I have a friend (and probably more than one, though I just don’t know it) who feels like parenting methods that aren’t explicitly Christian are suspect, that is parenting methods that don’t rely heavily on the categories of sin and redemption. The thought is that these secular methods miss the point and are interested in ends that Christian parents are not invested in. (Jump in if I’m mistaking you, C.)

Reading Augustine made me think that this isn’t entirely accurate. He wrote the massive City of God after the fall of Rome to the Visigoth invaders. It’s a tome intended to bolster the Christians of his day by reminding them that they are not of this world. Instead, the church belong to the sojourning City of God that is mixed in with the City of Man.

What’s really interesting about City of God is not how different the cities are, but how similar they appear in terms of the goods they seek after. While there are certainly many ways the cities show themselves for what they are, ultimately they both long for a similar good, a really good Good – peace. One of my favorite examples of how this plays out is Augustine’s description of a ferocious lion who will lay down to cuddle with her cubs. At the end of the day, both cities are looking for the same thing.

What’s different about the two is that the City of Man doesn’t long for the higher good. It wants peace as an end in itself, not the peace that passes understanding and points those within that peace in the direction of becoming citizens of “that heavenly city.” This reminded me a lot of the parenting information out there in the world. I don’t know that there is that much difference between what secular parents want and what Christian parents want. For instance, I think it’s vital that Wild One have good self esteem. I would love for her to be smart and healthy and successful. I don’t know of any parents, secular or Christian who want their kids to grow up selfish, hateful, insecure or self-loathing.

In other words, the ends are the same. What I think Christian parenting does is reframe some of the goals of parenting towards the heavenly country. I want my kids to have great self-esteem because it would be sinful not to accept and cherish one made in God’s image. I want T to be successful by using her gifts to build God’s kingdom.

What I find problematic about Christian parenting methods is that they are all interpretations and sometimes getting the Christian stamp of approval can be deceptive. I’m thinking about the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books, dangerous teachings on money that deeply obfuscate the church’s teachings about poverty, which are marketed as Christian reading. I think about Christian parenting methods that emphasize control and humiliation because they define the entirety of the Christian life by sin rather than by sin that has been redeemed.

While there’s a lot of good stuff out there, it all requires interpretation and assessment. Because of the sometimes dangerous tone of authority, Christian parenting methods may require even more attention. Certainly not every parenting book is going to help us raise the kids God wants them to be. But I for one don’t want to be fooled by the superficiality of secular and Christian categories.

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5 thoughts on “augustine on parenting

  1. A few thoughts:
    “I don’t know that there is that much difference between what secular parents want and what Christian parents want. I don’t know of any parents, secular or Christian who want their kids to grow up selfish, hateful, insecure or self-loathing.” This statement is true on many levels but I think the difference btw what secular parents want and what christian parents want lies in the heart. I want my kids to not be those things listed above, for sure. But, I also want them to understand why they are prone to those things and how they can ultimately be freed from those things- and yes, that involves using the “S” word but always in the context of remeption. You can’t live out your redemption without having a good grasp of what you were redeemed from and why you need it. And the fact is- we sin, we sin alot. Our kids sin, they sin alot. My daily life with my kids needs to consist of alot of sin revealing and sin repenting (both for my kids and me!). It also needs to include alot of good news rejoicing. And where does this framework come from- ultimately the Word. If God’s Word to us is the daily sustenance of our lives, the way to know God- why would it not be the sustenance of our parenting? The Bible is full of parenting wisdom- Matt and I sifted through some of the parenting wisdom out there and settled on a framework that was the most Biblical (I suppose this is where interpretation comes in but for us it is pretty clear!). Is there a place for secular parenting advice, sure. Is all Christian parenting advice sound- no. I agree that we need to sift through it all and use wisdom. Another thing that has helped Matt and I is to walk along side those parents who have families we admire- parents who live out the gospel in their homes and encourage their kids to do the same through their discipline.
    Also, I think I would like some clarification on what you meant by, “I think about Christian parenting methods that emphasize control and humiliation because they define the entirety of the Christian life by sin rather than by sin that has been redeemed.” Maybe some examples?

  2. Hi Jane. To clarify, I think sin is an important part of the story we teach children, part of the larger story of God’s salvation. I really like what Karl Barth said about sin. Sin is pervasive, deadly and, ultimately, defeated. To live under the pall of sin as if the resurrection never happened isn’t right. The consequences of sin, sadly, don’t have to be taught. We get sick. We die. We hurt one another. There are wars and floods. My greater concern is placing sin in the greater context. I hope to teach T about sin with redemption in the same breath.

    I also agree that the Bible is an important part of parenting. It’s how we evaluate all parenting methods. And of course that involves interpretation, too. Which is why I love your comment about other families who inspire your parenting. We need communities of people to help us sort through the Bible, what we hear and read. It’s great that you have that in your life. I bet you are also an inspiration to them.

    As always, thanks for your insightful comments.

  3. Oh, and I’d prefer not to give any specific examples. Only to say that I certainly know people whose ideas about Christian parenting translates to absolute control that restricts everything in their child’s life. My dad counsels many of these people. Their kids are “good” but usually resentful and have a hard time making moral decisions without guilt or shame (rather than feeling motivated by the desire to do good/love God).

  4. My viewpoint fits what you said up until this…”The thought is that these secular methods miss the point and are interested in ends that Christian parents are not invested in.” I don’t think that. I agree with you that Christians and non-Christians are all in discipline for some of the same ends, but not for all of the same ends. I’m concerned along with Jane about the heart and I am also concerned about the different presuppositions that secular parenting advice lacks (i.e., total depravity, redemption, future glory). I think it makes a difference whether the author/giver of the advice believes in those things even if at the end of the day I disagree with their discipline style – meaning that I think there are many approaches to discipline that are Biblical and I think there is freedom to choose different disciplining strategies based on a parent’s or child’s personality. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all approach to discipline that one can package and call the ONLY Biblical or Christian approach…but I do think there are parameters as I mentioned above.

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