God in the Back Seat



“What is this new-fangled religion of yours, this novel sort of humility, that, by your own example, you would take from us power to judge men’s decisions and make us defer uncritically to human authority? Where does God’s written Word tell us to do that?


                                                        Martin Luther[1]


“The Bible requires children to honor their parents throughout life. When they are little this honor takes the form of obedience. But this obligation to obedience ceases when a new household is formed. If a boy were to obey his parents all the way through life, there is no way he could really leave them, cleave to his new wife, and establish a new household…. Children should leave home and make their own mistakes. If they have been brought up well, those mistakes will not be horrific.

“The parents should view themselves as successful if their seventeen-year-old boy wants to be away from home.


—Doulgas Wilson[2]



Daddy’s Clone


          I first downloaded Sarah Schlissel’s article on courtship and a father’s rights about a year ago. Sarah, who was nineteen when she wrote this article, is an influential speaker and writer about courtship and relationship issues. Her parents operate an online matchmaking service for reformed Christians. Sarah’s article “Daddy’s Girl: Courtship and a Father’s Rights” is found many places on the internet and is a favorite amongst courtship enthusiasts.

          Sarah begins her article by saying, “I’ve been Daddy’s girl from Day One.” She goes on to explain how


I've always wanted to do what Daddy was doing, go where Daddy was going, read what Daddy was reading, say what Daddy was saying. We have the same sense of humor, preferences, pet peeves, strengths and weak-nesses - even the same allergies. Little wonder people call me "Daddy's Little Clone."


          When I first read the above words I felt a slight sense of unease. When I got to the next paragraph I began to be thoroughly concerned.


Beyond being an X-chromosome donor, may we think of the “-‘s” in "Daddy's" in the possessive sense, and affirm with legitimacy that Daddy is my owner? That "my heart belongs to Daddy" is certainly true. But do daughters, per se, belong to their Daddies?


          Sarah answers this last question with an unhesitating ‘yes’. This idea of ownership then forms the basis of her argument for courtship. Hence she writes that


Any man seeking to beg, borrow or steal a daughter's hand without her father's endorsement is seeking to gain, in unlawful ways, "property" not his own. Daughters are Daddy's girls in the objective sense, and this particular daughter rejoices in that truth. I am owned by my father. If someone is interested in me, he should see him.


          Realizing that this radical stand may sound weird, Sarah goes on to prove the truth of her position with a simple syllogism. She begins with the major premise that “The creator of something is sovereign over that which he created.” The minor premise is then that God created all things, with the conclusion being drawn that “God is sovereign over all things.” So far so good, but then Sarah points out that this principle has further application with inanimate objects like a pot with a potter (Rom. 9:21). Finally, Sarah takes her argument that “to generate something is to have an implicit sovereignty over it” and applies it to a father’s sovereignty over his daughter.


God has made explicit his will that parents, as the immediate generative source of individuals, are to be revered for that very fact, and the rights of parents are to be honored, by children and society…. As strange as it may sound, in the peculiar relationship of the father and daughter, God, as it were, takes a back seat. God has created a hierarchy such that the daughter is directly answerable to her father, and her father then answers to God.


          God in the back seat? How does a jealous God feel being relegated to the back seat of a woman’s life? That doesn’t seem to come into the question.

          I am reminded of the time I tried to encourage a twenty-two year old man named Steve to seek a closer walk with Jesus. Steve brushed all my words aside saying, “That’s up to Daddy. Talk to him about it because he’s in charge of that part of my life.” As I later found out, Steve had heard a woman share her testimony about her relationship with Jesus and realized that something was missing from his life. When Steve told his father about this, the father responded by telling him to stop thinking about that sort of thing. Furthermore, he encouraged Steve to give him total control over that part of his life. He would serve as a sort of mediator between Steve and God. “That way you will not have to worry”, said Steve’s father, “because you can just relax in the knowledge that if there is anything you need do or know concerning Jesus, I’ll tell you.” That father was one of the leaders in the courtship movement.

