Enculturation. It’s a loaded word.
But when Paul tells fathers to raise their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), he is talking about bringing children up in a particular Christian culture.
Creating a distinctively Christian culture in which to rear my kids is my responsibility as a father, and it touches all aspects of life. I’m raising them in twenty-first-century American culture while also trying to create a culture at home that is seasoned by the gospel, praying regularly that this would emanate from our home like the aroma of braised ribs sizzling on a barbecue wafts through the neighborhood.
This is enculturation.
And this is hard. Really hard. We have conflict in our home. We have sin. We have tight budget months, sickness and injury. We also have dance parties, frequent feasts, and soccer in the cul-de-sac. We play “Tickle Monster,” and the “Try-to-get-me Game” (Joshua’s title and personal favorite). But why? It’s not just because we have kids.
Our happiness is deep and only possible because we’ve been forgiven by God. Our sins have been atoned for by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and that changes everything. We can live with joy and eager anticipation of the future. We can live with gratitude for gifts given to us for our enjoyment by our heavenly Father. So even when sin rears its ugly head among us, there is always peaceful restoration because of the gospel of Christ.
That enables us to face difficult trials with a hope that the unbelieving world cannot understand. It is supernatural. It’s what Peter was talking about in 1 Peter 3:15, when he said, “…but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” These Christians were being persecuted with the glad permission of Emperor Nero, losing lives, families and homes. Their platform for influence was growing all the time, and Peter rallies them around this theme in his letter. When their lives were hard, their opportunity to shine as lights was great.
As in Peter’s time, families today that are working to forge a Christian culture in their homes look different. They are happy when they “shouldn’t” be. They recognize that our war is not with our human neighbors or politicians or school boards, but rather a kingdom of darkness with spiritual influence that is widespread. That means that our weapons aren’t guns, knives or baseball bats, but rather the Word of God and a powerful life. And this awareness is the program that is running constantly in the back of my mind as I set about the enculturation of my kids.
You see, we’re all recipients and agents of enculturation. Just like me, you grew up in a particular culture in your home. What did you do on Saturday mornings? Sunday mornings? What did your dad do when he came home from work? How did your parents interact in front of you? How did you treat your siblings? How did your parents train you? Did they spank you? Did you eat dinners together? Did you watch sitcoms? Did you read the Bible? Watch movies? Play outside? What sort of education did you receive? Did you sing? Was your home filled with music? Laughter? This is all enculturation, good or bad.
And the Christian parent who wants to raise his children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” must address these matters with care. You are always teaching. You don’t get to choose not to do so.
Perhaps you think I just need to relax, kick back and leave the results to God. But here’s the thing: If I do that, I’m still teaching lessons to my kids. They’re undergoing enculturation…with or without me. They’re going to learn about the world, about morality, about relationships, about Jesus, about marriage, the origin of the universe and much more. And if I don’t teach them what the Bible teaches about these things, someone else will teach them something different.
But it’s not enough to send them to a Christian school and go to church and figure they’ll turn out okay. That’s the relentless brutality of Paul’s command: it’s all-encompassing. Every time I lose my temper, I’m teaching. Every time I hug Sonja, I’m teaching. Every time I belly-laugh at one of Joshua’s antics, I’m teaching.
So let’s be a generation of Christians who are conscious about the enculturation of our children, recognizing that it’s always happening. And may God give us the grace and delight to do it well. ‘
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