The Wisdom of Rules

Today’s post is provided by my son, Joey. He is married to Lauren and they have an adorable Disney-loving daughter, Amelia. Joey manages ProVisionIT, a technology solutions company started by his oldest brother, where his degree in Philosophy is completely irrelevant. But his love for truth comes in handy when he reads Mom’s blogs and offers to help nuance things for me. I’m grateful that my kids even read my posts, much less want to weigh in.

Yesterday my brother, Jake, tackled the issue of legalism, explaining how parental rule-making and standard enforcement is not necessarily legalism. Legalism is a heart motivation issue, not an issue or practice. He was writing given the understanding that those reading would have read Mom’s post regarding sexual temptation and sin in the home. I am going to do the same by following up Jake to argue that making rules and enforcing standards in regards to worldliness and sexuality is a very wise thing to do, on top of it not being legalistic.

Okay, the truth is I’m a new parent of one three-year-old who mostly needs to be protected from too many Disney movies. That’s why Mom is the one who does most of the writing here. But I was a kid living at home with my parents for over two decades, so I think that qualifies me as an expert at being the recipient of rules and standards, some I resented and a couple I rebelled against.  And while my parents worked hard to adjust their parenting methods as my siblings and I became young adults to give us opportunities to either learn through our mistakes or become our own gatekeepers, I didn’t see anything in scripture that permitted me to dis their wisdom under the guise of “independence.” So I’m writing as one who benefitted from the kind of gatekeeping parenting that I hope to practice with my own kids.

libertychurcharab.com

libertychurcharab.com

I am briefly going to mention some common objections to the gatekeeper method of parenting when it comes to worldliness, then suggest three reasons why those objections are insufficient and consistently applied rules and standards are wise, especially as it relates to our sex-saturated culture.

A brief definition of the gatekeeper parental mentality was given by Mom in her article. On a very basic level gatekeeping says a parent needs to do their best to guard the gates of the hearts of their children, endeavoring to minimize bad input and maximize good input. This idea receives a fair share of criticism, stemming from a few fundamental objections.

(1) It’s impossible – This objection points out that gatekeeping is impossible because (a) no matter how absurdly isolationist you are, you can’t keep everything bad out and, (b) children’s hearts are not blank slates that will remain clean if parents keep out the dirtiness of the world – after all, Calvin calls our hearts “idol factories” capable of all manner of sin, no matter how closely guarded. This objection is a good one for the most part, in that it’s based in truth. It’s an effective response to those who take the gatekeeping mentality too far, and it’s a good reminder to all parents that God changes hearts, not parents. Mom’s article did a good job explaining why relying on just a gatekeeping mentality is not effective and also naive.

(2) It’s legalistic – See Jake’s article yesterday. As one commenter said, “I’m not legalistic; I don’t have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I don’t” is just as wrong as “I’m not legalistic; I just have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I do.”

(3) It stunts growth and sets kids up for failure – This objection points out that parents aren’t going to be around forever, and then argues too much gatekeeping can train a child to rely too heavily on his parents. Then when he is on his own he doesn’t have the ability to protect his own heart. Kids need to learn to develop their own convictions, which is part of what growing up is all about, and gatekeeping delays that process. This is why you have so many kids who abandon the faith when they reach college. They simply aren’t prepared for the onslaught of the culture when they leave their [overly] protective parents, and don’t have the convictions they should have been developing for themselves at home so they would be prepared for the world. Now that their parents aren’t there to protect them, they easily capitulate to temptation and buy into worldly ways of thinking.

Those are the main categories that objections fall into when it comes to protective parenting. Here are the three reasons I think the objections, while all containing helpful guards against relying on gatekeeping alone, fail to see the wisdom of parental gatekeeping.

(1) The Bible teaches it. – “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” Ezekiel 33:6 is not about parenting. However, it’s pretty clear about what God thinks of people who see danger and fail to protect those around them through warnings. You see this same type of thought with the temple gatekeepers who were responsible for both making sure nothing unclean got into and nothing of value was taken out of the temple. God expects those responsible for protection to protect. Parents are entrusted by God to protect their children, not just physically but spiritually (Duet 4:9-10, 6:6-9). Almost every reference to parenting in Proverbs includes the idea of correction, which is taught as one of the ways you protect your child. In fact, failing in this regard is equated to being an accessory to their spiritual death (Proverbs 19:18). It is impossible to find any indication in Scripture that not actively protecting your children from worldly influence and temptation is a good idea.

