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Friday, April 08, 2005

Stench of Legalism

Visit me at my new website - anniecrawford.com
I have been wrestling with discipline for a long time now, endeavoring to sort out the many voices swirling in my head. Many of these speak boldly as with the authority of scripture. They haunt me and press me with guilt when my spirit resists their clear directives. I have sincere and serious questions I want to consider here and I hope that you will take the time to comment.

Growing Kids God's Way (GKGW) and Shepherding a Child's Heart (SCH) both present very clear cut guidelines for discipline. Upon reading these books, their logic made sense to me. However upon applying it, I have a feeling of near horror, like that when you stand at the open door of an airplane and realize you paid $100 to jump and now you have to do it even though it now feels close to torture. This parenting program I signed up for isn't so easy or cut and dry as the books make is out to be. Of course, books that didn't provide all the solutions wouldn't sell very well. (If any of what I say rouses your ire, tell me in the comments! That is what makes for a good blog!)

For brevity's sake, I am going to focus on SCH in this discussion. On pg 149 Tripp, in a chapter concerning 1-4 year olds, states "The 'when' of spanking is so simple that parents miss it. If your child has not obeyed, he needs to be spanked. If he has failed to respond to your direction, he has moved out of the circle of safety. . . If you accept challenge, delay or excuses, you are not training in submission. You are, rather, training your children how to manipulate authorities and live on the ragged edge of disobedience." Does this sound a little extreme to any of you when thinking of your 18 mo. old? Now I am NOT AGAINST SPANKING! Don't misunderstand me. I think the rod is very important. But I have come to believe, through my experience, the Word of God and the counsel of wise men, that this description of the rod given in SCH is not right. It is legalistic and harsh.

A pastor at a church we attended for a while told me that they had pulled GKGW from their curriculum. When I asked him why, he answered that it was legalistic and that he thought the Ezzo's had probably had fairly compliant children. In his experience it was too simplistic and legalistic to work well with strong-willed or difficult children. At the time I though surely he was compromising truth because the book made logical sense to me, but now I agree.

This is the first thought that began to change my understanding. Can someone show me in the Bible where God spanks us (a severe discipline) for every clear infraction of disobedience against a well understood rule? I would be spanked 10 times per second!

The second thought that halted me in my tracks is that I do not believe that a Muslim or Jew would disagree with this philosophy of discipline. There is nothing uniquely Christian about moral law and discipline for violating it. The moral law is written upon the hearts of all men, and every man who thinks twice understands the need for enforcing the law in a consistent manner. That is why the Gospel is so offensive to the religious establishment, it teaches radical grace!

It is not that I have a problem with authority. I fully understand the absolute authority of God and our obligation to be completely submissive to it. But that is law. Law causes us to despair because anyone with their eyes open and half an honest heart will realize he has no hope on earth of ever fulfilling the law. Every moment we stand again condemned for failing to uphold God's perfect law. (read Romans 5-7). So although I strive to submit to authority, I always fail. This despair presses me to the cross and faith in Christ who fulfilled the requirement of righteousness for me and I live through faith by the grace of God towards me every minute. I am free.

There is not only a need for our children to understand authority, but for them to understand the extreme, radical grace of God. Yes, authority and law are first. You cannot understand grace without these, but I believe children catch on to law and authority faster than we thing. And if we represent a graceless authority (which I believe the SCH model does in the above prescription for spanking a 2 year old!) our children will be frustrated, embittered and often more defiant. Although parents represent God's authority, we do it very imperfectly. So why should your child be expected to perfectly submit to your imperfect authority? That is unjust and a smart child will sense that and rebel all the more.

The gospels clearly demonstrate that grace is far more difficult to understand than law, especially for those who are religious.

Another side issue raised in SCH that concerns me is the flat rejection of "behavior modification". I believe Tripp presents a strawman of this philosophy. Although he has some points, I do not think that behavior modification is to be totally thrown out. Tripp speaks of it teaching children to do things for improper motives, for selfish reasons and not to please God. Anyone having a lot of luck with extracting pure motives from your 2 year old?

