My purpose in this post is to assert that Christians should be conservatives. Or, to say it another way: that Christians who are not (political, social, cultural) conservatives are not living out the full implications of their religious principles. This essay, therefore, is sure to draw the ire of those Christians who would consider themselves “progressives.”

So, if I may call for a truce at the outset: I don’t intend this essay as a screed or a manifesto or a rant. Rather, I wish to make a sober, reasoned, and principled case for the thesis that convictional Christianity and conservatism go together – a case that welcomes critique, feedback, and disagreement of the civil and congenial sort. In the age of social media tirades, I realize this will be a tall order. But let’s try to rise above the fray together, shall we?

The question of whether we should be conservatives ultimately comes down to what we are seeking to conserve. Many young Christians fancy themselves “progressives” because they are seeking to move on from things which should, in fact, be left behind. For instance, I know a young woman who grew up in a fundamentalist church with a creepy hierarchical authority structure, a latent sexism, and a dark undercurrent of sexual sin – all of which was branded as “conservative Christianity.” When that whole mess has been labeled “conservative,” who wouldn’t want to be a progressive?

Hence, these matters are complex. The terms “conservative” and “progressive” are fraught with misunderstanding. So let’s think more deeply about these words and what they signify.

The word conservative looks backward. It envisions something which now exists, or has existed in the past, which we are seeking to conserve and protect. The word progressive necessarily looks forward. It envisions some end toward which we are progressing.

And therein lies the problem. Toward what are we progressing? Broadly speaking, modern progressives have no answer to that question. Or perhaps to be more precise: they have a thousand different and contradictory answers to that question, united only by the vague ideal of “progress.” As G.K. Chesterton wryly observed almost 100 years ago: “The word ‘progress’ is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative… For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress.”

Chesterton puts his finger on our modern confusion: “[In past ages], men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree.” (from Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World)

To parse Chesterton’s observations another way: modern progressives agree on the verb (progress) but not on the noun (progress toward what?). And therein lies the major problem for Christians who wish to identify as “progressive.” Because the vague notion of “progress” is the only point of agreement, Christian progressives get co-opted into a whole universe of causes with which they cannot in good conscience agree. You wanted to champion and affirm women; but the Women’s March you attended also endorsed abortion on demand. You wanted to support government programs that help the poor; but your Bernie Sanders bumper sticker now has you aligned with a progressive whose vision of “progress” includes barring Christians from public office.

“But wait,” you object. “Just because I identify myself as a progressive doesn’t mean I share the viewpoints and opinions of the most radical progressives.” Well, of course you don’t, personally. But socially, you do. And to understand why, you must understand the impact of the French Revolution. (Sorry to go all history-geek on you, but this matters.)

In a recent issue of First Things (June/July 2017), former Creighton University professor R.R. Reno explains: “The French Revolution, which eventually implicated the entire West, exaggerated the importance of the political realm, deifying the modern nation-state… [and creating] an ideological atmosphere that subordinates everything to political and economic ideology.” In other words: modern progressivism exalts the nation-state. Since the French Revolution, ardent progressives have seen the state as the key agent of social change – and they’ve often seen the family and church as obstacles to a new social order.

Reno explains his own movement away from progressivism: “Although I started on the left, over time I came to see that progressivism, even the moderate progressivism of American liberalism, invariably seeks to increase the power of the state. The cultural wars of my lifetime – the war on racism, the war on sexual inequality, and the war on poverty – fell into the same pattern. The state needs to be empowered to make the world anew.”

Why is this a problem? Because the state is only one of three “necessary societies” instituted by God. The other two are the family and the church. “Now there are three necessary societies, distinct from one another and yet harmoniously combined by God, into which man is born: two, namely the family and civil society, belong to the natural order; the third, the Church, to the supernatural order” (Pope Pius XI, as quoted by Russell Hittinger in First Things, June/July 2017, p. 20).

Which brings us back to the crux of our question: why must Christians be conservative? Because Christians are duty-bound to preserve and protect the authority of the family and the church. We are called by God to “conserve” these two societies against the ever-encroaching power of the state. It’s no accident that in the book of Revelation, “the beast” symbolizes political and economic power. The nation-state is good; but the nation-state is corrupt. And left unchecked, it will always encroach upon the authority of church and family.

Some have seen the modern movements to redefine marriage, sexuality, and gender as movements toward a more just and fair society. But in reality, they are movements to enhance the power of the nation-state over the church and the family. We are “progressing” toward a society in which the nation-state is all-powerful. We are failing to conserve appropriately the power of the family and the church. And when Christians fail to conserve those God-given institutions, we fail to obey the Lord.

