There is no shortage of books on parenting, nor shortage of books claiming to present a Biblical approach to parenting. Though there are fewer parenting books written from a Reformed perspective, it is still a challenge to find the right one; thorough enough to be useful, brief enough to be utilized by parents who are ordinary readers.
Joel R. Beeke’s recently published Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace has stormed the hill of parenting books and has shown itself to be a worthy resource for parents. Written from a Puritan Reformed perspective, some might be tempted to confuse his approach with the caricatures of the Puritans that flood modern culture. But let it be known, the caricature of an austere man in black, coldly beating his children into submission and fearing “worldly” influences like buttons, colored fabric and automobiles, has nothing in common with the Christ-centered, gospel-focused and grace-centered family models championed by the Puritans and, in turn, by Beeke himself.
I usually find parenting books to have a real how-to flavor, resulting in a very law-oriented approach. The legalism that pervades most books stems from a failure to distinguish the law and the gospel. Indeed, even Reformed books, when not nuanced enough, claim to be utilizing the law in its “third use” when in practice they have made Christ another Moses. Beeke’s volume is saturated with grace through and through. Not once did I have to take out my red pen and mark “legalism” in the margin! Instead, my copy has been marked voraciously with “Amen!” and “Yes!” and “n.b” (nota bene – i.e., note well), not to mention paragraph after paragraph with rows of asterisks!
Several aspects of Parenting by God’s Promises commend themselves to readers of this review.
Beeke’s approach is thoroughly Biblical. After spelling out the parental implications of covenant theology, Beeke presents Biblical teaching on parenting through the rubric of Christ’s munus triplex – that is, his three-fold office of Prophet, Priest and King, describing parents as “Representatives of the Mediator” (pgs. 69-70). In subsequent chapters, Beeke chronicles the teaching and training required of Parent-Prophets, the serving and sympathizing of Parent-Priests, and the loving rule and discipline of Parent-Kings. Using both didactic and narratival texts from Holy Scripture, Beeke shows both the teaching of God’s Word on these matters and how this teaching is illustrated in the lives of various Biblical figures.
Beeke’s approach is characterized by humility. He writes with humility, but more importantly, he summons Christian parents to demonstrate humility and their own dependence on Christ in their parenting. Throughout the book, this attitude of selflessness pervades. Chapter 11, “Sympathizing with Our Children” is a fine example of this. Beeke notes that we must be careful “to sympathize with our children in the way Christ, our Great High Priest, sympathizes with us” (pg. 124). This does not mean that we minimize God’s precepts, but it does mean that we seek honestly to empathize with them in their sin and weakness.
Beeke shows the strong connection between the “practical” and the “theoretical” in parenting. Theory and praxis, belief and action – usually terms like these are set in opposition to one another as though one must choose one or the other. Beeke shows that this is unwarranted. Though parts 3 and 4 are even called “practical,” his regular interaction with the scriptures and the Puritans prevents this from just being “Joel Beeke’s opinion on such-and-such a matter.” After all, the Puritan’s own practice was firmly rooted in their beliefs; they saw their theology as permeating all of life! In every chapter of Parenting by God’s Promises, practical, concrete, applicable advice from a man with great wisdom as both a pastor and a father, is closely intertwined with Biblical, theological, confessional and historical themes, paradigms and precedence.
I could write more, but a book review must be selective. Though there were times when I might have stated a point, interpreted a verse or applied a text differently, these were few and were frankly, of no consequence to the overall thrust of the book. Since I finished the book, I have been excitedly recommending it to friends and parishioners. I myself have been blessed greatly by this book and I can only pray that my own children will be blessed by my reading of it as well. Parenting is a challenge and we need all the help we can get! Even if one feels that Beeke presents nothing groundbreaking or new, the repetition of these truths will help parents to remain intentional in being Christ-centered in their parenting. Indeed, the hallmark of sound Biblical teaching is not groundbreaking and new, but is instead tried and true. Parenting by God’s Promises is just that.