Monday, September 29, 2008

"reThinking" the FIC in the SBC -- More Distinctions

In previous posts, I described how individuals within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) criticized my inclusion of their seminary professors' statements within a lecture on patriarchy, and how at least two of their seminaries embrace a concept of ministry that they call the “Family Integrated Church,” (FIC) a system that originated outside of the SBC. How can one discern whether both the Reformed groups that developed the concept and coined the FIC term from those within the SBC who use the same terminology and hold to many of the same doctrinal interpretations, primarily those consistent with patriarchy and gender hierarchy? As mentioned before, I was told (quite indirectly) that some notable individuals were offended that I noted their use of identical language and overlapping doctrines. I was told that many of these folks who teach at the same school that now offers an FIC focus have never heard of groups like Vision Forum and were very unhappy about being associated with the group.

In an ongoing effort to turn up answers and to identify just where the two groups (SBC and non-SBC) overlap in concept and in language, I’ve done quite a bit of investigating and reading on the topic. As providence would have it, I discovered some information regarding the FIC concept that is embraced at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). I still do not understand why no one from the seminary contacted me directly in a spirit of Christian love and respect regarding the distinctions between their group and the other, pre-existing groups I mention, choosing rather to accuse me of “guilt by association” and responding with what a friend called “jackbooted thuggery.” But in an effort to be faithful and true, I continue to seek out information, and I was pleased to find some new resources that shed some light on both the similarities and differences between these separate FIC camps.

I understand that the SBTS defers to a particular work on FICs around which they base their concept of this relatively new term. The book, “reThink” was first published in October 2007 by a publisher named “InQuest,” examines the problem of Christian attrition among young adults and offers some solutions. I largely agree with this book UNTIL authors Steve Wright and Chris Graves define their plan for addressing the problem. The FIC term is rarely used in the book, and I believe I recognized it only when the book addressed the Vision Forum approach (rejection) of age-appropriate education and “teens.” The authors both cite references in the literature and also use the term “hyperfamilialism,” the distinction that they apply to the Vision Forum.

From pages 87 -89
in “reThink” (2008 edition):

If the Bible is clear that parents have the primary responsibility to train their children, then shouldn’t we shut down all student ministries?...It seems that there are two polarized views, one focusing on church only while ignoring family and the other with an exclusive focus on the family. The latter movement is becoming popular in some circles, teaching to do away with any age-graded ministry: minister to families as a whole and include children in adult activities...

While I personally disagree, Voddie Baucham...teaches this elimination of student Christian ministry...Others agree with him. Vision Forum Ministries is a major influence on hundreds of family integrated churches...

Vision Forum Ministries says the only two biblical ways to disciple children are teaching by parents and preaching. Their solution? Stop age-graded ministries such as student ministry and keep families together at all times. I question that logic because of two specific passages in Scripture. First, Luke 2:46 shows Christ sitting in the midst of rabbis or teachers (the word “kerusso” is not used) listening to them and talking to them, a practice common in those days. Second, Galatians 3:24 alludes to the Hebrew idea of a tutor, instructor or schoolmaster (related to the word “paideia” which cannot mean to preach and never refers to a parent). Rabbis would teach in the synagogues in Talmud and Mishnah schooling, which were teaching for different aged children. The point I want to make is that more than parental teaching and preaching was involved in the process, which is different than Vision Forum would suggest. Sure it was called Mishnah school then (which was age-graded), and we call it Sunday School or Teen Bible Study now. However, the concept is the same – there is biblical precedent for age-graded ministries and for parents allowing non-family members to teach their children.

The FIC concept defined in “reThink” rejects the Vision Forum’s rejection of teenage years, viewing adulthood as beginning at age 13. Yet our contemporary society and our government does create such a distinction, not recognizing legal adulthood until age 18. The authors of “reThink” value the teen group and view it as an important and valuable mission field, very worthy of attention, despite the apparent failure of success of previous youth ministries. It also values other church venues for the training of children, but the primary spiritual education must not be relinquished to the church alone. Parents must model strong and effective Christian witnesses for their children and work hard to train their own children within the home. (An hour or two at church per week does not replace the spiritual training that should take place within the home under the direction of parents.)

In regard to what I’ve read in “reThink” thus far, though I think that they’ve identified a major source of the problem arising from Biblical illiteracy, I disagree with the wisdom of their primary proposed interventions. If parents are not Biblically literate, children are highly, highly unlikely to grow in this area. Churches produce Biblically illiterate adults and children and teens alike. I don’t know that a plan to address teens will be sufficient to correct the underlying problem. We don’t need a new system to address youth ministry (what the book calls “student ministry”), the church needs to get back to teaching and preaching the Word of God, primarily to the more responsible parties – the adults.

All in all, the book is interesting and does a good job of examining the problems involved in the church today, particularly concerning young adults’ attrition from the Christian faith. The causes of problems within the church are reasonably well-defined, though personally, the solution looks like another “programmed” solution which I personally believe can create more problems than such programs solve. I hope that I’m miserably wrong, for the sake of those young adults that will benefit from this approach.

In an upcoming post, I will note how the SBTS concept of the FIC both echos the Vision Forum concept of “turning hearts toward family” but also the rejection of the church as a family that is comprised only of family units and not of individuals.