Parenting books are a dime a dozen.
I’ve got easily a shelf full of ’em.
And every one I’ve got is useful to one degree or another.
So why another one? Or more specifically, what does William Farley’s new book, Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting, add to an already full plate of literature seeking to expound on how to raise my children?
I’m pleased to say, plenty. In particular, Gospel-Powered Parenting provides a very thorough framework for how to think about parenting before it proceeds to advise on how to actually do it! The thing is, most parenting books I’ve read focus on either providing a philosophy of parenting or a list of “best practices” for parenting. But scant few of them spend much time talking about who we are as parents and who (or what) our children are (spoiler: we are all sinners ever in need of the gospel). Thus, whether they focus on philosophy or practice, most parenting books simply focus on the task of parenting, and assume we already know what should motivate us as parents and what our goals should be. This book does not make those assumptions.
Instead, the author takes great pains to first establish a groundwork for understanding the gospel, for his thesis is that the heart of Biblical parenting are the premises and power of the gospel. The first half of the book, then, is spent on covering key Biblical teachings, rooted in the gospel, about God, man, sin and family. In particular, his emphasis on cultivating a fear of God, the problem of sin, and the power of the gospel are absolutely essential to starting off on the right foot as a parent.
Beyond this foundation, Farley continues with some very insightful and even potentially controversial exhortations as to what is needed for faithful parenting. He spends an entire chapter laying down a persuasive case from both Scripture and modern statistics of the critical and primary role of the father in setting a trajectory for where his children will go spiritually. While some of what he says may seem controversial, I think the data he references is convincing. In short, he points out that Western culture, up until the mid-20th century, assumed that the main parent was the father (“Father Knows Best” was a popular TV show in the 50s), and the mother was assistant (though not any less important) to father. According to Farley, those roles have been reversed, and not for better. He also suggests a strong connection between the weakness of the church in cultivating and encouraging Biblical masculinity — to which men who are fathers would be drawn — and the decline in passing on the faith to future generations. Both of these themes are good food for thought, especially for men who want to be challenged to examine whether they’re fulfilling their God-given calling as fathers for their children (including me!).
The author then touches on how the gospel should shape how we discipline our children as well as how it should move us to lavish affection on them. He offers the perspective that, in the gospel, we can see God’s hatred of sin, his mercy toward sinners, his love toward His children, and so on; and how that should affect how we as parents approach parenting (with humility and dependence on God, in the fear of God), as well as how it should shape how we view our children. He convincingly points out that our culture today is committed to an utterly unbiblical assumption that people (and especially children) are “basically good,” which is completely contradicted by Scripture’s indictment of all of us as “sheep who have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Again, here, how we think about ourselves and our children will affect how we parent; and Farley does a great job making that connection.
Lastly, I was encouraged by how he reminds how essential it is that we as parents own up to God’s calling on us to be the primary spiritual instructors of our children, not simply relying on church ministries or professional Christian educators to do so. His acknowledgment of his own past failings and mistakes served to encourage me that our goal as parents isn’t to be perfect saints who have all the answers and never mess up, but to be a living example of the power and hope of the gospel to our children. As he puts it, he is convinced that his acknowledgments of weakness and transparent dependence on God through his parenting contributed far more to lead his children to Christ than all his “meager virtues” combined.
With all the books on parenting available to Christians, I rank this among the top few that has helped to refresh my vision for parenting my children for Christ. While there are other books which provide more detail on specific ideas for training, this one has both refreshed my sense of vision and provided guidance for future practice. It is one I will return to again and again for its highlighting of the wonder and power of the gospel for faithful, Biblical parenting. My review only touches the surface of his well thought out and thoroughly pastoral counsel on integrating the gospel into our parenting. Buy it. Read it. I highly recommend it.
Note: Tim Challies interviewed the author and posted on his blog here.