Man-Centered Methods in Parenting

As discussed in the previous article Beyond Behavior: Dealing with the Heart, parenting is no easy task because we are not just dealing with our children that sin.  We are also dealing with our own sinful hearts.  In order to discipline our children biblically, we must be aware of the ways in which our sinful pride manifests itself in our parenting.  At the end of the day, our sin is pride and can be rightly described as very much man-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Here are what seem to be the primary manifestations of prideful discipline in parenting.

1.  Anger: Unrighteous anger is probably the greatest obstacle to godly parenting.  I would also include the use of threats in this category because of their close relationship.  In just one outburst of sinful anger, we can destroy days or weeks of godly parenting.  Anger is a man-centered method of parenting because it puts the focus on fear of the parent rather than fear of God.  Using anger as a parenting method usually only leads to bitterness in the hearts of both child and parent.  Sinful anger is very critical, demanding, harsh, and the child will struggle to see any real love in dad or mom.  There is such a thing as righteous anger, but parents must be prudent.

2.  Humiliation: Humiliation in parenting is when the parent plays on the child’s emotions in order to induce “feelings” of repentance in the child.  The problem with the use of humiliation is that it produces only a worldly sorrow rather than a godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).  Further, it only serves to debase the child and produce bitterness in them.  Remembering the Golden Rule is crucial for avoiding the humiliation of our children in the process of disciplining (Matt. 7:12).

2 Corinthians 7:10—For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,  whereas worldly grief produces death.

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

3.  Delayed Obedience:  Another common mistake that Christian parents make is in substituting the requirement of biblical obedience for a lesser form of obedience that is delayed.  We would never want our children to be delayed in their obedience about crossing a street, touching a hot stove, or snorting cocaine because the damage will already have been done.  The same is true with all issues of obedience.  While grace should abound toward the child, parents must insist that their children do what they say, when they say it, with an attitude of respect.  Delayed obedience is really just a more subtle form of making threats.

4.  Bribery:  The use of bribery in parenting is the attempt of the parent to change a child’s behavior through the use of enticement.  The problem with this man-centered method is that the parent is appealing to the child’s sin-nature.  In effect, the child’s selfishness is being fertilized.  They are being taught to obey for the sake of getting something they want and not simply for the joy of knowing that they have done what is right.  Here we must make a difference between bribery and reward.  Bribery is always negative because of its aim to entice.  Rewards, however, can be a good way of showing grace and appreciation to a child.  Normally, rewards should not be pre-announced to the child but should be a kind of surprising-grace.

Undoubtedly, there are other man-centered methods of discipline in parenting, but these should help Christians recognize the more prominent ones.  By God’s grace, may we discipline our children in a Christ-like way.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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Communication and Correction

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph.6:4).  Ephesians 6:4 sums up so much of what parenting is all about, including communication and correction.  When it comes to correcting our children, it seems that too many of us are correction-heavy and communication-light.

Now, when I say that we are communication-light, I do not mean to say that we communicate too little.  But I mean to say that we communicate inappropriately.  The reality is this: we as parents are always communicating with our children.  The question is not whether we’re communicating but what we are communicating.

Therefore, both good communication and biblical correction are crucial aspects of discipline that have three primary stages of discipline.  It is important to note that these three stages can overlap at different times and in different ways depending on the individual family dynamics.  Today we will look at the first stage.

Discipline Stage of Child Rearing
The discipline stage is what some have termed the give me your attention  stage.  It is most crucial in the first 5-8 years of childhood.  Having corrupt hearts, we are born as me-centered sinners. The discipline stage is when parents should use communication and correction to say “give me your attention,” and it should begin very early.  Take, for example, the changing-table situation in which an infant is demonstrating anger.  While it is not appropriate that you spank an infant, simply placing a gentle but firm hand on their chest or legs accompanied by a firm but gentle voice can do wonders.  Regular spankings of a child may be used as soon as the child is able to understand  a simple command and demonstrate defiance to that command.

