Monday, December 8, 2008

Putting Voddie Baucham's "Family Driven Faith" Into Perspective

Quite often, we spend our lives countering or making up for what we did not have when we were growing up. I’ve thought recently about Catherine McAuley, a woman born in Dublin a little more than 200 years ago. She was orphaned but received a large inheritance from those who raised her. McAuley was moved with compassion and used her wealth to establish a ministry for disadvantaged women and children, and her efforts eventually birthed the Sisters of Mercy who still continue to carry out her mission today. I find it inspiring that my own experiences moved me to outspokenness regarding the spiritual abuse of women and children within the church after having been trained at a Mercy college.

The driving force in our lives often stems from a motivation to provide for needs that we ourselves did not realize, just as McAuley demonstrates. I was miraculously healed as a newborn and had chronic health issues, so I became fascinated with healing and inspired to help other people to heal, comforting others as I had been. My mother also strongly encouraged nursing for me so that I would be financially self-sufficient, never finding myself financially trapped in a painful relationship (as she was within her own family of origin), a bad marriage or the plight of widowhood. I believe that she also encouraged me to train as a nurse because she wanted this for herself, but her parents refused to send her to nursing school when she was young. Many other things my parents stressed with me growing up were very much a concerted effort to make my life better in all the ways that their lives were not. I believe the same is true for Voddie Baucham after reading through his “Family Driven Faith.”

After my disappointing experience with Baucham, I decided to finish reading his book to comment on it here because I want to represent him fairly here on this blog. I may not agree with him and may state why I do not, but such disagreements never give us cause to misrepresent others. As he stated in an email to me, we do share a great many beliefs. I’ve long shared the sober concern regarding the vital importance of a Christian worldview that Baucham discusses in his book, pouring over my copies of Schaeffer’s “Christian Manifesto” and LaHaye’s “Battle for the Mind” soon after they were first published. (When preparing an essay on “the desperate need for reformation in my generation” in the midst of the cold war in 1981, I read Donald Howard’s citing of Stalin saying “If we can destroy the pride and patriotism of just one generation, we have won that nation.” I vividly remember looking around my classroom thinking, “We are in BIG trouble!”) I also share Baucham’s concern over Biblical illiteracy among both adults and young people in the church, the troubling negative trends regarding church attendance, as well as a profound disappointment in public education. Regarding the essentials of the faith, I do believe that we agree upon more than we differ. I find this frustrating to realize when he addresses the issue of women, and I wonder how he can be so right on some points, yet so wrong on others. I suppose he might say the same of me.

As I mentioned before on this blog, initially, I had to set his book aside. Because the authoritative approach and the numerous fallacies Baucham uses to support his views frustrate me, they impeded my progress through the material. For example, he states that Moses taught that the home was the only intended site for religious training for children, citing the shema and the other commandments found in Deuteronomy Chapter 6. He strongly encourages families to study the Word together through catechisms and to engage in worship with one another in the home per the Biblical model that Moses intended. Though there are several elements within his argument with which I wholeheartedly agree, I also note many problems and inconsistencies making this entire argument in his full context misleading and frustrating for me.

An unrelated and exaggerated analogy demonstrating how he communicates these matters authoritatively would be, “We all know and it goes without saying that apples are red, and the greatest minds of history attest to this obvious fact.” Many apples are red, but not all apples are red. Some are green, some are yellow, and some boast a mottled combination of colors. This authoritative approach used on nearly every topic becomes labor intensive for me, because I believe that his views on these topics are often manipulative and/or narrow-minded.

As an only child like Baucham, though I certainly could never speak to all the experiences that he must have endured, I’m well acquainted with the “only child” experience and all that it entails. We tend to see the world from only one perspective, having no siblings to give us the perspective that things can be different or that others perceive things in ways that differ from how we make sense of the world. One of the tasks that the only child must learn as an adult includes an overcoming of this “narrow mindedness.” I see a great deal of myself in the “That’s how I see it, so this is how it is ” statements in the book which likely account for SOME of his style that I find abrasive. I recognize this and see Baucham playing out this dilemma and its consequences in his book, sometimes projecting his perspective onto others using a misleading and authoritative approach.

As Baucham describes the circumstances of his life in the book, I am reminded of myself, my own mother and even Catherine McAuley. We’ve all determined to be an agent of positive change, seeking to counter that which has hurt us, making sure that those like us will not be left without comfort. Baucham states that he grew up in South Central Los Angeles, born to a young mother who was abandoned by his father. He talks about how she practiced Buddhism, performing her daily rituals of prayer which left a deep impression on him. She gave up everything to raise her son, setting her own needs aside to provide for him, and he speaks of his epiphany of realizing how she’d put his needs before her own desires in life. He speaks of how his mother graduated from college at age 49, but she did not return to school until after she’d seen her son grow up to be a fine man. Baucham also mentions the “unspeakable” abuse that his wife and her sisters endured – the wife he married while yet still both a football player and a sophomore in college. In his junior year when his daughter was born, he describes the precious epiphany he had over the tremendous weight of responsibility that he realized for raising her.

