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“Prospectus” (or there abouts)

I’ve gathered my texts and I’m beginning to see some themes rising to the surface. The general research areas will be:

  • While the term “fundamentalist” and the movement fundamentalism has fallen into disrepute and disrepair, the rhetorical form of fundamentalism is alive and well. In other words, romantic sectarianism continues. Nothing’s changed. Oh sure, some may drink alcohol or have hip music, but the rhetoric of the Christian life is identical to the BJU expression of romantic separation.
  • Essentializing terms such as “biblicist,” “biblical,” “Bible-based,” “Christ-centered,” “Gospel-centered,” “Sacred,” even “Reformed” still identify and divide and perpetuate the same drama of romantic tragedy as did the essentializing term of “fundamentalism.”
  • Even while criticizing Keswick/Dispensational/Pentecostal versions of soteriology, conservative Evangelicals reserve this identical containment drama for their prescriptive discourses  for women and children. While they make fun of “decisionism” or “easy-believe-ism,” they perpetuate it in a “hard believe-ism.”
  • In discourses for women, complementarianism — a theological reaction to the political threat of feminism — articulates a “second blessing” for believing women urging them to simply fulfill their “role” (a relatively recent and hardening term) as women. The exact same theologians that have rejected Keswick theology for themselves endorse it for their women. The complementarian Danvers Statement has risen to the level of a Confession.
  • In discourses for parenting, punitive parenting — another theological reaction to some political threat but I’m not sure what exactly yet — has elevated spanking to a “conduit” or “means of grace” for children raised in the Faith. In other words, spanking has become not simply one tool among many, but a biblical command or, worse yet, a sacrament.
  • I plan on researching the last 50 years of marriage and parenting advice in conservative Evangelicalism. On the face of it, it seems everything changed in 1970 when James Dobson published Dare to Discipline and Jay Adams published Competent to Counsel. The former was a psychologist talking in theological terms, and the latter was a rhetorician (!!) talking against psychological terms. Both were clear separatists — each shunning worldliness and pagan ways. Dobson is a Nazarene and Adams a Presbyterian (ARP), so a theological contrast appears more stark than it really is. Dobson gets so much attention due to his political aspirations, and Adams gets virtually no attention outside of a particular sliver of conservative Reformed Protestantism. But when it all comes out in the wash, they are virtually identical in their expressions (and their “descendants’ expressions) of Christian living.

I welcome any observations, contributions, criticisms, hunches, or disagreements. Save your ad hominem attacks for your own blog, forum, or dinner table, however. I’ve heard it all before anyway. It’s all old news.

15 thoughts on ““Prospectus” (or there abouts)

  1. Just one ad hominem comment? Please? Actually, I usually post my disagreements with you everywhere else but here. 🙂

    Seriously, what would interest me most is how marriage and parenting advice have changed within conservative evangelicalism in the last 50 years. I’d love to know what, if anything, is new under the sun. And while this might push your knowledge of history, I’d also like to know if there is a difference between what you call “punitive” parenting and the philosophy of our grandparents generation and before, where parents and schoolmasters were even more quick to use the switch. Is what we see today different? Better? Worse–even if it actually results in fewer whippings? And if itsn’t that different, how can it come as a response to a “political threat?”

    On a similar note, If you want to argue that “complementarianism” and similar views are a reaction to a political threat, you’ll need an explanation why some conservative evangelicals who play the complementarianism card all the time were so harsh about Sara Palin, who advocates all the political policies they claim to want. Maybe you and I are using “political” in different senses. Or maybe those critics of Palin have principles, while I am a raw pragmatist. I’ll be curious to see what you come up with.

  2. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with on Complementarianism (with the big “C” and the “ism”). A book review sent me nosing around the CBMW website and… well, let’s just say it got my hackles up a bit. Which took me by surprise. I had sort of figured I fit in that camp. Now I’m not so sure.

  3. Well, O Bard, I’m a historian too, you know. And yes, it has changed. Historians of domestic life in American usually use _Farmer Boy_ as a touchstone for childrearing in the latter half of the 19th-century. You remember that book? There were whippings, though, not spankings. The back vs. the bottom. And up until the mid-20th-century it’s usually presented as something unfortunate, not as something required. *Religious* parenting experts were not commodified until Dobson. There were “scientists” in Holt and Hall, Watson and Spock — all male, all scientistic, all odd to our ears — but the religious voices were not *marketed* until 1970.

    My _Dare to Discipine_, 1970 should be waiting for me when I get home, but I’m interested to see if he requires it. Tripp, Priolo, and Plowman do. It is a biblical mandate to spank, they claim, and that’s just adding to the text. If you listen to Tripp’s religious mentor, Al Martin, you hear that spanking is a means of grace for children — the *only* means of grace they get, btw, since he’s a credobaptist. That is clearly adding to Scripture in so many ways, and no one is talking about it.

    Worse or better? Not sure either word works. Hardened and adding-to-Scripture seems apparent.

    As for complementarian’s politics, every. single. book. I pick up or find starts with blasting those d@mn feminists. It gets old. Really old. The most recent one I read started with talking how feminists have stolen babies away from their mommies and have destroyed “attachment.” This is so bogus! It’s bogus because the biggest promoter of attachment parenting on the planet — mothering magazine and mothering.com — is also one of the most feminist places on the web. It’s so feminist, even *I* get tired of it! 😉

    So that’s a fiction we’re repeating to ourselves. And an unnecessary one. Argue for attachment! You don’t need to argue against some fictional monster residing in the shed at the edge of the village!