             These two cases illustrate that in the courtship movement parental authority is being twisted and amplified to almost unthinkable proportions. Against the backdrop of such abuses, the temptation is to throw out authority completely. This is a temptation that, I must confess, I have not been immune to. Indeed, for many years I tenaciously avoided terms like ‘authority’ and ‘submission’, almost considering them to be dirty words. However, when the abuse of authority in one direction leads to an equally unbiblical approach in the opposite extreme, it is only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back to where it was in the beginning and we are no better off.[3] The solution is to find the Biblical balance. In this essay we shall be considering the Bible’s teaching on authority and how this teaching is being misused by many in the courtship movement.



Is the Old Testament Relevant?



In seeking to establish a Biblical balance on parental authority, I shall be drawing on both the Old and the New Testaments. I realize that some of my readers may find this difficult, especially as many of the teachers in the courtship movement have been criticized for relying on O.T. models. Such models, it is believed, are antithetic to the grace of Christ as revealed in the New Testament. Later we shall be considering what some of these O.T. models are, but at the moment it must be stressed that the problem is not that these teachers are relying on the O.T; rather, the problem is how they are using and interpreting the O.T. In opposing these teachers, we must avoid reacting into a false dichotomy between the Old and New Testaments that the Lord never intended. God did not start over at the time of the N.T. Just as the O.T. cannot be appreciated properly without seeing how it is fulfilled in the New, so the N.T. cannot be understood properly without appreciating how it builds on the foundation already laid in the Old.

Without the O.T. we are greatly handicapped in offering an adequate solution to much of the false teaching that is being given on parental authority. This is because whatever the N.T. has to say on the subject of parental authority, it builds on the foundation already laid in the Old. Thus, when Paul was writing to the Ephesians on the subject of parental authority, he rooted his teaching in the moral authority of Old Testament law.


Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)


             The reason Paul could quote the Sinai law when addressing Gentile children is because, through faith, Gentile believers have now been grafted in to God’s covenant family (Rom. 11:17). The result of Gentiles coming into the covenant is that they are heirs of covenantal laws and promises of the Old covenant.[4] Therefore, “Rather than neglect Mosaic law,” writes Jason Fletcher,


Christians have a theological responsibility to seek in the law given to shape the nation of Israel insight into God’s will for nations generally. This is because Mosaic law was never intended exclusively for Israel; its ethical principles originate in the character of God and are foundational to the creation order. Moreover, Jesus does not abolish Mosaic law but authoritatively reveals its underlying ethical intent, and Paul, although critical of the misuse and powerlessness of the law, also affirms its abiding ethical authority.[5]


Wisdom will be needed to know how to apply God’s laws in today’s world. If, as I shall argue shortly, wisdom was required to know how to apply God’s laws at the time they were written, how much more is this true in the world of today. Because we are culturally and politically very far removed from the time when God gave His people the law, there are many laws which seem irrelevant today. However, even in such cases, there are always guiding principles behind the laws that can be extracted and applied in our differing context. For example, in Deuteronomy 22:8 we read the Lord’s command that there be a parapet around the roof of the house. Just because we no longer live in houses with flat roofs does not mean we are free to simply disregard this command, for there are numerous ways that the principle behind such a law – appropriate caution and discretion – can be applied in today’s world. Similarly, the Old Testament laws that related to the theocracy of Israel or the ceremonial requirements that found fulfilment in the death of Christ, still contain truth to which we can and should attend.[6]

With that foundation, we are now in a position to examine what both the Old and New Testaments have to say on the subject of parental authority.


Authority over Sons


             As we have already seen from Paul, the foundation of the Bible’s teaching on parental authority is fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother…” (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16; Mt. 15:4; Eph. 6:2). Though this does not tell us very much about the actual functioning of parental authority, it does lay the foundation on which authority must operate. Children must seek, in all things, to honor to their parents. It would be a mistake to think that this commandment only applies to young children. No matter how old one may be, Jesus showed that we are still under the command to honor our parents (Mt. 15:3-6).

