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theology and child rearing: the Bible

To explain why I’m not getting into much detailed Scriptural debate in these posts - my intention behind writing about this has more to do with theological implications for my own life than to discuss the broader debate for and against corporal punishment in a parenting setting. In addition, I’m trying to stick to a commitment to write shorter posts that provoke thought rather than get into a lot of details.

There are lots of great articles by Christians on the subject that would express MY Scriptural view of the subject pretty effectively (very conservative Christians with a very high view of scripture):

To name two:

Biblical Parenting by Crystal Lutton
Positive Discipline

However, prompted by a comment by jovial_cynic, I thought it might be helpful to say a few words.The question that inevitably comes up in this discussion is “what about Proverbs?”

Crystal does a good job with the Proverbs issues here (and elsewhere on her site). But quickly, Proverbs is a wisdom book, not God’s Law - an important distinction. Also, the words used in Proverbs can be interpreted differently by different people so it’s important to distinguish that it’s not as clear as everyone thinks (do you propose God’s call is to BEAT our children as discussed in Proverbs? Probably not, so clearly you interpret it differently).

I would argue that many have interpreted Proverbs to suite a particular cultural view of children that is far lower than what God would desire us to have. There are lots of things in the Bible that talk about how to do things that clearly aren’t God’s desire for us. e.g. how to treat multiple wives - should we assume God’s prescription for marriage is to have multiple wives?

The bottom line for me is that there is no evidence that God ordains spanking as approved punishment and even further, and I’ll get into this a bit more in my next posts, we see a model in Christ that guides us FAR AWAY from using our power in that way. (and I think we all know that we’re more powerful than our children) 

FOR ME - I see more evidence in scripture that guides me AWAY from violence toward my children than I see evidence guiding me toward it - - esp. in the life of Christ. But I can understand that someone else would see it differently. My beliefs do not in any way mean I am perfect in this - I’m horrible and even vicious to my kids sometimes - but like all things in my life, I have a goal and I accept the grace that is ever present when I fall short.

The only way I can understand a person’s choice to spank is when it’s removed from the Biblical argument. If you say “I as a parent choose to spank, recognizing that it’s a cultural model and not a biblical one and it works for me”… I’m more understanding of that (even though I don’t share the choice) than when people try to use Scripture to make their argument for spanking more powerful or validated by God. If you want to use spanking as punishment then just say so, there’s no need to make it more valid by using the Bible to support your choice…because if you need to have a Bible prescription, I’m not sure you actually can find one.

our theology and child rearing: a history
theology and child rearing: what is discipline?
theology and child rearing: the Bible
theology and child rearing: influence of/on theology
theology and children: conclusion - how I want to live

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  1. Heidi — February 6, 2009 #

    Thank you so much for posting about this - it’s nice to know I’m not alone in my thoughts about this. I don’t have children yet - it’s a couple years in the future - but I’ve given it a lot of thought and don’t want to follow the extrinsic motivator model with my children. A book I’ve absolutely loved in this regard is “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn, also his “Punished by Rewards”. What you say really echos what I read there, but from a Christian perspective - which, like I said, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in the Christian world on this.

  2. Mak — February 6, 2009 #

    I love Alfie Kohn (for the most part). You’ll find that there is a spectrum in this “world” of gentle discipline and I think each parent will obviously find where they fit based on their and their child’s temperaments, their philosophies about things, etc.

    Glad to be an encouragement :) I’m hopeful to hear that you’re thinking about this now.

  3. Becky — February 6, 2009 #

    My background is one of being spanked as a child, and in retrospect I believe it was done in a good way, i.e., for discipline not punishment, in a controlled fashion. I firmly believe that if I have difficulty with any particular form of discipline and cannot be objective about it, then I should not use it on anyone. Our three sons are all different, and of differing ages and therefore our discipline for them changes, emerges and grows based upon who they are, where they are and what needs correction. When they were smaller, we found that physically coralling them into their room for a time out (using a kitchen timer as the “bad guy”) was effective for some infractions. However, some things we spanked for, things that were dangerous to themselves or others. Our goal was to make the result very memorable, so that they would hesitate to try it again. It’s like letting them finally touch the hot stove - it hurts, but it won’t kill or maim them, or even incapacitate them at all, and then they don’t touch it again.

