How Much Influence Do Parents Have?

J. Richard Fugate and Ted Tripp couldn’t differ more regarding the amount of influence parents have in children’s lives. They even use similar words to describe their differing opinions (as indicated by the bold print).

Ted Tripp:

Shepherding a Childs Heart“I have been asked, ‘Don’t you think that if you raise your children in the right way, God has promised to save them?’ If such a promise existed, it wouldn’t comfort me. I haven’t raised them well enough. Looking over their lives, I want to join the ranks of parents who would like to do it over again. I am keenly aware of shortcomings and limitations.” (Ted Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pp. 224-225, emphasis mine)

“In the final analysis, you must entrust your children to God. How they turn out will depend on more than what you have done in providing shaping influences. It will depend on the nature of their Godward commitment. Ultimately, you leave them to God, knowing that you can entrust your children to the God who has dealt so graciously with you.” (Ted Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, 236)

J. Richard Fugate:

Fugate Book “Training children is not a hit-or-miss proposition in which the parent has no control. It is not that some children just turn out okay while others may not. There is no such thing as a bad seed.” (Richard Fugate, What the Bible Says about Child Training, p. 19) He goes on to say that Scripture offers a “promise from God that our children will turn out okay if we properly train them…a guarantee.” He says that children are “products of their upbringing.” Richard Fugate, What the Bible Says about Child Training, p. 21)

So who’s right? Well, his initials are Ted Tripp. What’s wrong with Fugate’s view? Plenty.

1. It’s blatant Arminianism applied to parenting. It sounds like Finney guaranteeing revival if the right methods are used. Particularly troubling is his statement that “there is not bad seed.” Actually, every child is bad seed. That’s what total depravity means.

2. It’s based on Proverbs 22:6, which I don’t think means what he thinks it means.

3. It ignores biblical examples to the contrary. For example, how many children in the Scripture grew up with the same parents but chose divergent paths? Cain & Abel, Jacob & Esau, Joseph & his brothers, David & his brothers, etc. Even more significantly, God is the perfect Father, yet His children have less than a stellar reputation. We’re a mess. Does that really reflect on Him? Has He not raised us properly? (I speak as a fool.)

4. Related to number 3, it ignores the child’s responsibility for his own soul. Fugate makes children passive “products of their upbringing.” That is terrible theology that leads to equally bad methodology. Children aren’t products of their upbringing, but of the fallen human race. They’re born sinful (Psalm 51:5; 58:3).

5. Most grievously, it ignores the role of God in the spiritual life of a child—or anyone else, for that matter. It ignores the need for divine intervention as taught throughout scripture, especially in Psalm 127. Only God can convict of sin (John 16:8). Only God can illumine your child’s heart and mind (I Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:18-4:6). Only God can draw your child to Himself (John 6:44). Only God can’t grant your child faith and repentance (Acts 11:18; 16:14; Eph. 2:8). Only God can sanctify your child (Lev. 20:8; I Thes. 5:23). Without the Lord’s assistance, our best labors are in vain. Yet, Fugate’s statement leaves no room or need for divine intervention. If you do it right, they’ll be fine. It’s all about you.

Statements like Fugate’s lead to self-sufficiency and pride. They lead to externalism. Ultimately, they lead to despair. The truth is, if our children’s spiritual lives depended on our performance as parents, Christianity would be on the endangered list. It’s an arrogant and misguided notion. We need grace. We need God to do what we cannot.

Don’t tell me doctrine isn’t practical.

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29 Responses

  1. The biggest problem I have with Fugate’s book is his authorities. Check the footnotes. There are lots of them. Look at who he is footnoting… it is his own organization. He footnotes himself, in other words.

    Many people don’t understand Proverbs. A lot of people get that one wrong.

    But one quibble with your assessment… on the point about Biblical families (#3), we have precious little data to know how the people in these stories were raised. I wouldn’t make a big point on that one, we don’t know how rightly or wrongly the parents acted for the most part.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. Very good stuff Chris! I agree with you, especially your first point, but I like to call it “parental sovereignty” instead “blatant Arminianism”. I have enjoyed Tripp’s book, but I haven’t read Fugate’s. It appears that some make the Christian life about following rules and guidelines instead of a relationship with our Creator. I think Tripp has put the focus where it needs to be.

