Home > Books > William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

I got a few hours on a couple of planes yesterday and was among other things able to finish Farley’s book, so I have a better perspective on the whole thing than I did when I wrote my earlier post. In some ways I’m not sure I’d be as hard on him as I was earlier; in other ways I’ll probably be harder on him knowing what he said in the whole book. I’ll apologize in advance if this turns out to be dull, but I will probably be camped out in this rather minor book for a while.

Back in the Seventies, the last time current trends in child-rearing mattered to me, there was an ongoing dialogue in the churches my family attended between the pulpit and its portrayal of Dr Spock and other similar modern theories of childhood development. They basically went like this: “The culture will tell you that your children are basically good, but they’re not. They’re little sinners. So you need to spank them.” There were variants of this, but that was the most basic. Others included “and the government will try to stop you” or “it isn’t the school/church/government’s responsibility to raise your kid,” but the basic message was that we as conservative Christians believed that people were basically evil; the corrupt culture surrounding us believed people were basically good; corporal punishment was our right and responsibility.

In the intervening time this basic message has been tempered somewhat with “don’t abuse your kids;” even James Dobson in revisions of Dare to Discipline [link] takes pains to point this out, going so far as to offer examples of things that are abusive.

So I guess I should have not been surprised to see Farley declare early “I’m not going to give you parenting techniques” (page 69) yet recommend spanking repeatedly over the course of the last hundred or so pages of the book. He also name-checks “provoke not your children to wrath” but like most conservative commentators doesn’t really explain what Paul was getting at, choosing instead to focus on obedience and discipline. He also repeats his own version of “the culture believes kids are basically good but we know better.”

I’m going to have to suggest here that neither of these claims is helpful. As Christians we don’t believe that man is basically evil; we believe that the human race is fallen and that every individual needs a Savior. We say we believe that a Christian undergoes a lifelong process of sanctification, while non-believers do not. We occasionally pay lip service to setting boundaries around individuals because of their tendency to sin, but we don’t apply that standard uniformly. In other words, we tend to think that people are sinful and for that reason they need a Savior.

In the broader culture, however, it’s a stretch to say that it is widely believed that people are basically good. Most people I’ve actually asked the simple question — “Are people basically good or are they basically evil?” — will claim they have never thought about the question before, don’t understand what it means, etc. In other words, the broader culture does not think about this basic question, rather than thinking the opposite. In the conservative Church our primarily narrative starts with the idea that each individual needs a Savior; that’s the Gospel. In the broader culture the primary narrative starts with the rights of the individual, or personal freedom, or some such.

Farley doesn’t really take on the issue of abuse. I think it would be more reasonable to say his book isn’t really about parenting (it’s about theology and some of its implications, with some of his own insights added), so he doesn’t deal with lots of parenting questions. He mentions that a child is probably too young to understand the Gospel before the age of five, and he says he regrets having spanked his daughter when she was fourteen, but he doesn’t offer any real definition of abuse.

And he doesn’t touch “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Go figure.

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