I admired his parenting skills and asked him his secret. He admitted his desire to write a parenting book. It would address issues like:
- Kids, cell phones, and when
- Television, video games, and limits
- Daily chores, responsibility, and allowance
- Older kids, younger kids, care, and leadership
My friend is bright, articulate, and humorous. I said his book would sell hundreds of thousands of copies. And then I added … it just slipped out:
“And you’ll doom millions of kids and their parents to hell.”
Let me explain
My friend knows the grace of God. Yet his prescription for parenting was a bullet list of “wise” to do’s. His list was excellent, but it missed our deepest need: walking with God. His list reminded me of the Pharisees.
Despite their bad rap, the Pharisees began well. Their name—meaning “one who is separated”—reflected their desire to be free from impurity. They fought against assimilation into the surrounding pagan culture by creating a religious culture.
They were the sages who taught the Bible in local synagogues. They sympathized with the common people, and they opposed the elitism of the priestly class. In their struggle to nurture a pure culture, they created hundreds of “wise” rules for right living.
Over time their rules obscured the intent of the law. The sheer volume of regulations created a culture of external compliance; forgetting that God looks on the heart.
The Pharisaical sages began with good intent and ended as white-washed tombs.
The damning presumption of assumption
My friend embraces the gospel, but he assumed his readers would too. So he skipped past the gospel and jumped to action items. It reminded me of how the gospel is lost:
- The gospel is Accepted
- The gospel is Assumed
- The gospel is Confused
- The gospel is Lost (Mack Stiles, Marks of the Messenger)
This is the evangelical world. We began with the Spirit and end with a to-do list. We accepted the gospel, and assuming others do too, we write about performance.
The assumption of the gospel leads to confusion about the gospel: Is the Christian life a daily conversation with God, or is it the Nike commercial, “Just Do It”?
Like the Pharisees, we wash the outside of the cup with our doing. Jesus says, “Clean first the inside of the cup … and then the outside will be clean as well” (Matt. 23:26).
Modern Christian publishing has much to answer for
Rabbinic sages scoured the scriptures and summarized it with 613 do’s and don’ts.
On a whim, I once scoured the websites of Christian publishers. I stopped when I had “summarized” over 1500 do’s and don’ts for wise Christian living:
- 7 Steps to A Better Christian Marriage
- 10 Rules for Right Parenting
- 20 Ways to Love Your Neighbor
- The Three Month Plan for Controlling Your Finances*
*(All these titles are fictitious but they represent thousands of real titles.)
I fear many Christian publishers are the modern paid scribes (literally) of “Just do it” based Pharisaism. Are we selling our gospel birthright for a bowl of financial gruel?
So what do we do?
The tips and techniques of Christian tutors aren’t bad, but they obscure the intent of the law; they encourage The Little Engine That Could thinking—“I think I can, I think I can”—instead of driving us to God as we realize, “I’m pretty sure I can’t.”
The law is not rules for right living; it is a verbal painting of the beauty of God. It is only the reality of God that will change our hearts. More than rules, we need God.
When Jesus expounded the law about adultery (Matt. 5:27-28), he didn’t offer “Five Steps to Safeguard Your Marriage.” He was saying, “You’ve already committed adultery in your heart; you don’t need new rules, you need a new heart. You need God.”
The book of Hosea is the autobiography of a man who buys back his incredibly unfaithful wife at a great cost and then woos her back with great love. The life of Jesus demonstrates a God who ransoms back his adulterous people at incredible cost and then woos us back with unbelievable love.
Our greatest need is not more wise techniques. Our greatest need is to see, know, and walk with God. It’s only seeing the reality of God ransoming and wooing us that will change us. It is not in “doing” that we see God; it is in seeing God that we begin to do.
My aspiring author friend
I asked my friend how he and his wife developed their great list of parenting skills. He said that whenever they encounter a new issue (like when to give cell phones to kids), they take time to seek God, hear his voice, and examine how God has fathered them.
I told him to write that book, and I’ll be first in line to buy it: How God The Father Is Parenting Me; And How He Changed My Parenting Forever.
I hope that book sells millions.