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4 Stars Out Of 5
Good Book, Practical Principles
February 11, 2013
Written by Joel R. Beeke, pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Parenting by God's Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace offers a reformed, covenantal perspective on parenting.
Parents from a Reformed tradition will find the book upholds their long-held beliefs, while parents from non-Reformed traditions may find parts of the book differ from their interpretations of some Scriptures. In fact, I would caution non-Reformed readers to be aware that their own traditional interpretations are criticized in the book. Still, I think there is enough practical parenting advice that may benefit readers from both traditions if one is patient enough to sift through the whole book to find those nuggets.
Parenting by God's Promises is divided into four parts. Part One outlines covenantal foundations for parenting while Part Two focuses on parent's roles as prophets, priests and kings. In Part Three, the author highlights practical steps for child-rearing while Part Four specifically deals with parenting teenagers.
While I struggled through the covenantal implications on parenting, I appreciated the author's list of duties of Christian parents, with which I think parents of any Christian tradition can agree and should strive to achieve: directing our children to Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice as the only ground and foundation of salvation; call our children to heartfelt obedience to God; and instructing our children in Christian doctrine (pages 25-26).
The author did emphasize the necessity of dependence upon God, upon the centrality of His word, and upon prayer. He also addressed the value of learning to exercise sympathy without excusing sin.
One of my favorite chapters was chapter eight where Beeke outlines ten things we should teach our children (pages 94-100). You can't get much more practical that that. I also found the chapters on piety (godliness), listening, anger, controlling the tongue, helping teens discern God's will, and dealing with teen anger to be very practical and helpful.
For those who want to use the book for a small group study or book club, there are study questions in the back of the book. The publishers have also included a helpful subject index as well as a Scripture index.
I would probably give the book 4 stars out of 5. While I don't necessarily hold to the same theological convictions as the author when it comes to covenantal theology, parts three and four of the book were both biblical and practical, offering even me, a Baptist, some parental encouragement and teaching.
I received a copy of this Parenting by God's Promises as compensation for this book review. However, the opinions expressed in the review are my own.
Joel Beeke draws from the deep well of covenant theology and provides us with a glass of cold water for parents seeking to honor the Lord. Christ and his cross-work are the central theme of this book. Beeke leans hard on the finished work of Christ and the promise made by God to those of us in Christ through the covenant of grace.
Beeke starts off in Part One ("Covenantal Foundations for Parenting") unpacking the truths found in Scripture surrounding Christ, the covenant of grace, and the gospel. He provides some well-needed, helpful encouragement for parents who take too much responsibility:
God teaches us that the success of happy, well-adjusted, spiritually minded, Christ-honoring, God-glorifying, Scripture-grounded children growing into adulthood is never because of us. Sometimes the Lord makes us realize our own insufficiency so that we learn to rest completely on the trustworthiness of His covenant and on the character of God Himself as the Author of it. (5)
He also warns about those within the stream of reformed theology who have wrongly presumed their children were converted and so failed to consistently call their children to belief and repentance (27-28).
In Part Two ("Parenting as Prophets, Priests, & Kings"), Beeke looks at the different roles parents must play in the home. Using Scriptural themes from the ministry of Jesus, we are to be prophets, priests, and kings. His section on being priests who are sensitive and sympathetic to their needs and weakness for our children was superb (Chapter 11 "Sympathizing with our Children"). He wisely reminds parents (Chapter 12 "Exercising Loving Rule as King"),
In matters involving nonessentials or "things indifferent," we can and should accommodate the wishes of our children. We should not get into needless contests of wills. We should never put ourselves into a bind where we say, "That's my word; I will never go back on anything I have said." In such situations, we just come across as stubborn and unreasonable. But where God's Word speaks, we cannot negotiate. In such matters, we must be absolutely consistent, not answering one way this time and another way the next. We must not convey to our children that the laws of our homes are negotiable and that our decisions are based on the whims of the moment rather than the God-given, unchanging principles of Scripture. Since we are the leaders in our homes, we are in charge, and we must command our households in a way that honors God (Gen. 18:19). (132)
I find myself too often saying no with no good reason except that I feel like saying no instead of delighting to say to yes to our children like God delights in saying yes to us in Christ.
