Thursday, February 12, 2009

RC Sproul, Jr’s Take on Multigenerational Faithfulness: “When You Rise Up”

Before closing this discussion of multigenerational faithfulness, I would like to comment on RC, Jr’s book -- what he calls his “covenantal approach to homeschooling.” When searching online for the term, this book figures high on the list.

From a book excerpt on

"While almost all Christian parents would agree with that statement, when the chalk meets the chalkboard, they live as if they care more about their children chalking up achievements and getting into a good college than cultivating humble obedience to God and encouraging a long-term vision of multi-generational faithfulness in their future families."

For many years, and for what I understand to pre-date the Bristol Virginia/Tennessee compound days, my husband and I read RC, Jr’s materials. From time to time, I would read encouraging things RC had written to my homeschooling mom friends to encourage them, but since my husband and I were busy battling illness and waiting on providence for the opportunity to homeschool our own kids, we glossed over most of RC’s homeschooling content. But we did read quite a bit of his material and listened to tapes and such. We were certainly not strangers to RC, Jr’s writings at all.

When I started reading “When You Rise Up: A Covenantal Approach to Homeschooling,” RC, Jr’s contribution to multigenerational faithfulness, I was shocked to discover that he now sounds to me like a "brave new ersatz theonomist," the type of theonomist that I don’t think that RJ Rushdoony would agree was an actual theonomist. After Rousas Rushdoony’s passing, it seems that all sorts of people popped up with all sorts of new beliefs that I’d never associated or read in the writings of theonomy before. (Some people tell me that he spent a great deal of time before he died correcting those who made theonomy into something like a new religion of the Judaizers.) A brand new legalistic theonomist have appeared over the past 10 years or so, people that John Robbins named “ersatz Evangelicals,” I think because he didn’t even want to call some of these folks Calvinists. This type of "schtick" caught me by surprise, as RC seems to be reading right out of the Doug Phillips' playbook. Prior to 2000 or so, I did not note that type of aberrancy in RC, Jr.'s work, but then, I was not reading the homeschooling content closely at all and saw what I wanted to see. I ask the same question about RC that I have about many theonomists and the patriocentrists: “Were they proclaiming this same message of works all along, were they this far off the mark, or was I just oblivious to it prior to circa 1998 - 2001 (when I first noticed these leaders becoming increasingly aberrant)?” The answer seems to be that these matters were a unique mix of all of these factors, partly owing to my own ignorance or avoidance, but partly due to a change among these men after Rushdoony’s journey to his eternal reward.

Live, learn and get wise.

One thing that I did appreciate at a few points in the book and something I’ve loved in RC, Jr’s writings has been his appreciation for embracing the Cross and embracing one’s own cross with joy and peace. I did rejoice to read this quote: “They need to know that the Jesus they serve is already sovereign, so that if bad guys come, it is only because the one Good Guy ordained it for our good and for his glory” (pg 104). He always had a good grasp of this concept, I thought, and he has a very poetic way of communicating this concept in a way that has always been edifying for me. It never had the “submit, suffer, and die if you have to” quality that the Shepherding and Submission Doctrines do in a way that produces shame.

But I was terribly disappointed to read what I would call standard Vision Forum fare throughout the rest of the book. It has the RC, Jr. rambling quality which my husband thinks is a part of his charm. I only wish that the content were more charming. RC builds strawman after strawman to perpetuate the idea of separatism and elitism throughout the book, poorly characterizing anyone who falls outside of his increasingly narrowing group of acceptable Christians. I’m also very disappointed in his fear mongering, and I wonder if that was also something always present in his writings that I failed to notice because I either identified with it too much or because I didn’t want to recognize it. He has a penchant for drama, dread and controversy. He says that “homeschoolers lack a fitting dread that they might be conformed to this world" (pg 100). Why dread something over which we should have dominion? I’m to hate the world and fear God. Voddie Baucham did say something that made my heart sing in a sermon on multigenerational faithfulness that counters this idea of RC’s . Voddie said that he wants the kind of kids that, when his kids get awake in the morning, it makes the devil tremble because they are such effective Christians. That’s real dominion and a point where I agree with Baucham. I think that the whole point of homeschooling is living so that we should have no need to have any dread of the world at all, because it is the world that should dread the Living God in us. (Maybe RC and Voddie can have chat about that issue sometime?)

