions, they do not believe that a same-sex wedding can be legitimate in any Christian perspective and that their active participation can only be read as a forced endorsement of what they believe to be fundamentally wrong and sinful. They remember the words of the Apostle Paul when he indicted both those who commit sin and those “who give approval to those who practice them.” [Romans 1:32]

The advocates of same-sex marriage saw this coming, as did the opponents of this legal and moral revolution. Judges and legal scholars also knew the collision was coming. Judge Michael McConnell, formerly a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and now director of Stanford University’s Constitutional Law Center, suggested many years ago that the coming conflict would “feature a seemingly irreconcilable clash between those who believe that homosexual conduct is immoral and those who believe that it is a natural and morally unobjectionable manifestation of human sexuality.” Accordingly, he called for a spirit of tolerance and respect, much like what society expects of religious believers and atheists — what he called “civil toleration.”

But the advocates of same-sex marriage are not friendly to the idea of toleration. One prominent gay rights lawyer predicted just this kind of controversy almost a decade ago when she admitted that violations of conscience would be inevitable as same-sex marriage is legalized. Chai Feldblum, then a professor at the Yale Law School, also admitted that her acknowledgement of a violated conscience might be “cold comfort” to those whose consciences are violated.

But perhaps the strangest and most disappointing dimension of the current controversy is the entry of some Christians on the side of coercing the conscience. Writing in USA Today, Kirsten Powers accused Christians supporting such legislation of “essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.” She explicitly denied that florists and bakers and photographers are forced to “celebrate” a same-sex union when forced to provide their services for such a ceremony.

Well, my wife and I recently celebrated the wedding of our daughter. We not only celebrated it, we paid for it. And I can assure you that we were expecting our florist and cake baker and photographer to celebrate it as well. And we employed them for their artistic ability and we paid for their expressive ideas. Kirsten Powers went on to suggest that Christians who have such scruples about same-sex weddings are hypocritical if they do not refuse to participate in the wedding of an adulterer. As a matter of fact, some Christian wedding vendors do indeed try to screen their clients in this way. But the fact remains that the marriage of a man and a woman is, in the biblical point of view, still valid. No union of same-sex couples is valid according to the Bible. This is a huge and consequential matter of conscience and conviction.

Jesus, we should note, was often found in the presence of sinners. He came, as he said, to save those who are lost. But there is not a shred of biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus endorsed sin in any way. To suggest otherwise is an offense to Scripture and to reason.

Just days later, Powers was joined by Jonathan Merritt in yet another essay in which they argued that conservative Christians are selectively applying the Scriptures in making their case. They also denied that forcing participation in a same-sex ceremony is a violation of conscience. They wrote:

“Many on the left and right can agree that nobody should be unnecessarily forced to violate their conscience. But in order to violate a Christian’s conscience, the government would have to force them to affirm something in which they don’t believe. This is why the first line of analysis here has to be whether society really believes that baking a wedding cake or arranging flowers or taking pictures (or providing any other service) is an affirmation. This case simply has not been made, nor can it be, because it defies logic.  If you lined up 100 married couples and asked them if their florist “affirmed” their wedding, they would be baffled by the question.”

Well, the issue is really not what “society really believes” about baking a wedding cake, but what the baker believes. Reference to what “society really believes” is a way of dismissing religious liberty altogether. If the defining legal or moral principle is what “society really believes,” all liberties are eventually at stake.

Their article also perpetuates another major error — that the wedding of a man and a woman under sinful circumstances is tantamount to the wedding of a same-sex couple. In their words, “This makes sure to put just one kind of ‘unbiblical’ marriage in a special category.” But a same-sex marriage is not “just one kind” of an unbiblical marriage — it is believed by conservative Christians to be no marriage at all.

The state might decide to recognize a same-sex union as a marriage, but to coerce a Christian to participate in a same-sex wedding is a gross violation of religious conscience.

And it will not stop with bakers and florists and photographers. What about singers and other musicians? Under the argument of Powers and Merritt, they can be forced to sing a message they believe to be abhorrent. What about writers for hire? This argument would force a Christian who writes for hire to write a message that would violate the deepest Christian convictions. To be forced to participate in an expressive way is to be forced to endorse and to celebrate.

The most lamentable aspect of the Powers and Merritt argument is the fact that they so quickly consign Christians to the coercive power of the state. They should be fully free to try their best to present a biblical argument that the right response of Christians is to offer such services. But to condemn brothers and sisters as hypocrites and to consign their consciences to the coercion of Caesar is tragic in every aspect. We can only hope that they will rethink their argument … and fast.”

-Albert Mohler, http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/02/24/caesar-coercion-and-the-christian-conscience-a-dangerous-confusion/

Chai R. Feldblum, “Moral Conflict and Conflicting Liberties,” in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, ed. Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, Jr., and Robin Fretwell Wilson (New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 2008). Quote from Judge Michael McConnell also found in this chapter.

