Parenting (book review)

Update: Jonty Rhodes just linked on twitter to a review by Shane Lems which shares some of the same concerns I raise below – and articulates them a bit better! Are Our Children Lost?

Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family
Paul David Tripp
Crossway, 2016


I suppose it’s about time I started reading some parenting books, and I’ve been looking forward to this one since reading Tripp’s section on parenting in his earlier book Awe.

If you’re familiar with Paul Tripp, this book follows his usual format. As ever, he’s good at getting to the heart issues behind the outward problem. ‘The struggles over food, sleep, homework, sibling conflict, possessions, wardrobe and dating are theological struggles’. He recounts that someone who had been brought up in a Christian family and attended a Christian school and a good church once told him: ‘I’m 35 and you’re the first person who has ever talked to me about what rules my heart’.

Like most Tripp books, it could have been shorter. When giving examples, he tends to give 10 when 2 or 3 would do. The structure of the book with a chapter on each of his 14 principles means that the same things are being addressed from multiple angles. It does help reinforce the message, but makes the book feel more repetitive. On the plus side, it means that the chapters are fairly self-contained so a busy parent could read one a week (they take 15-20 mins each to read according to my kindle) and it wouldn’t matter how much they’d forgotten from the last time they picked it up.

Strangely for a Presbyterian, Tripp seems to be working on the assumption that the children of believers will be unregenerate. The fact that they’re dead in sin seems to be Tripp’s blanket explanation for their behaviour. Of course, the behaviour of Christian children is also due to sin, and all children need to be pointed to the gospel whether they’re believers or not, but a bit more nuance here would have been helpful.

Perhaps connected with this, there isn’t much treatment of discipline and what it looks like. At one point Tripp comments promisingly ‘Your discipline must every time be coupled with clear, biblical instruction’, but he doesn’t really develop this. The message that comes across clearly is that behaviour modification isn’t the goal and that our children need new hearts. But does parenting look any different if they already have those new hearts (or aren’t showing any evidence that they haven’t)?

Given where many parents are coming from though, applying the principles of this book would be revolutionary. Tripp talks about those who ‘reduce their parenting to trying to control their kids’ behaviour’. Sadly that statement would be incomprehensible to many, because they think that controlling their kids’ behaviour IS parenting.

Another positive is that Tripp isn’t afraid to address controversial that might be close to the bone even for Christian parents – such as both parents working and what he calls ‘monastic parenting’ (the idea that trying to cut our children off from the world will deliver them from moral danger).

Overall, this is a solid book which addresses the default parenting mindset even of many Christians. In fact, you don’t need to be a parent or impending parent to benefit. Children are one way God reveals to us what’s really going on in our hearts, but there are many others. For adults as well as children, ‘the heart is the issue’.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.