The Little Book Of Christian Character And Manners
by William and Colleen Dedrick
71pp paperback, 2nd Edition 1997 Holly Hall Publications
reviewed by Annabel Haylett
The Dedricks address the subject of training children in Christian character and manners. Their stated purpose is, "to give parents a biblical framework...from which to view their calling and then to give enough actual examples to make it clear how to apply the Scripture."
The book is divided into five chapters as follows:
Chapter 1: The Biblical Basis for Discipline
The book begins with a consideration of the authoritative teaching of Scripture concerning disciplining children. They write, "Make this the very foundation of your thinking and you will have God-given confidence in rearing your children."
They further state, "Understanding your position of authority is crucial to the fulfilling of your responsibility as parents...You have a God-given right to rule over your child and to expect his obedience to your rule." (Gen. 18:19; Exod. 20:12; Lev. 19:3,32; Deut. 32:46,47; 6:1-9; Heb. 12:5-9; Eph. 6:4; 1 Tim. 3:4,12).
They continue, "Encompassed in the concept of Biblical authority is the responsibility to discipline your child." (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:1-9). Discipline is defined as including all the training of a child and they explain that there are two aspects to biblical discipline:
- Training of character (Eph. 6:4 "nurture" = Greek "paideia" = discipline that regulates character, including both chastening and teaching.)
- Admonition or counsel to the understanding (Eph. 6:4 "admonition" = Greek "nouthesia" = words of encouragement or rebuke and warning.
They list three ways in which parents fail to discipline their children:
- Permissiveness - failing to chastise disobedient children, and thus showing dishonour for God. (See Godís judgement on Eli and his sons, 1 Sam. 22-32; 3:13). The Dedricks state, "This is a daily battle for parents...Parents need to daily realign themselves with Godís standard of right and wrong and to honour their God by upholding the right."
- Lack of restraint - the failure to set boundaries or standards and to give order to the childís life. (see King David, 1 Kings 1:5,6)
- Neglect - by allowing other things to take priority and/or assuming that school or Sunday school are providing sufficient training.
Chapter 2: Qualities of Wise Character
Character, "the inner person", must be trained to become mature. Because of the Fall, we gravitate towards immaturity, foolishness, self-importance and autonomy. Children learn self-government and maturity by habitually submitting to parental training. (Ps. 94:12,13)
The Dedricks describe several biblical qualities of wise character:
- A wise child accepts discipline (Prov. 13:1; 15:31-33; Ps 119:71; Heb. 5:8,9,14; 1 Sam. 3:19)
- A wise child obeys all commands. (Col. 3:20)
- A wise child replaces foolishness with wisdom and good conduct.
- A wise child is mindful of his creator and learns to know and value Godís word. (Ecl 12:1; 1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 3:15).
- A wise child honours and fears his parents and elders (Exod. 20:12; Lev. 19:3,32; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:2,3). The authors give several points on what it means for a child to honour their parents. They also state, "With the honour of authority is the responsibility to be honourable...Parents are expected to grow in grace; not harsh nor unreasonable but just, not inconsistent but reliable, not neglectful but nurturing and admonishing." (see Eph. 6:4)
Chapter 3: The Rod of Discipline
In this chapter, the Dedricks clearly and concisely set out the biblical teaching on the use of the rod in the training of children. The bible teaches that the rod is to be used to chasten or discipline a child. (Prov. 13:24). The bible views chastening as restorative (Prov. 19:18; 23:14; Heb. 12:11). When your child disregards or disobeys your commands, he breaks fellowship with you and offends you as his God-ordained authority. This must be corrected and made right again by use of the rod.
Chastening is necessary because of the childís sin nature. (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12). Chastening enables parents to control and give order to their childís life; there is restraint on his foolish sin nature. (Prov. 22:15; 10:13; 23:14). Secularists claim that spanking is child abuse, but the real child abuse is to allow a child to be overtaken by the destructive forces of sin and rebellion in his heart (Prov. 23:13,14; 29:15; 19:18).
