The Gospel Impact on Parenting
About the Guest
Phillip BethancourtPhillip Bethancourt is the Executive Vice President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). He is also Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and on the Pastoral Leadership Team at Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He and his wife, Cami, have four boys: Nathan, Lawson, Weston, and Hudson.
Phillip Bethancourt explains how the gospel has a profound impact when applied to parenting. Bethancourt, a husband and father to four boys, recalls the time his 7-year-old asked him what it meant to be gay.
The Gospel Impact on Parenting
Bob: You and your kids are facing an ongoing struggle against forces trying to move you away from God. We face a struggle against the devil, against our own sinful impulses/our flesh, and we face a challenge that comes from the culture around us. How do we deal with that as we raise our kids? Here’s Phillip Bethancourt.
Phillip: Some parents take the approach to the culture: “We want to give our kids a window to it. We want them to see it all.” They don’t give much instruction or coaching as they experience it, but they just provide that window. On the other hand, one of the common temptations for Christian parents is—instead of creating windows, they build walls to block their kids off from the culture. They insulate them; they protect them. As Proverbs 24 is showing us, the solution to how to equip children to engage the culture, without losing the gospel, is not windows or walls—it’s wisdom.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 7th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. Raising our children in 2019 is a challenging assignment for us, as parents, and we’re only seven days into the new year. We’ll talk about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I’ve been thinking, in recent days, how glad I am that I’m not trying to raise children in this culture. And then I’ve been thinking: “Wait a second! I’ve got five kids, who are trying to raise grandchildren—my grandchildren—in this culture!” These are really challenging days!
Dennis: These are, and they demand the wisdom of Solomon; and they demand the Scriptures. I have to say to parents: “If you’re not in the Book and the Book is not in you”—and I’m not talking about the book that our guest wrote—[Laughter]—whom we’re about to interview. I’m talking about the Bible.
“You’ve got to get in it, and be saturating your soul in the Scriptures so that you can spot what’s phony in the culture and also know how to respond.”
A good friend is back with us on the broadcast. Dr. Phillip Bethancourt joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Phillip: It’s great to be with you.
Dennis: Phillip is an Executive Vice President for the ERLC. He’s a professor at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, and he’s also a pastor.
I wonder what you do in your spare time, because you’ve got four boys. [Laughter]
Phillip: That’s right!
Dennis: And you’ve been married to Cami for 13 years. You’re pretty busy there in Franklin, Tennessee.
Phillip: There are a lot of wrestling matches going on at our house.
Dennis: I would think so!
He, along with Dr. Russell Moore, has authored a book called Christ-Centered Parenting. I want you to just comment on Bob’s statement about the culture we’re in and why parents need to know what they believe and know how to apply it in raising their kids.
Phillip: Well, I grew up an athlete, but I’m not a runner by background. I somehow got talked into running a marathon for the first time last year. I know; you can’t tell by looking at me; but there’s a marathon in this body.
Bob: Wow! Look at you!
Phillip: I survived the marathon, and it’s the most physical exhaustion I’ve ever experienced. I made it back to my house. I am just waiting to get the kids to bed, and I’m just going to collapse in the bed after them. As we were getting our children ready for bed—they’re getting pajamas on—my seven-year-old looks at me and says, “Dad, what does it mean to be gay?”
Phillip: He was a second-grader at the time.
Dennis: You know, it’s amazing, on these conversations, how the kids must get together and say, “How can we spring these questions?”
Bob: —“at the weakest point he’s got!”
Phillip: Children always need to use the restroom or ask important questions at the least convenient times. [Laughter] If you had rated the worst-case scenario for when I would introduce that conversation in our family, I would have probably thought that that would be a lack of an ideal time. What I recognized is: “If I don’t help my children think through this, who’s going to?”
The conviction behind the Christ-Centered Parenting curriculum is: “The culture is not waiting to disciple our children.” We need to be the ones that lead the way in doing that. And when I look at what we do at the ERLC, we just kept noticing a pattern, over and over again, where parents came to us, saying something like this: “I have a hard enough time understanding the complex cultural and ethical issues of the day for myself, much less how to talk about it with my children. Can you all help me think through that?” That was the heart behind what we’re trying to do.