Kirsten Powers, “Jim Crow Laws for Gays and Lesbians?,” USA Today, Wednesday, February 19, 2014.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/02/18/gays-lesbians-kansas-bill-religious-freedom-christians-column/5588643/

Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt, “Conservative Christians Selectively Apply Biblical Teachings in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate,” The Daily Beast, Sunday, February 23, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/23/conservative-christians-selectively-apply-biblical-teachings-in-the-same-sex-marriage-debate.html 


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Thou Shall Have More Kids

by Jen Pollock Michel 

“It’s not often that a company asks you to “go make babies,” but Chicago’s National Public Radio Station, WBEZ, is imploring listeners to “Do it. For Chicago.” Their surprising marketing campaign, called the 2032 membership drive, also prompts their audience, saying “Hey Interesting People, get a room already. And then put a crib in it.”

But NPR may have failed to do their math. In her New York Times essay, “Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind,” Nadia Taha estimates the cost of raising a child at a whopping $1.7 million. At that amount, if WBEZ listeners follow the station’s advice, they wouldn’t have much left for philanthropic contributions.

Recognizing the potential economic disadvantages of starting a family, Taha and her husband decided “that the single decision that can best help us achieve [our financial goals] is one that many newly married, affluent young adults don’t usually consider: Don’t have children.”

Money talks. Money decides. Although we may not follow Taha’s extreme advice, we too can be tempted to let finances decide the size of our families. However, as Christians, we need to challenge the uncontested assertion that money should act as the primary factor for making such decisions (acknowledging, of course, that our ability to conceive isn’t really up to us).

I grant there are economic considerations to having children. Days after I discovered that my surprise pregnancy was a twin pregnancy — we already had three children at the time– my actuarial husband worked to reconfigure our college savings spreadsheet. It didn’t look good. If we hoped to send our children to the private Christian college we’d both attended, we’d need to start saving more money than we earned.

I can sympathize with families who ask, “Can we afford more kids?” and “Where would we live if we did?” We aren’t theDuggars, but as a family of seven, we struggled to secure a place to live when we recently moved to a large city (Toronto). Buying a house is expensive, and renting isn’t so straightforward. “Too many children,” one landlord insisted.

We can’t add up the costs of a big family without acknowledging the advantages, though. Having more kids, which necessarily divides a parent’s attention, forces children earlier into roles of responsibility.

In her essay for The New Yorker, “Spoiled Rotten,” Elizabeth Kolbert writes that Americans are raising “a generation of kids who can’t, or at least won’t tie their own shoes.” Her essay is a haunting look into the way American parents baby their children, and a quick panorama of some new parenting book titles– The Price of Privilege, The Narcissism Epidemic, Means Moms Rule, A Nation of Wimps– suggests we have a new crisis on our hands: parents expecting less of their children at home, and kids mastering fewer and fewer life skills.

Not in my house. “Conscientious” is a word my husband and I consistently hear applied to our children, though we wouldn’t credit ourselves for this. Our children simply have to remember their lunch boxes, field trip money, and gym shoes because it’s unlikely we will. Moreover, their contribution to the household in the form of consistent chores is necessary and needed.

Sally Koslow, author of Slouching Toward Adulthood, suggests, “The best way for a lot of us to show our love would be to learn to un-mother and un-father.” Maybe it’s regrettable that my husband and I can’t do more for our children… but maybe our “un-mothering” and “un-fathering” allows them just the room they need to grow into responsibilities of their own.

Regardless if yours is a small family or a big one, we need to ask ourselves: Do we continue to allow culture to shape our vision of the good life? Does the state of our bank account take priority over all things?

Marilynne Robinson, in The Death of Adam, laments the way economics imperiously rule in our culture today. “Suddenly we act as if the reality of economics were the reality itself, the one Truth to which everything must refer.”

Unfortunately, I can’t say that my husband and I believed in the benefits of a large family before it became our reality. Even today, as I sit in our basement playroom to type this article, I realize what the mathematical factor of five does to a life. (It’s a mess.)

If the good life is measured by financial security, economic flexibility, even Pinterest-perfect homes, having more kids may indeed jeopardize these goals. But if we take our cues from Scripture, we can’t help but admit that children aren’t liabilities. They are assets (Ps. 127:5).

It will simply require faith to suspend our disbelief.”

Jen Pollock Michel

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/february/thou-shall-go-make-babies.html?paging=off


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Fact Checker: Divorce Rate Among Christians

By Glen T. Stanton

“Note: FactChecker is a monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

“Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!”

It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate.

At bottom, it is used to explain that Christians are not doing well in living out their faith. But it could also be taken as a statement that redemption by and real discipleship under Jesus makes no real difference when it comes to marriage.  But mainstream sociologists would tell us that taking one’s faith very seriously—in word and deed—does indeed make a marked positive difference in the health and longevity of marriage. Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

Here’s the truth…

People who seriously practice a traditional religious faith—whether Christian or other—have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population.

The factor making the most difference is religious commitment and practice.

What appears intuitive is true. Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes—attend church nearly every week, read their bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples—enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public, and unbelievers.

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.[1]

Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a substantial marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans.[2]

The following chart shows the relative risk of divorce by religious affiliation among Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish adherents. (Wilcox controlled for other socio-economic factors that impact marital health, thus providing a clearer, cleaner measure of the actual religious dynamic on marriage.)

