Category Archives: children

On Christian Parenting Books, Spankings, and Imperfect Children: A Ramble

A kind reader asked me what I thought was lacking in Christian parenting books. My response? “I’ll get back to you on that.” It’s been a few days, but I still don’t have an answer. Anyway, why ask me?

I’ve read a few books on parenting that wear a Christian label. Some deserve the name, and some don’t. A few were good, but most were disappointing in one way or another.

I’m especially turned off by books—or parents—that have the answer. For example, if you spank for every infraction, with such and such a rod of such and such a diameter, and of course throw in a prayer when you’re finished, you will not only have perfect children, but they’ll even thank you for it.

I’m not saying that I’m against spanking when appropriate. My point is that I am put off by the smug and pious tone of some Christian parenting books. Have ye perfect children? Fine; keep them to yourself.

The most recent books I’ve read talk less about discipline. That’s refreshing. We do hope, after all, that most of our parenting time is spent in non-disciplinary activities.

What’s lacking in parenting books? I don’t know. Maybe they are as good as they can be. After all, one can only learn so much from reading.

When our oldest was a toddler, we read a popular book. I’m not speaking for my wife—she’s more humble than I—but I became an instant expert. I even took it upon myself to give my parents advice on dealing with another grandchild. They were gracious enough to not tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

After seven years, I’ve only learned that I knew nothing, and that my children have taught me far more than any book (though I still know nothing). We’ve also learned that spanking, despite what most Christian writers say, is not always effective. And that what is effective with one child might not be with the next.

What do you do when “the rod” frustrates a child or provokes them to wrath? Our fundamentalist friends would say to keep spanking the children until they’re happy. I say that I’m glad they aren’t my parents, regardless of how much their children thank them for their spankings.

So you spank, pray, spank your child until he prays, home-school, throw out the TV, and dress your child like Theodore Cleaver, but he’s still not perfect. Then what? Then you trust God and take it one day at a time. And in the meantime, thank Him that you don’t have perfect children. Ours are precious blessings, but not perfect. If they were, they would be out-of-place in our home. And give them lots of love, and be glad that they are so forgiving.

That’s a long, rambling way to say that I don’t know how to improve Christian parenting books; if I did, I’d write one myself. They are what they are, just like our kids.

Comments are open.

Merry Christmas

and a happy new year.

An Enjoyable Voyage

My family and I have been looking forward to the latest Chronicles of Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for months. We read the book last week, and then watched the movie on Saturday.

For those who haven’t read the Dawn Treader, here’s the story. Lucy and her brother Edmund are forced to stay with their aunt, uncle, and dreadful cousin, Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a name he “almost deserved,” while the rest of their family travels to America. As Lucy gazes at a “Narnian” painting of a ship at sea that hangs in Aunt Alberta’s guest room, the three children are pulled in and find themselves in a Narnian ocean. They are promptly rescued by the crew of the Dawn Treader, which happens to be the ship of King Caspian himself. The rest of the story tells of their adventures at sea as the crew searches for the seven missing lords of Narnia.

The movie follows the book fairly well. The changes are mostly not for the better, but a few help the movie along. Following are some examples of each. Beware: possible spoilers lie ahead.

In the book, the mission of the Dawn Treader is to find the seven lords and seek adventure. In the movie, the crew has the same purpose, but the focus is on defeating an evil green mist that originates from Dark Island. Dark Island is in the book, but not the evil green mist. The mist is always lurking about, especially while people are sleeping or looking in the other direction. And it’s evil indeed. Not only can it tempt Lucy to vanity and Edmund to greed, but it swallows entire boatloads of people. Even the white witch herself appears in the green mist, making her a rather green, but still temptingly beautiful, white witch.

In this film, Lucy is overly concerned with her looks and longs to be like her older and more beautiful sister Susan, while Edmund is tempted again by the green white witch. And it is he, rather than Caspian, who is drawn by the water that turns lords into gold. This, though minor, is a change that is quite disappointing to me. The Edmund of the book had not forgotten his lesson and was too wise for such a temptation.

Our favorite mouse Reepicheep is still great. He’s more patient with the Eustace of the movie, perhaps because this Eustace doesn’t swing him about by the tail.

A few of the changes make for a more exciting film. Lucy, while reading the magician’s book, calls down snow which covers the room. And Eustace remains a dragon for most of the trip, which makes him quite useful. In fact, it is Eustace the dragon who defeats the sea serpent. This scene, where a really terrifying monster of a serpent attacks the Dawn Treader until it gets roasted by a fire breathing Eustace, is probably too much for young children.