Bob: For our listeners who don’t know, the ERLC is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that’s a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. Your purpose, as a ministry, is to help deal with these kinds of ethical issues that are facing us—the cultural issues that are facing us—and to help us think biblically and “Christianly” about these things.
I say “us,” because it’s not just Southern Baptists you’re trying to help; but the broader body of Christ. What did you say to your seven year-old as you were lying, exhausted from a marathon, when he says, “What does it mean to be gay?”
Phillip: Well, I wish I could tell you it was something really profound. What I just basically said—I said: “You understand that, when a mom and a dad get married together, they commit to having that relationship of love. There are some people in the world who believe that two people of the same gender can do that. That’s not what we believe the Bible teaches. We think that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime, and that’s the way that God designed it to reflect His glory and to help to make the gospel known. But we live in a culture, around us, that has different views. As you grow up, we’re going to help you understand this in more detail as you go.” That was sufficient for that day. You know, I’m sure he moved on right after that and started hitting his brother again or went back to a wrestling match. [Laughter]
One of the things I find is that parents often feel a pressure, when a difficult subject comes up, that they’ve got to nail iton the first conversation or they’re going to blow it; and the kid’s life is going to be destroyed without it. [Laughter]
Phillip: A lot of it is just a matter of stacking chips over time to help foster that foundation they need.
Dennis: One of the things I know you believe, Phillip—and I just want you to speak to it, because it was kind of assumed as you answered the question—you had already come to grips with what you believe about the subject. I think there are a lot of our listeners, who are either on the fence or have both feet firmly planted in mid-air around some of these cultural issues that their kids are facing. So, when their kid asks a question like that, they are afraid they’re going to fumble—
Dennis: —because they don’t truly know what the Bible says, and they’re not convinced that what the Bible says is right.
Phillip: It’s so true. Our boys love to watch sports. The World Cup happened a few years ago. We’re not a soccer family—we’ve got a rule in our household: “Never let your kids start playing a sport you would not be willing to commit thousands of hours to watch it.” [Laughter] Neither of us are soccer fans; we were watching. Normally, they’re asking me questions about how football works/baseball.
They’re asking me questions about soccer, and I don’t know. I don’t know why they blew the whistle. I don’t know why they keep faking like they got hurt and flopping on the ground whenever there wasn’t really a penalty.
What I noticed with that is—when they asked me questions, I lacked a confidence in my answers because I was not competent in the rules of the game.
Phillip: And the same is true when it comes to discipling our children through different cultural issues. The thing that I notice is that parents often wrestle with this because they either lack competence on the issue or confidence in their answers. As you’re speaking of, the Bible provides that foundation for us. The Bible tells us that God gives us all we need for life and godliness, and that includes His answers to life’s big questions.
Dennis: I want you to comment on this verse as an illustration of what you’re talking about—Proverbs 24. I don’t think we are paying enough attention to this passage. It simply says: “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established.
“By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Now, explain to our listeners why those concepts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are key today, as never before, to raising the next generation.
Phillip: I notice, when I look at the way that parents raise their kids and engage the culture, they often fall in one of two trajectories. The first one is what I would call—they focus on creating windows to the culture. Think of it like a zoo. You take your kids—or in your case, your grandkids—to the zoo. They’ve got those huge windows, where you get up close and personal—really see and invest in it. Some parents take the approach to the culture: “We want to give our kids a window to it. We want them to see it all.” They don’t give much instruction or coaching as they experience it, but they just provide that window.
On the other hand, one of the common temptations for Christian parents is, instead of creating windows, they build walls to block their kids off from the culture.
They insulate them; they protect them.
As Proverbs 24 is showing us, the solution to how to equip children to engage the culture, without losing the gospel, is not windows or walls—it’s wisdom. How do we help to create right instincts in our children?—because so much of what the Bible describes as wisdom is applied knowledge. It’s taking biblical foundations and shaping our intuition so that we have gospel-shaped instincts.
So much of our cultural interaction and engagement happens, just naturally reacting to issues that come up; so what we’re trying to do is form in our children instincts that bleed gospel. That’s going to happen over a lifetime of parenting investment.
