Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Selfish Sin of Shyness: A Deterrent to Multigenerational Faithfulness

Because of the Gothard influence of ecclesiocentricity within Vision Forum’s theology and practice (more in practice in participating churches than in documented theory), multigenerational faithfulness also revolves around submission to elders among adults of all ages, but it is also extended to children under their idolatry of family. Vision Forum essentially just takes Bill Gothard’s teachings to greater extremes, but very little of it offers something new. The only new aspects of these “new ideas” are the loaded language phrases and “wonder word” concepts that the masters of spin wrap around the same old concepts of the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement in order to sell it via a new packaging. The manipulators merely took multigenerational faithfulness and wrapped it around the old submission doctrine product like a clever new design on colorful paper packaging that boasts “new and improved” or “50% more.” The practice of old-fashioned submission doctrine is alive and well, even within the emergent church movement, evidenced in the error of “sinning through questioning.” This unquestioned submission to authority dulls critical thinking and is an highly desirable trait in followers of authoritarian and spiritually abusive groups (at least, according to the leaders of those groups).

I’ve been contacted by several people who have asked many questions about my thoughts on Voddie Baucham’s teachings regarding “First Time Obedience” (FTO). Technically, “First or Single Time Discipline” describes a more accurate concept since FTO would require omniscience. There is a “First Time Transgression” wherein a child learns obedience and is given grace only once. As an essential component of multigenerational faithfulness, I would like to examine these concepts again.

I believe that multigenerational faithfulness requires a high degree of “equal opportunity submission” (all age groups) under a preferred authoritarian leadership style, well noted and typified in Dr. Voddie Baucham’s book entitled “Family Driven Faith.” Though I agree with some isolated elements and find some of what he has to say quite valuable, I take issue with very many aspects of it. I also don’t come to the same conclusions that he does because I do not share all of his presuppositions. I’m going to quote some of the things that I find more problematic, though there are many points and conclusions with which I agree in the text. For me, that makes the whole work and message far more troubling ideologically and theologically.

In context, Baucham breaks “Discipline and Training” down into components to be expected of children (and training is so directed) that I have also heard discussed in audio sermons: 1) Do What They Are Told; 2) Do It When They Are Told; 3) Do It With a Respectful Attitude. His numerous audio sermons cover this same basic content as outlined in his book. There is some variation however, wherein Baucham (between these different venues) changes examples of behavior of a two year old sticking out one’s tongue at an adult to an example used interchangeably with shy, avoidant behavior suggestive of fearfulness in a two year old.  (Read more HERE.)   Baucham handles both examples as morally similar if not identical, both stemming from the same core sin issues – that which ultimately qualifies as willful rebellion over which a two year old should have mastery.

Voddie Baucham on Corporal Punishment and Shyness in a Young Child from Under Much Grace on Vimeo.

From "Family Driven Faith," Pages 109 - 110:
What this means is the degree to which children properly respond to the authority of their parents is indicative of the degree to which they are filled with the Spirit. In other words, obedience is a spiritual issue...

You tell your two-year-old to do something in front of the pastor’s wife and she sticks out her tongue yells “no,” and takes off running in the other direction... Eventually you learn that everyone is willing to accept this behavior, or at least to make comments that suggest their acceptance.

The only problem with this scenario is that it clearly violates the principles laid out in God’s Word. It is not OK for our toddlers to be characterized by rank disobedience. Moreover, if we do not deal with this when they are toddlers, our children will grow up to be disobedient, disrespectful, obnoxious teens whom no one wants to be around. More importantly, they will have established a behavior pattern that mitigates against the Spirit-filled life. Remember, a young man or woman who is filled with the Spirit will be marked by obedience to his or her parents...

First, I agree that parents do tolerate far too much unacceptable behavior (sticking out one’s tongue or other rude and disrespectful displays). I wholeheartedly agree that letting children (or encouraging children) to engage in rude, disrespectful behavior as a toddler encourages “rank disobedience” later in life. Yet how appropriate is it for an adult to put a small child into a situation wherein the adult expects the child to behave like a rational adult, capable of demonstrating the emotional control of an adult? I think that reasonable tears of fear/hiding one’s face in shy behavior demonstrates an appropriate response under certain circumstances, and the intolerable sticking out one’s tongue are two very separate issues. These indicate (or can indicate) two very different emotional states within a child. Children’s honest, non-pretentious and unbridled emotion become both their great fault and their great charm, and I believe that the delightful lack of pretense explains exactly why Jesus delighted in children. As they learn self-discipline, appropriate behavior, and boundaries from adults, children should also learn that their God-given emotions serve them as most precious gifts of childhood to proclaim strength and perfect praise in order to defeat threats and silence enemies (or to counter provoked anger).

Emotions should be heeded by adults as they are valuable information when felt or expressed by children and adults alike. In a discussion of this passage from Baucham’s book, a wise mother reminded me of the conventional wisdom that children often “instinctively know who to fear and who to trust” precisely because they remain largely unaffected by pretense. Fear is not a sin in a two year old, and fear can sometimes manifest as anger or as shyness. Even adults run to the Rock of our Salvation and hide in the clefts as the adult and valiant warrior Psalmist often did. We trust under the feathers of God and find solace in His shield and buckler when we are afraid, even crying out to our Heavenly Father. Why would this similar behavior be inappropriate for a two year old? Does God greet us with love, comfort and protection when we run to Him, or does He punish us for our overwhelming emotions of fear, woundedness and helplessness? Any adult who puts a child into a position where the child is expected to demonstrate the mastery of an adult or beyond that of the Psalmist of Old behaves inappropriately. The parent manifests far more fault than the child in such a circumstance.

