Babywise and Theology: Is the Ezzo Method Biblical?

Are you Babywise? Are you doing the Ezzo method?

These were common questions asked of Christian parents in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Although declining in popularity these days, the parenting methods developed by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo were very popular amongst Christians. Their most popular book, Babywise, was published in 1993 as the secular counterpart to their church-marketed infant care curriculum, Preparation for Parenting.

Now you may be wondering what this had to do with theology. Quite a bit actually, as you’ll see in a just a moment.

Recently my wife and I were discussing her breastfeeding journey of our children, which she has just chronicled on her blog. In our discussion, she would often use the term “feeding on demand”, which made me ask if there was another way to feed a newborn. “What hole have you been living in the last 10 years”, she asked. My wife then promptly informed me there was a popular strategy for scheduling feedings (I would later discover this is often called Parent-Directed Feeding.) One of the benefits of this method is that it allows parents longer periods of sleep at night.

Having been blessed with another baby boy recently, sleep has become quite the precious commodity in our home. So any new tip that would help us gain more sleep would be like gold to us! So I began doing some research.

What I found was surprising.

In their book, Growing Kids God’s Way, the Ezzo’s claim the method they developed  “is a theological framework and the experience and research that we have acquired in the process of successfully rearing our own children.”

From a practical standpoint, there has been much controversy in Christian circles with Mr. Ezzo’s methods. The main concept in the book is to set your newborn on an schedule of feedings, roughly 3 hours apart. “Scheduled feedings designed by parents may put babies at risk for poor weight gain and dehydration”, says The American Academy of Pediatrics in a 1998 statement against such methods. Instead, they recommended “that the best feeding schedules are ones babies design themselves.”

But even more concerning is the Ezzo’s (mis)use of the Bible to support their methods.

Former pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian (and now Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Ryken), wrote about the positive and negatives the Ezzo method for his church in 1998. Regarding the Ezzo’s use of Scripture, Ryken said:

[I]n support of letting children cry themselves to sleep, the Ezzos say, “God is not sitting on His throne waiting to jump up at our every cry, trying to prove that He loves us.”  They also cite Matthew 27:46: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Using that verse to tell you when to pick up a crying baby is not merely nonsense; it is sacrilege.

Focus on the Family also issued a statement in 2004 stating that “Christian leaders have questioned the Ezzos’ use of biblical texts in their parenting materials, highlighting instances in which the authors seem to ignore the original context and purpose of Scripture in order to draw conclusions about their particular approach to parenting.”

The Ezzo’s Preparation for Parenting (now out of print) which contains virtually identical material to Babywise, came under fire for it’s misuse of Scripture as well. Tony Payne, of the Christian publisher Matthias Media, wrote a lengthy article regarding the ethics of the Ezzo methods.

As I delved further into the training material itself, I found this poor use of the Bible to be a distressingly common occurrence. Where there is no specific biblical principle or command to justify a practice, the Ezzos have an unfortunate tendency to analogize. Feeding your baby on a very orderly schedule is said to line up with biblical revelation because God is an orderly God, and has created a world with orderly patterns of day and night, the seasons, and so on (PFP p. 57). Against the idea that a compassionate parent would never leave a baby to cry, the instance of Jesus being left to cry in dereliction on the cross by his Father is cited (PFP p. 144). The idea of a ‘maternal instinct’ is criticized as being contrary to the biblical principle of sober-mindedness (PFP p. 151). And so on and so forth. Using the Bible in this way, one can only be grateful that the Ezzos did not pursue the principles of biblical chastisement that could be gained from Psalm 137:9 (“blessed is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”).

Payne makes an important point often overlooked by many Christians, including myself. When we are interpreting and applying the Bible to our everyday lives, we must bring the whole of Scripture to bear on the issue. We cannot simply pick one verse out of context and use it to support our arguments. It is also important to be consistent in our use of the Bible. We should not just apply the verse we think agree with us, but leave out the “harder” verses which speak to the issue.

