Monday, January 31, 2011

Parenting Towards Good Feelings or Success . . . or Something Else?

Below is a guest post from Josh Scheiderer, pastor of Bible Community Church in Mentor, Ohio.
The Wall Street Journal's most popular article for two solid weeks was about Chinese parenting. Currently it's at #3 almost three weeks after it was first published. Google the essay's title or the essayist's name (Amy Chua), and you will find a viral tiger on the loose. Since many in America fear that we're all going to be speaking Mandarin someday, it certainly piques the interest to find out what's going on in Chinese homes. How did all these Chinese kids turn out to be so far above average?

At a cursory glance one can appreciate the Chinese emphasis on hard work, discipline and demanding success. Upon further reading and thought another conclusion should arise. The Chinese (or at least Amy Chua) have rejected one bankrupt parenting method (the Western emphasis on a child's near-complete autonomy) for another (the Chinese emphasis on the parent's pride - filial piety).

Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.
That leads to this:
Back at the piano, Lulu [the author's daughter] made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day...I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Chua is telling us now that we should read the cover of her new book and understand that her assertions have been blown out of proportion and/or misunderstood. Ancient Chinese marketing secret.

Back to the topic at hand... Feel good or succeed? What's a parent to aim for when raising children? The Biblical doctrine of depravity should remind us that children's feelings and natural inclinations are innately anti-God. They shouldn't be celebrated or reinforced. So the common reaction is to swing to another extreme—hard work, achievement, self-discipline, character. That's better, but it's not necessarily obedience, and it may well have little to do with the gospel. [Publisher's note: It may even be antithetical to the gospel.] Obedience is a life lived with God, not the child or his achievements, at the center because the gospel of Christ has transformed the desires and the efforts.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.


Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

Child rearing philosophy is generally too lenient these days. While I agree that discipline, etc, is not the gospel or godliness, the words of Ephesians (discipline and instruction) are very stern words. They are tempered by 'do not provoke your children to wrath', but they are also largely ignored today.

I think it is a mistake to frame this question as a 'gospel' question. The Bible clearly calls parents to discipline their children, to build their character and so on. To deny this is really a serious problem with Bibliology and inerrancy, in my opinion.

And of course, the Bible calls us to make disciples. So Christian parents have a dual role, but unfortunately the role of character builder is all too often ignored and children are launched into life undisciplined. Even if they are believers, they are undisciplined believers. This is a problem.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox, but you and Josh touched on one of my hot buttons!

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...

Don, I can't speak for Josh, but I'm not sure we have a quarrel. I'm wouldn't argue against discipline at all. I'm suggesting that we can't discipline in a Christian fashion apart from consistent teaching that a child will never be able to meet either the parents' God's demands apart from the transforming work of the gospel. We still discipline, instill character, teach self-restraint, but along the way we must address that heart. And that's our ultimate objective, not good behavior.

It's not just discipline and and instruction. It's discipline and instruction in the Lord.

Josh said...

ben, the moderator/peacemaker! bravo!

unfortunately, my good friend, i think that don and i have a difference of opinion.

"Christian parents have a dual role" is problematic in my understanding of Scripture. Ephesians does not give fathers a two-part command: 1. bring them up in discipline and instruction & 2. bring them up as believers of the Lord. no, there is a single role, "bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord" (as ben correctly pointed out).

should i raise undisciplined believing children? no, that would be disobedience on my part.

should i raise disciplined, unbelieving ("unevangelized" might be a better word) children? no, that would be disobedience on my part as well.

my responsibility to my four children is to teach them the Lord's discipline and instruction, and it is impossible to do that obediently without the truths of the Gospel permeating the whole process.

for what is disciplined living without the Gospel? it's righteousness as valuable as filthy rags.

what is being a believer without disciplined living? it's a lack of the work of the Spirit Who creates authentic self-control. disobedience

i should stop now before i bury my point with an avalanche of verbage (if i haven't done so already).

one role governed by the Gospel resulting in discipline.

Garrett Lee said...

Thanks Josh. Your life and message continue to show the gospel.

Ben said...

Josh, you may be the first person ever to say that to me. No, you are definitely the first person to say that to me. I wish I could imagine that you typed it without that smirk I know too well.

Of course, I agree with everything you say wholeheartedly. I'm hoping that Don would as well, even if he sees a bit of bifurcation between the parent's gospel and character-building responsibilities. There is benefit in raising disciplined children with strength of character, even if they're unconverted, provided that they've also been taught clearly that their discipline and character does not absolve them from God's wrath. But I would argue (and I think you do the same) that gospel and character responsibilities are fulfilled simultaneously in the work of parenting—not as if there's "character time" and other "gospel time."