I am also confused about what Baucham argues here regarding the apparent the virtues of a two year old, wondering how a totally depraved creature who has not yet come to faith in Christ with understanding and credulity can also be filled with the Spirit as evidenced by desirable behavior as a manifestation of willful choice. Does Dr. Baucham believe that good behavior always indicates the manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Can’t an unbeliever who has been conditioned with behavioral consistency and techniques of “child training” manifest good behavior, or can’t good behavior be feigned apart from the work of the Spirit? Cannot and do not unbelievers, consummate examples of “the good person,” raise respectful, polite and obedient children? How does one differentiate this “deceitful feigning” of good behavior from the miraculous manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit, all prior to the child’s mature and willful faith in Christ with understanding of the atonement?

This touches on some tension between the Dispensational “age of accountability” typically understood in Baptist circles, the Total Depravity of the Reformed faith, hints of innocence in covenant children by virtue of their election as found in the Westminster Confession, and for some more modern/aberrant patriocentrists, something akin to paedobaptismal regeneration. I’m unclear as to what exactly he means to communicate. Baucham seems to draw elements from a model of “Child Training” (versus child raising) akin to the Pearls and the Ezzos which actually argues a very Darwinian view of eliciting good behavior (like training mules according to Michael Pearl). Baucham seems to want to borrow from both Total Depravity and a divine manifestation of spiritual virtue at the same time without conflict. In so doing, Baucham argues a works-based and salvation evidenced by comparison and perfectionism. The question remains: How does one differentiate between good works in an elect two year old, deceitfully manipulative good behavior in a two year old who pretends to manifest the Holy Spirit, a well-trained two year old who is non-elect, a two year old with a delightful disposition, and a child who has been raised to be sensitive to the Lord thorough loving, “one-anothering” parenting (the true covenant child). A two year old knows well the difference between attrition and contrition, and all this apart from election. In fact, they may be more sensitive to it than an adult.

From Page 110:
Bridget and I learned the hard way with our firstborn. We were inconsistent with her as a toddler, and we had a mess on our hands. By the time she was ten we had to go back and completely retrain her. We simply didn’t know there was a better way. No one had ever taught us the importance of this biblical mandate.

No one enjoys the frustration of a child’s active bad behavior or making unsuccessful attempts to stop a child from behaving inappropriately. And I agree that behavioral problems manifest as a result of training a toddler inconsistently. But we also run the risk of provoking children to anger with authoritarian perfectionism when they are incapable of performing, either due to immaturity, parental factors, or their own inherent shortcomings of personality. Sometimes, some acting out results directly from being provoked to anger. Negative reinforcement and authoritarianism consistently yield erratic behavior in countless controlled, anecdotal and historical studies of adults, children and even in animals. Such provocation can lead to what has been coined as the “Botkin Syndrome” or results in the outcomes described by the “Quivering Daughters,” those young women who have been pushed too far by perfectionistic, authoritarian demands. It can also create “learned helplessness,” a pervasive, almost nihilistic hopelessness as a character trait that hinders rather than facilitates spiritual maturity in the Word of God.

Dare I ask online again as I have in a previous blog post: “How does one ‘completely retrain’ a ten year old?” COMPLETELY? This differs dramatically from “I was wrong – a very imperfect parent – but by the grace of God, I rejoice in the goodness that I do see in my daughter’s life... And by God’s grace, rather than doing the wrong thing for 10 years, I will not do the wrong thing for 10 years plus one more day.”

When asking friends who have no idea about the source of the reference, in response to my question of “How do you completely retrain a ten year old?” most people (when done chuckling) have immediately responded with either “You cannot,” or they only partially-in-jest suggest some type of torture, often involving depravation of food and water. (And I am reminded of Robin Phillips' book wherein he cites an example of how Jonathan Lindvall recommends just such a course of action regarding someone else's adult daughter who will not do as the parent pleases.) I am disturbed by the absolute, all-or-nothing certainty with which Baucham can go back into the past to erase his own error, laying blame on his child as “completely” flawed in a manner that seems to admit his fault but actually diverts it to his daughter. He’s not only so confident about assurance of the past concerning his own children, he is also quite zealous to share his authoritarian (albeit yet unproven) techniques with thousands upon thousands of others?

I must also ask why Baucham’s technique of first time obedience represents not only the better way but seemingly the only acceptable way offered for dutifully raising all children under all conditions? Baucham’s way is THE Biblical mandate. His comment reflects the other sentiments in the book such as his statement that the Family Integrated Church (FIC) is THE Biblical mandate and that alternatives to the FIC are “less Biblical,” whatever “less Biblical” hopes to imply through connotation. Is “less Biblical” like being “less pregnant” or “less moral?”

In the next post, I will look more closely and specifically at Voddie Baucham’s twist on “First Time Obedience.”