Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Spiritual Coffee: A Beautiful Life Raising Kids with Special Needs - Feast of Theology with John Webster - Teaching Children Obedience Without Legalism

Here are three things worth feeding your mind. You can find prior roundups under Spiritual Coffee, and stay tuned for new installments later this week.

The Beautiful Trial of Raising Kids with Special Needs, Paul Martin reviews Andrew and Rachel Wilson's book The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs. (TGC)
The Wilsons "are part of the leadership team at Kings Church in Eastbourne in the United Kingdom" and their parenting took a completely unexpected turn when "both their children (Zeke and Anna) showed signs of autism around age 3. It was regressive autism, meaning both had been meeting typical developmental milestones, but then started going in reverse." Most people flee from the idea of having a child with any developmental disabilities or special needs. The Wilsons seem to have done a remarkable job of both showing the beauty and hope involved in parenting these unique and precious children, while also being blunt and honest about the discouragement, difficulty, and demands. Consciously or unconsciously, most of us pin our happiness on having the life we expected. But there is a glorious and breathtaking part of experiencing God that can only be seen and felt by people who have surrendered and let God use them to humbly serve other lives. We usually fight tooth and nail against that surrender, and it is helpful to be shown the reward of what's on the other side by people like the Wilsons who have been taken there.
 "When you read The Life We Never Expected, you feel like you’ve been transported into the Wilsons’ living room to shoot straight with them about life and parenting—only with a twist. 
"God, in his great wisdom, saw fit to bless the Wilsons with two children with autism. It may be worth stopping here to say what autism is and isn’t. Some tend to think a few good spankings, more rigid discipline, and a parenting course or two will straighten things out, but you cannot discipline genetics. Autism is 'a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.' Its cause is unknown, and it manifests in a variety of ways—Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified PDD-NOS, and childhood disintegrative disorder are all related disabilities on the Autism Spectrum." 
"Andrew isn’t ashamed to tell us how, when the second diagnosis came, he
was overwhelmed by the most sweeping, drowning sense of pain and anguish I had ever experienced, ran into the playroom, curled up on the floor, and wailed until I thought there was nothing left. It was, and still is, the lowest point of my entire life.
"That’s the kind of raw honesty that pervades The Life We Never Expected. And that’s what I loved most about it. There’s a kind of denial the Christian church tolerates when it comes to disability. We often ignore things that scare us or we don’t understand. The Wilsons, however, bravely invite us into their world to taste their anguish and joys.  
"This book is much more than a lament. It’s that, but it’s also a vivid description of God’s dependability amid the sorrow and chaos of disability."

Perfection & Presence: God With Us, According to the Christian Confession, John Webster (Carl F.H. Henry Center at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
Webster, a massively influential theologian, passed away last month. At that time I posted some links to articles detailing his life and contributions to Christianity. Here is a great chance to absorb some of his work through six audio lectures. And yeah, this is probably much more than one coffee break, but consider it a chance to stock up and take these in little sections at a time in order to reflect on them.
"Professor John Webster delivers a rich reflection upon the perfections and presence of God. The question at the center of this lectures series is the nature of human fellowship with God. The Investigation of the nature of this fellowship entails for Webster, a comprehension of the divine perfections and their relation to the Trinitarian relations and missions. From the nature of God, the Trinitarian relations and the nature of Divine presence more generally, it can then be understood more clearly what scripture means when it speaks of the Word becoming flesh. Webster offers, therefore, an extensive reflection upon the human history of the divine Word and the nature of his presence in the flesh. Finally, Webster moves to discuss the nature of the resurrected and exalted Lord’s presence, a presence manifest in his Lordship over his creatures and in the practices and Sacraments of the holy church."
Is It Anti-Gospel to Teach Kids Self-Control Before Conversion? - Owen Strachan (For the Church)
Valuable reflections from a remarkable theologian, who is also the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (in other words, a man who cares very deeply about families and children). If we really understand the Gospel, then we know that obedience to God does not earn us salvation. Instead, obedience is frequently described in Scripture as "fruit." Fruit only grows on a tree that is already alive. Unless we are made alive by the Spirit, we cannot bring forth the fruit of obedience and good works. These things come after saving faith in Christ, not before. And the last thing we want to do is confuse our children by making them think that they have to "be good" in order to get God's approval, because that is the deadly peril of legalism. Strachan has a very practical answer for parents. Read on:
"No true transformation can happen without miraculous grace.  There is surely truth to this argument.  Without the gospel, we are slaves to sin.  We cannot conquer sin or master it; as long as we are unconverted, sin is in fact our master.  We need God-given faith in Christ to know true and lasting transformation.
"But I am wondering if, in highlighting this ultimate truth, we might forget a penultimate (secondary) reality.  It is good and well to train children, pre-conversion, in obedience and self-control.  If you do this in a way that indicates that successfully resisting a given temptation equates with the highest form of pleasing God, then that’s problematic.  In other words, if you train kids that doing right actions saves them, that’s tragic.  But it’s also tragic to not raise children to discern right from wrong and to think that they have no ability whatsoever to follow commands.
"If, though, you train children in good habits while always holding out the need for repentance and faith, I think you’re being a wise and godly parent.  The father who speaks repeatedly to his son in Proverbs clearly directs him to steer clear of sin.  The father is forming habits in his son, and those habits are not opposed to saving faith.  They are creating channels through which the life-giving water of the gospel will flow."

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