But what I found most disturbing about this book was a vignette of a family of eight that RC discusses who has a nine year old daughter that cannot read. When I first learned of homeschooling in the late 70s, I thought it was amazing how much better the academic training a child could receive from a mother with a vested interest in the outcome. And I have had friends who struggled with children with learning disabilities. I have helped these friends work with their children, and I’ve worked with kids in the Christian school where I volunteered, helping with these very issues. So I am not terribly stressed about a 9 year old that cannot read. These families I know worked and sought out every resource, screening their kids for problems and trying different alternatives such as trying private school for a year, considering that their child might do better with a different teacher in a different setting. Vision problems and physical problems were ruled out as a deterrent factor. And I don’t know that this was not the case with the family that RC describes in his book, but he certainly made no effort to point out what the family did one way or the other. That could be an oversight (that RC did not make a point to explain that the family had worked hard and done all they could do to rule out an organic problem which explains why their nine year old can't read), but one that I find a bit disturbing, setting a standard that this is acceptable (that a 9 year old homeschooled girl can't read). But this I find even more troubling:

From Pages 110 - 112:

The mother made a confession to me. She told me, “You know, my nine-year-old daughter doesn’t know how to read.” Now here is a good test to see how much baggage you are carrying around. Does that make you uncomfortable? Are you thinking, “Mercy, what would the school superintendent say if he knew?” My response was a cautious, “Really?” But my friend went on to explain, “She doesn’t know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to the potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds.” Now I saw her rightly, as an overachiever. If she didn’t know how to read, but did know all the Looney Tunes characters, that would be a problem. But here is a young girl being trained to be a keeper at home. Do I want her to read? Of course I do, as does her mother. I want her to read to equip her to learn the Three Gs. [From earlier in the book, he notes the "Three Gs": Who is God? What has God done? What does God require?] But this little girl was learning what God requires, to be a help in the family business, with a focus on tending the garden.

I’m not suggesting that the goal is to have ignorant daughters. I am, however, arguing that we are to train them to be keepers at home. These two are not equivalent. Though we aren’t given many details we know that both Priscilla and Aquila had a part in the education of Apollos. I’m impressed with Priscilla, as I am with my own wife. She is rather theologically astute... My point is that that brilliance isn’t what validates her as a person. It’s a good thing, a glorious thing, and an appropriate thing. But it’s like the general principle we’ve already covered. Would I rather be married to a godly woman who was comparatively ignorant, or a wicked person who was terribly bright? Who would make a better wife and mother, someone who doesn’t know infra- from supralapsarianism, but does know which side is up on a diaper, or a woman about to defend her dissertation on the eschatology of John Gill at Cambridge but one who thinks children are unpleasant? It’s no contest, is it? Naturally we want everything. We want all the virtues to the highest degree. But virtues come in different shades and colors in different circumstances.

I don’t understand why the patriocentrists work so hard at making reading and caring for a home and children a life long and an either-or dichotomy. RC tells us that it doesn’t matter if your kid can read, so long as they meet the requirements of a good wife and mother. It isn't called home-keeping-schooling. It's called homeschooling. Sproul and his soulmates suggest over and over that if a young woman knows the meaning of fifty cent words that she may not have enough room in her brain to adequately put a diaper on a baby or will be unable to be a proficient and loving mother to her children. And God forbid that she not be able to make a pie! What makes academic excellence and being proficient at keeping the home mutually exclusive? This I don’t understand.

The laws of our land require that children receive adequate basic schooling, and when the Christian school and homeschooling movements came about, it was a concerted goal as a Christian virtue to show the world that we could do what they could do – and do it better. And I don't think it's any kind of good Christian witness at all to say "Well, they wouldn't get any better of an education in public school, and I want my children to have good character." But this is not an excuse for a permissive attitude when our kids can't read, and certainly not when it is written about in a book that sets a standard for a "covenantal vision." As Christians, we used to seek to set a higher standard of academic excellence, because that’s what I thought taking dominion was all about. That’s what I heard John Holt and Raymond and Dorothy Moore speak about, and I even heard it from Kevin Leman. But I find less and less of this spirit of dominion in homeschooling with the advent of the "movement homeschooling gender sacraments." And I suppose it’s a great blessing that Rushdoony and the Moores are no longer with us, because I believe they would be (more) heartsick. (Addendum note: HERE is the blog post wherein RC calls himself a "Movement Homeschooler," and thatmom Karen Campbell's response can be found HERE.)

So concludes my review of multigenerational faithfulness, and I just felt that I would be remiss if I did not bring attention to this disturbing passage and growing trend among far too many groups of homeschoolers. This is the kind of example that threatens to ruin homeschooling for everyone.

"Charis" offered this additional perspective in response to this quote from RC Sproul, Jr.s book, and I wanted to include it here as well.

From "Emotional Incest" on the blog entitled "A Wife's Submission":

This little 9 year old child was having the weight of the household put upon her shoulders. She’s a child. How is this any different than what alcoholic parents do to their children? shifting way too much adult responsibility onto their children and robbing them of their childhood? Its emotional incest.
The most disturbing thing to me about the quote is the apparent blindness to the “problem in paradise”. This situation is PRAISED rather than recognized as a serious chronic boundary violation against this little girl.
Read the entire post HERE.

This is precisely one of my greatest concerns about the Vision Forum paradigm and the Shepherding/Discipleship/Submission Doctrines.   I believe that these folks have just slapped a snappy, new title on serious family dysfunction that harms children and bitterly breaks hearts, making something very evil out to be God's ideal and "Biblical."