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3 years 3 months ago

A Neglected GraceFamily worship. For some it evokes a sense of dread, memories of long, boring, tiring times sitting around a table while listening to dad drone on and on. For some it evokes a sense of guilt, false starts and failures and giving up. For a few it evokes joy, sweet times of family fellowship and memories of seeking the Lord together.

Almost every book begins by describing a problem and then goes on to propose a solution. This is, after all, one very good reason to read: to find solutions to our problems. My books are no exception; I have addressed the problems of the neglect of spiritual discernment, addiction to pornography, and thoughtless dedication to digital technologies. In the opening pages of A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home, Jason Helopoulos says he must address the problem of family worship because it has very nearly disappeared. “If it were an animal, it would be on the endangered species list. We have not only stopped doing it, but we have stopped talking about it.”

That may be true in some contexts, but it does not describe my experience. I grew up in a home in which we read the Bible, discussed the Bible and prayed together. We tried to do it every night around the dinner table, though like most families we succeeded at times and failed at others. Meanwhile, almost every other Christian family I knew was likewise engaging in family worship, each in their own way. Though it took some time, my wife and I, after we were married, picked up and carried on the tradition. Today we see families in our church doing the same.

Yet I was still eager to read this book. Why? Because family worship is like prayer and evangelism and so much else in the Christian life in that it has a way of exposing and highlighting inadequacy. I know of few families who would say they have consistently excelled in this area. I know of far more who have tried and failed, who have tried again and failed again, or who have tried and kept on, but without that sense that they are succeeding. My experience encompasses all of that.

It is helpful to know that Helopoulos has the same story. “I am not an expert on family worship. My wife and kids can testify to that. My family and I continue to learn how to do family worship better, more faithfully, more consistently, and with more joy.” He writes as a fellow traveler on this journey, not as someone who has figured it all out and who has reached the destination.

Helopolous spends a few chapters explaining the importance of family worship and placing it within that triad of worship that extends from private worship to family worship to corporate worship. He shows that, though there is no direct biblical command saying “Thou must engage in family worship,” such worship is modeled in Scripture and is a crucial part of every parents’ calling to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Beyond the biblical reasons he also provides a host of practical reasons, supplemental benefits that may be ours if we take advantage of this joyful responsibility.

Having built his case, he gets practical. The essence of family worship is reading Scripture and praying together, but these may be augmented by many other practices including singing, Scripture memorization, the use of creeds and catechisms, and so much else. There is freedom here for each family to make their own way and to do what best suits their situation.

Helopoulos is careful to show that family worship must not be seen as a burden but as a delight, as something we do because we have received God’s grace rather than something we do to earn his favor. “Family worship is not something we have to do. Our right standing before God is not impacted by whether we lead our families in worship or not. Christ has already accomplished all for our salvation. Rather, family worship, like other spiritual disciplines, becomes something we want to do.”

A chapter titled “Helps for the Journey” provides tips and pointers about the particulars—when, where, how long, and so on—while another chapter, “But, What If…”, addresses areas of struggles or difficult scenarios such as single-parent families, families where only one spouse is a Christian, or families who are new to the faith and lack deep biblical knowledge.

A Neglected Grace strikes just the right balance between theory and practice. It is authoritative without being over-bearing, and it models humility, coaching the reader, yet without demanding a particular method. Whether the idea of family worship is new to you, whether it’s familiar but neglected, or whether you have been doing it for years, this is a book you will enjoy and one that with benefit both you and your family.

A Neglected Grace is available at Amazon and Westminster Books. At just $7 you may wish to consider buying it in bulk to distribute to friends and church members.

4 years 2 months ago
What if I told you that there is a parenting technique you can follow that will give you “a renewed vision for your family—no more raised voices, no contention, no bad attitudes, fewer spankings, a cheerful atmosphere in the home, and total obedience from your children?” And what if I told you that this technique “always works with every child?” And what if I added that this technique comes with God’s own seal of approval because it is “the same technique God uses to train His children?” Such are the claims of Michael Pearl in To Train Up a Child, a book that is well on its way to selling its one millionth copy.

