Growing Up Protestant, by Margaret Lamberts Bendroth

The popular psychoanalyst Alice Miller assesses the intersection of children's lives with Christian values and concludes that the Christian tradition functions as a "poisonous pedagogy" for those who seek child-rearing advice. The historian Philip Greven writes about the intimate relationship between a Christian worldview and the physical abuse of children. Too often newspaper headlines highlight crimes against children motivated by religious convictions. This reductionist reading of Christianity has not been answered by more balanced Christian perspectives on the nature of the child and the complexities of discipline. Rushing into the gap are fundamentalist authors like James Dobson who, once again, exhibit a narrow reading of biblical and Christian values.

Fortunately, a new day has arrived for Christian parents and children, as an ever-widening circle of scholars are uncovering and publicizing the diverse, vibrant and nurturing riches of the Christian past. Contemporary research makes clear that alternative resources abound for those who wish to think theologically about the nature of children, discipline and parental responsibilities. Margaret Lamberts Bendroth, a professor of history at Calvin College, is one of the scholars who has taken up the necessary work of organizing Christian thinking on the family. According to Bendroth, her book originated as part of the "Lilly Endowment project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith" at Valparaiso University. Also contributing to the enterprise is the work of scholars from two additional working groups: the "Family, Religion, and Culture" project at the University of Chicago and the "Child in Christian Thought" project at Valparaiso University.

Bendroth reviews the role of religion in America during the past 100 years in order to "summarize and reflect upon a long discussion about Christian child rearing, the role of godly parents, and the meaning of religion in modern life." The subjects of her research on "domestic piety" are "white, middle-class mainline Protestants, here principally northern Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and Congregationalists, generally moderate to liberal in theology." She observes three distinct emphases at work in the Protestant tradition: "It defines parents as positive agents of grace in the lives of their children"; it argues for the importance of "reinforcing social institutions," such as schools and churches; and it emphasizes "respect for the separate world of children" and the "integrity of each child's religious growth and development."