Friday, October 14, 2011

Christian School and the Problem of the Gospel

Per usual, I'm taking a class with Paul Tripp this semester. He's written a number of books (which I highly recommend!) and each semester it's nice to get to go through a book with the guy who wrote it and get all my questions answered. Poor guy; I ask a lot of questions!

So this semester's class is on parenting, which may not sound very relevant. But the cool thing about his material is that it's all based on the gospel, which, as he says, "is for every demographic." In other words, people taking a parenting class can learn about their marriages, people taking a marriage class can learn about their friendships, etc. So I'm taking a parenting class and I'm learning about my Christian high school.

Tripp says that if we parent in such a way that our goal is to get kids to behave right, we create monsters. Ok I paraphrased there a little, but I'll explain the point. People are relational beings. We don't operate most fully when we detach ourselves from relationship...but that's what we do when we teach rules out of context! So if I try to teach MaKayla that she's "supposed to" share because "it's nice", that's all well and good but it has nothing to do with God. It's just this morally abstract restraint that I've put on her that actually makes her life very inconvenient. Then say that I throw in "God wants us to do nice things" every now and then, all I've done is teach her that God is the one making her life inconvenient, but that He'll like her if she keeps the rules.

This kind of moralistic teaching creates two natural reactions: 1) people who decide the rules are annoying and reject them (openly or secretly), and 2) people who get so good at following the rules that they become self-righteous. Well, that pretty much explains my Christian high school experience. Some kids were honest about their lack of respect for the rules and decided to live how they wanted to. Some kids still wanted the intoxicating approval of parents and teachers based on "doing the right things" so they "pretended" so well that teachers and parents were fooled. And some kids actually liked obeying the rules, and were so good that they kept them all and were able to look down their noses at the ones who didn't.

Here's the problem with this. None of these kids know what to do with the gospel. The kids that don't care about God's law aren't concerned with the fact that they've broken it. For all they care, God's law can go to you-know-where. What does it have to do with them? They don't see that it's connected to a relationship we all have with God whether we know it or not. The kids in the middle aren't really concerned with God to begin with; they're after approval. And as long as they're getting it, as long as they can keep up the game, why not have fun on the weekend? They're not aware that God and His approval are actually much more than a teacher at school calling us "nice kids". And the kids following all the rules are so proud of themselves that they don't think they need grace. They think they're God's VIPs, and pray that God would help others "get with it." They're not aware that they need God's rescue as much as the kid in detention.

The gospel, in fact, speaks to this. It gives us the realization that God's law does in fact matter because we're bound to it. We were created in His image and into an intimate, covenantal relationship with Him. God is God, and we're either submitting or rebelling in relationship with Him. We can't choose to say, "this doesn't apply to me" because it's not an abstract moral system. It's who we are and how the universe works. It shows us that no amount of game playing can work with God because He's not impressed with our superficial attempts to keep Him pacified. He's not a clueless teacher or parent who is happy just because we're making good grades and staying out of jail or not getting pregnant. And the gospel shows us that we are all in desperate need of grace because following the rules perfectly isn't enough. It's the self-righteous, self-saving, prideful idolatry of our hearts that we need rescue from, not detention or skirts that are too short!

I can relate to those high school kids because I was one of them. The gospel is helping me. I'm learning that His laws for me aren't abstract moral restraints administered to make my life inconvenient, and that He doesn't "like me" more when I keep the rules or shame me when I mess up. Maybe you know a Christian like I described above and it upsets you because it reveals our hypocrisy. Or maybe you are one of the Christians I described and you feel tired of keeping up the game. Either way, remember that Christians need the gospel too. Let the gospel help you.


not a slave said...

this is interesting because we encounter this at the Frazee Center all the time. the Frazee kids are obviously like Makayla except with even less "conceptual development", I guess (having not gone to schools that promote that, etc). For the most part, we can talk about God and share the Gospel and it kind of goes over their heads. So we teach them Gospel morality and explain how it is actually good for their lives, how it is the best way to live. And we can relate this back to God because he designed us, he loves us, this is how he made us, etc. But it's not just about "being nice", it's about the best way to live, the flourishing life (not that we really use the word "flourishing" with them!). Matt Reeves said "my kids will understand grace and atonement long before they will make a commitment to live the life God has designed for us, but with these kids it will be the opposite. They're going to have to learn to live the Gospel because it saves, and then they'll have the groundwork for understanding WHAT it is."

pretty interesting.

Ricky Hardin said...

I love reading the stuff you write.

Aaron Eising said...

I would say that for my part, as I grew up (or more as I watched my parents raise my siblings) my parents did things in a manner that looked a lot like the moral commands based on God (and parents, following God) as authority.
But I think it worked pretty well mostly because it began with trying to teach them, in whatever ways possible, to do things that following the heart of God (this is incredibly difficult--I barely would know what to do after watching my parents try to do it to half-a-dozen siblings).
What this does is not maybe something that explicitly fits into your system; it teaches children the principles of the heart of God, apart from the commandments. Simply following a set of legalistic rules that meet every little thing that goes on in life can create self-righteous brats, but it also leaves a kid dead-in-the-water when they encounter something outside of the rules they've been taught. But if you teach all the little rules as part of the getting to know the heart of God (i.e. love) then you have a way that works.
It's very difficult not to teach basic moral commands. It works, quite frankly--your children don't initially look like little devils. And teaching them the law as it fits into the larger scheme of love both allows the teaching of moral commands to do their initial job of making a kid look and act decently and it also gives more lasting, Gospel/love-focused guidance. But again, not an easy task.

Anonymous said...

I generally love reading your blog, but here you are a bit misinformed. You should read up on developmental psychology. Human beings go through phases in their development, such as obeying rules because otherwise you get punished or because then my parents/god/peers will like me etc. There are just some things and attitudes that you generally can't demand from children and teenagers because they simply don't have the mental aptitude for it. I think it's kind of weird that you are taking a parenting class from somebody who doesn't seem to know these things. Take everything with a grain of salt and don't accept things just because someone superior tells you it's so.

Hannah said...

Hey anonymous, thanks for your thoughts! I'd love to talk with you more about developmental psychology and the stuff I wrote about. I agree that psychological development is a really important aspect of all this. If you want, send me an email or a facebook message!