To Train Up A Child: An Examination of the Pearl Method

This is not a book review; this is an examination of a child rearing method, the theology that undergirds it, and the execution of the practice. This will be long. If you want to ignore my examinations and rebuttals you can scroll to the end and be done with it—but I would rather you read all of this. The end of the post will also contain several links of importance.

Up front: a warning—this will not be the last time this sort of examination has to come up.

Parents are like soldiers in the trenches. They’re afraid. They’re living in the moment. They’re wondering if they’re doing wrong and what they could do better while trying to discover what their parents did right (and wrong) in their own experience. Quick fix books, especially the short and easy to read variety, will keep showing up on the web and in bookstores. For Christian parents, these books will cite Scripture and give a façade of being Biblically grounded. The spurious glitter of their treasures of pseudo-wisdom will fade, but sometimes not before doing incalculable damage.

The current culprit is Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up A Child. Their ministry (No Greater Joy) is known within individual fundamentalist circles for their training methods and some of their other writings regarding the marriage relationship. Up front: their book and their teaching is dangerous. Not only is it Biblically naïve, it is theologically confused and potentially damaging, at the very least, physically and mentally.

Warning: Use this Post Properly
If you are planning to read through this post, note that some of the earlier sections do not contain my opinions. I will cite the Pearls, I will underscore what they teach, which verses they cite and in what context, and try to read the lines and between them to see the theological grid work their ideas are based on. DO NOT THINK THAT I AM ENDORSING THEIR POSITIONS IN THESE EARLIER SECTIONS; I’M ONLY SUMMARIZING.

What They Teach
The Pearl’s teach that their method isn’t technically a method at all, just the Biblical model seen in reality; evidenced as working in their own practice.

You may have strong feelings that prevent you from spanking your child, but it is ignorance to claim that love is your motive. The God who made little children, and therefore knows what is best for them, has provided them parents to employ the rod in training up their children. To refrain from doing so, based on a claim of love, is an indictment against God himself. Your actions declare that either God does not desire what is best for your child or you know better than him. (pg 38)

This method (which includes Pearl training, the fact of homeschooling, etc) is a requirement that is taught in the Bible.

If you are seeking to avoid the rod because you are an emotional coward or you are a product of contemporary philosophy, then not obeying God in this matter should not be considered an option. The Word of God teaches us the best method of child training, and proper use of the rod is a part of that program. Furthermore, if you abstain from use of the rod because you believe there is a better way, then you have revealed a fundamental flaw in your thinking that will leave a giant hole in any method you adopt. (Online )

But it is also a requirement that is mandated by the fact that morals are still being formed in the child.

From birth , parents must assume control and accountability for the moral development of their children. During the early years, we certainly do not want to destroy the child’s natural drives, but we must constrain him to exercise temperance and self-control. The parents’ role is not that of policemen , but more like that of the Holy Spirit. When a child has his sails full of wind (strong drives), but no compass (moral discernment), his parents must serve as his compass and navigator. When a child is incapable of holding moral values, parental training and example will be his “standard”. Before he can DECIDE to do good, his parents must CONDITION him to do good. There was a time in the womb when the child’s mother breathed for him, ate for him, and handled his waste. Likewise, in the moral realm, until the child’s reason and moral faculties develop to the point of independent operation, parents must be the voice of his fetal conscience. Parents must provide initiative and instill a set of values (pg 18)

They must be taught at home by their parents.

Never even consider sending your children to private Christian schools, much less the public, automaton factories. Whether a classroom is based completely on Christian education or on secular principles is not the issue…God didn’t make teenage boys and girls to sit together in a classroom every day while real life outside passes them by. (pg 101)

God fearing Christians should be concerned about raising their children (specifically with this Biblical method.) Doing otherwise will result in children that don’t obey their parents, that are seeking their own pleasure, that ultimately rule over their parents and eventually will be lost as they train in answering to no one beyond themselves.

Once he learns that the reward of a tantrum is a swift, forceful spanking, he will NEVER throw another fit….If a parent starts at infancy, discouraging the first crying demands, the child will never develop the habit (pg 84)

So the goal is to have children that respond immediately to command for their own good. The parent wants to break down their will, and especially their will to dominate, by making them obedient followers of their parental authority thus resulting in joy (for themselves), blessing (to their parents), and peace (in the household).

The rod is not to be used only for punishment (after the fact) but for training (before the fact).

This book is not about discipline, nor problem children. The emphasis is on the training of a child before the need for discipline arises. It is apparent that, though they expect obedience, most parents never attempt to train their child to obey. They wait until his behavior becomes unbearable and then explode. (introduction)

So whereas many parents keep issuing warnings and then, when they get annoyed enough, they lash out against the child in punishment, the Pearls say that the training is done up front in a calm voice and situation.

Training is not discipline. Discipline is the “damage control” part of training, but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior. Training is the conditioning of the child’s mind before the crisis arises. It is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience. (pg 4)

The other method merely results in children who know how far is too far—they’re training the parents and themselves to know when they shouldn’t push it. But if training is done properly, the child is commanded up front and the command is emphasized with the rod so that they can be obedient at all times.

Dogs can be trained, Soldiers obey their leaders therefore children should in like manner be trained.

