Avoiding Terrible Children

Despite the way the title might sound, this post isn’t really a guide to getting out of serving in the church nursery. (If you know how to do that, please let me know and we’ll write a book, get rich and famous, and go on all the talk shows. I assume it has to do with claiming to have leprosy.) Instead, this is a brief review of Joel Beeke’s brief booklet How Do We Plant Godly Convictions in Our Children? 

And I do have to stress that this is just a pamphlet. Even more, much of it is a summary of Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart. ‘Summary’ may not be quite the right word there, but clearly both authors are making the same points… Presumably because they’re writing from the same source material.

So why not just read Tripp’s book? Well, you should. But you should also read Beeke’s pamphlet as well, because in addition to being an excellent summary Beeke adds some material that I think is useful. Specifically, he gives us the long view of what raising a child should look like. (Disclaimer: It’s been so long since I’ve read Tripp’s book that I don’t remember if Tripp talked about this or not. But it feels like Tripp did not.)

Beeke argues correctly that our purpose in raising children should cover three stages: regulation, participation, supplication. In the first stage (early childhood), we teach and enforce the rules that keep children safe and instruct them on what an ethical life looks like. In this ‘regulation’ stage we also teach them about God’s character and our own sin.

Apparently, this is Santa Claus disciplining a boy who’s been… less than good, while the parents chat in the background? This is NOT what is meant by ‘discipline’ in Beeke’s book. Image source: Wikipedia.

In the second stage (participation–late childhood into adolescence) we begin teaching them how to apply what they have learned earlier in life. They are increasingly independent moral agents with the responsibility of living well in the world.

In the third stage (supplication–late adolescence/adulthood) parents are now fully sidelined, and act as resources to be requested rather than guides or authorities in life.

This seems exactly right. I’m still a newish parent, but the goal of raising a Christian (out of our hands ultimately, what with grace and all) who is a functional, independent, and ethical member of society (also out of our hands, but much less so) sounds Biblical.

My quibbles with this book are basically the same ones I’ve got with Tripp’s book. Discipline is mandatory–but I don’t know that it has to mean ‘spanking’ in absolutely every circumstance. Surely that is going to vary child-to-child and occasion-to-occasion. All children need to be disciplined, but I don’t know why “the rod” can’t include time outs, extra chores, etc if that is what works for the child.  But then again, I’m still a newish parent. Maybe it really is a universal and I’m just letting the culture seep in and define this aspect of my thought. In any case, do read Beeke’s booklet–it’s useful and short!

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO.

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