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Give Them Grace Interview

June 1, 2011

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The BCC Author Q & A

with Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

As part of our BCC vision, we want to help you to get to know gifted biblical counseling authors and their books. This week we’re highlighting Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter and co-author, Jessica Thompson, as they talk about their new book, Give Them Grace.

BCC: “Elyse, tell us a little bit about yourself.”

EF: “I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. My mom was a non-practicing Catholic and my father was a non-practicing Jew. My grandmother would take me to the Lutheran church where I was baptized and later confirmed. I was saved right before my 21st birthday after living a pretty debauched lifestyle. I immediately enrolled in Bible College because that’s what I thought people did when they became Christians. It was there that I met my future husband Phil. Phil and I have been married nearly 40 years and have three children and six grandchildren.”

BCC: “Jessica, tell us about yourself, please.”

JT: “I was obviously raised in a Christian home. I knew exactly how to appease my family by acting the part of the good girl. I was involved in leading the Jr. High Youth at our church and was attending Bible College full time when the Lord opened my heart to the beauty of the Gospel. I stayed in Bible College after my regeneration and received my B.A. in theology. I married my high-school sweetheart soon after that and we have three children, Wesley (age 12), Hayden (age 10), and Allie (age 7). I have taken several courses in biblical counseling from IBCD. We are currently involved in an Acts 29 church-plant in our area. I homeschool my children and have plenty of opportunity to live out what we are espousing in the book.”

BCC: “So how is Give Them Grace different from other Christian books on parenting?”

EF/JT: “Most Christian books on parenting present methods best described as a covenant of works. What I mean by that is that they teach (either implicitly or explicitly) that if we’re ‘good’ parents (i.e. faithfully do whatever the particular author enjoins) we’ll get good kids as a reward for our work. The paradigm: ‘Good parenting in, good kids out’ pretty much describes the message in the majority of books on Christian parenting. Whether it’s strategies for successful kids or homeschooling or building self-esteem or learning to speak your kids’ love language, it’s all basically a covenant of works that can be summed up in this way: If you’re a good parent your kids will be good.” 

BCC: “What is the central message of Give Them Grace?”

EF/JT: “The central message of Give Them Grace is that nothing in our lives as Christians is based on our own works or abilities or faithfulness. Everything depends on grace, God’s unmerited favor for undeserving rebels—whether that’s us or our kids. So that means that our parenting, although important, is not the determining factor in our children’s lives. Salvation is of the Lord alone.”

BCC: “What role does the law and the Gospel play in parenting? How does this make Christian parenting unique?”

EF/JT: “The law is important in parenting because it is the law that will drive our children to seek a Savior and will make them thankful for Christ’s perfect keeping of it in their place. But the law is powerless to transform anyone’s heart. In fact, all the law does is breed pride or despair. So, yes, we give the law to our children, but not to make them good. We give it to them to show them their need for a Savior. We also want to encourage parents to give their children the Gospel. This means that our Gospel-talk will be focused on the declarations of what Jesus has already done and that we won’t assume that they understand or even believe the Gospel just because they’ve heard it a couple of times. We want parents to learn to connect every facet of the Gospel to their kids’ daily lives. It’s the Gospel that will transform hearts, not our charts and stickers. Every responsible parent uses methods to train and motivate their children. Only the Gospel makes parenting truly Christian. A Mormon or moral atheist will use rules to train their children. Only the Gospel makes parenting Christian.”

BCC: “Discuss the difference in method between the way Elyse parented Jessica and the way Jessica is now parenting her kids.”

EF/JT: “I (EF) assumed the Gospel. I assumed that because my kids had heard the Gospel (at least a couple of times) that we needed to move on into more important stuff like rules about how to be good. Jessica won ‘Miss Christian Character’ at her Christian school when she was five. You can imagine my shock when she came home from Bible College and told me that she had gotten saved. I thought rules would transform my kids. Only the Holy Spirit can transform hearts.”

BCC: “Why is it important to parent both rebellious kids and compliant kids with grace?”

EF/JT: “Rules (or the law) really doesn’t accomplish what we’re hoping for in the lives of either rebels or compliant children. Rules will make the rebel despair and give up. He’ll say, ‘Christianity doesn’t work for me. I can’t be that good.’ On the other hand, rules will make the compliant kid proud. He’ll love the rules because he thinks he can obey. He needs the Gospel to crush his heart.”

BCC: “What are the dangers of performance-based parenting?”

EF/JT: “Anytime we look to transform outward behavior and reward it as though it meant an inner transformation had taken place, we’re inadvertently teaching our kids that God is impressed by hypocrisy. When we say things like, ‘Jesus smiles when you obey Mommy,’ we’re teaching our kids that outward compliance is all that matters. The Gospel says that if you’re a believer, God’s smile already rests on you. The Gospel also says that if you aren’t a believer your obedience is an affront to Him.”

