I want to thank the fine folks at Crossway for offering yet another wonderful resource to the church and for sending me this review copy of “Give Them Grace”.
This book is authored by a mother-daughter team and therefore offers some biographical illustrations that are very helpful. Check out the dedicated site for this book here. Both of these Godly women are involved in solid Reformed Evangelical churches and therefore approach the task of parenting from within a broad Reformed Evangelical perspective on the roles of husband, wife, children, and broader society. They, however, do not approach parenting from within a clearly defined covenantal approach that you would find in a confessionally reformed church. They do believe that parents are bound to raise their children within a Biblical framework, but struggle in defining how exactly the children are obligated. They make the following distinctions in Diagram 2.1: Human Obedience (p. 44):
Initial Obedience: learning to obey Dad’s and Mom’s voices
Social obedience: learning the social codes of society
Civic obedience: learning to obey the laws of society
Religious obedience: learning the religious practices of family and church
At times in the book, the authors warn against obligating children to “religious” rites for fear that a child can falsely presume their salvation as they mature, but then at the same time do commend the obligations of children (regardless of whether they believe or not) to “religious obedience” for the sake of peace and respect. When the family prays, the children should be obligated to bow their heads and join along; but you ought not teach your children that such conformity is effectual unto their salvation. I understand that these distinctions are preserved to retain the integrity of salvation as consisting in conversion, resulting from new birth, but I think that these distinctions would have been better explained from within a covenantal paradigm.
For example, the diagram notes 4 spheres of obedience that our children need to learn. Notice that “obeying the voice of God” does not occupy a sphere. At best, the child is supposed to learn “religious practices”, but mostly out of deference for family and peaceful co-existence in the church. Even this “religious practice” paradigm is not directly related to the covenantal union of the child to their God. I would suggest that you can only rightly demand obedience to parents (initial obedience) when it is rooted in the voice of God who directly commands our children to obey their parents. I would suggest that social obedience also flows directly from how God speaks to our obligations to love our neighbors as flowing out of our covenantal responsibilities directly to Him. Even civic obedience must be rooted in the direct special revelation of Scripture for His people. Certainly one can contend that we should obligate our children to these things “just because”; but “just because” isn’t good enough. The authors wish to make distinctions of how these obligations apply differently to a believing child from a unbelieving child for fear of smuggling in any sense of works righteousness, which is commendable, but I think the distinctions are an unnecessary qualification at times. Perhaps they believe our children our bound to parental authority, social authority, civic authority, and religious practice merely as a result of common grace, but I would prefer to tell my child from the womb that Jesus purchased them at the cross and therefore speaks to them as His children and makes great promises to them in a covenantal framework is they should honor their parents, and so on.
Apart from this one critique on presuppositional frameworks in relation to the God’s covenant dealings, the authors offer much that is encouraging, edifying, and all to the glory of God. We are agreed that the chief end of man in all his dealings is for the glory of God. Parenting Soli Deo Gloria is certainly a battle-cry that I heartily join. Many of modern Evangelical parenting books are frankly full of pragmatic imperatives, Christ-less, devoid of a true Biblical Gospel, and aims more for pragmatic results than the glory of God alone.
While the authors contend for a sound Biblical theology of salvation, they are also mindful that grace does not excuse licentiousness or loose living. Grace trains us in Godliness and all of chapter 5 is devoted completely to the life of discipleship and sanctification. Be warned if you are thinking this book will simply pat you on the back and encourage you in sloppy agape. The authors posses a Biblical understanding of sanctification in its relation to grace. Too many parenting books are simply full of law detached from grace, or grace detached from law, but this book rightly relates law and grace.
I will refrain from regurgitating the chapter breakdown of the book (that’s what Amazon book view is for) and will instead offer some quotes from the book that I thought were noteworthy:
We long to be told, “You are good!” but only Jesus Christ and those clothed in his goodness deserve to hear it. And if we really embrace this truth, our parenting will be transformed from wishful deception to powerful grace. It will make our parenting Christian (43).
If your parenting is moralistic, like most of ours is, children like David will break your heart, but children like Susan will make you proud. It is only when you parent with grace that the destitution of both children becomes apparent. Children who embarrass you and children who make you proud must both be taught the deeper truth of the welcoming father: mercy trumps law (69).
Many so-called Christian parenting books develop the parental wisdom in Proverbs without any recognition of the presence of Christ….Parenting methods that assume or ignore the gospel are not Christian. The gospel must hold the center in all we think, do, and say with our kids (100).
Lastly I want to extend further kudos to the authors for their very helpful observation about the parable of the “Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. They note that both children were lost for much the same reasons. One thought life consisted merely in gaining the favor of the father while the other sought the favor of the world. Both are entirely different symptoms of the very same heart issue. We must maintain the balance of not affirming our children’s works as the basis of their right standing, nor ostracize our children over rebellion lest they despair they have passed the point of no return. The prodigal knew enough of his father’s character to come back. Parenting with grace means we teach our children to delight in God’s mercy and that it is something to celebrate apart from how worthy we think we are. The older son thought he alone was worthy and didn’t joyfully participate in the mercy shown his younger brother. The younger brother knew he was morally bankrupt and was able to better understand his father’s mercy.
All in all a good book. This is one of the better parenting books out there and one I would gladly recommend for its unyielding devotion to God’s glory as seen in His grace given through Christ our Lord and Savior and how all of this is relevant to the task of parenting.
© 2011, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.