You’re a Christian Parent, but Is Your Parenting Christian?
Mother-daughter team Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, in Give Them Grace, shift our parental focus from well-adjusted, bright, polite, obedient children to children who are dazzled by grace because they have parents who are drenched in grace.
You’re a Christian parent, but is your parenting Christian? That question captures the message of Give Them Grace. Co-authors, Elyse and Jessica, pointedly answer their own question. “God’s grace, lavished on us through Christ, ought to make our parenting radically different from what unbelievers do” (p. 21).
And how do non-grace parents parent? They spend more time “declaring the rules” and less time “reciting the Story” (p. 29). If Elyse and Jessica were inconsistent, they would simply teach us a series of “how to do gospel-centered parenting.” Instead, they expose the cause for rule-focused parenting. “One of the reasons we don’t share the story with our children is that it doesn’t resonate deeply in our own hearts” (p. 29).
Rather than a parental “to do” list or “three easy steps,” Give Them Grace points parents to… grace. We have to receive it, embrace it, taste it, and enjoy it, before we can dazzle our kids with God’s grace in Christ. No wonder Elyse and Jessica appropriately devote one-third of Give Them Grace to “Foundations of Grace” (chapters one to four).
Grace That Trains
Bombarded with one message—“give your children grace”—the book is not finished. Giving grace, Elyse and Jessica explain, does not negate discipleship. “Parents are to discipline, instruct, train, and nurture their children. Only a cold detachment or a selfish disdain for children’s desperate need for direction would cause us to refuse to train them” (p. 82).
So now the question becomes, what does discipline and instruction that is markedly Christian look like? Elyse and Jessica offer their gospel-centered answer:
“Paul is telling parents to daily proclaim the message about Jesus to their children and to warn or rebuke them when they forget to live in light of what Jesus had already done. He was telling them to tether every aspect of their parenting to the gospel message” (p. 85).
That phrase alone—tether every aspect of parenting to the gospel—has the power to transform how we disciple and discipline our children. The co-authors recognize something vital: the Bible is not primarily a manual on child rearing. Instead, it is the proclamation of the good news. Therefore, we must read and apply every parental text in the Bible in the gospel context (just as we must apply every marriage text in the gospel context).
What all of this looks like in daily family life is well illustrated by copious vignettes taken from real-life parenting scenarios. I especially appreciate the compare/contrast format where you read “law-based parental illustrations” and “gospel-centered parental illustrations” side-by-side.
I’ve read some reviews that wonder whether the vignettes are realistic and/or overdone. As an author myself, I realize that I’m going to say more in my vignettes than someone would say in “real life.” My thinking is, “You can always say/do less, but at least you have the comprehensive principles.” Additionally, I recognize as an author that even though my vignettes are from real life, when read from the written page, they may sound wooden or seem one-size-fits-all. Here I trust my readers to have the wisdom to translate illustrative examples into their unique context. I see Elyse and Jessica doing the same.
I find their parenting vignettes to be some of the most powerful parts of Give Them Grace. The idea is not to repeat them verbatim. Nor is the implication, as I understand it, that every conversation must be a deep “gospel conversation.” Rather, as the gospel saturates our parental hearts, then all our parental interactions will be gospel-centered even if not overtly mentioning the gospel.
I also appreciate the lengthy Appendix “Common Problems and the Gospel.” Elyse and Jessica provide an acrostic (MNTCP—Management, Nurturing, Training, Correcting, and remembering the Promises) used throughout Give Them Grace to suggest a gospel way of thinking about specific issues. Their list includes common parent-child issues like lying, disobeying, provoking others, anger/fighting, complaining, talking back, and laziness. These examples give practical wisdom principles that parents can translate for the myriad of issues they face as they seek to give their children grace.
Weak Parents and Their Strong Savior
Oddly, reading a book on parental grace, especially when your children are now out of the home (as ours are), can result in a need for grace as we see our parental failures. Elyse and Jessica are not blind to this potential response. Quoting Dave Harvey, they explain, “I thought parenting was going to portray my strengths, never realizing that God had ordained it to reveal my weaknesses” (p. 143). The types of folks who are most likely to read a book like Give Them Grace are likely prone toward being “Pharisaical parents”—parents who attempt to earn a good standing by pursuing “perfect” parenting. I’m thankful that Elyse and Jessica devote an entire chapter to encouraging parents to return to the foot of the cross to receive grace for our imperfect parenting.
Give Them Grace gives grace to every reader, whether a parent or not. It is an extremely valuable book about gospel-centered living. For parents, it is a one-of-a-kind book with the power to transform parenting into the wonders and joy of new covenant ministry.
Note: This review first appeared at the Gospel Coalition Book Review site. Read it there at Give Them Grace.