by Ford Schwartz*
How we raise our children reveals who we are. I am passionate about the law. I am convinced that in God’s Word there are directions for every, even the most bizarre, situation we can encounter. It is important to have the right theology. It is important to know the right answers. It is more important to know how to think Biblically. When we teach the Faith like multiplication flash cards, we can have neat rows of children who can spout the right words. But, the fabric of character that brings forth the self-sacrificing courage we are called to as Christians includes having freely come to one’s own conclusions. The creativity we are capable of as Children of the Promise is a product of intellectual freedom as much as righteous discipline. When the devastating blows of life impact our children’s lives, when impossible inconsistencies and unresolved aspects of their understanding of the Faith trouble their souls, will pat answers do? When our children can teach their children and we are not there to watch, what will they teach?
Learning to Think Biblically
Shortly after my conversion, I met the man who would be my spiritual father, R. J. Rushdoony. I went to listen to what I anticipated would be the very fount of spiritual truth. Rush would patiently and wonderfully answer all the questions I had written down as I studied his books, Calvin’s, and the Bible. His responses were always directed at helping me to think Biblically, not to have the “politically correct” reconstructionist response. Our conversations would cover nearly every topic from current events to ancient history, from politics, to farming, to sports. Over the course of years, I would sit happily with this great man and converse for hundreds of hours.
However, my Heavenly Father would simply not allow me to absorb Rush’s wisdom. I had to fight him for it. I had to learn to think Biblically to play with this “big boy.” I would sit with Rush for hours, arguing heatedly though respectfully, with a man I knew was far superior to me in his understanding of the Faith. The fact that he sat surrounded by hundreds of books in a house containing thousands more — most of which he had read, as opposed to my ignorance — did not get me off the hook. The fact that Rush wrote the books that introduced to my mind Biblically ordered thought wasn’t particularly relevant. God kept having our discussion move to areas that I had more direct experience with than Rush. God kept having me open my big mouth and voice my experienced opinion in contradiction to his and an argument would ensue. Our debates would focus on the facts under discussion and the law-word of God was the only relevant standard by which to judge, understand and interpret them. It was, at times, a no-holds-barred situation. I don’t know how he tolerated me. I say this though I am still certain that some of the time I held the correct position!
What was happening during those lively discussions was that I was learning to think using Scripture as my reference. That is a very different thing than accepting someone else’s conclusions on a matter. In truth, the conclusions are important but not more so than the process of arriving at them. The law is a list of specific don’ts with a few general do’s. So, in general terms, God has given us the way to see when we are off His highway of righteousness. Whether or not we are in the right lane is often a lot harder to discern. A narrow road need not be single file, at least not at every point along the way.
Like all things in God’s economy, once you learn a lesson, you are often called to teach that lesson — specifically to your children. Rest assured, it is pretty scary teaching your daughter that in the end, things are between her and God. Recently, the subject under consideration in our household was infant baptism. My daughter had been baptized as an infant by R. J. Rushdoony and she really wasn’t taking exception to the scriptural basis for it, just whether or not it is a point of doctrine to hinder fellowship. I can make the case from Scripture on the merits of infant baptism. It was a bit scary when she posed the question, “Would you allow me to marry a Reformed Baptist?” She’s only 14 at present and the question is hypothetical, but still it mattered. My immediate answer was that I would have to think that one through. My wife’s answer to her surprised both my daughter and me, for it showed a speck of her awesome freedom under God’s law. My wife said that if the prospective husband were a godly man with a love and hunger for God’s Word, and if he were open to the possibility that infant baptism was glorifying to God, that we would have no grounds to prohibit the marriage.
When you give others the right to think through things on their own terms and only demand that Scripture inform their thoughts, you run a risk. They might come up with wrong answers. Of course, they also might dazzle you with their brilliance and add light to your world. Being a husband and father is pretty scary either way you go.
I’m reasonably sure that if you asked my wife and children, they’d say I tend to go both ways. I demand they have the right answers (my answers) and that they have thought them through Biblically. So, like all families, we don’t always agree and I won’t always know the entire story.
Freedom is a funny sort of thing. One can only approach it in complete submission to God’s law-word. Reasoning from our own perversions and lusts is treason to our God, the covenant, and our freedom. Similarly, within the framework of the family hierarchy of authority lies immense personal liberty for all family members. Being a father requires somehow letting God communicate and administer this complex message through you. We want to protect our children from wrong ideas just as we want to protect them from all evil. But, in being satisfied with memorized answers calculated (or not) to please or placate us, we allow our children’s natural defenses to become very susceptible to a host of other evils, evils that only discernment can handle. When we force them to build emotional walls that “protect” them from the inconsistencies of their understanding of their faith, instead of being able to address them openly, we are not strengthening but weakening their faith and their usefulness in God’s Kingdom. It is sinful and perverse to pretend or assume that God will not test them as He has tested other generations. Through God’s gracious dealings with me, it is clear to me that He does not require or desire mindless automatons with the right answers. Our Heavenly Father treasures obedience based on our freely using His admonitions to analyze our situation and to determine our response to varying circumstances. It would have been a lot easier to have built automatons. Man can do that with machines and he is tempted to do that with other men, women, and children. Since a father is uniquely positioned to be thus tempted because of his position of authority, he should be on guard against philosophies and so-called “Biblical teachings” which feed, bolster, and justify this temptation to dominate, manipulate, and enslave.
Men whose wives are not eager to serve God and grow in their faith are particularly vulnerable to “Reformed” teachings that undermine the wife’s and children’s liberty under God. It seems so much easier to bludgeon her into submission with Scripture that seems to work for the moment but produces no lasting personal change, rather than to actually address the reality of her spiritual state. Relegating women to the “craft classes” while men study the Word of God is symptomatic of such impotent solutions. Men need an informed, spiritually vibrant helper, especially when it comes to training the children to think Biblically. Crushing perceived rebellion within the family by numbing thought is an ungodly, unbiblical, however popular, solution.
From a human father’s perspective, life can present so many variables that there is no way to teach my children the right response to every possible variation of a multitude of possible situations. Further, they are to be prepared by me to carry on after my death, an event that will come sooner or later. I won’t be there to coach them, and even if I were, I wouldn’t know all the right answers. Moreover, internal forces and callings I will never fully know influence them even if they faithfully attempt to describe them to me. I will never fully feel what it’s like to be them; I will never see with their eyes or hear with their ears.
Decisions are rarely made exclusively on the basis of reason, even Biblically founded reason: wants, fears, heartfelt desires, and pain play their roles also. Routinely, reason is used to legitimize decisions or explain away behavior well after the fact. Often, the fabric of people is exposed by their decisions, some of these decisions made before all the factors that drove the path of action or non-action could be personally separated and analyzed by them. Thus, from a father’s perspective, the only practical and godly thing to do is to help them to learn to think Biblically, to let that thinking shape their character and the fabric of their being, and rely on their Heavenly Father whom they can depend on to always be there to know them inside and out and to always care for them, defend them, and forgive them.
Rather than being watchdogs of “religiously (politically) correct” conclusions being reached by our children, it is the standards which rule their decisions and thought which we must jealously police and insist are Biblical. In this way, God has ordained an open, non-manipulative pathway to their souls. By insisting they use an outside, verifiable standard (the Word of God) to which we as parents also submit gives our children an assurance against arbitrary, self-serving dictates and allows our behavior to be held up to the same light of Scripture. Truly, how we raise our children reveals who we are.
[* This essay was written by my husband, Ford, back in 1998 and originally appeared in the Chalcedon Foundation's magazine Faith fo.He said I could publish it again! :-) ]