Article Sep 11, 2017

Why good theology is necessary for good parenting

I was early into my teaching career, and I still found myself making rookie mistakes. A seasoned teacher always keeps a watchful eye on her students, particularly during a testing period. But it was 9:00 a.m., and I needed to step out of the room. So I did something I had been warned never to do; I handed out a quiz to my students, turned my back on them, and popped my head out the door to ask a colleague to watch my class.

After I returned, she handed me quizzes that she had confiscated from two of the boys. “I saw these two sharing answers when I walked into your room,” she said, “You should probably address it.”  It is usually best to divide and conquer in cases such as this, so I spoke to each boy separately. The first boy confessed to cheating, but the second boy insisted that he was innocent.

That evening I called both parents to deliver the news. These types of phone calls are never easy, even when teaching in a Christian school. The parents of the boy that acknowledged that he had cheated graciously accepted the news and assured me that they would address the matter with their son. The call to the parents of the second boy was entirely different. His mother listened patiently as I informed her of the day’s events. I even acknowledged to her my poor judgement in turning my back on the class. She agreed to speak with her son and follow up with me.  

I was surprised when she called first thing the next morning. She informed me that she had spoken to her son about the incident and just like he had with me, he insisted that he had not cheated despite what the other boy had said. I can’t say that I was entirely surprised to hear this, but it was what she said next that really dispirited me. “I know my son,” she said, “He would never lie to me, and he could never lie to me!”   

Good parenting begins with good theology

A dear friend of mine who has seven children always reminds me that we are not raising children; we are raising adults. So as Christ-followers, our parenting goal is not to raise well-behaved children, but to raise Christ-following adults. To disciple a Christ-follower, we must feed them a steady diet of good theology that is fortified with the Word of God, which tells us that  “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that “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.” In other words, we are all sinners, and the redemption of sinners is a work of God.

Often, we are most convicted of our sins when we experience its consequences. As parents, it can be tempting to want to spare our children from the consequences of their sin by whitewashing our children’s misdeeds. But if 2 Corinthians 7:10 is correct, and godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation, then sometimes the most loving thing that a parent can do is to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work, even if it means that our child might have to endure the fallout.

When our kids become our trophies

Our parenting goal is not to raise well-behaved children, but to raise Christ-following adults.

A common reason for downplaying or even denying our children’s sin is directly related to our tendency to view our children not as individual people, but as an extension of ourselves. Paul David Tripp, in his book Age of Opportunity, warns parents against allowing our own identities to become too wrapped up in the identities of our children. Tripp explains that, “we begin to need them to be what they should be so that we can feel a sense of achievement and success. We begin to look at our children as trophies rather than God’s creatures.”  

Dealing with the moral failings of our children, particularly when they are in public, can induce an array of emotional responses in parents. We can feel angry, disappointed, and embarrassed.   So if we are going to fight this parental tendency to cover up for our kids, a right understanding of salvation is essential. Psalm 51 declares that we are sinful at birth and that only God can restore the joy of our salvation. The parent who diminishes their child’s sin nature for the sake of their own reputation potentially robs their child  of the promised blessings found Acts 3:19—if we repent and turn to God, he will wipe away our sins and refresh us.   

The heart of the issue

Psalm 53:1–3 goes straight to the heart of the issue. It describes the human heart as foolish and  corrupt. This is bad news; but read down to verse 6, and we hear the good news of a Messiah that will rescue his people from their sin and restore their wayward hearts. I couldn’t fault the mother of the young boy that cheated for wanting to believe that her son was innocent. I knew firsthand that she was a godly woman with a strong Christian testimony, and her love for her children was unquestionable. But no human being, particularly a youth, is immune to succumbing to their foolish hearts.

In the end, did my student cheat on the quiz? Perhaps not. But could he have cheated? Good theology tells us yes, he could have. Good theology does one other thing—it encourages us to take heart, because God is in the business of rescuing fools and restoring hearts. This is good news for parents. It is good news for all of us!