Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Two Smacks Max

DISCLAIMER: What a can of worms opens up when parents begin sharing their discipline methods! Let's all agree to treat one another with dignity and support for the places we are at on these parenting journeys. Upfront, I am not a "what you do in your home is fine, and what I do in my home is fine" because of the need for, oh, foster care and the reality of abuse. Including verbal and emotional abuse. I genuinely pray and desire for all people to know Jesus Christ as God and know the power of his transforming love in all areas of life... especially on those low, mean dog days as parents to our children.


It's where I least expect deep, turning point conversations. And this conversation easily slid from commiserating about an eye roll from one of our 4.5 year olds to "Have you read __ parenting book?" After all, both of us are teachers, moms, Christians. I didn't think twice about borrowing her preferred book. After all, we've known each other for a year in the same Bible study group, and she has babysat my kids. This conversation was no big deal. Right?

Facebook PM

One week after I started reading, considering, and implementing some of the author's techniques, Nick sends me a private message on Facebook. Longer than a text and he added a URL (boy, our phone plan just does the basics). Nick asked me to read an Amazon review. Honestly, these (often emotional) reviews get grain of sand weight from me most of the time. Nick favors 3/5 star reviews, and he wisely chose one for me to read: the curtain pulled back as I read and I was floored to be considering a parenting book that had only two tools. 1) Preach the Gospel of human's total depravity and God's unconditional love. 2) Spank. Spank!!??

It was nap time for Evan and Abigail was engrossed in her puzzle sheets, coloring, and cutting sheets, so I dug further on Amazon. One intelligent Christian mama posted a review that included Hebrew word definitions and how this particular author missed the boat by interpreting an English translation through his American culture, instead of seeking the original meaning of a word and text in it's original cultural context and then applying that to today. Rather than trust the most popular Christian parenting books on Amazon (which apparently were mostly following the same advice as this author?!), I looked up publishers that I trust to see what they had to offer.

Schooled: The Worst and Best

After taking two weeks to read through the following books, here are my reviews and recommendations. It was pretty humbling to personally reflect on how I and Nick have been parenting through the past 4.5 years, to our older child and to siblings at different stages. The "terrible two's" look like a cinch compared to the "talk-back, I'll-convince-you four's." The best books below help with both of those stages!

The Worst

"Shepherding a Child's Heart" Tedd Tripp, 1995
This is the awful pro-spanking book that my friend loaned me. I like how it seeks to move parents beyond focusing on external behavior to helping a child see how their poor choice is a sin against God. But the only other tool suggested by Tripp is spanking. This is a dangerous book for parents who have very concrete or small "parenting toolboxes." Spanking should not be the next step for any infraction. Read on for much more robust Biblical parenting books.

The Best

"Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts" William J. Webb, 2011
Webb also authored "Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis," 2001. Hermeneutics is a fancy word for how we interpret the meaning of a Biblical text. In both books, Webb looks at how words were used in their original language context, how words are used within the Bible, and what other cultures were doing at the time a Biblical text was written. For example, Webb uses what he calls an X-Y-Z redemptive hermeneutic: X is the practice of similar Middle East cultures, Y is usually a slightly better ethic in what God called Israelites to do, but Z is our ultimate goal as Christians. Z most closely resembles what redeemed heavens and earth will look like under the reign of God's Kingdom.

