Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events

(Note: While I enjoy a good debate, I do not enjoy the prospect of offending. Please take this in the spirit it is offered: an appeal to avoid the cliffs off of which other parents before us have fallen. Thank you. Noel)

I'm not likely to forget her for a long time.
Doe-eyed little beauty.
Bright smile.
Gentle spirit.
She and my 8 year old had delightfully struck up a friendship, despite some obvious outward differences. My daughter introduced her to me with a grin, and then they skipped merrily off to play.

But my eyes blazed, indignant. She was from one of 'those' households.
My daughter never did find out her last name. And we will likely never see her again. But I think of her often.
She haunts me.
And I wonder what she will look like twenty years from now.
Will she look like all of those happy women from Russian or China or Cuba who are so beaten down by oppression that their only hope is someday Heaven?
Or will she look like Stevie Nicks, the smoky-voiced gypsy of Fleetwood Mac fame, who rejected her legalistic Pentecostal upbringing...only to find bondage somewhere else?

Stop dragging her heart around. 

I'm a long-time, ardent, vocal participant (and sometime critic) of homeschooling.
Both Brett and I have served in various leadership capacities within the homeschooling community.
Our ten children have blossomed in our homeschooling environment.
We've all made life-long, amazing, godly friends in homeschooling.
Big fan.


Homeschooling is largely responsible for a number of movements which, I fear, tend to live at the top of slippery slopes. These are popular movements among many of my dear friends. But I have some concerns. Let me explain.

Homeschooling is the movement which brought us Train Up a Child.
Not a fan.
This is the approach which advocates, for example, teaching an infant not to bite during breastfeeding by pulling her hair.
You are not Pavlov, and your children are not dogs.
Consider their frames. Psalm 103:14
Consider that there is a time before they know right from wrong. Isaiah 7:16
You are not grooming them for a dog show; you are shepherding their souls.

Training our children is not a rats-in-the-lab activity that focuses on reflexes or bells. Training our children requires addressing their souls, not their reflexes. It requires preaching the Gospel.
Good parenting communicates to the child and about the child, "I am a great sinner; Christ is a great Savior."
And it requires an "I need Jesus, too" attitude.
Ditch the dog-training. Find Gospel wisdom in Ted Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart or Doug Wilson's Standing on the Promises.
"The Pearls" (I just love how people refer to The Pearls like they're found in holy writ) turn the Train Them Up crank too far.

Homeschooling is also the movement that brought us the concept of daughter as Dad's Helper.
Not a fan.
This approach stems from a good and godly zeal to raise daughters to understand their task as keepers of the home.
But...consider that this is a very slippery slope, not to mention problematic.
Problematic? I think yes. First, the role of helper belongs to the wife, solely the wife. To place the daughter in that position is to usurp the wife's role. Second, the role of helper comes as part and parcel of the intimacy of the marriage covenant. You see where I'm going with this. And you can't--you.can.not--have one without the other. Third, where there is gender-specific training, that training is done by the same gender (Titus 2). In other words, daughters in the home should be Mom's helpers, not Dad's. One is scripturally defensible; one is...not. Finally, I venture to say that you would not let your son usurp the role of the husband by 'practicing being the head of the household.' You would not let him have authority over your wife (or else we've got another, far more serious issue...).
This approach turns the Titus 2 crank too far.

Homeschooling is the movement that brought us Hyper Modesty.
Not a fan.
Cover up, girls. Shame on you for your curves and your eyelashes and your silky hair. Here, you she-devil temptress, you, take this flour sack and this headcovering and get behind me, Satan.
But...isn't that immodest?  Immodesty, after all, is really letting something other than Christ in you attract attention. Black tights and sin-sifters stick out like neon signs in our culture. They attract, rather than deflect, attention.
It is no shame that our daughters have hips, legs, and breasts; it is a shame to pretend that they don't.
Making our daughters feel guilty for looking like women and liking it turns the modesty crank too far.

Is it sinful to train your kids like dogs? Technically, no.
Is it sinful to train your daughters to be Dad's helpers?
Is it sinful to cover your daughter in a burqa? Unfortunately, no.
None of these are reasons to send the elders in to do an intervention.
But, they are all slippery slopes which can have unintended consequences. And they can seriously backfire on earnest, God-fearing parents.
Worse, to teach something is Biblically correct when it is merely a house rule, is to be more pious than God. And it cheapens our claim to Sola Scriptura.

