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Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting Paperback – September 1, 2009
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"Gospel-Powered Parenting is a wise, enduring prescription for parenting because it is joyously biblical and comes from a pastor-theologian who has done it as his family wonderfully attests." --R. Kent Hughes, Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois
"Rock solidprofoundly grounded upon the all-sufficiency of the Word of God and the Gospel of grace. Farley is not going to give you theoretical platitudes; he is honest about his own deficiencies and his great need of gospel wisdom in parenting. This is, ultimately, a parenting book full of hope, hope grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ." --Douglas Bond, Author of Fathers & Sons: Stand Fast in the Way of Truth and Hold Fast in a Broken World
"Family literature purporting to be Christian is almost universally distinguished by well-meaning but impotent moralizing that effectively neglects the gospel by virtue of assuming it. Bill Farley pushes us beyond this, setting forth a parenting approach that is decidedly Christian precisely because it is informed and motivated by the transforming power of the gospel." --Art Azurdia, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Director of Pastoral Mentoring, Western Seminary, Portland
About the Author
Bill Farley is pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, Washington. He has published articles in Discipleship Journal, Enrichment Journal, Focus on the Family Magazine and The Journal of Biblical Counseling.
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As a parent with nearly 30 years of experience and one child, a kindergartner, remaining at home I still have questions about how to raise my children well. Answering those questions is at the heart Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting, by William P. Farley (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2009).
Farley's approach is a bit different than most parenting books, as is clear from his title. Rather than presenting a particular developmental theory or a how-to manual to address specific behaviors, he grounds his approach in the bedrock of Christian belief, which is that through the death-and resurrection of Jesus the world is fundamentally a different place to live for those who call on Jesus in faith. Because of whom Jesus is and what Jesus did, everything the Christian does is affected, and perhaps nothing more so than parenting.
Farley believes that the parent's primary focus in raising their children should not be on behavior modification or developing productive members of society, but on developing the heart of each child to embrace the Good News of Jesus. That means that focusing on the heart of the child to know deeply and personally the love of Jesus for them, the work that Jesus did for them, is the goal of parenting throughout each stage of the child's life. We should parent in the present, but always with one eye on eternity, working to guide our children towards a heavenly destination.
Farley believes strongly that fathers are vital in shaping the lives of their children. As a pastor he knows full well that there are many families where fathers are absent, or where they just plain do a poor job. However, recognizing that the presentation of the Bible is families led by fathers, some of whom he admits are pretty poor role models, he holds up the model of a two-parent family, led by the father, as the best model to emulate whenever it is possible. He spends several chapters talking about the ways in which God is presented as a father figure in the Bible and how those images can shape the leadership given to families by modern fathers.
A corollary to a strong father in parenting is for the father and mother to jointly model the Gospel within their marriage. This does not mean that he advocates things like blind submission, as may be found in a caricature of a Christian marriage, but he encourages couples to look at their roles in marriage as being complementary to each other. He notes how clearly children can sniff out hypocrisy in marriages where God is followed on Sunday but ignored during the remainder of the week. A child's heart is drawn to God when the child sees God at work on a daily basis in the life of his or her parents.
Farley has written an organized and focused approach to parenting, one which I find much that I agree with. His writing is easy-to-read and it is evident that he has read widely. His recommendations are not just from his own experience or observations but are synthesized with the perspective of many other Christian pastors, counselors and theologians.
One area where I had persistent disagreement with his suggestions was in the area of discipline, where he seemed to suggest that in certain stages of a child's life that immediate corporal punishment was the proper, perhaps even the only, appropriate way to change behavior. My opposition to this approach is two-fold.
First, in my own experience, with my older children as well as the youngest, was that time-out can be used to very good effect. The root meaning of discipline is "to teach," which can be done in more ways than just punishment. Secondly, the notion that all infractions must be punished, as a part of teaching a child obedience, which embracing the Gospel calls all Christians towards, denies a fundamental truth of the Gospel, which is that every sin a Christian commits is not punished directly. The sin is indeed punished, but the punishment is not born by the Christian but by their Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
I recommend Farley's book, particularly with its emphasis on shaping the heart as the primary goal of parenting. Read it, read your Bible alongside it, and perhaps read some of his references as well. Children are indeed a gift from the Lord and perhaps our greatest way of receiving that gift is to shape the child to pursue and embrace their Creator.
William P. Farley is pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Spokane, WA, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace Ministries network of churches.
Farley strikes the balance beautifully between the absolute freedom of God in His sovereignty to regenerate the heart of the elect along with God's sovereignly prescribed means for parents in raising their kids. This balance protects parents from being negligent and passive in the name of God's sovereignty ("My kids salvation rests completely in God and has little or nothing to do with me") or presumption that the prescribed means operate as an assembly line where we simply create Christians by pushing the right buttons ("If I parent exactly how God wants me to, then my kids will absolutely be Christians").
We, therefore, don't parent as if it completely depends on God, nor as if it completely depends on us. These complexities of means and God's overarching Sovereign purposes have long confounded God's people. Godly parents may see their children rebel, whereas Godless parents may see their children radically regenerated by God's Spirit. Having said that, Farley acknowledges that God generally works through means and that negligent parents will generally see the consequences in their children, whereas Godly parents will generally see greater evidences of grace operating in their children.
If anything, Farley advocates parenting that is completely dependent upon God's grace in the discharge of the prescribed means He calls us to.
The most striking and insightful aspects of the book for me personally can be summarized in the following points:
- We must parent with one eye on eternity. Farley states, "...the Christian does not parent for this life only". We have 18 short years to not only influence their short time in this life, but also for all eternity.
- Our aim is not to create "moral" kids. We ought not solely seek behavioral modification in our children. This alone will create nice little hypocrites who are further away from the Gospel of grace. While we must discipline and certainly condemn certain behaviors, we must always be pointing our kids to the cross and the Gospel.
- Theology is enormously practical in how we parent because we should seek to emulate the "communicable" attributes of God towards our children. If we don't know God, then we will paint a distorted picture of His nature to our children.
- Regardless of schooling convictions (Christian school, public school, home school), the one factor that most influences our children's Spiritual wellbeing is the faithful and consistent attention of parents. Farley concedes that public school might be too harmful for some and that all parents must use discretion. Having said that, a particular "method" won't work apart from parents who honor God above all.
- Marriages preach the Gospel.
- Dads matter more than any other factor in the perseverance of children's interest in Spiritual things and church attendance into adulthood.
- Lastly, Farley said, "Love God more than your children". He cites many examples from pastoral ministry where families placed their kids above God and have gone on to pay a dear price with the apostasy of their children. If the parents weren't valuing God more than the weekend soccer games, etc., why should we expect our kids to honor God more than __________ (fill in the blank).
I commend this book for parents. There is no shortage of books on parenting, but I think Farley brings out many good points and pastoral life illustrations that will be helpful and hopeful for most parents.
I also appreciate and am extremely challenged by his emphasis on fathers. Think about children who grow up in Christian homes. Many of them live sort of nominal church lives, not too hot or cold, mostly lukewarm. Others leave the faith entirely and spend the rest of their days in rebellion against the Lord. Still other children raised in Christian homes grow into strong believers who are passionate about Jesus and live out their lives in godliness and wisdom. Understanding that God is absolutely sovereign, it's still necessary that we as parents ask: why is this? Farley's observation, and mine as well, is that the deciding factor is not education--public, private, or home-school. Instead, Farley writes, "The common denominator between success and failure seems to be the spiritual depth and sincerity of the parents, especially the spiritual depth and sincerity of the father." Parents, especially fathers, I strongly encourage you to read this book and think deeply about the gospel truths therein.