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Instructing a Child’s Heart Review

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January 7, 2015

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A Call to Formative Instruction

Instructing a Child’s Heart was written to help parents impress the truths of God and His Word on the hearts of their children. The goal is not to control children or manage their behavior, but to point them to God and His goodness through formative instruction.

Tedd and Margy Tripp describe formative instruction as:

“Formative instruction is teaching that ‘forms’ our children…Formative instruction is ‘before the problem’ instruction. Its focus is interpreting and responding to life in biblical ways. It is both planned and unplanned” (p. 31).

In Instructing a Child’s Heart, the Tripps do a great job in this first section of helping parents focus on the five goals of formative instruction as they engage their children. The goals are:

  1. Remember Scripture is our personal history,
  2. Develop godly habits,
  3. Apply Scripture to life,
  4. Model spiritual vitality, and
  5. Grow into a mature relationship with your children.

With these goals in mind, instruction takes on new shapes as parents are encouraged to assess their own relationships with the Lord and how they are modeling Christ to their children.

Introduction to Formative Instruction

This next section of Instructing a Child’s Heart is one that really gets at the heart. Not only do children need heart change, but parents do as well. Without targeting the heart and why children do the things they do, the focus will only be on behavior that will not last. Lasting change comes through a heart that worships the Lord Jesus.

Tedd and Margy Tripp encourage parents to point their children to Jesus Christ in the midst of their instruction. Simply trying to modify their behavior misses the point of God’s call on parents to train up their children in the way they should go.

They explain it this way:

“Formative instruction provides biblical ways for children to think about themselves and their world….We give our children big truths they will grow into rather than light explanations they will grow out of” (p. 45).

In this section, the reader is shown how behavior comes from the heart, not the other way around. Meaning, the child is not a bad kid because they are misbehaving, they are misbehaving because their hearts are wanting their own way. Formative instruction helps in this by allowing the child to see that their own way can lead to destruction, but God has a better way for them to follow.

This section also points out the differences between the reward/punishment principles of behaviorism and biblical sowing/reaping principles. The Tripps give very helpful explanations of the goals and consequences that are associated with behaviorism and biblical instruction. They also build a good theology of biblical sowing and reaping principles while explaining the differences.

As the reader moves through this section of the book, they will also learn how authority is God’s plan and why that is important, as well as giving children a vision of the glory of God. If children can see more and more what they are here to do and how God wants them to know and worship Him, then they will interpret the experiences and opportunities of life correctly.

Application of Formative Instruction

This last section of the book talks about getting from behavior to the heart and gives great, practical applications to all that the book has taught so far. The thing that I thought was most helpful in this book was that the last chapter is all about the centrality of the Gospel. It might be easy to get caught up in all that the reader is not doing as a parent or all the things that they are doing wrong and miss the grace of our Lord Jesus. As the readers are learning to help their children prize the Gospel and to practice godly responses, they are being reminded of the goodness of our Lord and their need for His grace and forgiveness.

“The power of the Gospel is our hope in this parenting task. We come to parenting with all of our weaknesses and failings. God is not finished with us yet, but we still have this task of teaching our children. We come to Him with our profound need for grace and strength to do all the things He has called us to do” (p. 187).

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