Every church should have a small group for parents. Maybe not to go over the latest Christian parenting book or fad, but simply to encourage one another that you aren’t the worse parent in the world and little Johnny is probably not Satan-incarnate.
I read a good amount of Christian parenting books. I read the ones that tell you “do X so that your kid will be successful”, and I also read the ones that are more geared towards parenting with the gospel as a grid. Both leave me exhausted—convinced that I am going to mess up my kids.
You see, I absolutely love my children and I want give them grace. More than anything I want them to drink deeply of God’s grace. I want them to live holy, God-honoring lives. I want my kids to be used by God in mighty ways. And because of this I develop an idolatrous obsession with raising my kids to love the gospel. I try to do everything perfectly because somewhere along the way I began believing the lie that my children’s salvation is largely dependant on my parenting.
Not a How-To Book
I agreed to review Give Them Grace for Crossway primarily because I feel exhausted in my parenting. It sounded like a much needed refreshment. But it also sounded like something to give me a few “how-to’s” on applying grace in the lives of my children.
What is ironic is that I really want is not a book that is saturated in the gospel but one that is saturated with a list of rules for successful gospel parenting. How horrible that I have somehow turned gospel-centrality into a law or an idol that I bow to!
Because of this stupid obsession with getting a list of parenting tools to jam into my already bursting fanny-pack of Christian parenting tips, I felt a tad frustrated in the beginning of this book. It was a breath of fresh air but I didn’t want a simple, “chill out, God is in control”. I wanted simple answers that would put me in control of my children’s fate.
Give Them Grace is not your typical parenting book. In fact it actually identifies what is wrong with many “Christian” parenting books. Most parents that read Christian parenting books do so with this mindset:
Their love for their children coupled with fear makes them want a guaranteed method of handling every situation with complete certainty. They are serious about being godly parents, and they really don’t want to give themselves a pass if resting in grace somehow means that they aren’t holding up their part of the bargain. They need grace to believe that there is no bargain, because if there were, they would never be able to uphold their part of it no matter how hard they try. No bargains, no meritorious works, just grace. Remember, parenting is not a covenant of works. (159)
Sadly, many books are quick to offer exactly what a desperate parent desires; namely, how to control their children.
Well, What DO I Do?
If I abandon the “carrot and the stick” parenting method (you know motivating through rewards and punishments) then what do I do as a parent? Fitzpatrick and Thompson, I believe, offer a simple answer: get grace yourself and extend it to your kids. This book is an attempt to encourage parents to draw deeply from the well of grace themselves and then as the gospel-saturates their hearts and lives they will be in a much better position to instruct their children in the gospel.
This echoes advice that I received from a professor in seminary. His children were already grown and out of the home. He was confessing to our class much of his “failed” parenting and how he regretted much of what he had done. He shared with us the one thing he wishes he would have done as a Christian parent. Ready for it?……Just chill out. Rest in Grace; that was his advice.
And it is this nugget of advice where this book really shines. As a parent I found much refreshment from this book. I was frustrated that it did not give me 10 simple steps of how to control my children for Jesus. But at the end of the day I am refreshed and reminded of the beauty of the gospel and the mercy of God in making me a dad. My children do not need me to beat them over the head with the gospel—what they really need is for me to get the gospel and let it overflow into their lives. I need to chill out. I need to rest in grace and enjoy myself—and hopefully in the process my children will catch on to the beauties of grace.
The authors are very quick to point out that their suggested dialogue in the book is just that—suggested dialogue. But as I read through many of these I began feeling the weight of “saying it right” that is in many of the other parenting books. In my opinion the others are guilty of trying to make every moment a teachable moment and actually not living in the grace that they are speaking of throughout the book.
I had a real problem with this in the second chapter on “how to raise good kids”. I absolutely agree with the underlying theology of this chapter. I do believe that so much of our parenting is an attempt to raise good little Pharisee and not Jesus-loving sinners. But I would have a hard time parroting some of their dialogue with my children:
Rather than telling Rebekah that she’s a good girl, we could say, “I noticed you shared your swing. Do you know what that reminds me of? How Christ shared his life with us. I’m so thankful for God’s working in your life that way. I know that neither of us would ever do anything kind if God wasn’t helping us. I’m so thankful. (42)
I get the intent behind this statement. But I am not certain that it is really necessary to speak in such a way. For one it does not do justice to the imago Dei. Yes, ultimately we must push our affirmation of others upwards to reach its true origin—the goodness and grace of our Creator. But there is a way of praising creation that echoes in praise to the Maker without explicitly debasing the creature.
I tend to agree with John Bird’s caveat, when he says,
“this loose way of applying the gospel, especially when often repeated, takes the power out of the message and can weary the children. Something sadder than a child growing up never hearing the good news is a child who grows up hoping to never hear it again.
Honestly, the greatest danger will be for people like me that pick this book up looking for 10 ways to control your children with grace, try to follow the verbiage to a tee, and miss the overall message of the book.
The overall message of this book is a much needed refreshment. I need to be reminded that the gospel is for parents too. I also need to be reminded that my children’s salvation is dependant upon the God of grace and not my parenting. Yes, I want to parent to the glorify of God—but the way that happens is by drawing deeply from the well of grace.
I would encourage all parents to read this book. In fact I would almost encourage parents to get this book and stop reading so many other ones. Chill out and rest in grace. This book will, for the most part, help you to do just that.
You can buy it here.