 

Faith Affiliation

% Divorce Likelihood Reduction

Protestant – Nominal

20

 Protestant -Conservative

 

-10

Protestant – Active Conservative

 

-35

Catholic

-18

Catholic (nominal)

-5

Catholic – Active

-31

Jewish

39

Jewish (nominal)

53

Jewish – Active

-97

Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, working with an absolute all-star team of leading sociologists in the Oklahoma Marriage Study, explains that couples with a vibrant religious faith had higher and more levels of the qualities couples need to avoid divorce.

“Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction. These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education, and age at first marriage.”

These positive factors translated into actual lowered risk of divorce among active believers.

“Those who say they are more religious are less likely, not more, to have already experienced divorce. Likewise, those who report more frequent attendance at religious services were significantly less likely to have been divorced.”[3]

The Take-Away

These data indicate that the divorce rate among serious believers is not something to crow about. It is still higher than most of us are comfortable with.  But there is no reliable, mainstream social-science data that has this rate higher than the general population. Faith and discipleship do make a difference in our lives, but it doesn’t make all our problems go away.


[1] Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites …and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2010), p. 133.

[2] W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Williamson, “The Cultural Contradictions of Mainline Family Ideology and Practice,” in American Religions and the Family, edited by Don S. Browning and David A. Clairmont (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007) p. 50.

[3] C.A.  Johnson, S. M. Stanley, N.D. Glenn, P.A. Amato, S.L. Nock, H.J. Markman and M .R. Dion  Marriage in Oklahoma:  2001 Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce  (Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services 2002) p. 25, 26.”

-Glenn T. Stanton, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/09/25/factchecker-divorce-rate-among-christians/


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Is Tim Tebow a Chauvinist?

By Russell Moore

“Tim Tebow says he wants a wife with “a servant’s heart.” Does that make him a misogynist?

Jezebela feminist website, picked up on comments Tebow made in an interview with Voguemagazine, in which he said he wanted a wife who lived up to the high standards set for him by his mother and sisters. He wanted to find a woman he found beautiful, he said, but, beyond that, he wanted a wife with a “servant’s heart.”

Jezebel (their name for themselves; I’m not name-calling) summed this up as that Tebow’s perfect woman is “hot, kind and servile.”

I’ve been saying for years that I don’t think Christians ought to be “outraged” by what the outside world says about us. And I’m not outraged by this. But I think it’s a good opportunity to tell our non-Christian neighbors what Christians mean when they say “a servant’s heart.”

What we don’t mean is that this is something unique to women. I know, I know. You hear this language and you assume Tebow wants a Stepford wife in a French maid’s uniform, massaging his feet and refilling his glass of sweet tea. But this isn’t what evangelical Christians mean when they say “a servant’s heart.”

First of all, in Christianity, a “servant” isn’t a slur.

Now, I get why that’s hard to understand. Our apostolic fathers didn’t get it either. They debated who would be the “greatest” and the “leader” among them. Jesus pointed out that he was the one serving them broken bread and poured-out wine, and he is the king of the entire cosmos. “Who is greater,” Jesus asked, “The one who reclines at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk. 22:27).

Jesus serves his Bride, the church, by washing her feet in the upper room. This is what greatness is, Jesus tells Christians, to serve one another and to outdo one another in building one another up. That servant-heartedness isn’t unique to women; all Christians are called to it. And it isn’t antithetical to strong leadership. Serving is precisely how Jesus rules as king, and how he prepares his people, men and women, to rule with him in the reign to come.

Husbands serve wives. Wives serve husbands. Children serve parents. Parents serve children. Pastors serve churches. Churches serve pastors. That concept might be demeaning in the world ofVogue, but it’s not in a new creation where “the leader is the one who serves” (Lk. 22:26).

I’m not upset at our feminist friends for reading Tebow wrong on this. It’s easy to do, if you don’t know the back-story. But it’s a good reminder to all of us, because we Christians have a hard time differentiating between servanthood and servility too. I know I do, and Jesus has to keep breaking in here and reminding me.

When Tim Tebow says he wants a wife with “a servant’s heart,” he is, like any Christian man, hoping also for a woman who is seeking a husband with “a servant’s heart.” It doesn’t mean he wants a doormat. It just means he wants a Christian.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/09/22/is-tim-tebow-a-chauvinist/

(Image Credit)

 


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When Should My Children Be Baptized

By Tim Challies

Every Christian parent longs for his children to trust in Christ and to make this profession public. In Baptist churches such a profession is made public through baptism. One of the ongoing discussions among Baptists relates to the age at which children can or should be baptized. Many children raised in a Christian home—perhaps even most of them—profess faith at a young age. Many parents then ask, Should my child be immediately baptized? Here is my attempt to answer this question.

Defining Baptism

Baptism is an ordinance of God given to the New Testament church. It symbolizes that the recipient has been buried and resurrected with Christ and serves as public profession of faith and admission into the local church community. It precedes both membership and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and as such, is the gateway to full participation in the life of the church.

Three Premises

Here are three premises related to the age of baptism.

Premise #1 – Those who make a credible profession of faith are to be baptized. 
Without exception, the New Testament pattern for baptism is that it follows a credible profession of faith (see Acts 8:12, Acts 9:36, Acts 16:29-34). What makes a profession of faith credible? I look for credibility to be displayed in knowledge and maturity.