Let me tell you why I am reviewing this book. After I recently wrote a two-part review of Debi Pearl’s Created To Be His Help Meet I received repeated requests to take a look at To Train Up A Child, written by her husband Michael. The people who wrote to me told me of the impact the book has had on their lives and on their churches. They also told me how many copies it had sold and how many are in the hands of people who read this web site. In light of all of this, I determined that it would be wise for me to have some knowledge of it.

As I read the book, I found it a fascinating illustration of the reality that what we believe will necessarily impact what we do and how we do it. In this case, it shows that what we believe to be true about children will inevitably shape the way we “train them up.” It concerned me to see that many people follow Michael Pearl’s technique even though they believe very different things from what he believes. It is for these people in particular that I write my review. I write it not to condemn you, but to provoke you to consider what Pearl really believes about children and how this has shaped his book and your children.

There are several key claims and teachings of this book that merit a closer look. I will move through them in what I hope is a logical and helpful way. Today I will do some background work and tomorrow I will try to bring it all to a helpful conclusion.

Training Versus Discipline

Critical to the book is a distinction between training and discipline. The book’s title and purpose are derived from the well-known words of Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Pearl explains the importance and context of this word train: “Train up—not beat up. Train up—not discipline up. Train up—not educate up. Train up—not ‘positive affirmation’ up.” Training is the most often missed element in child rearing. A child needs more than ‘obedience training,’ but without first training him, discipline is insufficient.”

This is not a book about the reactive discipline of disobedient children, though this is present as a related, secondary theme. Rather, it is a book about a kind of proactive training that heads off disobedience and thus negates the need for discipline. Pearl says, “Training is not discipline. Discipline is the ‘damage control’ part of training, but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior.”

What is this training? Before I answer that question, let me tell you what the training is not. Pearl’s training is not moral or spiritual, which means he believes that the mandate of Proverbs 22:6 is not fulfilled by instructing your children in Biblical truths. In the book’s opening pages he writes, “we are not talking about producing godly children, just happy and obedient children. The principles for training young children to instantly obey can be applied by non-Christians as well as Christians.” Training in godliness will come later in a child’s life and is outside the scope of the training he teaches here. This training is applied to children between birth and approximately twelve years of age and can be done by Christians and non-Christians alike.

What, then, does he mean by training? According to Pearl, “Training is the conditioning of the children’s mind before the crisis arises. It is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience.” His training uses a technique that “always works with every child” by conditioning the child’s mind so he will respond to any authority with instant, unquestioning, heartfelt obedience. This, he says, is “normal in the well-trained family.” To get to that point, a parent must create a training ground and “reward every transgression with a switching [discipline that involves striking a child with a switch or belt or other object].” The switching will continue until the child has demonstrated complete obedience and submission to the will of the parent in both action and attitude.

Pearl’s training is proactive and his discipline is reactive; training involves conditioning an ignorant child while discipline involves punishing a deliberately disobedient child. It will take just a few hours or a few days to train a child in some new area (going to bed without crying or not grabbing at his father’s glasses) and after training is complete, that behavior will now have to be met with discipline.

Training may come about in a couple of different ways. The first is when parents deliberately create situations in which a child has the opportunity to obey or disobey. These are situations or tasks that have no purpose other than training. Pearl suggests a typical scenario in which a parent will place an appealing object within reach of a child of twelve months and tell him “No, don’t touch that.” If he touches it, the parent should “switch their hand once and simultaneously say, ‘No.’” This is to be repeated, perhaps with an increasing number of switches, until the child obeys. Pearl offers this clarification: “Remember, now, you are not disciplining, you are training.” The particulars of a training situation will vary by family and context, but what is consistent is that parents will deliberately manufacture a situation in which they will forbid the child from touching or taking something desirable. As the child succeeds by doing the will of his parents or fails by doing his own will, he will face either good or painful consequences.

The second form of training involves situations in which a child has not acted in deliberate rebellion but may have still done something that is antisocial or otherwise inappropriate. Here is one of Pearl’s examples: “One particularly painful experience of nursing mothers is the biting baby. My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled its hair (an alternative has to be sought for bald-headed babies).” Again he says, “Understand, the baby is not being punished, just conditioned.” Other examples include switching a toddler who drops food from his high chair or an infant who cries when being put to bed.

