Elyse Fitzpatrick would answer “no” and so would I. In her latest book from Crossway, written with the help of her daughter Jessica Thompson (also a mom), Fitzpatrick argues convincingly that “Christian children (and their parents) don’t need to learn to be ‘nice,’ they need death and resurrection and a Savior who has gone before them as a faithful high priest, who was a child himself, and who lived and died perfectly in their place.” In Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, Fitzpatrick, a highly respected author and biblical counselor, confesses that she, like many of us, often employed the “Oh, yes, you will – or else!” approach to parenting when Jessica was a child. Granting that “initial, social, civic and religious” obedience is absolutely necessary to impart to our children, the authors are clear that obedience and law-keeping morality are not the goal of parenting that intends to be distinctively Christian. “If not rooted in gratitude for God’s love for us in Christ,” say the authors, “morality is deadlier to the soul than immorality.” Instead of, “Oh, yes, you will – or else!”, Fitzpatrick and Thompson devote Give Them Grace to unpacking a paradigm more deeply rooted in gospel truth, something more akin to, “You’re right, you can’t. Not without a Rescuer.”
I’ve spent most of my adult life in youth ministry, discipling and counseling teenagers and their parents, but was a relative latecomer to the world of marriage and parenting. For many years I, like Fitzpatrick, would have to confess to teaching more morality than gospel, more law than grace. Although I believed the gospel and taught the gospel, I taught it more as something that one receives and believes and then moves beyond – to faithfulness and obedience. I had not yet grasped the fact that there is no moving beyond the gospel. I did not yet see that the minute we try to move beyond the gospel, we fall right back into legalism and negate the gospel. As Paul said to the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3) What I didn’t see when I would encourage a teenager in my youth group by saying something like, “you’re a great kid,” was how devoid of the gospel my well-intentioned encouragement was. I squandered many opportunities to tell those kids, “You’re right. You are a mess and so am I. Let’s pray right now and thank God that Jesus died for messes like us and then ask him to help us love Jesus better and follow Him more closely.” It wasn’t until I became a parent myself (at age 40), that the Lord began to show me my daily need for the gospel of grace in order to have any hope of living out it’s beautiful implications.
Every Christian parent who desires to raise their children with gospel intentionality must read this book. Give Them Grace is saturated in the truths that salvation is of the Lord, the gospel is for sinners, we are all hopelessly incapable parents, and we serve a Savior for whom nothing is impossible. These are the truths that we must pray over ourselves and our children if we want to see their hearts transformed. If you are a parent, or interact with children or teenagers on any level, please read this book and give them grace!
[Disclosure of Material Connection: Crossway sent me a free review copy of this book. I was not asked to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]