             Part of what it means to honor one’s parents is to honor the authority God has invested in them. Though all authority rests ultimately with God, the Bible shows that He has invested His authority to different human institutions. “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1; see also 1 Pet. 2:13-17) As this verse makes clear, the only legitimate authority is that which God has appointed. Now the Bible makes clear that God has invested His authority to certain human institutions, including civil magistrates, church government and the ‘government’ of the family.

             Within the family, scripture reveals that the husband has authority over the wife (1 Cor. 11:3 & 10; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; 1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet 3:1 & 5-6) and that both the husband and wife have authority over the children (Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20). Further, the Bible shows that just as parental authority functions differently over children than it does over adults, so it functions differently over males than it does over females. Let’s start with the second of these distinctions.

Both male and female are equal before God because both were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27); consequently, neither sex is superior or inferior to the other. At the same time, however, the Bible is clear that males and females were made for different reasons and fulfil different functions in the world (1 Cor. 11:7-9). Given this fact, we should expect the authority parents have over sons to function differently to the authority they have over daughters.

The authority that parents have over sons must gradually give way to autonomy. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Young men must be trained to leave their father and mother. It would be a mistake to view marriage as the moment of independence, as if a young man who has never learned to stand on his own feet is suddenly going to be capable of leading a wife and family. As Macaulay and Barrs point out,


Genesis 2:24 speaks of a man leaving his father and mother when he gets married. But this does not mean that marriage should be considered the moment of independence. The independence of the child should be a goal to which the parents aim. And it should be fostered deliberately so that with each succeeding year quietly and perhaps imperceptibly because of its gradualness, the child moves from being under the parents to being alongside them. The Bible gives no age at which this is to be achieved, but it is clearly the whole intention of the parent/child relationship. The parents are to view themselves only as in loco parente, that is, in the place of the parenthood of God. This is what should be uppermost in their minds. In the sense of having their children dependent on them, they are parents for only a short period. God alone is the child's permanent parent. Therefore, they are to aim at withdrawing gradually from their position of authority.[7]


          If one surveys the traditions of other cultures, we find that young men became independent no later than their late teenage years. In ancient Greece a boy was considered to graduate out of his father's care at eighteen; in Rome this stage occurred anywhere between fourteen and seventeen, while among the ancient Hebrews it was at twelve that a father relinquished the responsibility for his son to God. William Barclay explains that


In the Jewish world, when a boy had passed his twelfth birthday, on the first Sabbath after it, the father took the boy to the Synagogue, where he became A Son of the Law. The father thereupon uttered a benediction, “Blessed be Thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.” The boy prayed a prayer in which he said, “O my God and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day, which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes unto Thee, and declare with sincerity and truth, that henceforth I will keep Thy commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of mine actions towards Thee.”[8]


Much wisdom is contained in the above benediction. The passage from boyhood to manhood is one where the responsibility of parents is transferred to the responsibility of God. Though a son continues to be under the Biblical obligated to heed the wisdom of his parents (Prov. 1:8-9) and the elders in the church (Heb. 13:7 & 17), he is not to do so under the position of his parents’ headship. The son is no longer accountable to his parents but is directly accountable to God for his decisions. Thus, in Paul's discussion about human authority, he makes clear that "the head of every man is Christ" not his father (1 Cor. 11:3).



Authority over Daughters



Parental authority over daughters functions differently than with sons. While the authority parents have over sons is a provisional function that should lead into their future independence, the authority that a father has over his daughter fulfils a protective function. Just as the husband is supposed to protect the wife as “the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7), so the father has a responsibility to protect his daughters for the same reason. This is a difficult concept to grasp in a society that has come to believe that the male instinct to protect and look out for women (and therefore to treat them differently to men) is demeaning to the woman. This only shows how far removed we are from God’s law. According to scripture, women need to be protected and it is the man’s responsibility to do so. This comes across clearly in the numerous Old Testament laws relating to the protection of women. Though there is not space to do a study on the subject, the laws in Leviticus and Numbers gave Israelite women considerably more protection than they had under other Ancient Near Eastern societies. In fact, Israelite woman had more protection than even the women of today. One example of this is the way God’s law gives women considerably more financial protection than they have under the modern state.

