The term “gospel-centered” has become a real buzzword in evangelical circles, as more and more churches (and individual Christians) are returning their focus to the basics of the Christian faith. So when I saw a massive display of William Farley’s Gospel-Powered Parenting at my local Christian bookstore, I wasn’t surprised that a book that combines both parenting help and guidance on walking out your Christian faith would be so popular. However, once I dug in I realized this was not your typical Christian book on parenting techniques.
I have to admit, there were a couple of times when I was tempted to put the book away, recognizing that Farley and I were just on different pages in some key areas of theology and discipline. But I did read it through and I’m so glad that I did. While I don’t share his perspective in several areas, I did find great examples in Gospel-Powered Parenting of how to connect the gospel to teachable moments and parenting challenges. I also saw how my understanding of theology can better shape my approach to parenting, which has been the greatest personal takeaway of Gospel-Powered Parenting for me.
Theology Informs Parenting
While I don’t think Gospel-Powered Parenting is for everyone, if you are a fan of Reformed Theology, I predict you are going to be a big fan. Farley quickly establishes how important Reformed Theology has been in shaping his understanding of the gospel, which in turn has been the key influence of his parenting style. Consequently, the major focus of Gospel-Powered Parenting is theology, not parenting technique. In fact, much of the book is a theology lesson. Farley believes the right parenting techniques will naturally flow if your theology is correct. Farley’s theology overview not only includes an overview of the gospel, but also an emphasis on understanding the fear of God, offensiveness of sin, holiness of God, and grace.
At the end of each theology lesson, Farley has the reader reflect on how each aspect of God reviewed relates to parenting. For example, after discussing the beauty of God’s grace, he lists ways that the grace of God affects parents. This includes an attitude of grace towards our spouse because God has shown us grace; a realization that while we are not perfect, God’s grace is made perfect in weakness; and a suggestion that we can be gracious when we deal with our children because our own Heavenly Father deals with us graciously. I’m so appreciative of this perspective that Farley has given me. As I continue to grow in my knowledge of God, I can ask myself, “Now that I know this, what impact does it have on my parenting?”
Another highlight of Gospel-Powered Parenting is Farley’s emphasis on God-centered families versus child-centered families. God-centered families recognize the importance of a strong marriage, which is why Farley believes the needs of the marriage supersede the needs of the children. Farley also spends a good deal of time explaining how marriage preaches the gospel, with the family being a primary audience.
Some Reservations and Questions
My struggle with Gospel-Powered Parenting revolves around Farley’s theology of new birth and teaching on corporal discipline. I, too, believe in new birth, although I disagree with Farley that “sometimes the Christian is not sure when it occurred. For most it occurs during a process of growing into faith.” But Farley makes several statements regarding new birth that basically says parents who please God can incline Him to give new birth to their children. In Chapter Three he says, “It [the fear of God] is the most important thing that parents can possess to move God to regenerate their children.” Farley does include a disclaimer that God makes no guarantees and is ultimately sovereign. He goes on to say in that same chapter, “A minority of the children of the Christian parents who do not practice these principles will follow Christ. On the other hand, the majority of the children of the Christian parents who practice them will enter Christ’s kingdom.”
Not only does this teaching concern me, but that fact that it doesn’t seem to concern others concerns me even more. I realize this is a common debate that is centuries old and won’t be settled here, but I’m a strong believer in 1 Timothy 2:4, which teaches that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of Christ. Therefore, as a parent there is nothing I can do to incline God to save my children, as He has already done all that could be done, as only He could do, so that my children might be saved. In fact, I thoroughly believe He desires their salvation more than I do.
I’m also always concerned when people make minority/majority statements regarding who will enter Christ’s kingdom. I’ll go so far as to say 100% of those who confess with their mouths Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts will enter Christ’s kingdom, but to go beyond that in my opinion is to go too far.
Farley believes that those clear on the gospel practice corporal discipline, which means appropriate spanking at an appropriate age. That seems to imply that those Christian parents that practice other forms of discipline must not have a clear understanding of the gospel. I disagree with that, recognizing that Christian parents who choose alternatives to corporal discipline have valid reasons and are not automatically less gospel-centered than others down the pew.
In his discussion on spanking, Farley adds some important tips including putting the spanking in the context of love, holding the child until he stops crying, and providing an opportunity for confession and forgiveness. But it is what is left out of the discussion that concerns me. Farley says that a spanking should hurt to be effective, but I wish he would have also added that a spanking should not leave a mark. He also doesn’t offer advice to parents who have not spanked their children up to this point. Let’s say you have a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old that has been disciplined with time outs, loss of privileges and other consequences during their childhood. Is a parent desiring to be “gospel-centered” supposed to begin spanking out of the blue, or is there a process to introduce spanking into the mix? For me, this issue left me with more questions than answers.
The concerns I had with Gospel-Powered Parenting made it difficult for me at first to appreciate some of the other aspects of the book, but I know I’m a better equipped Christ-follower and parent having read it from cover to cover. In the end, isn’t that what is most important? It’s a good thing to read a book once in a while that takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to defend what you believe and why.