How dads at the ERLC think about parenting

June 15, 2018

What have been some of the surprises about parenthood?

Daniel Darling: One of the most surprising things about parenting is just the genuine sense of inadequacy you feel. Going into the parenting experience, I assumed (with great pride) that I’d be a really good father, given my upbringing with a good dad and my life as a Christian. But there is such a gulf between knowing what good parenting is and actually doing it. When your kids are here and you are responsible for them, it’s a humbling and holy thing. And yet, it’s awesome. It’s amazing how God gives you such a deep love for your kids. So the inadequacy and the love combine to make you reliant on the Spirit for strength and grace.

Andrew Walker: The level of joyful contentment. Our culture constantly speculates on what brings joy and satisfaction to life. For me, seeing my daughters laugh and play brings indescribable joy. When the Scriptures speak of children being a blessing, those words become profoundly meaningful in the context of family life. You do not need earthly riches for joy or contentment; all you need is a commitment to pursuing God’s will for how he designed the family to function.

Brent Leatherwood: Watching my children discover things for the first time has been a wonderful surprise. I expected that helping them pass different benchmarks would be a source of pride, but the process that entails, and and then seeing their eyes light up as they figure something out, has truly melted my heart.

At the same time, I’ve been surprised by how much culture competes with us for their attention. There’s an adage that says, “If you aren’t discipling your children, culture will,” and that is absolutely the case.

Finally, our experience has reconfirmed just how strong my wife is and how much our marriage forms a beautiful framework for raising our children. Her abilities as a guide and nurturer for our two daughters and son neatly complement my own roles as protector and supporter. I knew that was God’s plan heading into our marriage but it’s been so reassuring to see God’s elegant design for family up close.

How are you practically trying to demonstrate God’s reality to your children?

DD: I hope our kids are seeing the reality of God’s work in our own lives, even in light of many mistakes and flaws on our part. One of the things we try to do is to point out the reality of God in Christ in the everyday things. So, when we have a financial situation or some burden or struggle in one of our kids’ lives, we try to help them see it as an opportunity to wait and trust in God. And we also try, as the children of Israel were commanded to do, to remember. We tell our kids how God has worked in our own lives, how he has worked through history, and that they can have confidence that he is working now.

Also—and this so simple and yet crucial—we bring them to church every week. The weekly rhythms of worship are forming their hearts in ways they don’t even understand now.

AW: I echo what Dan said above. Weekly church attendance is absolutely crucial. We prioritize it, and we tell our daughters why we do—to help them see the blessing of being part of God’s family.

I also speak a lot about how God designed the family. I want them to understand that their lives and their experience as a family member are not arbitrary.

BL: We really value community in our home, and we try to demonstrate the reality of God’s people and his care for others by welcoming individuals and families into our home on a routine basis and serving those who are in need through our church (1 Pet. 4:9). We’re seeking to display good stewardship for our children with the resources we have and lay a foundation for a heart of service in each of them.

Both Andrew and Dan are absolutely right about making church central in our lives. My wife and I make it a priority to serve in the church, and we’re physically there several times a week. We want church engagement to be part of the natural rhythm of their lives, and we use those opportunities to talk about why church is such an incredible gift from God to us as believers.

What are some ways that you are intentionally discipling your children?

DD: We do this in a variety of ways. We feel it's really important to catechize our kids. So we use some great tools that help us walk our kids through Scripture and doctrine in a way they understand. We also try to sing hymns from time to time. We mostly do this around meals, so we may do it in the morning before school or at dinner.

We also think it's important to use spontaneous moments to press in the gospel. So when our kids are having conflict or there is a moment that just lends itself to teaching, we teach. Sometimes we use the calendar, for example, big holidays. Sometimes we use the news cycle.

AW: Most nights, we use a children’s catechism to teach them elementary principles of theology. We pray and sing together, too. None of it is complex. All it takes is persistence. More than anything, though, is that we talk about God, Jesus, sin, and repentance a lot. We want these categories baked into their little minds.

BL: We’re in the season where we are laying foundations for our children. With them being so young, we are focusing on a persistent prayer life and using music to reinforce biblical themes. These work out in a few ways that build upon one another.

