In my previous post, I examined the contemporary “Western” model of parenting in light of a biblical view of parenting. In contrast with this model, the biblical view establishes firmly the authority parents have over their children and upholds the necessity of discipline for children. Discipline, even of the corporeal kind, is not portrayed as being at odds with love, but as an expression of love, for God Himself, the perfect Father, disciplines His children for their good (Hebrews 12:5-11):
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Many parents believe that love entails keeping their children happy and protecting their self-esteem at all times, and thus discipline is rarely practiced in the home. Yet to love is to desire and work for a person’s “good,” which is clearly define here in terms of moral character: participating in God’s holiness and producing the fruit of righteousness.
In view of these teachings, I believe the model of parenting in which parents minimize their authority over their children and cater to their children’s desires at the expense of their moral character is more opposed by the direct teaching of God’s Word on parenting than the strict, demanding Asian model, which does believe in the authority of the parent and necessity of discipline. However, this model, when examined by the light of Scripture, also has major flaws.
That Scripture presents God’s relationship to His people as a Father-child relationship (“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”- 1 John 3:1) means that parents have a model for relating to their children in how God relates to those He calls His own. The central, defining characteristic of believers’ relationship with God is grace. God loves, accepts, and cherishes us not on the basis of our good deeds or moral performance, but on the basis of the life of our perfect substitute, Jesus, and His payment for our sin on the cross. Thus, God’s favor is not earned by how much we achieve or by how much honor we bring him publicly, rather His favor is received as a gift by grace: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
One of the flaws of the more traditional parenting model, associated often with Asian culture, is that the favor children experience from their parents is highly conditional on performance. As long as the child is making A’s in school, excelling in whatever artistic ventures, like music, she is pursuing, and behaving well at home, the child feels secure in his parent’s approval. But if the child deviates from those expectations and disappoints his parents, the security of the approval is gone and favor must be re-merited. Granted, since I am not Asian and did not grow up in such an environment, I must be careful to speak with certainty what such children experience at home. But it seems to me that this approach to parenting makes the value of a child contingent on achievement and thus children are not cherished as having essential worth. Child-raising then becomes a means of satisfying the parents’ pride since the motive for children’s achievement is the glory of the parents: as the children achieve, the parents also earn approval and recognition from others. Any endeavor with pride as a core motive is categorically opposed by God who “opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5, Prov. 3:34). Grace is antithetical to this performance-based approach to relating to one’s children and thus is not consistent with biblical parenting.
Though Jesus Himself did not have any children (contra Davinci Code mythology!), the way that He relates to children in the Gospels is instructive and has implications for parenting. The Gospel of Matthew (Ch. 19) records a brief encounter with children in which the disciples rebuke the adults for bringing their children to Jesus to receive a blessing. It is implied that the disciples believe that the children were not worthy of Jesus’ time, having the lowly status in the culture that they did, and that He had more important things to do. Jesus disagrees, however, and rebukes them, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (19:14). Jesus values these children and grants them his favor not because of their ability to perform, or potential to perform, and not because of what they could do for him: He accepts them and blesses them because they are humble and lowly, and it is to these qualities that he ascribes greatness. Thus, when the disciples ask him to take a position on who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven he replies,“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt. 18:3). Though children were lowly in this culture (life did not revolve around them as is the case in our culture), Jesus exalts them for their humility because only the humble enter the kingdom of heaven.
In summary, the Bible gives us a picture of parenting that requires both grace and truth. Both the “Western” model, which contains grace with little truth, and the “Chinese” model, which contains truth with little grace, should be evaluated by these standards and the excesses of both avoided. Thus, neither Western or Chinese mothers are superior. The Biblical mother (and father) disciplines her children with a view toward conforming their hearts to the true moral standards of holiness and righteousness, and at the same time recognizes the intrinsic worth of children and cherishes her children unconditionally by grace. This approach alone has the capacity to develop children, who like Jesus, are “full of grace and truth” (John 1:17).