Knowledge. For a person’s profession of faith to be credible, he must display at least a basic knowledge of the gospel and of the meaning of baptism. Baptism is not a rite performed upon a person, but an ordinance in which he is a full participant. Therefore the one who is baptized must have knowledge of what is being done and why.

Maturity. Maturity displays itself in autonomy and in counting the cost. The mature person is autonomous in that he has the ability to make independent decisions. He is also one who counts the cost, who has seen some of what a decision may cost him in terms of relationship, prestige or suffering, yet still desires to proceed.

Premise #2 – Children may, and often do, become believers at a young age.
We must be careful never to communicate to children that they are too young to understand the gospel or respond to it. Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” God calls us to share the gospel with our children and to call them to repentance and faith. God graciously allows many children to come to a saving faith, even at a very young age. For this reason every member of a church ought to be active in sharing the gospel with every child in that church, calling on them to respond to it and trusting that God does work in the hearts of young children.

Premise #3 – This is a matter of wisdom and conscience.
The New Testament contains no clear example of a child receiving baptism; neither does it contain a clear example of a child being refused baptism. In the absence of clear commands, the leaders of each church must prayerfully exercise charity and wisdom as they seek to determine whether or not they will make it their practice to baptize children who profess faith.

The Age of Baptism

With these premises in mind, I believe there is wisdom in waiting until children are older before baptizing them. My reasoning is primarily grounded in the second test of credibility: maturity.

At some stage children are too young to make a credible profession of faith.

Imagine that you are listening in while a father has a conversation with his two-year-old son:

Dad: “Do you love Jesus, Johnny?
Boy: “Da!” (That’s his sound for “yes.”)
Dad: “Do you trust Him with all your heart?”
Boy: “Da!”
Dad: Do you think your sins make you bad?”
Boy: “Da!”
Dad: “Do you give Jesus your whole life?”
Boy: “Da!”

Is it possible that God just saved that boy? Absolutely! Can we have any degree of certainty that this is a genuine conversion? No, we can’t. The age of that child calls into question his ability to understand and respond to the gospel. His cognitive abilities and his self-awareness have not yet developed to the point where we can be certain that he can understand what it is that he is agreeing to. It is not unlikely that the same boy would answer “Yes,” when asked if storks deliver babies and if Santa Claus delivers gifts.

I use this illustration to display what all Christians affirm: There is evidently an age at which a child is too young to make a credible profession of faith. Though that child may be genuinely saved, he lacks the maturity, the autonomy and the ability to count the cost that will give us confidence that his profession is credible. Therefore, it would be unwise of us to baptize him until we can establish the validity of his profession. The question is, When does a child reach that level of maturity?

It is wise to wait to baptize a child until he has reached a certain level of maturity.
I believe that a person should be baptized when the credibility of his conversion becomes naturally evident to the church community. This will normally be when the child has begun to mature toward adulthood and is beginning to live more self-consciously as an individual. At this time he is able to understand that there will be a cost to being a Christian; he is able to anticipate this and to count it all joy. At this time he is also developing autonomy. In the process of leaving behind his child-like dependence on his parents he begins to make more and more of his own choices. Such independence and maturity will allow him to relate to the church directly and as an individual rather than being primarily under the authority of his parents. I believe that such criteria typically correspond to the teen years, and more typically, the mid-to-late teen years.

Delaying baptism does not mean we should consider childhood conversions or baptisms invalid.
While I believe it is best to delay baptism until a child’s knowledge and maturity offer substantial evidence of true conversion, this by no means negates the possibility or likelihood of childhood conversions. Neither does it render invalid the baptisms of those who are baptized as young, believing children.

Pastors ought to take every opportunity to meet with children to speak to them about their souls.
Even if it is not a pastor’s practice to baptize young children, he should always thrilled to meet with children to speak to them about their souls. When a child expresses a desire to be baptized, it presents a pastor a wonderful opportunity to spend time with that child, to hear how the Lord has been working in his life, and to encourage him to continue to seek the Lord.

What are the benefits of waiting to baptize children?
Delaying the baptism of children who profess faith offers several benefits:

  1. It allows membership in the church to proceed logically from baptism so that every baptized believer can immediately serve as a fully-functioning member of the church. This avoids the confusion of whether young children can be members of the church or whether they can be baptized but not members.
  2. It accounts for the uncertainty that may attend childhood conversions. Often a child professes faith, then retracts or doubts his profession, and then affirms it again. This model allows the child to proceed through much of this turbulence before he is baptized, thus preventing doubt about whether he was truly saved before his baptism.
  3. It calls on parents to lead their children and to understand that their children are not being disobedient in waiting for baptism. Their obedience in this area comes in submitting to their parents and the elders of the church.
  4. It esteems baptism as a one-time act to be anticipated as a public, credible, mature profession of faith.

-Tim Challies, http://www.challies.com/articles/when-should-my-children-be-baptized


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In Praise of Inefficiency

by Timothy Paul Jones

New Growth

“I saw something beautiful the other day while walking down Breckenridge Lane. In a front yard not far from my home, a young mother was removing a layer of leftover leaves from the fall in preparation for planting spring flowers—an ordinary activity in the middle of an ordinary day.

What was extraordinary about this scene was what I saw beside this young woman.

