Give Them Grace by Jessica Thompson and Elyse Fitzpatrick is a book about Christian parenting. I emphasize the word “Christian” here because one of their primary theses is that Christian parenting should look distinctive when it is looked at alongside non-Christian parenting. Specifically, this should be reflected in the notion that parenting centers around grace rather than enforcing a works-based system.
The way this plays out throughout the book is through an emphasis not just on getting obedience but rather on raising children who are faithful and understand that Christianity is not about our works but about what God has done for us. The authors use several concrete examples of misbehavior or situations in which parental intervention might be required. These examples are then put through a filter of “giving grace,” often with lengthy example dialogues and advice on how to interact. How well does this seem to work out in the examples given? Well, it’s a bit uneven.
On the one hand, the example dialogues are solid ways to apply the notion that we should give our children “grace” rather than a constant stream of Law (and thus create little Pharisees). When one child says they hate another child, rather than shutting them down purely through application of discipline, the authors commend an approach which speaks to the love of Christ in the lives of children. Some may fear this means no discipline is given, but this is far from the case. The authors put forward a good balanced approach between correction and application of grace and thus also provide an example of how to avoid pure works-righteousness in the hearts and minds of our children. The system that is put forward is one in which management, nourishing, training, correction, and rehearsing of Gospel promises are all integrated into parenting.
On the other hand, there are some theological background beliefs which are distracting and sometimes even disturbing in this work. There is a constant refrain of wondering whether one’s child is “regenerated” or not. This lack of surety about the salvation of children not only is a bit terrifying for myself as a parent, but also unfortunately undermines the points the authors make at several points. As a Lutheran, I believe in infant baptism and trust in God to fulfill the promises our Lord made through baptism. I’m not trying to start a debate on that topic, but instead I say this to point out that from my perspective, this means large parts of the book are simply untenable.
Moreover, there is a frankly disturbing lack of trust in the faith of children despite the fact that Jesus Christ said to let the little children come to Him. For example, when discussing the prayers of children about faith: “Because we don’t know the state of our children’s souls and because they might simply want to please us by praying to be saved, we must continue to give them the law and encourage them to ask God for faith to believe that he is as good as he says he is” (Kindle location 814-815). This suggestion that we must essentially doubt the faith of a child, always wary as to whether they are trying to please us rather than being genuine in their calls for salvation is, I think, theologically deeply problematic.
Another difficulty with the book is a seemingly constant refrain of what mothers do, which is particularly off-putting in the discussion of how moms must always be praying for their kids. What about me as a father? It seems clear from the (pretty good!) chapter on prayer that fathers should be praying too, but then why all the emphasis on mothers in this and other regards? It makes it seem like mothers are viewed as more important, despite disavowals of that same notion.
Overall, Give Them Grace is a good but not great parenting book with lots of concrete examples that help to put forward a vision of parenting that is distinctively Christian.
+Focus on Christian parenting as distinctive
+Practical advice in many situations
+Questions which lead to more concrete applications
+Easy-to-read style which still captivates
+Fairly neutral about physical discipline with advice both to those who would like to engage in it and to those who would not [“fairly” because the authors do favor the former]
-Doesn’t give enough credit to fathers
-Theological background beliefs about children’s salvation distracting and even disturbing
-Some advice hampered by said theological beliefs
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.
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Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, Give Them Grace (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011).
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