The military uses real bullets in training men to avoid enemy fire. Replacing the rod with hollow threats would be to your children like replacing live bullets with blanks. It would get the men killed later in battle. (p 53)

An athlete trains before he competes. Animals, including wild ones, are conditioned to respond to the trainer’s voice command. (p 5).

Children need to be trained with the rod to realize the consequences up front and sometimes this means personal learning/exposure. For example, in chapter 10 — 14, the Pearls offer a bunch of examples of quick, decisive training. Chapter 10, specifically has these examples of things they did: Gun Safety? Place an old empty gun within arm’s reach a child , say “No” then have hand-switching sessions. Hot stove? Heat up the stove till it’s hot to the touch; open the door to get them attracted to the flames. As they run to the door to grab it say “Hot!” and the kid winds up learning in one try that it is hot. Pond out back? Walk the kid over to the pond and stay behind them as they lean over it and let them fall in. With one child, he actually had to nudge the kid in.

Punishment must always be for things that are punishable. If a child has been fed, slept, has toys, has used the potty and isn’t in pain then the parent knows that there is no reason for the child to be crying. This can be punished. If one of those necessary things are in place (say, the child is tired) then put the child to bed; don’t punish him. But otherwise, the child, no matter the age, must be trained with the rod—not your hand.

As a rule, do not use your hand. Hands are for loving and helping. If an adult swings his or her hand fast enough to cause pain to the surface of the skin, there is a danger of damaging bones and joints. The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line. (online)

Which Scripture They Cite

  • Evidence that God entrusted Abraham with the promise with the expectation that Abraham would train his children Gen 18:19 (p 117)
  • Desires must be controlled else the sowing of satisfying those desires becomes awful at a later date Prov 23:2, Gal 6:7,8 (pg 93)
  • Guarding the heart of a child against having a bad attitude by eradicating the bad attitude. Prov 23:7 an 4:23  (pg 81, 87)
  • The (favorable) example of a three year old girl who beats their doll with such admonishments like “stop it. No crying.” (Switch, switch, switch) then praising the doll for now being happy. Prov 23:7 (pg 65)
  • 1 Sam 15:23, child’s rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (pg 55)
  • Gal 3:24 strictly enforcing the rules teaches respect of the Lawgiver to bring to Christ (pg 54). The rod increases the seriousness of the moral law (Prov 9:10) because there is no fear of God in their eyes (Rom 3:18). Fear is reserved for God (Luke 12:5; 1 Pet 2:17). Military uses real bullets to properly train soldiers (pg 53)
  • Rod accompanied with instruction Prov 29:15 (pg 52)
  • Ps 23:4, 2 Sam 7:14, Psalm 89:32  The rod is a comfort for the child (p 46). Prov 19:18 for giving hope to a rebellious child and to give rest to you and the entire household Prov 29:17 (pg 47)
  • Stripes are to the soul what the healing blood is to the wound (Heb 12:6) so a child properly spanked is healed in the soul and restored to wholeness of Spirit (Prov 23:13,14)
  • Eph 5:29 everyone loves themselves and think in terms of what benefits us (pg 43) regarding guilt and self-loathing
  • The child is in a body of infirm flesh with natural lusts (Deut 12:15) that entice him (James 1:14,15). They go astray as soon as they are born (psalm 58:3). God doesn’t count his lies as sin at this early age (James 4:17, Rom 5:13)The rod is your divine enforcer (Prov 29:15) pg 42
  • God spanks his children (Heb 12:6-11) as a sign of love (Prov 13:24) pg 40-41
  • The authority of God’s word in spanking. The same God who said Mark 10:14 says Prov 19:18; Prov 13:24; Prov 22:15; Prov 23:13-14; Prov 29:15; Prov 29:17. If you love him you must spank him (Pg 38)
  • Eph 6:4 as an example of teasing one’s children (pg 33) and creating a bully.
  • Every child faces his own tree of knowledge (Deut 1:39) and everyone eats of that tree. God won’t condemn a child until he has grown into that state (p 20) and after they eat they are categorized as sinful flesh (Rom 8:3). Therefore parents must bring the child’s flesh into complete subjection. (p20-21)
  • The child leaves the protection of your sanctification and stand alone in the light of his conscience (1 Cor 7:14) p19
  • Prov 22:6 Training not Discipline by highlighting commands with the rod (p 4)

What are Their Theological Underpinnings
The theological underpinnings are a bit difficult to nail down since the Pearls decry labels while citing what the label believes and how they are not that. They obviously think that all flesh is sinful so that the natural bent of a person is towards sinfulness and yet they don’t think this is necessarily something that is culpable.

I have taught my son the Word of God long before I thought he would need to be armed against sin. I don’t want him to go into battle with an unloaded gun. Instead of bringing us shame or grief, our son has brought to us great joy. I am proud of the boy he is, and am looking forward to the man I will help him become.  (Online )

They also think that God doesn’t hold children accountable before a certain individually focused moment. At that moment each child faces his own tree of knowledge of good and evil and then knowingly chooses to sin. When they do their flesh is then categorized as actual sinful flesh—but before that they had the bend that later becomes sinful if often gratified.

The root of all sin is found in the runaway indulgence of God given desires. Although the child may not have matured to the point of accountability, still, his unrestrained indulgence is the very essence of future sinfulness. (p 17)

The child’s brain can be trained to submit to authority to make that decision moment lean favorably—otherwise children would go down a very dark path indeed.