  3. I agree that it’s an argument without a lot of data, Don. My point, however, is that whether the parents were good or bad, their children from the same home turned out differently. You have a godly brother in the midst of ungodly brothers. It seems that Fugate’s simple mathematical equation of good parents = good children can’t permit that.

    Anyway, I think the recognition that our Perfect Father has rebellious children is a more compelling argument.

    I’ll also say this: I’ve talked to parents who were devastated by this sort of thinking, imagining that their children’s sins were all their fault. These are dangerous thoughts on a number of different levels.

    Kevin, I can live with “parental sovereignty.” Others call it Deterministic parenting. Tripp’s all over it.

  4. The one family where we do have some insight into the parenting is Isaac and Rebekah’s, where the two parents played favorites. So the differences can be explained somewhat with more data…

    And… who is to say Jacob the supplanter turned out good. It took years of wrestling with God before he became Israel.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Chris, I think you were hitting on this with your idea of despair, but if “deterministic parenting” is true, there is simply no hope for a child in a bad home. He is doomed. And God’s hands are tied. Blatant Arminianism is a pretty good description.

  6. Good stuff Chris. If it all depended on parental training, why the instruction for a son to hear and heed that instruction? And why bother giving the characteristics of a Biblical fool if it all depends on the parents?

  7. […] August 28th, 2007 — Chris We’ve had a profitable discussion over here regarding the error of deterministic parenting—the idea that a child will know and follow […]

  8. Pastor Anderson,

    A question regarding all this. You say blatant Arminianism, and that melds it down to those poles on the theological spectrum, but let’s just consider it with some exegesis, and I’d like to hear your thinking.:-)

    What can we say about Paul’s pastoral qualification in Titus 1 with children “full of faith?” Can we not infer from this that, if we do what we are supposed to as a parent, our children will be full of faith?

    What is the cause and effect of “from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation?” Paul preached the gospel, because it was the power of God unto salvation. In other words, Paul was motivated to preach by his knowledge that the gospel would impact. Are you saying that it is possible that God has chosen one of your daughters for damnation, based on your theology? Can constant teaching of the Scriptures impact the condition of the soil, so that we have good ground instead of thorny or rocky soil, thereby allowing the seed to do its powerful work?

    How much responsibility could Eli have for the lives of his sons? The passage does relate that this occurred because “he restrained them not.” Are we not to assume that restraint would have effected a different outcome?

    When we read Psalm 128, for instance, it seems plain to me that if we have a father leading the home—fearing the Lord and walking in His ways (this assumes he is one of the elect), that the children WILL turn out the same as him.

    I see cause and effect in parenting all over the Bible and especially where the examples are plenteous—in the Old Testament.

  9. There is no doubt that parents have great influence upon their children and their spiritual outcome. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be some magic formula that guarantees the right spiritual product.
    At what point does parenting stop becoming what we do and start becoming who we are in Christ? When do our children stop obeying because it’s what Dad says and start obeying because they want to please their heavenly father? Obviously, spiritual mandates are vital in our training of our children, but modeling and training our children to have a relationship with God is essential.
    This is why I believe Tripp’s statement is spot on when training our children.

  10. […] There is a profitable discussion that has been taking place at My Two Cents regarding […]

  11. Hey, Kevin. I agree.

    Hi, Kent. I don’t have the time to pursue this really far today. However…

    I’m certainly not saying that parents have no influence. We obviously do, and God will hold us accountable for how we’ve trained our children. However, Fugate’s statements make parents the only factor. I reject that completely.

    As for exegesis, I’m all for it. I listed a number of passages, especially under point 5, that I’d encourage you to exegete. Seriously.

    Titus 1 is a passage I’ll need to consider more carefully, to be honest. I’ll let you know when I have.

