Michael Pearl: Heretic?

I was first introduced to Michael Pearl and his book To Train Up A Child in the late 90′s, after my first child was born. As I’ve written before, the book’s practicality immediately appealed to my perfectionistic nature and I began to implement Michael’s advice on my toddler.

A few months after receiving To Train Up A Child my husband and I attended a seminar near our home given by Michael and Debi. I found Michael to be a funny, entertaining speaker and was impressed with the fruit of his methods–respectful, God-fearing children.

Thus began a decade of living under the influence of Michael & Debi Pearl. We began training our babies and toddlers to sit quietly through church. We strove to consistently demand first-time obedience from our children. We purchased plastic plumbing supply lines at Lowes and kept one of these “rods” in each room of the house, as per Michael’s instructions. I eagerly devoured No Greater Joy newsletters, books and videos. The Pearls’ methods worked–we received frequent compliments on our well behaved children–and so I forged ahead, willing to do whatever it took to put my kids on the path of “godliness”.

Then last year I read about this little girl, Lydia Schatz, being spanked to death by her parents with a plumbing supply line. This blog post, written by a personal friend of Lydia’s parents, gives an insider’s perspective on the situation. But Michael Pearl’s graceless, indifferent response to this tragedy was the straw that broke the camel’s back:

It has come to may attention that a vocal few are decrying our sensible application of the Biblical rod in training up our children. I laugh at my caustic critics, for our properly spanked and trained children grow to maturity in great peace and love…When your children finally find an honest mechanic or a trustworthy homebuilder, it will be one of ours…When your children apply for a job it will be at a company our children founded.

When they go to a doctor, it will be one of our Christian children that heals them with cutting edge innovation. When your adult kids go for therapy it will be one of our kids-become-psychologist that directs them to the couch and challenges them to release their self-loathing and embrace hope for a better tomorrow.

My five grown children are laughing at your foolish, uninformed criticism of God’s method of child training, for their kids—my 17 grandkids—are laughing . . . because that is what they do most of the time… Even my chickens are laughing . . . well, actually it more like cackling, because they just laid another organic egg for my breakfast and they know that it was that same piece of ¼ inch plastic supply line that trained the dogs not to eat chicken.

You can’t get far through No Greater Joy materials without getting a taste of Michael Pearl’s arrogance and tactlessness. But his response to Lydia Schatz’s death was completely devoid of compassion and Christian love. I was appalled! A child is dead and all he can do is laugh?

I began to do more research into the Pearls and their “fruit.” Gabriel and Rebekah (Pearl) Anast have a website called 7xSunday (they also own Urban Exodus) this is what Gabriel had to say in 2009 (emphasis mine):

I have not been working anymore. All I’ve been doing is studying the Word. And I did that because I think God told me to. It’s not because I wanted to… it really scared me. And we were really poor for those months. And a handful of people have supported us here and there by giving us a bag of wheat or food a few dollars.  And that’s fine… And we’re happy to live poor. We’ve done that our whole married life, Rebekah and I. We’re good at it…That puts me in a kind of a crazy place. It puts me in a place where, frankly, I can’t pay for the server, and uh… I can’t pay for my own food. I work 40 – 50 hours a week and I come home and there’s no paycheck. It’s not like I have a small paycheck; I have none. Zero dollars. Hard to live that way…Each person needs to give like Abel did; the first and the best. In some cases that might mean giving money or sharing your physical things with a man of God, the man that is teaching you. In a specific case, right now, it might mean giving money to Gabriel Anast…Now, I’m going to ask two things. If any of you send anything: This is what I need it to be: I need you to say, when you send me something… fifty cents, a bag of rice, a hundred dollars… anything (and I’m saying you’ll probably loose 7xS and WTM if you don’t… and that’s okay, maybe it’s time for 7xS to go away…

And Rebekah’s perspective in 2008:

Yeah, so what the electricity got cut off (in the summer). We cooked outside and had a big time doing it…My moment of doubt (“maybe we should turn off the websites”)was not in response to our *great need* but in response to nobody giving anything in return, and wondering if what we are doing is making any difference. It was a moment of doubt, and I repented.

What about the mechanics, entrepreneurs, doctors, and psychologists of which Michael boasts? In actuality Gabriel and Rebekah are living in poverty because he isn’t working at all! If you poke around 7xSunday long enough you will see, as I did, that Gabriel Anast has very bizarre ideas about Scripture and prophecy.

Rebekah (Pearl) Anast writes a blog, Dreaming Awake, in which she explains:

I am an author and freelance writer for homeschool magazines. Some readers have tracked me here, wondered about the pen name, and if these fantastic stories are really dreams, or just another outflow of my imagination and writing skills…this blog is reserved only and specifically for dreams that I have while totally and completely asleep…The dreams fall into several categories. Some of them are on par with an interesting or entertaining movie (Teaching Dreams) and others are more like a warning or call to pray or act differently (Assignment Dreams)and still others may, or may not, be prophetic in nature – premonitions of the future (War and Apocalyptic).

Again, reading through the posts and comments on her blog will give you a glimpse of their off-the-wall interpretations of Scripture.