A tow-haired boy, perhaps three or four years old, was attempting to assist her. His rake was man-sized, his movements were far from efficient, and he was leaving more leaves than he moved. Yet, as I passed this mother and child, I heard no criticisms. Instead, I heard a constant stream of encouragement: “Daddy will be so proud of your hard work! Can you try to get those leaves over there? You know, honey, it might work better if you turned the rake over.”

If this woman’s sole goal for the afternoon was leaf removal, her best bet would have been to plop her preschooler in front of a television to watch professionally-produced children’s programs that pretend to equip children with skills for life while leaching away their capacity for meaningful relationships. If this mother had chosen this option, she could have pursued the goal of planting spring flowers far more efficiently.

But this woman had a goal that was far bigger than any flower-bed.

This woman understood that her deeper purpose on this day was not to improve a yard but to shape a soul. She was teaching her child the value of work and partnership and family structures, in addition to the quite crucial skill of knowing which side of a rake is supposed to face the ground. She was an amateur, in the best and oldest sense of the word “amateur”: a person who engages in a particular activity because of love. She most likely possessed no transcripted credential in the fields of motherhood or leaf removal. But that was all for the best anyway because no credential could develop in a child what this mother was engraving in her son’s soul that afternoon.”

Equipping My Brothers and Sisters, the Neglected Role of Church Leaders

So what does all of this have to do with church leadership?

Simply this: If you’re a church leader trying to train parents to embrace their role as disciple-makers in their children’s lives, you are likely to wonder at some point, “Wouldn’t it be more efficient for hired professionals to disciple children through church programs instead of expecting parents to participate in this process? No matter how many times I encourage and equip the moms and dads, some of them don’t even seem to be trying! Even the ones that try don’t always do a good job. Why constantly acknowledge the parents as primary disciple-makers when so many of them do it so poorly? This is so inefficient!”

If that’s the way you feel, you’re partly correct! If your goal is organizational efficiency, equipping parents to disciple their children may be an inefficient use of your time, and turning over children’s spiritual lives to professionals at church might make perfect sense.

But efficiency is not the goal of gospel-motivated ministry.

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus determines the shape and establishes the goal for his church, and it has been his Father’s good pleasure to constitute his church as a conglomeration of amateurs, not as a corporation managed by professionals (1 Cor 12:4–31). His Spirit does not give gifts for the purpose of making the church efficient. The Holy Spirit arranges gifts in the body according to his will in order to make his people holy (1 Cor 12:11).

The role of God-called leaders is to encourage and to equip their brothers and sisters in their communities of faith to serve as ministers and missionaries first within their own households, and then far beyond their households (Acts 2:39; Eph 4:11–13). These processes are not likely to be quick or efficient. Sometimes, it will feel as if professionalized programs would be an easier solution, but no church program can develop in a child what parents are able to engrave in their children’s souls day-by-day. And so, despite the apparent inefficiency of expecting parents to disciple their own children, family-equipping ministers persist in their passion for training fathers and mothers as the primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives.

Divinely-Designated Amateur Disciple-Makers, the Neglected Role of Christian Parents

In the early twentieth century, a journalist named G.K. Chesterton offered these comments about the British and American jury system:

The trend of our epoch up to this time has been consistently towards specialism and professionalism. We tend to have trained soldiers because they fight better, trained singers because they sing better, trained dancers because they dance better, specially
instructed laughers because they laugh better, and so on and so on. … [Yet] our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. When it wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

A similar statement might be made regarding the training of children to respond to the gospel day-by-day. Though professionals may certainly partner with parents in this task, such a serious undertaking is too significant to be relinquished to professionals, too profound to be befuddled by a focus on efficiency. The formation of a child’s faith is not a skill for specialists. It is a habit to be developed in the lives of divinely-designated amateurs, and these amateurs are known as “Dad” and “Mom.”

In my childhood, one of the most significant habits that shaped my soul was a single, simple pattern that required no special skills, no particular curriculum. Each night, my mother came into my room, sat on the side of my bed, and listened to me pray.

What was significant about this wasn’t so much the praying, which was pretty much the same every night. It was the conversations about life that arose in the context of prayer—coupled with the fact that I had to face my mother every evening, regardless of what I might have done during the day.

At some point in early adolescence, I informed my mother that, from that point forward, I could handle praying on my own. Deep inside, I regretted my request even then, and I regret it even more now. In some inexplicable way, knowing that I would have to pray with my mother each night placed a limit on what I was willing to say and to do during the day.

Today, this pattern from my childhood marks the end of each day in the lives of each of my own children. A few months ago, when my teenager suggested that she might not need me to pray with her each night, my response ran something like this: “You know, I think you are totally able to pray on your own, and I want you to pray on your own as well. But, even though you don’t need my help to pray, I need the reminder every night that God gave you to me and that I’m responsible to guide you toward him. So, every night, I’ll still be here to pray with you, no matter what.”

Since that moment, my daughter and I have had dozens of important night-time conversations that I might otherwise have missed.

There is no curriculum for this habit. Life itself is the curriculum. There is no special training, only the gift of time given each night. Sometimes it works well, other times it doesn’t. It’s an inefficient use of time by any earthly standard—but it is a right and good response to God’s work of grace in our lives.