  4. Mak — February 6, 2009 #

    I know lots of parents who believe as you do Becky. My only comment to that is that I don’t believe it’s necessary and I cannot bring myself to thinking it’s ok to hit my child when it’s not necessary. I also cannot bring myself to tell my children not to hit others if I turn around and hit them. I also believe we have no way to know what the ramifications are.

    I certainly don’t think that one swat on the bottom is going to damage a child NECESSARILY and I know we have enough to feel guilty about as parents so my intention isn’t to guilt parents into not spanking but rather to examine from a Christian perspective where our parenting beliefs and actions are coming from and how those beliefs an in turn speak into our theology.

    it’s good to be at least thoughtful about our choices even if we continue on the same path.

  5. Drew Tatusko — February 6, 2009 #

    Right on target with that last paragraph especially. What was socially normative for that people at that time does not equate into some abstract command peoples of today must follow. We need to do what works rooted in the best interests of our kids who are each different and each respond to different schedules of reinforcement and punishment. Some need a good swift kick in the ass, others need a more gentle persuasion. To misjudge one for the other leads to more harm than good! Common sense dictates a lot of this. We tend to do what works (pragmatism rules!). Unfortunately I think many people lost their common sense somewhere… And THAT is what needs a swift kick in the ass.

  6. Becky — February 7, 2009 #

    I know a lot of mindsets that need a SKITA, too (Swift Kick In The Ass). So many of them have to do with Religion, and nothing to do with God.
    I have felt at times that my good, righteous, just and above all LOVING Heavenly Daddy has given me a well-deserved spanking. The conviction of Holy Spirit on my heart has been almost physically debilitating until I acknowledged my sin before God and asked for his forgiveness and healing. If I had not received unmistakable and painful correction on some behaviors, I’m not sure I would ever have chosen repentance and wholeness. Sin is just too much fun.

  7. Mak — February 7, 2009 #

    and again, that’s a theology that influences our decisions about our children - if you believe that God is the one who punishes you for your choices and that He is actually ordering the universe to inflict “spankings” on you then I can see how you could justify that same behavior against your children.

    I do not see it that way :)

  8. Mak — February 7, 2009 #

    I would also add Becky that if you’re talking about the feeling of guilt you get when you do something wrong as being inflicted by the Holy Spirit - that’s fine, but to equate that to spanking is, in my view, erroneous (to put it mildly). you, an imperfect person, making a rational adult choice to raise your large and powerful hand against a small and helpless little person with the intent of inflicting pain is not the same thing as your pricked conscience when you make a bad choice.

    Finally, I actually advocate for allowing age appropriate natural consequences - God also does this, he allows us to live our lives quite freely - and as a result, there are natural consequences that we experience as a biproduct of our decisions. Spanking is not a “natural” consequence, it’s an imposed punishment brought on by a person of power, a person of power who, by all examples of Christ, is called to protect the weak and powerless.

  9. Becky — February 9, 2009 #

    MAK, you are certainly free to view my opinion as erroneous. My opinion is based upon truth and reality as I see it and have experienced it. Truth stands alone, of course, but experience is personal, and is therefore unique to every individual in every situation. I would certainly not want you to parent my children, as I’m sure you would not want me to parent yours. God does not deal with me as a loving father in the same way he deals with you. Above all, He is loving and merciful, and mercy triumphs over judgment.

  10. Mak — February 9, 2009 #

    Fair enough :)

  11. Pingback - Swinging from the Vine » theology and child rearing: influence of theology — February 12, 2009 #

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