    Timothy was taught the Scriptures which are able to make him wise unto salvation. Amen. I never denied that. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Amen. So let’s teach our children the Scriptures. However…

    Let’s recognize that many who hear the Word of God reject it. You brought up the 4 soils, which I think is helpful. In that parable, the sower does the same thing for all 4, the seed is the same for all 4, yet only 1 gives evidence of enduring life. Do I believe that my girls could grow up in my home hearing the Scriptures, yet reject what they’ve heard? Absolutely. So I pray for God to work in their hearts and draw them to Himself and open their eyes to the Truth—things which I cannot do. Do I think I have a “guarantee” that they’ll come to Christ? I don’t. So I pray.

    For more on the sowing illustration, consider Paul’s words in I Cor. 3. The sower can only do so much. God alone can provide life and growth. Does that mean a farmer shouldn’t plant? Obviously not. But the fact that he plants “by the book” is no guarantee that he’ll reap a great harvest. It’s out of his hands, despite his best efforts.

    As for Eli, he was certainly culpable. However, his failure didn’t remove his sons’ culpability, and to guess that he could have changed their hearts by being a better father is, well, a guess. A better question, IMO, is how Samuel was raised in that ungodly environment & yet had a heart for the Lord. God did that.

    To return to Jacob & Esau, we’re told in Scripture that God in His sovereignty chose Jacob—despite himself, and despite the job of his parents. I don’t understand it, but it’s so. Exegete that, friend.

    Anyway, I’m not denying parental responsibility. I’m denying parental sovereignty. There are three major factors in the spiritual lives of our children: the child, the parents, and the Lord. Fugate and others seem to put all the emphasis on the second of those. I think it is a grave and dangerous error.

    I’m in a hurry here. Sorry if these thoughts aren’t well explained or sufficiently proven.

  12. As to your number 5, I agree God gives the increase. Children whom God saves will endure. Without the salvation, we won’t get the result we want, so I’m dependent on God. If God saves them, the results will be acceptable. I agree that conforming them to an external standard won’t do. It seems when all is said here, the issue is: Do we as parents have a guarantee in Scripture that our children will get saved if we follow a pattern revealed in the Bible? I don’t believe we see it in one verse like a singular proof text, but in the breadth of Scripture. Your passages in #5 don’t contradict that teaching. Too many places connect a successful result with faithful parenting. Scripture assigns blame to parents for poor results.

    You say concerning your helplessness, “I pray.” I pray too. But do your prayers guarantee your child’s salvation? Prayer is a work, just like instruction, spanking, and good examples. Does Scripture promise salvation for children whose parents rely on Divine intervention?

    Regarding Fugate, I read his book awhile ago, so I don’t remember what he said about the quietistic side of parenting. However, I ask, how does the Lord build the house? Ps. 127 starts with the Lord building the house and then it describes parents relying on the Lord by fearing Him and walking His ways. that’s how God does the building. We build the house when we use our own methods and not God’s. This is akin to 1 Cor. 3 where the Lord builds the church. He uses us to do it, and when we use the superior, eternal materials (not using carnal weaponry), we see eternal results.

  13. […] August 29th, 2007 — Chris The message I preached on Psalm 127 (and which led to this discussion regarding the extent of parental influence) in now up on sermonaudio.com. It is part 4 of our […]

  14. “Anyway, I’m not denying parental responsibility. I’m denying parental sovereignty.”

    A hearty, “Amen”, Chris. Great response.

  15. Dale,

    For the record, I plagiarized “parental sovereignty” from my old college buddy, Kevin Plew (see his first comment). I agree that it’s an apt description.

    Kent,

    No, I don’t see that there is a guarantee that my children will come to Christ. I’ll do what I can as a teacher and example, and beg God to do what I cannot. And I don’t say any of this lightly. Nothing in the world is more important to me than this matter.

  16. Chris, you have a way with words, my friend. And the sermons I have heard, and the writing in the “Visitor”, this blog…God’s hand is upon you.

