Martha Peace and Stuart W. Scott, The Faithful Parent: A Biblical Guide to Raising a Family (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 241 pp.
The book is broken into three sections. Part One lays out the goal of parenting, “to be faithful to God's Word by his grace and for his glory” (4). They define what biblical faithfulness is and then articulate from Scripture that faithfulness has two primary responsibilities: “to bring [children] up: (1) in the discipline of the Lord, and (2) in the instruction of the Lord” (9). Their two-fold purpose statement makes the parental task simple, without being simplistic. As every parent knows, disciplining and instructing children in the fear and admonition of the Lord takes Spiritual wisdom, power, patience, and perseverance, but to have a memorable purpose is helpful for the cluttered lives of parents.
In chapter two, Peace and Scott devote significant time to helping parents share the gospel with their children. What makes this chapter so valuable is that Peace and Scott have a passion for seeing children come to know God, and not simply to make a mechanical decision for Christ. They emphasize the fact that the gospel for children is the same as that for adults (15), that “all elements of the gospel” must be grasped by the child for true conversion to take place (16), and that parents ought to have a “systematic plan to teach [their children] stories while they are young … and then to build on them as they are older and can understand more” (16). Then, Scott and Peace unpack some of the gospel essentials-God, man, sin, grace-and move to answer questions about how to handle particular kinds of situations with children along the road to knowing and embracing the gospel.
Part Two focuses on five different stages of development in the life of a child-The Infant (ch. 3), The Toddler (ch. 4), The Preschooler (ch. 5), The School-age Child (ch. 6), and The Teenager (7). Since each age requires different approaches, these age-graded chapters are helpful in addressing specific issues, all the while, retaining the two-fold purpose of discipline and instruction.
Each chapter follows the same basic pattern: They begin with a brief section on developmental milestones. Next, Peace and Scott lay out Scripture's description of the age in question. In some places, the descriptive elements of the information seems a little unnecessary or bland, but great appreciation is had for looking to Scripture to see what it says of infants, toddlers, and teenagers.
After the biblical data is assessed, Peace and Scott outline age-based discipline and instruction. These pages are filled with practical counsel and pertinent attention to biblical mandates. For instance, in the chapter on toddlers, Peace and Scott deconstruct the myth of the Terrible Two's and urge parents to follow God's wisdom in “spanking,” instead of the ever-popular, Nanny-approved timeout. Why? Because the timeout chair allows the child to play “over and over in his mind the circumstance that made him angry” (61). Such mad meditation, they assert, is not good for him to have “brood[ing] in his heart” (61). Moreover, in the chapter on school-aged children, Peace and Scott give a handful of milestones to pursue-learning about good deeds, worship, character habits, friendship, Bible knowledge, and biblical forms of communication (88-98).
At the end of each chapter, Peace and Scott provide “Helpful Commonsense Tips.” These are the kind of things to write down and refer to again and again. These tips are concrete and constructive ideas; not all of them are “spiritual.” For instance, for the teenager, they counsel to have enough food to eat because teens are always hungry, develop a common interest with your children, and don't buy them a car that goes super fast (122-24). These are not biblical mandates, but they are wise for the parenting task.
It should also be mentioned that Chapter 8 exhorts parents to avoid certain kinds of character traits that will inevitably provoke their children. In addressing these problematic, parental caricatures, it reminds us that one of the greatest ways that we shepherd our children is by our own examples and loving leadership.
Finally, Part Three addresses “Special Cases” like single parenting, divorced parenting, and blended families (ch. 9). In our fractured society, this chapter is very important and its counsel will come in handy for any minister of the gospel and for many in our churches. In this section, Peace and Scott also tackle the unexpected challenges of parenting. Chapter 10, “When Things Don't Go as Planned,” provides a 30-day devotional for parents when a child's life takes a turn for the worse (e.g. a child becomes pregnant or is paralyzed in an auto accident). Because we plan our ways, but God directs our steps (Prov 16:9), having this kind of sovereignty-affirming, truth-telling devotional for families is evidence that Peace and Scott know the real heartache that parents face. They have mined the Scriptures for biblical remedies to doubt and despair, and provide a great resource in this devotion.
Analysis and Use
If you are looking for a light-hearted book with saccharine stories about parenting, The Faithful Parent is not it. Neither is it a theological treatise. It is a well-crafted manual to carry with you as you parent your children. Its roots go to the bedrock of the Scriptures and its practical counsel has been refined by decades of biblical counseling tested by personal experience.
Thus, The Faithful Parent would be an excellent book for any pastor to study-not just read-to help meet the needs of the families he shepherds. Just the same, any seminary or Bible college class on the family would miss out if they did not peruse this book. With that said, I would urge caution before using the book for a general small group study for parents. Because of the broad range of ages in the center of the book, there could be much information that is irrelevant for readers. Then again, if the age range in your church is narrow or if you cater the center section to the ages in your small group, The Faithful Parent could serve as a great study, especially with the study questions in each chapter. In the end, this volume should find a place in the hands of every Christian family, to accompany them with counsel and encouragement as they raise their children “by the Book,” looking to discipline them and instruct them in the fear of the Lord, always pointing them to the gospel of Jesus Christ.