Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus 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.