To some degree, I believe it is great to focus on behavior. Your child needs appropriate behavior and some level of "rewarding good behavior in some tangible way; ignoring or perhaps punishing bad behavior" is fine (SCH). Your 2 -4 year old will just barely be able to act out of more pure motivations. It is a training process, beginning with behavior and then moving to heart matters as your child matures. No, you don't want to do anything that promotes crass bribery, yet God does reward us. He does promise us amazing eternal rewards to motivate us. Tangible ones! Who said eternal life won't be tangible! I count on being physically alive! Children need to find God in the physical world too. We are not Gnostics.

I have learned a great deal from John Piper concerning this matter. There is a school of Christian thought that rejects any kind of "selfishness" at all. However, Piper makes an amazing case for the definition of evil to be seeking self-fulfillment in anything other than God and righteousness as seeking self-fulfillment in God. We do seek God for selfish reasons and that is good! It honors God when we find joy in Him. He is glorified when we are satisfied with Him.

Tripp clearly states that he believes there are only two method's of punishment: the rod and communication. Has anyone besides me experienced God using other forms with them? Please refer to Pam Farrel's list on the previous post to see an example of other possible methods and what I believe is a wise and Biblical approach to discipline.

Please consider the following verses and make comment. It is seeing what we deserve and receiving less than what we deserve that softens our hearts before the Lord (that and a miraculous act of the Holy Spirit!) I have barely touched on the issue hear and I am sure that I am shortsighted in some respect.

Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

Jonah 4:2 He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

Ezra 9:13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this,

posted by texashimalaya @ 4/08/2005 08:22:00 AM  


  • At 4/26/2005 6:34 PM, Blogger Anne said…

    WOW!!!!!! I found this as a link from tulipgirls blog- and am so glad! The first part is exactly what happened in parenting our daughter. (about it sounding logical, but somehow translating into practice in a destructive way).

    I've had so many of these thoughts- thanks for so eloquently putting them down. I think I may have to blog about this and put up a link (if you don't mind)!:)

  • At 4/26/2005 11:38 PM, Blogger Hannah Im said…

    I also found you through Tulip Girl. Fantastic post! First, I have been very disturbed by what I read from the Ezzos. They play on people's fears. I agree that punishment for violating a rule is hardly a uniquely Christian idea. In Korea, where I live, corporal punishment for disobedience has been the norm--but not in early childhood, probably after age five. Last night, on a Korea drama, I saw a mother-in-law slapping her adult daughter-in-law as punishment, and a father beating his college age son with a stick as a punishment. It's a big part of Buddhist/Confusian culture.

    Second, I wrote a post on Piper's ideas this week. He helped me understand the Bible much better and realize that our pleasure and God's glory are not mutually exclusive at all.

    By the way, can you turn on your RSS feed so that I can subscribe to you in Bloglines ? All you have to do is go to you settings and turn it on. Let me know if you don't know what I'm talking about and I can help you.

  • At 4/28/2005 11:50 AM, Blogger Annie Crawford said…

    Thank you for visiting the site and leaving your comments! Thank you for the referal to Tulip Girl as well. Good site! I think I turned on the RSS feed, but I am going to have my hubby double check it for me - he is the tech around here!

  • At 4/28/2005 12:01 PM, Blogger Annie Crawford said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 5/01/2005 1:27 AM, Blogger Mick Porter said…

