JUDY AND I JUST FINISHED READING Give them Grace a book on parenting by our fellow laborers in the gospel, Elyse Fitzpatrick and her grown daughter, Jessica Thompson.
The book has several strengths. It emphasizes the centrality of the gospel in parenting, a principle upon which we could not agree more. Second, it emphasizes the importance of Grace. Don’t give them law: give them grace (first chapter). Your goal is not obedient children that make you look good. Don’t teach your children that God loves the good little boys and girls (second chapter). You can’t save you children. You can’t give them new birth, and that is what they need (third chapter). Our children reject God two ways, by active rebellion and by self-righteousness (fourth chapter).
We loved the grace emphasis in this book. However, the book also raised some concerns. First, two Christian moms/wives are the authors. That by itself is not a problem. The problem is that the role of husband/father is not addressed. In light of the fact that the Bible addresses all of its parenting commands to fathers, and we live in anti-patriarchal age, this causes concern. We think a chapter at the beginning about moms honoring, following, and working with their husband would have been immensely helpful. Without this material this book might inadvertently encourage a mother’s autonomy from her husband, and/or conversely male passivity.
Second, this book’s wonderful emphasis on grace is also its weakness. God is a Father. That means he is a parent. The authors correctly encourage the reader to model their parenting on their knowledge of how God parents us. However, in places their understanding of God seemed simplistic and outside the entire corpus of biblical teaching about the Father’s grace and how it works. For example, chapter six contains a section entitled “Donkeys, Carrots, and Sticks.” There the author indicates that we should not motivate with fear (stick) or reward (carrot) because God does not motivate us that way. He motivates us with gratitude for the grace received by the gospel. Although God does motivate us with gratitude, in our view this rejection of other motives is overly simplistic.
Reward is a significant gospel motivator. God will judge us on the basis of the works that our faith produces, and he will reward us accordingly (Phil 3:13-14, 1 Cor 9:24-25, Rev. 2:10, etc.). In addition, fear is a significant gospel motivator (2 Cor 7:1, 5:11, Phil 2:12-13). For example, Paul, the architect of justification by faith alone, never presumed upon God’s grace. Rather, he feared lest he run his race in vain (Phil 3:12-16). He examined his conscience to see if he was in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5-7). Parents who motivate their children by gratitude alone might promote this kind of motivational reduction. They might even encourage their children to presume upon God’s grace. We do not want that.
If God motivates us with reward, fear, and warnings to not presume upon his grace, we should do likewise. However, as the authors correctly caution, we should do this without ever stating or implying that our children can merit God’s acceptance with their works.
Last, Appendix Two contained instructions to parents on different ways to correct a believing or unbelieving child. We did not find this helpful. Unless the child has specifically told you that they are not a Christian (very unlikely) we feel that you should treat them as if they are all Christians. Parents are not omniscient. They do not know what God is or is not doing in their child’s soul. Therefore, it is best to merely follow the apostolic instruction. Raise your children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Leave the guesswork about their conversion to God.
In summary, we need to “Give Them Grace” but it needs to be the full-orbed, nuanced grace that is in the Bible, and dads need to be at the center of its administration. If these principles are kept in mind this book can be helpful.