If it is true that men are, in general, obligated by scripture to protect woman, how much more is it true that fathers are obligated to protect their daughters. Here again, the spirit of this age counsels us in the opposite direction. In an attempt to avoid the being ‘over-protective’, the fathers of today leave their daughters vulnerable to all manner of abuse and mistreatment. Yet as the Old Testament laws clearly indicate, it is the responsibility of men to protect women. God never designed that women should have an intermediate stage between being under their father’s protection and being under their husband’s protection when they float along autonomous and vulnerable. God never intended young women to say, “I’m eighteen now, so I can do whatever I like.” On the contrary, until a woman is given in marriage, scripture is clear that the father continues to be responsible for her well-being.

We see this principle operative in Numbers 30 where we read about the laws concerning vows. If a man makes a vow to the Lord or swears an oath, he is bound by it and not allowed to break his word. But if a woman makes a vow “while in her father’s house in her youth” (in other words, before she is married), it can be cancelled by her father, provided that he does so on the same day he hears of it. If the woman is married while under a vow she has made, or if she makes a vow whilst married, her husband has the authority to cancel it, again provided he does so on the day he hears of it. This law does not apply to widows or a divorced woman.

In order to find the correct application of this law, we must first understand something of Ancient Near Eastern legal theory. Jonathan Burnside has pointed out that “Modern scholarly assumptions on how to read biblical law are often based on the values of modern liberalism, particularly the ‘rule of law’ (the belief that adjudication should be governed by laws and not by people).”[9] Burnside explains that these assumptions leads us to approach biblical laws like we approach our own laws, that is, by looking at all the instances that the literal language of a particular law covers. However, a less anachronistic approach to the laws of the Ancient Near East (including the Old Testament legal code) is not to ask “What situations do the words of this rule cover?” but “What typical image(s) do the words of this rule evoke?” and “What situations (within known social contexts) does this rule make you think of?”

The image that the Numbers 30 law brings to mind is a situation where a father or husband is exercising protective authority over his daughter/wife. The principle behind it is the same as that behind all the laws given for the protection of women. If a woman binds herself by “vows or by a rash utterance from her lips” (Num. 30:6), it is the father or the husband who are ultimately responsible to see that the woman is protected from her own foolishness. It is God’s care and love which comes across here, as in all the other laws designed to protect women. And, of course, the issue of authority is just assumed. You cannot be responsible for protecting a woman that you have no authority over.

          At this point we can imagine the champions of courtship smiling contentedly to themselves. “Yes,” they will say, “you finally got it right Robin: a father’s authority over his daughter continues until she is married. Therefore, even if she is a grown woman Dad can still tell her what to do.” This is, in fact, what many people are now arguing, often legitimizing it on the basis of this Numbers passage. After all, they point out, if a father can overrule his daughter’s will on something as big and important as a vow to the Lord, then how much more should he have authority to overrule his daughter on smaller less important things. Does this passage, therefore, give fathers a kind of blank check to micromanage their daughter’s personal lives right up until they are married? I know one woman whose father believed he had the right to revoke his permission of the match right up until the minute they were wed. I understand that he did actually threaten to withdraw his authorization if his daughter didn’t exhibit the right attitudes, do her chores properly, etc.. She was in her twenties at the time. Similarly, Lindvall wonders whether this law in Numbers gives fathers the authority to nullify their daughter’s marriage vows.

We will deal with the question of marriage vows first. In Old Testament culture, marriage was not a vow but a legal contract. Girls could enter such contracts after the age of twelve and boys after the age of thirteen. While a marriage was not legal unless the woman gave her consent, it could be legal (though not always socially acceptable) without the consent of the father, provided the girl was at least twelve years of age. Further, there is no evidence that any Jews or rabbis ever thought to apply this law to the question of marriage. Rather, it should be seen in the context of the corpus of laws given for the protection of women.

