NURTURING CHILDREN IN THE LORD, by Jack Fennema; Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1979; 162 pp., paper, $4.95. (Reviewed by Gertrude Hoeksema)
In five chapters plus a foreword and an afterword, the author gleans from Scripture the principles of the nurture of children, and explains them from a Biblical perspective. In the first chapter, which is also the longest, the author establishes “A Biblical View of the Child,” and treats the pertinent subjects of the child as created by God, the child as image-bearer, the child as a sinner, and the child as a new creature in Christ. The chapter ends with two subtitles on the child and motivation, and the child and learning.
Mr. Fennema devotes the rest of his book to the practical applications of these Biblical principles. In chapter two he defines discipline as nurture; and he divides the nurture of the child into three parts: Biblical instruction, Biblical chastening, and Biblical counseling or admonition. These three parts are also the titles of his last three chapters.
Many of the author’s concepts are lucid, Biblically grounded—he uses Scripture’s words very often as the basis for his statements—and they have appealing common sense. Especially in his concept of discipline of the child, he captures the Biblical idea of discipline in the sense of the training of the whole child. Also many of his practical suggestions for preventive and corrective discipline would be helpful for parents or teachers.
However, there are serious flaws in the book. Although the author sometimes arrives at correct and even helpful solutions to discipline problems, he does so despite his incorrect basis and his faulty view of the child. For his basic principles are not truly Biblical, nor are many of his conclusions about the nurture of the child Scripturally grounded.
In his “Biblical View of the Child,” for example, he states that man was created in the image of God, and explores the meaning of that statement. Following that, he says, “Although the Fall distorted man’s perception of beauty, he can develop his innate ability to appreciate and create products of beauty. . . . He is called as an image-bearing creation to give expression to the beauty of God’s holiness and holy array evident within himself and in the world,” p. 17. In this passage and many others, the author denies that man lost God’s image and became the image of the devil, remaining a creature capable of bearing God’s image only through regeneration. The author’s logical conclusions then are: “The image may have become distorted, blurred, and misdirected because of the Fall, but children continue to bear a semblance of the image of God. This fact has important significance for how one treats children. They are to be viewed and treated as persons who have both dignity and worth,” p. 19. That leads to his differentiation between “total” and “absolute” depravity, so that for him “total depravity means that each thought, word, and action of man has within it the taint of sin. Absolute depravity, however, means that each thought, word, and action of man is so absolutely corrupted that there is no redeeming feature whatsoever,” p. 20. He chooses the former, and embraces the idea that “God has chosen to restrain evil within this world so that his divine purposes can be carried out,” by means of the various kinds of good man can do. He concludes by stating, “But these types of good actions are conducted only on a horizontal, man-to-man, human level,” p. 20. His summary, then is that “all schools can be places of mutual respect and order,” p. 2 1. All of this is based on the theory of common grace, which we as denomination officially rejected as unscriptural in 1924.
One more example from the first chapter will suffice to illustrate the author’s lack of clarity in stating the relationship of the child to God. On the one hand, he says, “Children are totally religious beings!” p. 3. And in a certain sense that is true, for all our children’s thoughts and actions are or should be motivated by the knowledge and love of God. On the other hand, however, he says that the child’s sense of value and dignity must be received from the important people in his life—which, too, in a certain sense, is true. The confusion arises because the author talks about “man” and “children” in general, and fails to draw the sharp lines of distinction between the godly and the ungodly, between the covenant child and the child of Satan, and between the church and the world. That is not to say he does not mention sin and grace, and Christ’s sacrifice. He does. But his lines of distinction between Christ’s’ seed and Satan’s seed are fuzzy, at best. Mr. Fennema does not use sound Scriptural, Reformed language.
His lack of sharp lines between sin and grace, the righteous and the wicked, carries over into his practical applications. He says in his chapter on preventive discipline, “Children are made in the veryimage of God,” p. 61. Which children? Again, “Children are loved by God,” p. 61. Again, which children? Or, “Children already possess dignity and worth,” p. 62. Children of Satan? Or of God? On page 66, when the author tells us, as parents or teachers, to love all children, not just certain ones, he bases it on the fallacy that “He (Jesus) comes to people in their unlovable condition and loves them exactly as they are,” forgetting that the “wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth,” Ps. 11:5, and that He loves His own “unlovables” only through Christ’s atoning blood, by grace.
As he discusses how Biblical discipline is taught, the author posits several propositions, two of which are: “—Man is a religious being meant for eternal life. —God is creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of the world,” p. 82. Is this some sort of universalism? I do not know. But it is not Biblical and it has hazardous results, if brought into the classroom. The following is one of the dangers: from a Statement of Purpose (from Covenant College, Tennessee), one purpose is “to reclaim the creation for God,” p. 87. I do not really know what that means, but it smacks of postmillenialism. Several dangers come under the heading of authority. “God has a divine purpose for mankind and the world,” p. 98. In a certain way, that is true, but the author does not explain that His purpose is not the same for all men. In connection with God’s purpose of freedom for man, these startling words appear: “God gives laws to obey and directions to follow, but he does not coerce or manipulate man into obedience. He allows man the choice to obey or to disobey,” p. 99. Scripture teaches that God always calls to obedience and repentance (see Deut. 11:19-22). Again, in connection with freedom, the author says, “Although pure democracy is not a biblical concept, in reality, the life within the classroom should be more democratic than autocratic,” p. 103. Does he mean that “Scripture forbids, but do it anyway?”
In the section on corrective discipline, the author advocates that discipline problems between teachers and students be treated as conflicts to be resolved according to Matthew 18 ; and he doubts that Proverbs’ references to the rod of correction are “commands to physically correct a child,” p. 121, again conflicting with Scripture’s clear teachings on authority. These fallacies must not enter our covenant homes or classrooms.
Because of its distortion of Biblical principles in many areas, because of the lack of the antithesis and the whole idea of the covenant in the book, and because of the resultant misapplication of many practical guidelines, I would not strongly recommend this book for the Reformed Christian.