This image is found in "Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals"
Let's use a corporal punishment example from Webb's book. X surrounding cultures are ancient Egyptian corporal punishment texts that prescribe 100-200 blows for offenses like unpaid land dues, driving a herdsman from his pasture, or stealing goods, ancient Babylonian texts that prescribe 60 blows for offenses like false accusation or striking the cheek of an upper class person, and ancient Assyrian texts that prescribe 20 blows for a woman laying a hand on a man to 100 blows for stealing sheep. Y is what God called the Israelites to do, and is usually better, such as 40 blows maximum (in the whole Old Testament), like when two men argue and one is found guilty by a judge, the guilty man may be flogged no more than with 40 blows. Before I explain the Z ethic that Christians should strive for, let me quote Webb explaining why Y is not good enough for us today:
Christians need to recognize that at one level biblical instructions do not always represent an ultimate ethic in their treatment of human beings. To think that they do is a misguided assumption. But the greater problem is not realizing or sensing the redemptive spirit of the text and thus failing to let that biblical brilliance and passion ignite our hearts today. Staying with the concrete specificity on the page is like trying to do ethics today with museum pieces that come from an archaeological dig -- they are fragile, eroded and strangely out of place.
So what is the ultimate Z ethic when it comes to interpreting passages like the following?
Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy, but the rod of discipline drives it far away. Proverbs 22:15
Webb advises understanding the original Hebrew meaning of the words "rod" and "discipline," as well as getting to the abstracted meaning of what's being advised. Then a reader should look at the purpose meanings; if the same purpose can be achieved (turn from folly and embrace wisdom) with gentler, more loving non-corporal means, then the parent has embraced the redemptive movement ethic of a text. Webb concedes and encourages parents who may have been raised under Focus On the Family's and James Dobson's "two smacks max"ethic that two blows is an improvement over the concrete-specific 40 blows teachings in the Bible. But Webb notices that two smacks max interpretation has departed from original biblical meaning and challenges parents to take the redemptive spirit further, writing that we are not just free to move away from the literal meaning, we are obligated to move to a better ethic. Webb outlines more than 7 benefits for abolishing corporal punishment and mutilations altogether, for children and adults. The most compelling, in my opinion, is our Christian witness to non-Christian neighbors:
If how we act toward children in our parenting practices and what we say about the troubling corporal punishment texts intersects in a confirming and consistent redemptive fashion, then followers of Jesus might actually be able to engage their neighbors in a positive and proactive way.
In sum, "Corporal Punishment in the Bible" is not a parenting book (don't be afraid; his writing is not dry or dense, rather it is clear and direct, with charts). Webb writes an academic book that challenges Christians to read Scripture deeply and beyond literal interpretation. He also includes a very helpful postscript where he outlines his own parenting journey to his three children (one of whom has a degenerative brain disease and thinks more and more like a preschooler even though he is an adult) and provides techniques and books to guide parents in how to train and correct their children in loving, non-corporal ways. Everything he suggests are the current best practices for K-12 educators and special education educators!

The Best

"Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children into the Joy of Worship" Robbie Fox Castleman, 2013

Robbie's writing style is fresh, honest, and humorous. She includes many personal experience stories with her two boys (who are only 17 months apart, God bless her) and other children in worship. What I very much appreciate is that while Robbie grew up "going to church" and being taught to be quiet in church. She actually became a follower of Jesus as a junior in college, but because she had no positive formative experience "going to worship" as a child, Robbie struggled as a pastor's wife while she parented her two young boys alone in the pew.
Is "Hurry up!" the call to worship in your home? Does the pressure of finding shoes, scolding a slow one, and settling fights diminish your sense of confidence as a Christian parent? Does your hypocrisy quotient increase as the tension of getting out of the house gives way to a warm "Hello!" for the church people you don't live with?
Robbie outlines what worship is and why we do it for God. She starts with the parent's attitudes, then helps parents reflect on worship BC (before children), and worship AD (after diapers). Robbie offers very practical tips for how Sunday worship actually begins on Saturday night. She takes children's church, Sunday school, and nursery programs head on, offering a new perspective on how parents and churches work together to teach children of all ages to worship God and participate in whole congregation worship. This reminder is a good one for those of us with squeaky babies and squirming toddlers:
Believing parents should be discouraged from using children's worship as an excuse to escape the rigors of being with and training their children in worship... 
Parents are the best people to teach their children what it means to worship God. And I believe that parenting in the pew helps adults as well as their offspring to pay attention.
Robbie reminds us of concrete ways to extend worshipping God past 1-2 hours on Sunday morning, and into the week through home worship and out of the home service. And the back of the book includes discussion questions and reflections so a small group Bible study could read the book over 10 weeks. Doing this as a study would be wonderful for parents of children of any age, older adults whose children are grown, and church workers and pastors who are involved in shaping worship services and children's programs!

The Best

"Love and Logic" book and DVD series by Jim Fay and Charles Fay

I won't write as much about this recommendation, because it is easily accessible through any public library system and isn't a Christian parenting book. It is however, excellent! As a busy grad school dad, rather than read yet another book, Nick appreciated watching just one 20 minute DVD segment before bed a few nights a week with me. Many public school districts often offer teacher training, or parent university seminars based on the books.

The Best

"The Happiest Baby on the Block" and "Happiest Toddler on the Block" book and DVD series by Harvey Karp

Again, because this post is mostly a way to get good Christian parenting information out there, I won't write much about these books. The techniques in the books have been instantly helpful for us as we parented our two kids! Most public library systems carry both the books and DVDs, both of which I've used for me and as fast learning tool for Nick. The best part of the DVDs is that Karp demonstrates the five S-soothing techniques for babies with real babies, and how to calm a toddler on the verge of tantrum with real toddlers. I also appreciated seeing Dr. Karp interact with children as a pediatrician in office visits, and it gave me good food for thought as I watched pediatricians interact with my own kids.

How about you?
Have you ever been recommended a parenting book, only to realize that it contained misguided advice?
What are your favorite Christian parenting books?
Please leave a comment here!


  1. Awesome. I will check out some of those books to look ahead:) Thanks for the reviews!

  2. Parenting in the pews applies now for David, at 9 months old :) Having a newborn or older baby with me in worship can be a big attitude adjustment, I remember well!!