St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought… The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. -C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
I would highly recommend Give Them Grace to any Christian parent. The book’s strengths are numerous: the counsel is rooted in Scripture; the mother/daughter co-authors (Fitzpatrick & Thompson) evidence a godly, humble wisdom gained through personal experience in child-rearing; the talk is sober but encouraging; and “grace” is understood to be both a disposition and a power. I could go on but you’re going to read it for yourself (right?).
But because the book so convincingly shows grace-based parenting to be the only true, Christian parenting the reader may be tempted to lose sight of the indispensable role of law in promoting grace [I think this is especially true for parents of young children]. To be fair, this danger isn’t lost on the authors & they address it in a number of different ways, but striking the right balance in practice is easier said than done.
The truth is that we are most godly in our parenting when we follow the Father’s example. Remember, God Himself (always gracious, always loving) first established the Law to prepare his children for a later, greater grace (Gal 3:24). Our “little human animals” must still be made/trained to like/do what they otherwise would not. The difference is that while a human animal may be trained to love vegetables & exercise he can’t be trained to love righteousness & the pursuit of holiness. You might as well train a carnivore to graze. Nevertheless, the little animal must be shown the Law’s righteousness in the hope that one day a gracious Creator will re-create him with a new appetite (Isa 11:7).
I just started reading Give Them Grace, a parenting book I’ll be reviewing for our church Sun night. It’s not often that I find myself amen-ing a book in the introduction but I did on this one. To wit:
This book will provide you with something more than a three-step formula for successful parenting. That’s because even though it might seem counter-intuitive, none of us need more law. In this case, law might masquerade as “easy steps,” “hints for success,” or even “secret formulas,” but make no mistake: at heart it is law. Mormons, Muslims, and moralistic atheists all share the belief that law can perfect us, but Christians don’t. Christians know that the law can’t save us; what we need is a Savior. We need a Savior because every one of us has already demonstrated that we don’t respond well to rules (Rom. 3:23). We’ve been given a perfect law (Rom. 7:12) but none of us-no, not one-has obeyed it (Rom. 3:10). Why would we think that our success rate would be any different if we just had different laws? (16)
It’s the premise of this book that the primary reason the majority of kids from Christian homes stray from the faith is that they never really heard it or had it to begin with. They were taught that God wants them to be good, that poor Jesus is sad when they disobey, and that asking Jesus into their heart is the breadth and depth of the gospel message. Scratch the surface of the faith of the young people around you and you’ll find a disturbing deficiency of understanding of even the most basic tenets of Christianity. (18)
Although we long to be faithful parents, we also rest in the truth that our faithfulness is not what will save our children. Giving grace to our children is not another formula that guarantees their salvation or obedience. Grace-parenting is not another law for you to master to perfect your parenting or your children. Our children will be saved only through the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit, who works at the direction of our faithful heavenly Father. He’s the faithful, powerful, soul-transforming One. Yes, he may use us as means to accomplish his purpose. But salvation is entirely of the Lord (Jonah 2:9). (22)