Parenting and the Bible
It is the things you assume that really sink into them. It is the things you forget even to teach that they learn. — G.K. Chesterton
I recently received a postcard in the mail from a local church advertising a new series called “My Crazy Family Life.” After listing challenges like “financial pressures,” “unmet expectations” and even “overly busy schedules,” the card assured me that “thankfully the Bible is filled with practical wisdom for our family life, no matter how crazy it might be.”
The Bible is indeed a fount of wisdom, but on the subject of parenting it is surprising silent.
Of course, there are families depicted in the Bible. Many, like our own, are riddled with heartache and strife.
The patriarchs are a handbook of how not to parent. Moses left his family entirely to lead the people of Israel. As a father, King David was a bit of a train wreck.
The only story we have from Jesus’ youth is how his parents lost him for three whole days.
Jesus himself was never a father, so we can’t use him as a role model. While he clearly loved and valued children, he passed on no teachings concerning their upbringing or nurture.
Over the years, a cadre of parenting experts has attempted to fill in the gap.
In recent history, James Dobson is perhaps the most famous. Throughout the 1980s his radio program, Focus on the Family, was the soundtrack to many young mothers’ lives as they cooked dinner or drove around in their minivans.
Dobson’s popularity revealed two things: Parents wanted to be better parents and were hungry for help.
The only specific parental instructions in the Bible concern discipline. Paul directed the fathers of both Ephesus and Colossae not to “provoke your children to anger” but to discipline and instruct them.
Perhaps this is why Christian parenting resources are largely about how to keep your children in line.
Within the discussion of discipline is always the simmering question of corporal punishment. Boy howdy, does the word “spank” send blood pressures rising and Bible verses flying.
Pro-spanking manuals cite passages like “spare the rod and spoil the child,” which loosely quotes Prov. 13:24. Anti-spanking proponents attach the word “grace” to their material.
Everyone claims to dispense biblical answers stamped with God’s seal of approval.
One parenting website invited me to “Discover God’s Perfect Plan for Parenting.” Another program promised to teach me how to “raise our kids the way God raises us.”
The curriculum Growing Kids God’s Way — well, the name says it all.
To be fair, these folks are trying to move product. It is difficult to sell a self-help program using the “hey, this is just one option” approach.
To be honest, they’re using false advertising. There isn’t a perfect plan. One book could never encompass God’s way. These good folks mean well, and they all have some helpful insights, but they raise the stakes too high.
Every Christian parenting resource will at some point quote Prov. 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This is a wise saying, but is it meant to be a promise? If I find the perfect plan and train my child correctly, will I assure her success? Her salvation?
No, our children are not ours to save. We feed their bodies and counsel their emotions. We attempt to model godly behavior and embed kingdom values into the rhythms of their lives.
Their souls are held in the hands of God.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C. and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.
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