In Part Three ("Practical Steps for Child-Rearing"), Beeke starts by tracing his steps back to our Puritan forefathers. He dispels the notion that the Puritans were heavy-handed legalists showing rather that their parenting was Christ-centered and practical. Beeke also offers some amazing insights into the marriages of Puritans. For those wanting to know what a loving Biblical marriages look like Beeke offers some wonderful insights into the husband/wife relationship from the Puritans (see 171-72). He then moves on to discuss the importance of piety (holiness), listening, controlling the tongue, and how we must manage sibling relationships.
In Part Four ("Practical Helps for Teenagers"), Beeke specifically targets teenagers. He notes this stage is particularly important because teenagers are transitioning from grown children to young adults. He provides practical wisdom like Solomon speaking to his own son about discerning God's will, conquering peer pressure, and managing anger. He concludes that the covenant blessing often are passed from one generation to the next (although not always) and so we must rear our children in a way that prepares them to love the Lord and raise a godly family within the covenant as well. He says,
In a certain sense, this entire book is about preparing children for marriage, but I want to go a bit deeper here. As parents, we are deeply concerned about whom our children will marry, but are we sufficiently concerned that our children become men and women who will make excellent husbands and wives for their future spouses? Too often we forget that it takes two to build a great marriage. (273)
God's Covenant Promise
The main difference between Beeke's Parenting by God's Promises and myriad of other parenting books currently available is the explicit covenant connection. Parenting by God's Promises is robustly reformed in its theology and application therein. He says,
The covenant of grace is like a wedding vow that God will never break. The sacrament of baptism is the wedding ring, the outward sign of our union with Him. People broken by sin who have been taught by the Spirit to trust in the gospel are the bride. And Christ is the groomâ€”indeed, the heart of the covenant. (xvi)
I found his covenantal perspective refreshingly biblical and in stark contrast to most pragmatism offered to Christian parents. He attempts to moor all his parenting advice to directives of Scriptures or commands which "by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture" (WCF I. VI). Hand in hand with that praise, Beeke also mentions many applications of his reformed faith which I respect but many might disagree with. For instance, he recommends a strict sabbath-keeping.
One of the strengths of the reformed church has been the intentional instruction of children particularly through catechizing them. Beeke strongly encourages parents to read through all of Scripture with their children once a year; he also recommends the use of question and answers (catechisms). These kinds of intentional parenting methods are all but absent from wider evangelicalism. I recently conducted an informal survey of about a dozen people ranging from active and sedentary Christians, seminary students, and pastors and out of a dozen people only two had an intentional method for growing themselves in Christ and spent regular time in the word. This lack of intentionality trickles down to the care of our families and has had deadly results. His practical, intentional advice on teaching our children was a rebuke for me and an encouragement to move forward.
The Greatest of These is Love
Finally, I found his emphasis on loving our children by being gracious and respectful refreshing. Christians often respond to the lack of discipline in our culture by only focusing on spanking and forms of corporal punishment. Beeke touches on these valuable truths but he balances them so well with the equally important manner in which we flood our children's lives with grace and love. He recommends a level of gentleness through out which many parents would do well to heed. I fear too often parents make two mistakes--failing to offer any discipline and, when it's offered, reacting out of frustration and not out of love and grace. I could sense that this book flowed out years of parental and pastoral experience founded in a genuine love for Jesus.
Parenting by God's Promises is extremely readable and could be consumed with out problems by any level of reader. Even for those who may not agree 100% with all of his covenant theology (i.e., infant baptism) or with some of his application ("gosh" as a breaking of the second commandment), this book is an invaluable resource. It's gospel-saturated, rich with wisdom, and values holiness.