Because the principle behind this law was God’s desire to love and protect women, fathers who use it as a blank check to exercise ungodly control are violating the spirit of this law. Since the Old Testament laws were meant to give us pictures that apply to the typical cases they make us think of, we simply cannot take a rule like this and then transpose the principle behind it (a father’s authority over unmarried daughters) to any scenario we like. In his book Studies in the Semiotics of Biblical Law[10], Bernard Jackson has suggested that disputes would not have been settled by seeing if they were ‘covered’ by the literal meaning of any given rule, but by seeing “whether the dispute is sufficiently similar to the picture evoked by the rule to justify its use in order to resolve the problem. If it is sufficiently similar, it applies, even though it is not the literal meaning of the words.” Because “how similar?” questions are evaluative, a good judge would have required more than just knowledge of the law; rather, he needed to have an intuitive sense of spiritual wisdom that could only be gained through a great deal of reflection on the whole of God’s law.

The Numbers passage clearly assumes that women will be making independent decisions, but this is not antithetic to a father’s protective oversight. Similarly, to say that an unmarried woman is under the protection of her father’s authority does not mean that she must always live at home or that she cannot pursue independent activities. Fathers are required to provide protective authority for their daughters, not oppressive authority over their daughters. Just as a husband’s authority over his wife is meant to be through servanthood and sacrifice (Eph. 5:25), so a father’s authority over his daughter should follow the same pattern. This authority is to be applied in love with a respect for the other-ness of the daughter.

          Understood properly, therefore, fathers do have a biblical responsibility to exercise loving protection over their daughter’s relationships, not least in a culture like our own where there are so many sexual predators lurking about. If women needed protection in Old Testament culture, how much more in our decadent age. In this regard, going back to courtship as it used to be practiced in previous centuries by responsible Christians, could be a good thing. The problem is that it is difficult to even begin to explore some of these solutions so long as they are sabotaged with other ideas like an unbiblical reliance on technique, authoritarian control, by exegesis, oppressive restrictions on cross gender friendships, together with unbiblical doctrines like emotional purity.

In his book Her Hand in Marriage[11], Douglas Wilson has made some progress trying to understand what Biblical courtship/Biblical dating might look like without these added factors, while being acutely conscious that, in the hands of the wrong kinds of men, his teaching on authority will lead to disaster. I would like to now look at some of the disasters that have resulted from an unbiblical application of parental authority.


Authority Gone Wrong



To apply a biblical principle without wisdom is like a proverb in the mouth of a fool, being as useless as legs that hang limp (Prov. 26:7). This frequently leads to a worse state of affairs than if the parents were to abdicate their authority completely.

We have seen that parents must raise their sons to be future leaders, to want to be independent of them. Distortions of the parental task occur when sons are trained to be perpetually dependent on parents, whether financially, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. Although we have seen that daughters are not being trained to be independent in the same way as men, they should still be being trained to be independent in the sense of being mature in their own right, having an independent dependence on the Lord, being able to make their own decisions, developing a strength of mind, having a sense of their own identity as individuals before God, etc.. All these things come naturally in a healthy environment, and are an essential preparation for marriage. On the other hand, when these elements or not in place for either the son or daughter, the transition into marriage can be unnecessarily rocky. As the Clinebells point out that


Young couples who have not completed the central task of adolescence - achieving a sense of identity - have a difficult time. They both desire and fear intimacy. It is difficult for them to let go of their dependency on parents and the wider peer group. They fear change and therefore hold on to old sources of satisfaction rather than taking the risk of discovering whether marriage can become their chief resource. Because of this, in-law problems often are acute. Since parents naturally have mixed feelings about losing their offspring's dependency, they may foster this unwittingly, not recognizing that it is hurting the marriage.[12]


          One young woman who went through the courtship system and whose family believed in excessive parental authority, wrote to me after she was married, saying,


I found that I was not very well-equipped for life as an adult, even a married woman. I did not know how to make decisions or how to have opinions and desires that may be different from an authority’s, personal boundaries, a real personality and identity of my own, or an independent relationship with God. I am learning, but it’s very difficult and at times painful.