In either training situation, the child’s transgression of a parent’s command or a societal convention brings some form of physical consequence that will be repeated until the child does what the parents have commanded and until he does it in the manner and with the attitude they demand. Pearl insists that this is the neglected key to child-raising—proactively training children rather than only reactively disciplining them.

Concerns With Pearl’s Training

I want to make several comments about this form of training.

First, this distinction between training and discipline seems too-fine a distinction to me and one that relies on mere semantics. To inflict pain upon a child who transgresses the will of the parent is to discipline or punish him, no matter what term the parent prefers. The main difference I see between Pearl’s training and discipline is one of agency: training involves the parent deliberately creating a situation in which he will proactively take a switch to his child whereas discipline involves the child creating a situation in which his father will reactively take a switch to him. In either case, let’s just face the truth that the child is being disciplined; he is being punished.

Second, I would caution any parent about consistently creating training grounds which will guarantee, or very nearly guarantee, that he will respond by physically punishing his child. Where is the love and justice in creating these situations that are beyond the ability of a young child to understand and then in punishing the child for transgressing what he does not understand?

Third, I am concerned by the arbitrary nature of Pearl’s training. This technique of introducing some kind of a desirable object to your child and then keeping him from it is necessarily arbitrary. While it may teach your children to instantly and completely obey their parents, it may also train them that their parents will place arbitrary demands upon them, that obedience is merely a matter of mollifying the irrational demands of a higher authority. This will necessarily eventually impact the way they understand God’s demands upon us.

Fourth, what Pearl refers to as training can as easily be labeled conditioning. In fact, his training perfectly fits Mirriam-Webster’s definition of conditioning: “A simple form of learning involving the formation, strengthening, or weakening of an association between a stimulus and a response.” Meanwhile Pearl says, “Training doesn’t necessarily require that the trainee be capable of reason; even mice and rats can be trained to respond to stimuli. Careful training can make a dog perfectly obedient. If a seeing-eye dog can be trained to reliably lead a blind man through the dangers of city streets, shouldn’t a parent expect more out of an intelligent child?” Between the book’s introduction and first chapter, Pearl has compared children with mice, rats, horses, mules and dogs. This shows that he advocates no moral dimension to his training; rather, he advocates a technique that will bring about instant obedience of the mind and body but without reference to the heart. The problem, of course, is that children are not animals and are far more complex and spiritual than animals.

Most Christians have understood Proverbs 22:6 to include a moral dimension, moral training that will in turn lead to behavior training. Yet Pearl believes the exact opposite, that it demands only behavior modification which will later lead to moral improvement. To understand why, we need to look to his understanding of human nature. This is where we really begin to see how his underlying theology shapes his child-raising technique; this is where we begin to see that his theology is probably very, very different from your own. I will turn there as this review continues and concludes tomorrow. (click here to read part 2)

Consider this a short appendix. Pearl’s training technique may seem a little bit abstract in the absence of clear examples (of which there are multitudes in the book), so I will provide one of them; I hope it will show that I am fairly representing what Pearl advocates and highlight each of my four concerns. He relays an example in which his wife interacts with a pouty, fifteen-month-old infant. This is not her own child, but one she was determined to train while he was in her care (the Pearls will only watch other people’s children with the agreement that they may train them while they care for them.). Debi handed this child a roller skate and “took a moment to show him what fun it was to hold it upside down and turn the wheels.” Yet “with defiance, he turned his face away” at which point she “decided it was showdown time.” She picked up a switch, placed the skate in front of him and “gently and playfully said, ‘Turn the wheels.” He refused. She told him again and again he defied. “This time, being assured he fully understood it to be a command, she placed his hand on the wheels, repeated the command, and when no obedience followed, she switched his leg.” This pattern of defiance followed by switching was repeated ten times until he surrendered his will to hers and began to roll the wheel. “A few minutes later she noticed he was turning the wheels and laughing with the other children, with whom he had previously shown only disdain. The surly attitude was all gone. In its place was contentment, thankfulness, and a fellowship with his peers. The ‘rod’ had lived up to its Biblical promise.”

