Now, let me take the basic points made in yesterday’s post and apply them to the task of parenting. When behaviorism enters a Christian context it ends up looking like moralism. So, beware the perils of moralistic parenting!
Here’s my pastoral definition of moralistic parenting: Moralistic parenting is an approach to parenting that is satisfied with the control of a child’s behavior (producing “good kids”) without reaching the heart’s desires and motivations. Behaviorists believe the child is basically good, or morally neutral, and is, therefore, in the end a product of his or her environment. Therefore, in the mind of the behavioristic parent, the good environment will produce a good child and the bad environment will produce a bad one. It all hinges on the environment created by the parents.
Albert Mohler describes moralism very well when he writes, “In our own context, one of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.”
Like Pharisaism, behaviorism and moralism:
- Elevate religious traditions, spiritualized rules, and the advice of today’s parenting gurus above the authority of Scripture.
- Relegate the Scriptures to a non-authoritative position, lower than one’s personal opinion or the teachings of man.
- Prioritize the washing of hands as more important than washing the heart, i.e. outward impression is king.
- Believe sin is an environmental problem. Therefore, creating the perfect “Christian home environment” will produce, “good Christian children.”
- Believe sin and evil are “out there, in the world,” rather than “in here, in my child’s heart.” As behaviorism boosts confidence in the flesh, confidence in Christ is diminished.
- As a result, the need for the gospel is minimized. True heart change is secondary to “good behavior,” which serves more to the point of making the parents look good than it does to prepare the child to live authentically for Christ.
- Eliminates the need for the new birth.
The sad reality is that moralistic parenting runs a great risk of producing “good kids” who may in fact be lost, unregenerate, reformed worshipers of self rather than true worshipers of God, hypocrites who have a form of godliness (outward religiosity), but lack the inner power of true transformational godliness (new birth, indwelling Holy Spirit).
Tragically, behavioristic parenting is anti-gospel in that it feeds the inherent pride of the human heart, thus insulating it against the confrontation of the gospel. It renders the cross irrelevant or, at least, secondary—as an addition to one’s own personal performance.
In stark contrast to the advice of behavioristic and moralistic teachers, truth-driven and Christ-centered parents understand that their child is not morally neutral.
- We are each born sinful (Psalm 51:5),
- rebellious (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:10-18),
- depraved (Romans 5:12),
- spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-2),
- driven by self-centered lusts (James 4:1-3),
- and, therefore, in desperate need of redemption (Col. 1:13-14).
While our children’s environment certainly does influence them (why else would we bother trying to be good, biblical parents?), it is not the ultimate determining factor.
Biblically, our child’s heart (inner person) is the main issue. More specifically, the drives of the heart are the issues that we must constantly deal with in our child training and discipline. This opens the door to helping our child to understand that his or her greatest need is not “learning to be good,” but rather a new heart given by God in response to the powerful working of the gospel, to be sanctified by the Spirit through the Word (John 17:17), and to replace the old self with the new self (Ephesians 4:17-24).