Matt Slick is tough to back into a corner. He’s a hardhitting defense-of-the-faith expert who runs CARM, the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry–a ministry I’ve turned to on numerous occasions. He’s a precise and articulate theologian who debates atheists, evolutionists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. Watch a few videos and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he relishes the debate–and the chance to annihilate the competition.
Nearly two years ago Matt’s 20 year-old daughter Rachael announced she was an atheist. Posting her story on Patheos, she described being theologically groomed and grilled by her father from the age of five. “What is pneumatology?” What is the hypostatic union?” He would take her along to church events, publicly have her spit out answers to such questions before challenging believers: “My daughter knows more about theology than you do! You are not doing your jobs as Christians to stay educated and sharp in the faith.”
Rachael said her father would “frequently make blatantly false statements—such as ‘purple dogs exist’—and force me to disprove him through debate. He would respond to things I said demanding technical accuracy, so that I had to narrow my definitions and my terms to give him the correct response.”
Mrs. Slick homeschooled Rachael and her siblings in a “…strict and highly regulated environment”. Friends were limited to children of like families. Rachel says that “If we did not respond immediately to being called, we were spanked ten to fifteen times with a strip of leather cut from the stuff they used to make shoe soles.” When asked about this, Mr. Slick admitted on tape, “Yes, I beat her. Yeah, I beat her. So, that’s what happened. Whatever, and um, that’s it. She was very very very very very stubborn. Children are different. So she is where she’s at now. It’s her choices [sic].”
Rachael says she and her sisters were “…extremely well-behaved children, and my dad would sometimes show us off to people he met in public by issuing commands that we automatically rushed to obey.”
But look at her journal entry when she was just nine: “I’m hopeless. Oh boy. I’ve got a lot to work on. I try to be obedient but it’s so hard! The more I read, the more I realize how bad I am! My problem is that when things don’t make sense to me, I don’t like them. When Dad gets mad at me for something, everything makes perfect sense to me in my mind, so I tend to resent my parents’ correction. I have just realized that I yearn to please the lord, but why can’t I? I just can’t be good! It seems impossible. Why can’t I be perfect?”
Enslaved to the law. Where’s the grace of the gospel? (Keystone parents, check out Mike Fisher’s class this Sunday at 9 AM in Fellowship Hall North, “Raising Jesus’ Lovers instead of Obedient Pharisees in Today’s World”.) The Bible commands us to teach, discipline, and correct our children. Sometimes well-meaning parents think that means it’s up to them to MAKE SURE THEIR CHILDREN TURN OUT A CERTAIN WAY. But children aren’t mechanical devices that if tuned, tightened and tempered properly, will come off of the assembly line exactly as programmed. Kids aren’t products.
They are people who–in time will make all kinds of important–and independent decisions. What we parents do is lovingly pray, train, influence, and teach–but our kids will eventually decide many things on their own. Training them to succeed in that is why we let them make more and more decisions as they get older. They learn by doing and making mistakes–like we did. In the aftermath we pray, talk, love them–and point them to the gospel.
Ultimately, your children’s missteps are their responsibility. Yes, we can and should evaluate ourselves when they go awry. But if we’ve been faithful, God holds our children accountable–not us. God held Eli responsible–not because his adult sons turned out bad, but because he “failed to discipline them” (1 Sam.3:13). We don’t blame Jesus for Judas; or God for Adam and Eve. God said if the city gets attacked and people die, the city’s watchman is responsible only if he didn’t warn the people to flee. If he did warn them and they stayed, it was on their own heads (Ezekiel 33:1-9). Yes, we grieve when they defy what we’ve taught them. I’m just saying that if we admit at the start that we cannot guarantee an outcome that God doesn’t promise, it may lead to more sane parenting. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
None of us do/did the parenting thing right. I have 4 witnesses to that fact. But the extremes of permissiveness and rigidity are both too parent-focused to serve our children’s best interests. Permissive parents can be lax because they find the demands of diligent discipline too wearying and heartbreaking (kids get mad at them). Rigid parents who thunder from Mt. Sinai can be driven more by the determination to be “successful” parents (i.e., those with well-behaved children) than to shape their children for God’s glory. Diligent parenting is too taxing on the permissive parent, and firm parenting that’s kind may not adequately reassure the parent of the desired outcome. In both cases the child is the loser.
Ask Rachael. “Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything. My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is—freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure. Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful.”
Rachael thinks she’s been set free but only the grace of the gospel can bring true freedom. That’s what our children need most desperately. They need that more than we need compliance, their obedience, a break or night out, or anything else that seems to matter most. They need to see it in our forgiveness, in our love–even when they disobey, in our own faith (love for what HE did instead of loving us because of what WE do), and in our expectations. Seriously, stop expecting your kids to be perfect. They’re just like you; imperfect.
If you’re parenting today, consider reading, “Give them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson. The subtitle says it all: Dazzling them [your children] with the Love of Jesus. Wish I had read this when my kids were ten. Or five.
On a side note, children don’t need parents who pretend their faith has no difficult answers–or times when there seem to be no answers at all. It won’t destroy your child’s budding faith to admit to him/her “I don’t know”. Or, “You know, you’re right; that’s a hard thing to swallow”. Rachael said that “…every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly. Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away. ” Kids are pretty young when they figure out mom and dad aren’t perfect–and not long after that they figure out mom and dad don’t know everything. They’re right. Don’t try to convince them otherwise lest they eventually conclude you weren’t always telling them the truth. We should be able to give our children answers. But appearing to have all of them just isn’t honest.