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Response to Unstringing the Pearls?


Unfair post

This post is a response to Unstringing the Pearls: A Critical Pastoral Assessment(the post) by Dustin Segers (the author) at the Grace in the Triad Blog (the blog). In the post the author claims the article to be well researched; however, I feel this criticism is unfounded and overall feels like a attack. In this post I am assuming we are talking about the teachings in the wildly popular To Train Up a Child (TUC) written by Michael Pearl and contributed to by his wife Debi.

My quick position

I am a Christian. Go to Crossway Church in Keene, New Hampshire. My doctrine is Calvinstic yet baptistic. I am non Christian-sabbatarian. I have respect for the book TUC and I feel it is biblical. I have four gifts from God ages 10,2,1 and one in my wifes belly. The insights, opinions, and biblical extrapolations in TUC have greatly benefited my home.

Heretical theology?

In the post's first dissent, a quote, possibly leading to a denial of original sin is pulled from the No Greater Joy site's beliefs section. It is a OK point and perhaps leads to the heretical teaching of denying original sin. Similar theological thoughts come up in the book. I don't agree with the doctrine but, in general, it sounds a lot like John MacArthur's (and others) position on a human's "age of accountability". There is biblical support for this idea, specifically in Romans 1:21 where "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, ..". Moreover, David consoles himself with the fact that he will meet his deceased child in Heaven. I don't know if pressed, that Michael would deny original sin explicitly. Has he been asked this question directly? I don't want to go too far down this road because I feel that because God's word is concise on child rearing that specific doctrines in other non-related areas don't matter that much when it comes to biblical child rearing.

Doctrine doesn't matter?

No, doctrine matters a tremendous amount, however, it is just that the Bible doesn't say of whole lot on the topic. Most of what the Bible states about child rearing is short and is found in Proverbs, which is wisdom literature and can be applied by even non-converts. In short, this is what Proverbs says. The rod and reproof bring wisdom and delight for both the child and the parent (Prov 19:18, 13:24, 22:15, 29:15, 29:17). Moreover, correction and applying the rod may save your child from Hell (Prov 23:13-14). Note: nothing apart from faith in Jesus Christ saves a person from paying for their sins: discussion of what Proverbs 23:13-14 would be a separate essay. In other parts of the Bible we are to regularly discuss God throughout the day (Deut. 11:19), not provoke our children, and bring up our children to fear and love God (Eph. 6:1-4). Therefore, to a degree, Michael Pearl's doctrinal differences in other areas don't factor in as much for me on this topic. Should I hear out an author just because they are "reformed"? In most topics I would say yes; however, I know reformed men and women who haven't been enlightened in the areas of biblical child rearing.

Does Pearl glean more from Skinner or the Spirit of God?

Dissent 2 is based around the idea that the teachings in TUC are humanistic and behavioristic. This is a mis characterization of high proportions. I don't totally agree with the analogies of child training akin to horse, dog, and mule training. However, scripture does state "Train up a child in the way they should be go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it"; therefore, you may teach things to a child and they will retain them. For example, you may train a child to have a work ethic and they will retain that. You may train a child to be obedient, self-restraining, and selfless. Lastly, there are very few analogies drawn from animal training to characterize the entire book by them.

References to Animal Training

A lot of the TUC references to animal training are meant to build up the parent in raising their expectations. Unhappy Mule by cindy47452For example, the seeing eye dog's training accomplishments are outlined to show that a one year old child can be taught not to touch something (woodstove, electric outlets, toilet water, etc). There is another reference to commanding a mule: in this case you are to pay attention to the tone of your voice. Training a horse to pull a buggy safely through busy modern roads: here you properly prepare a simulated environment to conduct training. I am not going to go through the entire book and find every reference but I can confidently say having read the book often that there are not many more. Again, to characterize the book as being heavy influenced by behavioristic/humanistic ideas is misleading.

Beat your kids to death?

Further into the second dissenting point is this idea (this criticism is common) that TUC's teachings can lead to excessive beatings that could lead to death. This again I feel is just a slapped up there with out much thought or research. The book always reiterates a balanced and careful approach to spankings or use of the rod in child rearing. You are never to do it when angry, in public, or with your hand for example (see Chapter 3 - Parental Anger). Chapter 4, "Tying Strings", deals with repairing relations with a child that involves lovingly spending time and/or increased vocal encouragement to the child. Chapter "The Flavor of Joy" talks about a parent's relationship with Jesus Christ and the perils of a unjoyful, "religious" home. More of that theme is found in chapters "Religious Whips" and "Imitations". In fact, a lot of the book is about parents themselves. I love Michael Pearl's letter to his sons at the end of the book (who writes letters to their kids nowadays or ever?). The author's inclusion of the example about Lydia is below-the-belt stuff as the book never teaches or implies such things that happened there. Advice and opinions in any teaching can be taken too far and the author should know that.

More ....

The reason TUC's teachings have struck a nerve with Christian parents is that they are stressed to the gills because their kids don't obey even the simplest of commands, don't display basic characteristics of selflessness, self-control, emotional control, proper attitude, etc. Our kids can't sit still in Church (or anywhere else for that matter), throw all to frequent temper tantrums, too frequently disrespect/dishonor us, and many other things that out not be done by Believer's kids. Our Moms are exhausted after a day of repeating themselves constantly. When Dad gets home she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown or a migraine. Skirmishes and full battles break out between family members because everyone's nerves are shot. Stressed-Out by BrittneyBushThe idea of having more than two kids is considered crazy. Vasectomies and tubal ligation are common topics. A lot of Christian parents are secretly murmuring to themselves "I thought kids are gifts from God?". TUC deals directly with such simple, fundamental things like obedience and self-control and how to approach and achieve them in our kids. The approach is not just spankings and more spankings; although, yes the rod is important and need be regularly applied as God himself full states (see biblical references above). TUC 120 pages and can be finished in a week of short nightly readings.


I don't think enough research was done to prove Michael Pearl's doctrine is heretical and I know not enough research was done on his child rearing thoughts and ideas as expressed in the TUC. Therefore, this is not a sound assessment and doesn't unstring the Pearls.

Editors note

I had some poor ill-informed comments in a previous iteration of this article about Ted Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart. I have since retracted them as I have read more of that book and think it also is a very good resource.

  • Pushed on 10/11/2010 by Christian