Kathleen Terner, writing for Hank Hanegraaf’s Christian Research Journal in 2001, said Gary Ezzo’s company had “cultlike characteristics” which include, “scripture twisting, authoritarianism, exclusivism, isolationism, and physical and emotional endangerment of children.” Terner then goes on to report a long list of church discipline issues that have characterized Gary Ezzo’s past.

As a pastor-teacher of a New Hampshire church in the 1980s, Mr. Ezzo was asked to step down “amid complaints of authoritarianism, exclusivism and divisiveness.” Later Ezzo began working as a youth pastor at Grace Community Church of Sun Valley, CA (pastored by John MacArthur.) By 1995, the elders had began asking Ezzo to be more accountable. He then stepped down as a paid youth pastor. In 1997, the elders of Grace Church state they can longer support the methods of Mr. Ezzo’s parent company and put Ezzo under church discipline.

The elders statement, revised in 2000, states:

It appears rather obvious on biblical grounds that Mr. Ezzo’s refusal to heed his own church’s discipline disqualifies him from Christian leadership or public ministry in any context. After all, the first and most important qualification for those who would lead the church is that they be above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6).

To see the complete list of events at Grace, as well as other discipline issues, click here. Also Christianity Today had an article on these issues in 2000, which you can find here.

The Ezzo’s left Grace to attend nearby Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship (LHEF). By 2000, Gary Ezzo had been excommunicated from LHEF for a “pattern of sin” which he refused to turn from.

It is possible these concerns with the Ezzo methods lead the publisher to consider dropping Babywise in 2001.

As Christian parents, we should filter every “parenting method” through Scripture. We should also consider the personal character of the author and their interpretation (or lack thereof) when it comes to the Scriptures.

“The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly.” (Prov. 15:2)

19 comments… add one
  • I have only recently realized that we need to be aware of the who behind the things we support. There are songs I liked before I learned about the singer’s true beliefs, there are books I loved until I discovered the author’s lifestyle…We should always be refining what comes into our environment.

  • Paul Brouse

    Senor Beck,
    I cannot say anything to defend the Ezzos. I do not know them and the several examples you cited do seem to be taken out of context scripturally. However, we did use scheduling and followed much of what was laid out in PFP. We have 6 healthy, beautiful children, who were all happy babies, with a happy mom. The program does talk about order and parents having order in their homes. It also teaches the parent to structure the home around the family, not around the baby. Babies learn to nap and fall asleep in all kinds of situations, that allow the family to function. You may not agree with the complete program, but it accomplishes great things, and the glory is given to God. At least here.
    I can’t tell if you have read the book – knowing you, I assume you have, but if not, you might give it a shot. Ezzo is a sinner, welcome to the group, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is good stuff here.

    We have friends who demand feed, or let the baby dictate the feeding schedule, and their babies have turned out beautifully. That works for them and we are pleased for them. We just sleep through the night before they do.

  • I demand feed and sleep through the night 🙂

  • Paul Brouse

    You would definitely be included in the group of friends I was referring to. And your kids are fab. And you sleep. Win-Win. We have differing opinions on how to feed our babies. I wanted to share an opinion about the system the Ezzos presented and worked for us. I do ask forgiveness for the catty comment I made about sleeping first. I also have a question: Aren’t you worried about rolling over and smothering the baby while you are sleeping and feeding?(smily face)

  • Emilee

    I love the quote by Dr. Seuss and use it when considering how I raise my babies: “A person is a person, no matter how small.” To me, letting a person only eat when someone else deems they’re hungry, sleep when someone else deems they’re tired, etc… is inhumane. I wouldn’t like it and I don’t think the babes do either.

  • Michael Beck

    Senor Paul, long time no see man!

    Regarding Ezzo the method, I haven’t read the book, as I was doing this preliminary research before buying it. My blog post here isn’t so much a critique of the method (although I would disagree with it in general) but one of the author’s lifestyle and spiritual walk. The main issue I wanted to address was that it’s not necessarily based on Biblical principles or Scripture any more than secular methods. Therefore we should be careful and use discernment.