The Christian imagery, though toned down, is still present. The children don’t find Aslan in the form of a lamb offering them roasted fish on the beach as they do in the book, but he is still there, humble and fierce, telling them that he will always be with them. Reep’s voyage into Aslan’s country, from where he will never return, but where the children will someday go, causes a lump in my throat. I’m reminded of the end of the Pilgrim’s Progress, and I find it the perfect ending of a very enjoyable voyage.

Raising Children God’s Way by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Raising Children God’s Way

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Banner of Truth: 2007

One might expect a parenting book from fifty years ago to be outdated. And many are, especially if they promoted the latest fads or pop psychology. But the Word of God is timeless, and when one has the gift of correctly interpreting and applying the Word, his works will be timeless too. At this stage in my life, there’s no subject more important to me than parenting. And there’s no one that I’d rather read on the New Testament than Martyn Lloyd-Jones. So, when I saw that his sermons on Ephesians 6:1-4 had been republished under the title Raising Children God’s Way, I had to read it and knew that it would be great. What I didn’t expect is that this book is more balanced and realistic than much of what is being written on the same subject today.

Raising Children God’s Way consists of five sermons that Lloyd-Jones preached at Westminster Chapel, London during his series on Ephesians. The entire series was originally printed in an eight volume set by Banner of Truth. The book under consideration is only 85 pages long—perfect for a Sunday afternoon. The chapter titles are:

1. Submissive Children

2. Unbelieving Parents

3. Discipline and the Modern Mind

4. Balanced Discipline

5. Godly Upbringing

In the first two chapters, Lloyd-Jones unpacks the meaning behind Paul’s admonition to children, “Obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise.” The third chapter tells how and why the modern view of man is flawed, which leads to flawed ideas regarding discipline. The last two chapters of the book deal more directly with the practical aspects of raising children: “Balanced Discipline” discusses how to discipline without exasperating, humiliating, or driving children away, while “Godly Upbringing” deals with the teaching and nurturing of children.

There is a lot to like about this book. First, since these sermons were originally preached to a mixed audience, they are applicable to everyone, parent or not. Second, as is always the case with Lloyd-Jones, his writing is clear and to the point. The pages are not filled with fluff—no sentimental stories about little Johnny. And the author doesn’t put on intellectual airs. He writes like a normal man speaking to normal people. Third, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to discipline is balanced and intelligent:

“Discipline is essential and must be enforced; but the Apostle exhorts us to be very careful as to how we exercise it, because we can do more harm than good if we do not do it in the right way….[Discipline] must always be intelligent; there must always be a reason for it, and that reason should always be made plain and clear.”

Forth, the author stresses the importance of treating children with love and respect:

“You must not think of yourself primarily, but of the child. The child’s good is to be your controlling motive….The child is as much an entity as you are yourself, given, sent by God into this world even as you….If in punishing or administering discipline or correction, we are ever guilty of humiliating the child, it is clear that we ourselves need to be disciplined.”

And fifth: instead of fussing over the smaller details of raising children, Lloyd-Jones focuses on the essence of good parenting:

“I say to Christian people, and all who are in any way responsible for the discipline of children and of young people, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’”

In one way or another, I’ve been disappointed with most contemporary Christian parenting books that I’ve read. Not this one. I would gladly trade the others for this one, short volume.

This Week We had our First…

ballet practice,

soccer game,

and haircut from the barbershop.

Lloyd-Jones on the Family Altar

“Have what is called a family altar, which means that once, at least, every day you should meet together as a family round the Word of God. The father as the head of the house should read a portion of Scripture and offer a simple prayer. It need not be long, but let him acknowledge God and let him thank God for the Lord Jesus Christ. Let the children hear the Word of God regularly. If they ask questions about it, answer them. Give them instruction as you are able to do so.  Be wise, be judicious. Do not make of it something distasteful, hateful, or boring; make it such that they will look forward to it, something they will like and in which they find delight.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Raising Children God’s Way, Banner of Truth

I’m sure that the Dr. would agree that when the father is unavailable or unwilling, the mother can do this just as well. Do this and trust that the Lord will bless your efforts.