To find our more about family-equipping ministry, go here.”

-Timothy Paul Jones, http://www.timothypauljones.com/2012/06/07/in-praise-of-inefficiency/


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Adopted for Life

by Russell Moore

“Ten years ago today, my wife and I walked out of a Russian orphanage with two little one year-old boys. Suddenly, for the first time, I was a father and she was a mother. Suddenly, little Maxim was “Benjamin Jacob Moore” and little Sergei was “Timothy Russell Moore.” Everything changed, for all of us, for life.

As I’ve written in the book, God used this experience to upend my whole life. He taught me much about his Fatherhood, much about the gospel, much about community, and much about the mission of the church. But people sometimes ask me, “In the years since, what have you learned about becoming a family through adoption?”

The main thing is that convictions forged there in the July heat of the former Soviet Union have only crystallized more. As the father of five now, some by that adoption and some by the more typical way, I’m as convinced as ever that adoption, into a family or into the Family of God, is “real.” There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4).

I have also learned a lot about the difficulty of adoption. We were blessed when we received our two sons, but we didn’t know how hard it would be. We’d never had children before, so we simply adjusted to the new normal. Because the boys had never had solid food, one of them was traumatized by the texture of food, would pack it into his cheeks, and gag. Teaching him to eat was the most stressful thing I’ve ever lived through, as I would sit by his chair and coax, “Chew! Chew!” At one point, I turned to Maria and said, “Wait! I, for the first time, really get the whole ‘milk to meat’ concept of the New Testament.” But then our son vomited all that food up, and my exegetical insight was gone.

My grandmother used to always say about the Depression, what I’ve heard almost everyone from that era say, “We were poor but we didn’t know we were poor.” I can relate. Adjusting to life in a new home that first year was difficult, but we didn’t really know it. They were our sons and we just loved and disciplined and laughed our way through it. When our next child was born to us, as an infant, we looked at one another about six months in and said, “This is so incredibly easy!”

I think things would have been very different, if we’d panicked over every pile of hoarded food we found in the house or every fit thrown. If we’d tried to relate all of that back to some kind of possible adoption horror story, or tried to assign a syndrome to all of it, we probably never would have gelled together as we did, as a family. But we did, and we are.

That joyful hardship is exactly like its gospel equivalent in the Spirit of adopting grace. Sometimes we, as a church, don’t recognize how alien a new family seems. People in our midst come to know Christ; they learn to cry out “Abba,” but there’s still a long, hard adjustment to make. Sometimes they wonder if they’re welcome because they don’t know how to find Haggai in their Bibles, or because they don’t have any Vacation Bible School memories, or because they still crave cocaine. If the church is the household of God, we don’t see these struggling, anxious new believers as our guests or our ministry projects. They’re our brothers and sisters. It’s no burden to walk alongside them, steadying the cross on their backs. It’s just what you do, when you’re family.

Ten years later, these boys are growing up and I’m proud of them. We’re going to celebrate “Moore Day” today, and I’m going to retell the story of that transition from orphanage to dinner table. And I’m going to remember that I made the same transition, and tell myself an Old, Old Story too. But, most of all, I’m just going to thank God, as I remember these two little emaciated orphans in that institution far away, and look and see them sitting, together, as a family.

They are my beloved sons, and with them I am well-pleased.”

-Russell Moore, http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/07/27/adopted-for-life-ten-years-later-what-ive-learned-since/

 


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What Does the New Testament Say About Babies Who Die?

QuestionGuy

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday we saw 16 verses in the OT that address the issue of what happens to little children who die. I hope you saw that the OT lays the groundwork for a category distinction: there are two kinds of sinners who die. There are those who die because of their sin nature, namely infants. And there are those who die because they love sin, and actively embrace it; namely, adults. This distinction is important to grasp because the NT does not reestablish it from the ground up but rather Jesus and Paul both teach in such a way that the distinction is reinforced.

Again, if any of these verses trouble you, simply skip them, and let the weight of the full list be enough to convince you. The numbering picks up where yesterday left off.

17) Jesus blessed little children. There are no examples of Jesus blessing anyone who was in open rebellion to God. Again, much like Jonah 4, Jeremiah 19, 1 Kings 11, this (at the very least) creates a category distinction between sinful adults in rebellion against God, and the childlike innocence of children (Matt 18:3-5).

18) In Matthew 18, Jesus not only blesses the children, but uses them as an earthly analogy of childlike faith. He says that “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child– this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Everyone is free to debate what exactly Jesus means here, and there are Christian answers all over the spectrum. But at the very least, Jesus has to be implying that children in their current state would go to heaven if they died. Consider this statement: “my car is as fast as a cheetah, and unless your car is like a cheetah too, it can never be fast.” Everyone can debate what it means to be fast, or how fast my car really is, or if your car even should be fast. But the entire analogy would break down if cheetahs were not indeed fast to begin with. That is the assumption that makes the analogy make sense. Whatever Jesus is saying Matthew 18, it only makes sense if the destination of children who die is an enviable one.