(2) It Works – Not perfectly, of course. Mom’s article is exactly right that rules, standards and strategies to limit your children’s exposure to our sex-saturated culture are only part of the parenting equation. But it is a helpful part — and a large part of the reason why is that kids are imitators. (So are adults for that matter. But it’s obvious in kids.)

As I mentioned, Amelia loves Disney and she went through a stretch of                         watching a lot of the Disney classics. Just about every one of them ends with a kiss. It wasn’t long before playing with her Disney prince and princess dolls meant, well, a lot of kissing and not much else. Lauren and I stopped showing Beauty and Beast and Cinderella and a few of the others, stuck with Disney Junior for a while, and now her dolls are having bad attitudes at each other for not opening the castle door quickly enough. Much better.

The point is, whether it’s a two-year-old watching a G rated movie or a 13-year-old starting to mimic the speech of his best friend, kids imitate. As Christians we are called to imitate Christ, and Deuteronomy/Proverbs indicate a wise parent trains their child in that regard from the very beginning. This necessarily means minimizing their exposure to worldly things to imitate, along with maximizing their exposure to godly things to imitate. By the way, in my opinion the most important way to do this with older kids is through monitoring their friendships.

(3) It’s Not Just for Kids – I think where the objection that gatekeeping sets kids up for failure when they get to the real world misses the mark is in its ignoring of the fact that it shouldn’t stop once they are outside the home. Guarding the heart, minimizing worldly input, setting up rules of accountability…none of these things should end at any point. As kids get older they should be taking responsibility for being the primary gatekeepers of their own hearts, but gatekeeping is still required, and for all the same reasons. Gatekeeping is a necessary and wise part of parenting because it is how kids learn to be the gatekeepers of their own heart. That’s the idea behind the oft misunderstood “train up a child in the way he should go” verse. Parenting is nothing other than teaching and demonstrating the Christian life to your children. If you are a gatekeeper of your own heart, if you have rules and standards in place in your own life as to the type of input the world has into your heart because you know your heart needs that type of vigilance, than it would be a grievous dereliction of your God-given responsibility as a parent not to teach your child to do the same.

Joey and his Disney girls

Joey and his Disney girls

Sexual Temptations, Worldliness and Rules

Yesterday I was over at Growing Up Triplets talking about “Not Me! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home.” Two of my sons, both in their 20’s, asked to do a follow up post to share their hearts on this topic. Today’s post is by Jake, a second-year law student at the University of Florida (even though he’s a solid Auburn fan) and brand new husband to Sarah. Since my kids’ posts are the most-read ones on this blog, I hope you’ll appreciate hearing from my mid-20’s son who kinda writes like a lawyer. Yep, I had to look up “prophylactic” because I certainly don’t remember that being in our homeschool vocab lists.

Yesterday, Mom made what I think is an important point, i.e. that prophylactic* rules parents set up regarding sexual and worldly temptations can never be entirely successful.  Internet filters, guarding the remote, restricting the viewing of certain TV shows/movies or listening to certain kinds of music, keeping an eye on what friendships they develop and which stores in the mall they are passing will not stop the inevitable contact with sexually explicit messages and images all kids eventually encounter.

She later made an equally important point. Parents should set up internet filters, should restrict the movies their kids watch and the music they listen to, should distract their kids when walking by Victoria Secret and generally should protect their kids in reasonable ways. It was beyond the scope of the blog post to answer, but it begged the question: why? Why should we do those things? Isn’t making rules and standards for our kids “legalistic” as some purport?  Why spend so much time protecting our kids if, ultimately, we can’t be entirely successful? Shouldn’t we focus our time and energy on preparing them for the inevitable worldly and sexual temptations that will arise?

To answer those questions Joey (one of my older brothers), Mom and I are going to write a three-part follow up series to Mom’s post yesterday.  Our contention is that creating rules and standards for our kids insofar as it relates to worldliness and sexual temptations isn’t legalistic and is wise.  I am writing today to address the issue of legalism; Joey will write part two addressing the issue of wisdom (from the perspective of the kid) and Mom will write part three addressing the issue of wisdom from a different perspective than Joey — namely, she’s the one with seven kids and fourteen grandkids.