    When my kids were little, I was not walking in fellowship with the Lord. Now that they are older, I have wondered whether my life has harmed them related to their salvation and their own fellowship with God. But God IS sovereign, and the older my kids get, they have both made public confessions of faith, are witnesses of the Gospel among their peers, and my daughter has begun a bible study among some of her colleagues from her work. Both have strong testimonies to the power of faith in Jesus Christ.

    Chris, if my kids’s salvation were up to me, they would be in a sorry position, but God be praised for he alone is Sovereign. He assures me daily that my children indeed walk with the Savior in spite of their earthly father’s stumbles and failures. They have been a witness to me in my life, and we are together as a family that shines the light of God’s faithfulness. Humbly walking with our God.

  17. Kent,
    I agree that we see “cause and effect parenting” in Scripture. Certainly, the direction of a child’s life is molded by the parents and the other influences that are allowed into the life. One can just go to the grocery store and see “cause and effect parenting” on display. I don’t believe that anyone can deny that. That is why it is crucial for parents to do certain things correctly and biblically in order to direct their children toward a relationship with God.

    I cannot believe that children are guaranteed by God to turn out right if we will do everything that God wants us to. Can we look at parents whose children did not turn out right (if ours do) and decide that we followed God’s plan better than they? Do I look at the parents of the teens that I minister to, and if the teens are unsaved, go to the parent, to correct their parenting, instead of the presenting the gospel to the teen? Can any parent be “perfect enough” to see that their children turn out right for God? If God guarantees it, then if our children failed to turn out right–we have failed. If they do turn out right, then did we do it? Obviously not. Certainly, any spiritual fruit in the lives of our children is by God’s grace as it is in my own life. Do you agree?

    Having asked those questions, I do see a strong correlation between good, godly parents and good, godly children. It is obvious too that the Lord uses His Word and His church in this aspect as well. I just do not believe that good and godly parenting guarantees good and godly children.

    Kevin Plew

  18. This discussion seems to weigh in two different directions with a razor-sharp balance in between, that being, what we tell parents who are just getting started and then what we tell parents who are essentially at the end of their parenting process. It would seem that the truth, no matter where someone is in the process, is the same.

    On one side, new parents who do everything right based on Scripture have no guarantee that each of their children will not turn out to be serial killers. On the other side, parents finished with the process need not feel guilty that their children have gone astray because they were essentially helpless to assure that in the first place.

    Or on the one side, new parents can be given confidence that if they follow the Scriptural pattern, their children will do right too, as we see in Psalm 128. Or on the other side, if the children do not follow the Lord, they can take major (not all) blame for that. Of course, if they didn’t do right, they can agree with God about their failure and walk in forgiveness too.

    I did download the Psalm 127 message to listen to and will give my evaluation of that. I just preached on it this summer first at our church and then a family camp.

    Psalm 128 couples with Psalm 127, and it says fear the Lord and walk in His ways and you will see a direct result in success with your family. Do we actually not see that in Psalm 128?

  19. I find this a very interesting conversation. I also find it a bit humorous. It almost seems that some are really afraid at believing that God’s Biblical pattern for child-rearing works. I would never go so far as to say there is a “guarantee” for a child turning out, but can we not conclude from Scripture and observation that following God’s principles in parenting will be honored? Will a child who honors his parents see long life?

    One argument has been presented: “What about the families where one child loves God and one God hates God?” For those of us who have children, are we not all aware of the importance of handling each child individually and not the same? Maybe a parent disciplined in anger with one child because the child had that certain way of getting under the parent’s skin.

    Please understand that each child still must make their own choice. They are responsible for their actions, but each parent is also responsible!

    It is amazing to me how many teenagers are seriously struggling spiritually because of what is going on in their home. Over and over you can trace the difficulities right back to the parents.