But Gabriel and Rebekah aren’t the only ones in the family with erroneous theology; Michael Pearl has his own false theological ideas, including the denial of original sin. Catez Stevens gives the best overview on Pearl’s theology that I’ve found (emphasis mine):

In his teaching tape on Romans 1 Michael Pearl clearly teaches we are not born with a sin nature, and he re-emphasises this in his message on Romans 5, where he also states that “a sinful nature is a non-entity. That’s something made up”. He teaches that while we are under a curse we do not have sin imputed to us until a certain age, and that we are not born with a sinful nature but reach a stage of moral understanding and accountability…That is not a scripturally supported position – all are guilty before God and no age is set before sin is imputed.

In order to understand how Michael Pearl arrives at the position that we never have a sin nature we need to look at where an important part of this teaching is derived from – gnosticism. Gnosticism is the false gnosis(knowledge) that Paul and John both addressed in their letters to the early churches. The relevant part of gnostic teaching in regard to the Pearl’s doctrine is its dualism between spirit and matter, in which matter is seen as evil.

In Michael Pearl’s teaching tapes on the book of Romans, he repeatedly takes the position that sin works only in our bodies. In his tape on Romans 7 he says, “I don’t know any other preachers other than myself that teach this correctly”, and states, “The body of flesh is the seat of sin. Not my soul, not an old nature – the body of flesh.” He clarifies what he means by asserting that in the New Testament the word “flesh” refers simply to our physical fleshly body, and not our sinful nature.

The light bulbs began to go off for me. No wonder the Pearls stress the importance of teaching children self control! He believes children have no sin nature, that sin works only in the child’s body, thus the emphasis on parental control and discipline of that child’s body and its carnal desires.

Catez Stevens continues (emphasis mine):

By this doctrine the body is the source of sin – and therefore only the body needs to die in Christ rather than the whole person. Michael Pearl emphasises this when he says, “When God saves a soul he saves a body – he crucifies the body – takes the man out of the body and puts him in the spirit”….

Michael Pearl teaches that our body is crucified with Christ and there is no further need to die. He does not believe that we die to self, but that our self is “cut out” of our dead body. This dualism fits in with the Pelagian belief that we are born without a sinful nature, and leads into the doctrine of sinless perfectionism.

How does Michael Pearl explain Romans 7? In this chapter Paul speaks plainly about his struggle with himself, and says, “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me”. According to Michael Pearl, Paul is referring to when he was a child. Pearl says of Paul, “In his experience historically, at one point he was alive, he was not dead in trespasses and sins. He was probably 3 years old, maybe 4″.

Pearl then holds that Romans 7 is referring to Paul reaching an age of moral accountability. The idea that Paul is referring to his pre-Christian life in Romans 7 is not new, and has been put forward before by those who held that after his conversion Paul was sinless for the rest of his life. Finney, who was influenced by Pelagianism, advocated it.

However Paul’s struggle in Romans 7 is not only written in the present tense, but makes obvious reference in verse 22 to his regenerate state: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man”. Pearl dismisses this reference to Paul’s new heart by claiming that the unregenerate do delight after God from the inward man. That position contradicts scripture from the Old Testament to the New and is a manipulation of the text to fit a doctrine. There is also nothing in the passage which refers to Paul being a child, a fact he would mention in the way he does in his message on love in 1 Corinthians 13, where he says “When I was a child…”

Besides his denial of original sin, Michael Pearl also believes in sinless perfection. More from Catez Stevens:

As I went through Michael Pearl’s series on Romans I wondered how he would deal with Romans 12:2:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God”.

Michael Pearl states that this is only referring to having a better attitude towards the Jews, and to make it clear that he does not agree with the orthodox teaching of evangelical churches on Romans 12:2, he tells his listeners, “Your thinking is already fouled up with this passage”. He states, “this is not the basis for sanctification”, and says “it is a totally false doctrine to say the world wants to conform our thinking but the Holy Spirit transforms our mind”. What Michael Pearl teaches is that we are sanctified when we are born again, and from then on we sin no more. The physical body is dead, and thus so is sin. In his article Living Parallel Lives in the Same Space (No Greater Joy, Jan-Feb 2005) he says:

“These messages are not motivational teachings or principles for you to apply. They are the wonderful good news that Christ has done everything to free you from all sin, all the time, from this day forward, to sin no more.
… We should and can sin no more!
… I have been preaching and living this gospel of sanctification for many years. It is not a theory.”

At first this can appear scriptural – we are new creations in Christ and through confession and forgiveness we can say that we are sinless. But in Michael Pearl’s 1 John 1:9 – The Protestant Confessional he teaches that we confess sins at salvation but it is wrong to confess sins after salvation (Source: Fundamental Baptist Information Service). The essence of his teaching is that we are completely sanctified at salvation and go on to sin no more. He is saying that as the physical body is literally dead, so is our sin. We now sin no more as Christians. In the Pearl’s doctrine, sanctification, the process by which we become continually conformed to Christ, is turned into an instant aspect of inital salvation.

Michael Pearl is a false teacher whose child training techniques are based on his incorrect doctrine of sinless perfection and his denial of original sin. This is why I no longer agree with nor recommend No Greater Joy materials.