    Yes, we are all sinners. Being a sinner does not we cannot learn things of the natural world from them. But assuming the church mentioned above practice Biblical church discipline, the question is more about unrepentant Christian who has been excommunicated. According to Matt. 18:17 believers should treat him as “a Gentile and a tax collector”, in other words, like an unbeliever. Now we can still learn a things in the realm of common grace, but we must realize it is an unbeliever we are dealing with.

    I think there are positives to structuring the household around the parents, not the baby. Mr Ezzo and I would probably agree on that. Yet we would likely disagree on what age this should start with a child.

    And yes, you do have 6 (so far!) great children. They must get that from their mother! 🙂

  • Sara

    I’ve never read Babywise or heard much about it, but the little I did hear was positive before now. This blog post makes me want to read it in order to make a more informed decision/opinion on it.

    I’m not really sure if we imposed a schedule on our 3-month old or if he set his own schedule that just happened to be (conveniently) about 2-3 hours apart, except at night (he’s been sleeping through the night since 6 weeks). We’ve never let him “cry it out.”

    Thanks for sharing this information! I heard about your blog through your wife’s (All About Cloth Diapers) post, by the way 🙂

  • Interesting discussion. We (my husband and I) have never subscribed to the “Ezzo” method of child raising. We found, like you said, that he twisted the Scriptures to prove his point. We always believed that God’s “order” is that the parent is the authority and has wisdom, but that we should listen to the cries of our babies and use discernment as to what the child needs. This requires being with our babies and not allowing others to raise them, not having a busy schedule outside of the home and most of all…prayer. We never believed, personally, in schedule feeding our babies. We don’t have a Biblical opposition to it though. It is a matter of knowing what is best for your own child and your own family.

    It’s sad that Mr. Ezzo has been put under church discipline. Sad for him and his family, sad for the church. There is nothing easy about that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Lisa~

  • Karissa

    Thanks for an interesting read!! I have never read Mr. Ezzo’s book, so I cannot speak to the scriptural content–however, from what you have said it does seem out of context. I never did Babywise, but many of my friends did. I felt a bit “old fashioned” but now I’m glad I stuck to my instincts. The main issue I have with the Babywise method is how it teaches children to trust (or rather not to trust) their parents. If we as parents are given charge over these little ones to “represent” their Heavenly Father until they are of the age to choose to trust or not to trust Him with their lives, how will it affect their ability to trust Him if they are left to cry alone for long periods of time by their only earthly representation of God? Also, could it potentially cause them to have trust issues in human relationships later in life? My friends all seem to have happy, well-adjusted children, but I guess it remains to be seen…

  • Nicole Z. Harrison

    I agree with what Autumn first said in that we must continually scrutinize the things we are exposing ourselves & our families/children to in regards to authors & music, as well as teachers, preachers, doctors, etc. I have read some seriously disturbing information on a good many popular CCM musicians that makes me question their true intentions & values. In regards to Babywise, I do not agree with EZZO at all, nor his methods of training children; My biggest problem is with babies – it totally breaks my heart to hear a newborn screaming to ‘cry-it-out’, whether it be for nourishment or attention/cuddling, out of discomfort…you never know until you go to that child & do what we are supposed to do…comfort them, feed them, change them, do all the things we can think of because they cannot verbalize with words; they state their discomfort by crying, so to me, that is torturing the innocent…they cannot tell time nor read a clock, so how can you expect them to follow a schedule that early on, & oh boy, don’t get me started on his breastfeeding miss-leading! He twists & distorts The Good Book’s TRUEST words to care for those who cannot care for themselves!

  • When my wife and I began discussing feeding and such with our first child, I was surprised to find her so vehemently against the Babywise method, because I had heard only positive things about it before then. But I thank God every day for her godly discernment, because babywise really is a dangerous path. And the argument that the children raised under that system “turned out fine” is not necessarily a valid argument, in my mind. Bad parents can have good kids – that’s a testimony to the character of the child and grace of God in his/her life, rather than an affirmation of the parenting technique.

    To me, while I haven’t read the Babywise book, the responses my wife and I have received from its proponents have only confirmed my suspicions about it. That is – to me – the method seems to delve into selfish control. The theme seems to be to conform a child to pattern which is convenient to the parents. But this leaves out the very real chance that your child should need a different rhythm to their life – because no child is the same. The reality is that whenever a child goes through a growth spurt they will eat more often – almost doubling their normal rate of intake. Our boys (we have three) each had at least two growth spurts for every one the “average” child supposedly should. Adhering to the Babywise schedule would have been almost literally inhumane.