Training a child in this manner informs the child that he/she is not the master—the parent is.

For a little while, God has placed the soul of your child under your tutelage. Your home is a moral workshop where you help God prepare your child for heavenly citizenship. The developing child benefits from growing up in a home that mimics the government of God (pg 53)

When a parent subjects themselves to the authority of the child, he/she functions as the authoritative chooser who controls them to satisfy him/herself. This gets them used to functioning without an authority and therefore makes their later decision all the more likely to end in catastrophe.

This all goes back to the garden. Adam and Eve failed when they sinned but beforehand they had God given pleasure seeking abilities

Even before Adam and Eve sinned, the element in their natures that drew them to disobedience was a desire for pleasure—the pleasure of taste, the pleasure of sight, and the pleasure of mental ascendancy. God created us with a desire for pleasure, something that is an essential part of his nature. God seeks the pleasure of his own will. Pleasure in any form is the elementary motivation of the human heart. (Online)

Now this pleasure isn’t bad in itself.

God created us to exist in a constant state of desire and appetite. The tension in this continuous struggle provides the background for moral development. This is most apparent in the small child. He desires food, water, warmth, companionship, entertainment, and a dry diaper. God endowed him with strong compulsions for taste, smell, hear, see, and a desire to touch and feel “almost everything”. (pg 15)

But when it is constantly sated, the child develops a behavior that seeks self-satisfaction—the desire to dominate. Their spiritual compass had no guidance (which is the purview of the parent). Anger, hostility and so forth from the child are signs that the child is not submitting to the authority placed over them because they want to satisfy their own desires because they are gods in their own eyes.

The bottom line you must recognize is that the infant is born with all of the passions of body but with no capacity for self-restraint. (Online )

So the fact that children are disciplined with a device (be it a switch, rod, whatever), it is specifically to train them to submit to authority above them so that they may, at some near-later date, subject themselves to the Ultimate Authority who is God.

Nature is controlled by fixed laws. If a child violates them he may break bones, get burned, drown, poison his body, or suffer harm in a thousand ways. The laws of nature must be discovered and respected. In the natural world all actions have consequences. Nature never forgives. If parents allow a child to break the laws of nature, but somehow protect him from suffering any consequences, they would be communicating a false sense of reality.

In their formative years, proper application of the rod will condition children to believe there is a day of certain reckoning, in this life and in the next. The rod makes better citizens.

Children raised in homes run by the rule of law, enforced with the rod, understand the concept of law and accept their duty to submit to it. To appreciate the laws of God and his jurisdiction, a child must first respect the lesser laws that govern his daily life.

Without the rod you are giving the child a false concept of the nature of God.

Though children cannot understand coming judgment, they must be trained to make decisions with consequences in mind. If you allow the child several years of living without consequences, it is difficult for him to ever accept the truths of coming judgment, the character of God, and the nature of sin.

The sure application of the rod will sober a child and cause him to give very serious thought to his conduct and attitude.

When a child is bound in self-blame and low self-esteem, parents are not helpless. God has given them the gift of the rod. The rod can bring repentance, but it goes much deeper than that. The rod in the hands of a righteous authority will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves

If God’s love is expressed by the “scourging” He gives, then can we not love our children enough to chasten them unto holiness? I heard one rebellious teenager longingly say, “If they only loved me enough to whip me.”

A child that has been timely and properly chastened for his offense will be purged of his guilt and will feel that he has paid his due and that the court is satisfied. (Online)

Now this time of decision isn’t final. It is very possible for children to come to a time of decision, decide for the Lord, be saved, but then fall away.  In such a scenario the child would never be saved again.

My doctrine is better summed up as “Once lost, once saved, twice lost, never saved again,” but that is for another time. Get my messages on the Security of the Believer, as they address that subject in a good bit of detail. (Online )

The Error of Their Scripture Usage
I don’t trust when someone cites Scripture and tends to (A) decontextualize it, (B) woodenly literalize it to justify a point, (C) build a theology mostly from the book of Proverbs, (D) ignore the cultural milieu: the Pearl’s do all four.

I believe all Scripture is infallible and inerrant—they are the words God wanted recorded and they are true. But I also think that Scripture was made in such a way as to have very nuanced application without solely jumping to the woodenly literal meaning.

Standard literary devices have to be taken into place. Things like metaphor, simile and analogy have to be taken into place. Genre has to be considered. Of course, the original audience has to be considered.

For example, I don’t see the Pearl’s taking Deut. 21:18—22 as a mandate for punishing a child but the text is pretty explicit. They might try to get around it by saying that that passage was for the Jew  but then why the distinction from the Proverbs that were written by the Jew for a Jewish society? Well, they may try to get around that by saying that there’s direct correlation to the Gentile believer in the proverbs as it speaks directly to our situation but then, I think they’re still mistaken with the Genre of the Proverbs.

The Proverbs are wisdom sayings, they’re not merely mandates. That means that they find application in time during specific situations, and those who employ them properly are in fact revealing wisdom in their usage.

So you’ll find proverbs but next to each other that are widely contradictory:

Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly

Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly

And yet they are not to be read as two commands, but as two wisdom passages that apply in different situations. Sometimes you have to answer a fool according to his folly; other times you don’t.

