Sunday, March 20, 2011

"If we wanted to produce legalists, how would we go about it?"

Kevin Bauder:
If we wanted to devise a plan to turn out as many legalists as we could, how would we go about it? One way that we might do it is to offer some sort of of a carnal or this-worldly inducement for performing spiritual exercises. In order to get children to memorize Scripture. In order to get them to read the Bible. In order to get them to spend time in prayer. Offer them rewards, preferably rewards that are going to get them recognized in front of other people, so that they become used to the idea that "the things I'm doing, I'm doing for recognition on the part of other people." Isn't that the essence of legalism?
From his talk, "Shaping Our Affections Towards God," which is available here (along with more talks well worth hearing).

34 comments:

Jeff said...
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Jeff said...

A second try! Soooooo, if giving a child a Bible for learning some verses in VBS is the essence of legalism, what is giving a student a grade for learning systematic theology?

Ben said...

That sounds like a question for a faculty meeting!

Seriously, I would hope that a seminarian would have his senses trained in a way that a young child would not, and that's just one of several points of discontinuity.

Jeff said...

An incentive is an incentive for a spiritual exercise. Pick and choose if you like. What better time to train a child's heart than when they are small? You don't wait until they are in seminary to hope they have right love. You begin when they are small. Rewarding a child with a Bible for verses learned could be bribery but does it need to be? No more than giving a student an A could be a motivation for taking an exam! It's your forum, so you can have the last word. But remember there are many ways to motivate children . . . all can be abused. But it is overkill to say all are wrong, IMO.

d4v34x said...

Jeff, help me out here. When you say, "What better time to train a child's heart than when they are small?" surely you don't mean that it's either incentives/rewards or kids don't learn how to love.

And how many ways are there to motivate kids to love God? I can think of about two--example and teaching. Both can (and possibly should) be done without candy bars
and ribbon sprays.

BE said...

It doesn't seem that Bauder is necessarily addressing the situation of giving a child a Bible or giving a student a grade. He seems to emphasize the public recognition, leading to the idea that I do things to be seen by men.

I think there is a difference between giving a child a Bible (reward) and doing it in front of the church and everyone applauding. There's also a difference between getting a grade for ST and the student getting special recognition in chapel for having the highest grade.

I personally don't see a problem with motivating by reward (I think God motivates us with reward, eg. 2 Jn 8), but I do think there is a danger of motivating people through praise of others. I don't think that means there should never be public recognition and honor, but that it should be used carefully.

BE

Joshua Caucutt said...

Our entire paradigm needs to change. Either a child loves God and desires to know and obey Him or that child does not want to love and obey God because he is a depraved sinner.

Using his love of candy or praise in order to train his behavior could make him more a child of hell or at the very least, a person from Matthew 7 who cries, "Lord, Lord" as he is destroyed.

What was the carrot that motivate Joseph and Daniel and Paul and Peter to follow Christ at all costs? Money? fame? an easy life?

Ben said...

d4, BE, and Josh are right on target here so I don't have much to add.

I do want to clarify that Jeff introduced giving out Bibles to the conversation. Bauder is clearly referring to "carnal or this-worldly inducement[s]." I assume that Jeff does not think Bibles are carnal inducements. I don't know whether Bauder thinks giving out Bibles is good or bad. Surely, the context of public recognition, applause, etc. shapes the matter as well.

BE rightly points out that God does motivate us, in part, by promise of reward. I want to add that there is a fundamental difference in kind between that reward and the sort of rewards that are prevalent in children's ministry. I think that's what Bauder means by "carnal or this-worldly."

Finally, I find precious little difference between the evangjellycal seeker/entertainment/consumer mindset and the children's-ministry-by-bribery-and-public-recognition complex. In both cases, church leaders are trying to get to the heart by appealing to the "belly"/kolia.

R said...
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James Kime said...

"Our entire paradigm needs to change. Either a child loves God and desires to know and obey Him or that child does not want to love and obey God because he is a depraved sinner."

Your options are more limiting than Scripture. God himself offers rewards for service. I think this whole line of thinking is trying to angle for a motivation that leaves out part of what God offers. That could equally be legalistic.

Ben said...

James, what kind of rewards does God offer? Carnal rewards? This-worldly rewards?

James Kime said...

Of course eternal, which we share in to a limited degree now. I am at present a new creation and am partially enjoying now what I will enjoy in a greater capacity later.

If I told my son that I would buy him a new Bible if he memorized X number of verses, is that really training him to be a legalist? Not likely. I want him to value God's word. If he chooses to spend his free time on scripture memory rather than something else, that shows he values God's word. I tend to think that is a good thing.

James Kime said...

Sorry, as a follow up I am also against the public recognition, cheap prizes, etc. If I thought my child was craving those things, I would explain how that is wrong.

Scott Aniol said...

Jeff, you said, "What better time to train a child's heart than when they are small?"

I couldn't agree more, but that's Kevin's whole point: when you induce spiritual behavior by carnal rewards, you are shaping the child's heart in inordinate ways.

Kevin's whole concern is for the ordinate shaping of the hearts of our children.

James Kime said...

Okay, let's define a carnal reward.

Is it something that will burn up? That is everything.

Is it something with no spiritual value?
That is everything.

I think the criticism is warranted but almost given in a vacuum. If the parent is not teaching their child to value knowing God, then none of it matters. However, if the parent is doing that and can accurately work in rewards then I think that is right.

Dave said...

Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed

nate said...

trying to figure this out...

So, if I make a big deal because my daughter obeys, I am training her to be a legalist?

Ben said...

Nate, that's not exactly the issue Bauder's arguing, but I'm sure the answer to your question must hinge in part on how you make a big deal of it, why, and what you teach her along the way. I'm sure that if you wanted to raise a legalist, you could easily devise a way to use parental praise to reinforce the legalistic tendencies in her heart.

Anonymous said...

Dave finally mentioned the program I think Bauder was describing.

Our church uses Awana/TNT and I have similar concerns. It seems to me that Awana is based on the premise that Scripture memory and other spiritual exercises are to be done for tangible rewards and the praise of men. I'm glad my kids are memorizing Scripture. I cringe that a church-sponsored program gives them plastic jewels for doing so.

James Kime said...

I didn't even catch that Dave.

Awana is training legalists? My eyes are hurting from that.

I hope independent baptists can find a few accurate examples of legalistic causes. It shouldn't be too hard.

Joshua Caucutt said...

The motivation to follow Christ and exercise any of the disciplines of a believer is eternal. Our motivation and the motivation of our children must be salvation - that is what it is all about! If they are motivated by anything in this life, they become Matthew 7 hypocrites or the servant who buries his minas or the foolish man with a foundation in sand. In other words, they have their reward. The Pharisees memorized a lot of Scripture too . . . yet somehow most of them missed their eternal reward. Christ is pretty clear about that.

BE said...

Just thinking out loud a little here: If we are only to use eternal rewards as motivation for children, should we also only use eternal punishment as motivation? IOW, if it is wrong to use temporal rewards to show that certain behavior is good and pleasing to God, is it also wrong to use temporal punishment to show that certain behavior is wrong and displeasing to God? Therefore, it would be just as wrong to spank, ground, give time-outs, etc., as it would be to give prizes...

BE

James Kime said...

The problem isn't about the praise. The problem is in not teaching children to do things for God's glory rather than the praise of man. The failure is in the teaching, not in the praising/not praising. I want my children to value the eternal.

Joshua, I am pretty sure Pharisees didn't go to hell because they memorized verses. I am pretty sure it is because of what they didn't believe. You are straining hard at this.

John said...

BE,

I'm not saying that the use of temporal rewards is wrong in all circumstances, especially in the home. But I think there may be a significant weakness in your analogy. The Bible commands parents to use temporal punishment for the spiritual good of their children. I don't see where it ever commands or even encourages churches to use temporal rewards to promote spiritual exercises such as Bible memory or attendance. If I'm wrong about this, I'd be glad to have you point it out.

PH said...

Could someone define what you all mean by "legalist" here.

Also, should a parent "force" their children to attend church if the child does not want to and doesn't have a heart to go? Forcing a child to attend church could certainly lead to similar results as rewards couldn't it?

PH said...

Or what about if the church removes all rewards, should parents make their children learn the verses? Should they discipline them if the do not learn the verses?
Just thinking...

Ben said...

PH, I can't really speak for Bauder. Do you have a particular point of clarity you're seeking?

Taking kids to church is a qualitatively different question from the one we're addressing here. I'm not sure how requiring a child to go to church cultivates legalism in the way reward and recognition does. Surely it has something to do with how parents teach them about church.

I think your question about whether parents require kids to learn verses is also different from Bauder's point, and I'm sure it's one that parents have freedom to consider.

BE said...

John,

Granted, the specifics I gave of temporal punishments would most likely occur in the home (so you're saying it would be fine for parents to give prizes to their children, not just churches?), so let's just limit it to the church. Would it be wrong for the church to use temporal punishments if it's wrong for them to use temporal rewards (i.e., a church worker could not discipline in any temporal way to curb wrong behavior)?

I can't think of a verse that encourages churches to offer rewards for attendance and Scripture memorization, but then again I can't really think of any verses that deal with things like Sunday School or children's programs in general.

However, the Scripture does seem to offer temporal promises to children for obedience to parents (Eph 6:1-3)

BE

Ben said...

I'm going to ease out of this conversations, but let me just say that if you think it's a really idea to motivate kids to do things in church with "stores" and trophies and trinkets and applause, at least consider listening to the series from Bauder that I linked before walking away assuming that he and I and others are nut jobs. We may be, but at least invest some time into a matter of as much gravity as your children's affections—and your own.

And B.E., I want to point out that the nature of the earth/land in Eph 6 is under some dispute. I wouldn't want anyone to assume that that passage is a slam-dunk reference to long life in this world. Some are persuaded by the arguments that the promise ultimately finds fulfillment in the NH/NE.

John said...

BE,

With reference to the home: I don't think parents should use "prizes" to motivate Scripture memory, prayer, etc. either. I don't think the use of temporal rewards necessarily follows as a converse implication of the God-given responsibility to discipline.

With regard to Eph 6: I'm not sure that Paul quotation of Exod 20 here lends much support to a church using temporal rewards to motivate spiritual exercises. Thanks for pointing that passage out. I'll have to think about that some more.

With reference to the church: At what age does the church's use of temporal rewards stop? Do we give gift certificates to the teen who brings the most visitors? Do we give plaques to adults who memorize a book of the Bible? If not, why not?

I willingly grant that it may be necessary to use some form of temporal punishment (time outs or withholding of privileges) in a children's SS class. And I'm not completely ruling out the possible use of temporal rewards in such a context (hence my use of the word "especially" in the previous post). But I agree with the thrust of Bauder's statement. A system that gives temporal prizes to children as a reward for Bible memory and church attendance will get kids to memorize lots of Scripture, but such a system will also have unintended consequences in what it teaches children about the motivation behind spiritual exercises.

By the way, churches could probably get adults to memorize enormous amounts of Scripture if they promised a new car to anyone who memorized Acts and Romans. But what would the unintended consequences of such a program be? Is it much different with children?

BE said...

I didn't realize it was a choice between no temporal rewards and "motivating kids to do things in church with 'stores' and trophies and trinkets and applause." Given that choice, I think I'd lean toward no temporal rewards. But I don't think those are the only two options. I agree we need to be careful how we motivate with the approval of men (in fact, I said that earlier). But I tend to think the argument for "no rewards" is overcompensating for a problem and can lead us to being "more spiritual" than God (since He motivates us with reward).

And I don't think He only uses eternal rewards (or eternal punishment) as motivation. I recognize Eph 6 may refer to the NH/NE, but it doesn't seem to me to be the best interpretation (and I think it's even less likely in its original context of Exodus 20).

Also, Proverbs many times points to temporal consequences for either living wisely or living foolishly (similar to many things in the OT: obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings a curse). So, I have a hard time buying into the "no rewards" mentality. But I also don't think that means it's the wisest thing to simply motivate by prizes.

Regarding how old children should be when using rewards stops, I would think you would have to use some wisdom in working that out for individual churches. Obviously, the nature of punishment/reward is different for adults (I doubt you'd advocate doing time-outs for adults, but when does that stop?) That's why we're called to use discernment.

I'll probably finish with this comment: My purpose was not to argue for a game-show atmosphere for children's ministry, or to advocate for weekly award ceremonies. I just wanted to remind us that rewards are not unbiblical motivations--they may (should?) be employed with wisdom within an overall biblical framework.

BE

d4v34x said...

I hope my long life upon the earth isn't limited to NH/NE. I'd like at least to have TN thrown in, and maybe even AZ.

James Kime said...

Dave, you know nothing of a good state until you visit Florida.

PHughes said...

I know this comment thread has been quiet for a few days, but I've been thinking about the meaning of the word legalist. I wrote a piece about it and would love to get some feedback from you all. If you are interested, it is here: http://withinayardofhell.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/what-is-a-legalist/