I will close with this quote from The Homemaker’s Corner:

The Pearls remind me of one of my Grandpa Van Nattan’s favorite jokes – A farmer had property next to a home for the mentally infirm. One day as he was hauling a load of manure by the place, there was an inmate standing inside the fence watching him. He called out to the farmer and said, “Hey, Mr. Farmer, what are you doing?” The farmer told him, “I’m taking this manure to put on my strawberries.” The inmate replied, “You ought to come in here! We get cream and sugar on ours!”

So it is with the Pearls. Theirs is such a mixture of useful and highly questionable information, even possible heresy, that it reminds me of strawberries with manure on them.

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10 Responses to Michael Pearl: Heretic?

  1. Pingback: Michael Pearl: Heretic? | Why Not Train A Child?

  2. Rachel says:

    Thank you for this. So glad to hear your story and that you no long endorse the Pearls’ material. Blessings!

  3. Zooey says:

    Excellent!! Thank you for a thoughtful analysis of the heretical teaching of the Pearls.

  4. Danielle B says:

    Finally!!!! A Christian who doesn’t DROOL over the Pearls! My thing was when they said a wife should stand by her husband if he abuses the children– sexually. their thinking, once he’s out of prison they’ll be out of the house.

  5. Danielle B says:

    Oh and that’s in I believe Created to be His Helpmeet.

  6. Joaquin says:

    I haven’t examined everything the Pearls have said, I’m no great doctrine investigator, but those replies you said don’t specifically refer to the lady who killed her kids. It just says critics. And as for the whole sinless perfectionism? I listened to that teaching, I have been in bondage to pornography for over 8 years, 4 of those as a christian. I listened to Michael Pearl’s message “Sin No More” and by the grace of God I’m free from that addiciton. I’m only speaking from what I have seen in my own life. Not wishing to start arguments only to point out the fact that no other explantion of scripture has brought me such freedom.

  7. Becky says:

    Hi Joaquin,

    The critics Pearl is referring to are the people who were blaming him for having some responsibility in the death of Lydia S. I don’t hold Michael Pearl personally responsible for what the Schatz’s did, but it did make me stop and think about the fact that I was handing out No Greater Joy information/books to all sorts of people without stopping to think that *some* parents might take it to the extreme and follow Pearl’s teachings to the letter.

    I would encourage you to become a doctrine investigator! Read Catez Stevens’ article in its entirety and study the scripture passages for yourself. Don’t take anybody’s word for it, learn for yourself!

    Just because something *works* doesn’t mean it’s true and right. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Gwen Shamblin and Weigh Down Workshop but she is a false teacher whose methods get great results–people overcoming food addictions. If you google her name you’ll find out about all of her really bizarre teachings (including denying the deity of Christ). So just because her methods *work* does not mean her teachings are true and right, because they are so very contrary to scripture (just like the Pearls). What are we going to use as our plumb-line? Experiences/miracles or the Word of God?

  8. John says:

    I’ve met a fairly recent convert who just blubbers Michael Pearl’s teachings, but he keeps insisting that he teaches the Word from the Word, and this young man is really hung up on the “you can no longer sin because Christ dealt with sin once and forever”. He’s been saved for about two years, wife also, and I’m alarmed at what he is saying. I cautioned him not to dive head-in to the teachings of only one man, but he responds by saying “but his teachings are from the Bible only, and the Word is always true”. By comparison, I am almost 40 years older than this young man, and somehow I have grown as a Christian without ever even hearing of Michael Pearl. I hate to see this young man get off track when he is so excited about his new life. Any suggestions?

    • Becky says:

      Well, if he truly believes the Bible perhaps you could show him from the Bible where Michael Pearl is off. The Dyck’s free e-book, Parenting in the Name of God examines Michael’s teachings in-depth and refutes the doctrine of Michael Pearl. It would be a great place to start.

      This man may not respond immediately but if you just plant a seed. One day when he realizes Michael Pearl’s way just isn’t working perhaps he’ll remember what you’ve said.

      I lived for years struggling to “do it right.” I really believed Michael & Debi Pearl were right and I was the one who kept messing up, I was the one who was missing something, not them. So I would re-read their books and resolve to start over again. It was a very depressing way to live, I can tell you.

  9. Colleen G says:

    Excellent article. I have found myself in an odd dynamic. Because of Mr. Pearl’s teachings series Am I saved? I really did become born again instead of just thinking I was Christians because my parents said I got saved when I was really small. Strangely enough this led me down a path to rejecting all NGJ’s parenting and lifestyle teachings. I do still somewhat believe their view on sin(nature, body, etc.) but not to the extent he does.(if that makes any sense). It would take too long and be rambling if I tried to explain.
    So the guy that helped me become redeemed also ended up being the biggest detriment to my parenting and relationship with my children. Thank God I did not apply his crud as strictly as it is intended to be used! He is a snake and however helpful that three sermon series was I will never refer anyone to it simple because it comes from that tool of Satan.
    I also found that “laughing” response deeply disturbing, highly un-Christike and very unprofessional.

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