No human being controls the will, heart, nor affections of any other human being. Only God has that kind of sovereignty (Proverbs 21:1). I thought this, surely, was one truth that all Calvinists accepted.
Boy howdy, turns out I'm wrong. Unless I'm not. It's confusing. Follow this out:
When it first was reported that Governor Sarah Palin's daughter had become pregnant, I saw various blogs instantly blaming — her father! No specific evidence whatever was cited. None. It was simply laid down as a "Duh!" dictum. You know: immoral girl = distant, unengaged, failed father. QED. Duh!
If that surprised me, I was astonished to see the frequently-brilliant though often-opaque Douglas Wilson making this argument. Wilson delivered himself of this stunning chain of indicative-moods:
The basic responsibility for this, however, lies with her father. Clearly [!] in some way she was not getting the love, protection, and accountability that she and her boyfriend needed.I know nothing about the private life of the Palin family. And clearly neither did Wilson. But it didn't matter, to Wilson. The girl sinned, so clearly the father failed her.
In that meta, I commented
Huh? A daughter sins, and it's her father's fault? Which one are you channeling: Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar? Was Adam's sin his father's fault, too?Wilson was kind enough to respond:
I don't believe fault and responsibility are the same thing. Responsibility is a function of covenant headship. It doesn't mean that the head is guilty.But is that a distinction with a difference? Pastor Wilson said that clearly Todd Palin had not given "the love, protection, and accountability that she and her boyfriend needed." Were he Palin's pastor, I take it his word to his parishioner would be, "Todd, you are responsible for Bristol's sin. You clearly did not love Bristol as she needed, you did not protect your daughter as she needed, and you did not hold your daughter accountable as she needed."
Pause, just a moment. You're (I assume) heartbroken over your child's sin. You're already doing a Mike Tyson on yourself, and can barely look other people in the eye as it is.
Then your pastor tells you that.
I don't know how you can avoid the conclusion that Wilson is saying this: had Todd not failed to give these things, the girl would not have sinned. "Clearly."
In overall response in that meta, I was referred more than once — not primarily to the Bible, but — to two books by Wilson, and an over seventeen thousand, three hundred and thirty-seven (17,337+)-word article by one Robert Rayburn. (I've often noticed: it takes a lot of words to prove that the Bible teaches something it doesn't, or doesn't teach something it does.)
Well, if arguments are weighed by words, Rayburn certainly wins. One paragraph alone ran 974 words. I don't measure up so well, in my writing. A recent post at Pyromaniacs was only 915 words. This one isn't even 2500 words.
Indeed, one must work his way through over 1300 words before he runs into the first Scriptural citation. In all, it's over 8400 words before we reach a section whose title promises to show the doctrine from Scripture. But to be fair, the title of the whole is, "THE PRESBYTERIAN DOCTRINES OF COVENANT CHILDREN, COVENANT NURTURE AND COVENANT SUCCESSION." Not "the Biblical doctrine" (though the author does emphatically state that Scripture matters more than anything else).
Well, I labored through the article. I had to. After all, the Bible had never taught me that I, a father, could stop my children from sinning, and make them growing Christians. If that was doable, I wanted in on it.
So far from convincing me, I found it to be depressing and appalling, potentially very destructive, and a hopeless jumble of doubletalk. It depresses me to think that Christians believe along these lines.
Many Scriptures are cited, very few are dealt with at any length. Clearly, Rayburn's chief love is the citation of previous writers.
Frankly, the closest analogy that sprang to my mind as I read was Roman Catholicism, and its never-ending game of "Telephone." You know: "The Bible said 123, then A said this about the 123, and B said this about A, and C said this about B, and D said this about C, E said this about D...." Before long, you've built theory on theory on theory, you're far from the pristine revelation itself — and you're saying things like "the Bible teaches ZZ." But no, it really doesn't; the Bible teaches 123, maybe with valid inference A — but that's it.
I'd summarize Rayburn as saying that salvation is inherited by blood. It's absolutely guaranteed by God that all children of believers will themselves be believers — unless they aren't! And if they aren't, it's the parents' fault. "Faithful parenting will result, by covenanted grace, in believing children." There you go. Follow the directions, and this will be the result.
Unless it isn't.
Many readers will wonder whether Rayburn goes in the other direction. If children fall away, is it the parents' fault? Yep. Has to be. "It is no slander to acknowledge that [David] was an inattentive and ineffective father who by his instruction, to the extent he gave it, showed his children the way to heaven, but by his example too often led them by the hand to hell." Indeed, Rayburn speaks of "the accountability of parents for [not just the faithful teaching, but] the salvation of their offspring."
So see, God's grandchildren will be His children for sure... unless they aren't!