Defining Discipline
1) Positive in nature :  Defining discipline can be difficult because many consider it to be negative and confuse discipline with punishment or retribution.  Biblical discipline, however, is always positive even when a spanking is involved.  God’s word tells us this plainly:

Proverbs 3:12-13—“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reprove, 12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

Proverbs 23:13-14—“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.  14 If you strike him with a rod, you will save his soul form Sheol.”

Hebrew 12:7-11—“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

2) Love-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of love rather than sinful anger.  If we are angry about our children’s disobedience, then we are likely disciplining out of retribution rather than reconciliation.  The goal of discipline is to reconcile children to God and to others.  Therefore, we should be grieved by our child’s disobedience rather than angered.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6—“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;”

1 Corinthians 5:1-2—“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.  2 And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3) Heart-oriented:  Discipline must be administered out of a concern for our child’s heart and not simply his behavior.  We must focus our attention on “Why?” a child did what he did and not simply on “What?” he did.  Dealing only with behavior can quickly turn children into hypocrites, who either become manipulators or fearful of punishment rather than God.

Matthew 15:19—“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

4) Instruction-oriented:  Discipline must be saturated with instruction in righteousness and the gospel of Christ.  This is where communication plays a crucial role.

Ephesians 6:4—“Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Kinds of Discipline
1) Formative instruction (offense): This kind of discipline is primarily preventative in nature and can  be both formal (Scripture, catechisms, prayers, Christian literature) and informal (using teachable moments throughout the day).  This is the foundation of everything that a Christian parent  does.  Just as in sports, we want to spend more time on offense than  defense in our parenting.   For example, the best way to deal with a child who runs away from you when you call them at the grocery store is by practicing this at home through formative discipline.

Proverbs 1:8-9—“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,    9 for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.”

Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart      from it.”

2) Corrective discipline (defense): This kind of discipline is primarily reactive in nature and should be used frequently in the discipline stage when formative instruction has been ignored.  Sometimes only a verbal reproof is needed, such as when: the child has not been informed of the parent’s standard; or the child is not characterized by the sin in which he is caught.  In many cases, however, a spanking should be given.  Formative instruction should always precede and follow a spanking, though it should be brief because neither the child nor the parent is in their best form.

Proverb 22:15—“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Pr. 22:15).

Proverbs 29:15—“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”

Steps in Corrective Discipline

1) Examine your motives:  Ask yourself a series of questions such as the following.

–Am I doing this because my will has been violated or God’s will has been violated?

–Am I doing this because my child has sinned against God or because his behavior has caused me some personal discomfort, embarrassment, or trouble?

 –Am I doing this out of love and kindness?  (beware of unkind comments like, “I can’t believe you are so inconsiderate,” and replace them with more positive comments like, “Do you think it is kind or rude for you to . . . ?)

 2) Choose the right time and place:  Whatever you do, don’t embarrass your child because this shifts the focus to humiliation rather than repentance.  While discipline should be swift, it should also be prudent.  Therefore, do not spank your child in public or even in front of his siblings.

3) Choose the right words, not substitutes:  In describing your child’s disobedience, avoid words such as mean, stupid, or telling a story and replace them with the biblical words unkind, unwise, and lying.

4) Choose the right tone of voice:  Do not scold your child and demean him, but be self-controlled and respectful toward him.  Remember the Golden Rule:

Matthew 7:12—“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

5) Bring Scripture to bear:  Give them God’s standard and show them how they have fallen short of that standard.  Show them that only Jesus can meet this standard and that we must turn from our sin and trust in Him as our only help for obeying God.

6) Administer the spanking:  Give 1-5 swats on the bottom or upper thigh (the number will depend on their age and the nature of the disobedience, and make sure you tell your child how many swats they will be receiving). The spanking should be significant enough to inflict pain but should be controlled (as should dad or mom’s temper).  After the spanking, comfort your child and tell them that you forgive them and that forgiveness from God is possible through faith in Jesus. Tell them that Jesus died for this kind of disobedience.  Whenever possible, pray with your child after the spanking is complete.