    Not having read the book, I can’t really speak of its theology – though I will readily concur that the examples provided are rather appalling. But in general, my theological reading and training continually points me in a different direction in how I rear my children.

  • Mindy

    I have a response I’m working on, but wanted to ask a question first: are you saying that you believe that the method described in Babywise is unBiblical/antiBiblical?

    • Michael Beck

      Hi Mindy. If you’re asking me (not sure if you were responding to Zach), I cannot say if the whole method is unBiblical or not as I do not have the book. I can say that based on the examples I’ve cited above, his method does not appear to be any more “biblical” than a secular parenting book which never mentions the Bible. The Ezzos admit this, but then go on to make a case for it being biblical (see first quote below). The point of my post was to show their method did not have a good claim to being biblically based.

      “One of the main problems with the model is that it puts forward practices of child rearing which the authors themselves admit in the introduction are “theoretical and personal” and then refers to them as “the higher moral standard” or as “God’s way” of parenting. ”

      But I think the Ezzo’s are calling all other parenting methods unbiblical by saying theirs is the true biblical practice.

      The Grace Community Church statement:
      “Portraying scheduled feeding as the true biblical practice, GFI strongly implies that demand feeding should be regarded as an unbiblical, humanistic—even sinful—approach to caring for infants. As elders, we see no biblical basis for dogmatism on this issue.”

      To be fair, much of their theology and Bible interpretation was left out of the Babywise book, because it was written for the general non-Christian public. But underlying Babywise are their previous books written for Christian parents.

  • Toni

    Here is a great website for you to check out: This may give you an insight into the true character of the Ezzos. According to this website, the Ezzos were NOT excommunicated from any church. There have been a lot of rumors in the last 10 years or more about the Ezzos.

    As for the Ezzos thinking that their method is the ONLY biblical method, here is a direct quote from this link:

    (begin quote from website) “Do the Ezzos somehow manipulate parents into thinking that the “Ezzo” plan is the only “right” way to parent?
    No. The Ezzos and Dr. Bucknam do make a strong case for their conclusions about infant parenting, as do all other authors who write on the subject. However, they also acknowledge that a parent has a God-given responsibility to research the different parenting philosophies available, and come to their own (hopefully prayerful) conclusions about what is right for their family. Here is what the Ezzos actually say about infant parenting philosophies:

    “Preparation for Parenting is based upon the belief that child-rearing is a responsibility given by God to parents. Parents are to guide, nurture, and discipline their children. This resource serves as a guide to help accomplish that task. As was the case in previous editions, this curriculum is not intended to provide the reader with all he or she will ever need to know about the process of nurturing a newborn. Scripture has very few specific mandates for practical applications in the realm of parenting, especially infant parenting. It provides the spiritual goals of parenting but not the exact or specific how-to’s. It offers no specific statement as to when a child will be fed, cuddled, or put down for nap, or how these activities are to take place in your home. Therefore, parents guided by the Holy Spirit have the ultimate responsibility and duty to research the parenting philosophies available today…review all the parenting options available. Examine carefully the alternative theories and their approaches, and specifically observe the end results. Determine which parenting stratagem is right for you….” PFP, Sixth Edition, P. 17 (end quote from website)

    As for the Ezzos comparing Christ’s crucifixion to letting a baby cry, the critics of the Ezzos are out of context. Here is a quote from this link:

    (Begin quote) “Do the Ezzos use the crucifixion of Christ to justify letting a baby cry?

    No! The Ezzos don’t believe or teach that Jesus hung on a cross to teach us that mothers should let their babies cry. The following comments were made in the context of encouraging parents to lovingly respond to their babies based on an appropriate evaluation of the baby’s needs.

