Volume 44 - Issue 3
Equipping for Life: A Guide for New, Aspiring and Struggling Parentsby Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger
Andreas and Margaret Köstenberger are uniquely qualified to write a book on parenting that is deeply anchored in biblical theology and yet full of practical wisdom.
As many readers will be aware, the Köstenbergers are both on the faculty of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: Andreas is Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology, and Margaret is Associate Professor of Theology and Women’s Ministry. They have written numerous theological books, both separately—e.g., Andreas’s God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010)—and together—e.g., God’s Design for Man and Woman: A Biblical-Theological Survey (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).
The Köstenbergers have also raised and home-schooled four children. It is this fact that forms the background for Equipping for Life. Throughout, the authors talk of their personal experiences of parenting with great honesty and humility. The book successfully brings out the voices of both a father and a mother: they share one heart and mind but speak from different perspectives.
Equipping for Life also draws on the Köstenbergers’ academic research, explaining and applying it for lay Christians. It aims to equip parents with a biblical framework for parenting with purpose and perspective. In three parts, the book explains why parenting should be realistic (rather than overly idealistic), relational (rather than task-oriented), and responsible (rather than permissive).
In the introduction, the authors set out a brief biblical theology of parenthood: having children is part of bearing God’s image, is grounded in the fatherhood of God, has been marred by the Fall, and can be restored in Christ. The concluding chapter reiterates much of this material in explaining how raising children fits into God’s mission in the world. The intervening chapters are also rich with biblical references and illustrations.
Each chapter opens with a short study of some relevant Bible passages and finishes with some questions for personal application. Readers who want to explore the ideas further are well-served by extensive footnotes and a list of recommended resources at the back of the book.
Part one (chs. 1–3) examines how Christians can parent in a way that is realistic. This includes a thorough discussion of biblical discipline, which is more than just responding to misbehavior. It is “setting a child on a straight path, equipping them in moral formation and shaping of their character, so they will be ‘complete, equipped for every good work’” (p. 60). Discipline should be consistent, age-appropriate, fair, child-specific, administered in love, future-oriented, and relational.
Parents also need to be realistic about their limitations. The Köstenbergers observe,
Often the problem … is not lack of parenting skills, or even lack of spiritual maturity … but somewhat trivial factors at the intersection of fallenness and finitude, like stress, busyness, or fatigue. To cope with the pressures of life and parenting, parents need regular rest and refreshment. They need encouragement in relationships, instruction and mentoring, prayer, and community support” (p. 72).
This chapter also gives wise advice regarding the complex issues of sex, money, and parents-in-law.
Part Two (chs. 4–6) emphasizes the importance of relational parenting. First of all, parents should prioritize their children’s relationship with God: “the Great Commission given by Jesus to make disciples starts at home” (p. 113).
Next, parents should cultivate strong relationships with their children. “Parenting is certainly more than a defined task to be accomplished whereby parenting goals are clearly identified, achieved, and measured.… Rather, parenting is in large part a growing, intimate, and trusting relationship with your child of supporting and equipping them for life” (pp. 121–22). The authors underscore the importance of parental presence for both fathers and mothers.
This section finishes with a chapter addresses how to be a peacemaker at home, which entails resolving disagreements and conflicts maturely, managing anger, and practicing forgiveness.
Part three (chs. 7–9) outlines how to parent responsibly. This begins with prioritizing your children’s growth in character above their comfort or academic achievements.
Next, parents must take responsibility for their children’s education. Here, the Köstenbergers make a strong case for homeschooling: it strengthens family bonds, can be tailored to children’s interests, allows greater control over the curriculum, and is more flexible. Education covers more than academics: it involves preparing children for “life, faith, marriage, family and career” (p. 221).
The final chapter of Part three shows how parents can help their children to find their place in God’s mission. This involves helping them to discern their vocation and to identify their natural and spiritual gifts. The Köstenbergers finish with a lengthy discussion of how to prepare children for marriage.
Equipping for Life will prove a helpful resource for all Christian parents. However, the authors’ strong views about mothers and work may challenge some readers.
From the outset, the Köstenbergers make a case for distinct roles for fathers and mothers in the home.
Throughout Scripture, the man is shown as called to work and provide for his family, and to lead his family.… The woman is shown to be called to a primary role in relation to her husband and children, one which involves devotion to making the home a nurturing and supportive environment for her family. In all of this, the man and the woman together partner in “exercising dominion,” that is, taking care of God’s good creation, in large part, in and through the God-given family structure. (p. 39)
This is a helpful statement. Yet, in terms of practical advice, the Köstenbergers’ vision seems to involve fathers and mothers exercising dominion in separate spheres: the man at work and the woman at home. The authors sometimes present motherhood and work as mutually exclusive, suggesting, for example, that even a few hours’ work a week amounts to a failure to “trust God and live out the biblical design—to stay at home” (pp. 130–31).
The authors explain the structure and function of ancient households with regard to the education of children. But it is important to recognize that ancient households were also economic units: the home was a place of work. Consequently, some mothers did work alongside (or as well as) their husbands; only they did not usually have to leave home or put their children into childcare to do so.
Given that the Bible does not present us with an either-or here (e.g., Prov 31:10–31), the book could perhaps better serve parents not only by emphasizing the distinct roles of mothers and fathers, but also by encouraging a greater integration of the spheres of home and work so that both parents can contribute to education and discipline of their children and to their family’s work or “dominion” in the world.
Notwithstanding this criticism, Equipping for Life is a valuable resource for parents, providing a broad, biblical perspective along with practical examples and advice. The Köstenbergers conclude, “Parenting takes place at the intersection of three missions that encompass the parents, the child, and ultimately God. The mission of parenting … involves equipping children for their particular mission in life and takes place within the larger scope of the mission of God: raising up a people who love and serve Him for His glory!” (p. 229).
Lakes Anglican Church
Kanwal, New South Wales, Australia