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Jiminy Christmas! What were you thinking, letting me ramble on like that in the last post! 2100 words! Speak up when I do that!

But somewhere in among the concordances and Schenker graphs and my Aunt Diane’s potato salad recipe back there, I made a promise to look at the concordance for another kind of Christian parenting book, so here’s a coda.

Compare the concordances for (shudder) John MacArthur’s What the Bible Says About Parenting and another Christian parenting book called Parenting With Love and Laughter: Finding God in Family Life, or PLL, by Jeffrey Jones:


You may remember that a particular cluster of frequent words in What the Bible Says About Parenting set my teeth on edge last time — OBEDIENCE, OBEY, SIN, DUTY, EVIL, FEAR, AUTHORITY, DISCIPLINE, COMMAND, COMMANDMENT, SUBMIT, LAW, INSTRUCTION, etc. But of those 13 words, not a single one appears in the top 100 of the Christian parenting book by Jeffrey Jones.

On the contrary, the Jones book seems to favor more humane, loving language and ideas. The word choices in What the Bible Says About Parenting indicate a view of childhood as a period of numb, acquiescent discipleship. You’d think these two were coming at the world from very different points of view — and you’d be right.

You might even be tempted to say the concordance of PLL has more in common with Parenting Beyond Belief than either does with the other. You’d be right there, too. Of the top 50 words in Parenting with Love and Laughter, precisely half are also in the top 50 of Parenting Beyond Belief. But PBB shares only one quarter of its top 50 words with What the Bible Says. Coincidence? I think not. Common words, to a point, reflect shared ideas. MacArthur would surely be as thrilled as I am to be placed solidly in separate camps.

So how can two Christian parenting books differ so dramatically in their essences–at least so far as the concordances reveal?

Of Love and Law

I’ll let Bruce Bawer handle this one.
Author/commentator Bawer (Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity) wrote a piece in the New York Times ten years ago while the Presbyterians were tearing themselves apart over the ordination of gays — just like the Episcopalians have done more recently. It was a sharp and illuminating piece that instantly snapped the American religious landscape into perspective for me. Here’s a taste:

American Protestantism…is being split into two nearly antithetical religions, both calling themselves Christianity. These two religions — the Church of Law, based in the South, and the Church of Love, based in the North — differ on almost every big theological point.

The battle within Presbyterianism over gay ordinations is simply one more conflict over the most fundamental question of all: What is Christianity?

The differences between the Church of Law and the Church of Love are so monumental that any rapprochement seems, at present, unimaginable. Indeed, it seems likely that if one side does not decisively triumph, the next generation will see a realignment in which historical denominations give way to new institutions that more truly reflect the split in American Protestantism. — THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 April 1997

Though Bawer is talking about Protestants, the same fault line runs down the middle of American Catholicism, between venomous literalists and social justice-loving practitioners of genuine agape–unconditional love. And I don’t think it’s hard to see which of the above books is in which camp.

Christians I know are too quick to dismiss the “church of law” as an aberration, something unfortunate but…you know… over there somewhere. And atheists are often just as quick to overlook the presence of the “church of love.” My major complaint with that side of American Christendom isn’t that they have supernatural beliefs. As long as they do good with them, who cares? My complaint is that the church of love does far too little to confront its ugly fundamentalist stepsister. Worse yet, it arms her by indiscriminately promoting faith as a value in and of itself.


I think Bawer’s model is revealing, and I think the concordances back it up nicely — one from the church of love, the other from the church of law. Two very different brands of Christian parenting are in play there — one with which I can surely find plenty of common ground, and the other…well, not so much.

The central point of PBB, as noted in the Preface, is to demonstrate for parents “the many ways in which the undeniable benefits of religion can be had without the detriments.” There are some things to emulate, adopt, and adapt from religious parenting into the religion-free model — and the place to look is in the church of love, not law.

(785 words. That’s the ticket.)

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.