Are results a valid measure of good, biblical discipline? Are you thinking “pragmatism” at this moment? Now, notice that I do not say “the” valid measure, but “a” valid measure. Are you still thinking “pragmatism”? Let’s take a look at Scripture and see if it gives us the answers we need.
Colossians 3:21 says “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” (c.f. the more common Ephesians 6:4)
It would be difficult to obey this verse without in some way examining the results of my parenting methods, wouldn’t it?
Now look at Hebrews 12. We often look at this passage when someone is teaching about spanking, but we less often look at it to examine the purpose and expected results of chastisement.
For they [earthly fathers] verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he [God] for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Again, if a godly parent disciplines his child and that discipline results in the peaceable fruit of righteousness, is it unbiblical to conclude that the discipline is appropriate for the situation?
Stop! The knowledgeable reader will at this moment likely object: we do not have the luxury of evaluating the results when Scripture is clear about how to discipline. And I agree with this statement. The question then, becomes, how specific is Scripture regarding parental discipline? In fact, Scripture leaves much to wisdom, and in this realm, I believe examining the results to be a necessary part of wisely disciplining our children.
We should also reconsider how we throw around the term, “pragmatism.”
Jay Younts says
Great comments. Too often, approaches to discipline are academic and rule driven rather than relationally driven. This means there is no one formula for discipline that fits every child and every situation. Eph. 4:29 requires that the listener must be benefited from hearing our words if our speech is not to grieve the Holy Spirit. Likewise the Hebrews passage you quote is not a formula but the peaceable fruit of righteousness is the by-product of biblical, relational investment. The relational aspect of discipline is often confused with being pragmatic. While there is no one formula, Christian parents do have specific goals that must not change or be compromised. Those goals are spelled out in places like Gal. 5:22&23, I Cor. 13-4-7 and Matthew 5:3-12. With each child, and each parent, the path to those goals may be look quite different. However, the goals themselves may never change. So, to use your theme, we become pragmatic when we change the goals, not when we make relational adjustments to our discipline based upon the rich set of biblical alternatives open to us.
Thanks for taking the time to share the biblical wisdom here. I like how you make a distinction between goals and methods, and I think that will be helpful for me. I’ll be thinking about this today.
Poking my nose into a thinking person’s discussion (lol)…I wonder if pragmatism is quite the right term here? The “pragmatics” I know of – whether parents, pastors, or both – usually ask themselves the question: “Does it work?” and they allow the answer to influence their decision-making. In comparison, I believe we’re kept safe from pragmatism by asking instead, “Is it right?” The latter is definitely made clear by all of your blog entries here!
I found it interesting how Jay differentiated between goals and methods, as well. V. helpful, indeed, especially in a world where we’re urged to change our goals because they’re outdated and no longer “relevant”…
I think I agree with you, Gina, about the terminology. Really, I started thinking pragmatism because that’s what I get accused of, more than any other reason. I will say that when the Bible seems to be silent (after I’ve asked “is it right”), I do think “does it work?” and often! So…
I’m still wrestling with this. Pray that I get it, and when I do, I’ll post on it again.