“To Train Up a Child contains the methods of "traditional child training that parents have done for thousands of years in all cultures and all religions,"- Follow up post
“I am the General” –
Some thoughts on Michael Pearl’s teachings
Thanks Tina for sending me the book “To Train Up A Child” (1994 Edition) by Michael Pearl. I've been reading it lately and find it very interesting.
Michael Pearl clearly has a military background or orientation. This is what his website says about him and his wife: “He worked with Union Mission in Memphis for 25 years, while he and Debi also ministered to the many military families in Memphis and pastored churches.” (http://nogreaterjoy.org/about-us/meet-the-pearls/)
You definitely get that feeling when you read his book. On pages 68-69 of his book he says the following:
"I am the General. My wife is my aid and adviser [clearly his military adviser as we will see] - the first in command when I am absent. ... I lead, not command from a distant bunker. ... If they [his children] ever failed to instantly obey a command, I would 'drill' them. ... Just like little, proud soldiers, of they would go to the task."
This book is in fact full of this military talk. Anything wrong with the military? No. Not at all, but mixing the military with the Christian religion does have some issues that have to be taken into consideration.
God is indeed a king and an omnipotent being whose power knows no limits according to Scripture, but does he run things like a military general? No, He does not.
It is interesting that the military is very much hierarchically oriented going from the lowly buck private up to the pinnacle of the four stars general. It is true that God, as I said, is the ruler of heaven and earth and He has a host of beings “underneath” Him and there are elements of hierarchy in some aspects of His ruler ship of the universe, but it is also quite interesting that time and again in the Bible, God over and over again violates the hierarchical principle of leadership and ruler ship seemingly against what we can call these military or hierarchical ruler ship systems.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Start at the very beginning. Look at Cain and Abel. Abel was the baby of the family and he was the one whose actions were deemed righteous before God, Cain was the elder and in the hierarchical way of looking at it, he should have been the leader, but he was the one who committed a heinous sin.
Let’s not stop there. Study the life of Abraham. Was he the hierarchical leader? The tribal chieftain?
No. Abraham, once again, was the youngest in his family.
Go again to Esau and Jacob. Jacob was the younger and received greater blessings than Esau.
What about Moses? Yes, Moses was not the eldest at all. He was the youngest. No hierarchy here.
What about David? The eldest? Not hardly. He had seven older brothers.
What about Solomon? Solomon had many older brothers. He was the youngest.
What about St. Paul? He was from the least of all the tribes of Israel: Benjamin.
You start to get this idea about hierarchy in Scripture. God is not operating according to this principle.
This cannot be made clearer than in Luke 22:
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. [just like military generals and Roman emperors] But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24-27 ESV)
This should surprise no one – God a being who serves us. Maybe this passage rings a bell:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23 ESV)
The leader as one who serves: this is God’s way and what Jesus clearly taught us. Beware of these General types who like to “command from bunkers.” Some of them can lead us astray if we are not careful.
This is clearly the case concerning General Pearl. He seems to have left his military career and gotten into the ministry, but much of his military “training” has stayed with him in his ministry.
This clearly comes through in his writing. Like a good General, he likes to generalize.
Here is a quote he gave from a recent interview where he said the following about his book:
“To Train Up a Child contains the methods of "traditional child training that parents have done for thousands of years in all cultures and all religions," Pearl argued. “And it's not information primarily derived from the Bible, not at all. My parents trained me up in the way that I trained my children, and my children are now training up their children the same way."
This is in fact an allusion to his book. Michael Pearl actually believes this statement, but he is dead wrong. Unfortunately, it seems that General Pearl obtained a BS, but it seems he did not read too many history books along the way. Had he have, he would realize that often you cannot generalize when it comes to historical facts. We should not be too surprised though because of the almost 80 quotes I could find in his book, they were all from the King James Version of the Bible with 2/3rds of these from the Old Testament.
Nothing wrong with the King James Version, but if you are living in Tennessee trying to understand information that was happening several thousand miles away across an ocean some three thousand years ago using tools that are themselves 400 years old, you’re going to perhaps have limitations in understanding. I mean some of us are doing our best to work with Scripture in the modern world of the Internet, the IPAD and the IPHONE, while others are still using tin cans with strings attached to communicate. Anything wrong with a two tin cans and string? No, but when it comes to understanding Scripture, give me an IPHONE and an IPAD over two tin cans and piece of string.
So let’s look at his generalization referenced above: "traditional child training that parents have done for thousands of years in all cultures and all religions," Pearl argued. "And it's not information primarily derived from the Bible, not at all.”
So, as the good General tells us, he is just doing what ‘all cultures and all religions” have been doing for “thousands of years.” Well, let’s check this out.
When I was in college, I followed the BA track and took lots of courses on history, sociology, anthropology, etc. I even earned a minor in anthropology as a part of my degree which focused on Middle Eastern studies.
Early on in my academic experience, I was given a solid lesson in not generalizing. I was writing this paper about Europe and made some really ridiculous generalizations in the paper. I was talking about what was taking place in “Europe” in the 14th century. To hear me tell it, “Europe” at that time just represented on homogeneous group with little difference or distinction and this is where I got rightfully corrected.
