Monday, September 17, 2007

The Rod is a Means of Grace

Bet that got your attention.

But as crazy as it sounds, that is exactly what Gary Ezzo, Michael Pearl, and Tedd Tripp - along with all too many other "Christian" parenting gurus - seem to say. And there are plenty of sincere Christians who are gamely following their advice to beat their children in order to save them.

The LCMS describes the means of grace as follows:
...We hold with Scripture that God offers and communicates to men the spiritual blessings purchased by Christ, namely, the forgiveness of sins and the treasures and gifts connected therewith, only through the external means of grace ordained by Him. These means of grace are the Word of the Gospel, in every form in which it is brought to man, and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and of the Lord's Supper....

Let's see what our parenting gurus have to say....


First, let's address Gary Ezzo. He is the controversial author of a Christian parenting series, "Growing Kids God's Way", as well as a secular version, "On Becoming Babywise/Toddlerwise/Childwise". For starters, Ezzo has an odd view of grace:
Of the various means by which God communicates His grace, three deserve our attention here. First, there is a common grace given to all mankind....Second, there is sanctifying grace. God's grace flows to families through the sanctifying grace of believing spouses and parents. That is, when mom and dad have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, children receive the overflow of God's grace as it is poured out on their parents....Grace is communicated to each household when parents stay vertically aligned with the Lord. As we are blessed, so will our children be blessed....Yet we know our children cannot live off of our blessings but must obtain their own. This is done through the third means by which God communicates His grace—regenerational grace.

A few sentences later in his discussion of grace, Ezzo also seems to say that parents can help save their children:
Apart from receiving a new heart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, no child has direct and personal access to God's grace. Does this negate the divine call for parents to "Train up a child in the way of the Lord"? Most certainly not. It only serves to emphasize even more the parents' need to cooperate with the grace of God....Remember, let God through His grace do His work, while you through obedience do yours.
(emphasis mine)

And how, exactly, are parents to "cooperate with the grace of God"? Why, through spanking, of course! As Ezzo writes in "Growing Kids God's Way":
A child knows when he has broken the rules, and his guilt continually reminds him of his violation. Guilt is the reminder of sin. Chastisement (Ezzo's term for spanking) is the price paid to remove the guilt thus [sic] free the child from his burden. If the parents do not remove the guilt, the child lives under the weight of sin. When an offense calls for chastisement, parents should chastise. If they substitute a lesser punishment, the guilt remains, and the child will suppress it. That, in turn, leads to more antisocial behavior (212).
(emphasis mine)

Sounds like he's promoting spanking as a means of grace to me! Of course, given that this is a rather unBiblical teaching - to say the least! - Ezzo tried to equivocate when asked directly in a BBC interview:
Paxman: Could you explain why it is that smacking is the only way to get a child aware of guilt?
Gary Ezzo: Get, get rid of his guilt?
Paxman: Get rid of a child’s guilt, yes.
Gary Ezzo: No, I can’t, because we don’t necessarily believe that in the context in which you’re presenting it. What we’re talking about is there’s got to be removal of guilt somehow. Smacking, as we’re talking about in young children, is one of the ways. To say it’s the only way is probably—well, that’s 1993, and this is 1999. There’s been like six editions since, so….

Yeah, that's exactly that sort of thing that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling toward a person; yet despite the high level of controversy he has generated over the years - see ezzo.info for details - his books still sell, and Christian churches still teach GKGW classes (including an LCMS one, even).


Onwards to Michael Pearl. Now, unlike Ezzo, Pearl comes across as much more sincere and honest - a true believer in what he preaches. So it's quite a shame that what he promotes is so completely whacked. Aside from his child-rearing views, an analysis of his sermons online shows that "[a]t the base, or root, of the Pearl's teachings are Pelagianism and a doctrine of sinless perfectionism through instant complete sanctification." But just limiting my analysis to his book "To Train Up a Child" yields plenty of ...er...interesting material; all of the following quotes are taken from TTUAC, which can be found online in its entirety.
The guilt burdened soul cries out for the lashes and nails of justice. Your child cannot yet understand that the Creator has been lashed and nailed in his place. Only the rod of correction can preserve his soul until the day of moral dawning (42).

The parent holds in his hand (in the form of a little switch) the power to absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, instruct his spirit, strengthen his resolve, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid (43).

A child properly and timely spanked is healed in the soul and restored to wholeness of spirit. A child can be turned back from the road to hell through proper spankings....Father, as high priest of the family you can reconcile your child to newness of life (44).
(emphasis mine)
Honestly, what more is there to say? It's pretty clear that Pearl is advocating the use of the rod as a means of grace. Yet despite that, his many other heretical beliefs, and his insanely harsh spanking techniques - amongst other things, he advocates using plumbing supply line as a switch - he has a strong Christian following.


Last, but certainly not least, is Tedd Tripp, author of "Shepherding a Child's Heart". He is both the best and worst of the bunch. Best, as he actually has a lot of good things to offer; worst, as he takes all that good stuff - which lulls people into an uncritical agreement - and takes a hard left into insanity, taking his readers down the merry path with him.