          Jonathan Lindvall has gone so far as to teach that it is sinful for people to have opinions and desires different to those of their parents. In his Bold Parenting Seminar, Lindvall shares how he and his father had always disagreed over whether it was permissible for a Christian to drink a little wine. When Lindvall became an adult he began taking a little wine, to his father's extreme horror. But, as Lindvall said, "I've been taught all my life that, you know, as soon as you're an adult you...live by your own convictions, right? I decided the day I get married...I'm going to have my convictions instead of my dad's...."[13]

          One day Lindvall began to wonder if his actions in this area failed to honor his father. Then Jonathan imagined himself in a similar position with his own children. He realized that it was inconsistent to expect his children to obey and pass on his teachings when they were grown if he did not do the same to his father. Eventually, Jonathan concluded that he should accept his father's position and teach his children to be teetotalers, and teach them to teach their children to be teetotalers, etc. ad infinitum. Only in this way could Jonathan realistically expect his children to do the same with his teachings. Jonathan says,


    Even in a case where you know you are right, are you willing to give up your freedom?...Would it be a sin against God for me to defer my liberty and give in to my father?...

            “How much do you want your children to follow in your ways?”{the Lord is said to have asked}

              “Oh Lord, I want them to follow in my ways.”

              “Then how much are you willing to give up to your father in honor to see your children honor you?...” {the Lord is said to have replied}

               If I would defer to my father...I would have a guarantee that every single one of my children would walk with the Lord and pass it on to their children.[14]


          What is interesting here is the way Lindvall’s teaching subtlety undercuts the basic protestant doctrine of solo scriptura (‘scripture only’). Notice what is happening. Lindvall teaches his children that they must follow extra-biblical teachings of their grandfather, and that they must pass on his own extra-biblical ideas to their children. Carrying on in this manner - with the father of each successive generation adding a little more teaching to the collection - it wouldn't take long before a virtual Talmud of extra biblical imperatives had been amassed. Such imperatives (however few or many) are disastrous precisely because they are given an authority that properly belongs only to scripture (see Mark 7:7).

          Any father who elevates his own ideas to hold a status that is co-equal with scripture is attempting to wear God's shoes, which is nothing short of spiritual idolatry. Lindvall reveres the authority of Scripture in theory but then says or implies that a human medium is necessary in order to access God's revelation. Thus, instead of encouraging his children to be independently dependent on God under the authority of Scripture (which is one of the most precious gift parents can give their children), Lindvall attempts to turn his children into mere clones of himself. Lindvall has certainly succeeded in planting this vision in his children. On his website Lindvall shares a song that his daughter Bethany wrote for him on Father’s day. The chorus goes as follows:


I want to give you my heart

All my dreams, my time and love.

I set my eyes to observe your ways

That I may learn to please the Lord.


          It is not surprising that Lindvall’s daughter would feel like this about her father. From an early age, Lindvall shares, he has been


asking them to, from their heart, find fulfillment in serving with me. I am asking them to let me shape their ambitions, to shape their tastes or preferences, to aim their hearts as a warrior does arrows (Ps. 127:3-5). I am asking them to willingly give up exclusive focus on their individual desires. I want my children to give me their hearts--for their own sake.[15]


          It is revealing that in practice Lindvall puts a higher emphasis on children being their fathers disciples than their being Christ's disciples. Let me give an example. Recently a young man of twenty-one years wrote to Lindvall in a state of desperation. Unfortunately this young man's parents had recently become followers of Lindvall's teachings. This young man, however, did not agree with some of the ideas. "I could no longer live in a family of Lindvallians" this man wrote.  "I wanted to be a living, breathing, active, FREE Christian."

  The parents then wrote to Lindvall asking how they should handle their 'rebellious' son? Lindvall's advice to them - which unfortunately was implemented - was to completely cut this man off, not allow him any contact with his mother or 19-year-old brother and to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved" (1 Cor. 5:5).