It is a categorical mistake to take the book of Proverbs as a list of commands when the Proverbs themselves don’t present themselves to be: they are, in contrast, the riddles employed by the wise, the young, the unlearned and the up and coming to become wiser (Prov 1). If they were a list of commends then the book would be generally teaching the futility of dealing with fools and, ultimately, you shouldn’t even bother. For example:

Proverbs 27:22 Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, his foolishness will not depart from him.

Indeed, with the Pearl Methodology, I can actually use passages like above to build a theology that makes the child out to be a fool who can be beaten to no avail, so why bother.

Decontextualization adds to the Pearl Methodology as they quote passages like Eph 6:4 as an example of teasing one’s children (pg 33) and creating a bully—but is that what Paul is saying? Why not look at the similar exhortation in Col 3:21 to see that perhaps something is going on with the discipline that isn’t making bullies but rather destroying the goal of the instruction? In context (Eph 6:9) and (Col 4:1) it seems to mean that the parental authority is to be properly used: avoiding unnecessary harshness, and unnecessary beatings, and unnecessary demands, and unnecessary restrictions—all which the Pearl’s employ under the ridiculous category of training.

Pages 67-68 relates a story of Deb Pearl babysitting (on the condition that they have full liberty to discipline and train). A fifteen month old was grumpy and, according to the Pearl’s, was “highly overindulged and showed it”. Deb had all the children on the table for a snack and the little boy wouldn’t take the food, throwing it to the floor. Deb Pearl, picked him up and put him in a chair and put a roller skate upside down and spun a wheel saying “See, turn the wheels.” And the boy said no. She repeated it. He said no. She got the switch (“twelve inches long and about the diameter of a small noodle”) and playfully said “Turn the wheels”. Again defiance. So she, knowing “he fully understood it to be a command”, repeated the command and upon his disobedience, she “switched his leg”.

After ten acts of stubborn defiance, followed by ten switchings, he surrendered his will to one higher than himself. In rolling the wheels, he did what every human being must do—he humbled himself before the highest authority and admitted that his interests are not paramount.

Later, Deb saw he was turning the wheels on the roller skate and laughing with the other children without the surly attitude.

The “rod” had lived up to its Biblical promise.

The Scriptures are much more nuanced. Sometimes chastisement is brought in the form of a parable, sometimes it is brought in the form of a lie, sometimes in the form of a beating, at other times in the form of persecution, at other times in the form of disease, at other times in the form of embarrassing blessing of another. Extremely nuanced and wisely applied to a situation that mandates chastisement. The Pearl’s method, on the other hand, is abusive folly which needlessly provokes children, using Scriptures as a club to justify their method and sometimes stumbling across correct statements while actually destroying what Scripture teaches.

The Error of Their Theology
Theology has some real practical ramifications. Some theologies have no effect on someone’s practice—a person believes it and goes merrily on their way doing what they normally do. There are not many theologies like that, but there’s some.  Most theologies though have some practical ramifications. One can have a field day just exploring how off the Pearl’s theology is, but I will only limit my comments to a few of them.

Humanity and Sin: If you have a theology of what being human necessarily entails you will most likely act on that theology carrying out your humanity. If you have a theology of what sin necessarily entails you most likely will act on that theology trying to spurn (or embrace) sin.

The Pearl’s circle of sin has a lot of overlap into what it is to be human. That means that there are certain things that are fine for human beings but are the groundwork for sinful desires—therefore they must be tightened before that stage.

Scriptures teach that sin is much more pervasive but yet much less capable of being purged. We do good, yes (Acts 10), and good that is praised by God—but there is no good that attains to the glory and perfection of God (Romans 3). Ultimately everyone falls short. It’s not that our good is sin, not at all; it is that our good is done apart from God for the glory of self (Rom 1, 2) in rebellion against God. So also our evil. We are altogether acting in opposition to God.

The Pearls, believing that our desires and nature are the groundwork for sin to blossom in, seek to till our desires and nature until it can (somehow) refuse to go down that sinful path. But Paul already illustrated to types of sinners: those who fly down the road of depravity exulting in their autonomy, and those who are morally upright standing on the side of God but in just as bad a rebellion.

This means that, sorry Pearls, (1) children are under the system of Sin if they had those desires or not and (2) they know it, even if only peripherally (Romans 1). Sure, these children are still dependant on the grace of God, whether they make evil after evil decisions or good after good decisions.

Grace and Mercy: The Pearl’s seem to have some concept of grace. They have examples of a Michael who snipped a string of connection his son and how he went back to retie that string of connectivity—it was a beautiful example. But any real teaching on mercy and grace seems to be extremely foreign to their methodology, which is strange since they purport to be Biblical and in light of the Gospel, we’re not to be lights of Law but Lights that reflect Christ by whom came grace upon grace and truth upon truth. There’s a profound richness to that which they don’t even touch on as they rear children to obey, submit to the greater authority, bring to bear God’s divine moral law, etc.

Of course, they deny this by saying their method teaches grace.

The end a Christian has in view for his children is not simply submission to the rule of law, but that the child should understand the grace of God. Only through the naked “sword’ of the law are we pressed into an understanding of grace. The law is “our schoolmaster to bring us until Christ” (Gal 3:24). God could not show Himself on Mount Calvary until He first showed Himself on Mount Sinai.