Bob: I want to go back to the question your son asked, not because I want to zero in on that specific question, but just as a template for how we should respond to questions like this. You said to your son: “Here’s what people believe,” and “We don’t believe that’s what the Bible teaches.” That was kind of the prongs of your argument.
There are a lot of kids—especially in their teen years—that if you go to them and say, “Well, we don’t believe that’s right, and that’s because that’s what the Bible teaches,” that’s an insufficient answer for them—“…because it’s just what the Bible teaches.” They’re hearing from their friends: “Well, that’s your interpretation of what the Bible teaches,” or “Does the Bible want us to hate people?” or—you know all of the arguments that come against that.
Bob: I think parents have to recognize, if we’re going to disciple our kids, we have to have more than just “The Bible says this is wrong, and that settles it”; right?
Phillip: No question; yes.
I’m sure you remember the first time you rode on an airplane. You climb on there, and you’re kind of looking around—it’s all new to you. When those engines fire up to take off, you’re wondering: “Is everything okay? Is this normal?” Then you get up in the air, and you get used to flying. The descent begins to happen. Everybody knows that moment when that plane hits the ground for the first time on landing. Part of what you’re doing, as you fly for the first time, is looking around the rest of the cabin, trying to figure out if everybody else in there is freaking out in the same way you are. [Laughter]
Or is this normal for them? Because if it’s normal for them, you’re not, internally, going to freak out.
One of the best gifts that parents can do/can give to their children, when it comes to these complex cultural issues, is the gift of not freaking out when the question comes—of not alarming them about what is going on. So much of that comes back to the question you asked, which is, “If you can build upon conversation after conversation and not assume: ‘Okay; I talked about LGBT issues once. I can check that off the list and never have to deal with it again.’”
Phillip: Then you will see progress over time. I talk to my seven year-old about, “What does it mean to be gay?” in a very different way than I would when he’s seventeen. I’m trying to help him think through—not just “The Bible says this is wrong,”—but: “Let’s think through what this means for how it reflects the gospel or doesn’t. What does it mean for impact on society and the way that God designed things for the common good?” You want to reflect their age in whatever pathways you’re creating for them.
Dennis: Phillip, you continue to talk about how the gospel impacts parenting. I think sometimes, within our community, we can use words that can become slang. We need to unpack them occasionally to make them very simple—and have some traction and some grit to it—so people understand what we’re talking about. How would you explain to a person, who says, “I don’t know what gospel-centered parenting is all about”?
Phillip: The way I would describe it is:
Every family is making a choice on what’s going to be the center of their home. For some people, the culture is the center of their home—they’re going to revolve their family life/the culture of their home to reflect the culture that’s around them. Other people—and this is probably even more common—have children-centered homes. The whole ecosystem of the house—getting to practices, getting off to school, the conversation, the food that’s served at dinner—all revolves around the child.
If the premise is true that every home is going to revolve around something, what should it be for the Christian home? It should be the gospel—the gospel should be the foundation. What we’re saying is: “In our marriage and in our parenting, as far as we can do it, we want our marriages and families to reflect the fact that God sent His one and only Son to die on our behalf. He established a kingdom that was ruptured in the Fall; He promised a Messiah who would conquer the grave and create a pathway to be reconciled to God and be brought into His family. What we do in our life is designed to reflect that, especially in our homes.”
Dennis: So what you’re saying is—as a part of the gospel, it is to get us into heaven and to save us from the judgment of God in hell; but it’s also to put heaven in us and a perspective on life that gives us a foundation to make choices for the rest of our lives until we get to heaven.
Phillip: Exactly! What we’re trying to show our children is that coming to faith in Christ is the beginning of the story—
—the story that lasts for eternity—the story that is more joyful and glorious than anything we could have asked for or think. That doesn’t start whenever we’re seated at the right hand of the Father with Jesus in heaven. Instead, that’s designed to shape every aspect of our life. We want to show our kids: “What does it look like to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in a culture where that fruit is rarely seen around us?”
When I was in college, my brother was newly-married and had a young family. I was living in College Station, going to Texas A&M. He would come up for football games sometimes. There would be a Saturday night evening game; then they would load into their car and drive back until 1:00 a.m. to get home.
