Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Why Read Authors With Bad Theology? By Leslie

I wanted to do a quick follow-up (ha, ha, ha; as if that’s possible) to my parenting book recommendations post on the subject of learning from other authors. I mentioned in the book reviews that I don’t agree with everything in the books but recommended them if I thought there was still a lot of helpful materials.

John Piper, whose theology Christopher and I greatly respect, has often mentioned how helpful C. S. Lewis has been to him in helping him understand the Christian life. However, those familiar with "The Last Battle" know that Lewis’s poor theology comes out where someone is found in heaven who did not follow Aslan but followed Tash the false God. This is a concept that Piper vehemently fights against, and yet he has still learned greatly from Lewis. I find that if I only read authors who I agreed with on every point, I would never read any books and I believe my faith would be all the less refined for it. Iron sharpens iron.

So let’s go down the line. First, I no sooner mention that we greatly respect Piper’s theology than I feel compelled to immediately insert: except his view on believer’s only baptism. What if we never read Piper because we didn’t agree with him on that one point? We would be robbing ourselves of a wealth of Biblical knowledge and exhortation—-in other words, Christian growth.

Next, Douglas Wilson, author of the first book I mentioned: accused of being by some (or perhaps admits to being, I don’t know because I’m not up on this) a sacramentalist. Furthermore, his church practices infant communion.

Tedd Tripp is a Baptist so doesn’t come to parenting with a paedo-baptist, covenantal perspective.

The Pearls do not have a biblical understanding of original sin. They believe we become sinners when we sin (and we all do sin).

And I don’t know anything about the Ezzo’s theology or much about Ginger Plowman, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have to dig far to find something I disagree with.

So let’s explore the idea that theology informs our parenting advice. And if all these authors have poor theology at some point, how can I recommend them? One person commented particularly about the Pearls and I think that comment was very astute. I feel like the proverbial teacher at this moment: “I’m glad you asked.” But I am glad that someone brought that up because it is a very good point. Since the theological contentions I have with the other authors are very minor compared with their error, let's look at them.

So how can I say that this couple, who is not just a little mistaken, but has one of the major tenants of the reformed faith wrong, can give good advice? Let me answer the question this way. Do you know any tidy, Reformed couples who can say TULIP in their sleep, know the Westminster Confession of faith better than scripture and yet have no biblical theology of family? I do. Do you know of any families who can recite the doctrine of total depravity along with the appropriate scripture references at the drop of the hat and yet their families are a mess?

The Pearls, despite their lack of understanding the historic, Reformed faith, somehow have a more thoroughly biblical, practical, God-honoring, God-glorifying theology of raising children who glorify and honor God than many families crowding the Reformed pews of America today. The Pearls got this profound wisdom from reading the book of Proverbs (and other scriptures), believing it, and putting it into practice. Now they are teaching others how to put it into practice. Now that is biblical theology! I wish that they did have a biblical view of total depravity and that they weren’t Arminian.

But why is it that so many Reformed couples are having one or two kids and getting their tubes tied so it's not too inconvenient to fly to the Carribean every spring break? Now that is poor theology for you. Is there a Bible verse here that I’m missing? Please someone, email it to me. You know, the one that “balances out” the verses about Children are a Blessing, (or does it say, one child is a Blessing? No. It’s plural). Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Notice it doesn’t give a number and neither should we. But there is a definite biblical thrust of many, not few. But in our reformed circles (following the thrust of the culture at large), less is usually viewed as better. Many is often to be pitied. I know of many families who are exceptions to the line of thinking I am talking of, but not near enough! So in my mind, there is this great disconnect in our churches where the foundational theology is Biblical, and yet somehow our theology of the family and parenting is just plain lousy.