19) Romans 5:13-14 makes the category distinction between those who sin like Adam (adults) and those who sin because of the imputation of Adam’s sin (infants). In making this distinction, Paul is carefully showing how death can reign even over those who don’t sin like Adam. He is repeating the theological distinctions made in Duet 1:39, 24:16, Jer 19:4 and Jonah 4:11, and lending theological support to the understanding that infants will not be punished in hell for their sins. (John Piper explains why it is best to understand Romans 5:13-14 as reference to infant death in Counted Righteous in Christ, 95-100).

20) That category distinction (between those who sin willingly and those who are born with a sin nature) is further strengthened by Paul’s introduction of those who sin by searing their conscience, and how that sin is seen in idolatry and sexual immorality—both sins that infants are incapable of. Because that passage sets the stage for understanding the soteriology of Romans, it is significant for this discussion that out of the gate, Paul frames the conversation in terms that exclude infants, and then seals that exclusion explicitly inRomans 5:13-14.

21) Jesus also validates this category distinction when he declares that there are people who die “in their sins” (John 8:24). Everyone who dies, dies because they are sinners by nature. If infants weren’t sinners by nature, they wouldn’t die! But there is a particular class of sinners—namely cognizant adults—that actively reject God. Those ones not only die, but they “die in their sins” because of their unbelief.

22) John 3 furthers this category distinction by teaching that “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:20). This simply does not describe infants who die, and the proximity to judgment passages (vv 18-19) validates this distinction.

23) Jesus lays claim in a particular way to the concept that children have a unique relationship to the Father. He declares that we should watch out for “children” in the faith, and it is best to see that admonition as applying to immature believers, rather than to actual children. But the analogy only works if actual immature children are to be the recipients of special care from people and God both. As MacArthur wrote, “No parent with six children is going to discover one of them missing and callously say ‘oh well, we still have five more’.” The analogy makes sense only if children are under God’s care in a special way.

24) People from every tribe, language, nation and ethnicity will be in heaven (Rev 5:10). Because so many languages and tribes have died out, this is only feasible through the salvation of infants. By the way, this is certainly given as a powerful claim to the glory of God’s saving nature.

25) All judgment passages in the Bible make clear that people go to hell for their active sin. This is especially clear in the description of hell in Revelation 21:8. People go to hell for what they have done, and this truth would be incomprehensible if infants were sent there.

26) The lists that are found in judgment passages are sins that infants lack the ability to commit. Jesus gives his list in Matt 15:19-20: “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Let me ask this question: which category of sins best describe the way infants sin? Do they murder and lust, or do they eat with unwashed hands?

At the end of this list, two things should be crystal clear. First, the Bible makes a category distinction between those who sin willingly (adults) and those who sin by their nature (infants). Adults can discern between right and wrong, and they love the wrong. They rebel against God despite natural revelation, and they will be judged for their works. Infants have a sin nature (that is why some of them die), but they do not sin IN THE SAME WAY as adults.

Second: with the exception of Job 3, there are not any passages that say “infants go to heaven when they die.” However, given the category distinction just made, it is obvious that every single time the Bible mentions infants who die, there is some indication that they receive mercy. It is not like there are six verses that talk about them going to heaven, and six that imply hell, and we are left to wrestle through. Every single verse that mentions this offers hope of heaven, and the cumulative weight should be overwhelming. There are other theological truths we agree to that are developed from way fewer references than this. Thus, the case for infant salvation is unassailable, as there are literally no verses that teach the contrary.

Today, the deal for the comment thread is this: in order to comment, you have to have read all three posts (part 1part 2).”

-Jesse Johnson, http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-nt-answers/


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What Does the Old Testament say about Babies Who Die?

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by Jesse Johnson

“There is a tendency to think that the Bible is silent about the issue of what happens to infants who die. However, there are at least 26 different passages that address this issue. In all of them, the implication is that infants who die are returned to the Lord.

Yesterday I talked about the need for confidence in dealing with this issue. So as you go through this list, don’t get caught up on one or two particular ones if you disagree. Simply skip those, and let the weight of the others give you confidence. Today we will look at the OT, and tomorrow the NT:

1) Infants belong to God in a special and particular way. In Ezekiel, God describes the slaughter of children born into pagan families as a slaughter of “my children” (Ezek 16:21). This expression of ownership by God over children born into idol worshiping families is stark, and implies God’s care for those children in a personal way.

2) God describes children as “having no knowledge of good and evil” (Deut 1:39). They have a sin nature, but they sin in the way that gravity works: they are pulled down. They do not sin in the way that adults do: adults love sin. Children default to sin, while adults run there.

3) God refers to Gentile children as unable to discern the difference between right and wrong (Jonah 4:11). Children are born with a sin nature, and even babies love to sin. But they do so without appreciating why they are doing it. Adults sin because they discern what truth is, and have a disdain for it. Infants sin because they are unable to discern. There is a difference.

4) God refers to children in pagan families who are murdered as “innocents” (Jer 19:4). Obviously this does not mean that they were born without a sin nature, but simply that they had a certain degree of moral innocence. God does not throw around the term “innocent” loosely (nor does he send “innocent” people to hell).

5) God regards infants as victims of the fallen world. This is the example in Ezek 16:4, which is clearly an allegory, but an allegory that only makes sense if children are innocent victims.

