I suppose I would recommend this book. Overall, I liked about half of the book. I was in hearty agreement with the authors until I got to Chapter 9. But before I comment on that, let me point out the really good parts of the book.
Mother and daughter authors, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson make an excellent main point in Give Them Grace that truly righteous and godly children are products of their own personal relationship to God. It was good to be reminded that there really is no perfect parenting formula for raising godly children, because God has no grandchildren. This is a concept that ought to be obvious to anyone who is a believer, and all along while reading the book I was nodding in agreement to that. The authors also remind us that all of Scripture points to Christ as the centerpiece. As parents (and teachers of other church kids for that matter) we ought to be going beyond just teaching facts about the Bible and about Bible stories. They are right to point out that the prodigal son’s need for redemption was the same as his self-righteous brother’s. So pointing the children to God’s grace in spite of our sinfulness is the best part of this book.
The authors made a distinction between social obedience (manners), civic obedience (the laws of the land), and religious obedience (personal or church-related habits and disciplines). It was at this point that I began to get an inkling of where they were going. I got the impression from the authors that it’s alright to teach manners and civic laws, but we had better be careful teaching religious obedience because that might lead to hypocrisy. My first thought about this hypocrisy charge is that this reasoning doesn’t make sense in every area of life. If I drive the speed limit even when I don’t feel like it and sometimes break that law, am I a hypocrite? Of course not. So I was scratching my head to figure out how kids could understand that they should be polite at the library whether they feel like it or not…but then can’t figure out that they should read their Bible and pray whether they feel like it or not. I was pretty surprised when the author stated:
I assumed my children had regenerate hearts because they had prayed a prayer at some point and because I required religious obedience from them. This resulted in kids who were alternately hypocritical and rebellious. It taught them how to feign prayer, without pressing them to long for the Savior.1
Of course good works don’t mean salvation! I guess it never occurred to me to assume salvation had come to my children’s hearts simply because of works. My opinion is that we still need to require the kids to behave appropriately in the religious obedience areas even if their hearts aren’t into it yet. Just as I would never allow my child to behave rudely in the Oval Office of the White House, I would not allow rudeness in church either. This is not teaching hypocrisy. This is teaching obedience whether civic or social or religious.
As I said at the beginning, I’d recommend this book whole-heartedly if it were not for chapter 9, “Weak Parents and their Strong Savior.” In this portion of the book, the authors give us a window into their theology which is the basis for their parenting philosophy. There are statements like this which wave a red flag to me.
Everything that isn’t gospel is law. Let us say it again: everything that isn’t gospel is law. Every way we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law. We won’t get the results we want from the law. We’ll get either shallow self-righteousness or blazing rebellion or both (frequently from the same kid on the same day!). We’ll get moralistic kids who are cold and hypocritical and who look down on others (and could easily become Mormons), or you’ll get teens who are rebellious and self-indulgent and who can’t wait to get out of the house. We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one reason only: to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ.2
Actually, the Law has more purpose than pointing sinners to God’s promise, although that was its primary purpose. The Law didn’t only produce Pharisees. It also produced David and Elijah and Hezekiah and Josiah and the Maccabees and Zachariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary and Nicodemus and so on and so on. It also keeps our hearts safe and happy (in a yielded heart). Drawing a direct line from “everything that isn’t gospel” to Pharisaism (true legalism), hypocrisy, self-righteousness, etc. is incorrect. I think the authors (and many others) have fundamentally mischaracterized the Mosaic Law to the point where we now say “Law” and we really mean “Pharisaism”. To go further, the Bible has more than just the gospel in it. The New Testament has more than the gospel in it, for that matter! Read the book of James or Galatians. I just read Psalm 119 and it extols the virtues of God’s Law. I fear this book goes too close to actually condemning the laws of God. Jesus himself didn’t come to condemn the Law (Romans 3:30), and there is also a Law of Christ that we must fulfill as New Testament believers (Gal. 6:2).