But I think there’s a lesson in all this: Shame on us!
Shame on us that we have to look outside of the Reformed faith to find some of the most biblical advice on parenting. Shame on us who do understand total depravity that we in Reformed circles somehow can’t control our kids. Shame on us that our parenting practices are more rooted in the ideas of Freud and Dr. Spock than the Bible—and we don’t even know it—until we run smack-dab, head-first, into some tiny, poorly-written, self-published paperback authored by uneducated, Arminian, Nashville-hicks (they wouldn’t mind me referring to them as such). All of a sudden we are knocked to our senses and look around blinking saying, “Why is no one in our churches giving good advice about parenting?” “Why are the Christian books in the books stores so pop-psychology.” Now I’ve really opened a can of worms and I better stop this post before my husband blocks me from posting on his blog because of my inability to stop writing, ever. But I would love to hear more comments from anyone on this subject.

But one more disclaimer. THEOLOGY MATTERS
I hope I am not sounding to some like I am hopping on the ever-so-popular, theology-doesn’t-matter train. I didn’t mean to imply at all that the doctrine of total depravity is not an immensely important doctrine that should be studied and has a direct bearing on our theology of parenting. I also didn’t mean to minimize the negative effects that bad doctrine can have or minimize the positive implications of correct doctrine. I think that TULIP is a very helpful acronym, and I think that the Westminster confession of faith is a very biblical document that should be studied. I am only saying that a biblical teaching of family has fallen on very hard times and we have to look far and wide to find good books and teaching. Sometimes we are even surprised that those with poor theology have a more biblical view of the family then we do. And that in reading them, we are learning a lot more about what the Bible teaches about family than we are getting anywhere else. Sometimes we are quick to believe in TULIP and slow to believe in Proverbs and we need a wake-up call, a splash of cold water in our face, before our families look exactly like the world.


TulipGirl said...

Just posting here to let you know I appreciate your comments and several of the points you made. If you are interested in discussing this further, I am. . . My husband and I have found through the years that it's not parenting teachers having "right theology" or not, but how often teachers (and parents) seem to forget the Gospel when it comes to our children. Anyway, that point isn't as clear as I'd like to make it, but before expounding further I want to make sure you are interested in this conversation and I'm not intruding. . .

Grace and peace,

Anonymous said...

I'm enjoying reading your thoughts on parenting books, etc. I don't know why, but we've never read the Wilson book on parenting. I'll be sure to remedy that soon. Most of the other books have been our favorites as well. I do think a few more disclaimers might be in order on a few of them. The Pearls appear to have a little more wrong theologically than original sin. One of the titles of a book or sermon of Michael's is "Sin no more" along with several other titles that imply they might believe in the ability of Christians to become sinless. I'm not positive about it though. People should just skip chapter 2 of To Train up a Child altogether, as that is the one that goes into a convoluted explanation of how children can appear to be sinners without actually being so. Then I think the book will lose most people if not warned that they are pretty far-out in some of their ideas, i.e. pushing kids into a pond to teach them not to go near water. But in general their book has so much helpful advice on the actual practice of training children starting at a very young age and the high expectations we can have as Christian parents for the obedience of our children. This is the kind of specific advice I've never read anywhere else.

Now the Ezzo's. They're even more controversial than the Pearls. I've only ever read Babywise and found some of the basic ideas in it helpful, which you mostly summed up. What you need to realize, though, is that there are 2 versions of the book--one for the secular world, which is what I read and I think yours was too. The other isn't just from a Christian perspective, containing more Bible verses or something, it's much more strict about exactly how you're supposed to do things with your baby. The Ezzo's would never make the distinctions that you find obvious about not doing the strict schedule from the moment the baby is born, because they thoroughly disagree. The friends I have who have read the other version of Babywise have been crazy about sleep schedules from the moment the baby is born. It kind of wierds me out. My close friend is able to tell me months before her baby is born what time her baby will wake in the morning, when her baby's naps will be for the first couple of months, etc. The baby's schedule has nothing to do with the baby's body, and everything to do with what works for the family. Serious Babywise followers will leave their baby screaming in their crib for 45 minutes within weeks of being born because it's not time for them to get up and eat yet. I don't find that healthy. And I'm not against babies crying it out, just don't do it from birth. I liked your summary of the book and caveat about dealing with life for the first few months. I wish someone would come out with a more helpful book that falls in the middle of the Ezzo's and Dr. Sears. I do think our babies should be comforted by us and know we are there. I think bonding is important. But I also think the family bed is a nightmare, and babies should be trained to sleep through the night; they won't do it on their own, usually.