    Am I agreeing with Fugate? No. However I do think there is more of a balance to be had. If it is not on our shoulders as parents than Paul has no right to say a pastor should be removed when children are unruly. “But, Paul – they have to make their own choices – how can you blame the parents.” Where is the balance? Good question. Is the problem in our society that parents are taking too much responsbility for their children or too little? Do we have an overabundance of parents in our churches who are taking their responsibility as seriously as they should? Are we seeing an increase in immedieate obedience, godly respect and character training? I wonder then why we are having more and more trouble with children and teenagers. Maybe the answer is to medicate them more! :)

  20. The confusion is because of a misunderstanding of the nature of Proverbs. I think the confusion exists somewhat in what is being presented on both sides of this discussion.

    Proverbs are not promises, they are wisdom. Generally speaking, a parent who follows wise Biblical principles will find that his children will follow in faith. But this is just generally speaking, it isn’t a promise.

    There are plenty of examples in families and family trees that can bear these things out, both examples of failure and success.

    Unfortunately, in some families with parents protesting ‘But I did everything right!’ with unsatisfactory results, objective observers can see many things that were done wrong. It is no service to tell families like this that they have done all they could. On the other hand, children do have wills of their own and must submit from the heart to the Lord, or all attempts at Biblical parenting will be unsuccessful.

    However, in the end, I think we can encourage parents, generally speaking, that they can expect success if they follow biblical principles. They do need to be willing to submit themselves to the Scriptures and to pay the price of discipleship themselves, though.

    As for Fugate… well… Not a book I would recommend.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  21. Again, I’m not saying that parents don’t have a tremendous responsibility and influence. Certainly we do. And contrary to Kent’s assertions, removing that burden from young parents or removing guilt from older parents isn’t my motivation at all.

    However, I am only 1/3 of the equation. My children will also be accountable to the Lord for how they respond to my teaching and to His Truth. And apart from the Lord’s work in their hearts, my best efforts will be vain.

    I’m not arguing for passivity or negligence on the part of parents. God forbid. Indeed, I’m in the middle of a 2-month series emphasizing the need for parents to obey biblical mandates clearly and repeatedly laid on them. What I’m attempting to do (apparently unsuccessfully) is to balance that parental responsibility by arguing against passivity on the part of children and on the part of God.

    We have no guarantee that our children will seek the Lord. And I’m not saying that to get us off the hook. I’m saying that to remind us of our need of God’s grace. Discipline your children, instruct them, point them to the gospel, show them what godliness looks like by your example—all they while praying fervently for God to do what you cannot.

    That’s all I’ve been calling for, or at least intending to.

    BTW, Paul certainly makes the behavior of our children a matter of our fitness for ministry. I’m not arguing that we need not restrain them and manage our home’s well. Even lost children must be under our authority, lest we be disqualified. No question on that issue. I’m less certain that our children must be regenerate, though. I’m trying to understand the meaning of pista in Titus 1:6, and commentators are far from being in agreement on exactly what that means. But lest I be misunderstood, I’m not saying we can’t control our children—just that that control, though necessary for our testimony and ministerial qualifications, is far short of the ultimate goal we’re after. We want their hearts to pursue our God, and we need Him to work to bring that about.

    Put it this way: a farmer should expect no crop if he sows no seed. On the other hand, sowing seed doesn’t guarantee a crop, either. That’s beyond him. So what does he do? Sow faithfully, doing the best job he can, then pray for a harvest. We use the term “diligent dependence.” I’m not arguing against diligent parenting; I’m arguing for it to be wed to dependence.

    It’s late. I apologize if I’m not making sense.

  22. There’s definitely a balance. Job’s friends were wrong when they blamed all this ills on some evil in his heart. And God was justified in allowing all of it. And Job was still responsible to God to have faith and trust Him (in which he wavered near the end, and then God dealt with him about THAT sin). His friends had the deterministic view.

    I think the passage Pastor Hatfield referenced in the baptism thread is very applicable here as well (Ezek. 18).

    Your farmer analogy is a good one, Chris.

  23. Re: Proverbs 22:6

    Could this verse not be a iron clad guarantee that no parent ever reaches; therefore, it is an ideal. If it could be perfectly practiced (and it cannot), there would be a certain outcome.