My teacher told me: Sam, this is an ‘A” paper, but don’t GENERALIZE. To say that what was happening in Bohemia in the 14th century was the same thing as what was taking place in Paris or Copenhagen during the same period is just really silly nonsense and my teacher was right. I remembered that lesson still today just as clear as it was now some 20 years ago when I was in university.
So generalizing is dangerous territory, but General Pearl marches right in. To say that “all cultures and all religions” have done what General Pearl is doing today is absolutely ridiculous.
Let’s look at a case study.
There is a great book called “The Child in Christian Thought” (Eerdmans: 2000) edited by Professor Marcia Bunge who is one of the giants in the child theology movement. Professor Bunge has written a number of books and in fact we are waiting for a new to come out this year which promises to be her most exciting offering yet. This book contains essays from the cream of the global theological world currently dealing with the subject of child theology.
In that book, there is a chapter titled: ‘Wonderful Affection’: Seventeenth Century Missionaries to New France on Children and Childhood by Clarissa Atkinson, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Harvard Divinity School.
Let’s look at a few quotes from this article because it is very relevant to our discussion here. The subject of the article is the experience of French missionaries in Eastern Canada and their dealings with the native indigenous populations.
These missionaries left written records and they had some very interesting things to say about their impressions of the habits and customs of the native peoples. They also compared these customs and habits with their own, which they considered much more civilized and inspired by the God of heaven.
“Along with the gospel, Christian missionaries carried to the New World distinct and deeply held beliefs and assumptions about children and childhood. Such beliefs and assumptions are embedded in culture, and in Christian contexts associated also with the theological anthropology of particular times, places, and religious subgroups or denominations. In the seventeenth century, the ideologies of childhood of Roman Catholic missionaries to New France drew them into close and intense encounters with people of cultures radically unlike their own. To Jesuit and Ursuline missionaries, the indigenous people of Eastern Canada held not only different but horrifyingly mistaken views about many things – notable among these, the nature, education, and discipline of children.” (pg. 227)
So, these missionaries about 400 years ago from Europe had some specific ideas about children in mind (similar in fact to those of General Pearl), but what did they find in Eastern Canada? Well, according to General Pearl, “all cultures and all religions” have been doing what he is today doing for “thousands of years”, all except these people in Eastern Canada that is.
This is because “the Jesuits, enthusiastic proponents of the widespread belief in physical discipline among early modern Europeans, insisted upon such punishment on their French schools. Neither their humanist tradition nor their dedication to education countered their acceptance of the general view that beating a child was a necessary and appropriate part of moral and intellectual training.” (ibid, pg. 237)
To these well intentioned French Europeans who went to Canada as missionaries among the native peoples, they brought their belief in corporal punishment with them. But what did they find when they arrived?
“The most striking and significant comments by Jesuits on cultural differences concern the discipline, punishment, and ‘spoiling’ of children. From the very beginning, the missionaries were both struck by the Indians’ love for their children and horrified at the way they raised them. “They treat their children with wonderful affection, but they preserve no discipline, for they neither themselves correct them not allow others to do so.” (JR 1:277) This attitude and behavior interfered with instruction and conversion. The theme is repeated over and over: children had to be taught in boarding schools away from home because their parents would not allow them to be properly trained – that is, subjected to the corporal punishment that was taken for granted in French homes and schools.” (ibid.)
This phenomenon was not limited to Canada. Note the following testimony from a Canadian missionary:
“All the Savage tribes of these quarters, and of Brazil, as we are assured, cannot chastise a child or see one chastised. How much trouble this will give us in carrying out our plans of teaching the young.” (ibid, pg. 238)
A final thought summarizes how these two groups (French missionaries and native communities) looked at each other.
“The affection shown by native adults toward children looked to the missionaries like spoiling, while French discipline looked to the natives like incomprehensible brutality.” (ibid, pg. 240-241)
Let’s not put our heads in the sand though. The native communities were not always 100% kind to all children, especially orphans who were often treated brutally by the natives, but this article illustrates an important point which we are here emphasizing:
I reiterate saying that this article helps demonstrate that to say that “all cultures and all religions” have done what General Pearl is doing today is not right. Just in this article we have testimony from 17th century Canada referring also to the same time period of native peoples also living in Brazil that they did not follow this European model of child rearing which had corporal punishment as a key element.
This is why our dear friend the General needs to stop generalizing and start learning some facts about some of the things he is asserting in his books and in his media appearances.
Let me conclude by saying that I believe that the teachings in Mr. Michael Pearl’s books concerning corporal punishment come out of this European tradition of corporal punishment and they represent the very worst gutter theology (to quote Professor William Webb of Toronto Seminary in Canada) on the religious book market today.
Those who purchase these books are warned to take care to consider alternative points of view because the teachings given by Pearl and his supporters is very narrow and lacks any serious investigation of history, culture, sociology, anthropology, but rather relies on opening up the King James Version of the Bible and pulling out a few verses here and there and adapting it to a cultural lifestyle which is by no means necessarily connected to the Biblical context at all.