A Review of “Give Them Grace” by Fitzpatrick and Thompson

Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesusgivethem by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

I laid aside my skepticism of books that have words like “dazzle” in their title for a while to read this book, of which I’ve heard some rave reviews.

In essence, the first 90 pages (or so) are largely consumed with establishing a theological foundation. One’s view of the book will be significantly coloured by their perspective on that foundation.

As you can gather from the two star rating, I am not fond of this book. That said, I don’t regret reading it and learned a few things. One must applaud the authors for attempting to write a “fresh” parenting book that isn’t the “same old stuff”. The book does get better after the 90-or-so-page-mark, the content is a bit more nuanced and practical. I like that it seeks to magnify the grace of God. I like that it attempts to lead parents away from prideful self sufficiency and away from Christless parenting. I like that it tries to get parents to thoughtfully engage in parenting in a way that is gracious and points their children to the gospel. While I can’t recommend the book, I *do* like that the authors are seeking to challenge people to discern what is distinctively Christian in their way of parenting.

That said, I believe there are some significant theological problems, both in explicit statements and in general emphasis. Those who have been in Reformedish circles over the last couple of years will immediately see the connection with the controversial Tullian Tchvidjian. This should not come as a surprise when Tullian himself says in his foreword that Elyse “taught me a ton” about the gospel. The book’s theology is basically that of Tchividjian and has more of a Lutheran theological flavour than a Reformed one. After all, five of the ten chapters begin with a quote from Luther or Lutheran theologians. I am almost tempted to theorize that beyond writing the foreword, Tullian may have been the “ghost writer”.

The outlook if the whole book is affected by the basic emphasis of the ‘Liberate Conference’ or ‘Grace Lit’ fad. Such a perspective pervades the first 90-or-so-pages and is the underpinning of the rest. The third use of the law is severely under emphasized. The underlining assumption is that there is only one proper and safe motivation to obedience–gratitude.  One might say the book’s outlook leans significantly in the direction of “soft antinomianism”–not necessarily overt antinomianism, but undertones of it. As Tullian is known to do, the book utilizes Gerhard Forde–who it should be noted is even regarded by many Lutherans as having antinomian tendencies.

In many places the gospel is “over applied”. And the distinctions in the different “levels” of obedience, while having some value, are perhaps taken too far and given too much weight. If you are going to read it, I believe the theology and practice of the book should be taken with a grain of salt, and you will have to be prepared to take the good and throw out the bad. I will not get into a deeper theological discussion of these issues I’m noting, since this is a book review, not a theological dissertation. I will simply say that if you’ve seen any problems in Tullian Tchividjian’s theology, you will probably find them here as well.

I believe there are other problems with the book, beyond its theological perspective, and these further add to my justification for the two-star rating I gave.

Some of the examples of conversations are unhelpful. I like that the book gives concrete examples of what parents can say in different situations (many, parenting books are far too abstract). However, a good many of the examples are unrealistic and unhelpfully verbose. They are tedious and unlikely to dazzle a kid–even if approximated with some adjustments. And there is little specific guidance as to how “age appropriateness” fits in to the equation, other than a reference to the different types of obedience and an observation that they are more or less relevant at different ages.

Furthermore, one or two of the suggested speeches seem to be lacking in wisdom and tact. The worst of them almost sound like a stereotypical Christian parent from a sitcom or the Simpsons. Seriously: you are going to lecture your kid on his eternal state when he blows his team’s baseball game? I can’t imagine how that sounded good even in the “laboratory” of theory!  I doubt it would “dazzle” any kid. I realize they are just examples, but I think these flaws seriously compromise the usefulness of the examples. If you read the reviews, the vast majority of the non-4-or-5-star reviews bring up this aspect.

The writing style leaves much to be desired. Even though the general flow is jumpy and flighty at times, there is, on the other hand, too much rehashing and repetition. Dramatic words like “dazzle”, “drench”, and “bombarded” are over used.

I also think the tone could have been worked on, especially for a book about “giving grace”–leading the reader to believe that perhaps the author’s law vs. gospel categories are perhaps not as “airtight” in practice as they are in theory. Even some of the speeches that are meant to “give grace, not law”, seem sort of “legal” (by their definition of “legal/law”, not mine) in tone. The comments at the end of the chapters about “what the Holy Spirit may be teaching through the chapter” (not an exact quote) may add to the perception of a “preachy” and “talking down” feel to the book.