    “Acting on the assumption that God responds to us mechanically and on demand is wrong. We believe such a notion positions our Holy God as a celestial genie sitting on the edge of His throne, waiting to jump at our every cry in order to demonstrate His love. He demonstrated His love by sending His Son to Calvary. His nonintervention in the suffering of His Son is the ultimate example that speaks against the fraudulent notion that love always requires immediate intervention. Non-action does not indicate a lack of love. It was not true at Calvary, and it is not true in parenting.

    “The point is the decision to never let a baby cry cannot be validated by God’s character because His love cannot be so narrowly defined. Even when we do not get what we want, His love is still present. Consider prayer. Is there ever a time during seemingly unanswered prayer that God stops loving us? Obviously not. It is the same way with parents and their children; love abides under all circumstances.

    “Although our heavenly Father hears all of our cries, He answers them according to His timetable not ours. The verification of His love is not dependent on His immediate action. He is all-knowing and loving and meets our needs in His time. (137) (end quote)

    I would like to share (in response to some of the comments ) what I have learned and actually practiced after actually reading the book (Babywise) and implementing this Parent Directed Feeding approach with my 5 babies, who were all very content, happy babies and who all slept 8-9 hours at night by 10 weeks old.

    This method IS NOT about setting a strict schedule and expecting your babies to conform to it. It IS about gently guiding them into a habit of having good, long feedings so that they can last beyond 1-2 hours at a time. It IS about helping them to establish frequent eating intervals during the day, so that they establish a good metabolism and get most of their nourishment during the day and therefore get rest at night- good, healthy deep sleep (Oh, and this benefits Mom, too). This approach gave me confidence as a mother because my babies’ hunger patterns were predictable, once I helped them (Note: I did not force my babies) to establish regular feeding intervals. If I fed my baby and knew she had a good feeding and she cried 30 minutes later, then something other than hunger must be the reason for her crying. The book also gave me confidence to understand when the baby might be fussy and when my milk supply might be lower and the baby might need to eat earlier than usual (i.e. end of the day, evening, GROWTH SPURTS, etc.) Yes, the book is very helpful in teaching parents that yes, there are times when the baby might need an earlier feeding, and when to BE FLEXIBLE. The book teaches to not be legalistic about it, if the baby is hungry, FEED her! PDF is NEVER about letting the baby go hungry!
    I do not see the PDF approach as being self centered on the part of the parent. Yes, knowing when my babies would be hungry did allow me to make plans for the day and work my schedule around when I KNEW the baby would most likely be hungry. But that was a blessing! It allowed me to spend time with my other kids, run errands when I KNEW the baby would not need a feeding, etc.
    Part of training the baby to have good sleeping habits, is training them how to fall asleep on their own, without having a bottle or nursing. The PDF approach teaches a feed, wake, sleep cycle. This means that on most occasions, the baby will be put down to sleep awake. (This usually doesn’t begin until after the sleepy newborn phase). This might involve some crying, but parents are NEVER instructed to just let their babies cry for hours!!! They are taught to check on the baby, hold them, comfort them, reassure them, then put them back to bed. It is all a part of training them how to fall asleep on their own. My babies all learned to be great sleepers and the whole family benefitted from it. We as parents, like Lisa said, are to use discernment to know how to respond to our baby’s cry and the PDF method helped me in making those decisions.

    There is so much more to say and I could go on and on about the benefits to both baby and family with this method, but my time is limited. I highly recommend the PDF feeding method and would do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance! I have recommended this method to several people who have asked why my babies are so content and happy most of the time.

    I implore you to please look further into this issue on and more questions can be answered on I don’t think the Ezzos are the type of people the rumors on the internet have made them out to be.

    Thanks for hearing me out and giving me a chance to defend the Ezzos and the PDF method. It was worth the time it took me to write this because I believe so highly in this method and the good, pure, right intentions of the Ezzos.

    • Michael Beck

      Hi Toni. Thanks for stopping by. I was previously aware of, but have not been through all the material. I agree there are many rumors circulating around, and it is unfortunate as Christians should be honest. I’m not as much looking at the method itself in my blog post (I realize you’re likely responding to others comments here) but the people themselves. I tried to leave my opinion out and simply link to previous articles on the subject by reputable sources.

