Grace-Based Parenting: A Review, not a Critique

“I’m urging you to raise your children the way God raises His.” (p. 20)

In a previous post, I discussed my objection to the need among Christian bloggers to critique excessively. As an author myself, I have a new appreciation for what an author puts into their books and the impossibility of getting it all right. I know my book has holes. I did my best to say as much as I could as clearly as I could. But I didn’t say everything, and the things I did say, I didn’t always say quite right. So I appreciate very much those who have reviewed my book kindly—not reading too much into things I didn’t say and giving me the benefit of the doubt when I didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. I highly value precision in communication. But I rarely am able to keep my own standard, and I appreciate grace extended toward me in questionable situations.

I say all that to say that I am NOT going to critique Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel. I’m not going to give disclaimers. I’m not going to point out holes in his arguments. Instead, I am simply going to review it. The book wasn’t perfect, but it was really good. And I believe the author deserves the benefit of the doubt in any place that left unanswered questions.

This book really ministered to me. I have a two-year-old boy and almost four-year-old boy. They are a handful and have challenged me in every way imaginable. God has sanctified me much in these first 4 years of parenting. I have listened to and observed other parents, new and seasoned, every chance I get as I try to work through my own Bible-based strategy and philosophy of parenting. This book came along at exactly the right season for me to help solidify from Scripture things I’ve been thinking about but needed someone to articulate for me. In fact, I can say honestly that this may be one of the most important books I have ever read. Now—that doesn’t mean it will be the same for you. It’s important to me because it dealt head on with the number one issue with which I am struggling—how to parent my boys consistent with my theology. It’s also important because it gave me confidence from Scripture in a way of looking at parenting that the Spirit was already teaching me.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been wrestling with the true meaning of the term grace. When I first started reading Grace Based Parenting, I thought maybe he should have named it Love Based Parenting. I wasn’t sure at first he was really talking about grace as the Bible defines it, but more like sacrificial Biblical love. The last chapters changed my mind on that. In fact, if I have any “criticism” of the book, it would be that I would move the last chapters toward the beginning of the book since they really define the terms and the big picture of what he’s talking about.

In the first chapters of the book, I had to put the book down and repent, because Kimmel nailed me with his assessment of how many Christians parent—primarily out of fear. I realized that I was more afraid of Satan and the world getting their hands on my boys than I was confident in God’s faithfulness to finish the good work He has begun in them (Phil. 1:6). I had to repent. Then I had to decide if I was going to align my parenting philosophy with my theology. Did I believe God had a good plan for my children? Did I believe that I can trust God with their little hearts and lives?

Kimmel made another important point that challenged me on how I thought about parenting. I wanted to protect my children from outside influences that I feared would cause them to stray. However, my doctrine teaches me that the greatest sinful influence on my children is their own depravity. It’s the sin within them rather than the sin without that most affects them and which I need to parent them through. As Kimmel says on p. 24, “Raising your children in a spiritual cocoon won’t help because Satan operates INSIDE it. He appeals to your child’s heart.”

Kimmel challenged me to be careful to distinguish between my responses toward things that are truly sin verses things that simply get on my nerves. “Many of our kids do things that annoy, frustrate, or embarrass us, but they are not wrong.” (p. 55) If it’s not an issue, don’t make it one. There are way too many real issues in life over which to wrestle with our children to make issues out of things that Scripture does not. “Kids inside homes where nonmoral issues are elevated to a level of big problems don’t get to experience the kind of acceptance that makes a heart feel securely loved. Instead they live with a barrage of nitpicking criticism, receiving put-downs because they are curious, anxious, excited, helpless, carefree, or absent-minded.” (p. 61)

I underlined and made notations through much of the book. Here are a few quotes that especially struck me.

Pages 10-11

The real test of a parenting model is how well equipped the children are to move into adulthood as vital members of the human race. Notice I didn’t say “as vital members of the Christian community.” We need to have kids that can be sent off to the most hostile universities, toil in the greediest work environments, and raise their families in the most hedonistic communities and yet not be the least bit intimidated by their surroundings. Furthermore, they need to be engaged in the lives of people in their culture, gracefully representing Christ’s love in these desperate surroundings. The apostle Paul gave us as parents an excellent goal for our children to pursue: “Do
everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may know on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing. (Phil. 2:14-16)

Page 83

Kids brought up in an environment of legitimate praise build a solid resistance against the insults and put-downs that often bombard them from culture.

Page 113

Safe Christianity is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp”. Living your life sold out for Jesus Christ has never been a way to enjoy a safe life. It may be a way to enjoy a good life, but not a safe one. That’s because Jesus isn’t safe, but He is always good.

