One evening one of my daughters, a teenager at the time, and I were talking about her life. I don’t remember the details or occasion of our discussion, but at some point she became quite distraught and asked me “Will you still love me if I don’t believe what you do?”.
For me the moment was electric – my heart and my mind were in full focus – I knew that there was only one answer to the question, and I also knew, as I reassured her that yes, I loved her, and always would no matter what she believed or did not believe, that I had just made one of the most important commitments of my life. I now sense that while, on the surface of it, my “system of belief” did not change that night, at a different level, I went through a “conversion” experience. The focus, priorities and colors of my belief system and, more importantly, my commitments, shifted—recalibrated.
I have four daughters, and this event signaled to me that my role was about to change. I understood my role as a father of young children – caring, providing, teaching, guiding, disciplining my children was giving way to a new reality. As my children became adults, our relationships would become contingent. If I wanted to be part of their lives, I would need to commit myself to love, serve, mentor, and support them as fellow adults in their own right. I would need to respect and honor them and their beliefs, commitments, visions and passions. I would need to learn from them.
My love for them would need to be rooted in fellowship more than stewardship. Yet at the same time, God had given the four of them to me to love, for my whole life. When my daughter asked me this question, I understood that she wanted a relationship with me, that she was offering a relationship with me, but that it could not be contingent on her conforming to my “truth.” That night, when I told her that I loved her I felt that I was taking sacred vows with her and with all my daughters, similar to those I had made to my wife almost twenty-five years before.
So what changed for me?
First, I gave new priority to the biblical teaching that we all belong to God. The spirit of Jesus is at work in all of us. Only God can judge the final disposition of our hearts. That does not mean that I consider everyone a Christian – I need to honor people’s professed affiliations. But I am also careful that I do not pre-determine the nature of the Spirit’s work in their hearts. Neither am I presumptuous about the corruption of my own heart. I need the gospel, my daughters need the gospel, and those who are afar off need the gospel. My daily prayer and hope is that the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for us all.
Second, I chose to seek Christ within the context of my children’s generation. For many years I worshipped in a denomination that I knew held the gospel dear. Because of their love for the gospel, I overlooked, in myself and in my denomination, a biblicism, genderism and moralism that I believe are significant barriers to my children’s belief.
As I began to work out the implications of my vow to love my children as adults, I no longer felt comfortable with that compromise. I now believe that rather than call my children’s generation to believe as their parents and grandparents did, I need to immerse myself in the world and culture in which we all live together today and seek Christ in that context.
For example, my oldest daughter is passionate about environmental conservation. Because of her passion, I am taking up this cause (terrible at it though I am) and trying to honestly make it my own. I am grappling with an understanding of the gospel that insists that the hope and call of healing and reconciliation is not only for people but for the world in which we live.
Third, I am committed to joining with many to work out new expressions and practices of the gospel for new generation contexts. Yes, you now see me moving into the “polished” language of the GospelFutures mission and vision. I do not believe that it is enough to “not judge” others, or to immerse ourselves in the lives and cultures of those we love. We need to find new ways to explain and model the gospel of the living Jesus to ourselves, our children and those who are afar off. For me, the GospelFutures project is one part of how I am seeking to work out my vow to love my children.
A final thought. For me, the question first came from my daughter … will you still love me …? But that question could come from anyone — a spouse, a friend, a colleague, a neighbor. Frankly, it may be a question you are asking yourself. Will you still love yourself …? Ultimately, the real question is “Does Jesus still love us?”
What do you think?