      According to the elders at LHEF, Gary Ezzo was excommunicated from his church. In the official letter (found here), the elders said “Therefore, upon the authority of God’s Word and the authority God invests in the church and upon the basis of facts established by biblical process, Gary Ezzo has been excommunicated from Living Hope Evangelical Fellowship”. It’s possible that this letter is a forgery, but unlikely.

      First and foremost for me it’s a character issue. From what I’ve read, I would agree with the Ezzos on some things and strongly disagree with them on others. But their method is built on their Christian character.

  • Toni, for what it is worth, the people behind the “EzzoTruth” website have misrepresented several people (myself included). . . it is more of the same pattern of how Gary Ezzo and those who are “true believers” in what he teaches misuse truth and misrepresent others. *shrug*

    Personally, Michael, I’m glad you’ve written about the theological and Biblical issues. We were in a church when our first was born that very much emphasized Ezzo parenting. We drunk the koolaid, because after all — that’s what the “older, wiser” parents were recommending and it seemed to “make sense.” The reality was, it doesn’t make sense when you know about infant growth, development, and breastfeeding. (Yes, our oldest was one of the BW failure-to-thrive babies and I lost my milk supply both times we used BW — and yes, I was doing it with “flexibility and common sense” — ask any of the BW moms who were encouraging me at the time.)

    But, I didn’t see the problems with BW because of my inability to maintain my milk supply following PDF or my son’s FTT. I saw the problems when people pointed out the faulty theology and misuse of the Bible. This is a key issue.

  • SueO

    First, a question: Is this the method that teaches that children should not be allowed to make any of their own decisions because there’s a scripture that (loosely paraphrased) says not to be wise in your own eyes?

    And, a couple thoughts…. I have always found that the Biblical representation of God the Father fits well with what psychologists know about child-rearing – consistency, firmness, high expectations, and deep and abiding love no matter what. My thought – the child has to *know* that the parent has that deep abiding love. How can a baby left to cry *know* such a thing? They have no other way to communicate. They must be terrified! At least, that’s how mine looked to me.

    I also noticed that several of the posters appeared to say that their children turned out a certain way because of some narrow aspect of their parenting (e.g., feeding schedules). Research is also fairly consistent on the point that there are MANY influences on how a child turns out – including inborn temperamental characteristics, parenting, siblings, peers, etc. It appears (from research and also makes sense) that it’s more about an overall pattern of parenting than about a single specific parenting practice. For example, feeding on demand is *one* way to demonstrate deep abiding love, but there are others. Parents who schedule feedings may do other things that communicate that love; while parents who feed on demand may still end up with kids who don’t feel loved for another reason.

  • Agnia

    I don’t know who you are, but the people that frame your blogtheme captured my attention, as they are greatly valued by me. I have read this post and all the comments, and though it is old, I have something to say as well. I read the criticism of the Ezzos as I also value John Macarthur and his teaching and i was concerned with his conclusion regarding the Ezzos. He never says that their methods are wrong and unbiblical, what he is saying is that they became exclusivist about their childrearing methods, and yes, that is wrong. Maybe some of the examples of their misusing the Scripture are true, but who can say that, if judged unbiased, their principles are not biblical (that is the prevalence of the husband-wife relationship, the fact that a family must not be child-centered, the need for order and structure, the need for discipline and the fact that children, as well as their parents, have a fallen nature that make them prone to manipulation and desire to rule). What about the holy cow of nowadays parenting, namely ATTACHMENT PARENTING? I followed the blog of Tulipgirl (because it made me think of the calvinist TULIP), and little was I surprised to see that she was recommending Dr.Sears- the guru of AP, which is everything but bibblical! AP is a method based on secular theories about human nature (eg. birth trauma, the noble savage), and not on the word of God, and is strongly child-centered and goes against the prescriptions of God concerning child upbringing. Why are the ‘christians’ so eagerly to dismiss the Ezzo method, why are they usually adepts of AP? (including Katleen I-dont-know-how that wrote the article for CRI, and this Tulipgirl that seemingly spent a lot deal of her life to gather material against the Ezzos? (Sorry for the writing mistakes, I an not a native english speaker)

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