Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Kill your stubborn sons

That's the advice I heard as I was punching car-radio buttons on Sunday, and heard a portion of program oddly titled Grace to You, in which radio preacher John MacArthur was talking about raising children. Here, according to this fellow, is what God's plan for your kids is:
I can sum up all you need to know about raising your children, all you need to know about parenting in just a couple of sentences. One, teach them the truth about God and His law all the time. That's the first sentence...

Second sentence, demand that they obey that law and punish them physically when they don't. Those two sentences sum up what the Bible teaches about raising children. Teach them the truth about God and His law all the time. Demand that they obey that law and punish them physically when they don't.
And then a little later, the good reverend dropped this little gem:
I take you back to Deuteronomy 21:18 to 21, "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that when they have chastened him will not listen to them, then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him, bring him out unto the elders of his city unto the gates of his place and they shall say unto the elders of his city...This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice, he is a glutton and drunkard." By now you can tell he's at least a teenager. "And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die."

Take his life. Why? Because the infection of this in the nation is devastating, an infection we experience even at this time. So, says Deuteronomy 21:21, "You shall put away evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear."
This, from a program entitled Grace To You. (Don't believe me? Just go to the broadcast transcript and see for yourself; the Deuteronomy 21 passage is down about half-way on the "Side 2" portion.)

In my more paranoid, terrified moments, I wonder, "How many idiot fathers and mothers will take that little reference to heart, and kill their disobedient, willful children 'cause the Bible tells me so, so to speak?"

It reminds me of Rev. Ed M., a recovered alcoholic turned Methodist minister, who used to say "I make it a point to give 'em Heaven on Sunday morning, 'cause they've been getting Hell all week long." Preach on, Rev...

Of course, this particular line of reasoning irks me most because I am a stubborn and rebellious son. I'm sure that if my father own had heard this little discourse (especially in the last years of his battle with brain cancer, when he wasn't firing on all cylinders) he might very well have acted on it - because, at that time, I would have deserved it. He and I butted heads for years, and I'm sure he died thinking I had been an entire waste of genetic material.

And who knows? Perhaps the people who were hurt, financially and emotionally, by my active alcoholism and insanity would have agreed. At one time, in between the time my wife asked me to leave and the time our divorce was final, I remember thinking that a caring God would have killed me, and leave my wife a stainless widow rather than a tainted divorcee'...

But this kind of irresponsible preaching would have deprived me of the last 15 years - years when I truly think I've done more good than harm, and restored at least a part of "the years that the locusts have eaten." God knows, I haven't been able to make as much financial restitution as I'd like - but I think I can say the "more good than harm" measure is a good thing. I think I've shared the peace and love of God with folks who could only hear it from me, and have brightened the lives of others.

And all that would have been lost, if my parents had listened to this so-called preacher.

Now, to be honest, there are a number of ideas in this transcript of John MacArthur's that I do agree with. I agree that discipline and teaching is lacking in many of our youth, as it was with me. I agree that there is an appalling tendency to use mind-affecting drugs to deal with behavior problems than to reach children and teach them. I'd even agree that we need to teach our children about God, and his law, and his grace, all the time. And I'm sure there are broadcasts of MacArthur's which truly are instruments of grace.

But when I hear this kind of careless, let's shock the people in the pews kind of preaching, I have to call it for what it is, and tell the world that this is not what a God of love, who sent his Son to die for us, would choose.


Michael Dodd said...

This disturbing example of horrible homiletic hyperbole (how's that for artful alliteration?) may not lead to many parents taking their children out and stoning them, any more than the dominical admonition to hate father and mother will lead to increased elder abuse among the faithful. I note, however, that other hate-filled sermons, masquerading as exegesis, do lead to an increase in an atomsphere of disrespect and even violence against people who are gays and lesbian, culminating in self-righteous attempts to legislate us out of all citizenship. Perhaps one good result of bringing texts like this to our attention is that it can make us ponder more carefully those passages from the Old Testament that we use to berate and discriminate against others, and to notice that we already casually ignore many of God's commands because they don't fit into our worldview.

Not to mention the shrimp. [See]

New Life said...

You know brother, I am glad you posted this. I do think it is our repsonsibility to speak out against teaching that injures and damages other human beings. The scary part of this is that this guy has a huge following in evangelical Christianity. It only pertuates the more fear in folks. WE know that perfect love casts out fear.

Thanks for sharing.

Bar L. said...


My son would be dead SO MANY times if I followed this. I think it's totally irresponsible and wrong of Johm McA. to spout this on his radio show. Unfortunatley many listeners are naive and believe that is they hear something coming from a radio preacher, it must be the truth. (My mom is like that).

