Monday, November 21, 2011

One Take on Christian Parenting: A Review of Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson

As Christian parents, my wife and I want nothing more than to raise our children to know and love Jesus. That's why I was excited to read GIVE THEM GRACE by Elyse Fitzgerald and her daughter Jessica Thompson. The book's goal is to present a model of parenting that is distinctly Christian.

Essentially, the book is about exposing your children to the incredible grace of Jesus contained in the gospel every opportunity you can, but especially during times of correction. Clearly communicating the gospel to your children is something I would never argue with. My children need Jesus to redeem their hearts because the betrayals they will undoubtedly commit in life are the source of separation from the God who loves them and made them to pursue only him. So I want to create spaces for them to encounter Jesus on a daily basis.

I wanted to like GIVE THEM GRACE because of its premise, but I found myself frustrated by the view of God that it presented throughout its pages. The authors take a very deterministic perspective of God, which I expected, but not perhaps to the extent that I discovered. Christian parents want to raise their children to be faithful Christ followers, but the authors assert that God alone changes our children, so parents shouldn't rely on anything they do as parents to change their children. While this places us firmly dependent on God, I couldn't get past that the proposed model of parenting, when followed to its logical conclusion, means that if God alone can change your children and your children aren't changing, it's because God has decided he doesn't want to change your children. The authors, who are trying to provide hope in God's provision, actually reduce hope because if God doesn't change your child, there's nothing you can do to change it. You, as a parent, end up wielding zero influence over your children under the proposed model and its underlying assumptions. In fact, in one particularly frustrating chapter, the authors state that sometimes God glorifies himself through your children's sin and rebellion. So you can relax knowing that, though your children are living lives you would have never dreamed for them, God is still glorifying himself. Again, not very comforting, and, though I don't have time to elaborate on it here, not very biblical. Under the proposed parenting model, I'm surprised that I haven't read or heard someone ask the question, "Why parent at all?" After all, God's going to work in your children's heart whether you do anything or not.

Another thing I found disappointing about the book was the stance that parents are to use the law to "crush" their children and make them see their desperate need for Christ. It seemed like an unhealthy focus on refusing to commend your children for any good thing they do because their depravity prevents them from doing anything good. If they have done anything good, it is only because God has worked in their heart to do the good thing. I got the impression from this book that I am to never tell my daughter that she's done a good job at something because that would be encouraging her to rely on herself rather than Jesus. The goal is to help your children fall in love with Jesus, and the way to do that is to essentially preach a sermon about your child's wickedness and Christ's goodness every time they do something that needs corrected. The problem is that the examples seemed to be belittling to a child or any human being, for that matter, and I couldn't see how taking this approach wouldn't cause a child to feel extremely resentful toward Jesus. Obviously, that's not what the authors were trying to communicate, but that's the way it came across at least to me.

What I did like about the book was the chapter on teaching our children media discernment based on the "one good story" of the gospel. The authors also make a clear case for the gospel and why we need it. I also appreciated their discussion about the different categories of training we engage in with our children.

I would suggest that anyone who decides to read this book to be cautious about viewing God as deterministic. I believe God calls parents to exercise godly influence on our children because it makes a genuine difference. GIVE THEM GRACE is correct in that our children desperately need the gospel to transform them and that God is the one who changes them. However, parents are called to cultivate their children's hearts to be receptive to God's working in their hearts. The book didn't do a good job of communicating that.

GIVE THEM GRACE had some thought-provoking points, and for that reason I would encourage parents to read it and process what it has to say.

I received this book for free for review from Crossway Books

What things do you do to mesmerize your children with the grace of God?

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