Biblical Child Rearing in an Age of Therapeutic Goo (1)

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Over the years I have preached on marriage, and family, and child-rearing any number of times. Seeing as I am about to do it again, I need to begin by noting the way this series will overlap with the others, but also to point out a significant way that it will differ. Some of the basic principles remain constant, of course, and to refresh your thinking concerning those principles, there are a number of our books available, and recordings of previous series. That is part of the background. There are certain foundational principles we will touch on and refer to here, but if you really want to get the basics into your bones, then make sure to do the reading.  

But this series of messages is going to be dwelling on biblical child rearing as a profoundly countercultural thing. How does biblical child rearing relate to a world filled with unbelief? How does it connect to the madness we see in our surrounding culture? What does it mean to bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in a generation that is profoundly hostile to any such endeavor? Remember that this worldly hostility is expressed in countless ways—from overt persecution to surreptitious lying, and from surreptitious lying to online seduction and subversion. And fundamentally, how we keep some of their toxic assumptions from creeping into our thinking?  

The Text

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; But the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).

“Withhold not correction from the child: For if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Proverbs 23:13–14).

Summary of the Text

We have two texts before us, and we see immediately that the biblical view of the world is not going to be all that attractive to buttercups. The first says that folly is intrinsic to the heart of a child, but there is hope. The situation is not irremediable (Prov. 22:15). The folly that is closely bound up there in the heart of the child can be driven far away from him by means of the rod. This is a rod of correction, meaning that there are things there in the child’s heart that must be put right. And of course, this does not mean that “beating your kid” is equivalent to gospel. We are not talking about isolated savagery. The rod must be applied in context, within the framework of everything Scripture teaches us. That means it must occur in a gospel framework—but the world’s assumption is that if it occurs at all, then it is nothing but abuse. And then they add, “abuse is not gospel.”

But on to the second text. Because this is the case, because folly is inborn, a father should make sure not to withhold correction from his child (Prov. 23:15). The word there refers to a lad, or boy. If the father uses the rod judiciously, his son will not die, sound effects notwithstanding. If the son is beaten with the rod, he will thereby be delivered from Sheol (Prov. 23:14). This short-term pain is a long-term kindness.

“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6). The word translated scourge there is mastigo’o . . . flog. Whom the Lord loves, He flogs. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24). What this means is that you are bringing up your children in a generation that will not agree with us on the meaning of love and hate. This is not an occasion to split the difference.

Root Assumptions

Our first glance at these passages is informative, as far as it goes. We can see that the Scriptures are fully supportive of corporal punishment in child rearing. Those who object to every form of spanking “as abusive by definition” are plainly at variance with the Word of God. So we will see later that “gentle parenting” is anything but. But my interest here is not to parse the passages with a pro-spanking/anti-spanking debate in mind. What we need to look at first is the apparent callused toughness behind what the passages are saying. There is a different world there, and that is what we must get back to first.

Children do not begin at a neutral place, and they do not start out their days from some innocent space. As my father used to say, with great affection, babies are “little bundles of sin.” All that is necessary for the sinning to start is the requisite muscle strength and intelligence. Once they have that, their career in active sinning starts. The apostle Paul tells us that all of us are “by nature” objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3). We are, all of us, sinners by nature.

Is a child in the cradle a walker? Yes, in that he belongs to a race of walkers, but no, in that he has not yet taken his first step. Is the child in the bucket a talker? Yes, in that he is a talker by nature, but no, in that he has not yet spoken his first word. In an analogous way, we are all participants in Adam’s rebellion from the very first moment of our conception. By nature, we are sinners—bad to the bone. And the fact that the parents have not yet seen their sweet baby smoking cigarettes or pounding shots in the crib does not signify anything.

So biblical child rearing begins with answering one question accurately. That question is what is man? The answer is that we were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), male and female, and that subsequent to that creation we were estranged from our Creator through the rebellion of our first parents (Gen. 3:6). As a result, we are all of us entailed in Adam’s sin. The task of child rearing is therefore the same as the task of presenting the gospel to an unbeliever. What is that task? It is that of finding our way back. It is turning the world right side up again. We are not okay “the way we are.” The starting point for all of this is “under judgment.”

