From a reader:

“I read this in a church bulletin recently and it was confusing. It is amazing to me how detailed description can seem to make something into something it is not. Would you reply to his writing so that I can understand your beliefs and not what he states your beliefs to be?”

Taken from a church bulletin:

Flaws in the Pearls

A great many parents listen to the advice of Michael Pearl. In the midst of all the good advice, have they heard everything?

Michael Pearl does not believe in the imputation of Adam’s sin to all human beings. (He does not believe in the total depravity of man.) He writes, “When a descendant of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation.” Pearl adds, “When man reaches his state of moral accountability, and, by virtue of his personal transgression, becomes blameworthy, his only hope is a work of grace by God alone.”

This seems like a minor quibble, but it is profound. The Bible’s teaching that all human beings have an inherited sin nature means that no human institution has the ability to purge sin and do away with guilt. Only Christ can change our nature. Throughout history, teachers consistently attack this doctrine in order to tell their followers, “If you put yourselves under my authority, you can learn the secret to getting rid of your sins.”

Pearl imposes on parents the mandate to form godliness in a child before the “age of accountability.” Pearl believes that parents have a direct role in saving children. The “hope” he offers in “a work of grace by God alone” is (only) for those whose parents failed.

Michael Pearl also believes that spanking delivers a child from guilt.

Because Pearl does not believe you inherit a sin nature, he articulates a new doctrine of salvation that is dependent on a parent’s will. In his article, “In Defense of Biblical Chastisement,” he writes, “When a child is bound in self-blame and low self-esteem, parents are not helpless. God has given them the gift of the rod. The rod can bring repentance, but it goes much deeper than that. The rod in the hands of a righteous authority will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves. Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.” That simply annuls the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Notice that forgiveness is granted only on the basis of the punishment of the sinner, and that a human “righteous authority” is the source of this “gift.” “All indebtedness is paid,” Pearl says, not by Christ, but by the rod. No parent can believe this statement without also believing that he or she has the authority to cleanse a child of guilt.

Pearl goes much further: “To the child, a righteous parent is a surrogate god, representing the rule of law and the bar of justice. When the child is yet too young to fathom God, he is nonetheless able to relate to his parents in the same manner that he will later relate to God. The properly administered rod is restorative as nothing else can be. It is indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very conscience (nature) demands punishment, and the rod supplies the needs of his soul, releasing him from his guilt and self-condemnation. It is the ultimate enforcer, preserving the child in authority and discipline until he is old enough to submit himself to The Eternal God.”

These statements are the logical and inevitable application of his semi-Pelagian view of sin. Before the age of accountability, O parent, thou art a god.

To spank a child as a reasoned limitation on his or her behavior is one thing. But to imagine that you are purging the child of the guilt of sin, and that the pain is psychologically purifying, is to cross into another rationale entirely. In the wrong mind, it forms the imperative to “give” more and more pain. Such a mind would ignore Pearls warnings against abuse, to be sure, but not necessarily his logic.

Michael Pearl responds:

Below is all the text found in the church bulletin attribute to my (Michael Pearl’s) writings—287 words in all. Upon reading it, I was immediately aware that I was seeing much it of for the first time. By doing a search of the books I have written, I discovered that 140 of the 287 words are a complete fabrication. In addition, in the text that is indeed mine there were several inaccuracies—deletions, additions, and word changes.

 

Below is all the text attributed to me.

The bold italic text is all fabrication. I never said it.

“When a descendant of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation.”

“When man reaches his state of moral accountability, and, by virtue of his personal transgression, becomes blameworthy, his only hope is a work of grace by God alone.”

“If you put yourselves under my authority, you can learn the secret to getting rid of your sins.”

“…age of accountability.”

“…a work of grace by God alone”

“When a child is bound in self-blame and low self-esteem, parents are not helpless. God has given them the gift of the rod. The rod can bring repentance, but it goes much deeper than that. The rod in the hands of a righteous authority [I said discerning parent, not righteous. He changed discerning to righteous in order to strengthen his argument below where he uses righteous authority again] will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves. Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”

The following two sentences are his words. I display them here to show the context of his change from discerning to righteous:

“That simply annuls the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Notice that forgiveness is granted only on the basis of the punishment of the sinner, and that a human “righteous authority” is the source of this ‘gift.’

To the child, a righteous parent [There is that “righteous parent” again substituting himself for God] is a surrogate god, representing the rule of law and the bar of justice. When the child is yet too young to fathom God, he is nonetheless able to relate to his parents in the same manner that he will later relate to God. The properly administered rod is restorative as nothing else can be. It is indispensable to the removal of guilt in your child. His very conscience (nature) demands punishment, and the rod supplies the needs of his soul, releasing him from his guilt and self-condemnation. It is the ultimate enforcer, preserving the child in authority and discipline until he is old enough to submit himself to The Eternal God.” [“The higher powers” was what I wrote.]

give

…a work of grace by God alone.” [I would like to take credit for that one, but I didn’t write it.]