Finally, one time, I asked him, “Why—why are you doing this?” He said: “Well, we’ve got a commitment to be in church; because we’re in a leadership role there. We believe that the gospel is a priority for us.” I remember that gripping me, as a 21-year-old. Then, just this past weekend, I was at a game and drove back until 3:00 a.m. just so that I could set that same example for our children.
What I’m increasingly convicted of is that our children are noticing these subtle decisions that reveal priorities even more than the words, often, that are coming out of our mouth that are supposed to be shaping the priorities in our home.
Dennis: Talk to the parent, who knows he needs to share his faith—the story of Jesus Christ: His life, death on the cross, burial, and resurrection, and new life that He offers us. How can parents begin to do that? I want you to begin by just telling a story. You’ve got four boys. Undoubtedly, you’ve shared the good news with one of those four boys, and they’ve indicated some agreement with that—with the gospel.
Phillip: Yes; in a house full of four boys, there is a lot of action; but there’s rarely much drama. There are tensions that flare; but they get resolved very quickly, often through physical altercations. I heard one going on in the next room a few weeks ago.
I walked in there to try to break up the fight. Before I could get there, my six-year-old was talking to the eight-year-old—he said to him, “Why do you always sin against me?” [Laughter] And the other one—I am, “Okay; what’s he going to say?” The eight year-old said: “Because sin is in my heart. Even though I want to stop sinning, I can’t.”
I was thinking: “Wow! We’ve got a budding theologian here!” [Laughter] Then the six-year-old said back to him, “Well, will you at least try to stop making bad choices against me?” [Laughter]
Dennis: Wow! Unbelievable!
Phillip: Now, granted, let’s tell the rest of the story; which is that five minutes later, they were right back there.
Dennis: —fighting again.
Phillip: —fighting with each other.
Dennis: Sure; sure!
Phillip: But those little glimpses of grace that you see in the life of your home that help you to realize: “If you just keep being faithful—sowing those seeds over and over again—‘The Lord may reap a harvest if we do not give up.’”
Phillip: That’s what I would say to parents.
I’m a parent of young children. I’m sure there are many listening to the broadcast that wrestle with this internal guilt of “Am I doing enough when it comes to sharing the gospel with my children?—modeling it?” What I would encourage you to do—it’s so tempting to think of evangelizing your children as these momentous moments—
Phillip: “I’ve got to create the right environment and build up to it!”
Phillip: Instead, the biblical pattern you see, over and over again, is just consistent, faithful, intentional sowing of seeds, and not missing opportunities to plant those; because you never know which one the Lord may use to take harvest.
Bob: Have your kids—any of your kids—made a profession of faith?
Phillip: They’ve told me they believe in Jesus. They’ve talked about it—the two oldest ones. But in terms of—as Cami and I are navigating: “Is this a credible profession of faith?” or “Do they just know the right language?”—that’s part of what we’re wrestling with. We see some fruit in their lives; so we’re trying to shepherd them through that process to help them figure out: “Is this just an idea that I can parrot back to my parents?” or “Is this something that has taken root in my heart?”
Bob: So coach a parent, who’s in that same situation, and their kids came and said, “I want to ask Jesus into my heart,” or “I love Jesus,” and the parent is thinking, “This is the salvation moment.” I hear you saying, “This might be a work of God in their heart, but it might just be them imitating mom and dad.”
Phillip: Yes; and it’s so hard, because I grew up—and I imagine some of you did, as well, that are listening—with friends who prayed the prayer hundreds of times.
Phillip: And they were just hoping it would work once they knew the right thing to say and they said it. Some of them that did all the right things in their childhood are no longer walking with the Lord. So there is part of me that wants to be a professional fruit inspector—
Dennis: Yes; right.
Phillip: —and have some way to verify that this is legitimate. Yet, on the other hand, there are some parents, who will just be eager: “As soon as I hear it, let’s take them down to the baptismal next Sunday,” and “Let’s be ready to go.”
Instead, what I think we see in the Scriptures is that one of the gifts God gives us in walking so intimately with our family is the ability to make that investment and the ability to try to discern what’s true over time.