Baucham describes how when his daughter, then attending a private Christian school, developed displeasing attitudes, requiring that he and his wife to go back and “completely retrain her.” Jasmine, his daughter, states on her blog that they’ve been a homeschooling family since 2000 only, a few years after Doug Phillips established Vision Forum. I cannot help but speculate that Baucham found that message of patriarchy and family integrated worship enticing in his hour of great need with his beloved daughter. If Baucham did not already embrace these concepts, he was certainly ripe for harvest by the ideology through his need for guidance with his daughter, his great love for all the of women in his life, all in addition to the history of his family (particularly concerning the pains and tragedies experienced by his wife and mother). I’m impressed that what he lacked in his own life, he hopes to provide for others, encouraging them so that they do not suffer as he and members of his own family have (though we don’t agree at all on what that should look like). Vision Forum promises “Biblical” answers and what look like solutions to serious problems. When we become off balance or needy in life, ideologies can easily pull us in by promising to solve our problems, by temporarily appeasing our fears, and by celebrating in our virtues. When you are parched and thirsty, and someone who has no duty to you gives you life-giving water with the promise and appearance of love and care in the name of an ideology, those experiences profoundly soften our scrutiny.

Much of what I found in the book was an argument in support of training children in the home, much of which I don’t think any Christian would dispute. Many of the single elements within his paradigm prove sound. However, Baucham presents his paradigm of training children in the home as God’s and Moses’ only Biblical or most consistently Biblical plan for the education of children, something I do not believe is as exclusive as the book claims. Though Baucham makes claims of tolerance, denying an agenda that opposes other alternatives to his own, a Christian should intrinsically understand that if they follow a practice that is not Biblical, that “not Biblical” amounts to an accusation of sin (rather than just someone else’s personal conviction). Baucham poses statements with obvious emotionally loaded connotative meaning for the Christian (i.e., Sunday School as Darwinian), but he fails to directly state the final conclusion: that people who do not follow his paradigm, his preference, and his interpretation practice sin.

What that is unbiblical or not quite Biblical falls within the pale of orthodoxy? These ethics are never discussed specifically or openly. Baucham uses the fallacy of unstated assumption, vague implication and, fuzzy logic so that he can claim innocence. Technically he has only said “less Biblical” and not made a direct and open statement charging others with sin (by saying something stronger like unbiblical or non-Biblical). If it is Biblical to have no other Gods before YHWH God, how can a less Biblical view be anything other than sin? “Unbiblical” connotes sin. “Non-normative” is used interchangeably and is understood in the same manner.

Like Vision Forum, Baucham makes all sorts of presuppositional errors which have an “all or nothing” flavor to them, all carrying an adversarial implication. “If you are not with me, you can only be against me” (to one varying degree or another). He does a great deal of Affirming the Consequent and Denying the Antecedent and post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc..

Here is a simple example of just one of the errors he makes frequently and applies inconsistently (when it promotes his argument):

Anything that is not specifically outlined in the Bible is part of the secular culture.
The secular culture is humanistic and sinful in terms of Christian worldview.
To embrace or practice anything in our secular culture opposes a Christian worldview and is sinful.

But this assumption does not apply to everything, and these rules of thumb that are generally true are NOT ALWAYS true. In terms of Christian worldview, humanism is sinful, but not all components of secular culture are sinful. Indoor plumbing, houseplants and kitchen curtains are never discussed in the Bible, so this is a secular concern, but total silence on these specific secular matters in the Word does not make these things unbiblical or sinful. Calvin and Martin Luther in particular taught and spoke regularly about the sacred and the profane. Is all human conventional wisdom and logic an example of vain deceit that defies God? Those who profess to be Reformed should be well-versed in these writings, as Luther wrote about these matters and reinforced with people that their daily work was an act of worship and their ministry. Ministry was not limited to the priesthood or the priestly duties only, nor was ministry in the church more precious to God than any humble service performed unto the glory of God.

Many of these arguments are akin to this example:

The roads get wet during rain.
The roads are wet.
It’s raining.
(OR It’s a tsunami!!!)

Again, it is a general rule of thumb to assume that if the roads are wet, it has rained or that it is raining. This is not always true, as the roads could be wet from having been washed down with a hose, from snow melting, from a water-main break, from a leaking vehicle full of liquid, etc. Also consider that many of these issues are complex and not as easily discerned as is the determining of how the roads became wet. Baucham makes many such errors of this variety, as does Vision Forum.

Voddie Baucham, like Doug Phillips, has a great deal to offer the church, but his personal and extra-biblical preferences work like potent poison in practice for a great many people who found the full scope of these teachings to be devastating. Baucham’s book misleads, and though it contains many good elements, it uses bad logic and manipulation to force mere opinions and preferences as indisputable facts with either absent or unsatisfying “proven evidence.” In “Family Driven Faith,” he softens his stance and his specific opinions concerning many of the views he hold in common with Vision Forum and does not reflect the whole scope of his views. Baucham’s anticipated new book release in February should elucidate more of his aberrant views than “Family Driven Faith” does because of the specific subject matter, though he might be able to soften the sharp edges in that cutting doctrine, too. It depends on how honest of a book it proves to be. Perhaps then we may learn whether it is his Calvinism or Vision Forumesque doctrine that proves to be his greatest detractor within the SBC?