Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson is not in print at the time of this post, but you can obtain a used copy here.
Clarkson and his wife Sally come from a Christian (evangelical) perspective, hold an anti-spanking viewpoint (although I think he believes it’s not forbidden; merely that Scripture doesn’t teach it, and it is not the best way), and have written a number of books on motherhood, education, and the role of the family. Even those who disagree with their spanking views have found their books challenging and helpful. I was finally compelled to purchase a copy after reading this review by Bob Achilles, a pastor in northern California.
I’ve read the first half and skimmed the second half. Now I’ll go back and read the second half more carefully. There’s much I disagree with, but there’s also good material that could be helpful and insightful.
Clarkson’s book begins with a discussion on the “discipline puzzle.” He correctly states that many Christian parents don’t really know what biblical discipline is. I think I’m going to agree with him. Discipline does not equal spanking. I really believe that whatever your views on spanking, if we use discipline as a synonym for spanking (or any single parenting technique), we subtly deemphasize the need for instruction. Consider the prominence instruction and teaching have in the book of Proverbs.
In Chapter One, Clarkson introduces a metaphor from Scripture, the parable of the soils. Clarkson states that parents have the responsibility to prepare the soil as well as sow the seed of the gospel. Trouble is, I am not sure how “preparing the soil” is any different from “sowing the seed of the gospel.” And in the biblical passage, I’ve always considered it the Holy Spirit’s role to prepare the soil. I get the feeling that he’s extending this metaphor beyond its usability. All in all, without quibbling, the first chapter sounds a lot like Ted Tripp in Shepherding a Child’s Heart: It’s more important to consider what’s in the heart, what’s motivating behavior, than simply stopping the bad behavior. That’s good, although I think for this topic, Tripp is more clear and easily understood.
Chapter 2 contains “four general truths regarding the biblical view of childhood that lay a foundation for this book’s discussion of discipline.” Here are the four core truths:
- Childhood is a divinely designed stage of life.
- A child’s heart is divinely open to parental influence.
- A child’s mind is divinely prepared for believing in God.
- A child’s soul is divinely protected by the heavenly Father.
He correctly assesses the incorrect perception of children in our society. I like this quote:
One current notion of childhood views is as a magical time during which certain markers of personhood begin to emerge, but the child is somehow a “pre-person”– incomplete, innocent, and naive. According to this view, the best thing parents can do is allow their child to experience childhood in all its mystical, Disneyfied wonder. Soon enough, the argument goes, that child will emerge from this protected time of life as a teenager, and then everything changes.
Of note is that he holds that children are sinners, but not culpable, until they reach the age of accountability. “[S]ome scriptures indicate that there is a time when a child becomes aware of right and wrong, and only then does the child become morally accountable to God.” Then he gives an example I hadn’t considered before: the children of Israel who were allowed to go into the promised land. The passage he gives is Deuteronomy 1:39, where the language is “little ones” and “your sons who this day have no knowledge of good or evil.” This gives the impression that only little ones who have no knowledge of good or evil went into the promised land. But in the narrative, Moses indicates that those aged 20 and younger would be able to enter the promised land after 40 years (Numbers 14:29). It’s thought provoking, but doesn’t seem to prove that young children are not morally accountable (unless he believes that an 18 year old is not morally accountable).
I’m not sure I can see the biblical basis or necessity of any of his four truths, though he gives Scripture references. He seems like he’s making Scripture to mean more than it says. In any case, I’m ready to get to the substance of what he has to say.