Before I begin, though, I want to make several points at the outset.

1) Preparing your kids for the inevitable temptations that arise is at least equally (and perhaps more) important than attempting to protect them from such temptations. Nothing we say in this series should be construed as a criticism of any energy and dialogue spent for the purpose of preparing or helping your kids through such temptations.

2)  Although the rules of the game don’t change as kids get older, the strategies do.  In other words, to the extent that anything we say is even true, it applies only where it applies, and probably moreso to pre-teens and early teenage years than to later teenage years.

3)  Actual, real legalism is the worst.

Having said all that, let’s talk about legalism.

WHAT IS AND WHAT ISN’T LEGALISM?

There is a somewhat fascinating way of thinking that’s going around that equates rules and standards with legalism. This is of course absurd, since the lack of rules and standards can be legalistic in exactly the same ways that rules and standards can be legalistic. So, then, what is legalism?

Author and teacher John Piper says the essence of legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience and that the aim of legalism is trading with God value for value.  In other words, legalism is when we pursue the law (a good thing) fueled by our flesh, rather than the Spirit (a bad thing).  Legalism is when we attempt to trade our good works for God’s favor.  Of course, “good works” in this context can mean abstaining from watching R rated movies or it can mean abstaining from judging others i.e for how they parent.

We can attempt to earn God’s favor by not watching or listening to things that are worldly or sexually tempting, and we can attempt to earn God’s favor by being loving and accepting to everyone and everybody.  Whether we equate one of those as being more socially acceptable or desirable than the other is irrelevant; both can be attempts to earn God’s favor. In fact, people are often “legalistic” about things that, taken alone, are really good things.  For instance, I shouldn’t shoot up heroin (RIP P.S.H.). But if I think that I am trading the good work of not doing heroin for the return of God’s favor and mercy, than I am being legalistic. That doesn’t mean, though, that I should start doing heroin. It means that my motivations for not doing heroin should be fueled by the Spirit rather than my flesh in a response to God’s mercy and not for the purpose of securing it.

That, of course, addresses what legalism isn’t; obedience is not legalism and neither is holiness. In fact, Jesus was pretty clear that if we don’t obey His rules we don’t love Him (John 14:15).  As Kevin DeYoung has said, the word “therefore” is used liberally in the Bible. Grace, therefore do X.  Grace is of course both foundational and preceding, but “do X” is not legalistic in and of itself.

LEGALISM AS APPLIED TO PARENTING

It seems, then, that making rules and standards for kids does not make the parent legalistic. Of course, it can be legalistic, just as anything can be. But I think it raises an important point: your methods of parenting, whatever they are, can always be legalistic. You might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of restricting your kids access to certain Internet sites or TV shows. But you also might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of allowing your kids the freedom to make their own decisions and then talking about it with them later. What makes your decisions legalistic is not your decisions; what makes your decisions legalistic is the reason why you made the decision. I think the notion that making rules and setting standards for kids is legalistic is problematic — not only because I think setting rules and standards is a good thing, but also partly because I think it is a radical misunderstanding of legalism.

Worldliness and the prevalence of sexual images and temptations is a pervasive issue that requires a nuanced and ironclad conviction as parents (something that I want to have when it’s my turn); avoiding cultivating the conviction of certain rules and standards for your kids because to do so would be a sign of legalism and fundamentalism is not a sign that you value grace and the Gospel.  It’s merely a sign that you don’t understand legalism, and it might mean that you’re a legalist.

P.S. I looked it up and it means something that can prevent something negative: i.e removing a mole can prevent skin cancer. 

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Not My Kid! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home

Today I’m over at Growing Up Triplets talking about something every parent needs to think about sooner than later.

“Mom, what’s sex?” Gulp. I wasn’t read for this question from my 9-year-old. He was my firstborn and I knew the question would come, but I didn’t know when. I mumbled something about that being a great question that would be good to talk over sometime when Daddy was home and could he go and check on his younger siblings?”

Read more by clicking http://growinguptriplets.com/2014/02/11/kid-mothers-look-sexual-temptation-sin-home/.

Blessings,

Sheree