By strictly enforcing the rules of the household through legislation, accountability, and punishment, you not only teach your children to fear and respect the Lawgiver, but you create opportunities to demonstrate grace. What a sacred and wonderful responsibility! (p 54)

But one is hard pressed to see how. The parent must remain consistent in the Pearl method (p 122), not being consistent might result in a hell-bound child, this is the God given responsibility of the parent. Indeed, their training sessions are so necessary under the Pearl’s Law that I don’t think they can make room for mercy or grace. The Pearls don’t help us out by explaining how they are revealing mercy and grace beyond the fact that the parent is teaching the weightiness of Law. But, when Galatians 3 is seen in context, the Law being a schoolmaster is actually teaching those under it that they can’t survive under that system, that they need God’s grace, that they need Christ to do anything. That would mean that the parent’s role is not really pointing out to grace at all but breaking down the child so they see the hopelessness of their situation which would be a real strange interpretation of teaching the child the way he should go (ie: away from mom and dad who are complete unmerciful and ungracious!).

Age of Accountability: I think it’s possible that there is an age of accountability. For example, maybe Bathsheba’s son goes to heaven (2 Samuel 12:21-23); God had concern for the innocents of Ninevah (Jonah 4:11); Christ made provision for sin for the world so that He can act on their behalf (1 John 2:2)ensuring that Christ is the only way (John 14:6). Because I believe the God of heaven will do what is right, I think he does save babies who die. But, I deny that kids are born in a situation where they are not under the banner of sin (Psalm 51:5). I might not have a comprehensive system of depravity as some Christians, but it seems to me that there are enough questions there that I can’t really formulate a rite that I must do (beat my kids) to ensure a favorable result (so that they can be saved from hell) when they reach their moment of accountability (their personal tree of knowledge of good and evil). In other words, I don’t know how someone can base so much on this concept.

Vocation and Authority: I’ll said some of this up in the Scripture usage portion, but the Pearl’s big emphasis on Parental Authority seems to be a real confusion of their vocation. They are called to be parents and that entails everything that comes with parenthood and the raising of persons—they are not called to be dog trainers, nor are they called to be soldier trainers. They have to exhibit God’s grace and mercy and righteousness in the home and over the children’s lives as benevolent rulers; not as tyrants who have no consideration for the persons under them save their vision of them. Examine passages like Ephesians 6, Col 3, 1 Corinthians 7, 1 Corinthians 8-10, Romans 13, 1 Cor 13: the love of God is free to act in any given situation but is bound in the betterment of another. Paul sees the connection of authority and the home so tightly that he makes ruling of the home well a requirement for elders who will rule the assembly well. It’s a tight connection that has real implications on how one functions in both those areas.

The Error of Their Teaching
There are some good things in their teaching. The fact that a child needs to be chastised for wrongdoing; that children should be trained in what is right and wrong; that this is a responsibility given by God towards the parents; that it is a serious charge. Even some of the practical counsel they give is very helpful: not spanking in anger; having a goal with chastisement; tying strings that unify the bond between parents and children; sharing in activities. These are all good things—but they are so covered by the rest of the stuff that the Pearl’s teach that it isn’t worth trying to glean these few things.

First: The Pearls essentially offer a one-size-fits-all model without consideration of the broad range of characteristics and temperate nature of children. Some children respond with a spanking; others won’t respond after any amounts of spankings and in these cases the Pearl method can be fatal. Some children respond to a time out, others only respond if you take things away. This isn’t surprising. We’re human. We all act differently and respond to different criteria of pain and rebuke. This is possibly why God himself doesn’t chastise his children with all the same types of punishment. The children of Israel rebelled in Numbers 11 and they were punished with fire and with food—something they didn’t’ want and something they wanted. That sort of thing happens throughout Scripture.

Second: The Pearls confuse “The Rod” for a literal device/tool to be used for spanking when Scripture uses the picture of the rod to speak of punishment but not of only physical punishment. The Proverb states (Proverbs 26:3) that a whip for the donkey and the rod for the fool but is it suggesting that people should go around beating up atheists (Psalm 53:1)? Indeed, Paul tells the Corinthians that he would rather they respond to his letter than him coming with the rod (1 Corinthians 4:21). He pits the rod in that portion against love and gentleness (1 Corinthians 4:21) meaning that he’s not coming to Corinth to physically beat them but to lay personal hefty words against the arrogant.

Third: By putting this onus on Parents as failing to do God’s mandated task, they have robbed parents of the joy of parenting and of the true God given vocation: being an example. Parents cease to be an example of the loving and merciful God but become the taskmaster of Law. The Pearl’s seem to know this because they then tell parents to make sure they don’t use their hands when spanking and only a tool. This way the Law is placed on the device and not the parent. I’m sorry: kids don’t know the difference.

Forth: The Pearls essentially make children an extension of what it is to be a grown up. Follow me for a second. Society says when you reach such and such a stage in a relationship you get married. Then they say before you reach such and such and age and this or that income you then have children. Our society then says that those children are taken care of by someone as long as they’re not a bother to the Parent. The Parent is a Parent now but that doesn’t mean they have to suffer with all the stuff that comes with raising a human being. The Pearl’s do the same thing. You’ve reached a certain stage that God decides to entrust you with children. Now that you have them you have to keep them in check and break their wills so that they ultimately aren’t an embarrassment in public or a nuisance in private. Oh they surely won’t say this—but they make repeated statements taunting the parents who have unruly children in public.

