Book review: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family
The author of Parenting, Paul Tripp, is concerned that most parents have gotten so lost in the endless tasks of parenting that they have forgotten the “vision that holds them all together and sanctifies them with meaning and purpose” (131, 132). In each chapter, Tripp focuses on one gospel principle for parenting that he hopes will pull back the curtains so that tired, frustrated parents can take in a big picture of parenting philosophy. This is not a book of practical and effective strategies. There are no 10-step processes or sample conversation scripts. In fact, Tripp argues that new strategies are not what parents need. Instead, this book offers the bird’s-eye view of parenting—how God may view the parenting tasks and challenges of everyday life.
It is important to note that Tripp has written about parenting before. He shares that he “became increasingly uncomfortable” with how parents were using what he had written (141). He began to see that the gospel foundation—the big picture why of parenting—was missing in these parents’ experience, and that prevented them from understanding and correctly applying any how principle he might share. Simply put, most parents will misuse the how unless they have already marinated in the why. Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family is that why—and it is a powerful and must-read title for all Christian parents.
While Tripp covers gospel principles on topics including grace, identity, authority, control, and rest, he really uses each topic as a new facet for viewing the same overarching principle: parents are ambassadors. Parents do not own their children; they should not focus on what they “want for their children and from their children” (168, 169). Instead,parents should “faithfully represent the message, methods, and character of the leader who has sent him [or her]” (176, 177). It is not the job of the parent to change or shape the child—that’s God’s work.
One point that Tripp reinforces is that parents suffer from the exact same challenge as their children: a sinful nature. In children, it causes all the behavior about which parents complain—fighting, possessiveness, complaining, and more. But parents also want their own way, feel possessive of their belongings, and complain! “I am more like my children than unlike them,”Tripp says, “and so are you” (156). Our children may be addicted to the latest cell-phone game, but parents often have an “addiction to the law of our comfort, pleasure, success, and control” (155). Further, to get our way, we often resort to fear, rewards, or shame-based methods to achieve that control and comfort. Parenting is a strange and glorious situation where God uses sinners to represent Himself to more sinners. Only God’s grace can make that possible!
Tripp also challenges parents’ mind-sets by insisting that the challenging moments are gifts of grace: “Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace” (171). These moments reveal our hearts and the hearts of our children. These are ministry opportunities! Further, when we experience God’s gifts of the Spirit in these moments, we can see how God parents us as we parent our children.
Another central theme is that of talking consistently and constantly about God’s grace, glory, and mercy—in every discipline moment, as the central reason behind every rule, and to open the eyes of our children to the hidden reality of God. Tripp not only suggests this to parents but also models it throughout his book. While he frequently calls out poor parenting practices, he never fails to point to God’s mercy and grace as the power for change in both our lives and the lives of our children.
This book would have been more accessible if it focused on the how, but without the why it would not have been more effective. Instead, this volume prods parents to reflect and evaluate their current practice against the standard of the gospel and courageously points to God’s gracious solution. The how of good parenting is easily found in many other quality resources, but this book about the why is a powerful presentation that can shape your parenting practices and infuse them with meaning. I recommend it without reservation.
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