Behavior modification is ‘Godly character’

A lady with Proverbs 31 Ministries was doing a little infomercial on the “positive, encouraging” Christian radio station, K-Love (my daughters insist on listening).

The lady’s concern on this occasion was the motherly embarrassment of poorly behaved children. Her solution was to tell her children how to behave and state clear consequences for not behaving properly, so being polite was a better option than not. This, she said, was a way to instill “Godly character” in children.


Most people should (but probably don’t) realize this woman’s solution has nothing to do with theology, doctrine, or faith. Any parent of any belief system can use behavior-modification methods. No God, “biblical” or otherwise, is required for training children (and some pets) to believe one behavioral option is better than another. The brains and central nervous systems of most mammals can respond to that method.

I won’t venture a guess about whether some behavior modification methods are good or bad for children (or classrooms or even employees). My point has nothing to do with a judgment call on behavior modification in and of itself. The problem should be (but probably isn’t) clear: Once again in the arid lands of evangelicalism, character has nothing to do with a heart-felt response to a clear picture of divine grace, mercy, and love. “Godly” simply means “well-behaved.” And “character” means “not getting on mom’s nerves.”

What about character that lasts when no one is around to punish you for getting out of line? Trust me, I’ve seen children who were never given the choice to get out of line — at least not without facing significant punishment — and when they were older and on their own, all they could do is run wild.

There’s no chance to develop self-control when there’s too much authoritarian control.

But as we’ve seen in China and the late Soviet Union, authority can control many outcomes.

In my personal, limited observations, many unbelieving parents seem to stumble upon something like moderation and balance in their lives and their children’s lives — probably because they’re not listening to K-Love’s infomercials.



2 responses to “Behavior modification is ‘Godly character’

  1. This is an excellent post! And I agree completely. Awhile back I had a post entitled “Why are evangelical Christians so obnoxious?”, and in that post I state this: I think too many evangelical churches (whether directly or indirectly) still teach rule-based living, instead of grace-based and Spirit-based living. We give people rules to follow. We try to externally change their behavior…through rules, guilt, fear, etc. Rather…we should be teaching them to love God wholeheartedly and truly grasp how amazing the grace of God is! Love and gratitude brings change from the inside out.

    I don’t have children, and I am sure the best way to develop true Godly character can be debated and a number of different approaches can be effective. But I think your critique here is right on…


  2. Thank you for your encouragment!