Letters to My Children on Faith
Stephen J. Bedard
Hope's Reason, 2018
One of the truly groundbreaking but frequently overlooked revelations of the New Testament is that God is our Father. While the world is full of men who have children but don't have the wisdom to raise them, Scripture offers not only instruction on how to raise children "in the training and admonition of the Lord," but an example of God's fatherly love and oversight in the person of Jesus Christ. In Letters to My Children on Faith, Christian pastor, scholar and blogger Stephen J. Bedard writes a series of thought-provoking, down-to-earth messages to his children about the faith. In so doing he reflects the very heart of God the Father.
This short book (32 pages in the print edition) begins with the biggest question: Is God real? Right away Bedard confronts the possibility of wishful thinking: "There are lots of good stories that we wish were true but unfortunately are not. It would be awesome if there really was a Superman or a Captain America. But they are just stories." He then offers some powerful reasons to believe in God, beginning with the fact that the world, and ourselves as its inhabitants, got here somehow. If toys and clothes have to be made by someone, why should the world be any different? This is followed with some basic, ground-level versions of apologetic arguments for God: the moral argument, the argument from desire, and an argument for the resurrection of Jesus based on eyewitness testimony of the apostles.
From here the question turns to theology: What is God like? This isn't an easy one for anyone to answer, "like trying to explain a lion to a snail" says Bedard. But we can know a lot about God by negation and limitation, the via negativa, as the classical theologians would say. So being personal, God is not like "the Force" in Star Wars, for example, or like electricity. On the other hand, God has revealed himself in Jesus, so there are some positive attributes for us to observe and emulate.
Accordingly, Bedard shifts to discuss basic Christology, first explaining how in being the Son of God and born of a virgin, Jesus was technically an adopted son of Joseph. Jesus was sent to demonstrate God's love, through miracles of healing and finally by sacrificing himself on the cross: "God decided that he would accept Jesus' death as the punishment for the things we had done." But of course the really good news is that Jesus rose from the dead and promises us eternal life with him. This last claim is at first hard to fathom, even for children: "Let's face it, most people stay dead after they die." But Jesus made sure to reveal himself to witnesses, appearing first to his eleven disciples (Judas having betrayed him), then James (the "little brother" of Jesus), and finally Paul. These witnesses were all willing to suffer terribly maintaining the truth of what they saw, which would only make sense if Jesus had really risen and appeared to them.
With this theological groundwork laid, the book addresses practical matters, beginning with the most important: How do we get right with God? Because we are helplessly separated from God we need a Savior to help us, just like if we wanted to cross the Atlantic trying to swim would be a waste of time: "You need to take a boat." Other practical, faith-challenging questions are addressed: Why do bad things happen?, Why doesn't God answer all our prayers?, Why do some Christians do bad things?, and What about my friends who belong to different religions? Bedard takes up these issues one by one, answering each with both condescending tenderness and a steadfast dedication to the truth.
All this leads up to the most pressing practical question: What's next? Even for children, decisions must be made with respect to Jesus. "If you have a choice between drinking a nice cold chocolate milk and drinking warm and lumpy milk that has gone bad, you need to make the right choice." As a spur to movement in the right direction, Bedard advises three wise courses of action: read the Bible, pray, and keep learning. He then recounts his own testimony of conversion from atheism to Christ.
Though it should be mentioned that I regard Mr. Bedard as a friend, it can also be said that I appreciate his writing for its own sake. He opens by making his motivation clear: "As important as my role as a pastor is, even more important is my role as a father." That concern comes through on every page. As a father of two myself, I have shared, and continue to bear, that same responsibility for providing spiritual instruction along with an example of Christian life and conduct for my children. And as a Christian for almost thirty-five years I can add that the foundational truths of Letters to My Children speak to adults as well. Thus for anyone interested in learning the essentials of Christianity, but especially anyone with children or planning to have children, this book is recommended reading.
-- Don McIntosh