Therefore, Christians must be conservatives… in the broad sense. We don’t all need to agree on the marginal tax rate, or on the precise approach to health care, or on the best candidates for political office. But we must agree on the God-given authority of the family and the church – and the responsibility we have before God to respect and conserve that authority.

To put it another way: it’s an issue of the Lordship of Christ vs. the Lordship of Caesar. If Jesus is Lord, we submit to the authorities he has instituted (family, church, and state, in their right and proper proportions). If Caesar is Lord, then we bow the knee to the power of Rome.

It’s not that Christians could never be progressives. If we lived in a cultural moment marked by broad agreement on the goal and purpose of human life (progress the noun), we could champion progress the verb. In fact, Christianity itself is a kind of progressivism: because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we know the entire cosmos is progressing toward the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

But in the here and now, we dwell in a cultural moment fraught with confusion on the most basic questions: what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be male and female? What is freedom? What is virtue? And in such a moment, Christians must be (the right kind of) conservatives.

Since we planted Coram Deo Church twelve years ago, I’ve worked relentlessly to eliminate “insider language” from our vocabulary. I desire for every gospel community within our church – as well as our public worship on Sundays – to be free from Christian jargon that unnecessarily alienates and confuses non-Christians.

What are some examples of insider language? Consider this representative list of “Christian jargon” from Tim Keller’s book Preaching (New York: Viking, 2016, 105-106):

  • “Lukewarm”
  • “Backsliding”
  • “Seeing fruit”
  • “Spiritual warfare”
  • “…in my walk with the Lord”
  • “I’m praying for an open door”
  • “I’ve been released from that”
  • “That was such a blessing”
  • “That preacher really brought the word”
  • “It was a total God thing”

You’ve used some of these phrases, haven’t you? Me too. It’s so easy for Christians to slip into this alternate language without even thinking about it.

When we do, it’s a failure of hospitality. And the problem runs deeper than just using the wrong words. Keller goes on to explain:

The issue is far more important than generational or regional preferences or some sort of marketing-based concern that such vocabulary doesn’t test well with non-Christians. Language like this is used as a boundary marker, a way to tell others that you are in the tribe and they are not. Newcomers certainly get that message, whether you consciously mean to send it. Insider language is frequently also an enabler of hypocrisy, as it offers a shortcut to sounding spiritual without actually having a heart filled with love and delight.  

 We’ve all been on the other side of boundary-marker language: in high school, in our vocational endeavors, or in our social circles. Inevitably, we feel like outsiders: “These people all have something in common, and I don’t fit in.” That’s exactly what many non-Christians sense when they’re around church gatherings. And that’s the reason many churches and small groups aren’t meaningfully attracting non-Christians.

Occasionally I’ve stopped a gospel community gathering, or pulled someone aside in private, to challenge them about insider language. And the response is usually the same: “But we all know each other. There are no new people here this week. So why does it matter?”

Answer: because the way to get skeptics to show up is to talk like they are already there.

Imagine a woman in your gospel community – we’ll call her Sarah – has a skeptical friend from work who’s been asking questions about God. And Sarah is wondering whether your gospel community might be a good place to invite her friend to process those questions. If Sarah experiences your gospel community as a place where you have to “know the language” in order to fit in, she probably won’t invite her friend from work.

But if Sarah experiences your gospel community as an intentionally hospitable people… if she knows that every single week, the group expects non-Christians to be present (and talks like it)… if she knows that you care enough about outsiders to show it in your language… then she’s much more likely to bring her friend. And that’s how non-Christians find their way into meaningful Christian community – and eventually into the church.

So, if you’re serious about creating community that engages skeptics and outsiders… can I suggest you take a “language audit?” Which of the above phrases have you heard in your GC? Which have you heard yourself saying? What if you committed together to call “time out” every time you heard one of these phrases, for the sake of growing more aware of your speech habits? It’s a simple way to become more intentional about gospel hospitality.

I recently spent a couple days with four pastor friends. All of us are in our 40s. All of us planted churches in our 20s and 30s. And all of us have been leaders in the Acts 29 Network for over a decade.

We love what Acts 29 stands for, and we love the history and the sense of brotherhood we share because of it. But as we reflected on the past decade, we observed that the early years of Acts 29 were marked by an energy and momentum that the later years have lacked – especially in North America. The question is: why?