7) Be prepared to suggest a biblical solution:  Help the child work through what a biblical response would have been and have the child follow through with it.  If they have sinned against someone, have them go to that person, apologize to them, and make restitution.

Obviously, there are many variables when it comes to corrective discipline, but prayerfully what we I have written here will be of help to parents as they strive to raise their children to know Jesus.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

Gospel-Powered Parenting

If you’re like me, then you find it difficult to find gospel-centered parenting books out there.  While there are morality-centered and behavior-oriented books aplenty, the scarcity of God-centered and gospel-centered parenting books can be quite frustrating when you set yourself to looking for them.  God recently graced me with one of those rare treasures of a gospel-centered book on raising children to know Christ, and I rank this one right up there with two of my other favorite parenting books: Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Ted Tripp; and Don’t Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Plowman.  This newly found treasure is Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.

Gospel-Powered Parenting is written by William P. Farley, pastor of Grace Chrisitan Fellowship in Spokane, WA, and is published by P & R.  Throughout the book, Farley holds high the power of the gospel as the only hope of our children’s future.  Thus, he remains true to the title of the book.  In the following, I will note the chapter titles and briefly summarize each chapter with a few points and/or quotes from William Farley.

Chapter 1: Intellectual Submarines, contains five assumptions that Farley believes a parent needs in order to grasp the power of the gospel in our parenting:
1)  Parenting is not easy: “Because parenting is difficult, and because you are imperfect, you will need the grace that comes to you through the gospel.  God will use problems to deepen your dependence on him” (p.20).
2)  God is sovereign, but he uses means: God is the beginning, middle, and end of salvation.  In His infinite wisdom, however, He has elected to use parents as one of His means to work in the hearts of children for His glorious purposes.  Farley notes, “God is sovereign, but parents are responsible” (p.22).
3) A Good Offense:  “Effective parents assume that a good offense is better than defense” (p.22).  Parents are too often guility of defending/protecting their children against the wiles of the world (which is obviously necessary to a great degree), but these parents tend to forget about using godly offense.  Just as a football team with either a weak offense or no offense at all will more likely lose the game, so will the parenting that is weak on offense more likely lose the soul of the child.  Now this is not to presume either way upon the sovereigny of God in salvation, but it is a reminder that God has ordained means by which He brings a person to salvation, including a good offense.
4)  Understand New Birth:  Farley says bluntly, “Statistically, most Christian parents assume their child’s new birth.  This could be your biggest parenting mistake” (p.26).  The point here is that parents should never assume that just because their child “made a profession of faith” at a certain point in time or that their child attends Sunday School, church, or a Christian school, that their child is “okay” and has no more need for instruction in the gospel.  To the contrary, parents should be fruit inspectors on behalf of their children.  Farley says, “The bottom line is this: New birth is known by its fruits, not by a decision.  The most important fruit is hunger for God himself.  Effective parents assume this, and patiently wait for sustained fruit before they render a verdict” (p.30).
5)  Child-Centered Families:  “Effective parents are not child centered.  They are God centered” (p.31).  In too many Christian homes, the children and their desires are the driving force of the family.  Many examples of “child-run homes” exist, but here are a few decisions that many parents have relinquished to their children: sleep schedule, eating schedule, TV/Video Games schedule, extra-curricular schedule (sports and fine arts activities: how many and how often), and many more.  Farley concludes, “It is positively hurtful to build your lives around your children instead of God.  It damages children, it tears down our marriages, and most importantly, it displeases God” (p.36).

Chapter 2: Gospel-Powered Parenting, emphasizes the fact that the main goal of Christian parents is to prepare their children for eternity.  So the goal of preparing them “for life” alone is insufficient.  Rather, parents should have the goal of preparing their children “for eternal life,” or else their children will face judgment for their sin against a holy God.  The only hope of our children is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, our children don’t need simple morality, which can be just as damning as outright debauchry.  Our children need the new life that only the gospel can bring.

