Author and theologian Denny Burk recently criticized Christianity Today for its “on the record” stance against spanking, highlighted in the publication’s editorial titled, “Thou Shall Not Abuse: Reconsidering Spanking.”
The Boyce College associate professor found a number of things wrong with the editorial, mainly CT’s reference to a corporal punishment book by William J. Webb rather than the Scripture itself to justify its standing.
“We should be vigilant not to let the Bible’s teaching to be nullified by an interpretive approach that is foreign to Scripture,” Burk penned on his site. “The CT editorial relies almost entirely on William Webb’s trajectory hermeneutic – a way of interpreting the Bible that says modern readers sometimes need to move beyond the ethical instruction of Scripture to an ethic that supersedes it.”
“The editors at CT appear to have embraced Webb’s hermeneutic as a legitimate way of reading the Bible. They should not be surprised, however, that there are many evangelicals who disagree.”
Burk, who is also the associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., explained that Webb’s hermeneutic was “widely criticized ten years ago because it [allowed] specific biblical teaching to be nullified by the reader’s perception of redemption trajectories.”
Or more simply put, Webb’s approach to reading the Bible presented a threat to the authority of Scripture, Burk said.
Quoting Wayne Grudem, the Louisville resident more clearly articulated, “It nullifies in principle the moral authority of the entire NT and replaces it with the moral authority of a ‘better ethic,’ an ethic that Webb claims to be able to discover through a complex hermeneutical process entirely foreign to the way God intended the Bible to be read, understood, believed and obeyed.”
Additionally, in Tom Schreiner’s words, Webb was prone to “domesticate the Bible to fit modern conceptions.”
Like Burk, many have criticized their fellow believers for trying to align the Bible to their own philosophy when it came to the topic of child discipline.
Mike and Trisha Fox, a husband-and-wife marriage counseling team, were proponents of the controversial child-raising methods advocated by evangelical Michael Pearl and his wife. The Foxes previously told The Christian Post, “It’s amazing to us just how many professed Christians actually take parts out of the Bible as if the Bible were their personal store coupon section, and only take the things they prefer and like, and leave out the biblical verbiage and precepts that don’t fit into their opinions and molded brand of Christianity.”
Many Christians have been divided on the issue of corporal punishment as outlined in the Bible, with some strongly opposing spanking and other forms of child discipline, while others having accepted it to be a method God clearly instructed in His Word.
The topic became more heated when reports of extreme child abuse were linked to the Pearls, founders of No Greater Joy Ministries, whose book To Train Up A Child allegedly led to the death of a several children, including Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz.
But the Foxes argue that misuse of the tool does not invalidate it, echoing Pearl’s statement in regards to the extreme cases allegedly linked to his practices.
“Opponents of the biblical use of the rod support their position by pointing to its occasional misuse,” Pearl stated, according to the Foxes op-ed. “It is our contention that all authority is misused from time to time, but that misuse does not negate the legitimacy of the office itself, rather of the ones who abuse their sacred authority.”
“When the courts are unjust or dishonest, we do not abolish the office of judge or the administration of law. When a law enforcement agent is corrupted by money or a desire for power, we do not fire all the policemen. When a president of the United States is hedonistic and sells favors, enriching himself through crooked deals, we do not resort to a dictatorship,” the Tennessee pastor argued.
“The people who condemn biblical chastisement do not believe the Bible,” Pearl asserted. “They judge others by their own experience. The only time they have ‘hit’ their children, or been tempted to, was when they were angry. They assume that when we spank it is the same hostility they have felt.”
If believers tried to align the Bible to their own philosophy, they are in danger of wrestling the Scripture to their own destruction, the Foxes agreed.
“Not only is physical discipline ‘in’ the Bible, but it ‘mandates’ it for all parents if we desire to follow God and His word; and if we in fact love our children – we will use it!” they shared. “Unfortunately, there is a growing, secular-Christian trend of religious-based, yet not biblically based, mothers and people who are shallow in terms of Biblical understanding, and in depth with emotional irrational perspective.”
In its article, Christianity Today stated that the Bible never forbade spanking. “But Webb’s case is convincing that the Bible does not require it,” they added.
“Pearl warns that ‘to give up the use of the rod is to give up our views of human nature, God, eternity.’ [Albert] Mohler advises that ‘the attacks on spanking are thinly disguised attacks on parental authority.’ New Testament scholar Thomas R. Schreiner said Webb’s views on spanking will likely lead him into ‘domesticating the Bible to fit modern conceptions,’” CT writes in the editorial.
“But it is a mistake to portray Christian critics of spanking as feckless liberals, just as it is wrong to label Christian advocates of spanking as abusive fundamentalists.”
Stating that corporal punishment should be used as an absolute last resort, the magazine encouraged parents to explore “more creative and effective ways to train up our children in the way they should go.”
While CT advocates Webb’s theories, Burk hopes that Christians would be cautious in interpreting the Bible to fit their own personal opinion and lifestyle.
Burk recommended “Discipline in the Book of Proverbs: ‘To Spank or Not To Spank?’ by Paul Wegner, whom he believes gave a “better explanation of the Proverbial texts than the editors of CT. “Wegner shows from Scripture several different levels of discipline, one of which is corporal punishment.”
“Despite this editorial from CT, parents who love their children will make use of non-abusive physical discipline (Prov. 13:24),” Burk concluded.