Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/03/2011 by John Bird.
Recommended. A very good parenting book which is nevertheless guilty of over-forced, over-application of the gospel.
In the forward to Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, Tullian Tchividjian says it's "the best parenting book [he's] ever read, because it takes the radical, untamable, outrageous nature of the gospel seriously and applies it to parenting." And the authors do take the gospel seriously. The difference between their book and other Christian parenting books, they say, is that theirs emphasizes grace rather than law:
Most of us are painfully aware that we're not perfect parents. We're also deeply grieved that we don't have perfect kids. But the remedy to our mutual imperfection isn't more law, even if it seems to produce tidy or polite children.
These two experienced mothers don't pretend that they are perfect, that their children are perfect, or that they have the secret key to perfection. They don't give readers a formula for parenting; there are no "three steps," or even specified rod dimensions (though they do say that an open hand is okay, regardless of what other parenting books have said). Instead, they remind us that it is God, and not parents, who determines a child's destiny in this life and the next, and that we need His grace as much as our children do. They also give lots of encouragement to weary, imperfect parents:
[God] doesn't treat his dear children as 'disappointments' whose disobedience and failures take him by surprise or shock him. He does not suspend his love until they get their acts back together. He already knows the worst about you (in yourself) and loves and approves you nonetheless (in Christ).
If applying the gospel can be overdone, these authors do it proudly: "We've encouraged you to dazzle [your children] with the message of Christ's love and welcome, and then when you think that surely they must be tiring of it, go back and drench them with it again."
The only problem with this approach is that when we apply the gospel to every event in life, and especially when we use it to correct, children will tire of it. Not every single moment needs to be a "teachable moment." Do we need to bring up Jesus' agony on the cross every time our child acts like a child?
For instance, the authors give an example of how we might apply the gospel to a child who pouts after losing a baseball game: "Yes, losing is difficult...Jesus Christ understands losing because he lost relationship with his father on the cross...He's using this suffering in your life to make us both look up and see his love."
Besides the superficial view of suffering in the above quote, this loose way of applying the gospel, especially when often repeated, takes the power out of the message and can weary the children. Something sadder than a child growing up never hearing the good news is a child who grows up hoping to never hear it again.
Besides overdoing the application of the gospel, the authors are also guilty, like the authors of many of our Christian books and blogs, of overwriting. Some of their words have become so popular (peruse, enjoin, facets, eventuate), that I expect to see them in half the Christian books I read, though I've never heard them in real conversation.
Still, the most important things to be said about this book are that it leaves room for failure, emphasizes the superiority of the gospel over the law, and is primarily about imperfect parents glorifying a perfect God (rather than themselves or their children). These things put Give Them Grace above many other Christian parenting books.