When I was a boy I grew up in a traditional American home. My father taught me the value of hard work, integrity, courtesy, and the disciplines of standing alone for right, offering a firm handshake, and looking people square in the eye. He had learned these things from his father, he from his father before him, and so on for many generations of my family. The Snoeberger name was a good one, I was told, and I knew early on that it was my duty to represent that name well. I reflect fondly on this bit of personal history as Father’s Day approaches.
My father also introduced me to the Gospel. Not every father in the Snoeberger clan did this. While I can’t bring to mind a Snoeberger who was not a good citizen and a hard worker, I regret to say that not all were genuine followers of Christ. Some lived, it seemed to me, as though their reputation for industry, integrity, and benevolence were sufficient ends unto themselves, and, as a result, they put little stock in the work of Christ, except perhaps to follow his ethical example. By God’s grace my father knew better, and so he taught me not only that I should be a good student, citizen, and worker, but also that success in these areas could never save. Only Christ could save, and that quite entirely apart from the virtues I might cultivate before or after I submitted to Christ.
I did not submit to the saving grace of Christ’s Gospel until my late teens. My father told me regularly about God’s saving grace, but I refused it. This refusal did not, however, bring his parenting efforts to a grinding halt. And that is because he also had common grace to offer. He taught me how to drive a nail straight and true, how to mow the lawn and shovel the drive swiftly and in tidy rows, how to read both books and people, and in summary, how to be a disciplined, careful, and contributing member of human society. Even though I was not growing in favor with God, he knew, I could and should be growing in favor with men (cf. Luke 2:52). He was troubled, no doubt, by the absence of God’s regenerating work, but he did not think it dangerous or sub-Christian to teach me how to live according to the received standards of moral integrity. And in this way he prepared me, as best he could, both for the inevitability of life in the civic sphere and also for the hope of a life in the ecclesiastical sphere.
The trend in Christian parenting these days is to favor “grace-based” over and against discipline-heavy parenting. I laud the emphasis on grace, but reject the insinuation sometimes communicated that discipline is the enemy of grace. Christian parents should not, of course, have the goal of raising “moral pagans,” but in view of the fact that parents really don’t have the final say (or any say, for that matter) in whether or not their kids turn out to be “pagans,” it seems to me that we should be working pretty hard at the “moral” part. My hope and prayer is ultimately that I will raise two morally informed Christians, but if in God’s inscrutable wisdom he has appointed me to raise a pagan, then I certainly hope to raise a moral pagan and not an immoral one!
I think my dad got it right. Thanks, Dad, for giving me grace—of both varieties.