6 years 5 months ago
A few days ago I received in the mail a copy of Amazing Dad by Stephanie Byrd. This is a self-published book and by far the exception among the self-published books I receive—it is really and truly good. Byrd has combed through the letters of the great statesman William Wilberforce, the letters to his children, and has found there the principles that dominated and set the course for his life. These letters are sweetly pastoral as a father encourages, exhorts and teaches his children. Here is just one example, an excerpt of a letter in which Wilberforce is encouraging his son through a time of depression.

I am concerned to learn from a confidential letter which has just reached us that you are at present in a nervous, uncomfortable state of spirits. Now my dear, my very dear boy, my advice to you in these circumstances both as a father and a friend is best conveyed in the letter of a Heavenly Father who with unutterable condescension and love has assured us that He loves us better than we are beloved by our own earthly father, in proportion to the superior benevolence of His nature; ask and ye shall receive, ask whatever you need, pardon of sin, wisdom, strength, peace, love, heavenly mindedness. Whatever you desire or need. You may say that these promises are addressed to God’s children. But remember, He receives all as His children who come to Him with penitent hearts, imploring His pardoning mercies and His sanctifying grace. I do not wonder that you are afraid of taking to yourself these gracious declarations — you only thereby show that your feelings correspond with those of the Christians as described by St. Paul, who in obedience to his precept are working out their salvation with fear and trembling. What follows in that passage shows the apostle did not mean, however, that this fear was to be of a desponding, still less of a despairing character. They were to bear in mind that God worked in them out of His divine beneficence. Be of good courage, my dear boy, you are assured by our blessed Savior, Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out. You wrong Him, however, by allowing a doubt of His gracious dispositions towards you to harbor in your mind. So cast yourself on the mercy of God through the atoning blood and prevailing intercession of your Savior and asking also wisdom to guide and strength to support you. … I am much better pleased than if you were careless about your soul.

The book alternates between such letters and Byrd’s biographical explanations. It makes the book a very interesting look at Wilberforce both through the words of a biographer and through his very own words, sent to his most intimate correspondents. There are letters themed around Education and Career, Christian Friendship, Financial Matters, Benevolence, Family Blessings, Spiritual Growth and, of course, Real Christianity.

Amazing Dad is a good book and one I commend to you. Actually, I commend it as well to publishers—this is a good book and one worthy of wider distribution.


7 years 8 months ago
I have spent the last thirteen years of my life trying to forget my teenage years. It’s not that these years were really so bad and it’s not like I went through a period of utter rebellion as do so many teens (for which I give thanks to God). It’s more that I had little joy in these years and felt that I was mostly just putting in time as I waited to grow up. What I do remember is many times of disobedience and disregard for my parents. I loved them and hated them. I needed them and yet wanted to go about life on my own. Though I may not have told them so in so many words, many times I just wanted them out of my face. I remember those years well—more so than I would like.

Though there is a part of me that looks with great anticipation to my own children reaching their teenage years, there is a part of me that is terrified. From what I’ve observed of myself, my siblings, and so many other teens, they are years guaranteed to be filled with both joys and sorrows. Rick Horne knows well such joy and pain. He has fathered six teenagers and has counseled hundreds more. This is a man who has a lot to share about leading teenagers through these years. This is the subject of his new book, Get Outta My Face.

According to the author, this book “aims to summarize common experiences parents have with angry teens and illustrate how biblical principles can bring remarkably clear and useful light to these situations. The aim is to position these truths on the bottom shelf so we can all reach them and put them to use with angry, unmotivated teens—even if we’ve made serious mistakes in our previous efforts. We all want to help these young people recognize their self-destructive ways, learn new and effective methods of dealing with life, and ultimately come into a deep and life-changing relationship with Christ. That’s the goal of this book.”

One of the book’s foremost principles is that presentation matters. A parent’s first words to an angry teen will strongly push the interaction to one of two outcomes—the words being received or the words being rejected. The best and most valuable counsel may be rejected if it is not properly presented. This is not to say that the author teaches manipulation. Instead, he simply shows how a parent can approach a teen with respect even when he or she is not looking for any help.