When my son was small I spanked him hard once. He was well fairly well behaved until he hit about...9 yr. old. By then I had found other ways to discipline. Now he's taller, and much stronger, than me so the only time I lay on a hand on him is to hug him, pray for him and tell him I love him.

Anonymous said...

As one who has know you through all the times good through bad your brother Stteven have truly touched and enriched us all!

Hope said...

Thank God I didn't hear this teaching when my kids were young and I thought that particular author/speaker was someone to look up to. Back then parenting was all about me, me, me. They had better behave because I needed to look good. They never could do it perfectly and it drove me crazy. Behave, damn you, behave, I need to look good.[smile sweetly at other parents while I am whispering something in their ears or at least acting out this attitude] No wonder they need counselling now. What I needed to hear back then was how much I was loved when I failed to be the person/parent who was perfect...meaning I was loved all the time. That my kids were okay simply because they existed and that the best thing I could do was work on my issues and love them to pieces.

What bothers me the most about this excerpt of his teaching is that there are parents out there who are pulling out their hair because their kids are simply human. They will glom onto the latest teaching badly skewed(like I so often did)because they are sure it will be the key to a peaceful home life.

I thought Jesus came because we couldn't obey the law perfectly yet this teaching seems to say that it is our mandate. Thank GOD we are not treated like this by God. I would be drunk tomorrow if that was the case. I beat myself up bad enough over the years for not living a perfect life without someone in authority reinforcing it.

Anonymous said...

There's something disturbingly odd that I've been noticing lately. I keep seeing "media preachers" of all stripes saying the most bizarre things - stuff that comes from left field - stuff that doesn't make sense.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something going on spritually in the upper echelons of our media-driven Christian leaders and mega-church pastors and, frankly, it's beginning to freak me out. Something's very, very wrong at a very deep level, and I hate to say this, but it almost seems (at times) as if a madness has gripped their souls.

Okay, okay, all you smartie pants saying gee, he's just figuring that out now? Well, yeah, I am. What I'm saying is that they're not just whacko pants-droppers anymore. Something's changed, and God is trying to tell us what that means.

Peter said...

Isn't biblical literalism wonderful? {extremely wry grin}

pgepps said...

Hey, guys, I hate to break up the me-too chorus, but I think you've just picked an improbable (though possible) reading of the text and used it to confirm your prejudices.

It is not at all uncommon for a speaker to read the primary source and then paraphrase, for clarity or impact, its words. The imperative of the text and MacArthur's imperative echo are just such a case.

Now, I do think MacArthur has an unfortunate tendency to bomb first adn qualify later, and I do think this is an example of clumsy exegesis--but not at the point you're taking (the clumsiness is in leaping from "sin in the nation" with regard to Israel to "sin in the nation" with regard to some modern nation-state). So some criticism is warranted.

But I'm quite sure the number of his intended audience (his church members and those who regularly hear his teaching) who foolishly take his language here to the extremes you foolishly speculate they may will be--exactly zero. Precisely zero.

MacArthur makes his mistakes, a couple of them fairly systematically. Let's critique the real errors, not pick nits and burn straw men, eh?


Jason Robertson said...

I agree with pgepps. MacArthur clearly was using the O.T. passage to illustrate the seriousness of rebellion and the judgment of God and how that relates to parenting. Could more be said - of course - that's why he preaches more than one sermon on the topic. Could it be said better - of course - just like your criticisms could have been better stated. But unBiblical, no. Dangerous, no. Too literal, no. "Left field", ha, give me a break.

TulipGirl said...

Not to mention, seeming to assume the Gospel of Jesus Christ doesn't apply to children. . .

Anonymous said...

It is a mistake to read the Deuteronomy passage without pointing to the Cross and grace. I take this to be your main point by your emphasis on the irony of the title of MacArthur's "show" and I agree with you.

The rebellious son is the whole of Israel herself and, transcending the historical context, all of us. I am the rebellious son. This passage MUST be related to Christ as the one who stood in our place and took the stoning that we deserved. To miss this or leave it out is moralizing; it is not preaching the gospel. If the cross is not in view first, then whatever "practical" parenting tips we extrude from the gospel-less law will be in vain.

Anonymous said...

interesting post and great comments.

Steve F. said...

Thanks for all your comments. I appreciate you stopping by to share.

I just found MacArthur's presentation of that lesson problematic. To be honest, I have listened to him before to my great benefit. And I agree that teen rebellion (and the twenty-something and thirty-something versions of it) can be devastating - I am the world's best evidence of that.

But invoking the Deuteronomy 21 passage, to me, is exactly what turns so many people away from Christianity - that an otherwise sane preacher would even mention "kill the stubborn sons" (even as a gross exaggeration) in this day, age and context is, to put it mildly, unfortunate.

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