If you’re like me, then you find it difficult to find gospel-centered parenting books out there. While there are morality-centered and behavior-oriented books aplenty, the scarcity of God-centered and gospel-centered parenting books can be quite frustrating when you set yourself to looking for them. God recently graced me with one of those rare treasures of a gospel-centered book on raising children to know Christ, and I rank this one right up there with two of my other favorite parenting books: Shepherding a Child’s Heart, by Ted Tripp; and Don’t Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Plowman. This newly found treasure is Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting.
Gospel-Powered Parenting is written by William P. Farley, pastor of Grace Chrisitan Fellowship in Spokane, WA, and is published by P & R. Throughout the book, Farley holds high the power of the gospel as the only hope of our children’s future. Thus, he remains true to the title of the book. In the following, I will note the chapter titles and briefly summarize each chapter with a few points and/or quotes from William Farley.
Chapter 1: Intellectual Submarines, contains five assumptions that Farley believes a parent needs in order to grasp the power of the gospel in our parenting:
1) Parenting is not easy: “Because parenting is difficult, and because you are imperfect, you will need the grace that comes to you through the gospel. God will use problems to deepen your dependence on him” (p.20).
2) God is sovereign, but he uses means: God is the beginning, middle, and end of salvation. In His infinite wisdom, however, He has elected to use parents as one of His means to work in the hearts of children for His glorious purposes. Farley notes, “God is sovereign, but parents are responsible” (p.22).
3) A Good Offense: “Effective parents assume that a good offense is better than defense” (p.22). Parents are too often guility of defending/protecting their children against the wiles of the world (which is obviously necessary to a great degree), but these parents tend to forget about using godly offense. Just as a football team with either a weak offense or no offense at all will more likely lose the game, so will the parenting that is weak on offense more likely lose the soul of the child. Now this is not to presume either way upon the sovereigny of God in salvation, but it is a reminder that God has ordained means by which He brings a person to salvation, including a good offense.
4) Understand New Birth: Farley says bluntly, “Statistically, most Christian parents assume their child’s new birth. This could be your biggest parenting mistake” (p.26). The point here is that parents should never assume that just because their child “made a profession of faith” at a certain point in time or that their child attends Sunday School, church, or a Christian school, that their child is “okay” and has no more need for instruction in the gospel. To the contrary, parents should be fruit inspectors on behalf of their children. Farley says, “The bottom line is this: New birth is known by its fruits, not by a decision. The most important fruit is hunger for God himself. Effective parents assume this, and patiently wait for sustained fruit before they render a verdict” (p.30).
5) Child-Centered Families: “Effective parents are not child centered. They are God centered” (p.31). In too many Christian homes, the children and their desires are the driving force of the family. Many examples of “child-run homes” exist, but here are a few decisions that many parents have relinquished to their children: sleep schedule, eating schedule, TV/Video Games schedule, extra-curricular schedule (sports and fine arts activities: how many and how often), and many more. Farley concludes, “It is positively hurtful to build your lives around your children instead of God. It damages children, it tears down our marriages, and most importantly, it displeases God” (p.36).
Chapter 2: Gospel-Powered Parenting, emphasizes the fact that the main goal of Christian parents is to prepare their children for eternity. So the goal of preparing them “for life” alone is insufficient. Rather, parents should have the goal of preparing their children “for eternal life,” or else their children will face judgment for their sin against a holy God. The only hope of our children is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, our children don’t need simple morality, which can be just as damning as outright debauchry. Our children need the new life that only the gospel can bring.
Chapter 3: Gospel Fear, reminds parents that a genuine fear of God is imperative even now that God’s people have entered the New Covenant through the blood of Christ. In fact, the cross of Christ is meant in part to floor us at the foot of the cross, realizing that this is what God thinks about sin. God’s wrath will be poured out on the sinner either at the cross or in an eternity of hell. So the cross brings us to fear God “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt.10:28).
Chapter 4: A Holy Father, builds on chapter 3 and the fear of God. The cross brings Christian parents to fear God because they see God’s holy justice there where God poured out His holy wrath upon His own Son. Not only does the cross bring Christian parents to fear God, but Farley gives four other motivations: the cross motivates them to pursue personal holiness, give them an eternal perspective in all of life, makes them decisive in their approach, and reminds both parents and children of their neediness.
Chapter 5: A Gracious Father, demonstrates the great need of parents for the grace of God in the impossible task of Christian parenting. Commenting on God’s grace, Farley states, “It reminds us every day that we cannot be perfect. We can’t discipline consistently. We can’t teach sufficiently. We don’t love adequately. But it also emboldens us. It reminds us that God’s grace is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10)” (p.101).
Chapter 6: The First Principle of Parenting, presents an idea that may surprise many Christians. The first principle of godly parenting is not discipline or love of children. No, the first principle of parenting is acutally Ephesians 5:27-33, where God instructs wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord and for husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for here. In short summary, “This chapter has said that our example matters, that our marriages preach the gospel” (p.122).
Chapter 7: Gospel Fathers, is another somewhat shocking chapter, but one that rings with so much biblical truth. It probably is the most counter-cultural chapter in all of the book, and this is obvious from the first sentence that claims, “Christianity is a patriarchial religion. That means that it is father centered” (p.125). Farley goes back to Eden and reminds us that God created the husband as head and the wife as his assistant. Interestingly, he argues, “The Bible addresses all its verses on parenting to fathers. That is because God has given each father inordinate power over his children’s hearts, and ultimately their spiritual destiny. The general principle holds: As the father goes, so goes the family, and so goes the parenting” (pp.141-142). Farley fills the chapter with plenty of statistics to support this biblical aspect of parenting.
Chapter 8: Foundations of Discipline, discusses the biblical fact that “Clarity about sin and authority are the foundations of parental discipline.” Both parents and their children have the same problem, namely sin. Sin is more than outward behavior but lies in the very nature of man, and our children are not exempt. Therefore, parents must deal with heart issues and not simply sinful behavior alone.
Chapter 9: Discipline that Preaches, connects chapter 8 with chapter 3. Christian parents discipline their children out of fear of God because they know that the hearts of their children are corrupt and in need of redemption that comes only through the gospel.
Chapter 10: Food for the Hungry, emphasizes the need for feeding our children the Bread of Life (God’s word, particularly the gospel) on a regular schedule. Parents must guard against the busyness of life that will absorb valuable time that is required for instructing our children in God’s word.
Chapter 11: Gospel Love, can be summed up with Farley’s words, “Before we can love our children, we must love God more. That is because love for God defines how we love our children” (p.214).
Chapter 12: Amazing Grace, reminds parents once again that God’s grace must be held at the forefront of our parenting because it is not a matter of “if” we will fail but “when” and “how often” we will fail. Farley comments, “Parents who repeatedly find forgiveness in the gospel can extend that forgiveness to their children. Your children need to watch you continually shedding your guilt and fear at the foot of the cross” (p.219).
May the Lord grant in His grace that Christian parents raise up children who are passionate for God’s glory, and may this book remind them of the only hope of that happening–THE GOSPEL!
For His Glory,