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Volume 13, Issue 2: Recipio

Holy Cool

Ben Merkle

Paul commands fathers to be sure and not provoke their children to wrath. Rather, fathers ought to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord. Two things should be pointed out about this command. First, fathers must have a problem with provoking their children, otherwise why would Paul have a concern here? Second, the training and admonition of the Lord is not provoking. Paul poses godly child rearing as antithetical to provocation. To be raised by a godly father should not be frustrating for the child.

But fathers constantly disobey this passage, frustrating their children by insisting on remaining embarrassingly uncool. And when their children grow up and abandon the faith the father is left scratching his head, wondering where he went wrong. Having said this much, I'm certain that I need to back up and qualify my definition of coolness. Obviously "cool" as the world has defined it is to be beneath contempt for a Christian. However, many fathers conclude from this that "uncool" as defined by the world must therefore be the godly, narrow gate that we are commanded to walk through.
So, when all of the kids are listening to N-Sync or some other abomination, dad counters by blasting Herman's Hermits out the window of the station wagon while waiting in line to pick up the kids from school. In his mind he is striking a blow for Christian antithesis. In his children's mind he is merely an embarrassment. After eighteen years of this sort of fathering, the children are usually champing at the bit to throw off every bit of their father's enculturation, including his faith.
The wisdom of the world is certainly folly. But the folly of this world is also, quite often, folly. Attempting to draw disdain from all passersby is not inherently Christian. Although we are promised that the world will hate us, we are not promised that every action that draws contempt is necessarily Christian. Often fathers can get a sick sort of thrill out of embarrassing their children. The pop culture of the day is always amazingly narrow-minded, and many father's latch on to this and taunt the shallowness of America's youth. But in doing so they only resurrect the narrow-mindedness of twenty years ago. This isn't the training and admonition of the Lord, it's just embarrassing.
Other fathers might not be quite so mean spirited. They were never in with the in crowd in school and so they could care less what the world thinks. This is all well and good, but it is not enough. We are cultural animals and teaching your children contempt for the world's culture is only a negative action. A child isn't fed by telling him what he can't eat. Something has to replace the culture that has been taken away. The boy has been told who is not his role model, but has he been given a positive example to take the place of the Backstreet Boys?
It's abominable to run after the world's cultural modelling, but to have no cultural modelling at all is no answer to the problem. If a child grows up in a house with no music, then what does he have to contrast Brittany Spears with? If a child hasn't grown up hearing great stories then how is he to know that Titanic was really stupid? If a child hasn't feasted with his family then how will he know how silly a frat party is? If parents want their children to grow up in covenant faithfulness then they must work at building a Christian world that their children will want to belong to more than any clique of peers. God is kind to us and this isn't hard at first. What four year old isn't automatically wired to give his father unconditional hero-worship? But what do we do with this initial capital? How do we spend it? If we are foolish it is gone by the time the boy is ten and he would rather be dead in a ditch than be seen with his parents. But if we are faithful and industrious, God blesses our obedience with children that wouldn't trade their heritage for the world.
It is not enough for a father to discourage disobedience. He also must encourage obedience by making it look beautiful. A young boy ought to want to grow up to be like his father, not because it is required of him, but because his father is the coolest guy that he knows. This doesn't mean that a father needs to watch MTV and cruise downtown on the weekends with his son. Cultivating godly coolness means taking the time to help your children acquire a taste for singing the Psalms. It means teaching your children to love the kinds of books that you like. A son ought to grow up with the firm conviction that his father's profession is the most noble occupation a man could aspire to, no matter what the pay scale. Perhaps the son will choose another career path, but his father's job will always have a special aura to it.
This sort of work is nothing other than what is commanded in Deut. 6. And with this command comes the promise of the blessing of faithful covenant succession. But so often we have such a truncated view of what it looks like to speak with our children of God's commands while walking, sitting, and lying down. This doesn't just mean constant catechism quizzes. It means embodying the catechism answers in such a way that your children would do anything to be like you.
Although mothers are not singled out in Eph. 6:4, I think that a similar exhortation can be made to them. Many mothers feel like they spend half of their time fruitlessly encouraging their daughters to wear modest clothing. But the daughters have been raised with the impression that their only two options are immodest and attractive or modest and frumpy. If mothers want modest daughters, then they ought to work on making modesty beautiful. Mothers have such wide scope for fulfilling this command. Nowhere is there more opportunity for enculturation than in the home. Even Martha Stewart knows that homemaking and entertaining can be turned into an art form. It is much easier for a young girl to grow up wanting to be a godly woman in submission to a godly man when her mother has been making it look beautiful for years.
But when we insist on making Christianity nothing more than a bologna sandwich, then we shouldn't be surprised to find our children running after the Hostess cupcakes of the world.

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