Last time we explored two extreme views of discerning stories: setting up fuzzy, arbitrary boundaries that are based on tradition, hearsay, and legalism/moralism, versus setting up few to no boundaries. In part 2 of this new series, we’ll delve deeper into the assumption behind those extremes — and notice I said assumption. Despite the fact that these views seem opposite, there is a common view underlying them both. And it’s not a Biblical one.
All Christians may agree that we live in an evil world. In the midst of this evil world, parents long to protect to their children from evil influences, and rightfully so. Yet how do they do this? Often by choosing between those two sincere, but unbiblical extremes:
- Always or usually shelter.
- Never or rarely shelter.
Here’s what I mean. Some Christian parents try to shelter their children. They believe they can protect their children from this evil world by enacting boundaries, extremely limiting their children’s interaction with the world around them. Other Christian parents believe children should be free to explore this world — free to fail, but free to choose good as well.
But although these two beliefs seem to be opposites, they are merely two fruits of the same presupposition: The Christian parent who always shelters and the Christian parent who never shelters both believe their children are innocent, good, or neutral.
The “over-shelterers” long to protect their children from outside evil because they believe the “garbage in, garbage out” maxim — that if they put evil into their children, they will see evil coming out. The “under-shelterers” long for their children’s freedom because they believe their children are wise or good enough to make the “right” choices if uninhibited.
The answer for both extremes is not to take a little from one and a little from another, or to overcorrect for one or the other. The answer is to correct an unbiblical presupposition.
Buying the serpent’s lie
These truths should be familiar to Christians, but it’s vital to review if we hope to clean out the “garbage” we have believed about our children’s — and our own! — real problem.
The Bible does not teach that children are born innocent, good, or neutral, but that they’re born sinners (Rom. 3:23), who need a Savior (John 14:6). God always meant man to be dependent on His Word, even before his Fall into sin (Gen. 2). Though God created Adam and Eve perfect, He never meant them to be independent of Him and His guidance.
That’s how mankind fell into sin — not by hearing Satan, and not by eating a wicked fruit, but by desiring independence from God. The Serpent told Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5). But Eve, and later Adam, believed the Serpent’s words and wanted to be like God themselves. This was their desire. And if one is “like God,” then one no longer needs God.
Thus, parents who either believe they can shelter their children without the Word of God, or who believe their children can make godly choices apart from the Word of God, have both bought into the Serpent’s lie: “[Our children] will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4).
That’s the lie many of us have bought. Now for the truth that comes from God’s salvation.
Believing the Scripture’s truth
Instead of assuming our children can have life apart from God’s Word, whether through our supposedly perfect protection or their own supposedly perfect “innocence,” Christians should pursue a middle path. Here, we do “shelter” children, based on the Word and their levels of personal discernment, only until they are able to completely fend for themselves.
As children grow in discernment, parents must gradually provide them freedom, preparing them to be a discerning Christian adult.
Christian parents must also remember: parenting is the process of raising adults, not the process by which we coddle children. Christian parenting’s goal is to raise future citizens — husbands and wives, fathers and mothers — not prolong adolescence.
In Deuteronomy 6, God was clear about how Israel would continue in multi-generational faithfulness. He said parents must teach their children God’s Word from sun-up to sun-down. The same is true for His Church. Our answer to our children’s sin-problem is not completely sheltering them from outside influences, or giving them complete freedom to exercise “innocence.” Instead we must encourage their utter dependence on God, His Word, His Son’s finished work, and the Holy Spirit’s application of these truths in our daily lives.
To raise one’s children to be Christian adults, parents must gradually transition their children from child-like discernment to adult/Christ-like discernment. This is a transitional phase, a process that leads from more “sheltering” to less, based on the child’s maturity.
But let’s not wrongly conclude the growing child is therefore not sheltered at all! Instead, we trust God Himself to protect the maturing child — just as He protected you and me, teaching us His lessons in His sovereign plan and even through our failures, when we began to drive, or went to college, or started our families.
How might this work in practice? Scripture is not silent in answering, though often we must practice wisdom in applying God’s general guidelines — true Gospel fruits — to our specific children and situations. We may also find wisdom in classic education methods, which are based on Scriptures that encourage mind-renewal transformation (Rom. 12: 1-2), and eating solid food so we may possess “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We’ll continue exploring that, next time.
(Editing and additional writing by E. Stephen Burnett.)