Give Them Grace: A Fairly Critical Review

I recently read one parenting book that created a lot of discussion last year when it came out: Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. As many of you know, this book is basically a big lesson on raising kids focused on grace rather than law.  Perhaps we could say the book is an application of the law/gospel distinction to parenting.

Before I get into a critique, I do want to make it clear that I agree with the major premise of the book: that Christian families should be families where the gospel of grace is central.  We should constantly tell our kids that Jesus died to save sinful people who deserve to be punished forever.  We should remind them of God’s forgiveness, patience, care, might, and love for his people.  Grace should reign in the Christian home.  The authors make this point well and their sharp critiques of Veggie-Tale-Mormon-home-moralism was spot-on.  I highly recommend the book for this reason: it is gospel centered.

I have a few critiques of the book as well.  First, I was very much disappointed that the authors didn’t discuss the covenantal aspects of the family.  The term “covenant” came up a few times, but there was no discussion of what it means to be a covenant of grace family.  I realize the authors might not hold the Reformed view of the covenants, but still, a parenting book without it is lacking.

Since the book is not from a covenantal perspective, the authors talk about how to deal with your unregenerate kids verses how to treat your regenerate kids.  That was very troubling to read; who are we to guess the status of our seven year old’s heart?  Furthermore, a covenantal emphasis would also include a discussion of the church in the life of a family (i.e. the church preaches grace, the family lives by grace).  I know the authors couldn’t do it all in one book, but since the church is a huge part of a Christian family’s life, some discussion would have been helpful.  One major weakness of the book is the lack of emphasis on the covenant of grace and what it has to do with our children.

A second area of weakness in this book is the lack of discussion about the third use of the law (the law as a guide for gratitude).  The authors do use the term “gratitude” around a dozen times, but nowhere do they unpack what it means.  They kept emphasizing how we should not raise our kids with a focus on the law – they clearly say “the law won’t help” (p. 63).  Again, I agree with that statement when it comes to justification: obedience to the law does not help one whit in justification.  But the Christian – and the Christian home – certainly does need the law in the area of sanctification (being set apart and growing in godliness).  The law/gospel distinction is valid, but it really gets messed up without an emphasis on the third use of the law.

The law helps us (parents and kids) know what is right and true and it tells us what is wrong and false.  We need the law to know what God wants us to do and what he doesn’t want us to do.  We need the law to show us how to thank God for salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  The Christian family can and should pray, Do not let me stray from your commandments (Ps. 119:10). This is why the Presbyterian and Reformed confessions give a commentary on the Ten Commandments. Since the third use of the law was not emphasized, the authors’ talk about rules in the home created some dissonance for me.

Again, I do recommend this book because it goes against all those moralistic Christian parenting books – even the popular ones.  However, for those of you who are familiar with Reformed theology – the covenants (works and grace), the law/gospel distinction, the difference between justification and sanctification, the uses of the law, and the doctrine of the church – you might not need to get this one.  I’d encourage you to spend time applying the areas of Reformed theology just mentioned to the task of parenting.  Teach your children the stories of the Bible, teach them about forgiveness and love, teach them about Jesus’ death on the cross, teach them about faith and repentance, teach them about gratitude.  Remind them that you too are sinful and need the cross.  And so forth.  Let grace abound!

By the way, if you do want a parenting book with a similar emphasis on grace and with a Reformed emphasis on the covenant of grace and the third use of the law, I recommend Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace by Joel Beeke.  (Andrew reviewed it HERE).

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

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6 comments on “Give Them Grace: A Fairly Critical Review

  1. justsinner99 says:

    I was going to ask what you thought of it in comparison to Beeke’s book, but you beat me to it.

  2. Stephen says:

    Thanks for this. As the parent of a 3 and 1 year old I was planning to read Give Them Grace, but I’ll read Beeke’s book first.

  3. Thanks for your critique, Shane. Since neither Jess nor I are Presbyterian (tho my son is and attends WTS) we’re not covenantal and hence your concerns are well-grounded. Thank you for pointing out our lack of reference to the church’s role. That’s a great point and something we missed entirely! We think we did cover third use issues but perhaps not as strongly as one might like. We were intent on presenting the law/gospel distinction and perhaps weren’t as clear as we meant to be (and are i our homes). Thanks again for your thoughts.

    • Elyse:
      Thanks kindly for your comment. I am thankful you wrote the book and am sure it will kill legalism in many homes – which is a great thing! Also, I must let you know that my wife and I, along with the church I pastor, have used your material in the past with much profit. So keep writing, please! And stay focused on the gospel (which I know you will).
      Yours in Christ,
      shane

  4. Tricia Lynn says:

    Thank you for this post. I read this book a week or so ago and had many critiques. Your post confirmed all of my concerns.

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