Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 03/11/2011 by Leslie Wiggins.
Recommended. With some adjustments, this is a helpful handbook in guiding your children towards faith in Christ.
New life is a mystery. Most women do not know they are pregnant until a test or doctor's confirmation. Though physicians can provide a detailed step-by-step description of the birthing process, the actual trigger that sets a birth in motion is still unknown. Furthermore, though we've all experienced it, no one can explain what it was like to be born. The only thing we know is that we're alive right now. Likewise, spiritual birth is mysterious.
Jesus likens the movement of God's Spirit to the wind, saying, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). We know a few things that are necessary (grace and faith), and we know what it looks like after it begins, but man is not able to make it happen.
Ray Comfort, author, founder of Living Waters Ministries, and creator of Way of the Master, an evangelism strategy and training ministry, points out the obvious about the title of his book:
Of course, any theologian will tell you that we can’t ‘bring’ our children to Christ, and neither can we 'keep them there'...While there is no sure-fire formula to secure the salvation of any human being, the Bible assures us that if a child truly repents and trusts the Savior, God will begin a good work in him that He will complete. Our role as parents is to ensure that he is truly born of God, rather than of the will of man.
Comfort is adamant that "easy believe-ism" and sinner's prayers have not helped children be born of the Spirit. He says that parents ought to be looking for genuine repentance and faith in their children when it comes to their salvation rather than the recitation of a prayer or even parroting the correct answers to theological questions. In How to Bring Your Children to Christ, Comfort explains, "All we can do is make ready the soil of the child's heart, plant the pure seed of the Word of God, keep away harmful influences, and faithfully water it with believing prayer."
He encourages Christian parents to cultivate a few specific habits in their homes. These habits, like daily family devotions, are ones that will naturally flow from a heart that loves God and His Word. It is only after commanding, "Love the Lord Your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might," that God commands parents to "teach [his commandments] diligently to your children." If we love God the way we ought, then the teaching and talking about Him when we're sitting, walking, lying, and rising, will happen naturally and without pretense (see Deuteronomy 6). As Comfort warns, children will be able to tell when parents are hypocrites.
In addition to regular church attendance, family worship, and a consistent godly lifestyle, Comfort instructs parents in using two God-given tools: a child's conscience and The Ten Commandments. In Galatians, Paul explains that the Law was given to be a tutor, leading us to the grace offered through faith in Jesus. Comfort explains how to use the Law as God's tutor for our children, helping them understand sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Since God desires that all come to repentance, be sure to use the tools He has provided for that purpose. The conscience, your God-given ally in the hearts of your children, will work with you as you go through the Moral Law, convincing them of their need for a Savior.
After instructing children in the Law, then comes watching for contrition or a "stopped mouth." A stopped mouth is one that no longer tries to justify behavior or make excuses for sin. Rather than leading them in a "sinner's prayer," Comfort explains, "As long as there are no complications when a child is born, all the doctor needs to do is guide the head. The same applies spiritually. When someone is "born of God," all we need to do is guide the head - make sure that the person understands what he is doing...[R]ather than lead your child in a prayer of repentance, it is wise to encourage him to pray himself." If a child is born of the Spirit, then a parent can look for genuine repentance, the turning from sin to God.
The final key, Comfort says, is to cultivate a passion for reaching out to people who've never heard the gospel. He is convinced that if children see their parents sharing the gospel with others, then they will know their parents are not hypocrites, that they genuinely believe the gospel.
Though it is not his main emphasis, Comfort affirms that one of the most important things parents can do is pray, believing and trusting God with the souls of their children.
I agree with everything Comfort suggests parents do in order to help lead children to Christ and grow young people who are reverent believers. However, in "Chapter 11: Worldly Guests," Comfort encourages parents to avoid a whole list of things. Even after a parent has done all the work of teaching the children God's Law, teaching them the gospel, setting a consistent example of godliness, loving the children and building real relationships with them, developing the habit of family devotions, praying for them, and trusting the Lord with their souls, Comfort says parents still have to fear the influence of the world because a child's sinful bent can make the temptation from the world powerful enough derail everything. He details the consequences associated with smoking, drinking, fornicating, watching too much television, listening to rock-n-roll, and allowing children to attend public schools.
I can understand the desire to limit a child's exposure to sinful behavior and influences from birth through young childhood, when they are most impressionable. However, we can't live in fear. While children still live at home is the best time to begin conversations about sin and evil and temptation and what to do when temptation comes. It is sure to come; there is no avoiding it, and parents must prepare their children for those days while they are still living at home.
Also, to make a blanket statement about public schools is a bit much. One community's schools will vary greatly from another's schools. Comfort does not provide one positive anecdote or quote regarding public schools. Instead, he encourages parents to send children to a private Christian school or to homeschool them. Some parents, due to location or finances, do not have a choice when it comes to the education of their children. Comfort believes in the sovereignty of God over salvation; well, God is sovereign over things like school zone and private school tuition, too. To my mind, that decision is best left up to one's conscience and conviction.
This book puts the awesome responsibility of parenting in perspective. Comfort does not pull any punches: I definitely feel the weight of, "If I am not diligent to teach my children the gospel, then they will go to Hell for eternity." This book will be a real kick in the pants to Christian parents who have been lackadaisical about their children's spiritual upbringing. As with most things, there is a danger of going too far in one of two directions. First, parents could read this book, throw their hands in the air in despair because they haven't always had a family altar, and give up before they start. The other extreme is to do all the things suggested exactly like they are described, but do so with the gentleness of a drill sergeant, emphasizing all the "Thou Shalt Nots" over all the wonderful things that Christians are commanded to do. Comfort emphasizes that parents have to give children the Law before they can give them grace. That may be the proper order, but it seems to share the gospel with a frown rather than with joy. Trusting the Lord for the salvation of your children, whether you've always been consistent to teach the scriptures to them or if you have only known Jesus since yesterday, is the secret to guarding against the extremes. He is faithful when we are not.
One final point Comfort makes that I do not necessarily agree with is his advice to parents to never tell your children that you committed the same sins they commit. "It's essential, as you go through the Commandments, that you not be openly sympathetic with your children, or with anyone else you witness to. Sometimes it's tempting to say, 'I used to lie too,' to console the person. But if you do so, you may remove that most necessary of ingredients: conviction...So be sure you don't console your children in their sins." Perhaps he is only referring to those moments when a parent is teaching the Law, but when it comes to my relationship with my children and the need to be authentic, then I have to be honest with them about my own sins. I want to share the consequences of my sin and instruct them not to make the same terrible (sometimes plain stupid) mistakes. I want them to understand that I know I'm a lawbreaker, too; I'm not just a parental killjoy, pointing out their sins to them after every single infraction. I think it's important that they know that I struggle with sin, but that there's abundant grace through Jesus Christ. In doing so, I can demonstrate for them prayers of confession, asking for forgiveness, and grace for true repentance.
Christian parents ought to read this book and allow the Spirit to direct the ways to incorporate Comfort's advice into family life.