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.