An aside: I happen to believe that childhood actually can be compared to the Dispensation of the Law and adulthood can parallel Grace. There ought to be more “laws” while our children are young, so that they will learn how to be good recipients of the grace of adulthood. See my article “Of Dispensations and Parenting.” We parents should not feel insecure about setting high standards for our children any more than God did for the Israelites.
Another error that was glaring at me was their belief in “double predestination.” That is, that God ordains evil as well as good in order to glorify himself.
The Lord always acts for his glory, and because he had predestined the sin of the Romans and the Jews in his Son’s cruel execution, their sin glorified him. It was the means he used to demonstrate his grace, mercy, justice, and love so that we would sing his praises throughout eternity. Think about this: we would never have known what mercy is if we had never sinned.3
I noticed that the authors equated sinfulness as weakness. So when Paul lamented his weakness of the flesh (physical weakness, 2 Cor. 12:7-10), that God’s grace is sufficient, their conclusion is that we shouldn’t despise sin anymore than physical distress. My view is that while sin is a weakness, weakness isn’t necessarily sinful. Our suffering especially for the cause of Christ is often out of our control unlike sinfulness. This belief that God preordains our sin can lead to a disdain for any expectation of righteousness or holiness because somehow we are thwarting God’s plan through the sin.
It is only when we arrive at that dreaded place of weakness that we discover the surpassing power of Christ. It is only when we are finally freed from those oh-so-constricting straightjackets of self-righteousness that we are able to experience the true comfort and warmth of the robes of his righteousness.4
What about Romans 6:1? What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? No, rather we find in the New Testament that sin hurts the name of Christ and the testimony of Jesus. Who are we to say that things would not have been better if we had done right and followed God’s will than to indulge our own sinfulness? It is never God’s will that we sin.
The authors backtracked in the end notes at the back of the book saying, “We’re not saying sin is inherently good….just that it’s an opportunity to turn back to God.” Basically the notes for chapter 9 explain that Man is responsible for his sin, not God. But it was hard for me to get past the statements in chapter 9. So I’m not sure what exactly we are supposed to do, then, when our children sin except give them the gospel over and over.
Having said all of that, I’m going to use this opportunity to get on a short soap box. These are just my thoughts, so please feel free to comment or challenge me, but I think I ought to at least throw this out to my readers to contemplate. Basically, I think this book lands on the side of permissive parenting style. When an author tells me not to condemn too quickly a sinful act because God’s grace covers all our sins, I can only conclude that I either (1) need to be God so I can see into my children’s hearts, or (2) I should just not worry about any sinful or righteous behaviors at all because it’s all up to God anyway. And since I’m not God…
In the Christian culture we are still afraid to set high standards for our kids for fear that they might not understand the gospel. That is ridiculous. So, I am either called a legalist or I am accused of not living by grace alone simply because I set standards for myself and my kids and seek to live a holy life because my Lord is holy. Children can understand the concept of a works based salvation (true legalism) and they can understand salvation by faith alone. Let’s not dumb down the nurturing process by giving the gospel every time we have a teaching opportunity with them. I thought it was my fellow fundamentalists who were caricatured as Bible thumpers beating people over the head with the gospel!
Let’s not forget to be mindful of our child’s heart condition before God, but let’s also allow for normal child training expectations. Good behavior should be required from our Christian kids, and we should follow through with consequences if they don’t. Setting high standards at home or at any institution can be done with grace and in loving ways. But I don’t see why it’s necessary to pressure parents into making sure their techniques are expressly Christian when there are times when simple obedience must be taught. Give them grace? Of course. Teach them obedience too.
1. Fitzpatrick, Elyse M.; Thompson, Jessica (2011-05-04). Give Them Grace (Foreword by Tullian Tchividjian): Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (p. 33). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
2. Ibid (p. 36).
3. Ibid (p. 148).
4. Ibid (p. 152).