To Train Up a Child | Michael & Debi Pearl

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In the introduction to the book we read, "This book is not about discipline, nor problem children. The emphasis is on the training of a child before the need to discipline arises." That statement holds true, as the book really helps parents to establish boundaries with their young children, and to keep discipline to a minimum as a result of proper training. While the issue of discipline comes up again and again, the primary thrust is explaining how to train children to obey, so that a pattern is developed and a culture of the home created where joyful fellowship and obedience is the norm. In terms of practical, hands-on help for parents of young children, this book is as good as they come. Whether you begin reading with excitement or doubt, if you will read with honesty, you will find the Pearls to be full of the kind of practical wisdom that just makes sense and that takes God at His word.

As with all books on parenting, however, you need to submit everything in the book to the teaching of Scripture. And upon such reflection, we have some serious theological disagreements with the book. Also, at the end of this review we recommend another book for you to use as a companion to this one. Before we deal with these differences we should again stress that the book's practical benefits are so strong, its illustrations and examples so helpful, its parental wisdom so clear and direct, and its general use of the Bible so foundational, that we could not help but to recommend it. Nonetheless, these theological differences are important enough that we need to make them clear (as respects our own theological convictions). Thus this review will be about twice our usual length.

Chapter 2 of the book is dedicated to the nature of children. There are many good observations in this chapter, but there is also some teaching with which we disagree. In the interest of space we will limit ourselves to the differences. We believe that the Pearls wrongly categorize childish selfishness and anger as outside the "sinful" label. Many of their observations in this chapter are very good, but there are definitely some bad conclusions. The Pearls rightly point out that children are developing a moral compass—that is, their sense of right and wrong is not yet to the point of being fully accountable (we are all familiar with the so-called "age of accountability" theory heard so often). The Pearls rightly avoid identifying this full-orbed moral maturity with a specific age, but we think that they wrongly argue that a child's sin is not counted against him until he reaches his age of "full accountability."

Our quick rebuttal to this would be simply to note James 4:17, "Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." But we are also reminded of Paul's words that "sin is not counted where there is no law" (Romans 5:13). From the Romans passage, it appears true that God does not hold individuals personally responsible for sins which they do not understand to be wrong. But from the passage in James, we see that God holds men responsible on a personal level for every action which they understand to be wrong or evil. Certainly different children experience this at different ages, but the age at which real rebellion against God is first manifested is usually much younger than we might like to think. God does not wait until a child learns the need for honesty at work before He counts against him the sin of bullying his little sister.

Because of this, we believe that a crucial element of parenting is left largely untreated in this book, namely, the careful guidance and instruction that must accompany the rod of correction. Biblical discipline never separates the two. Godly parents will accompany every time of correction with enough instruction to make clear to the child, not only the reasons for the discipline and the expected behavior, but also the underlying heart issues, ensuring that the child's relationship with God is put center-stage where it belongs. For this reason we strongly urge parents to purchase the book Shepherding a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp along with this book. The two go together very well, each one providing a different, necessary emphasis. And of the two, we prefer you read Shepherding a Child's Heart first, even though it is directed to a slightly later stage of parenting than this book.

Finally, and quite sadly, there must be a warning issued here. In recent years, this book has been brought up in several child abuse cases, some involving the death of children, in which guilty parents have pointed to this book as providing them with the rationale for their actions. We believe such a connection is absolutely false and only reflects the imbalance of those who make the claim. There will always be those who abuse any teaching which instructs parents to chasten their children—but that does not mean the fault lies with the teaching. It is our belief that the Bible clearly sets forth the use of a physical rod of correction in the training and disciplining of children. However, there will always be some who abuse this teaching and use it against reason and natural affection. Like any teaching, balance is necessary. For this reason we recommend that every parent seek advice from more sources than just books written by strangers, but also from pastors and leaders in their local churches, who know them and their children, and by whom they are willing to be assessed carefully and wisely counseled by the application of Scripture. We also need to urge every parent to develop a prayerful approach to discipline, which seeks the grace, power, and direction of God's Holy Spirit to remove all selfishness, domineering, and harshness, replacing these wrong attitudes with selfless and sacrificial loving service, tender firmness, and calm, caring discipline. This is especially necessary when reading books that teach you to take up a position of authority with another human being, particularly when the Bible also commands that you exercise this authority.

We are aware of other accusations against the Pearls on a doctrinal level. Some of these things may be true, but to the best of our knowledge they are not. One of the most common accusations against them is that they teach the doctrine of Sinless Perfection (which they emphatically do not). But for this reason we are withholding any endorsement of the Pearls' ministry, NoGreaterJoy, and choose instead simply to commend the content of this particular book to anyone wanting practical help on raising their young children.

Sample Pages: Contents | Chapter 4

Three thousand years ago, a wise man said, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." Good training is not crises management; it is what you do before the need for discipline arises. Most parenting is accidental rather than deliberate. Imagine building a house that way. We don't need to reinvent training. There are child training principles that have worked from antiquity. To neglect deliberate training is to shove your child into a sea of choices and passions without a boat or compass. "This is the most entertaining, life-changing training manual on God's green earth." -- A Reader "A truly encouraging message for all struggling parents." -- Pastor "This was the most incredible life-changing book I have ever read. My home was like a war zone, everyone at each other's throats, but now there is peace and joy. The children actually enjoy being with each other, and my marriage has never been better." -- Mother of 6
Michael & Debi Pearl
No Greater Joy Ministries
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