Monday, July 18, 2005

Grace-Based Parenting

A while back my wife and I caught a portion of a radio interview of Tim Kimmel by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Kimmel was speaking about his book, Grace-Based Parenting.

When we returned, I sent off a note to Sally Michael, Minister for Parenting and Discipleship at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Now Sally has very high standards when it comes to books on parenting. She is not easily impressed. So I was surprised when she was so enthusiastic about this book. In fact, she said she would now rank it in the top 3 of books she's read on parenting. (On her list, #1 is Shepherding a Child's Heart, and #2 is Teach Them Diligently.)

Since I don't yet have the book, I asked Sally if she'd consider writing a blurb of the book to post here. This is what she sent me:

Author Tim Kimmel has written a book that helps parents navigate the dangers of two extremes in parenting—legalism and permissiveness. He clearly describes a style of parenting that preserves the need for boundaries, obedience, respect, and discipline but which also appropriately considers “the three driving needs” of children—a need for security, a need for significance, and a need for strength. He does this by focusing in on the climate in the home. He accurately observes that there is a place for rules and strictness in the home, but how they are presented makes “all the difference on how they are received.”

Kimmel observes that much of the parenting of Christians is based on fear—fear of the world and the deteriorating culture, fear of other parents, and fear of the opinions of the church. This in turn encourages parents to focus on behavior rather than on the heart of their children. Kimmel instead encourages parents to parent their children as God parents His children—with grace. “Grace-based parenting mirrors God’s love, reflects His forgiveness, and displaces fear as a motivator for the choices we make.”

Grace-Based Parenting points out the fallacy of basing our parenting on the desire to raise “safe Christian children” by depending on the control of the environment around our children in order to shape them. He calls this a “disaster in the making” and warns that this effort “will produce shallow faith and wimpy believers.” Instead, Kimmel urges us to raise strong children and to move beyond outer problems and address the inner problems of our children.

One of the most critical strengths of this book is the atmosphere of grace in the home that Kimmel portrays as well as the matter-of-fact, yet gracious manner in which he notes that parents and children are sinners and must be dealt with as sinners. Consider these comments from the chapter, "The Freedom to Make Mistakes":

“Legalistic parents maintain a relationship with God through obedience to a standard. The goal of this when it comes to their children is to keep sin from getting into their home. They do their best to create an environment that controls as many of the avenues as possible that sin could use to work its way into the inner sanctum…. It’s as though the power to sin or not to sin was somehow connected to their personal will power and resolve…. These families are preoccupied with keeping sin out by putting a fence between them and the world.

The difference with grace-based families is that they don’t bother spending much time putting fences up because they know full well that sin is already present and accounted for inside their family. To these types of parents, sin is not an action or an object that penetrates their defenses; it is a preexisting condition that permeates their being. The graceless home requires kids to be good and gets angry and punishes them when they are bad. The grace-based home assumes kids will struggle with sin and helps them learn how to tap into God’s power to help them get stronger.

It’s not that grace-based homes don’t take their children’s sin seriously. Nor is it that grace-based homes circumvent consequences. It isn’t even that grace-based homes do nothing to protect their children from attacks and temptations that threaten them from the outside. They do all these things, but not for the same reasons. Grace-based homes aren’t trusting in the moral safety of their home or the spiritual environment they’ve created to empower their children to resist sin…. They assume that sin is an ongoing dilemma that their children must constantly contend with.

[Children in a grace-based family] are accepted as sinners who desire to become more like Christ rather than be seen as nice Christian kids trying to maintain a good moral code. Grace is committed to bringing children up from their sin; legalism puts them on a high standard and works overtime to keep them from falling down.

Grace understands that the only real solution for our children’s sin is the work of Christ on their behalf…. Legalism uses outside forces to help children maintain their moral walk. Their strength is based on the environment they live in. Grace, on the other hand, sees the strength of children by what is inside them—more specifically, Who is inside them.”
Dr. Tim Kimmel has effectively and winsomely written a much-needed message to Christian parents.