What’s New? Birthdays, etc…

Happy 30th birthday to my best friend: you are the most precious wife and the most wonderful mother in the world! I’m so thankful that God brought you into my life. As for his bringing me into your life, what can I say? He must have known that you needed patience.

Other random notes:

Free Pdf of an upcoming Shepherd Press title

My friend Brian Hedges has completed the manuscript for his upcoming book, Christ Formed in You, which will be released by Shepherd Press in October. With Kevin Meath as editor,  a foreword written by Donald Whitney, and Brian the author, I know this is going to be a great book. If you’re interested in a free advance pdf copy, see Brian’s post for details.

Economics 101

This past Saturday, Bonnie and Lily had a Kool-Aid stand. Their inventory consisted of red Kool-Aid, lemonade, and brownies donated by mom. The business did well. At the end of the day, I suggested that they each put aside $1.00 for a Sunday offering, to which they cheered. “Wow, girls,” I said, “I’m happy that you’re so cheerful about giving.” “No, Pa,” Bonnie answered, “We’re happy because we each still have four dollars.”

Reading and Writing:

I’ve started reading Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. What a prolific and great author! I’ll try to write a review, but I’m growing weary of writing reviews…

This morning I started a real pen and paper journal. Maybe I’ll stick with it. Now that we’re getting old (my wife turning 30 and all), I’m starting to think about things to leave behind for the children. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to find all of this electronic writing, so it might be good to leave something that’s actually on paper.

Review: Toy Story 3

In Toy Story 3, Andy has to decide what to do with his toys as he prepares to leave for college. Woody, Buzz, and friends end up at Sunnyside, a dark and notorious daycare center ruled by the evil stuffed bear Lots-O. Their attempt to escape and get back home results in the most dangerous and thrilling adventure of their lives.

Though just as hilarious as the first two, Toy Story 3 is more serious. In fact, I concur with Michael Medved’s opinion that it could be rated PG rather than G. There are some very scary parts, one of which caused several children in the theatre to cry out loud. There are also some very touching, even sad, parts, as the film deals with the theme of growing up and moving on.

I mentioned the humor. Though most of it is great, there is some potty humor. And some of the scenes with Barbie and Ken (who plays a major part in this movie) were over the top (for a preschooler, anyway).

Overall, Toy Story 3 is a terrific movie. The animation is amazing, and some of the scenes are breath-taking (or heart stopping). You won’t find a better movie for the little ones or the grown-ups this weekend.

You can read other reviews or watch the trailer here.

Good Parenting Starts With Good Theology

Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting

William P. Farley

P&R Publishing

In Gospel-Powered Parenting, William P. Farley says that parenting must start with good theology. In light of that conviction, it’s not surprising that he spends the first five chapters discussing the gospel, the fear of God, God’s holiness, and God’s grace. Instead of quotes from parenting experts and psychologists, readers will find theologians—John Frame, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, R.C. Sproul—quoted throughout the book. This focus immediately sets the book apart.

After laying the theological groundwork, Farley spends the next six chapters on practical application. The topics are the importance of a strong marriage, the importance of the father’s involvement, discipline, teaching in the home, and love and affection.

Farley says that the first principle of parenting is developing a strong marriage. Many parents put great effort into raising their children, yet they neglect the health of the marriage. This is a mistake:

Marriage centered, not child-centered, moms usually exert the greatest influence on their children for Christ and the kingdom. This means that your weekends away with your husband, alone, might influence your children more than all your teaching and disciplining combined.  

Although mothers are more likely to read parenting books, Farley says that it is the fathers who need to read them. Study after study shows that fathers have the greatest influence over their children. It is no coincidence that the few verses in the Bible related to parenting are addressed to the fathers. It’s unfortunate that fathers too often leave the bulk of the responsibility to their wives.

Regarding discipline, Farley’s approach is much like what you find in Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart. Consistent discipline, including corporal punishment, is essential. “The world says, ‘Corporal punishment is child abuse.’ But the Bible answers, ‘Failure to discipline is child abuse.’” All discipline must be done in love and with an eye on the ultimate goal: changing the child’s heart:

The heart is the target. The goal is not just morality. It is new birth. We do not get new birth by being moral; rather, new birth produces biblical morality. Therefore, wise parents aim their discipline at the heart. Fundamentally, Christian parents discipline heart attitudes, not behaviors.