I would love to see a book come out which had some similar goals, but with a better theological foundation/framework (more sound on law/gospel issues), written better, and more concise and realistic examples. That improvement would trickle down to many minor details in the book–making it a stronger book all-round. Such a hypothetical book may not get Tullian’s endorsement, but it would at least be more robust and realistic. And I suppose there is always the recourse of a tried and tested J. I. Packer endorsement.

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10 Complementarian Lessons From “The Paper Bag Princess”

paper“The Paper Bag Princess” is a popular kids book. Here’s a Coles notes version (which is not much shorter than the actual book):

The Prince (Ronald) gets snatched by a dragon. The Princess (Elizabeth) wisely tricks the dragon into exercising his powers and eventually the dragon falls asleep. In the process the princess gets tangled hair, smells bad, and her dress is replaced by a dirty paper bag. She returns to the Prince, and he rebuffs her and tells her to change so she looks like a real princess. The Princess responds and says “your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.” And they don’t get married after all.

Contrary, to what some might initially think, there is more to it than sheer feminism. Here are ten great lessons that can be gleaned from the story from a Complementarian, Christian perspective.

  1. One way or another, the Dragon’s plan is doomed.
  2. Arrogance and ingratitude is not to be confused with manliness. And ingratitude is a grievous sin.
  3. “Manliness” that does not have a place for tenderness is not manliness. The only time Ronald faces Elizabeth in the story, is with a pointing finger and a critical, accusatory tone.
  4. Femininity is very compatible with being strong, firm, blunt, and uncompromising. A godly women is in many ways, a strong woman (“She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong” – Proverbs 31:17)
  5. That man and women have distinct roles does not mean that those roles are given because the opposite gender is incompetent at them.
  6. Though nagging, nitpicking, and being overly critical is often culturally attributed to women, men can fall into that trap just as easily!
  7. Hair and clothes and bravado can be manly, but they don’t make one manly. It is one thing to appear manly, it is another thing to be manly.
  8. Some (many?) men need to be called bums. Or jerks. Or both. And, in some contexts, they should be told to get lost.
  9. Some (many?) women who are being pursued by unworthy men need to tell them to get lost.
  10. Not getting married to a jerk is an outcome a person seeking marriage should see as a good outcome (as hard as it may be at the time). In dating/courting with a view to getting married, singles should define success in a way that embraces the possibility of deciding to not go further and being OK with that.

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Stranger In A Strange Land

Every once in a while one gets a reminder of the strange times one lives in.

Today, over lunch, it was this item from Playmobil. Targeted at ages 4-7 (make sure you check out the secondary photos on the left hand side!)

And, in case you think your kid is too sheltered from the reality of perpetual war, there is also this.

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8 Reading Goals for 2013

  1. Read the 12 books my wife will chose out for me to read in 2013 (one per month–a mutual tradition we started in 2012).
  2. Read 5 books I’ve already read (some potential candidates are The Master and Margarita, Augustine’s Confessions, Holy War, Pilgrim’s Progress, Brothers Karamazov, and The Hobbit)
  3. Read two books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time: Augustine’s City of God and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago
  4. Read The Lord Of The Rings trilogy
  5. Read 5 African novels (I’m thinking maybe something by Chinua Achebe or Nuruddin Farah. Does anyone have any other suggestions?)
  6. Read a new poet from 5 different countries besides Canada, U.S., or the U.K. (Does anyone have any suggestions?)
  7. Read all the books I have loaned out from my church library and return them
  8. Read at least two books from every book shelf I have (we have five 7 segment shelves, and one 5 segment shelf)

These goals are, of course, to be qualified by “Lord willing”.

Do you have any reading goals for 2013?

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Being A Father

I love being a father. “Father” is a bit on the formal side for my liking, so let’s make that “daddy” for now. I love the role even when it is unenjoyable. Sometimes the worst moments are the best moments!

For instance, what father–or mother for that matter–can think of early morning diaper changes without registering a slight twinge of pain buried deeply in their psyche. As they say, there are smells and sights that no one should see! And yet, the responsibility is really quite precious. And, I must ask, is there really anything on earth sweeter than those early morning smiles and coos that redeem it all? Even if it means tackling what must be the biggest instance of human excrement disposal known to mankind!?  (Being daddy entitles me to a bit of hyperbole, I think.)

Can anything compare to the frustratingly delightful task of trying to prevent a pink-hooded leaf-eating-munchkin from doing what so naturally comes to her, eating the October leaves she’s playing in?