The basic premise of Tripp's book is as follows:
  • Children have a sin nature.
  • Thus, when they misbehave, the real issue is their sinful heart that prompted the wrongdoing, rather than just their outward behavior.
  • As a result, parents need to focus not on the outward behavior - the symptom - but rather on the heart - the core problem.
  • However, the only true solution for a sinful heart is Christ.
  • Therefore, parents need to point their children to Christ when they misbehave.

  • So far, so good (aside from whole implicit, decision theology-related "Little kids can't possibly be Christians already" thing). But here is where things go way off the tracks(emphasis is mine):

  • The only God-ordained way to do this is by spanking them.
    What is the rod? The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness unto death (108).

    The use of the rod is an act of faith. God has mandated its use (109).

    If you fail to spank, you fail to take God's Word seriously. You are saying you do not believe what the Bible teaches about the import of these issues. You are saying that you do not love your child enough to do the painful things that God has called you to (149).

  • This is because spanking changes the heart.
    The "why" is that God commands it. Additionally, spanking enables you to deal with issues of the heart....The heart is the battleground. The spanking comes only because it is God's method of driving foolishness far from your child's heart (153).

  • As well, spanking is the only way to change the heart; it cannot guarantee they will choose Christ - no human action can do that - but he strongly implies that a failure to spank pretty much guarantees the child will never be saved.
    The spanking is designed to rescue the child from continuing in his foolishness. If he continues, his doom is certain (110).
Say what?! Talk about a left turn into crazy-town! In addition, despite his many strong statements that only Christ can save us from our sins, Tripp still ascribes quite a bit of spiritual power to spanking, nearing means of grace level. (This sentence previously read: "In addition, despite his many strong statements that only Christ can save us from our sins, he ascribes yet more power to spanking, nearing means of grace level." However, a commentator pointed out that this read like "Tripp believes spanking has more power than Jesus", which was NOT my intention at all. Sorry for the confusion.):
[T]he function of the spanking is...to restore him to a place in which God has promised blessing (151).

Tripp is promoted by many moderate Christians as a Biblical, grace-filled parenting method, and as a saner, less controversial alternative to Pearl and Ezzo. They read him with a strong theological filter, take what is good and leave the rest. However, not everyone has a good filter, and the very fact that he is not as obviously nuts as the other two makes him, in some ways, more dangerous.

These so-called Biblical parenting experts were entirely unknown to me until I started researching Christian parenting philosophies online, and in my experience few Lutherans are aware of their existence. However, they have a strong impact on many conservative Christians in America - especially Bapticostals - and this trickles down to the average Lutheran layman, who often knows more about the latest vapid Christian fiction - which is often filled with all sorts of theological errors - than Lutheran theology. This junk is out there, and I believe it behooves us to be aware it, and prepared to combat it.

15 comments:

TulipGirl said...

I once tried to bring up how alarming it was to consider the "rod" as a "means of grace" with someone who shares with me similar reformed theological beliefs.

She sort of looked at me blankly and agreed that of course it was a means of grace.

And it left me cold at how devalued what Christ has done has truly become in the North American Christian subculture.

Devona said...

I posted a link to this on my blog.

This is a really great artile, thanks!

Carol said...

Excellent article. (And nice to meet you - this is my first visit here)

JATB said...

Wow. Hi. Great article. I found your blog through TulipGirl's link. Sadly, we have many in Reformed circles, too, who know "the lastest vapid Christian fiction" better than Reformed theology. (I'm a Reformed pastor, BTW.) I once was guest-preaching at a church in our denom that had the "Left Behind" books on its book table and in the church library! I'm sure they had Ezzo and/or Tripp too.

This whole thing about the "rod" that they keep bringing up is just so much sloganeering and very little exegesis. The overwhelming use of the word shebet in the OT (usually translated "rod") actually points away from the meaning these guys want to give it.

My wife did a post about this awhile back: http://thesmocklady.com/blog/?s=spanking

Mrs. Brigham said...

Thank you for sharing this excellent post!

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

May be if I beat him with a rod he will learn what the true meaning of the Means of Grace is. Eh? No, if I truly want to see change, it must happen through the Gospel. Only through the Gospel can a true change of heart occur. The Law, which is the rod, only breaks and kills. The Gospel makes us alive.

John said...

As for your comments on Tripp, it seems to me you made a equivocational error. There's a difference between salvation and raising your in a way that might help them see their need for Christ just as the law does for us (Romans 10:4).

Tripp would most likely NOT say that spanking has more power than Christ if you asked him, but rather that spanking is one of many tools that could help parents point their kids to Christ when they misbehave.

dave g said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Lutherans believe in law and gospel, not gospel and gospel. Of course the law doesn't save, but it plays an important role vis-a-vis salvation, i.e. it shows you that you need it. The rod is basically an embodiment of the law. If e.g. Tripp thinks the use of the rod is important in bringing your kids to Christ, that doesn't imply that he thinks it's a means of grace. Maybe it just means he has orthodox beliefs about the law as well as the gospel.