    Hi, great post! I've linked to it over at Unveiled Face -

  • At 5/03/2005 5:41 PM, Blogger TulipGirl said…


  • At 5/04/2005 11:30 AM, Blogger martha b. said…

    dear annie,
    i was just reading back and realized how i got to your blog. i got there from tulip girl's blog. i like your comments. i'd like to add a few from a few days of thinking them over. i think i had the advantage of not having so many "christian" child rearing books. for my baby stuff, i used a version of dr. spock (don't faint) that still believed in some "spanking" especially for safety training:). it was very practical and helpful. i didn't follow everything in the book. for breastfeeding, i used the "womanly art of breastfeeding" and never had a speck of trouble with supply. (fortunately b/c i lived in Jamaica at the time and it was not really the cultural thing to do there.) the other major book was Dobson's "Strong-Willed Child". It came out when my SWC was about 18 mon. (just in the nick of time:) i used things from different books and seminars that were helpful but there really wasn't much out there.
    i've decided that one of the biggest problems that i'm seeing with our younger women is a lack of common sense combined with Biblical insight. if a book says one thing and they feel another, they often do what the book says. most of you have learned the hard way that that is NOT the way to go:( good! now you are in a good place.) instead of pouring all your vitriol on these writers that you feel led you astray, just move on. yes, you can make a crusade of being anti-Ezzo or anti-Tripp but do you really have time for that! what will you gain? i have found that teaching the positive to my kids took way too much time...and figuring out what the positive was and how to teach it was huge!
    what we want is a christian kid who loves loves and seeks after God. we need to realize the down side of our schooling decisions and build up the weaknesses in our family life.
    the same goes for the child rearing books we choose. some are lousy. i haven't heard much redeeming about ezzo but for some there may be. i will say that i have found some very helpful things about tripp. i am watching the video series again with a young mothers group in our church now. (i'm not leading.) their focus is not on external behavior, but what is going on in the child's heart. (if you take the book realizing that is their focus, a rarety these days, it will give you some very helpful strengths not found in other child rearing books.)i totally understand the straw man problem with the positive reinforcement. if you don't agree with that, there are no "tripp police". you don't have to follow that part of the book:) i think the guidelines to that are very helpful tho' in terms of how far you carry the positive reinforcement. it is important that your children not expect applause/reward for every good thing they do. it is good preparation for life.
    if you have a problem with their approach to spanking, set it aside for now. you don't have to buy into the whole thing. their guidelines for going to another room away from others, talking to the child b/f any discipline is carried out, checking your own attitude, dealing with what is in the child's heart vs. externals is very powerful. it may take longer now, but whatever of that stuff gets truly dealt with when they are younger, is one less thing to deal with when they are teens. they have some wonderful guidelines re living in the areas of safety (God's protection) that are great to build on in younger days and even greater for teen years. (helpful in dealing with authority no matter where we find it.) you won't be able to start those concepts as easily in the teen yrs.
    another thing that is done well in the video...i don't remember how the book was lined up. was using discipline to teach. they do not have all of discipline as punitive,some is teaching positive behavior. a lot is teaching aspects of God's character. there was a large section on teaching. if it didn't come across well in the book, watch the video. i tho't their tone of voice and their heart(which won't come thro' in the book) came thro' well in their illustrations and discussion of these areas.
    speaking as a parent who has 2 children over 30 and one quite close, i would say that much of what they say, sets a great tone for grace (even if you choose to leave out the spanking section). i'm finding that for many, spanking is a huge mountain that is so negative. the important thing to realize is that in areas of rebellion against authority. there must be a consistent and strong way of dealing with it. if you are horrified at spanking, then have a chair or some place that the child does not like and does not find entertaining and find a way to put them there. if the rebellion against authority is not dealt with, your child will have a problem for life in all relationships--work, family, God, etc. (even dr. phil agrees with that!) these issues are not always clear to the parent...expecially if the child is charming.
    Listen to what these wise men have to say. implement what you can b/c the framework in which they are speaking is quite Biblical. Be sure you are not allowing your motherly feelings to cause you to interfere with the work God wants to do in the lives of your children.
    also, be sure you are not the only one involved in discipline of the children. i used to assume that husbands were involved and i no longer assume that. if only one parent disciplines, it will be lopsided. this is a topic that you must discuss (away from the children) and agree on in front of them. your charming children (often great manipulators) will pick up on any disagreement and play on it.
    i have spent too much time on this. as you can see, i'm opionated. i hope Biblical and i've learned a lot...the hard way (by making mistakes). that's how most of us learn best. the best thing i have learned is that God graciously intervenes in our weakness (raising children well-an impossible job) and uses our weakness to cause us to HAVE to rely on Him for the grace and strength we need to do the job.
    meanwhile, i challenge you in your quest for child raising help, to not pick apart details of some people that will be able to give you some help in many areas. it is difficult in our quest for truth to stick with people when we find some areas of logic flaw or even an error or disagreement. my challenge is to look at the overall structure and see if there is something in the structure that is quite Biblical even if i may not agree on every detail. for me, if i have a structure/skeleton in my head to go on, i don't need to have the other person's details. i found their Biblical structure to be not only sound, but a real challenge to me even at this stage of my life. think about it. :)

  • At 5/04/2005 9:42 PM, Blogger Annie Crawford said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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