Alright, a book on parenting may seem like an odd book for me to review on this site, considering the fact that I am neither a parent or even have a wife to make that happen anytime soon. So naturally, I was a little timid in wading into this book and felt somewhat unqualified to read and review it. Until I read it. I was somewhat relieved when I began reading the book and they were really just talking about the gospel! After reading and considering Give Them Grace I feel less qualified to parent in the future, yet more confident in grace to sustain me as a parent, and as a single dude.
Give Them Grace doesn’t seem to be on par with any other parenting books out there (but I do confess I am a ‘parenting book’ rookie, this is the first one I have read). It was about parenting, but at the same time it wasn’t, it was about grace; honest, uncomfortable, counterintuitive grace. This is clear by the introduction, which focusses Law vs. Grace in parenting, Romans 6-8 style,
“Although we long to be faithful parents, we also rest in the fact that our faithfulness is not what will save our children. Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting… Our children will be saved only through the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit who works at the direction of our heavenly father.”(p.20)
Right from the beginning that is the meta-narrative of this book: grace, grace, grace, grace. Now, to be sure, the book is incredibly practical and down-to-earth, yet it is not a forced or detached practicality, but an application of the gospel into practical situations. By bringing into focus a clearer view of who God is and what Jesus did (the gospel) Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson attempt to understand what that means in the nitty-gritty of parenting and life. As a non-parent reading this book there were some situations that I could not personally relate to (even looking back to my upbringing) but without fail, in every chapter I was confronted with grace and my own false views of God.
The failures and sins of parenting are not addressed with practical “step-by-step life applications” but by holding an uncomfortably honest mirror up to our hearts and beliefs about who God is. Not a lot of books have convicted and convinced me of my need for mercy like Give Them Grace. And I think that was sort of the point. Fitzpatrick and Thompson wage a gospel-preoccupied war on “moralistic deistic parenting” because of the casualties it has claimed, starting with the shocking truth that,
“They [children][have been] taught that God wants them to be good, that poor Jesus is sad when they disobey, and that asking Jesus into their heart is the breadth and depth of the gospel message. Scratch the surface of the faith of young people around you and you’ll find a disturbing deficiency of understanding of even the most basic tenets of Christianity” (p.18)
Out of this conviction, this mother-daughter team has written a book where methodology is not central, but belief is central. Every chapter they preach grace in an uncomfortable way and in a freakishly radical way, so much so, that it has the potential to offend and unsettle both the religious and the irreligious reader with the gospel.
And I think possibly my favorite part of this book is the writing style and intentionality of the language. In the “gospel-centered” crowd, as much as we hate to admit it, we have our own lingo that we have the tendency to manipulate and occasionally allow a subtle self-righteousness to slip in (another post for another time). But Give Them Grace was not written in Christianese, but in a blunt, culturally relevant dialect. The gospel is explained repeatedly, grace is explained and then applied with surgical precision to the heart of the reader. Fitzpatrick doesn’t mince words and isn’t messing around with politeness when the gospel is at stake:
“”Christian” parenting books are not parenting books if their primary message is law…many conscientious parents have bought so deeply into these faux-christian methods that they are utterly terrified when they hear that they need to stop trying to manipulate their children by prescribed methods” (p.161)
Words like this force the reader to confront their own unbelief and to accept or reject grace. If the reader of this view is convinced of law-based living then this book about grace, ironically, will lead the reader to honest despair of their condition. With hard truths like “Our job [parenting] is not hard, it’s impossible” the book does not allow moralistic, religious wiggle-room. Instead humbles us with unmerited grace and applies it to the hard work of parenting.
To be fair, like any book, Give Them Grace isn’t a perfect book. There are a lot of topics I wish they had decided to cover more in-depth such as single parenting, etc. But a lot of my criticism is very micro, since I was reading this book specifically to review it. And all that said, I still I actually had very few quarrels with this books.
As I mentioned before, this is my first experience with a “parenting book” but by the end, I looked foreword to reading it because I knew it was good for my child-less soul. Not just a an exercise in parenting to use in the future, but as a reminder of God’s wonderful, free, ill-deserved grace on a train-wreck like me.
Overall rating| 9/10