Forty-two said...

John and Dave G, thank you for your intelligent comments - too often the debate over spanking degenerates into name-calling and ad hominem attacks. However, I still disagree with what you wrote ;).

If Tripp had merely said that spanking is ONE effective means of discipline - i.e. teaching - I would agree with your defense of Tripp. However, Tripp crossed the line - and got himself into trouble - by claiming that the "using the rod" means spanking - exclusively. The rod is a symbol of God's authority, and "using the rod" means teaching God's Law. Tripp's interpretation is just wrong, and it leads to many troubling applications.

John:
...There's a difference between salvation and raising your kids in a way that might help them see their need for Christ just as the law does for us (Romans 10:4).


True enough. But Tripp sees spanking as something more than "a way that might help them see their need for Christ."

Tripp would most likely NOT say that spanking has more power than Christ if you asked him, but rather that spanking is one of many tools that could help parents point their kids to Christ when they misbehave.

I never said that Tripp believed that spanking had more power than Christ; rather Tripp believes (or writes, anyway) that God has imbued spanking with the power to change unregenerate hearts. That is far more than just "point[ing] their kids to Christ", even if it is not quite a means of grace.

Tripp quotes Proverbs, and writes: "One of the justifications for spanking children is that ‘Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him’ (Proverbs 22:15). The point of the proverb is that something is wrong in the heart of the child that requires correction (21).”

He then states that the "something wrong" - the foolishness in the child - "cannot be met by mere talk" (105).

What CAN it be met by? "The spanking process drives foolishness from the heart of a child (106)." "[S]panking enables you to deal with issues of the heart (153). "The spanking is designed to rescue the child from continuing in his foolishness. If he continues, his doom is certain. Thus, the parent, driven by love for the child, must use the rod (153)."

Spanking is not just one option of many for Tripp - it is the only option. Tripp ascribes power to spanking that "mere talk" cannot duplicate. He also heavily implies that the results of spanking - driving foolishness from the heart - is NECESSARY, though not sufficient, for salvation:

"The rod is a rescue mission. The child who needs a spanking has become distanced from his parents through disobedience. The spanking is designed to rescue the child from continuing in his foolishness. If he continues, his doom is certain. Thus, the parent, driven by love for the child, must use the rod (110, emphasis mine)."

So, Tripp may not say that spanking saves, but he DOES say that it must be used, and not using it has catastrophic consequences. That's bad enough in my book.

Dave G:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but Lutherans believe in law and gospel, not gospel and gospel. Of course the law doesn't save, but it plays an important role vis-a-vis salvation, i.e. it shows you that you need it.


True enough. I just don't believe that additional, artificial, negative consequences - especially those utilizing physical pain - are required in order to be convicted by the Law.

The rod is basically an embodiment of the law.

Yes and no. If you are talking about the rod as a symbol of God's authority, then, yes, it embodies God's Law. However, if you are talking about the rod as an instrument meant for whacking people, then I completely disagree.


If e.g. Tripp thinks the use of the rod is important in bringing your kids to Christ, that doesn't imply that he thinks it's a means of grace. Maybe it just means he has orthodox beliefs about the law as well as the gospel.


Well, if he believed "us[ing] the rod" meant teaching God's Law, then, yes, he would have orthodox beliefs. However, believing that spanking is NECESSARY to bring your kids to Christ is completely unorthodox.

b said...

42,
Hmmm ...
42: "I never said that Tripp believed that spanking had more power than Christ"

Actually you did when you said:

"despite his many strong statements that only Christ can save us from our sins, he ascribes yet more power to spanking"



Next, you said,
42: "So, Tripp may not say that spanking saves, but he DOES say that it must be used"

But is not God commanding us to use the rod in these proverbs?

John

Forty-two said...

John,

Mea culpa on implying that Tripp believes spanking has more power than Christ. I didn't even remotely mean it that way, but I can see how it came across like that. I've changed the wording to reflect that.

Christine said...

Right there with ya!

I'm a former Ezzo-ite. I had the Pearl's book given to me when my oldest was young -- with a smile and a, "My friends have the most PERFECTLY behaved children and they said they just do everything this book says."

adventuresinmercy said...

What a great great GREAT post. Thank you for writing this. I'm a former Pearl-parent. I was so blind to this...absolutely blind!

I'm doing a series of posts on parenting by grace right now, and a friend left a link to your site and said I needed to read your post. Wonderful stuff. Thanks so much.

stephanie j. said...

While I haven't ever read Pearl or Ezzo (and had never planned on it!) I have been a "Tripper" for 5 years now. However, I've recently been seriously re-thinking his stance on The Rod. Thanks for the additional info to chew on. (PS I found this post via the link on the WTM message boards post about "Grace Based Parenting"...thanks for answering my question!)

Sarah said...

I know this is an old post, but just had to comment.
Thank you. You said it much more analytically and eloquently then I did.
I cannot help but to be disgusted by the fact that these authors, representing Christ's teachings, not only believe, but promote such utter nonsense.