    Claim as you will that this is determinism, but the argument is with the very words of God. Claim as you will that it is only a Proverb and again you must be reminded that these are the very words of our God. Again, you will insist that it is only a general principle, but you will be reminded that generally our children are being lost by the hoards. I link this may be due to a new softness in parenting teaching that says you have no control over the outcome. The preacher quickly asserts that the parent should try anyway — the parent agrees he will, all the time knowing that it does not matter if he tries or not.

    Truth be told we do train our children in the home every moment, every movement, ever choice, every attitude, every reaction (all either controlled by the Spirit or the flesh — read Galatians 6 where we have a “certain outcome” offered us). We pass on our depravity in conception and we train that depravity in our homes. It is a miracle of God’s grace that any of our children turn out right!! But please do not defend the depraved parent when he has produced and trained a depraved child. Assure him of the grace of God to forgive his sin as well as his child’s, but do not (please, I beg you do not) tell him that he is not at fault. Certainly, tell him his child is 100% at fault for his own depraved choices; but the parent also is 100% at fault for his/her depraved choices. If both sides could own up to their responsibility (and I remind you we parents have a humanly impossible wieght of responsibilty) and confess their own sin, there would be plenty of grace to cure whatever is ailing us (Proverbs 28:13 — oops, this is only a general principle so quite possibly some who cover their sin will ultimately prosper and some who confess may never get mercy. Sorry, lets try James 4:6-10 instead because we are far from certain about anything in the book of Proverbs).

    If it is grace that we need, one thing we cannot afford is more fuel for our pride — “I did everything I could she just made all the wrong choices” — I vehemently disagree! The parent who is seeking the glory of God and Christlikeness in themselves and their child will diligently seek for the mote in their own eye (note: not some nebulous guilt, but real failure and be the first to step to the plate of humility and confession and grow demonstrating the glory of God and oozing the grace of God.

    There, that is out of my system. . . It is late and I am uncertain that I have seasoned this post with enough salt, but I deeply desire the grace of God to be ministered.

    Let me sum it up:
    No one has trained up their children in the way they should go!
    Some do it better than others.
    The better you do it the more likely you will have a favorable outcome.
    The key is not perfect parenting the key is perfect humility and confession when you fail.
    The heart of all this is an acute awareness of our own lack of Christ-likeness and a passionate pursuit of change towards that goal. Children respond to this; prideful denial will only add fuel to the fire.

    Note about Job’s friends: I see apples and oranges. Job was not dealing with parenting issues. He was dealing with true tragedy — there were no moral connections to the things that happened to Job. However, parental influences on the choices of their children have extensive biblical support to connect moral responsibility.

    For His Glory,
    Christian Markle

  24. I don’t think you can take the Proverbs that way. There are many other examples where the statement is generally true but not always true. Pr 16.31, for example, or 26.4 and 5 where exact opposite instructions are given back to back. There are many other examples. To interpret Proverbs ideally is a mistake, in my opinion. They were not intended that way.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  25. […] Does “Faithful Children” Mean in Titus 1:6? September 12th, 2007 — Chris This discussion on parenting resulted in an interesting interpretive question: the children of elders are required […]

  26. After reading all of these “theological” arguments, I stand amazed at what so many “Baptist” pastors are believing today. Apparently Calvinism has so infiltrated our churches that there are very few pastors that actually believe what God’s Word says, especially when it comes to child-rearing. Instead, beliefs are based on experiences. How sad! Matt Herbster is one of the few that got it right.

  27. Just a Mom,

    I’m not a Baptist, but I gather that you intended to include me among the pastors that don’t “actually believe what God’s Word says.” That’s quite an accusation to throw out there against pastors whom you don’t know…especially even as you claim to be on the side of the Bible.

    If you’d care to tone down the rhetoric, I’d be glad to discuss the issue with you as two Bible believers. The key point is, according to the Scriptures, there are a variety of factors that contribute to a child’s spiritual condition—including, but not limited to parents.

  28. Great article, Chris!

    Exulting that we are saved by grace…not by good parenting. (Gives me hope for my kids!)

  29. […] UPDATE: Chris Anderson has an excellent, must read article on the same topic […]

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