BCC: “What is the role of prayer in parenting?”

EF/JT: “When you parent with the Gospel you become much more reliant upon the Holy Spirit and therefore more reliant upon prayer. When you don’t force your children to pray or to share or to say they’re sorry (unless they truly are), you have to rely on the Spirit to do His work and that forces you to your knees.”

BCC: “Is it wrong to teach your kids obedience? Explain the relationship between Christian righteousness and human obedience.”

EF/JT: “Absolutely not! It would be wrong not to teach them to obey. We are called to train our children in every facet of human obedience, whether initial, social, civic or even religious obedience. The problem that we see however is that many parents mistake outward compliance for true Christian righteousness. For instance, when a parent says, ‘When you obey Mommy you make Jesus happy,’ we’re forgetting that unless they’re regenerate, even their obedience heaps up God’s wrath upon them. We’re forgetting that all of our righteousness (outward compliance) is as ‘filthy rags’ to God unless they’ve been transformed by the righteousness of Christ. So, yes, of course, we’re to train our children to obey, but just as long as we understand what their obedience means: it doesn’t mean that they’re righteous or that they make Jesus smile. It may, in fact, just be a way of avoiding Jesus as Savior. Only the righteousness of Christ earns the ‘This is my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.’”

BCC: “Discuss the danger of assuming the Gospel in parenting.”

EF/JT: “We can see two obvious dangers of assuming the Gospel. First, when we assume that our kids know how the Gospel intersects with their lives, we won’t speak it to them. Secondly, it means that we won’t warn them about God’s wrath like we should. Our message to them will be a weak ‘be nice,’ instead of the shocking, scandalous message of a crucified Savior. Only the truths of the Gospel can transform our hearts. Christianity is not moralistic, therapeutic deism. It’s a bloody cross and an empty tomb.”

BCC: “As parents, how can confessing things like our anger, self-righteousness, and pride to our children actually help them understand grace?”

EF/JT:  “Our kids need to know that we’re just like them. It is good for them to see us sin so that they know that Mommy and Daddy are great sinners but that they have a great Savior. Many children think that Christianity doesn’t ‘work’ because they see Mom and Dad being nearly perfect and think that there’s something wrong with them that isn’t wrong with everyone else. Openness and confession of sin puts parents and children on the same side of the field: together fighting their own sin and resting in righteousness.”

BCC: “Why are we attracted to the law? Can you explain a few examples of how parents can slip into the trap of parenting with moralism and why is it so dangerous?”

EF/JT: “We’re attracted to the law because of unbelief and pride. First, we’re very uncomfortable with the free-fall that grace demands. Grace tells us that we have nothing to hang onto except Christ and His great love and righteousness bestowed on sinners. We’d really rather have some nice rules to hold onto that will assure our hearts that we’re really okay. We don’t believe the message of grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone although we say we do. Secondly, we love law because in our pride we think that if we just try hard enough we really can get it together and merit some kudos. Grace strips us of all our props and humbles us: We bring nothing to the table and we can’t ever bring anything worthy of merit.”

BCC: “How does parenting with grace relate to parenting with discipline and instruction? Are they compatible?”

EF/JT: “Of course. Children need to be trained, disciplined and instructed…but this needs to happen within the context ‘of the Lord.’ Those three words, that we so often skip over or ignore make all the difference in our parenting. ‘Of the Lord,’ is shorthand for the Gospel message. The Gospel is to be the milieu of our parenting—what our parenting is soaked in.”

BCC: “Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about Give Them Grace?”

EF/JT: “The parenting we present in the book is not a new covenant of works. In other words, we’re not saying, ‘Do this, parent your kids in the Gospel and you have a guarantee that they’ll turn out like you want them to.’ This isn’t another brick in your backpack of parenting techniques. It’s an invitation to invite the Rescuer into your day-to-day life as you parent and to learn what His righteousness means and then rest in the truth that salvation is of the Lord alone.”

BCC: “How can our readers learn more about you and your ministries? How can our readers order a copy of Give Them Grace?”

EF/JT: “In light of the fact that we’re (EF) trying to help our son, Joel, get through seminary, it would be great if people would order the book off one of our websites at either www.elysefitzpatrick.com or www.givethemgrace.com. People can access our schedules and learn about upcoming events and projects at these websites, too.”

BCC: “Thank you, Elyse and Jessica. It has been great to learn more about Gospel-centered, grace-focused parenting from the two you. What a joy it must have been to co-author a book on parenting.”

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