 When the young man wrote to Lindvall, he pleaded with him to retract the advice given to his parents that he might once again be allowed to see his mother and his brother. Furthermore, the young man begged Lindvall to at least listen to his side of the story before making such a harsh judgement. Both these requests Lindvall squarely refused. Instead Lindvall wrote this man a very passive aggressive letter, stating that if he wanted to resume a relationship with his family he needed first to come under complete obedience to his father. Such obedience included the necessity to accept his father's opinions. Here is a quotation from the letter.


Sons are supposed to be extensions of their fathers... The fact that your opinions differ so markedly from your parents is evidence that you have never fully given your heart to them. Solomon appealed to his son (Prov. 23:26), 'My son, give me your heart.' A son is supposed to give his father his heart. That means he fully surrenders to his parents' desires, opinions, tastes, aspirations, etc."



          Lindvall’s steadfast refusal to listen and take into account what the son might have to say is not merely an isolated example of Lindvall's many errors, but is highly revealing of his basic orientation.  It is no exaggeration to say that Lindvall lives, and draws others, into a world where right and wrong become increasingly irrelevant regarding the operation of family relationships. Whether it concerns a wife whose abusive husband is a danger to her children and a threat to her own life, or a son who is being shunned by his parents, it never matters to Lindvall who is right or wrong since all that is required is blind, uncontingent obedience to the father/husband.

          One follower of Lindvall told me that if his daughter were to rebel and not repent, then he would stop feeding her, encourage his other children not to treat her as a sister in Christ, and finally help her to leave. Such “rebellion” can be for something as small as disagreeing with the family interpretation of the Bible. We thus see how the elevation of human authority above all else, even above the authority of Scripture, has created a world for Lindvall and his followers that is adverse to the small and weak - a world in which only the strong and powerful have a voice or a chance. We have already seen this in relation to marriage, with weakness in certain skills as grounds on which people are eliminated as candidates for marriage. Now we see this same stacking-of-the-deck-against-the-small-and-weak in Lindvall's insistence that biblical patterns of discipline include no place for a counsellor or parent listening to the child. The child simply has no voice no matter how unfairly he or she may be being treated.  Thus Lindvall writes (again in the letter already cited)


You assume that it is a scriptural requirement of a Biblical counsellor before advising parents how to relate to their children, that they hear the details of a conflict from both sides. Is this really what the Bible teaches? If you were advising parents about handling their disobedient children, do you believe you would be obligated to ask for the child's "story" before advising his parents to discipline him?... {Remember Lindvall is writing about a son who is twenty-one years old!}


As a father myself, I know how important it is that I listen to my children, that I am willing to learn from them, even from the little ones who are only a couple years old. If they feel I have unjustly disciplined them, my children always know that they can come to my wife or myself and explain. Because I am not perfect, I need to be able to accept input from my children when they come to me. I need to be able to go to them and say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong." Obviously there are times also when the child has a wrong attitude and needs to be silenced with no more 'back-talk,' and a discerning parent must learn to tell the difference rather than to simply perceive everything as a threat to his/her authority.

Regarding the theological side of the question, Lindvall writes,


The passage [Deut. 21:18-21] goes on to direct that after taking their son to the "elders of his city" and stating their accusation, the elders are to do something {namely, stone the son to death}. Interestingly, it never says anything about them pausing and listening to the son's side of the story.


Lindvall is certainly mistaken here since the Bible did command the people to listen to the "other side of the story", particularly when it concerns the weaker party, such as the stranger or the small and weak. In Deuteronomy 1:16-17, Moses wrote,


"Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, 'hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.  You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man's presence, for the judgment as God's.  The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.'"


Throughout scripture that Lord shows his character in making special provision for the weak, for children, orphans, aliens, wives and slaves - the very classes that normally would have had no rights in the customs of those days. Lindvall might argue that this injunction to "hear the small as well as the great" refers only to hearing the cases of under privileged men and not a principle that applies equally to sons, daughter's and wives. However, the entire context of this passage relates to judging righteously. If the Lord says "it is not good to show partiality in judgment" (Prov. 24:23) does this principle suddenly cease to apply when it comes to evaluating a father's judgement on his son or daughter? Lindvall says yes, both in cases where the death penalty would have been the result as well as today with parents and grown sons.