It’s not as if this is the only shot we have to have this conversation with them.
Instead, let’s be patient. Let’s use the wisdom that happens between a wife and a husband talking about their children—bringing in a children’s pastor or a pastor in your church if you’re struggling with discernment—and try to look, not just for, “Are they saying the right things?” but “Are we seeing the fruit that springs from that profession of faith resulting as well?”
Dennis: When you answered the question, I really admired how you kind of skirted the question; because I was going for a conversion story; okay?
Dennis: I just wanted to hear a story of how one of your kids had come to faith, but I appreciate the integrity of how you answered it, because I think there are a lot more parents where you are—
Dennis: —in having heard their kids profess Christ, but they’re really wondering, “Did they really?!”
Bob: Well, yes; it’s the kid who says, “I want to invite Jesus into my heart,” and “When I grow up, I want to be a dinosaur!”—[Laughter]—at the same time they say it.
Bob: And you go, “Do you really understand that you can’t be a dinosaur?”—
Bob: —and “Do you really understand what it means to invite Jesus into your heart?”
Dennis: Well, like our granddaughter—one of our granddaughters—went to the Emergency Room—and broke a bone. They were x-raying it; and while they were x-raying it, my granddaughter turned to the physician and said, “Do you see Jesus in there?” [Laughter] Now, honestly, that kind of simple, child-like faith—Jesus warned us, “Don’t forbid the children to come unto Me”; alright?
Phillip: Sure! And that’s the thing. As a parent, you might want to see the level of intellectual sophistication you have, or the tangible fruit that you know somebody your age can—
Bob: —maturity; right.
Phillip: Yes; the maturity that’s likely not going to be there with a child.
Dennis: I love what C.H. Spurgeon said about child conversion—he said, “When a child knowingly sins, he can savingly believe.”
Phillip: I love it!
Dennis: They’re old enough to know they’ve sinned—like the eight-year-old, who said, “I’ve got sin in my heart,”—your son. At that point, there’s conviction. There’s also the need to be able to know: “Where do I find forgiveness? How can I be able to have a right relationship with God?”
I just want to encourage parents: “Don’t drop the ball of introducing your children to God.” Conversion is God’s work; it’s not yours. You have to be a faithful messenger and present the message, as clearly as you know how, of what Jesus Christ came to do. That assignment is not for your Sunday school teacher, not for the coach, not an educator in the Christian school—it’s your assignment as a parent. Now, it doesn’t mean that God wouldn’t use one of those other people in other roles in your child’s life—to God be the glory! But make sure you don’t fumble the baton, as it’s your responsibility to pass it.
Bob: Yes; and to execute on that responsibility, as parents, we need other parents to interact with/to help shape our thinking. We need to be a part of a community that’s working together on raising our kids. That’s why I think to have a video series like Christ-Centered Parenting to go through, as parents, can really be helpful for moms and dads in this process.
We’ve got copies of the video series that Phillip helped put together in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Again, the title is Christ-Centered Parenting. This is a great follow-up if you’ve been through the Art of Parenting™ video series that FamilyLife® created; this is a good second study to go through. Or if you want to go through this one first and then back up and do the Art of Parenting second, again, these complement one another very well.
Find out more when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for information about the Christ-Centered Parenting video series, and look for information about FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series.
Both of them are available online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order—that’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I know for a lot of us, here at the start of the year, we’re trying to cultivate some good healthy habits as we begin 2019. One of the habits we hope married couples will cultivate is the habit of regular, daily prayer together. To help facilitate that, we’ve put together a seven-day prayer experience for couples—we call it “Better Together: Seven Days of Praying Together as a Couple.”
We’d love to send you these daily prayer prompts via email as a way to nudge you and give you something to focus on together as you pray. You can sign up to receive the seven-day “Better Together” prayer experience for couples. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says “Better Together,” and then give us your email address; and we’ll send your first email out to you.
We hope this is the beginning of what can be a new habit for you, as a couple, in 2019.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Phillip Bethancourt is going to be here again. We’re going to talk about one particular area that is challenging for us, as parents, raising the next generation; and that’s the issue of helping our kids understand what the Bible says about human sexuality—about their sexuality. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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