This is the book I wish had been published twenty years ago.
I've made plenty of mistakes as a mother, and I know I'll make plenty more. Yet each year the Lord seems to help me see more clearly my need for the grace of the Gospel in my life and in my parenting. I've discussed with friends, with my pastor, at church potlucks, "What does it look like to reflect the Gospel in our parenting relationships?"
Increasingly these discussion of the Gospel and grace in parenting are taking place among moms in playgroups, in churches, on blogs.
But very few books have been published that really address this question in a fundamental way; very few books to pass along to friends and to say, "Hey, this really encouraged me to look to the grace of the Gospel as a mom."
Enter Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica. (What a perk, writing as a team! One with the wisdom of experience, one with the fresh "this is what it feels like in the trenches" perspective.)
Key points that I really like about this book:
* Give them Grace differentiates between moralism and the Gospel: "Mormons, Muslims, and moralistic atheists all share the belief that law can perfect us, but Christians don't. Christians know that the law can't save us; what we need is a Savior."
* It warns against formula parenting: "Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting or your children."
* It encourages going back to the what Christ has done (and often quotes one of my favorite books, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name), "please stop for a moment and ask yourself what percentage of your time is spent in declaring the rules and what percentage in reciting the Story."
* It keeps reaffirming the centrality of the Gospel in all of Scripture, in all of life, "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."
* It reminds us that we, as parents, need the Gospel, too: "In our hearts we know that's true because the law hasn't made us good, either, has it?"
* The questions for reflection at the end of each chapter really ARE good for reflection, not just "learn the answer, fill in the blanks".
* Appendix Two: Common Problems and the Gospel. This is an excellent resource for helping parents re-frame their thinking and answer "What does it look like to reflect the Gospel in our parenting relationships?" Of course, considering the chart format, parents could slip into formulaic parenting... I think we all have that tendency. But it is more valuable as a resource than a harm, in my opinion.
That said, thit isn't quite the book that I hoped it would be. There are two main concerns that I have.
* I really wish this book had addressed children in the Covenant, and the theological implications of that. While I understand that this discussion would change the book and change the target audience, I had hoped this would have been at least discussed in part. Some of the sample conversations in the book between parent and child would have likely been a bit different had aspects of covenant theology been included.
* "Give them Grace" seems to lose sight of the fullness of what Christ has done when discussing punishment. I am disturbed by this sample conversation, "I am sad that I have to cause you pain. I know that you are sad too. I pray that you will understand that disobedience always causes pain. In fact, our disobedience caused the pain that Jesus felt on the cross, even though he had always perfectly obeyed and didn't deserve to be punished."
In effect, this sample conversation nullifies the punishment Christ bore on the cross for our sins and our children's sins. It is communicating to the child, "even though Jesus paid for your sins, it wasn't enough and you must be punished as well". This seems to undermine the overarching theme of the book. "I have to cause you pain. . ." even though Jesus already took the punishment for your sin?
This isn't a "to spank or not to spank" question, please don't misunderstand me. Christians of good conscience and careful study of the Bible parent both with spanking and without spanking.
The issue is a theological one of equating the punishment of a child with the punishment of Christ, and communicating to the child that they MUST be punished -- undermining how we communicate Christ's full punishment for us. . . even for their little childish sins.
In spite of these two concerns, I do give this book 5-stars and recommend it to Christian parents.
I remember some of the first parenting books I read, pulling them off the shelf when I was babysitting, reading them after the kids were in bed. Sadly, these Christian parenting books were devoid of the Gospel. It framed the parenting relationship for me in a way that led me to lose track of what was really important as a mother.
Through the years that has changed. "This is why you need Jesus, this is why Mommy needs Jesus. . ." these are the conversations I've been having with my children. . . slowly, growing to this place of giving my children the Gospel of grace. . . imperfectly.
If only this book had been on the shelf 20 years ago. . .