Statistically, the “boom years” of Acts 29 were 2007 to 2012. During that five-year period the movement grew from 140 churches to 424 – a stunning 200% growth rate. Over the most recent five-year period (2012-2017), the movement’s growth rate has held at a much more modest 45%. Now, by any standard, a 45% growth rate is still a stunning success! But compared with the boom years, it represents a three-quarters reduction in the rate of growth, as well as a reduction in the actual number of churches planted (284 vs. 195). The data affirms our intuitive discernment: momentum has slowed.

Certainly Acts 29 has seen its share of organizational challenges during these years – most notably Mark Driscoll’s descent from leadership and all its attendant chaos. But in spite of this, Acts 29 today is more structurally sound than it’s ever been. And Acts 29 churches are more tangibly committed to church planting than ever. All Acts 29 churches give 10% of their internal giving to support church planting efforts, and many of them either host or support regional church-planting residencies. Organizationally and logistically, the movement is on firm footing.

So what accounts for the slowdown? Here’s my hypothesis: Acts 29’s boom years were fed by a leadership pipeline that no longer exists.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, church planting was not the vocation of choice for young leaders. Most men who felt a calling to ministry looked for opportunities as interns, youth pastors, associate pastors, or campus ministry staff members. That all began to change through the influence of two men: Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll. Though many other voices were sounding the call to church planting, Keller and Driscoll were the ones gaining the attention of younger leaders. Keller’s call to urban renewal resonated with many who were troubled by the megachurch’s suburban captivity. And Driscoll’s sanctified irreverence challenged the saccharine sentimentality of the evangelical subculture. Both men blended Reformed theology with missional innovation in a way that resonated with young pastors everywhere.

The church planting candidates that flooded Acts 29’s boot camps and assessments in the mid-2000s were youth pastors, college pastors, and church staff members – in other words, men with real church ministry experience. They’d preached sermons, done evangelism, discipled new Christians, and learned to submit and serve under someone else’s authority. In a sense, these leaders were ready-made church planters: they were already committed to God’s mission, they were experienced and fruitful in ministry, and they felt called by the Holy Spirit to step out on their own and lead missionary church-planting efforts. They didn’t need to be trained, equipped, and prepared; they just needed to be sent.

No longer is that the case. Are there still youth pastors and associate pastors mulling a call to church planting? Sure. Some of them are reading this post. But they are not nearly as plentiful as they once were. Ready-made leaders who are theologically mature, missionally fruitful, self-aware, and ministry-experienced are harder and harder to find. No longer is there a glut of church staff members and campus ministry leaders who have put in 5 or 6 years in ministry and are starting to dream about church planting. Now, church planting has become a first option for many seminary graduates. Denominations and agencies and networks are pushing church-planting much more aggressively. The guys who used to aspire to youth ministry or campus ministry now aspire to be church planters. And many of them lack the patience to serve on a church staff for five or ten years before launching into church planting.

The surge of interest in church planting is a great thing. But it comes at a cost: a longer gestation period for potential church planters. In the boom years, Acts 29 spoke of planting 1000 churches in 10 years – and that seemed realistic based on the surge of ready-made leaders pouring into our ranks. But as my investment advisor always says, “past performance is not indicative of future results.” Turning a seasoned youth pastor or college pastor into an effective church planter is a two-year project; doing the same with a young seminary graduate is more like a ten-year project. The pace of church-planting must slow accordingly.

In one sense, Acts 29 is already adapting. During our re-organization in 2012, we realized that we had basically been an “attractional” movement, using events and podcasts and platforms to attract young leaders toward church planting. What we hadn’t done well was to grow our own leaders from within. Our marketing materials spoke of “churches planting churches,” but in reality we were more like a fraternity of church planters. So we began to build residencies and training programs and new initiatives that would develop leaders from within, enabling our existing churches to plant new churches by raising up leaders internally.

In my opinion, our rhetoric still needs to catch up with reality. Sometimes the rhetoric of church-planting movements (not just Acts 29, but others also) can create the expectation of continuous exponential increase. Acts 29 speaks of “planting churches that plant churches that plant churches” – and indeed, that is what we want to be about! But underneath this rhetoric, we need to acknowledge that this may be a ten- to fifteen-year process. Statistically, only 26% of existing Acts 29 churches were planted out of another Acts 29 church, and only 7% are third-generation plants. My own church, Coram Deo, has finally reached “grandfather” stage – having planted a church (Providence Austin) that has planted another church (Trinity Church Austin) – but even that was by attracting leaders from outside and then developing them. If we’re talking about real missional church-planting… if we’re talking about moving a man “from pagan to planter…” then we’re talking about a decade or more of discipleship, spiritual formation, and leadership development. The conditions that spurred the growth of Acts 29 in the boom years simply do not obtain anymore. We must adjust our expectations and our methods accordingly.