The fact that the Lord made provision for cases that were too hard for the people, shows that He was concerned about the details and facts in the judgment. Even though the legal code was quite explicit about the effects that certain behavior would incur, we see that in the actual outworking of the laws each situation was considered on its own merits, as in the case of the man who was caught working on the Sabbath. (Num. 15:32-36) In that case, Moses had to go and inquire of the Lord before they knew how to handle the situation. Although the laws for breaking the Sabbath and everything else were very clear, the application of those laws in everyday situations could only work as the Lord himself directed, which was no doubt because it required an attention to detail, circumstance and motive. As Jason Fletcher observes,


…the Torah was not seen as a flat, wooden or static collection. A discretionary element existed in its application, which helps explain why Moses placed such a premium on appointing judges who were ‘capable men’, ‘men who fear God’ and ‘trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain’.[16]


          As should now be clear, following God’s law was never a matter of playing connect the dots, feeding every situation through the same static model and then seeing what result comes out. Take the passage from Exodus 30 that we have already looked at. The teachers in the courtship movement are often fond of pointing out that because this passage and other laws relating to parental authority make no exceptions in the case of ungodly parents, it follows that parental authority functions across the board in an apodictic sense. Yet instances where parental authority has become corrupt, like other circumstantial anomalies not covered by these laws, are atypical to the images these laws were clearly designed to evoke. As such, these instances would fall under the adjudication of a judge’s wisdom.

          In addressing these difficult situations, wisdom does not occur in a vacuum. The Bible may not directly address cases of ungodly parental authority, but it does give general principles about authority that can be studied by those seeking God’s wisdom. For example, the Bible shows that our obedience to the authority of human government is contingent on other factors (compare Romans 13:1 with Acts 5:29.) There are many examples in the Old Testament where disobedience to civil authority was honored, because the authority had become corrupt. This principle can be applied, in wisdom, to the other forms of authority, such as authority within the home that is just as capable of becoming corrupt.



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[1] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and  O.R. Johnston (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), p. 69.


[2]    Douglas Wilson, Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing (Moscow, ID: 1997), pp. 162-163.


[3]    For an excellent discussion of the two opposite imbalances of Biblical authority, together with their relationship to the two most common Trinitarian heresies, see the outline for Douglas Wilson’s sermon “Marriage as Manifest Glory XXVIII: ‘What Headship is Not’” in Blog and Mablog at www.dougwills.com/ A recording of the entire sermon is available through Canon Press, Moscow ID.


[4]   See my book The Gospel of the Kingdom. See also chapter 4 of Douglas Wilson’s excellent book Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1997).


[5]    Fletcher, ibid.


[6]   See J. H. Wright Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Leicester: IVP, 2004) to see ways in which Old Testament social ethics can find meaningful application today.


[7] Ranald Macaulay & Jerram Barrs, Christianity with a Human Face, (British Edition, Inter-Varsity Press, 1978) p. 177.


[8] The Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1954) pp. 36-37.


[9]    Jonathan Burnside, “Licence to kill?” Cambridge Papers vol. 11, num. 2 (Cambridge, 2002), p. 2.


[10]    Bernard Jackson, Studies in the Semiotics of Biblical Law (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000).


[11]   Douglas Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage, (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1997).


[12] Howard J. Clinebell, Jr., and Charlotte H Clinebell, The Intimate Marriage, (Harper & Row Publishers, 1970), p. 113.


[13] Jonathan Lindvall, Bold Parenting Seminar, ibid.


[14]   Ibid.


[15]   Bold Christian Living E-Mail Newsletter, Issue #74 © 2000. Subject: Children's Hearts.


[16]  Jason Fletcher, “Mercy not Sacrifice: Mosaic law in Christian social ethics” Cambridge Papers Vol. 13, Number 4, 2004. See also Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (Leicester: IVP), 2004.