Chapter 3: Gospel Fear, reminds parents that a genuine fear of God is imperative even now that God’s people have entered the New Covenant through the blood of Christ.  In fact, the cross of Christ is meant in part to floor us at the foot of the cross, realizing that this is what God thinks about sin.  God’s wrath will be poured out on the sinner either at the cross or in an eternity of hell.  So the cross brings us to fear God “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt.10:28).

Chapter 4: A Holy Father, builds on chapter 3 and the fear of God.  The cross brings Christian parents to fear God because they see God’s holy justice there where God poured out His holy wrath upon His own Son.  Not only does the cross bring Christian parents to fear God, but Farley gives four other motivations:  the cross motivates them to pursue personal holiness, give them an eternal perspective in all of life, makes them decisive in their approach, and reminds both parents and children of their neediness.

Chapter 5: A Gracious Father, demonstrates the great need of parents for the grace of God in the impossible task of Christian parenting.  Commenting on God’s grace, Farley states, “It reminds us every day that we cannot be perfect.  We can’t discipline consistently.  We can’t teach sufficiently.  We don’t love adequately.  But it also emboldens us.  It reminds us that God’s grace is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10)” (p.101).

Chapter 6: The First Principle of Parenting, presents an idea that may surprise many Christians. The first principle of godly parenting is not discipline or love of children.  No, the first principle of parenting is acutally Ephesians 5:27-33, where God instructs wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord and for husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for here.  In short summary, “This chapter has said that our example matters, that our marriages preach the gospel” (p.122).

Chapter 7: Gospel Fathers, is another somewhat shocking chapter, but one that rings with so much biblical truth.  It probably is the most counter-cultural chapter in all of the book, and this is obvious from the first sentence that claims, “Christianity is a patriarchial religion.  That means that it is father centered” (p.125).  Farley goes back to Eden and reminds us that God created the husband as head and the wife as his assistant.  Interestingly, he argues, “The Bible addresses all its verses on parenting to fathers.  That is because God has given each father inordinate power over his children’s hearts, and ultimately their spiritual destiny.  The general principle holds: As the father goes, so goes the family, and so goes the parenting” (pp.141-142).  Farley fills the chapter with plenty of statistics to support this biblical aspect of parenting.

Chapter 8: Foundations of Discipline, discusses the biblical fact that “Clarity about sin and authority are the foundations of parental discipline.”  Both parents and their children have the same problem, namely sin.  Sin is more than outward behavior but lies in the very nature of man, and our children are not exempt.  Therefore, parents must deal with heart issues and not simply sinful behavior alone.

Chapter 9: Discipline that Preaches, connects chapter 8 with chapter 3.  Christian parents discipline their children out of fear of God because they know that the hearts of their children are corrupt and in need of redemption that comes only through the gospel.

Chapter 10: Food for the Hungry, emphasizes the need for feeding our children the Bread of Life (God’s word, particularly the gospel) on a regular schedule.  Parents must guard against the busyness of life that will absorb valuable time that is required for instructing our children in God’s word.

Chapter 11: Gospel Love, can be summed up with Farley’s words, “Before we can love our children, we must love God more.  That is because love for God defines how we love our children” (p.214).

Chapter 12: Amazing Grace, reminds parents once again that God’s grace must be held at the forefront of our parenting because it is not a matter of “if” we will fail but “when” and “how often” we will fail.  Farley comments, “Parents who repeatedly find forgiveness in the gospel can extend that forgiveness to their children.  Your children need to watch you continually shedding your guilt and fear at the foot of the cross” (p.219).

May the Lord grant in His grace that Christian parents raise up children who are passionate for God’s glory, and may this book remind them of the only hope of that happening–THE GOSPEL!

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta