Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Should we insist that our unregenerate children pray, ask forgiveness, or attend church?

Scott Anderson of Desiring God Ministries interviews Elyse Fitzpatrick on her new book, Give Them Grace, and asks her those kinds of questions. You might be surprised, or even appalled, at her answers. Whether or not you agree with her conclusions, I think you'll see that they emerge from a biblical understanding of human depravity and the Spirit's work in accomplishing regeneration. I hope you'll find it thought-provoking and maybe let it simmer for a bit.

The bottom line: Fitzpatrick is convinced that we focus far too much on behavior and teach far too little on the gospel as we go about our parenting labors. Her point isn't that we shouldn't train behavior, but that we must lead our kids to understand that, apart from God's work in them, they really can't change in any meaningful way. And even if they could, it wouldn't get them anywhere with God.

Speaking from some experience as one of the formerly people-pleasing and falsely-professing-Christ kids Fitzpatrick describes (the "older brothers" and outwardly religious Pharisees), I think she's on to something. Video is embedded below, but this DG post has some helpful time-stamps.


brian said...

This is something our family has wrestled with for some time now, and I'm not convinced we're even sure of what we're doing after nearly 10 years.

Recently we told our children that we always expect them to go to church, but we would not make them sing, give, or pray while there. We then made an empassioned encouragement why they should want to do those very things based on gospel truths. While at church, they must be quiet and respectful, but we cannot make them be worshipful.

In essence, I agree with what EF says in her interview; however, I wrestle with this: every act of obedience should be an act of faith and worship. Here's my question: how is sharing with your sister different from giving thanks for a meal? According to this video, I get the sense she would expect a child to share, but not give thanks. While I agree, I think we have to be careful of unnaturally categorizing "spiritual" acts of obedience (praying, giving, singing) from supposedly "non-spiritual" (sharing, cleaning a room). Each one can be done in faith and worship, from the heart, or in a hypocritical fashion.

I suppose the difference is this: some obedience is necessary for the wellbeing of the child, the family, and broader society (sitting quietly in church), and must be required. But other obedience is uniquely personal and spiritual (I hesitate to use this term too much), such as confession, thanksgiving, or giving. In those instances we have more time and freedom to encourage heartfelt actions.

So, I think sometimes you could and maybe should make your child confess or give thanks or change their attitude. Other times, likely in more private situations, you can help them fight for faith. Sometimes when we are in positions where we have to enforce instant obedience, we still try to encourage our children this way: "you must obey immediately, whether you feel like it or not; however, part of true obedience to God includes wanting to obey, so we need to ask God not only to help you obey, and to help you want to obey."

Curious to hear others' thoughts.

Don Johnson said...

"fight for faith"?

How do you fight for a gift? If it is a gift.

I find this a little bizarre. A new kind of legalism.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

brian said...

Perhaps my wording was unhelpful. I'm primarily thinking of pursuing, seeking, or desiring faith. And yes, I think faith is a gift, just like love, hope, and other spiritual gifts which we are commanded to pursue and desire (1 Cor 14:1).

When I say "fight for faith," I envision the prayer: "Lord I believe, help my unbelief." It's a prayer of dependence for God's gift of faith, but it is an earnest act, which itself is an expression of faith. That kind of fighting requires the very faith it seeks. I don't see how we would call that legalism.

Ben said...

Brian, I think your 4th paragraph is pretty important. Society needs laws. Most atheists would agree. But maybe we can't and shouldn't compel acts of worship. Maybe we also shouldn't make kids lie, like forcing them to say they're sorry when they aren't, or sing "Oh how I love Jesus" when they don't. But I'm not sure how you can force them to change their attitudes. You may be able to force them to hide an attitude.

Timothy said...

I think this topic/question maybe the most practical and important expression of our understanding of justification and sanctification. Can and should we "Christianize" our children by commanding worship and acts of Christianity? I think Brian's comments reflect Elise's attempts to practice a more biblical view of what true righteousness is, while maintaining "law and order" for the good of society.
Imagine how fleshing out this question corporately might change how we approach baptism, Children's ministries, besides the huge parenting implications.