287 total words attributed to Mike; 140 are a complete fabrication

Of the several quotes attributed to my writings, none are entirely accurate, and some are complete fabrications. The first quote attributed to me, 63 words, is not in any of my writings. It is an attempt to summarize what I have written, but it is just not my words.

The next paragraph attributed to me contains 118 words. The first 50 words are entirely false and certainly do not represent anything I have ever written or said. It contains words I have never employed and concepts I have never endorsed, like “To the child, a righteous parent is a surrogate god.

The latter half of the paragraph, except for several words either added, omitted, or changed, is an accurate quote except for the crux of the entire paragraph, the last three words, which are a complete fabrication, replacing my words, “the higher powers” with the words, “the Eternal God.

The sentence as I wrote it said, “It [the spanking instrument] is the ultimate enforcer, preserving the child in authority and discipline until he is old enough to submit himself to the higher powers.” My point, well delineated in the context, is that parents have the responsibility to teach their small children the principles of responsibility and accountability before they are old enough to become violators of moral, social, and civil law. When we discerningly use the rod to communicate to small children that rebelling against the rules carries certain unpleasant consequences, we ready them for the day they become mature enough to relate to the “the higher powers”—parents, school teachers, policemen, judges, property owners, store managers, and God.

I wrote “the higher powers” with “powers” in plural and in all lower case letters. If I had wanted to say “The Eternal God” I would have done so. I ask, why does my critic want me to say something different from what I said? Why did he find it necessary to change my words in order to find fault? His quote is a lie, his criticism slander. Why? To what end?

My critic wrote:

“Pearl believes that parents have a direct role in saving children…That simply annuls the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Notice that forgiveness is granted only on the basis of the punishment of the sinner, and that a human “righteous authority” is the source of this ‘gift.’ ‘All indebtedness is paid,’ Pearl says, not by Christ, but by the rod. No parent can believe this statement without also believing that he or she has the authority to cleanse a child of guilt.”

Michael answers:

I have never suggested that parents play any mediatorial role in the new birth of their children. No sincere person who has read my material could mistakenly believe that I think parents are gods.

Those who seek to misrepresent what I have taught seize upon the analogy I make between the child’s early relationship to his parents and his later relationship to God. Concerning children too young to understand God and his legislation of moral law, I have asked the question, “Must we allow small children a dispensation of indulgence (between birth and, say, six years old) before we introduce the concept of personal accountability to God? Is there a way to begin training small children to respect authority and exercise self-control in the same manner as they must do when much older?” Many times I have made the point that the two-year-old who cannot know God can nonetheless be taught to relate to his parents just as he will later relate to God. The parent’s responsibility is to communicate to their small children:

• There is a power higher than one’s self—parents today, God tomorrow.

• That power is loving and merciful, dedicated to the child’s best interest, as reflected in the parents today and later revealed in the Word of God when they are old enough to read with comprehension.

• That higher power has made some rules for our own good that must be observed. Daddy and Mama are the only rule-maker and enforcer the small child is capable of fathoming.

• When the rules are broken there are unpleasant consequences—from parents today, and from God in eternity.

• When the parents’ rules are broken and the child feels guilt and shame, the feeling of guilt can be removed by confession and accepting the consequences bravely. Someday the child will come to understand that God operates by the same rules under which his parents raised him.

• There is mercy and grace after failure.

• The child is renewed in soul by his parents’ loving discipline.

• Parents, and later God, are grieved by the disobedience of their charges and are willing to lay down their lives to secure the best possible end for the child.

• The child finds great security and comfort in this relationship with his parents that parallels an adult’s relationship with God.

All of this and more can be taught, in seed form, to a one-year-old child. Raised in a nurturing environment of law and discipline, a child will become thoroughly confirmed in these divine principles. Such early training assures parents that when their child is old enough to relate to God he will already be familiar with and surrendered to the principles of submission to the loving rule of law. God did promise, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15).

My critic falsely accuses me:

“Pearl says, not by Christ, but by the rod. No parent can believe this statement without also believing that he or she has the authority to cleanse a child of guilt.”

This is too silly to answer. The clear meanings of words don’t matter when someone has a consuming agenda to condemn regardless of the facts. It is clear in all my writing that the forgiveness of which I speak is the parent forgiving the child. The two-year-old does not feel guilt before God. When he has willfully transgressed against his parents’ rules and he hides his misdeeds in shame, he has a psychological need to be cleansed of his guilt and restored to fellowship. This the parent can do through the proper application of the rod and reproof.

On page 37 of our very first book, To Train Up A Child, I wrote:

“You cannot prevent your child from the life of testing that his body of flesh will bring, but you can train him in self-denial so that he will not develop habits of selfish indulgence. The rod is your divine enforcer. ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom…’ (Prov. 29:15).

“Understand that we are not suggesting that a child can be trained into the Christian experience, only that his mind and body should be developed to their highest possible natural discipline. By elevating his standards and causing him to value truth and purity, you are aiding the Spirit in convicting him of sin, which, in time, will cause him to realize his need for a Savior. This is the lawful use of the law.”

