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.
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).
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).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.
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).
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.
- 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).
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):
[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.