I’m not comfortable with the emphasis placed on spanking. I do believe that spanking is necessary and effective sometimes, but not all of the time, nor with all children. In chapter 9, “Discipline that Preaches,” Farley tells of a time when he spanked his son for pouting (page 165). And he gives other examples that I’m not comfortable with. While I agree with the main points of the chapters on discipline, I’m not sure to what extent they should be applied. Spanking, I believe, should be used in moderation.

The last emphasis I’ll mention is that on teaching in the home. Many Christian parents leave this to the Christian schools and Sunday schools. And they assume that their children know and understand the gospel. But parents must teach and re-teach the gospel in the home, and they must apply it to every aspect of daily life. Not only should there be informal teaching, but times of formal teaching are essential. Parents can’t do too much:

Children don’t reject our faith because of too much formal Bible teaching. They reject it because we don’t practice it. They reject it because we practice it but do not value it enough to teach it to them….But too much knowledge is not the problem. A lack of knowledge usually is the problem.

Gospel-Powered Parenting is good and biblical book. The principles are based upon a theologically sound view of the gospel.  I  recommend it to parents, grandparents, and teachers.

Family Devotions

I love being around young Christian men who are serious about their families. They’re hard to find, so I consider myself blessed to know a few.

One of these men—I’ll call him Dustin (because that’s his name)—asked me about our family devotions. There’s been a lot of recent (reformed) writing on the importance of “the family altar,” but there’s not much teaching on what we actually need to be doing. So I benefitted from my discussion with Dustin. It’s helpful to compare and discuss what we’re doing in the home.

Amanda and I are far from being experts on family devotions. We have a lot to learn and a lot more improving to do. Our devotions are not as consistent as they should be. They are not as reverent as they should be. And, because of my impatience, they are often not as enjoyable as they should be. Still, we are trying. Our oldest child is nearly six. We’ve been having a somewhat regular evening devotion since she was two. Here are some of the things we do. They are listed in our order of priority.

Prayer

We try to pray together every night, either before or after Bible reading. If we have a longer devotion earlier in the evening we pray then, too. I normally start, Amanda often prays next, and then we give the girls the opportunity to pray if they want. They usually do. I give them guidance when necessary, but we try to give them a lot of freedom. (For instance, my three-year old always starts her prayer with “Thank you for me.” We don’t have a problem with that. If I said it, it would be a problem.)

Bible Reading

We read through books of the Bible out loud. Sure, the children don’t understand much of it. (Actually, I’m surprised at how much they do understand.) But if nothing else, they at least learn the importance of regular Bible reading.

We often read passages in the evening, but we almost always read a smaller passage right at bedtime–usually 10-20 verses. My five-year old protests when I try to skip this.

We use the ESV when reading to the children.

Scripture Memorization

I’m amazed at how easily young children can memorize scripture. I think that we tend to set the bar too low. Set it high and see what your little ones can do. Besides having them learn single verses, have them memorize an entire passage. (Our three-year old can recite Psalm 121 and others.) We didn’t have them learn passages until Bonnie’s Sunday school teacher had them learn the Lord’s Prayer. Both of our girls knew it after we read it to them a couple of times a night for a week, so we realized that they were capable.

We practice these in the evening. Amanda also drills them throughout the day. And we practice in the car. The children memorize from the ESV. Another benefit is that the parents memorize scripture in the process (although the children learn it much easier than we do).

Catechism

We’ve been using the Children’s Catechism for two years now. Both girls (five and three) know the answers through about question 40. Yes, we’re working through it slowly. Again, they may not understand much of what they’re learning, but they will.

The catechism has benefitted the whole family. And the girls really like it. And they are learning. The other night, Bonnie really got me:

“Pa, does God have eyes?”

“Yes. He sees everything.”

“Well then why does my catechism say that he ‘is a spirit and has not a body like men?’”

Hymns

We don’t sing hymns often, but the children like it when we do. We concentrate on the hymns that we sing most often in church. Instead of aiming for variety, we aim for repetition. That is what our children like. It is also the most beneficial for them. They’ve learned the Doxology, the Gloria Patri, and Nothing but the Blood. Now, when we sing one of those hymns in church, they love being able to participate.

Story Books

We often use Bible story books, but not as much as we should. Amanda is reading through Come Ye Children during the day with the girls. They also love the children’s books published by Reformation Trust. I recommend the Lightlings and Sammy and His Shepherd.

 This post is already too long, so I’ll save the arguments for family devotion until later. We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!