The Myth of the Biblical Parenting Method
- Wendy Horger Alsup Author
- 2012 9 Jan
There is a huge difference in Biblical parenting principles and Biblical parenting methods.
Method: a specific procedure, technique, or practical way of doing something.
Principle: a fundamental law or general truth from which others are derived and determined.
Methods are drawn from understanding and applying principles. In terms of Biblical parenting, I and my friends are longing for methods. We are longing for someone to tell us the tangible, practical techniques that will aid us in rearing our children in Christ and the Word. My mom's group Bible study is looking for a PRACTICAL study on Biblical parenting. Readers of this blog ask me regularly for PRACTICAL techniques they can use with their kids. And I long for it myself – someone please hand me a grace-based, gospel-centered MANUAL of methods. Enough with the principles. Enough with inspiring me to parent my children the way God parents His in light of the gospel. I've got it. I understand the principles. Now tell me what to do when my 5 year old son decides to relieve himself on the back of my 13 year old dog at 6 am in the morning. What specific procedure, technique, or practical way of handling that fits with the fundamental truths of my Christian faith?!
As each day passes, I am becoming more and more convinced that there will never be THAT book. There will never be a practical manual of specific gospel-centered techniques for parenting our children. At least not one I can recommend to others. I've seen it tried a time or two, and it inevitably fails. I loved Shepherding a Childs Heart … until it got into specific techniques. It made great points on the Biblical principles at play, but it broke down when it got into methods, particularly on the topic of the rod. Then there is Ezzo's Babywise and the Pearl's To Train Up a Child – both heavy on method. Many would argue the Pearls' in particular is horrible, abusive method contrary to the gospel, to which I heartily agree.
In contrast, I have read many great gospel-centered parenting books, but the really good ones seem to understand that a gospel-centered approach doesn't lend itself well to specific, quantifiable methods. Examples are different than methods, by the way. A good author who understands the difference in the gospel and law guards themselves from breaking down the line between what worked for them (example) and what will work for you (method), between what they found helpful and what they project onto you that all good parents should do. Here are some books that I have found helpful with principles and overarching foundational Biblical truths.
Families Where Grace is in Place
Give Them Grace (Elyse Fitzpatrick does offer practical ideas and examples and even has a section at the end with specific words to use. Knowing the heart of man, this section runs the risk of becoming what most attempts at method have become in the Church – more law. Also, she distinguishes between believing and unbelieving children with her strategies. This will be problematic if you hold a covenant view of your children. Otherwise, this one gave me a lot to think about in terms of the Biblical difference in law and grace in my parenting and is the one we will likely use in our mom's group Bible study this quarter.)
Parenting is Your Highest Calling: And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt
Instead of finding a Christian parenting book with gospel centered methods, I've had more success learning practical ideas from secular resources. Then I'm not tempted to adopt those methods as the righteous choice, as a spiritual law. When the resource is secular, I feel freedom to adopt methods for my family because they work in light of our Biblical parenting principles and no guilt at all when I discard a method that is not working for our family or does not fit our principles. There are a ton of resources on positive discipline, which is the secular buzzword in my experience that will give you the most ideas of methods that fit a truly Biblical, gospel centered paradigm for parenting.
In terms of Biblical principles, here are the big picture, overarching themes that I want to govern my parenting.
Parenting my children the way God parents His …
In light of the gospel …
That teaches there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus …
And equips us to do unto others with grace ...
Under the greatest command of loving God and loving others.
I know these principles, these truths, and I hold them dearly. My secular cooperative preschool is the place I have gotten the most helpful practical ideas that I could use in my family under these overarching principles. I listened to the parent educator and watched the teachers at work. So many of their methods fit right into my gospel-centered principles. It was positive, proactive discipline, not shame-based, reactive punishment. I chose the methods that worked for our family based on my convictions and my children's personalities. And sometimes, the same things don't work two days in a row. Methods have to be open handed things, while the Bible principles never change.
Here's my final thought on this topic. We are never going to get a set of METHODS that works for the long haul. And be very wary of teachers or other parents who try to convince you they've found some. Principles work for the long haul. Methods do not. And parenting our children the way God parents His is much more about relationship than method. I don't think God has methods and strategies for me. He has a relationship with me, and He interacts with me and disciplines me out of that relationship. Doing that with our kids as fallen parents requires wrestling with the principles in play, wrestling with our children's personalities in light of the gospel, and wrestling with our Father in heaven. Don't cop out and accept an easy answer. Stay engaged in this life long commitment called parenting and don't get frustrated that it doesn't come easy. As Paul Miller said in A Praying Life, I do my best parenting of all when I'm wrestling with God over the gospel for my children on my knees. I guess if there is any method I recommend, that's it.
Wendy Horger Alsup is the author of Practical Theology for Women and By His Wounds You are Healed. Alsup resides in Seattle with her husband, Andy, and two young children. To read more of her articles, visit Wendy's blog at Practical Theology for Women.