Family Ministry Today

The Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Book Review: ‘Trained in the Fear of God’ edited by Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones

by Christopher Jackson – Nov 29

trained in the fear of GodTrained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective. Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones, editors. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011, 290 pp., $26.99.

In Trained in the Fear of God, Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones aim to do for family ministry leaders today what Hilkiah and Shaphan did for Josiah. Namely, they seek to ground practices of ministry in theological and historical contexts. Eight years into his reign, King Josiah enacted reforms against Judah’s unfaithfulness, felling the Asherim and crushing graven images. Not a bad start, but this course was not quite right, either. Not until Hilkiah and Shaphan presented to him the long-lost Book of the Law did Josiah fully lead his people in God’s will.

As Josiah saw his time’s problems, so also do contemporary ministry leaders in prevalent ministry practices. Namely, this book notes that growing discontent among evangelicals with what has come to be seen as traditional age-segmented ministry has led to burgeoning interest in more integrated family ministry models. Many within the evangelical community see traditional age-segmented ministry as having contributed to problems including the abdication of parental spiritual leadership for their children and the atomizing of the family unit within church life. However, those promoting family ministry within congregations are often like Josiah. Good intentions and ideas about family ministry abound, but they lack sufficient guidance from God’s Word. This book attempts to supply this guidance.

Trained in the Fear of God presents four sections toward this aim. It begins with an introduction by Bryan Nelson and Timothy Paul Jones. Nelson, the pastor of student discipleship at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, is a thoughtful practitioner in the field of the family-equipping movement, and Jones is professor of leadership and family ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The introduction conveys the importance of the work, briefly but powerfully noting the cosmic and eternal issues at hand in leading families in discipling children and also examining some of the factors that have spurred renewed interest in family ministry. It then provides a helpful paradigm for categorizing various approaches to family ministry such as the “Programmatic Ministry Model” and the “Family-Integrated Ministry Model.” The main body of the book progresses in three parts, each part containing chapters by separate authors including such lights as R. Albert Mohler, Jr., and Kevin L. Smith. The first part takes up the biblical and theological foundations of family ministry, examining what God says about spiritual nurture within the home. The second part then examines how these biblical and theological truths have found expression in the history of the Church from ancient times to today. The third part then addresses practical issues in implementing faithful family ministry in contemporary congregations.

Strong themes resound across the sections. A complementarian view of human sexual identity pervades the work. In particular this book promulgates the view that God has ordained male headship within congregations and the home. Biblical and theological arguments are given for this view. The historical sections also take up this theme for example by noting how the magisterial Reformers and the Puritans called for fathers to exercise spiritual leadership. The practical section includes a chapter, “The Freedom of Christ and the Unforeseen Consequences of Feminism” by Carolyn McCulley, devoted to examining male headship from a former critic’s perspective. Another frequent theme is that of faithfulness. Awareness pervades the book that the family itself may become an idol worshipped and adored instead of Christ Jesus. Authors also warn that pursuing faithfulness in family ministry may meet resistance within congregations and actually lead to numerical decline in involvement.

Many strengths commend this book. Its biblical and theological section offers extremely sophisticated arguments, most notably James M. Hamilton, Jr.’s chapter “That the Coming Generation Might Praise the Lord: Family Discipleship in the Old Testament” and Bruce A. Ware’s chapter “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: The Trinity as a Theological Foundation for Family Ministry.” A highlight in the historical section is C. Jeffrey Robinson, Sr.’s “The Home Is an Earthly Kingdom: Family Discipleship among Reformers and Puritans.” Especially illuminating was his discussion of family ministry among the Puritans. One highlight in the practical section is Peter R. Schemm Jr.’s “Habits of a Gospel-Centered Household,” which offers helpful and time-tested practices of family discipleship. The practical section also features Carolyn McCulley’s aforementioned article, an important voice to dispel potential objections to the theme of male headship.

The book has a number of weaknesses, however. A number of typographical and other editorial errors distract the reader. More significantly, the narrow confessional alliance of the contributors, almost all of whom are Baptists, at times mitigates understanding and applicability among readers of other traditions. Perhaps the book’s greatest weakness is ignoring potentially problematic contemporary evangelical Protestant attitudes toward contraception and procreation within marriage. As authors like Alan Carlson of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society have noted, the embrace of contraception and the mindset that accompanies it is a rather new phenomenon even for Protestants. When Christians see children as optional within marriage rather than the natural and desirable fruit of marital love, they are less likely to consider them as intrinsic blessings from God to be cherished and nurtured in love toward Him. They become more like accessories or possessions rather than sacred trusts. Perhaps an even greater threat to faithful family ministry is not the decline of male headship but rather this more fundamental understanding about marriage and family. Despite these weaknesses Trained in the Fear of God offers needed guidance applicable to churches and ministry leaders in diverse contexts and confessions. Any ministry leader concerned about family ministry should read it.

[Editor's Note: This review originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 3.2 (Spring/Summer 2013).]