Fifth: The Pearl’s present material not only boastfully, but as if it was obvious, a catastrophic combination to new (and old) parents. This is strange since they seem to have no degrees, no credentials beyond that of being parents and no fame beyond having self-published books. And yet, they sit in a position of judgment against fellow believers with such confidence that these believers capitulate to their will. I said earlier that the capitulation is understandable. Parents are deathly afraid of doing something wrong. The Pearl’s speak to this fear and say “You are doing something wrong; this is how to do it right.”

Sixth: The teaching is a patently dangerous. The method that the Pearl’s prescribe is not only excessive, it is done without emotion, without a conscience, and sheer cerebral resolve. This allows for people to be abusive because they consider themselves not being abusive because they’re not doing it in anger. This is not only wrong, it’s evil. The parent calmly and consistently continues to strike the child, who doesn’t seem to capitulate, until the child’s will breaks: that’s the rule. And then the news reports parents who have beaten their child nearly to death and everyone is surprised because they’re so calm, nice and respectful. The Pearl’s weapon is fully loaded and pointed at the children of those parents.

Seventh: The teaching is ultimately raising sub-humans. The Pearls rightfully acknowledge that humans have the inborn desire to run without authority but then they take that to mean that it must be purged out of the child’s system so that they can submit to authority immediately and without question. That’s absurd. Paul would have us submit to authorities but knowing why those authorities have been established (Rom 12). Peter and John knew which authorities were established but, when need be, they obeyed God over men (Acts 5). Peter says that the submitting to authority is for proving a point to those authorities—not merely because they’re in power. (1 Peter 2)

Closing Thoughts: The Non-Simplicity of Solutions
In conclusion, the Pearl’s have not only fallen into the trap that so many Parent Preachers have fallen into before them by making a law of their own practice that others must follow; they have endorsed a system that is categorically confused, lacking the mercy and grace of God, endorses abuse as long as it is done without anger, and ultimately gives a poor reflection of the nature of God.

The Pearl’s theology is confused, naïve, lacking in mercy, and results in a strange and poisonous mixture. They have some good things in their books and writings but those things are so obscured by filth and error that they are rendered not-good, but evil. One wouldn’t drink a glass of water if it had cyanide and poo mixed in, why drink in writings that might have some nuggets of truth but are mostly crap and poison?

Honestly, reading and writing all of this was a strain on my emotion since I wanted to remain objective but at this point, at my concluding thoughts, I’d like to say—quite frankly—that what the Pearl’s have done is evil and their repeated proud proclamations that they are correct (even in the face of reported abusers who have ably, rationally, carried out the Pearl doctrine) reflects a heart and mind darkened with error. That’s harsh. Purposefully so. I think their pride is getting in the way of questions they should be asking themselves.

For instance, if they started with Christological questions, maybe they would fix some of their stances. For instance, if they were asked if Christ needed these types of training sessions up front before he reached a certain age: if they answer “no” then why not? If they answer “yes” then the question about the uniqueness of Christ has to come up. They might think it’s strange to ask a Christological question, but the reason I would is to expose what they think is actually going on with God-given-desires.

They also need to ask some serious questions about the image of God and what it entails in a human person. How (and why) does Paul think that the condemnation on sinners is both obvious and personal—not something obscured that ultimately depends on their parents’ proper teaching?

I think that a lot of parents are so afraid of having problem kids that they invest in just about anything—and honestly, abuse  mostly works. Kids with certain types of personalities might just burrow deeper into their core; other children might just find a devious way to express themselves (not acting up around mom and dad); and yet other children might just die at the hands of their parents. Surely, this isn’t the only way that children will react but people who abuse their children will usually get results: kids who listen to their every whim.

May I take a moment and speak seriously to my Christian brothers and sisters?

Use discernment. If you’re reading this stuff and some of it makes you cringe, then there’s something wrong. If you agree with this stuff, why do you agree? I challenged some things in this very post (ie: the reading of wisdom literature, theological presuppositions, the role of the parent)…if those challenges are valid, why do you embrace these things?

Think about your vocation. Are you rearing people to be afraid of Law? Are you training them to not bother in public? Are you training persons in the way they should go—not just because it’s your way? Really think about that. You’re not raising someone to be Paul, or Peter, or you; you’re raising someone to be the type of person that can be a Paul, or a Peter or a you. The Pearl method pigeonholes persons into a specific slot—but Scripture’s lessons are broad in their pointing to the Lord.

***

I’ve cited quite a bit of the Pearl book already. If you wish to do further research here’s a listing of articles and Biblical passages —this is not exhaustive, so don’t take it as such. There’s no easy passage that tells you how to be a parent. There’s a passage that tells us to be imitators of Christ and that speaks volumes over what the Pearls are suggesting.

