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

William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

Before I take up Farley’s book again I want to follow up on something I said yesterday, namely, that the Scriptures aren’t primarily about parenting. This is one of the things that troubles me whenever I hear someone state confidently that they know what “biblical parenting” or “Bible-based parenting” is and how to go about it. It usually means that they’re going to manufacture an entire theory of parenting out of a few verses in Paul’s letters; particularly the ones about children obeying parents, probably focusing heavily on hierarchy and discipline, and paying some passing lip service to “provoke not your children to wrath,” or if they’re using a modern translation, “don’t frustrate your children.”

Instead I’d like to suggest, not that the Scriptures don’t tell us what we need to know to be good parents, but rather that those few verses don’t tell us the whole story. Instead I’d suggest reading through the Scriptures and looking for good fathers, meaning father’s whose children turn out well. And I guess I need to point out that the following don’t count:

  • God the Father. The standard He sets is just too high, etc.
  • Joseph husband of Mary; we don’t get much of a glimpse of any of his natural children, and his one adopted Son he couldn’t have screwed up if he’d tried.

Let’s look instead at a few giants of the faith and how their children turned out:

  • Abraham: Ishmael turned out badly; Isaac is kind of a weakling. Things happen to Isaac, but he doesn’t do much that’s good or bad.
  • Isaac: one son sells his birthright; the other is a deceiver
  • Jacob: Joseph turns out pretty well; the others are nothings (Dan, Issachar, Benjamin), murderers (Levi, Simeon), sexual sinners (Reuben), etc.
  • Moses: his sons disappear from Scripture; it isn’t clear whether they go back to Midian with their mother or die in the wilderness
  • Aaron: two of his sons are killed by God Himself
  • Gideon: has seventy sons; one of them, Abimelech, kills the others
  • Eli: sons molest women who come to worship at the tabernacle, pervert the rituals they’re entrusted with, pervert justice
  • Samuel: pretty much the same
  • David:  raises Amnon, who rapes his sister, Absalom, who attempts to steal the kingdom, and Solomon, who is heterodox in his theology and sets the stage for the division of the kingdom
  • Solomon: despite all the proverbs he collected about good counsel, his son Rehoboam takes poor counsel and taxes the kingdom into revolt

There’s really very little modern child-rearing going on in the Old Testament, and virtually none in the New Testament. Of all the families in the Bible where children are portrayed as being raised by their natural parents, only a handful turn out well:

  • Saul, whose son Jonathan is never portrayed in a negative light
  • Philip, whose four virgin daughters prophesy, and
  • Eunice and Lois, who raise their son/grandson Timothy

The Mosaic Law provides some instruction regarding families, but there’s as much about selling daughters as wives as there is about honoring and obeying elders; if we’re going to pick and choose we need some external criteria as a guide. And of course there’s the warning from Malachi that if upon his return Elijah doesn’t turn the hearts of the fathers toward their children (and vice versa) God will strike the land with a curse.

I want to be careful to point out that I’m not saying that what Paul says isn’t applicable; but I do want to point out that there’s more to parenting than authority and discipline, and anyone who sets out to describe “Biblical parenting” needs to talk about more than that.

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