Erasmus, the Repentant Thief and Parental Encouragement

It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over – Reformation21.

The last day of May (as I write this), and I can’t believe I almost missed this powerful article by one of my favorite contemporary “theologians” (who prefers to be known as a church historian)! Carl Trueman wrote this article for the May issue of “Reformation21”, the online magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and it is another thought-provoking, soul-encouraging one! I gave the article the title I did on my post header because I wanted to capture some of what Trueman writes about in it. As he critiques Erasmus for his exposition of the thief’s repentance on the cross next to Christ, he points out how Erasmus robs parents of a great encouragement regarding the godly instruction of their children. You’ll just have to read it to get it, but it is a powerful point. Here’s a taste to create some appetite:

So when the adherents of mere Christianity use the second thief as their great example, they can only do so by ignoring what the text actually says: God’s holiness, personal sin, the unjustified death of Christ and the coming of the kingdom through his death – these are sophisticated theological insights by any measure one cares to choose.

So why is the failure to spot these a great disservice to parents?  To answer this we need to ask the question: where and when did the thief learn all these things?

…My own theory is that this man learned his theology when he was younger, probably as a child.   There is no way he could think up such brilliant theological insights while hanging on the cross unless the basic building blocks had been laid in his soul at an early stage.   As the text gives no hint of a miracle at this point, my guess is that this man was well-schooled in scripture by his parents, either at home or at the local synagogue or both.  Then, as he hangs there that day, cursed between heaven and earth, he recalled all the things that his parents and rabbi had taught him.

…Second, this passage should be an immense encouragement to parents.  As a parent, you cannot save your child.  You can only teach them God’s truth and pray that they will come to believe it for themselves. Then, having done all this, you may see them wander away from the faith.  It is unlikely that many of us will see quite the dramatic wandering that the second thief’s parents saw; but nonetheless any child’s rejection of Christianity will be painful to the parents, however decent and upright the child otherwise is.
But the message of this passage is ultimately an encouraging one.   Erasmus may have thought he was producing a kinder, gentler Christianity by recruiting this passage for his vision of a non-dogmatic Christianity, but actually he was stealing from Christian parents one of the most encouraging passages in all of scripture.  As with our congregations so with our children: we teach Bible truths because they are true and not because they have fleeting relevance to the passing moment.  We should be satisfied that they are relevant to the only moment that really matters; and we should take heart that, whatever our children choose to do with their lives, it ain’t over until it’s over.

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