6) When God punished the entire nation of Israel for their disobedience in the wilderness, he only took the lives of those who were of fighting age or older (Deut 1:39). This shows that the culpability of those under fighting age is different than the adults, and that accordingly they should not be punished as adults are. If they didn’t deserve to die in the wilderness, they certainly didn’t deserve to go to hell.

7) Babies will not be punished in hell for the sins of their parents—even of Adam.Deuteronomy 24:16 explains that God will not punish children for what their parents did. That does not mean that there are no consequences for sin—a parent who lives a sin filled life will reap the consequences of that life, and one of those consequences is that the children will be raised apart from the knowledge of God. But that is the consequence of sin, and is manifestly different than God judicially punishing someone for sins they did not commit. The consequence of Adam’s sin is that we all are born with a sin nature, but not that God will send us all to hell irrespective of our own actions (more on this one tomorrow when we look at NT judgment passages).

8) This same truth is repeated in Ezekiel 18:20. There, God expressly says that while death is the consequence of a sin nature, God does not execute a second death a person because of his parent’s sin.

9) When God’s prophet told King Jeroboam that his entire family line would be killed, he expanded on this category distinction. He said that all of Jeroboam’s relatives would be punished by a humiliating burial (or lack thereof), but that there was an exception for Jeroboam’s infant son. He would be buried, and people would mourn, “because in him there is found something good toward Yahweh, God of Israel” (1 Kings 14:13). It is not that the infant was crawling around chewing down the high places, but rather that his sin was by his nature, not by his willful rebellion. He was an “innocent” infant, to borrow Jeremiah’s language, and so he will still die, but will be spared the judicial punishment reserved for those who willingly revolted against God. Again, notice that in both this passage and in Jeremiah 19, God uses positive moral terms to apply to infants who die—“innocent” and “good.” Those are moral terms that God does not use willy-nilly.

10) God created all people personally, and designed them to glorify him forever—either by justly suffering in hell, or by giving glory to them in heaven (Ps 139:13-15Rom 9:224). If infants who died were sent to hell, they would not be suffering justly, as they did not sin in a willful way. In other words, the very justification for hell (namely, and expression of God’s justice) is thwarted if infants go there.

11) Job was a righteous man (Job 2:9), but he suffered tremendously. Job knew what the afterlife was like—after all, it was Job who wrote:

I know my redeemer lives, and in the end he will stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, I will see God in my flesh. I will look at him myself, my eyes will look at him, and not as I look at a stranger. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

Yet Job also wished that he would have been still-born. He says in Job 3:11-15 that he honestly thought that his life would be easier had he died in the womb. He is not some gothic poet, but is a godly man, who understand the afterlife, the reality of hell, and the need for a redeemer.

12) Job 3:16-19 is the most explicit passage in the Bible concerning the fate of infants who die. Job declares that dead infants go to a place where “There the wicked cease to make trouble, and there the weary find rest. The captives are completely at ease; they do not hear the voice of their oppressor. Both the small and the great are there, and the slave is set free from his master.”

Obviously Job is not describing hell, and his generic use of “infants” as well as “a stillborn child” implies that this is a statement with universal application. All infants who die or who are stillborn go to a place of rest, where there are kings, rich, poor, and the afflicted, and they are all free from torment. This is obviously not a description of hell.

13) Solomon makes a similar and explicit proclamation about the fate of dead infants. He expressly contrasts the fate of the wicked who labor in vain with a dead infant fathered by that wicked person. He concludes that it would be better to be the dead child, because he at least will go to a place of “rest” (Ecc 6:5). Solomon goes on to say that both the child and the father will die, but only the dead child will experience rest.

14) When David’s infant son was sick, David fasted and prayed frantically. When he died, David was at peace and worshiped. His attendants were shocked by this act of worship, and asked what could possibly provoke a loving father to worship at his child’s death. David’s response is well-known: “I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me” (2 Sam 12:23). This is not the despondent response of a mourning parent. It is the confident response of a man after God’s own heart.

By the way, the idea that David was worshiping because he too was one day going to die is so twisted and out of touch with reality that it is difficult to understand. Have you ever seen a parent respond to a child’s death with joy because, hey–after all–that parent is going to one day die too? Moreover, that kind of anti-supernaturalism requires us to believe that David (David!) did not understand the afterlife. Hardly.

David mourning Absalom

David mourning Absalom

15) Moreover, contrast his response to his infant son’s death—for which David was primarily responsible—with his response to his other sons’ death. When Absalom died, there was no death-bed conversion, and there was no mystery about his relationship with the Yahweh. David, who had done everything possible to spare Absalom’s life, was so despondent that Joab had to warn him that unless he changed his attitude, he risked a coup by the troops. Meanwhile, David was shrieking, “My son, Absalom! Absalom, my son, my son!” If David’s response to his infant’s death was simply “I’ll die too one day” then his response to Absalom’s death is incomprehensible.

16) Isaiah refers to an age where children learn “the difference between good and evil” (Isa 7:16). In other words, there is an age where children still sin, but not because of their knowledge of sin. At the very least, this lets us know that God views the sins of infants as coming from a form of innocence, rather than from a discernment of good and evil.

Tomorrow we will continue this list with a look at what the NT teaches about those who die in infancy.”

-Jesse Johnson,  http://thecripplegate.com/what-happens-to-infants-who-die-the-ot-answers/

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