Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Review: Give Them Grace / Shepherding a Child's Heart

This is sort of a double book review, although its main focus will be on Fitzpatrick and Thompson's book, Give Them Grace, as a balanced perspective on Tripp's popular Shepherding A Child's Heart. As such, it will be a lengthier review because there is much more material to cover (in both books as well as comparisons between the two).
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I was recently asked for my opinion on Give Them Grace by a friend who had recently read it after reading Tripp's book. She was mystified about how these two perspectives could be reconciled as one focuses on grace and the other on obedience (works). I had already intended to read Give Them Grace - in fact, I had found it from a second-hand store just a few weeks prior - so this gave me some extra motivation to dive in. Not too longer after diving in, I could see where she was coming from.
For starters, it seems to me that the intent of Give Them Grace is different from Shepherding, so in one sense we're comparing apples to oranges. Grace approaches parenting for the sake of the parent, focused on the adult's process of parenting. For example, on pages 57-58 a situation is described where a mother's son acts out publicly, embarrassing the otherwise in-control parent. Rather than becoming angry at the child's behavior, Grace reminds the parent that God (not parents) is in control of hearts which should soothe the parent and enable her to speak gracefully, truthfully, and kindly to the unruly child. Discipline may still be warranted, but because the parent remembered grace, her attitude shifted which in turn positively impacted her parenting.

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Tripp, on the other hand, has more of a practical approach that focuses on securing the unruly heart of the child - although he does address parental anger and expectations, albeit in a different way than Fitzpatrick and Thompson. Shepherding, like Grace, does acknowledge that ultimately God alone can change a child's heart, but Tripp still offers ways of dealing with common childrearing issues such as disobedience, lying, and sharing. The bottom line is Grace reminds parents that obedience, while important and necessary, can also be dangerous when attached to expectation. When we believe that good parenting should produce good children, we presume on God and teach self-reliance (also known as legalism, which is crushing to live under) rather than faith, trust in Christ, and grace.

In terms of each book's focus, Grace seeks to keep God's grace through Christ central to the parenting mindset. While discipline is encouraged, it feels more like a secondary message and is far outweighed by that of grace. Shepherding, on the other hand, is intensely practical and seeks to change disciplinary practices from the inside out. While the message of God's grace is included, it leans more heavily in the area of useful tools to help shape a child's heart so that it fundamentally can obey parents and ultimately God.

Grace's foundation is built upon the precept that if the Christian life is lived in grace by faith, then so is parenting. The authors expand on this throughout the entire book, showing how fragile and misdirected the human heart is and how desperately impossible it is to raise good children apart from God's grace. In other words, if we as sinning parents are not able to make ourselves good and right before God, then we should not expect to be able to make our children good and right before Him through our parenting, either. In both cases, we depend on and trust God for His grace to change us. This message is proclaimed repeatedly (and exhaustively) throughout the book.
Elyse Fitzpatrick (Image source)
Grace also touches on the critical story of the Prodigal Son, where two kinds of children are presented: little Pharisees and little sinners. If you've read the story, you know that both came to their father in different ways, yet both were required to come the same manner - by grace. I thought the authors did a good job of reminding the reader of this because when parents are in the daily grind of childrearing, it's too easy to forget that no matter what your child looks like (the younger or older son), the Father still loves and accepts them so parents should, too.

The one area in Grace that delves into practical matters is the chapter on "Grace That Trains." The authors posit five categories of parenting to focus grace in: Management, Nurturing, Training, and Correction. Application using "Of The Lord" parenting is examined in these five categories, discussing what it looks like and why each is important to address (depending on the age of your children and the circumstances of the behavior) for giving your children grace. While I found this helpful, it was nowhere near as immediately applicable and hands-on as Shepherding, which addresses specific parenting struggles head-on in the second half of the book.

Coming back to my friend's original request, I want to take a moment now to try and reconcile these two seemingly opposite books so they can be useful rather than confusion as a pair of books on your bookshelf. The question is are these two books saying two different things?

Tedd Tripp (Image source)
The answer is no. They certainly have different approaches and purposes for their books, but they are both essentially saying that human nature is flawed and that God's grace in His Savior is the only solution. While Shepherding affirms the biblical role God has given parents to point their children to their Heavenly Father and make them aware of their need for Him, Grace simply reinforces the fact that parents and children both need God's grace to desire Him and become more like Him. Shepherding might just be more explicit in the God-man relational dynamic, but if anything it only makes the case stronger for the responsibility of parents to rely on God and their deep need of His grace.

After reading both books, I would definitely recommend both but with small caveats to each. Give them Grace should be read from a perspective on the ground and Shepherding a Child's Heart from a perspective in the air. On the ground, it's easy to lose the forest in the trees so a broader view of what parenting is all about and where it's headed is what Grace provides. In the air, you don't see many of the specifics of how to do the parenting, which is what Shepherding provides.

Furthermore, reading Tripp can feel at times too solution-oriented and a little bit harsh (his background is in school administration), while Fitzpatrick and Thompson can sometimes sound repetitive and lack direction. I can't say I recommend one over the other, since they're so different. So for that reason, I'm going to call both of them essential to the Christian parents' bookshelf.


Amy Guerino said...

Bravo! I love the forest for the trees perspective recommendation...the opposite positions for each book. This alone may help me pick up Tripp's book again....but I will be honest in saying that the repentant Pharisee in me fears feeding it with solution driven parenting strategies. I guess I need the bigger perspective in Give Them Grace and remember that God will change my child's heart, while I can only direct it.

I still feel that how the direction or training is given differs between the two books. Fitzpatrick/Thompson would seem to advocate for necessary reminders and admonitions verbally with space and "grace" to repent if disobedience has occurred. I understood Tripp to advise disciplinary action and a long wait (removal to room until ready to confess) to see proof of a changed heart before "getting on with life."

Aaron said...

First of all, thanks for commenting so quickly! :-)

I have to give credit to Matt Chandler for that ground/air perspective. I was reading "The Explicit Gospel" while I was writing this review and that word picture seemed to fit perfectly! I think what you said about needing that other perspective is a wonderful insight, and why these two books need each other, in my opinion. I felt the same way, which is why I so greatly appreciated Give Them Grace as a balance to my rules-oriented nature!

I see what you mean about the differing tactics. The few times in the book the ladies mentioned discipline, it was as if that was secondary to the application of grace. I think that was intentional in their writing. I agree that Tripp was much more administrative in his discipline, so I guess it's up to each parent to decide where they're at and where they need to be stretched/grown - whether by more concrete action or by space and grace.

audreygeddes said...

Excellent review - both of these titles are well worth checking out. I just finished another great read by Jason Caston entitled, The iChurch Method: How to Advance Your Ministry Online. The author's message is right on: How to utilize technology that could best deliver the message of Christ to the masses most effectively. I highly recommend this one for any church looking to increase its online reach. The author's website can be found here:

Bethany Hayes said...

Thanks for the great book reviews! Glad I stumbled across your blog.

Aaron said...

Thanks for your comments, audreygeddes and Bethany! I'm glad you found my website and found the review(s) helpful. I hope you decide to stick around and continue to give feedback, engage in conversation, and share your insights for me to learn as well. :-)

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