By this point, having determined that No Greater Joy’s underlying theology is not biblical, though it uses many common expressions recognized by Bible-believers, we must now examine the fruits of the teaching. Is it possible to still find good in the practicalities of NGJ’s parenting method? Is it possible to separate the child-training advice and the positive anecdotes from the misguided theological teachings?
Let us begin by asking Michael Pearl’s opinion of the matter.
The Bible calls it chastisement with a rod. We call it training. The spankings we give our children do not resemble punishment. We are not angry. We don’t lose control. We are not desirous to make children suffer for their misdeeds. Application of the rod is only a small but essential part of our training technique…
It is not just a difference of opinion about what technique is best in rearing children. It is a matter of basic presuppositions. To give up the use of the rod is to give up our views of human nature, God, eternity, judgment, etc.
In Defense of Biblical Chastisement, Part 1, emphasis ours
We have established that NGJ’s view of human nature diverges from the biblical account due to their basic presuppositions on the origin and essence of the moral nature. We have established that NGJ’s view of God is distorted from that of Scripture by the same. If the child-training method cannot at least find some biblical grounds in eternity and judgment, the ministry’s entire reason for existence is in question.
Cat: Concerns on Salvation
Once again, I turned to NGJ’s audio resources to find out what precisely their teaching is on these specific matters. To Train Up a Child certainly makes some statements of concern, but what is their greater context? Is it possible they’re unclear or easy to misunderstand due to brevity or due to being a secondary topic?
One of the faults of modern preaching is to preach the person of Christ without preaching His message. To disassociate Christ from His message. To preach Christ simply as a personal relationship or as the satisfaction of a need, be it accurately defined, but fail to preach His message. Jesus didn’t present Himself as a person who needed to be accepted. He didn’t do that. He didn’t prove His deity so that men would accept Him based on His person. Jesus presented a message of righteousness, and challenged people to believe what He said, and do what He said.
The song that the kids sang awhile ago — ‘The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock, The Foolish Man Built His House Upon the Sand’ — that’s a nice little song, but you know, when you look at the parable, Jesus said, ‘the rock’ — He didn’t say ‘the rock is Me’ — He said ‘the rock is a man doing My sayings. When a man hears what I say, and does it, he’s like a man who builds his house on the rock.’ In other words, you build your house on the rock when you obey the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus didn’t teach, you build your house on the rock by establishing a relationship with Me, He said you build your house on the rock when you do what I said to do. And when you hear these sayings of Mine and don’t do them, you’re like a man who built his house on the sand. Now how many Christians know that? How many Christians consider that? It’s right there in the Bible, but over and over again, preachers preach it so that they disassociate the person of Christ from the message of the man. And the message is critical, because the message brings one to repentance. The message causes people to tremble. So many people have come to religion without coming to the door of trembling. So many people have come to religion and faith without first facing the call to righteousness, the call to temperance, and the warning of judgment to come.
~Righteousness, Temperance and Judgment (audio sermon on Acts 24) 05:43-8:04 [bold type, my emphasis; underscore reflects vocal emphasis in the recording]
To claim Pearl is preaching sinless perfection, as Baptist fundamentalist preacher David Cloud does, does not seem entirely accurate, much as Pearl acknowledges he sounds “a whole lot like a holiness preacher.” (RTaJ 10:16) Pearl uses a surface structure that could be associated with holiness teaching, but he also emphasizes the need to “train” children in holiness and “begin their sanctification” before, in his own teachings, they are capable of choosing Christ. Why? Because of the “message of righteousness,” keeping in mind that this righteousness is developed by Christ in the Incarnation and it is His ability to maintain that righteousness which is supposedly imputed by the Cross.
Pearl closes Chapter 2 of To Train Up a Child with the words:
You, the parents, must equip your child to save himself from this “untoward generation” (Acts. 2:40). God already has a prototype of the finished child: It is that he might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). You must work with God toward the day when your children will be conformed to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). The promise of God is still operative: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). You can begin the child’s “sanctification” long before his salvation. [emphasis in original]
So, then, we are training this unquestioning obedience in order to train acceptance of “the message.” And the essence of the message is…hm, also obedience (“righteousness”), not the Person of Christ. It is at this point that I cannot but admit the justification of atheists who object to this sort of indoctrination to religion for the bolstering of religion’s authority. I stand with them in it. This is perniciously circular.
