Every Christian parent needs help and encouragement. Where else but in parenting are we simultaneously conscious of both our awesome responsibility and our painful inadequacy? We are sinners, with weaknesses and shortcomings, yet our children’s well-being, even their eternal destiny, depends in large part on our faithfulness as their mom and dad. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Paul was speaking of preaching Christ, yet every Christian parent has felt that same cry of the heart (thankfully, another apostolic word, this one from Peter, also applies to parenting: “love covers a multitude of sins,” 1Peter 4:8).
For this reason a book like Parenting by God’s Promises is a tremendous blessing. The author, Joel Beeke, reminds us that our success in parenting depends ultimately not on our performance, but on God’s grace. At the same time, Beeke offers helpful counsel for parents. I will read a book like this not expecting to gain a lot of new information, or discover the magic bullet that will make me a super-dad and guarantee parenting success, but rather to be encouraged to continue in the day to day work of faithfully loving my kids and raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). And that’s exactly what Parenting did for me. If you are a Christian mom or dad, I promise you will profit from this book. And therefore your kids will be blessed by it, as well.
Beeke begins in the right place, with the Bible’s teaching on parenting and children. He calls this the “Covenantal Foundations for Parenting.” Here, in chapters 1 -5, Beeke shows how God’s covenant promises define our task as Christian mothers and fathers. Most importantly, we must remember that it is God who brings our children to faith in Christ and grows them in grace. That is part of his covenant promise to us as his people; he is our God and the God of our children (Genesis 17:7). At the same time, this covenant promise means that we, as parents, must be faithful to teach our children to know, love, worship, and serve Christ (Eph. 6:4). This is our covenant responsibility.
So Beeke nicely balances both the promise and grace of God, in which we ultimately trust, with the duties we have to lead our children to the Savior. He writes:
I must maintain room in my covenant theology for His sovereignty. And yet, God the Holy Spirit normally blesses the prayerful, conscientious, evangelistic nurturing of covenant children by bringing them to knowledge, faith, love, and obedience (Gen. 19:19; Prov. 22:6) (pg. 25)
In the second part of the book, Beeke goes over the specific ways we are to raise our children as those under God’s covenant of grace. Just as Christ is the Prophet, Priest, and King of his people, so as parents we serve, analogously, as prophets, priests, and kings for our children. Some topics Beeke covers are: family worship and catechizing, intellectual, social, and physical training, and discipline. In the third and fourth parts of the book, Beeke offers distinctly practical guidance, both for raising younger children and teens, and he mines the wisdom of the Puritans along the way. Throughout these sections, his counsel is biblical, sane, wise, and offered unapologetically but gently. As I read, I was convicted of my own shortcomings but not in despair and or guilt-ridden. That seems to me to right way to write about parenting – the reader should finish the book encouraged, wanting to be a better father or mother. I did.
Beeke’s positive, attractive depiction of a loving Christian family was one on the things I really liked about this book. For example, he writes, “The covenant home must be a school of Christ, where God’s Word is not forced down a child’s throat but set before him as a feast of good things, richly to be enjoyed (Ps. 34:8-16).” I also appreciated his stress on family worship and catechizing. Oh, that more Christian families would do these things! Our own family is far from perfect, but I believe that the use of the catechism (for us, the Westminster Shorter Catechism) and family worship has hugely blessed our family, both the kids and us (better, God has blessed us through these means!). So I’m happy that Beeke is encouraging believing parents in this way.
Beeke’s inclusion of church and school within the orbit of faithful parenting also resonated with me. If our children belong to the covenant of grace, then why would we not weekly bring them to gather with God’s covenant people for worship and fellowship on the Lord’s Day? Also, Beeke advises us to provide a Christian education for our children. I found it interesting that though he mentions homeschooling as an option, he writes as though attending Christian school is the norm for Christian kids (maybe that’s the case in Grand Rapids?). Being in a place where homeschooling is very popular among the Christian community (we do so ourselves), one fear I have is that some homeschooling parents may develop a distrust for anyone teaching their kids except themselves. But if we are part of God’s covenant people, it seems that we should be willing to have our children instructed by other godly and faithful believers (keeping in mind, of course, the primary responsibility for Christian nurture is the parents’).
A godly example, love, openness, honest communication, prayer, patience, faithful instruction – all of these are needful for Christian parenting and come not from books but from God’s grace. However, God will use a book like Parenting to encourage you in this arduous but blessed calling.