The Dedricks then explain what the bible teaches regarding how to use the rod, and the steps involved in conducting chastening. Finally they explain which actions warrant the use of the rod, namely acts and attitudes of rebellion.
I have found what the Dedricks have written on biblical chastisement of children to be clear and helpful. However, I would add some qualifications. For example, they give no consideration to when it is appropriate to use natural consequences rather than the rod. Nor do they take into account the age of the child. Also, it seems wise to pick your battles and not make an issue out of everything, and there are locations where the use of the rod would not be appropriate or wise.
Chapter 4: Teaching Wise Conduct and Good Manners
Manners (our outward conduct) are a demonstration of kindness to others. The Dedricks cover several areas that demonstrate wise conduct and good manners, and give many practical ways to train our children in these things. They have much good to say, but some of the advice may seem rather too prescriptive. Topics covered are:
Piety and Holy Living
The main responsibility of Christian parents is to train their children to love God and to obey his commands. They write, "This is most impressively done when parents are themselves lovers of God and attentive to personal holiness...It should be a daily task, not just a Sunday task, to teach and indoctrinate our children in the Scriptures."
Pietism, which is unbiblical, sees life as divided into spiritual and secular. True holiness means recognizing that everything we do should bring glory to God. We must teach this principle to our children.
We need to pursue a Christian mind. The Dedricks write, "The bible teaches us the correct view of everything, from economics to governments, and foreign policy to duties of mothers and fathers...Every parents must be a student of truth and strive to take every thought captive to Christ Jesus. Every part of a childís day, whether he learns how to get along with others, or he studies history, or learns to do his chores, or hears discussions of current events... all should be from Godís perspective. This is true piety and holy living." (p.36)
Hygiene and Cleanliness
The Dedricks assert that with the influence of the gospel has come an improvement in living conditions and health, and where the gospel has been hidden, plagues have occurred. This seems to be an over-simplification. There have been plagues during times of gospel activity, such as the Black Death and technological and health improvements have not always paralleled the rise and fall of gospel influence. Also, the Old Testament hygiene laws were often symbolic. However, we can agree that habits of cleanliness are a fulfilment of Godís command to love him, our neighbours, and ourselves.
Other topics covered in this chapter include self-restraint (potty training and thumb-sucking); Courtesy in Speech; Respect for life and property; Eating Habits and table manners; Quietness; Industry; Honesty.
Chapter 5: The Fatherís Duty to Establish Loving Discipline
In scripture, the father is shown to have the primary responsibility for the character training of his children, and the authors list three ways in which he can direct this:
- Being diligent in enforcing and maintaining standards of obedience.
- Giving attention to family life. (Always watchful over his childrenís behaviour and not leaving this to his wife if he is present); giving attention to his wifeís assessment of his childrenís problems and abilities; being prayerful (He must first love his wife so that his prayers are not hindered, 1 Pet. 3:7.)
- Being an example in work and rest, teaching his children how to work, directing Lordís day rest and family worship, and enjoying recreation with his family. Regarding admonition, the Dedricks write, "This important duty of the father is probably one of the most neglected". They show two ways in which he can accomplish it:
- Family worship
- Reading and study: Character qualities can be taught through biographies and church history. A renewed mind comes through the study of scripture (Rom. 12:2). Young people need to be taught Bible study methods, critical thinking, and the doctrines of our faith, to enable them to stand firm. Fathers should discuss pertinent topics with their children to find out what they understand and where they need further teaching.
The book concludes with a short appendix which lists:
- Warning signs that indicate that your child is not learning good character traits and that parents are not in authority in their home.
- A comparison of the disciplined and undisciplined child using Scripture references.
These lists help the reader to assess their progress in parenting.
Although there are several places in the book where they seem too prescriptive, or where my opinion would differ, the Dedricks have much to say that is excellent and thought-provoking and it is good to see that this book has recently come back into print.
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