Scott Brown and the Danger of Solus Pater

Scott Brown has penned an opinion piece for the Christian Post on fathers and evangelism. Again, I have major league concerns with the kind of reasoning that is used in this article. Yes, as part of their daily life, parents are to teach their children. The problem is, even that can produce false faith. The question is, do your children have faith in Christ or faith in their earthly father? Do children simply say that they believe in Jesus, and go through the motions of Christianity because it pleases daddy?

The point is that Brown has incredible naivete to think that, just because you have a constant drum beat of scriptural teaching by the father, that this somehow means that the child will submit to the lordship of Christ, when, in reality, he may only be submitting to the lordship of his earthly father. As I said in my post about the Botkins’ review of the movie Tangled, these folks seem to be oblivious to the idolatry of the father to which this kind of thinking can lead; it is in danger of replacing Sola Scriptura with Solus Pater.

I agree with Brown about decision theology. Such an attitude of making a decision for Christ so that you have your fire insurance is utter blasphemy. However, I also have the same contempt for a theology that places the father at the center rather than Christ at the center. When you do that, the motivations of your children will be to please their earthly father, and not their heavenly father. It will produce as many false conversions as decision theology ever did, and yet, these folks are utterly oblivious to the danger of these things happening.

The problem is, if God so wills it, all it takes is the proclamation of the gospel once for a person to be saved. Brown seems to mock that notion, but the scriptures clearly teach it:

Acts 8:27-39 And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship. 28 And he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth. 33 “In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who shall relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?” 35 And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing.

Here, the Ethiopian eunuch only hears the gospel this one time, and yet, he repents and believes, and he never sees Philip again. The issue is not how often they hear the gospel, but the issue is whether they believe it. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The greatest thing that parents and church leaders can do is to be on their knees to the God of heaven pleading with them for the salvation of their children. Yes, God uses means, and two of the means that he uses is the teaching and preaching of the church and the teaching of the family. However, the crucial element is whether or not they repent and put their faith in Christ, not whether they repent and put their faith in their earthly father. I do not see an escape from this danger within the logic of this piece.

Also, the NCFIC rhetoric comes out plainly in this piece. Scott Brown again fails to deal with the key issues when he writes:

The sad reality of father’s lives in modern churches is that they are satisfied with Sunday schools and evangelistic crusades (which are never mentioned or commanded in Scripture), but they reject God’s direct and undeniable commands to personally teach their children daily. This is outright rebellion against the Lord.

Again, as I have noted before, Brown thinks that you can reduce language down to what is said. Never mind the whole discussion of Grice’s circle, and never mind the many theories of Levinson, Bach, Recanti, etc. as to the semantics/pragmatics interface. No, we will simply ignore all of that complicated Pragmatics stuff, and simply say that, if scripture does not include it as what is said, then it is disallowed. The reality is that language implies things, presupposes things, intends to accomplish things, and actually does accomplish things. All of these things must be taken into account when we study scripture. The problem I have with a hermeneutic like this that ignores the field of Pragmatics is that it reduces the commands of God down to bear commands, completely ignoring their intention. Such cannot be done on a consistent basis, as I have pointed out before. It would be funny to see these folks completely destroy human language all in order to promote their position if it weren’t so sad, and if it didn’t display the hermeneutical simplicity with which we as evangelicals think we can approach scripture.

While the church in the twenty-first century is losing the next generation of children to the world, we are encouraging fathers to return to the biblical role as the head of the household and to preach the gospel and make disciples of their children. We are also encouraging church leaders to have the courage to cancel the programs which steal the father’s creation-order role and put their energies into mobilizing them to fulfilling the clear commands of God.

Of course, the church also has a God-given command to teach. Why this false dilemma? Yes, the fathers have a role to play in the teaching of their children, but God has also given the church that role as well by commanding it to teach all of those under its authority. Only if you posit a simplistic false dilemma will you even consider the notion that the church is “stealing” some God-given role away from the fathers.

What is lurking behind this really does seem to be solus pater. I really do think these folks are oblivious to this danger. If the church is somehow “stealing” this responsibility by having Sunday schools and youth groups, then the problem of determinism remains: who will control the controller? Who will control what the father teaches? And if you say “the church,” then “who will control what the church teaches?” Eventually it leads to solus pater or sola ecclesia, and real opportunity for abuse of authority. The reason is that the whole solution is built on a shaky base-it is built on the creation [the human father and the church] rather than on the words of the creator. That is why true reformation will only come when we seek to base our reformation on understanding what God has said on his own terms. That means a study, not of gender roles, but of how language works and operates.

One of the things most people forget is that one of the precursors to the Reformation was the humanist movement. Now, we are not talking about humanism in the modern sense of man as the measure of all things. Humanism, in this sense, is more along the lines of what we mean by the “humanities.” One of the great cries of this time was “ad fontes,” “to the sources.” What reformation will require today is a similar movement. What we greatly need to today is the recovery of hermeneutics that are based in how language actually operates. What we need is for such hermeneutics to be known and understood by the church. Thus, this will, not only prevent movements like this from springing up, but it will also allow the people of God to say, with confidence, “Thus saith the Lord,” and thus, allow us to present the gospel with clarity, and trust in God that his word will not come back to him void. “Thus saith the father” and “Thus saith the church” are simply insufficient to bring about any kind of reformation in society today, and yet, I fear, that is exactly where movements like this logically lead.


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