A father’s role is much different than a mother’s, and I would argue, much easier. It does, however, come with its own unique challenges. And, as it is the case with mothers, the very thing that would in any other context drive a guy nuts, become his very delight–at least a “dirty diaper” sort of delight.

There are many other double-edged realities to being a father which seem far more weighty than diaper changes or preventing leaf-eating. How about the fact that I am teaching my daughter every day, intentionally or unintentionally? That’s a big blessing. And a fearful responsibility. Umberto Eco once wrote in one of his novels: “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us”. Fathers, chew on that one for a moment, and see if your knees don’t shake!

I never knew my father, and so even though becoming a father is what I wanted, the concept always seemed to be intimidating.  I am encouraged to know that from here on, I can apply the lessons I’ve learned in the first seven months. That is more comforting to me than you can probably imagine. Quite the seven months its been, too!

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November 12, 2012 | Posted in: Parenting | Comments Closed

Orphans/Fatherless/Motherless Writers

Some time ago I read in an autobiography of Tolkien (by Mark Horne) that “Interesting studies show that people who have lost one or both parents are highly represented among creative people”.  It is true! Many great writers have been orphans or fatherless or motherless. This seems a little too frequent to be a coincidence.

Here are some examples of orphans who have gone on to be great writers:

  1. Leo Tolstoy (orphaned at age 9). Author of the classic War and Peace, 7 other novels, and a plethora of other writings.
  2. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (orphaned in his teens). Author of the classics Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and other novels.
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien (orphaned at age 12).  Author of the wildly successful Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.
  4. Joseph Conrad (orphaned at age 11). Author of around 20 novels, including Lord Jim.
  5. Edgar Allan Poe (orphaned at age 2).  American novelist and poet, perhaps best known for The Black Cat and The Raven.
  6. William Wordsworth (orphaned at age 12). Famous English romantic poet.
Here are some examples of the fatherless or motherless writers:
  1. Lord Byron (lost his father at 3).  English poet.
  2. Robert Frost (lost his father at 11). American poet.
  3. Mark Twain (lost his father at 11). Wrote Huckleberry Finn, often called “The Great American Novel” as well as many other novels, satires, and travelogues.
  4. C.S. Lewis (lost his mother at 9). Wrote Chronicles of Narnia series and many other novels.
  5. George Macdonald (lost his father at 8). Wrote many novels and fairy tales.
  6. Albert Camus (lost his father in infancy). French novelist, perhaps best know for The Stranger and The Plague.
  7. Daniel Defoe (lost his mother at 10). British novelist, perhaps best known for Robinson Crusoe.
  8. John Bunyan (lost his mother in his teens). Best known for his allegory Pilgrim’s Progress.

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A Review of Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

A review of Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

Parents wanting to raise their kids thoughtfully and learn from different cultures will likely find this book helpful and entertaining. It’s a memoir by an American expatriate mother living in France, documenting her investigation of French parenting.

It’s not that I necessarily agree with everything here. I don’t think that’s the point. The idea isn’t that the French do parenting perfectly or that everyone should thoughtlessly copy them. Rather, the point is that while some French parenting practices may seem foreign to Americans, many of them really make sense and are very helpful and amazingly successful. And there is some clear evidence of better results.

Unlike many parenting books and memoirs, this book is actually written in a skillful, fun and fresh way. It is intimate and emotional but not overly sentimental either. Even though it describes a mom’s perspective, dads can enjoy it too! In fact, even if you never have had, and never will have, any children, it’s unlikely you’ll find this dull!

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Fathering A Newborn

I. Fathering a newborn is
a spit-up filled shirt
arm asleep
rocking baby to sleep
an unfinished board game
a night gone away
perhaps it is a sleepless night.

II. Fathering a newborn is
dirty diapers
panicked moments
projectiles
cleaning up the floor
wondering what to do
sometimes worried.

III. Fathering a newborn is
being needed by two
being crucial to two
being loved by two.

IV. Fathering a newborn has
deep joys
sometimes exasperation
deep meaning
found in the mundane things
deep love
found in a baby’s faithful dependance
deep and significant duty
found in meeting basic needs.

V. Fathering a newborn is
finding out your wife is
nearly superhuman
precious and lovely.

VI. Fathering a newborn is
getting a few morning coos
from the bundle in your arms
and an admiring look
with eyes twinkling up at you
a smile in the morning
making one forget
everything difficult
everything hard
and the days fly by
as you watch the baby grow.

MJN

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