    Becca — the Complementarian books for women are very disappointing. Honestly, the one I hear the most rave reviews about — Feminine Appeal — by Mahaney (C.J.’s wife) actually says that when you get saved, you’ll stay at home. It’s nothing different than what we heard growing up. . . . And I haven’t found one in that camp that talks differently.

  4. I know all about _Farmer Boy_. Mom read the Little House series through twice to us growing up, and you read my mind because that was one of several sources I was thinking about. My memories of learning about the Puritans and the rest of Colonial America is another. Should we ask “what would Almonzo Wilder’s Parents Do?” Would they rail about how we’ve gone soft and let kids get away with murder, and that a few smacks is nothing? Or would they tell us that while (probably) delivering less physical pain, what these modern experts suggest is decades removed from, and much more harmful than, anything they did?

    What’s the difference between a spanking and a whipping, as you are using the words? They both hurt. I’m no fan of adding to Scripture, of Categorical Imperatives about dealing with kids (or anyone), and the idea that you sanctify your kid by anything, spanking included, is rank heresy. All that said, I’d be really curious if somewhere you push your frame of reference back to see how advice on corporal punishment differed 100 years ago from today. Who knows–maybe the entire idea of the “Bad Old Days” is a myth and kids didn’t actually get punished that much. You like to quote Luther on family life. He every say anything about it? I am pushing this because the newer something is in christian theology, the more likely I am to see it as heresy. See, e.g., any book by Tim LaHaye.

    Arguing for “attachment parenting” (or parenting of any kind) as a feminist position? That makes me laugh so hard I might get my co-workers in my office. Were I home, I could pull up some great scary quotes by “feminists” how the law needs to do more to discourage women from being stay at home moms because, given the “free choice,” too many of them are choosing to do that! “Feminism” is another of those words that is so overused that it is almost meaningless—sounds like those who are railing against it need to update their books.

  5. I’m particularly interested to see you flesh out the third and fourth points. That is something I’ve been increasingly noticing lately (complementarianism = the gospel), and I think you’re dead-on. Have you seen the T4G affirmations and denials? They actually do make complementarianism a doctrinal issue (Article 16)! Again, I’m very interested to see you flesh these out in greater detail.

  6. What’s the difference between a spanking and a whipping, as you are using the words?

    Since I’m not a medical doctor but a word girl, I am only interested in proving that the reified way we read “the rod” in the Bible as equally spanking is relatively new. That suture is so tight that you almost can’t pull them apart. “The rod” used to mean even 100 years ago on the back with a rod/whip for a tween boy. Only if we can see our own cultural assumptions — that’s all I’m trying to bring to the forefront.

    I know that the Jesuit missionaries to New France believed in what seemed to be harsh punishments for children. I don’t know what that looked like per se other than the native parents were appalled.

    You’re right that “feminism” is a broad term. Like “conservative” or “Evangelical” for that matter. But seriously, go check out mothering.com!

    Dobson’s Bringing Up Boys book contains a long diatribe against the tax-and-spend liberals too. Doh!! He doesn’t need to do that. Updating may be one solution. I think just asserting an argument instead of building up the fictitious enemy would be an easier solution.

  7. there are several different schools of feminism… with different approaches to motherhood and family. a broad term, indeed.

  8. I can’t wait to see what you come up with! I’m really excited for you, I know it’s heavy stuff that you’re dealing with, but you have such a gift for wading through these sorts of issues.

  9. This post ROCKS! 🙂

    My brain is in the same place. This stuff is fascinating. And count me in as yet another Christian sick to death of the “feminism is Satan!” mantra.

    My only suggestion would be to add in Bill Gothard to your study of key players in the drama (maybe you already have). He also seemed to be a pivotal figure—his “umbrella of protection” teachings are now completely mainstream and found in childrearing instructions (Ezzo, Tripp, etc) and marital resources (CBMW, etc).

    *cheers from the audience*

    I am so glad you are wading into these waters.

  10. You’re right about Gothard! DOH! You’re the second person to remind me of him (the other reminder was via email). HOW COULD I FORGET? Now I gotta get a hold of some of his stuff. I wonder where. . . .

  11. I think that the *seriousness* of physical punishment is so undermined by the casual approach used with spanking today. I truly do not believe for one second that God intended slaps on the bottom to be a primary parenting tool. I was so fortunate to attend a homeschooling conference with the wonderful Sally Clarkson (wholeheart.org) who talked about child training, and all the things that we should, as Christian parents, be doing to actually teach and train our children. Spanking, she said, “should be rare, if at all.” I have to agree with that. I personally believe that physical punishment is a severe consequence, that should be used as a last resort with a hardened heart situation… but hopefully most children would not get to that point of disobedience and rebellion. Especially in our day and culture, which is not as “authoritarian” as it was once upon a time.

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  13. I was weaned on “I am woman, hear me roar” so I am very interested in what you find out. I LOVE your blog.

  14. I got the biggest kick out of this article tonight. I remember Danny coming and preaching at BJ (chapel, BC?? I don’t remember). He’s an interesting character. Anyway, I thought this article was a good one. We’ll see if the FBFI actually responds, LOL.

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