I recall this: In NGJ teaching, “sin” does not mean the corrupt state of man in Adam, as it does to most conservative Christians, but a moral state a person grows into as he indulges the flesh and then becomes morally accountable for whatever tendencies he has cultivated.
…There are as many scales of judgment as there are individuals. Each of God’s judgments are tailored to the individual. So if a child grows into a functional knowledge of good and evil at 6 years old or at 18 years of age, that will be the point of his accountability before God. A child might have a 50% knowledge of good and evil at one point and the next year mature to a 70% and the following year to 95%. But only when the child reaches that place of a fully functioning conscience would he be deemed accountable… (The Salvation of Children)
Dave: Doctrine of Salvation
The doctrines that we believe and teach have to come out of the person of Christ as shown in the Bible. John 14:6 says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” It doesn’t say, “My message is the way.”
In Christ’s discourse with Nicodemus (John 3), Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born…?” He misses the whole point. “How can these things be?” And Jesus pretty much shakes his head and says, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand?”
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
He Himself is the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 2:2) Not His message. Not His righteous living. He Himself. That is the Gospel in a nutshell.
And by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3) Knowing Christ comes first. We come to Christ, we don’t come to obey the commandments. All our righteousness is as filthy rags. Anything developed out of “training” is useless. The commandments exist to show us our depravity. The righteousness imputed to us exists in the nature of God, not in Christ’s obedience to the commandments.
If we use the biblical definition of righteousness, NGJ teaches that we have to become righteous enough to make the right choice (obeying the message) before we can repent and believe and receive Christ’s perfect righteousness. NGJ admits we can’t get to heaven on our own righteousness, but teaches we must achieve an operational righteousness in order to be able to choose Christ.
That’s why children have to be absolutely obedient to their Christian parents. They are not capable of choosing, understanding or achieving righteousness, so they are dependent on their parents’ attainment of Christ’s obtained righteousness. Their obedience to their parents’ sense of righteousness is their absolute guide until they believe and receive Christ’s obedience, which their parents are supposed to have.
If my children’s salvation depended on my maintenance of Christ’s righteousness, they’d be doomed.
I’m very thankful that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and ultimate payment for my and Adam’s sin, that I am imputed Christ’s inherent righteousness, not His obedience. Perfect though His obedience was, it was not the propitiation. And I count all such things loss that I may gain Christ.
Clearly, this is not primarily a debate about whether to spank or not, nor whether some parents are unfit to spank or not, but what is a biblical motivation and a biblical direction for overall child training. Whether spanking is used calmly or in anger is beside the point in determining the use of NGJ’s materials. Whether gentle parenting techniques are incorporated by NGJ or not is also not the question. If this child-training method is intended specifically to lead children to Christ, does it lead them to the real Christ of the Bible? And does it do so in accurate reflection of the character of God?
If the entire thing is based on a misconstruction of “human nature, God, eternity, judgment, etc.,” particularly in terms of its means of coming to salvation, it behooves us to consider that this child-training method may actually hinder our children’s faith. They may come to biblical faith, but they will have to fight the conflicting messages of this alternate teaching about who God is and how people relate to Him. The more the teaching is absorbed and implemented alongside genuine biblical living and teaching, the greater the conflict. The more it substitutes for God’s Word and ways, the less our children have as a true foundation of Bible-believing Christian knowledge.
God Himself is always the final factor, and His Word, enlivened by His Spirit, is always the final power in any person’s life, grownup or child. We are not dependent on obedience, but on Christ, who gave His life for our disobedience — past, present and future. There is always room at the Cross for parenting failure. That, not our ability to implement success, is our source of peace and joy. That said, if we know some element of our lives misses the mark set by Scripture, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1,2) May it never be! Indeed, it’s in laying these things at the Cross that we demonstrate to our children the ways and means of relationship to Jesus Christ.
We encourage you, parents, to place your eyes upon the Author and perfecter of faith, not to become embroiled in faith for its own sake, or obedience for its own sake. Know Christ. Count all else rubbish that you may gain Him. (Phil. 3:7-8) As you have received Christ, so walk in Him. (Col. 2:6) It is in that relationship, with a Person whose nature is the first cause and definer of that which we call Truth, that we find rest for our souls.