To Train Up A Child, page 32:

“As the child relates to the figurehead of parental authority, in like manner he will later be prone to relate to God. If parents allow their commands to be treated lightly, the child will take the commandments of God lightly also.”

My critical critic writes:

“Michael Pearl does not believe in the imputation of Adam’s sin to all human beings. (He does not believe in the total depravity of man).”

This is the one point on which my critic is half right. I do indeed believe that the sin of Adam was imputed to all his posterity so that all are born dead in sin and separated from God. Listen to my audio, Sin Nature.

But as to total depravity, I am a Bible believer, not a Calvinist. The term “total depravity,” as used by the Calvinists, means something other than what you and I believe, that all men are totally separated from God and in need of a redemption which they cannot provide for themselves. To the Calvinists, “total depravity” means depravity of will, as taught by Luther in his acclaimed book The Bondage of the Will. It is the belief that no unregenerate human being can choose to do the righteous thing. His will is in bondage to choosing only evil. Luther’s book The Bondage of the Will is the best argument I have ever read against the theory it propounds.

Jonathan Edwards, another notable Calvinist, followed Luther’s logic and wrote in his book Freedom of the Will that not even God has a free will.

To sum it up, I do indeed believe in depravity as the Bible teaches it, but not as the Calvinists teach. What the Calvinists dare not admit is that the vast majority of their church members also do not believe in total depravity as taught by Luther and Calvin.

The Critics Clamor:

“Pearl imposes on parents the mandate to form godliness in a child before the ‘age of accountability.’ [I never use the term “age of accountability” and do not believe there is a certain age at which a child becomes accountable before God.] Pearl believes that parents have a direct role in saving children. The ‘hope’ he offers in ‘a work of grace by God alone’ is (only) for those whose parents failed.”

Michael responds:

I am embarrassed for this writer. He is saying that I teach that parents can impart salvation to their children through training, and that only those parents who “failed” to properly train must resort to “a work of grace by God alone.” There is no way he could have read my material and come to such an absurd conclusion. I cannot but conclude that like many other critics, his false attacks, attributing words to me that I never wrote, adding and changing my words, imagining the wildest, most absurd doctrines, arise from a motive other than a desire for the advancement of truth.

Building Straw Men

The internet is full of quotes attributed to me that I never uttered or wrote. So far, I have never read a critic that accurately represented what I write or believe. They always build straw men and then publicly beat them down as if they have disposed of a terrible enemy. If you want to challenge something I teach, first read what I have written and then challenge it according to Scripture. Such a dialogue helps us all purify our thinking, but false charges profit no one.

Reflection

I say to the lady who forwarded the content of her church bulletin to me, I am sure that when the church that printed this man’s false charges reads of his error, they will print a retraction in their church bulletin. Look for it next Sunday. But if they don’t, please forgive them and don’t take up offense for me. Our ministry is rapidly expanding. For every critic there are a thousand families being blessed. Just know that some churches get nervous when they become aware that faithful members of their congregation are being significantly impacted by a para-church ministry. They immediately assume that someone is trying to “steal their sheep.” They often go on the offensive, finding fault. And when ministers become aware that the other ministry phrases their theology differently, well, you know the rest.

There are no perfect men and no perfect churches—just a perfect Bible. Read it and believe it. All of us ministers are passing. We flame for a little while and then are gone, replaced by another son of Adam. Place no confidence in man, including Michael Pearl, for his confidence is in God’s Word alone.

Update December 10, 2010

Retraction, with Apologies

Last issue I falsely accused my critics by saying that one of the passages they attributed to me was “just not my words.” In fact the first quote, composed of 63 words, was indeed written by me over ten years ago and placed on our web site as part of the statement of faith. I had searched all my books and pamphlets and did not find it; I did not think to search the web, and so falsely accused my critics. I am indeed sorry for any consternation I may have caused them. I do not know who they are, so I cannot apologize to them directly. I hope this public statement will suffice.

Here are my words as recorded on the web and correctly noted by my critic:

“When a descendant of Adam reaches a level of moral understanding (sometime in his youth) he becomes fully, personally accountable to God and has sin imputed to him, resulting in the peril of eternal damnation.

“When man reaches his state of moral accountability, and, by virtue of his personal transgression, becomes blameworthy, his only hope is a work of grace by God alone.”

In reference to the above quote, I wrote, “The first quote attributed to me, 63 words, is not to be found in any of my writings. It is an attempt to summarize what I have written, but it is just not my words.” Then, later, I wrote, “I would like to take credit for that one, but I didn’t write it.” But I did write it, and now I can proudly take credit for it. I never repudiated the content of the quote. I said, “It is an attempt to summarize what I have written…” My only contention with that quote was that I thought I hadn’t written it.

It is false quotes like, “If you put yourselves under my authority, you can learn the secret to getting rid of your sins” that were and still are slanderous.

So I must revise my former contention and make a correction. Of the  287 words attributed to me, 77 of them were just not my words. They were taken from the web, where Lesbians and Leftists make it their life’s mission to slander all that is holy, just and good.

—Michael Pearl