Thank you for taking the time to read the chapter on God, Marriage, Family, and the Church in the second edition of God, Marriage & Family and for your blog post in response to it. You are a man of God, and I am deeply grateful for your ministry. In fact, I endorsed your most recent book!
I think it’s great that you and I seem to agree on the bottom line—you quote at length my positive and constructive prescription on how to move forward in encouraging family-friendly and family-oriented churches (though you prefer the term “family-integrated”).
We also agree on the inadequacy of a “family of families” theology. (I was told that this kind of language was removed from the FIC website a while back. That tells me that this language was indeed in use, and then removed, and that there must have been significant reasons why this was done.)
What we don’t agree on is whether the cautions and concerns I raised in my chapter were justified. At this point, I think there may be a misunderstanding. You read my comments as a critique of your church and your “movement” while in fact my purpose was to assess the theology of family integration. (If I had sought to write a critique of the “movement,” I would have given a history of it, named the major organizations and key individuals, and so on. But this was not my intention in the book.)
Here some questions remain. For example: Do you and others with whom you associate hold to, and practice, regenerate church membership? Is this vital biblical principle also followed in the observance of the Lord’s Supper?
You mention that I cite a non-existent blog post by Dr. Mohler. The background to this is that at the annual ETS banquet this past November, Dr. Mohler and I talked at length about family integration, and he and I completely concurred on some of the concerns I just mentioned. At that time, he was planning to post a blog on this topic, but apparently subsequently did not find the time. I had temporarily included a reference to this forthcoming post. When I found out that it was no longer forthcoming, I tried to remove the reference, but was told my book was already in press. Nevertheless, in that lengthy conversation, Dr. Mohler and I saw completely eye to eye on some of the above-mentioned, and other, concerns.
You also fault me for being second-hand in my research and for only using a few, and biased, sources (though I sometimes wonder if “biased” means that those sources don’t agree with you!). In large part, the problem I encountered in writing my chapter was the paucity of cogent scholarly defenses of family integration. I am not talking about blog posts here, or statements on websites, or other talks or personal conversations, but about sustained biblical and theological treatments in form of scholarly monographs or articles. If you know of such treatments, please point me to them, so I can include reference to them in future editions of our book.
We also disagree on whether the words “segregated” or “segregation” as regularly used by family-integrated church advocates is appropriate and helpful. (Merely citing an instance where I accommodate myself to the use of the word by family-integrated advocates does not substitute for an argument. By what legitimate logic can you justify a practice just by catching your “opponent” in doing the same thing?) I continue to think that this rhetoric is inflammatory and unhelpful and urge you and others to consider stop using it. It is this reactionary aspect that concerns me, because it defines a certain set of beliefs over against an “enemy” who “segregates.” Family integration is not the gospel, and traditional churches who “segregate” are not our enemy. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood; it is against the devil who seeks to divide brothers and sisters in Christ with regard to non-essentials of the faith.
Surely ministering to various age and other groups in the church is not all bad, and there are other ways to go about discipling our children than to do away with youth groups or even nurseries. As I mention in my chapter, we should distinguish between underlying biblical and theological principles and specific methods. When we start investing particular methods with biblical authority and charge others with lack of biblical fidelity because they differ with us on the matter of method, we are treading on dangerous ground. On my recent travels in Europe, I found that the North American controversy surrounding family integration is virtually unknown there, at least in the places I visited. One young youth minister did a wonderful job involving parents in working with the youth while being blissfully unaware of North American family integration debates.
On the whole, your response to my new chapter in God, Marriage & Family strikes me as a bit too reactionary and prickly (at one point you say I “attack” a “straw man,” a most unfortunate word choice). Even if you feel that my concerns do not apply to your church, or to most in the “movement,” if they are valid, and well taken, then they should be heeded. What is more, we agree on the positive agenda and on the inadequacy of a “family of families” theology! Do we also agree on regenerate church membership and its implications for the observance of the Lord’s Supper? I would be thankful to hear that we do. By all appearances, the debate generated by the new chapter in God, Marriage & Family has surfaced considerable common ground between us, and this is something for which I am deeply grateful.
Yours in the common cause of celebrating God’s good plan for marriage and the family and of affirming the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world today,