As Horne instructs parents or youth leaders or anyone who seeks to lead and guide teens, he follows this pattern. The first part is “What You Must Understand to Connect with Your Teen.” Here the author helps ensure the parent has a biblically-informed worldview by presenting Scripture’s assessment of your angry or unmotivated teen. This is, as you might expect, the foundational information that will set the tone for all that follows.

Part two is titled “What You Must Do to Help Your Teen” and this is where we find the “how-to” information. The author introduces the acronym LCLP which stands for Listen Big, Clarify Narrow, Look Wide, Plan Small. The author gives one chapter to each of these four and does much of his teaching through little narratives, true or could-be-true illustrations of these principles in action.

While the first two sections deal with the surface motivations and external behavior, the author dedicates the third part to the heart. He calls this portion “How to Make the Changes Stick.” While dealing with a teen will necessitate beginning with external behavior, a parent would be remiss to neglect using the bridge of communication to get to his child’s heart. The ultimate goal, of course, is to lead a teen to the cross, either for the first time or for a growing, deepening understanding of Christ’s work.

Though I am not the parent of a teenager, I am young enough still to remember being one. At the same time, I am only a few years away from seeing my son turn thirteen. Even now, with him growing and maturing, I learned things from this book that I can apply right away. Having said that, this is the kind of book that will undoubtedly necessitate more than one reading for those who wish to absorb it and implement what it teaches. I read it at a good pace and while jotting notes and still feel that I would learn a lot more by reading it through once again. I am sure that I will do so before I have my own teens to deal with.

This is a book that is realistic about teens as they are going to be, not wistful as to what they might be. This is no idealized view of teenagers. Rather, it is realistic, giving an assessment of teens that rings true while providing solutions that can actually work. It teaches a parent to do more than react to a sinful teen, but teaches him to be proactive in approaching the teen, in reaching out to him, and in shepherding his heart. This is exactly what Shepherd Press does so well. Their books, their authors, take issues related to parenting and look at them under the shadow of the cross. Get Outta My Face is a great complement to their existing catalog and a book that I’m sure God will use mightily for his glory. If you have teens, if you will soon have teens, or if you work with teens, you will want to get yourself a copy of this book.

11 years 3 months ago
It seems to me that John MacArthur writes books in two broad categories. The first is books that often address cultural issues or specific issues within the church. This includes books like Hard to Believe or Ashamed of the Gospel. The other category is books that are drawn from sermons series he preaches to his congregation at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. The Fulfilled Family, the lastest in a long line of MacArthur’s books, falls squarely in the second category. This book began as a series of sermons expositing Ephesians 5. It is no more and no less than what we have come to expect of John MacArthur - well-written, deep, challenging, and above all else, firmly biblical.

The book is divided into five chapters of roughly equal length. There is one chapter for each of the family, the wife, the husband, the child and the parents. Following the theme of the book, each chapter exposits a portion of the fifth chapter of Ephesians and other parallel texts.

The theme of the book is the importance of mutual submission. This is not the mutual submission taught by those who would have us believe in the equality of roles between men and women, but the mutual submission exemplified by Christ Himself. Husband, wife and children are all called to be submissive to one another, being clothed in humility. This is the very core of Christlike character. “As Christians, this is the mentality that should govern all our relationships: ‘In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests,but also for the interest of others’ (Phil.2:3-4)” (page 10).

This theme pervades each chapter as MacArthur calls for wives to submit to their husbands, for husbands to honor their wives, for children to respect their parents and for parents to love their children. Ultimately a family can only be a fulfilled family by following God’s divine plan for family life.

A short book, at only 126 pages, The Fulfilled Family provides a challenge for any believer. After all, every one of us is either a husband, a wife or a child. It is the type of book that makes an ideal gift. While there are more thorough books on the family (including some written by John MacArthur) this one does what it sets out to do - provide biblical wisdom to address the constant challenges facing the divine plan for the family. Needless to say, I recommend this book.

  Evaluation Support
Strong and biblical as we’ve come to expect from John MacArthur.
Well-written, short and easy to read.
There are fourteen billion similar titles available.
With the family under attack from all quarters, we need such biblical wisdom.
It is a good book. There are more thorough books on the family, but this one is short and challenging.
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