Now someone is going to say that our children are baptized, are they not? They are being treated as members of the new covenant community, are they not? Yes, of course. They are saints, are they not (1 Cor. 7:14)? So we do not treat our covenant children as short heathen. We do not buy the “vipers in diapers” approach.

However . . .

What do we ask parents when we baptize an infant? What is that first question? “Do you acknowledge your children’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?” There is never a time when any Christian can rest in himself, and stop looking to Christ. The promise to bring children up in the covenant surely includes the need to instruct children in the terms of the covenant. Remember that Romans 1 teaches us that pagans outside the covenant were big fat sinners, Romans 2 teaches us that the Jews inside the covenant were big fat sinners, and Romans 3 teaches us that they were both the same kind of big fat sinners. Your children must therefore be taught the central covenantal duty of looking to Christ.

So this whole thing is a matter of covenant relationship, personal relationship, and not a matter of tricks or techniques. This means always looking to Christ, and never trusting in any externals.   

No Need for Sin Lessons

So what does all of this mean? Even assuming genuine love for Christ, when the world and the devil come after your kid, they will find that your child’s flesh still wants to serve as a welcoming committee. We are accustomed to speak of childhood innocence, but we must be careful to define our terms. A child is innocent, in the sense that he is immature and inexperienced in sin, as well as in everything else. But this is merely a relative innocence, not the innocence of an unfallen angel. It is not necessary for you to bring in any tutors to make sure your kids learn how to sin. They have all of that down already. You must have piano lessons, or driving lessons, or cooking lessons, yes. But sin lessons are never needed. There are degrees of corruption that might admit of instruction, the way Jezebel teaches the deep things of Satan (Rev. 2:20, 24), but the baseline for all of it is a hardwired given.

Hard Truth, Soft Hearts

So it all comes down to our fundamental assumptions about human nature. Do you believe in innate human goodness? Then in that case, you are a Pelagian, and this is going to skew everything about your child rearing. Such soft, flattering words will result in hard hearts. The sinful heart needs a jack hammer, not a feather duster. One of the results of such a soft and erroneous assumption is that your home will become a place without gospel, without forgiveness, without grace. It will be a savage and cruel place, as well as a place that radically mischaracterizes itself. It will display a goopy and sentimental front, calling it gentle, while at the same time destroying the lives of the children. It will be savage, and the people caught up in it will be bewildered that we think them savage. The approach outlined here looks very hard to them, but it is a sheep in a wolf’s clothing.

But do you believe in human depravity? Then you are living in a world where the good news of the gospel will make some sort of sense. Your home is a collection of sinners, saved by real grace. You all look to Christ because doing so is absolutely necessary.

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1 month ago

thank you Pastor Wilson!

marqus mushtaq
1 month ago

This blog post provides a thought-provoking exploration of biblical child-rearing in a culture that often opposes traditional Christian values. The author delves into the challenging task of raising children according to scriptural principles, acknowledging the inherent sinfulness of humanity and the need for discipline within the context of grace. I appreciate how the post delves beyond surface-level assumptions about childhood innocence, instead emphasizing the reality of human depravity and the importance of addressing it from a young age. By grounding child-rearing practices in a biblical understanding of sin and redemption, the author offers a refreshing perspective that counters prevailing cultural… Read more »

1 month ago

This blog post dives deep into the countercultural nature of biblical child-rearing, challenging conventional assumptions with a firm reliance on scripture. The author’s unapologetic stance on the necessity of correction and discipline may stir debate, yet it’s refreshing to encounter such candid discourse in an era where parenting philosophies often lean towards permissiveness. The post adeptly emphasizes the foundational belief in human depravity, a doctrine often overlooked in contemporary parenting discussions. By anchoring child-rearing in the reality of sin and the need for redemption, the author presents a compelling argument for a gospel-centered approach to parenting. Furthermore, the analogy drawn… Read more »