Like Dan and Andrew, we pray with them every night before bed. I also like to use our time in the car together to talk about who we should pray for and why we should pray for them. Recently, we’ve started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and just talking about what each line means for us (as a heads up, explaining “debtor” to a four year old isn’t easy!).

Throughout the day, music is playing in our home. Sometimes it’s modern Christian music, bluegrass-style hymns, or children’s songs. The songs afford us an opportunity to circle back on particular themes that we want to highlight, and it’s amazing how easily children memorize verses when put to music.

How has your understanding of God as Father informed how you parent your children?

DD: It’s so sobering. I’m freshly aware that my kids conception of a father is shaped by me. I tremble at that because of my many failures. I’m the only version of Dad they have, so I want to get this right.

And yet I’m also aware that God is fathering my kids even as he fathers me. He’s filling in my gaps, he cares for them more than I do, and he has not made a mistake in assigning me to be their dad.

AW: Fathers have impact, whether for good or ill. It is impossible for a father not to dictate how their children understand God as Father, and that can be a very happy understanding, or a miserable one. I also have a greater understanding of unconditional love and grace. Nothing, nothing can nullify my relationship with my daughters. They will forever be my children. In the same way, God’s role as Father is eternal.

BL: It’s impossible to quantify how much our children have added to my own relationship with God. They’ve provided me with a more complete understanding of his own sacrificial, unconditional love for me. In turn, I want to always show them the grace, discipline, and favor he has shown me.

Similarly, as I read through Scripture, it’s abundantly clear how much God guides us. I want to be a parent who serves as a helpful shepherd for their hearts and dreams. Whether it’s prioritizing reading, limiting screen time, or creating opportunities for them to have a hands-on experience with something, I want them to have meaningful guide rails that shape their success.

What has been one of the hardest things about fatherhood so far?

DD: One of the hardest things is to die to self. This is more acute as their father because it requires me to constantly sacrifice, for my wife, for my kids, when I’d rather choose my own comfort.

It’s also hard to trust. As my kids get older, I am always fearful of what could happen to them, and yet I know I’m to release them to his care and to live on mission for him in the world.

AW: Learning patience. When children disobey or disrupt plans, it is easy to see parenting as a burden. It is in those moments that one has to crucify their frustrations and understand the divine calling of faithful presence and corrective love.

BL: I’d agree with both Dan and Andrew and add that, for us, consistency is something we’re trying to get better at across the board. Instead of being hot and cold with various things, we’re trying to build healthy habits and routines that will hopefully become second nature to our children. Unfortunately, life does its best to get in the way of the formation of those, and my wife and I recognize we have to be better about shutting out the world for the sake of our children’s well being.

How do you seek to grow as a father?

DD: It’s really about being in the Word and in prayer. I pray more now than I ever have in my life. My inadequacies force me to my knees. I also try to ask questions of other fathers who are a few miles ahead of me on this parenting journey. I’ve found a few faithful dads at our church who are founts of spiritual wisdom. In addition, I try to read. I often read biographies and learn from men and women, good and bad. And I try to read books on theology and parenting to help shape me.

AW: One of the most significant things in my growth as a father happened recently. I was upset with my oldest daughter (age 7) and proceeded to berate her about a decision she made. I was justified in being upset, but then I brought up my frustration once again, which crushed her little spirit. In her school, she’s learned that once someone is forgiven, it is not right to continue to hold someone’s sin over them. My daughter relayed how I had crushed her by bringing up her sin again. When I learned how I had hurt her, I was crushed. I asked my daughter for forgiveness. The lesson? I want my daughter to understand her father is a sinner and needs forgiveness and grace. The whole episode was a good moment of learning the importance of humility as a father.

BL: I’ll pick up and emphasize something Andrew said recently that I wholeheartedly agree with. As a father, it’s not enough to merely be present. I have to engage. What I mean by that is, instead of reading a book while my children play, I need to set it aside, get down on their level, crawl into their little world, and be present right alongside them. Showing them that I value their imagination and want to help them play with their toys, I think, lends them the support they need to flourish. And, ultimately, that’s my objective as a father. I want them to flourish in God’s plans for their lives, and I’m the instrument God has providentially given to help them do just that.

Lindsay Nicolet

Lindsay Nicolet serves as the editorial director for the ERLC. She oversees the day-to-day management of all content and resources from the Nashville office. Lindsay completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Justin and they have a daughter and a son. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24