Are all children (and yours in particular) born basically good? Are they sinful only when they have committed their first sin, and accountable to God only when they reach a particular "age of accountability"? This chapter taught me that our theological beliefs about sin, really do have an effect on how we choose to parent and specifically how we discipline our children.
It is tempting to look at our sweet babies and think of them as total "innocents", and in a sense they are. They are completely in need of our care and protection and when those things are neglected, or as in some families they are shamefully abused, we all rightly say, "They are innocent! They don't deserve that!" In this sense of the word, I would absolutely, wholeheartedly agree.
In the biblical sense of innocent, however, children and babies are just as corrupted in their nature as we adults, who have been sinning our whole lives. Because of original sin, and the sin nature that we inherited as members of the human race, we are born with hearts that are oriented wrongly. That is, turned away from our Creator. Our natural tendancy, as soon as we are able to express it, is rebellion.
If however, you believe that children are not born tainted by original sin, that they behave badly only because of bad examples, environment or sickness (mental or physical), then you have not rightly understood how the bible explains the basic human condition. In fact, you may not be aware, but these beliefs I have just described (called Pelagianism) were opposed vigorously by Augustine and declared a heresy in the year 418 AD at the Council of Carthage. (Reference here.)
In spite of the fact that these beliefs were long ago considered heresy, you will still find them in existence today. A person who believes these things might then go on to write a parenting book, espousing techniques meant to deal with the problem of children's disobedience that totally miss the mark. This book review of one of those parenting books is a good example of how that works.
In our book so far, I think we have seen that Farley has clearly shown us that the main issue of parenting is not managing behavior, and preventing sin but getting to that rebellious, stony heart. As members of the human race, our hearts are automatically oriented away from our Creator, and sooner or later (usually sooner) we will begin to express that, despite our appearance of sweet innocence.
What are the tools that God gives us as parents for getting to the heart? They are the same tools that God himself uses as he parents his children. The discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), and the Gospel. Drawing from Hebrews 12:6 and Proverbs 3:12, Harvey makes it clear that "Biblical discipline always expresses God's love." Then Harvey goes on to explain two important foundations that effect the how and the why of discipline. He first emphasizes the importance of understanding the biblical concept of indwelling sin (which struck me the most and I have discussed above.) Secondly, he explains the importance of authority as a crucial parenting issue, when we see it through biblical eyes - namely, in the authority displayed within the Godhead itself.
Since our culture strongly rejects both of these aspects (indwelling sin and loving, gracious authority), it is important to have a foundational understanding about what the Bible says about these things.
One aspect of this chapter that I didn't feel was as strong was his emphasis on corporal punishment. Although I tend to agree that corporal punishment is an acceptable and biblical concept, there is a lot left unsaid about this subject that I think could use a stronger treatment. Harvey's point in this book is more ideological than practical, so I guess I didn't expect that he might go into the details of how punishment is delivered, when it is appropriate, what dangers there might be and numerous other questions that come up when we discuss the form that our punishment takes. For an excellent and very practical treatment of discipline that includes not only a discussion of biblical corporal punishment as well as other forms of punishment that doesn't neglect addressing heart matters as well, I strongly recommend Tedd Tripp's book, Shepherding a Child's Heart. What I like the most about his book, is a very detailed description of a controlled, calm and purposeful method of discipline using corporal punishment that is redemptive and restorative in it's implementation. There is not a single time that I have used Tripp's specific advice on discipline and spanking that it was not beneficial and healing to both the kids and to me as well. Almost any other time I have spanked without his specific method, I have regretted it. (This recommendation probably leaves you with more questions than answers, so you will really have to go get the book... and let me know what you think!)
Next week, Harvey will discuss more about what he mentioned at the beginning of this chapter - that "communicating the gospel becomes the end (goal) of effective Christian discipline." (pg 146)
As always, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and questions on this chapter or any other chapter that you have read so far. You may comment on this page, or any of the other chapter's posts found at the Book Club Page tab.