Page 173

… you cannot afford to trivialize these times when your children feel fragile. Satan doesn’t. Actually, he loves it when they feel vulnerable. He traffics in counterfeit solutions to these needs. If you don’t step forward with the love, purpose, and hope they need to compete with these challenges, Satan will.

And maybe the greatest summary quote of the entire book, from p. 220—

Bottom line: Grace-based families realize that their children will struggle with sin. They consider it an honor to be used by God to show their children how to find true forgiveness in Christ. They are not intimidated by the dialogue that brings the discussion of sin into the light. In fact, they are grateful to be able to come alongside their children with an unconditional love during some of their toughest hours.

In conclusion, for some odd, disturbing reason, many Christians I know are suspicious of the term grace. It’s too bad, because grace is pretty much all we have in Christianity. It’s the cornerstone of our faith—the heart of the gospel and core to everything else God does toward us. And if you think I’m overemphasizing the term, I’ll end with the Word of God from Titus 2:11-14. Please note all that grace brings to us according to this passage.

11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

There is grace, and there is everything else, and everything else leads to death. If you are a parent, my encouragement is to make sure you really understand what grace means according to the Bible and then examine your responses to your children in light of it. I cannot offer myself as an example, for I have only just starting to walk this road myself and fail often. But if you, like me, are interested in parenting your children the way God parents His, this book is a thought-provoking study.

9 Responses to Grace-Based Parenting: A Review, not a Critique

  1. Kristen November 10, 2008 at 6:11 pm #

    Thanks for the review, Wendy! Sounds like one I need to read!

  2. Carole November 10, 2008 at 7:34 pm #

    Thanks for the thoughtful review. This book is sitting on my shelf in my “to be read” queue, so to speak. I’ve been wrestling through the traditional Christian parenting responses – especially wrestling with spanking coupled with a “talk” about God’s grace. I realize this was simply a book review … … but I was wondering if you have any thoughts on how to parent toddlers with grace – and how to get rid of the typical “spank them or spoil them” Christian parenting mindset.🙂

  3. Wendy November 10, 2008 at 7:58 pm #

    I’m wrestling through this as well. I have a strong conviction that it’s not either/or. In fact, Kimmel is clear that grace based parenting doesn’t mean that children get away with sin without consequences. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Punishing our kids to produce fear of us is a much easier way to parent, and bearing long with my children in love is HARD. But I also see that if I don’t give up and continue to engage with them in their struggle, grace always wins out long term.

  4. Megan November 11, 2008 at 10:45 am #

    Hi! I also have 2 boys – a 2 year old and almost 2 year old. I also love theology! I read this some time ago and also found it very helpful – and I love that instead of critique which i find sometimes when done by Christians fails to acknowledge the benefit a book can be despite its possible shortcomings, and can get petty. You might also be interested in Cloud and Townsend’s Raising Great Kids – parenting with grace and truth – have you read that?

  5. Megan November 11, 2008 at 10:46 am #

    sorry that should read 4 year old and almost 2 year old (otherwise that would have been a scary couple of years there….)

  6. Wendy November 11, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    I haven’t heard of that one before. I’ll put that one on my “to read” list.

  7. Silvia July 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    Hi Wendy,
    I came across your blog just recently via a link from Amy, and I must say that I am really very grateful; it might be just because I am myself a mathematician with an interest in theology and trying to live family life, but I do find your posts (the ones read so far, I'm still trawling backwards!) very relevant and thought provoking. I ended up on this one because I too am struggling with grace in general and towards my 3 yo son in particular, often ending up looking and sounding more like a drill sergeant than a loving and training mom… Thank you very much for this review, I shall check the book out, even if by looking around the Family Matters site I was a bit perplexed by the….. triumphalist, I have-THE-answer-for everything general tone – but there again it could be the altered perception of American communication modes by my Italian self.
    On this note, have you ever had a look to their Kids Flag Page? As in: do you know if it is worth it, if it delivers as much as it promises? And also, just because I am now on a cheeky roll, have you managed to read and form an opinion of the Cloud and Townsend's book in these nearly two years? 🙂
    Thanks once more for letting us in the lectures to yourself and sharing your thoughts in such a clearly articulated manner and so stringently grounded in Scripture!

  8. Wendy August 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm #

    Silvia, thanks for commenting. Nice to “meet” another math/theology geek. I am not familiar with the Kids Flag Page. And I haven't finished Cloud and Townsend's book (or if I did, I can't remember which means it didn't leave much of an impression). 🙂

  9. Anonymous February 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    I appreciated Kimmel's book because it emphasizes the need for parents to show their children unconditional love. However, I think that his book is incomplete. There's more to the parenting story according to the Bible. I would recommend it alongside a book like Ginger Plowman's DON'T MAKE ME COUNT TO THREE. Then you have more of a complete picture of how to parent according to God's Word.