All this crank turning too far makes us off-plumb.
And off-plumb, even a little, is not plumb.
It's not okay, in an effort to avoid the ditch of lawlessness, to back into the ditch of legalism  .
Where does this land of Off-Plumb take us?
Where does all this risky insistence of parenting on top of the slippery slopes bring our children?

I give you Homeschoolers Anonymous.
(Note: There are other sites out there created solely to respond to homeschoooling off-plumb, too. Yes, I am keeping in mind that one man seems right until another states his case. But that wisdom works in both directions, and these sites are the other man stating his case.)

I've spent a good bit of time this week reading the posts over at Homeschoolers' Anonymous.
My heart is heavy.
These are kids who were raised in Off-Plumb.
They are angry. They are hurt. They have rejected the Gospel.
But, as my son Luke (who has been blogging with his friends about this issue over at Thinkers, Incorporated) so adeptly pointed out, there are no good guys over there.
Not the rebel kids.
Not the legalistic parents.
Not the absentee elders.
I'd venture to say that these kids don't even know what the Gospel is.

And I begin to wonder, parents, who of us is in danger of raising a future HA blogger?

I'm asking myself a few questions these days. Come ask them with me.

1. Am I putting obedience above relationship?
When my child fails--and he will fail--I need to bring him to the Cross. My goal should never, ever, ever be outward submission. That misses the point completely. Rather, my goal should be to get at that attitude in his heart that doesn't love God and His goodness. And getting him to please Mommy and Daddy also misses the mark. Put down your ego, for crying out loud. This is NOT about you. Getting your child to want to please the Lord is the goal. This sorely convicts me.

2. Am I recognizing that these children are fearfully and wonderfully made...and that they might be a whole lot different from me?
They have bents and gifts and talents which are uniquely theirs. Do I grant them, in the midst of our shepherding, a certain level of autonomy? Do I let him dream about the future, even if my kid is a romantic, and his ideas seriously yank my own rationalist chain? Or do I lay down the "Thou shalt run the family business" law? Do I let them see where their hearts lead them in searching for a mate? Or do I manipulate them into a romance not of their choosing? Do I grant them the freedom, for the sake of Romans 14, to raise households that might look different from mine?

3. How do I handle their sin?
Wow. I've been searching my heart on this one. If one of my children were to come to me and tell me that they struggled with same-sex attraction, do I have such a grasp of the Gospel that I am non-plussed? that I tell them that is evidence of their Adamic nature? that they must take every thought captive and fight the good fight? Or do I fly off the handle, take all their identification, and drive them to the middle of nowhere with $7 to their name (true HA story)? Where's the Cross in this picture? If the Cross is not dead-center in the story of my children's sin, then I am failing them utterly. If I am more concerned about my reputation among the Saints than about working and walking with them through every valley of the shadow of death, then I am failing them utterly.

4. Does my child have a biblical understanding of sex, gender, and roles?
Do I teach my child God's glorious plan for men and women, marriage, complementarianism, fathers and mothers, family, and child-rearing? Or do I swing to Biblically unsupportable extremes regarding both patriarchy and submission? Do I make sex and their bodies a taboo topic? Is fashion evil? Do I speak with harshness when I talk about their gender? Or do I speak confidently about all of these good gifts?

Bottom line:
If we tell our children we believe the Gospel, we jolly well better believe the Gospel.
If we want our children to approach us, we jolly well better be approachable.
If we want our children to know that we love them unconditionally, we jolly well better not set conditions on our love.

These tragic HA cases are tragic precisely because there is no Gospel to be found anywhere on that site. Like Stevie Nicks, they've jumped from a godless frying pan into a godless fire.
And they're good with that, they all say.
They're over there rationalizing about their sinful choices by saying that they are 'born that way,' And I agree; we are all 'born that way.' But that's bad news. And not a single soul over at HA is preaching the Good News. I think it's because their parents and their elders never preached the Gospel. What a shame. But then, the Gospel doesn't live in Off Plumb.

You want to see what it looks like for fathers to exasperate their children? It looks like Homeschoolers Anonymous.

We better be ready to be peacemakers in our home.
We better be ready to lead them Through Smoke...

Before the truth will come to fill our eyes,
The wool comes down in the form of lies.
When the answers and the truth have cut their ties
Will you still find me,
Will you still see me through smoke? *

which brings me to my next point...
More to come.

*Through Smoke, Needtobreathe, 2009


  1. Holy cow. This post is amazing. Thank you for posting your perspective as a Gospel-centered parent on this's really encouraging to read.

  2. I love this. Great perspective and great points.

  3. You left off Growing Kids Gods Way ... the perfect recipe for creating sociopaths.