3 things in the Bible you’ll want to avoid if following Kirk Cameron’s parenting advice

Kirk Cameron, photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr
Former Growing Pains and Left Behind star Kirk Cameron is getting into the parental advice business. In a recent post, Cameron shared the “train, don’t explain” childrearing philosophy of author Jay Younts.

Basically, this approach says you don’t owe your kids an explanation. Ever. You tell them what to do/think/believe and demand their unquestioning, unhesitating obedience.

To quote Younts:

God has not called parents to explain but to train. Explanations often lead to frustration and anger for both parents and children. Children are not in need of lengthy, compelling explanations. What they are in need of is the understanding that God must be obeyed.

Setting aside the question of whether this parenting advice is better suited for raising robots than actual humans, there are at least three things in the Bible you might not want to let your kids read if you follow a “train, don’t explain” approach.

Otherwise, your kids might start getting ideas.

1. Don’t let them read Exodus 12. Or Deuteronomy 6. Or Joshua 4. 
The ancient Jewish faith had many rituals, ceremonies, and symbols. And these had a way prompting curiosity. Every time a family would celebrate Passover or break out the phylacteries or build a monument from a pile of stones, kids would ask why.

Even worse, it seems this was the whole point: so that kids would request an explanation from their parents:

“When your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’…” (Exodus 12)

“In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees, and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’…” (Deuteronomy 6)

“In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’…” (Joshua 4)

It’s almost like the Israelites didn’t follow Kirk Cameron’s parenting advice at all.

2. Definitely don’t let your kids read the book of Job.
After being hit with all kinds of calamity (apparently the result of a cosmic bet between God and the devil), Job spends most of the book demanding an explanation… from God himself.

Job’s three friends are shocked by his impertinence. Their advice to Job — essentially, “Shut up and take your medicine” — sounds a lot like Kirk Cameron’s “train, don’t explain” method of parenting.

The only problem is God doesn’t seem to mind Job’s impertinence. He shows up. He answers Job’s summons. And when he does, he’s angry — not at Job, but at Job’s friends.

If kids read Job and see that it’s OK to question God, they won’t think anything of questioning their parents now and then.

3. While you’re at it, you might want to avoid any mention of Israel.
After all, their name means “wrestles with God.” To the ancient Israelites, the Scriptures were not a monologue from God; they were a dialogue with God. And God’s people didn’t hesitate to ask some hard questions.

In fact, it’s probably best not to let your kids read the Bible, period. Otherwise they might stumble across Abraham asking God to explain how he can possibly deliver on his promise of children for the aging patriarch. Or Jeremiah accusing God of deception. Or Habakkuk demanding God explain himself over his plan to use Babylon to punish his own people. Or Jesus wrestling with his Father in the garden.

And so on.

God is often described as a Father in the Bible. Yet he doesn’t seem to follow Cameron’s “train, don’t explain” method of parenting with his own children.

Maybe a better approach would be one that honors the curiosity and personhood of our children. One that shows them it’s OK to ask questions. In other words, “Explain. Don’t just train.”

(H/T Benjamin L. Corey, who wrote about Cameron’s parenting advice on the Formerly Fundie blog.)

10 thoughts on “3 things in the Bible you’ll want to avoid if following Kirk Cameron’s parenting advice

  1. But your way seems like it requires a lot more work, and patience. I don’t have time or energy for that. I’d rather go on being a dictator that teaches my kids to obey me without question so they can grow up and hit a dangerous rebellious phase where they experiment with all sorts of self-destructive behaviors. You know, like what happened in MY family with MY dictator dad.

  2. Except that, ironically, Job doesn’t get an explanation. He gets a “Tell me how to do it better, since you know.”

    And Abraham doesn’t get an explanation. And Habakkuk doesn’t get an explanation. And Jesus doesn’t get an explanation.

    I’m no Kirk Cameron fan, but part of the thing we struggle with in this whole Bible/Christianity thing is that God isn’t really big on explanations, either. A faith that is free to question is different from a faith that demands explanations.

    • I enjoy the Habakkuk exchange.

      Habakkuk: “God, aren’t you going to do anything about the violence in Judah?”

      God: “Yes. I’ll crush them with Babylon.”

      Habakkuk: “That doesn’t seem like your style.”

      God: “Oh, just wait ’til you see how I deal with the Babylonians.”

    • The point I’m trying to make is not whether or not they got an explanation, but that they didn’t get slapped down by God for demanding one. I’m not suggesting that God always has to explain himself (or that parents do, for that matter). But the nature of his interactions with people in the Bible doesn’t sit well with the “shut up and obey” mentality of a fundamentalist approach to parenting, like the one Cameron seems to be endorsing.

  3. I will admit I didn’t read this whole article, but I didn’t have to. Whoever wrote this article missed the whole point by miles. Yes we are to answer our children’s questions when they are trying to learn. But when we r giving our children instruction, we need not explain ourselves. I learned this the hard way: when I told my son no, I would explain to him why I said no. Well, he is now 9 and expects an explanation everytime I tell him something. He wants to do something (which I don’t feel is in his best interest), he wants to know why, our opinions don’t match, so he proceeds to argue the point. A child should not argue with the parent. It is no, because I said no. That is all that matters.

  4. If a parent disciplines without an explanation the child will grow up in fear not knowing what he/she did wrong to deserve such a punishment. That would be bad parenting to the ultimate extreme. How could a child ever learn from their mistakes not knowing what they were? They couldn’t. They might even grow up to be angry and resentful people toward their parents, and maybe, even toward God. ‘Asking questions’ is not the same as ‘talking back’ they are two distinctly different things, and maybe that is where Kirk Cameron’s views become blurred.

  5. Dang, Ben. This is a pointed and well-thought critique. While I haven’t heard or read the context of Cameron’s advice, I’m assuming his explanation follows the logic of “train, don’t explain”?

    • Thanks. And yes, that’s how I understood it. There is a particular philosophy of parenting popular in some Christian circles which sees anything less than instant, unquestioning obedience from children as a sinful act of rebellion. That’s what I’m pushing against. I think it’s natural for children to question, to ask why, etc. In fact, I think this natural inclination can be a good thing, if channeled in the right direction, to cultivate a child’s spiritual curiosity. Sure, there may come a point where I need to tell my daughter to trust me as her parent and just do what I say, but I don’t think that every question or request for an explanation from a child is necessarily coming from a bad place.

  6. He isn’t saying to not teach your children. He is saying that them obeying you shouldn’t depend on if they like your explanation or not, it should be done without question because of respect of your authority. God doesn’t often (and didn’t in those stories mentioned) give explanation because really, like children, the explanation may be beyond our comprehension anyway, it just confuses things. Take the time to explain life and the way things work at their level when the time is right. But when you urgently tell your kids to do something for their own or someone else’s safety, let’s say, they better get to hoppin and not ask questions because by the time they are done questioning you it may be too late. Obey and then we can discuss it later if there is need. I did what my dad told me to do because he said to do it, he was always willing to discuss something that I needed to understand later.

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