Paul Tripp’s latest book is one of the few Christian parenting books I would broadly recommend. While most books that promise radical life change should be disregarded on the basis of false advertising, this one might actually change your life, or at least your perspective on the task of parenting. Generally, parenting books tend to apply pressure for parents to do more, be more, or change their philosophy of parenting. Christian parenting books tend to polarize parents into two camps: “grace” and “authority,” with neither camp’s label necessarily defined by Scripture. Rather than deflating parents by introducing a list to be accomplished through self-effort, Tripp puts wind in the sails of every parent. His book is not designed to change a parent’s methodologies. Written pastorally, this author shepherds a parent’s heart while shaping her perspective of parenting (which is, in Tripp’s words, a “calling” of the highest sort) and informing her understanding of her children as spiritual beings, as worshippers.
Parenting addresses first, the hearts of parents and then the minds of parents, by considering the hearts of their children. Tripp helps to set theologically-informed boundaries regarding what is within a parent’s capability, and what is not (but is well within God’s capabilities.) Tripp seeks to orient parents toward the hearts of their children, hearts that are not unlike their own.
While the book claims 14 principles, each principle is introduced through the lens of Tripp’s concept of parenting as an ambassadorship rather than an ownership. In Tripp’s words, “Parenting is not first what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children” (p. 15). Control, for example, when viewed through the lens of an ambassadorial parent, is not an all-consuming goal, something we want from our children. Rather, control is something to be submitted to God as heart change, rather than behavioral change, takes precedence. An ambassadorial parent is not satisfied with mere control, but wants to help children to see and identify what is in their hearts, and to welcome the transforming grace of God that Jesus has purchased through his work.
While the themes of grace, dependence on God, and hope in the gospel will not surprise readers familiar with his work, Tripp approaches these broad brush-stroke themes by approaching them from different angles, zooming in through lenses of worship and idolatry, law and grace, control and inability, character and foolishness, identity and process and more. Tripp’s style is repetitive, but not unhelpfully so, as he circles around major themes such as “we are more like our children than unlike them” (p. 162) and “give up trying to do in the lives of your children what only God can do” (p. 55). Tripp balances the need for wisdom and trustworthy authority in the lives of children with the need for grace, compassion, and loving guidance that would encourage children to receive such wisdom and authority.
Personally, I found the chapters on mercy and rest to be most helpful in altering my current mental landscape in regards to parenting. These pastoral gems are worth the price of the book and contain such life-giving sentences such as “for children of God, weakness loses its terror, because the source of our rest is not our strength but the strength of our Father” (p. 192). Regarding mercy, Tripp writes, “God uses the needs of our children to expose how needy we are as their parents, so that we would do all that we do toward them with sympathetic and understanding hearts” (p. 199). Further, he asserts, “Mercy is parenting with a tender heart…. Mercy is about moving toward your children with love even in those moments when they don’t deserve your love” (p. 197).
While Tripp’s approach to the task of parenting balances law and grace well, his chapter regarding the lost condition of children’s hearts caused me to wonder what should differ in our approach to believing children. While the reminder that our children are born in a state of natural depravity, similar to their parents, is a corrective to our culture’s view of children as naturally innocent, and even provides a helpful framework in understanding the tendency of a child’s heart to be drawn toward idolatry (similar to our own hearts), it is helpful to remember that some young children may be genuine believers whom the Spirit has sealed for salvation. Due to their youth and immaturity, it may be difficult to distinguish genuine faith at a young age, yet it is important not to discourage such faith, even if its authenticity remains to be tested. However, since salvation is a process that extends from our first hearing of the gospel to a posthumous, literal “day of salvation,” Tripp’s perspective can provide a helpful impetus to continue to provide gospel instruction throughout a child’s years in the home, so that the child will persevere in the faith.
Tripp’s words are refreshing and empowering, even as they pinpoint classic parental mistakes such as finding our identity in our children, needing to prove ourselves through the raising of “successful” children, and surrendering higher goals of parenting (heart transformation by the grace of God) to lower ones (control and external obedience in our children). Ultimately, parents who seek to be faithful rather than successful can find rest in trusting in God’s promises daily as they take up the parenting mantle afresh.