In my opinion, the ongoing flourishing of missional church-planting in North America will require three important shifts:

  • A shift in strategy: church planting networks need to slow down the pace and expectation for church planting. They need to focus on slow growth rather than exponential growth, and on long-term leadership health rather than short-term results. To say it another way: planting 100 churches this year does not guarantee 100 healthy churches 5 years from now.
  • A shift in rhetoric: church planting networks need to speak honestly in order to create appropriate expectations. Americans are addicted to “vision,” and in the evangelical world, vision often means hype. Church planting networks should resist this temptation and instead cast a realistic vision focused on long-term influence. Keller’s wisdom is instructive here: for years, he has spoken of moving New York City from 1% evangelical (1990) to 15% evangelical (still a distant hope – right now it’s at 5% evangelical after almost 3 decades of work). This kind of long-term vision builds an expectation of slow, steady progress rather than immediate results – and it encourages seeing church-planting as a lifelong calling.
  • A shift in aspirations: young leaders who think they want to be involved in church-planting need to aspire to work on a church staff for 5-10 years as a first step. Most aspiring church planters I meet are impatient. They don’t know who they are; they don’t have an accurate assessment of their gifts; and they don’t have the wisdom and seasoning that comes with maturity. Moving men like this into church planting too quickly is a recipe for instability. I tell young leaders they should expect to serve in ministry for a decade before they’re ready to plant a church. Data from Fellowship Associates reveals that the best church planters are in their early 30s, with 7-10 years of ministry experience and some type of theological training (seminary or equivalent). There’s a reason for that.

Local churches need to adapt as well. Most of our church-planting residency programs within Acts 29 have been designed as one- or two-year “finishing schools.” Which is to say: they’re still designed for the kind of leaders we were attracting in the mid-2000s. They are built for leaders who are theologically mature, missionally fruitful, self-aware, and ministry-experienced, and who require only some final preparation in order to plant a church. In addition to these sorts of residencies, we need diverse theological and leadership training initiatives within the local church to equip leaders at all stages of maturity. We can’t expect ready-made church-planters; we need to pray, work, and labor to move people from pagan to planter.

This past week, Matthew Arbo argued very intelligently in an essay for the Gospel Coalition that Christians should not support capital punishment. I’m writing this essay to disagree with Matthew. Though we know each other personally and interact regularly over Twitter, I find that I need more than 140 characters to engage meaningfully with his very well-crafted argument. Ah, but wait! I have a blog. And so it begins.

I should start by noting that Matthew Arbo is more educated, more intelligent, and more philosophically inclined than me. If those facts alone end the argument for you, so be it. But as my high school football coach said, “At least you try hard.” Though I do not claim to be Arbo’s intellectual peer, I do hope to make some thoughtful contribution to the debate through my analysis and critique of his argument.

I write as a cautious supporter of capital punishment. Cautious, because as Arbo deftly points out, the application of this penalty within American jurisprudence leaves much to be desired. I basically agree with the entire second section of Arbo’s essay, in which he surveys the practical problems of racial bias and misapplication of evidence in death-row cases. He concludes that these are “reasons enough to place a temporary national stay on capital punishment” – with which I can heartily agree. However, that’s different than saying that the death penalty itself is objectively wrong. My own position, as I’ve discussed here, is that the death penalty is just in principle though it may be unjust in application. That’s the position I’ll seek to advance in this counter-essay.

Arbo’s contention is that “Christians… should not support [the death penalty],” and he divides his reasoning into three categories: philosophical objections, practical objections, and theological objections. Leaving aside the practical category – since I agree entirely with his points in that area – I’ll focus my counterpoints on his philosophical and theological arguments.

Philosophically, Arbo makes three main points:

  • Execution doesn’t settle the debt of justice: killing the wrongdoer can not reestablish the state of affairs that existed before the murder took place.
  • Capital punishment doesn’t have a pedagogical/restorative purpose: “The dead do not learn from their mistakes.”
  • Capital punishment doesn’t serve as an effective deterrent.