OK, sorry for the long response. I miss talking to you guys. I haven't been online much recently and have enjoyed catching up with your family somewhat through the blog tonight. The remodeling is looking awesome. I can't believe how much you've gotten done this quickly! Obviously Preston and your mom and dad were extrememly helpful.

Well, I'm due in about 4 more weeks,, so our life is about to get crazier :)

Leslie said...

I am interested in this discussion! I do know what you mean by forgetting the gospel, though. Grace should definitely be a part of our parenting because that is how God the Father parents us; with all grace and patience and always for our good. And our parenting should reflect his parenting. He also disciplines us for our good. And I am assuming perhaps that is along the lines of what you meant by not forgetting the gospel when parenting? As soon as parenting principles start to look like law without grace, there is trouble (uh-oh, I see another post coming). Sometimes when I am encountered by all the indulgent parents out there I am tempted to swing in the opposite direction toward strictness because I don't want to be like them. But that is reactionary and always misses the gospel. I appreciate your thoughts.

Leslie said...

I appreciate your thoughts about the posts. It's good to hear from you; we miss you guys too now that we're not in Bloomington to see you when you visit. Wow! Only four more weeks to go! We will be waiting for the exciting news. I have another three months.

I agree with you about the additional cautions about the Pearls. It's weird how they can get so far off. But all the people that I have recommended their book to, I feel like are sound enough in their faith to handle it. It's true though that it could lead a young believer astray.

As for the Ezzos, I also agree with everything you said about them. It is way too extreme. I think that is because it is only a reactionary philosophy. It wasn't contrived (I don't believe) by thoughtful research, prayer, study on what is really the best way to parent infants in light of the needs of a family, but I believe it was developed totally in reaction to all the overboard family-bed, demand-nursing groups out there. Part of why I think this is because they specifically mention attachment parenting in their book and warn against it. I think attachment parenting came first and then they tried to remedy it by swinging way too far in the other direction.

I have wondered about recommending it to people and I guess the reason I still do (with many caveats) is so that people can get an idea of the "other side" if all they've seen is really indulgent parenting. I don't know if I would have had the courage to let my babies cry it out (especially the first) if I hadn't read the book telling me it was okay. I might have rocked them to sleep until they were 9 months or something. Some people are intuitively more wise about that kind of thing or have been taught and don't need babywise telling them that. I probably did. I probably needed that encouragement to strive for a flexible routine; otherwise I can be the wing-it type. But I never did anything near as strict as the book recommends. I found my own happy medium.

So, I agree with you that there needs to be a book out there that is somewhere between Ezzo and Sears. Maybe it's out there and I just haven't come across it yet. But in my experience, a lot of young mothers (including myself) don't have a clue how to handle their first baby and I feel like we do need a book.

For me, reading both Sears and Ezzo gave me a balanced perspective, as well as the knowledge to interact with the inevitable explosions that have happened at discussions in MOPS or playgroups when either name is mentioned (particularily Ezzo). But I wonder for other people if it might all just be more confusing and maybe they would have just been better off not reading anything than really extreme stuff. So in light of that, I may rethink recommending Ezzo in the future. It might depend too on who I am recommending it to and if they are a person prone to extremes (like the people you mentioned). If they are people prone to be lax and not proactive in their parenting, it could be a little kick in the pants. Just some thoughts.

Keep in touch.

Deb said...

Great reading your blogs, Leslie! Amen to the need for a Sears-Ezzo medium. The best I've found on sleep, scheduling, and newborns is "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Weissbluth. It's not written from a Christian persepective, but the guy's a sleep specialist and does a great job explaining physiological needs while letting the parents decide how to help their babies develop good habits (i.e. from letting them cry it out to rocking them to sleep). Unlike the Ezzos, it's guilt-free, just a great primer for new Moms.

Keep up the great writing. So good to see pics of your family and house! Blessings!