Limited list of Biblical Passages for further examination:

  • Dt. 21:18—22 Regulation of chastisement handed over to Elders for stoning
  • Jb 5:17 Happy is the man who God reproves
  • Jb 36:10 He opens their ear to instruction and commands that they return from evil
  • Psalm 89:32 I will punish their sin with the rod
  • Psa. 94:12  Blessed be the man the Lord chastens
  • Proverbs 1 with the purpose of the Psalms
  • Proverbs 5:12-23; 6:23, 24 Discipline needed for keeping from sexual sin
  • Proverbs 6:23 Discipline for the way of life
  • Proverbs 14:7 Leave the presence of a fool or you will not discern knowledge
  • Proverbs 17:10 A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than 1000 lashes
  • Proverbs 19:10 It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury; nor a slave to rule over princes
  • Proverbs 27:22 Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him
  • Proverbs 29:19 A servant cannot be corrected by mere words;  though he understands, he will not respond.
  • Proverbs 30:32 “If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil, clap your hand over your mouth!
  • Proverbs 3:11 Do not despise the discipline of the Lord
  • Proverbs 12:1  whoever loves discipline loves knowledge
  • Proverbs 22:6: Train a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.
  • Proverbs 20:11 A child is known by his actions
  • Proverbs 22:15 Folly is in the heart of the child but the rod will drive it from him.
  • Proverbs 10:13 Wisdom on the lips of the discerning; the rod on the back of those who lack judgment
  • Proverbs 14:3 A fool’s talk brings the rod to his back
  • Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod spoils the child
  • Proverbs 22:8 He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed
  • Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold discipline; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.
  • Proverbs 23:14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.
  • Proverbs 26:3 A whip for the horse, a halter for a donkey, and a rod for the back of fools!
  • Proverbs 29:15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom; but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.
  • Proverbs 29:17 Correct your son and he will comfort your soul
  • Proverbs 17:26 It is not good to punish an innocent man or to flog officials for their integrity
  • Proverbs 26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly
  • Proverbs 26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly
  • Mt 5:17 – 48 Self Discipline as stated by Christ
  • Rom 8:1 – 8 Law of Spirit in Life in Christ Jesus
  • Rom 12:2 via the renewing of the mind
  • Romans 12 Rulers established to chastise
  • Romans 13 Love to be our ruling example
  • Romans 14-15: the Law of Liberty
  • Heb 12:4-9 Disciplining of God’s Sons just as our earthly Fathers
  • 1 Corinthians 4:21 Shall I come with the rod or the spirit of gentleness
  • 1 Corinthians 8-10: Liberty subjected for Love’s sake
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5-7 demolishing arguments and punishing disobedience until your obedience is complete.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 Scripture for correction and reproof
  • Eph 6:1-6
  • Col 3:21-4:2
  • 1 Peter 2:13-15 Governors established to punish those who do wrong.
  • Rev 3:19 Those whom I love I rebuke

Things To Read:

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21 thoughts on “To Train Up A Child: An Examination of the Pearl Method

  1. So little grace in their methods. It’s the sort of thing we might expect of a graceless religion but not of someone claiming to be Christian.

  2. Hi, Rey! This was a very thoughtful examination of the Pearls’ teachings. I appreciate that you spent time teasing apart their teachings for the theological underpinnings. Their assumptions about God, man, Christ, sin, salvation — those really impact what they teach. And it is heartbreaking to see how the Gospel is missed while at the same time their teachings are presented to be “Biblical.”

  3. “The much-touted ‘biblical argument’ in support of corporal punishment is founded upon proof-texting a few isolated passages from Proverbs. Using the same method of selective scripture reading, one could also cite the Bible as an authority for the practice of slavery, adultery, polygamy, incest, suppression of women, executing people who eat pork, and infanticide. The brutal and vindictive practice of corporal punishment cannot be reconciled with the major New Testament themes that teach love and forgiveness and a respect for the sacredness and dignity of children, and which overwhelmingly reject violence and retribution as a means of solving human problems. Would Jesus ever hit a child? NEVER!”
    The Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf, United Methodist Clergy (Retired), Hamilton, Indiana. Personal communication, 2006.

    “If we really want a peaceful and compassionate world, we need to build communities of trust where all children are respected, where home and school are safe places to be and where discipline is taught by example.”
    Desmond M. Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2006. See http://www.nospank.net/globalreport.pdf

    Ten Reasons I Can’t Spank A Catholic Counselor’s Critical Examination of Corporal Punishment By Gregory K. Popcak, MSW, LCSW
    http://nospank.net/popcak.htm

    “I have always been an advocate for the total abolition of corporal punishment and I believe the connection with pornography that is so oriented has its roots in our tradition of beating children.”
    Gordon Moyes, D. D., Pastor, Uniting Church, Superintendent of the Wesley Central Mission, Sydney, Australia. Excerpt from personal communication, 1980.

  4. People used to think it was necessary to “spank” adult members of the community, military trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country, it is considered sexual battery if a person over the age of 18 is “spanked”, but only if over the age of 18.

    For one thing, because the buttocks are so close to the genitals and so multiply linked to sexual nerve centers, striking them can trigger powerful and involuntary sexual stimulus in some people. There are numerous physiological ways in which it can be sexually abusive, but I won’t list them all here. One can use the resources I’ve posted if they want to learn more.

    Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

    Child buttock-battering (euphemistically labeled “spanking”,”swatting”,”switching”,”smacking”, “paddling”,or other cute-sounding names) for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like “Supernanny” and “Dr. Phil” are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say
    by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads-visit the website of Parents and Teachers Against Violence In Education at http://www.nospank.net.

    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics,
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
    American Psychological Association,
    Center For Effective Discipline,
    Churches’ Network For Non-Violence,
    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
    Parenting In Jesus’ Footsteps,
    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  5. Yeah, PDeverit, I think you’re missing what’s the issue here and falling into the same mistake I’m seeing a lot online especially even seen in those quotes:

    The Pearls, say some online commenters, (1) teach parents to spank their children for being children or (2) teach parents to spank for no reason.