As it stands, I agree with all three of these points. A thoughtful Christian affirmation of capital punishment must affirm that capital punishment cannot undo the injustice of the crime committed, nor teach the offender, nor deter all like crimes. A Christian affirmation of capital punishment rests upon a philosophical foundation that Arbo seems to snub in his argumentation: the doctrine of the imago Dei. If human beings bear the divine image, the taking of a human life is a grave offense, unlike any other. In cases of murder, the death penalty is not required, but it is justified because of the imago Dei. And thus we turn our attention to theological considerations.

At the outset of his theological argument, Arbo seeks to put the burden of proof on those who disagree with him:

If one wishes to base one’s justification for capital punishment on the Old Testament’s lex talionis (eye for an eye) principle, then one must demonstrate how death as a punitive measure is morally right, since the civil and ceremonial elements of the law have been fulfilled in Christ.

In this statement, Arbo has made a category mistake, for the earliest instance of lex talionis – especially as it pertains to the death penalty – is Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Genesis 9 is neither civil nor ceremonial law, but is prior to both. Genesis 9 is a covenantal text. The very next verse is a restatement of the cultural mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7). Some biblical scholars categorize Genesis 9 as a “covenant of creation,” in which God pledges his faithfulness never again to destroy the earth: “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:11). This covenant is made with ALL of humankind, not just with one people: “God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth’”(Genesis 9:17). Therefore, Genesis 9:6 cannot be summarily dismissed as “civil or ceremonial law” which is fulfilled in Christ. And, perhaps even more importantly, the justification for lex talionis in Genesis 9:6 is exactly the doctrine of imago Dei: “…for God made man in his own image.”

The burden of proof, then, is on Arbo, not on those who disagree with him. Instead of blithely dismissing appeals to Genesis 9:6 as “far too paradoxical to accept,” he must show with cogent theological reasoning why the covenantal ordinance established in this text has been set aside. Broad, sweeping generalizations of “civil and ceremonial law” won’t do.

Arbo makes a similar category mistake when he asserts that “Christian advocates of capital punishment will also have to reckon with Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:38–41, where he makes clear this retaliatory interpretation of the law was incorrect.” But most interpreters understand Jesus to be talking about a personal ethic, not a state ethic. Turning the other cheek to Vladimir Putin makes for bad geopolitics. If retribution is wrong in any and every case – including in national defense – then let’s just turn over the keys to the nearest dictator. (Or maybe we already have? But that’s another post). I surmise Arbo knows his Augustine well enough to respect the Christian just-war tradition, which is rooted in exactly this distinction. While persons are not justified in waging war, nations are. Likewise, capital punishment by the state heads off the temptation toward personal vigilante justice and retribution.

What’s odd about Arbo’s argument is that he seems to conflate arguments against capital punishment with arguments for wisdom in its application. To say it another way: a defender of capital punishment can agree with 70% of Arbo’s assertions in his essay. Without reading into his intentions, it seems he’s adopted a rhetorical strategy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” – marshall any and all objections to the death penalty, in principle or application, and imply that they add up to “Christians should oppose the death penalty.” But this just isn’t so. For instance, when he argues, “Governing authorities are sometimes required to use force to uphold the law and secure peace, of course, but nothing constrains them to kill offenders in order to do so… Neither is the Christian insubordinate or disrespectful in pleading for measured clemency,” I find myself saying, “Yes and Amen!” But this is not an argument against the death penalty. It is an argument for wise jurisprudence and faithful Christian witness. And it’s an argument that works equally well for my position as for his.

One final point before I conclude. Arbo ends his essay sounding a note that’s being sounded far and wide in Christian circles these days – the note that “the Christian faith is fully and entirely pro-life—beginning to end.” This idea is being trumpeted as a de facto case against the death penalty, as if a Christian cannot be “consistently pro-life” without being anti-death-penalty. However, I have not yet seen cogent argumentation to back up this assertion. I was hoping that Arbo’s essay might fill the gap, but it didn’t (or it hasn’t yet; perhaps this response will spur fuller treatment). I consider myself someone who is “fully and entirely pro-life,” as well a supporter of the death penalty in principle. I don’t think I’m the only one. Therefore, I plead with all who are repeating this “consistently pro-life” trope:

  • Please distinguish clearly between Christian opposition to the death penalty in principle and Christian opposition to the death penalty in application (or, just admit that the main objections are practical/applicatory, and let’s focus our Christian activism there);
  • Deal meaningfully, exegetically and theologically, with Genesis 9:6;
  • Show why the basic assumptions of just war theory (state ethic vs. personal ethic) don’t apply to the death penalty as well.

