In 2017, author Tom Nichols published a book titled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters. Nichols makes the case that we are experiencing “the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else” (p. 7).
His point? We no longer regard the “experts” with deference. And why should we? Television, radio, and the Internet are full of experts who usually have a variety of conflicting opinions. We’re left to draw our own conclusions about who is right and who is wrong, and often it seems we have to become our own expert. But in reality, we’re not the expert we’d like to be.
The knowledge explosion has taught us to find our own facts, and sometimes that’s a good thing. The reality, however, is that we all need guidance, advice, and coaching from those more knowledgeable and experienced than we are. This is particularly true when it comes to raising our children. As new parents, we’re fully aware of the fact that we don’t have a lot of parenting practice, and many times we’d like to turn to someone who could offer us good advice. The competing experts on the Internet can’t all be right, so where can we find a genuine expert?
If you want to know how something works, you talk to the one who built it. This is why many high-tech firms require their design engineers to sign nondisclosure agreements, forbidding them to share the knowledge of their work for a period of time after they leave the company. They recognize that the knowledge these employees possess is extremely valuable.
From the Bible, we learn that a Creator God exists. He created the plants, the animals, and us. As the designer and builder of our world, He is the expert. He designed how we are supposed to interact with each other, and how we are to prepare the next generation to live. To ignore His direction and guidance is to cut ourselves off from the best source of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in the universe.
How does this apply to raising our children? Let’s consider an example.
In Leviticus 12:3, we read that Israelite parents were commanded under the Old Covenant to circumcise their sons on the eighth day after birth. Today, there are plenty of opinions about whether or not circumcision is harmful. A quick Google search shows that there are experts on both sides of the argument. Some claim that circumcision helps prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Others claim that circumcision is cruel and causes unnecessary pain to the little babies. To whom do we listen? Do we ignore all the experts, formulate our own opinion, and share it with the world on Facebook? No. We listen first to the best expert—God. According to His instruction, though it is no longer physically required (Romans 2:29, et al.), properly circumcising a baby boy is not harmful. The arguments of others cannot change the fact that the best expert has spoken.
The Bible is full of more child-related direction from the God who created us. Broadly speaking, we are instructed to teach children all of God’s laws and statutes (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). In other words, a big part of our job as parents is to teach our children the application of God’s laws in daily life. If we abdicate or delegate that part of our roles as mothers and fathers, we are ignoring God’s design for us as parents. In fact, two of the Ten Commandments directly impact child-training. One is the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20:8–11), which requires parents to include their children in the observance of this weekly day of rest, providing a platform for vital instruction about who and what God is. The other is the fifth commandment. God commands us to teach our children how to show honor and respect, beginning with honoring us as their parents (Exodus 20:12). Another section of the Bible that is rich in child-rearing wisdom is the Book of Proverbs, which provides a wealth of practical advice for living, much of it framed as advice from a parent to a child. God expects us to pass that advice on to our children. In fact, this training should be clearly and regularly rehearsed, giving them a disciplined, consistent framework for life (Proverbs 19:18).
God is an expert whose words we must not ignore—worthy of our deference and respect. He designed and created us. He is a child-rearing expert.
There is another group of child-rearing experts that we would be wise to acknowledge: the elderly. We live in a time when older people can seem irrelevant. Often, they are unfamiliar with the latest technology, don’t know how to download the latest apps, and can’t converse in the latest slang. Yet, when it comes to the wisdom of a broader perspective on life, their years of experience are child-rearing gold. Job said, “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding” (Job 12:12).
You see, while God knows how families were designed to function, our parents and grandparents spent years facing the daily challenge of putting that design into practice, and they have had the opportunity to observe the results of their efforts, good or bad, throughout the succeeding years. Though they may not have degrees in child psychology or adolescent development, their years of experience and observation go a long way toward qualifying them as experts in raising children. They deserve a certain deference, and the Proverbs bear this out. Notice Proverbs 16:31: “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.” In fact, in Leviticus 19:32 we are commanded to rise in the presence of an aged person, showing deference and respect. Yet how often do we turn to our elders for child-rearing and other family-related advice? And grandparent-aged people often love children! Proverbs 17:6 puts it well: “Children’s children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.”
Paul’s words to Titus paint a picture of the relationship as it should be between older and younger generations. He wrote, “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things—that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed” (Titus 2:1–5). The picture is one of older men and women wisely, soundly, and patiently guiding and encouraging younger parents.
Our elderly possess the expert voice of experience. It may not be the voice of perfection, but no human expert will ever be perfect!
There are many knowledgeable “experts” with advice to give about raising children. When their advice aligns with the principles of the best expert, God, we should be willing to learn from them. And we should not forget that other, largely untapped source of child-rearing guidance, our older generation.
Our challenge lies in cultivating a desire to learn more, without becoming either over-awed or dismissive of the knowledge that experts can share. As parents, our education is never over.