I guess he pretty much has to have some kind of escape-clause to cancel out his extended arguments that grace is generational, and children of believers are guaranteed actual salvation. Otherwise, we'd all be saved! Wouldn't we? Wasn't Adam a believer? Then all his children are guaranteed eternal life. Hey presto, universalism.
Or if you're unsure about Adam, then Abraham was surely a believer. Hey presto! all Israelites are saved! And Arabs, too! And Esau! Though God "hated" him!
So this is why so many people instantly blamed Todd Palin for his daughter's sin. She did something wrong, so he must have. If he'd done his job, she'd never have sinned. Again, QED, dust off hands, next conundrum, please?
In all this, I don't see any mention (let alone treatment) of Jeremiah 31:29-30 —
In those days they shall no longer say:Later, Ezekiel targeted this very same notion:
“‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
and the children's teeth are set on edge.’30 But everyone shall die for his own sin. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? 3 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:1-4)Interestingly, Rayburn does mention this passage — but then he says the parents get the rest of "that accountability." I don't think it's that easy. Read on. In verses 5-15, Ezekiel specifically follows with for-instance of a man who does everything Yahweh wants him to do, then has a worthless, reprobate, unbelieving son. Don't rush past this. According to Rayburn and his ilk, a sinning child necessarily means the parents did something wrong. Ezekiel, by contrast, specifically depicts a man who did nothing wrong, who nonetheless clearly has a child not in the family of God.
But Ezekiel isn't done. He then portrays the worthless son doing everything wrong, but having a son who sees his father's sins, and himself repents and lives (vv. 14-18). The first father did nothing wrong, yet had a reprobate son; the second father did nothing right, yet had a saved son.
Now, as a believer in God's sovereignty, I have no conceptual problem with this. I don't raise my children according to God's word because results are guaranteed. And I certainly don't hold to any fantasy that godliness is genetically transmitted, nor membership in God's family inherited.
No, I do my flawed best out of love for God, and love for my children. Then I pray that God will plow the soil and grant root and life to the seed (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:4-9).
But even more significantly, I see no allusion in Rayburn to John 1:12-13 —
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."Not of blood," John says. "Of blood," Rayburn says — or so says his argument.
Then (stay with me, here) I see Michael Hyatt's article, "Whatever Happened to Modesty?" It's a good rant. I agree with virtually everything in the article, and it's very well-said. I only had one problem with it.
Hyatt sees seductively-clad, immodest young women on an MTV awards show (imagine that! who knew?), and instantly wonders, "Where are these girls [sic] fathers?"
Now, look. Maybe it's true. Maybe every last one of them had neglectful, absent, passive fathers. Or unsaved fathers. Or idiot fathers. God knows, there's enough of each of these to go around.
But why is it assumed that there's a necessary and direct connection to their fathers? Because we all know that daughters (or sons) always respond perfectly and predictably to paternal guidance and love? And we know that on what authority? Where was I when we had that church council meeting?
"Where are the fathers?" he asks. Well, I don't know, Michael. Maybe they're home, grieved and praying with their wives for their straying daughters. Maybe they've loved, reached out, prayed, modeled, counseled — imperfectly, but to the best of their ability. Maybe the girl just didn't listen. Maybe she thought she was too smart to have to listen to old dad. Maybe she never really swallowed the Fifth Commandment all the way, whole. Maybe she rebelled. Maybe she fell in love with the wrong guy, or with the spotlights, or with the cameras. After all, these girls on MTV aren't 10 years old, they aren't 13 years old.
Look, I'm not trying to run in the other direction and absolve all fathers of all responsibility. Ask anyone who's ever heard me teach or preach on the subject.
But my hackles go up every time I see any facile blame assumed onto any person for another's sin.
Think. We don't blame children for getting molested. We don't blame rape victims for being raped. Do we? No.
We do suspect that all divorced people caused their marital problems. And we do suspect that all parents with straying children must have failed their children.
From a Biblical (to say nothing of Calvinist) perspective, I don't get any of that.
I read that you can be right in line with God's will, dead-center — and still be sinned against (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 2:20b). I read that you can tell someone (anyone) the Gospel, perfectly straight-up and dead-on — and he can still reject it, flatly and finally (Matthew 10:13-15; John 17:12).
Might Todd Palin be a defective father? Sure. Might the MTV nymphets have absent or neglectful fathers? Sure.
In fact, all children have defective fathers. (You mean yours don't? Oh, dude....) We strive, we try, we knock ourselves out. We mess up. We're heroes now, we're zeroes fifteen minutes later. Either way and any way, when our kids do hear and heed, we know it's by God's grace. Same as it was with us.
But if they don't hear... well look, if you need 17,000 words quoting past writers to be convinced, you've got the wrong guy. But this does come to mind:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 20 Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. 21 But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17-21, emphases added — which, ironically, is partly cited by Rayburn)And that really works for me.
Biblely speaking, that is.