    These are both false revealing an understanding of the Pearls no further than the recent news story.

    The Pearls actually explicitly state that a child isn’t to be spanked for being a child: tripping, spilling milk, etc. Mispronouncing a word might fall under that category.

    The Pearls also explicitly say that disciplinary action spanking is too late. They tie the reason of spanking to (1) having have done wrong and (2) for emphasizing commands.

    As I said above, the Pearl method is what they’re doing in the training sessions–not only the discipline action. The disciplinary action section is for consequences; the training sessions are used to give weight to one’s words.

    So for instance: you put a toy on the table and you tell the child to get the toy. The child doesn’t do it. You repeat the command. The child doesn’t do it. You mimic the command and then repeat it; the child doesn’t do it. At this point the parent should be sure the child knows what is being required. Then you get the switch and repeat the command. When the child doesn’t do it you give the child a lick. You repeat the command; if the child doesn’t respond you give a lick. You keep on going until the child’s will is broken.

    This is where the method is nefarious with the setting up of traps, reflecting a wrong view of God, confusion on sin, confusion on humanity and goes about raising sub-humans who seek to be nothing more than sub-humans–but that all is in my post. Like Tulipgirl said, this goes deeper than slapping bottoms.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! My upbringing was based on this book, and it was miserable. We weren’t allowed to be children. I think my Dad is related to Michael Pearl… they have the same ideas, and use religion for their own selfish gain, and as a way to scare and manipulate people.

  7. I dont want to “train” any child. I chose to make my children “functional” and not to “control” them with threats and bribery or coersions or the “rod” . They are very balanced human beings…..not perefct but my hitting them with anythiong would not have shaped them into anything more positive than they are now. I hope you made lots of money. Thats the only goal of books like these. They add absolutely nothing to the strength based solution focussed parenting practices. Any implication or threat toward a child is abusive.raising children based on religious dogma is outdated and uneducated.

  8. Everyone trains children. You train them to read. You train them to eat. You train them not to blow gas in public. You train them that killing animals is wrong. You train them that stealing from other kids is wrong.

    Whatever basis you’re using to train children with those things underscores how fundamental what you’re teaching actually is. If you divorce it from anything higher than man, then you’re basically just training in your own desires which is actually based on nothing more than strength and control.

    Unfortunate consequence.

    The fact that some people abuse truth doesn’t negate the foundational aspect of continuing in what is truth.

  9. I disagree. There is a strong difference between “training” and “teaching”. We train dogs but we teach children. That is a “fundamental flaw with everything that flows from the “train” methodology.The “divorcing” language is built on an assumption that we are sperate from God or can seperate from God. We can choose to “ACT” like we are seperate but we are inherently tied to God from beginning to end. Whether we know it or not or accept it or not or believe it or not. We live what we learn. If we in your words “train” children that hitting children is wrong but we hit them to show that this is because we love you then we acting out of a “lower” mentality. Surely to goodness we understand that “imposing” discipline externally is NOT the best teaching tool to teach children about “internal” discipline. I dont want my kids to NOT do something out of an “FEAR” or ‘SHAME” based teaching. I want them to “learn” in a loving and decent way to control themselves basd on internal choices that will last a lifetime and not rear its ugly head further down the line through addictions or acting out their “trained” supression in their later years. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure these things out anymore. There are tons of research on this nowadays. It just depends on what “research” you want to use as your source. If you chose the words of biblical teaching and that works for your family then you go ahead and teach it. I wont be teaching mine thats for sure and I wont be shamed into believing I am a heathen because I chose to instill discipline through love and constant repitition and other forms of non physical violence to “teach” my children.

  10. I suppose a better way to say the differnce between training and teaching is this. Training can be attained without conscience or morality. We “train” dogs. “Teaching” is attained through many forms of integrated conscienceness…..that every human being posesses if they chose to find it within themselves. Pretty deep thinking for those who believe in ONLY ONE persective on a multi-faceted limitless universe.

  11. God says to be merciful….. where is the mercy they have taken the bible and twisted in to a bad representation of the beauty of parenting children. Upon reviewing the No Greater Joy website, Mr.Pearl states that the methods in this book have been “endorsed by psychologists, psychiatrists, and child behavior therapists and are widely used to change inappropriate behavior” my question then becomes what psychologist thinks that scaring a child into submission is healthy or that inflicting punishment until a child is “without breath” is going to be beneficial for their well being? For those of you who have not read the book or have not read the teaching methods that the book contains here is a few ” Teaching Methods” in this book:

    1.Using plastic tubing to beat children, since it hurts a lot but leaves fewer marks to alert authorities

    2.”Training” children with pain before they disobey, in order to teach total obedience

    3.”Blanket training” babies by hitting them with an instrument if they try to crawl off a blanket on the floor

    4.Giving cold water baths, putting children outside in cold weather and withholding meals as discipline

    So please let me ask a question if a child is sitting in a room playing with a doll perfectly content does method 2 make it okay to walk into the room an randomly punish the child for no reason at all just to make them fear you? The problem is where does the line of discipline end and the line of child abuse begin? This book has very much upset me as i have children of my own. Does it make me weak because i love my children so much i cant even hurt my childrens feelings let alone beat them into submission? When does the child abuse stop?

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