Perhaps this work has been (or is being) done somewhere, and I’m just not aware of it. If so, feel free to point me there in the comments section. And then I’ll take Arbo to task for not quoting such work in his essay.

In the end, Arbo has made necessary arguments against the death penalty, but his arguments are not sufficient to establish his conclusion. I say this with humble gratitude for Matthew Arbo as a friend, a brother in Christ, and one of the church’s bright intellectual and philosophical minds. My critiques of his work are offered in charity, with the expectation that he may in fact answer every single objection in this post by breakfast tomorrow. And if he does, I trust I will have served the Lord’s people well by giving him the opportunity.

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures // Kristen A. Jenson and Gail Poyner // Richland, WA: Glen Cove Press, 2016

Back when pornographic magazines were sold behind the gas-station counter, parents could perhaps afford to deal with porn reactively rather than proactively. But in these days of smartphones and ubiquitous wi-fi, a proactive strategy is the only option. Your kids need to hear about porn from you before they encounter it at school or at a friend’s house. And now there’s a great new resource to help you: the book Good Pictures Bad Pictures.

Porn is a $97 billion global industry, and it’s growing rapidly. At the peak of Playboy magazine’s popularity in 1975, it had a circulation of 5.6 million; in 2016, 107 million people in the U.S. visited an adult website every month. One out of every nine internet search requests is for porn. According to Time magazine, the average boy encounters pornography in some form by age 11. But here’s the good news: though 40% of children ages 10-17 have been exposed to online porn, it usually happens accidentally. In other words, your kid isn’t seeking porn. Rather, porn is seeking him. Porn marketers want to push their way into your child’s life early – especially if he is male – so they can hook him as a consumer for life. If you can prepare him for battle with a proactive strategy, you can counteract the negative effects of porn before they wreck your child’s sexual and emotional future.

But how do you talk about porn with young kids? Porn is so dark – so evil – that it’s tough to know how to discuss it without compromising a child’s innocence. Kristen Jenson and Gail Poyner understand – and they’ve given us a resource to help. Poyner is a licensed clinical psychologist and therapist. Jenson is a best-selling author and anti-porn activist. Together, they’ve put together a children’s book that tackles the subject squarely yet sensitively. Using the concept of “bad pictures,” they help kids understand in a simple but honest way what pornography is. And they teach kids neuroscience in the process! The book explores the difference between the “feeling brain” (the limbic system) and the “thinking brain” (the prefrontal cortex), helping kids understand how addiction hijacks the brain’s reward system. After reading this book, your kids won’t just know to say “no” to porn; they’ll understand why porn can initially seem exciting or interesting, and why that can be so dangerous.

In the Introduction (intended for parents), Jenson and Poyner explain why they wrote the book:

We wrote Good Pictures Bad Pictures as a tool to help parents begin a dialogue about pornography before kids become interested in it and while they still see their parents as a credible source of information. In other words… to get in first and immunize kids against the very real harms of “picture poison…” Internet filters are important, but not enough. When it comes to kids and pornography, ignorance is risk… A child’s brain is more vulnerable to porn because it is designed to imitate what it sees. Additionally, a child’s brain has less ability to control those imitative impulses. Viewing pornography can alter the brain’s neural pathways… Today’s Internet pornography goes way beyond the nude, still photos of men’s magazines. It has metastasized into a hundred thousand variants of degrading violence, including rape, sex with children, group sex, and horrors we won’t describe here… That’s why kids must develop their own internal filters. We call it porn-proofing: empowering kids by teaching them what pornography is, why it’s harmful to their brains, and how they can minimize its impact once they have been exposed.

 Even the book’s art is thoughtful. “When I asked myself the question, ‘How do we illustrate a book for kids about pornography?’” writes Jenson, “I knew I wanted the illustrations to be in watercolor. They needed to be classic and soft to counter the harshness of pornography; and real, not cartoonish – I didn’t want to risk trivializing this serious problem.” The book ends with a five-step plan that’s simple, easy to remember, and empowers kids to reject porn when they encounter it.

Good Pictures Bad Pictures is intended for 7-8 year olds. It will work with kids up to about age 11 or 12, but will likely “miss” with teenage readers, who will prefer a more mature treatment of the issues. If you’re looking to porn-proof your kids early, this book is an absolutely wonderful resource. I earnestly recommend it. Get it. Read it. Pass it along to others. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s a link to the book’s website, where you can learn more and order a copy.