Questions on parenting are universal, and yet no matter how many books parents read and how many seminars they attend, they will always face certain unknowns.
That shouldn’t discourage parents from continuing to learn and grow, however. In fact, maturing as a parent is a great model for our children. Joe Carter’s The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents: Help Your Kids Learn Practical Life Skills, Develop Essential Faith Habits, and Embrace a Biblical Worldview is a tool not just for teaching kids but also for growing parents. This new book succeeds in its objective to teach parents to “empower your children to form a godly character and a Christian worldview” (10).
In many ways, what Carter—an editor for The Gospel Coalition, ERLC, and the Acton Institute—has done reminds of Proverbs. Like Solomon, Carter’s approach is rooted in a Godward focus, but he’s not afraid to also use the common-grace wisdom that surrounds us, such as learning techniques, research on grittiness, science, or medicine.
As a Christian parent, you want your children to develop good character and godly wisdom. But how do you go beyond hoping and praying to teaching them ethical knowledge, practical skills, and virtuous habits? This innovative guide provides practical, effective ideas you can use to help your children build their faith and character in 50 ways. Once you grasp these concepts and discover how to teach them, you will be able to successfully shape the character and worldview of your child or teenager.
Here’s a breakdown of the broad themes in The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents. Within these 10 categories are 50 life skills that parents should consider teaching their children:
- Bible Engagement (chs. 1–12)
- Interacting with God (chs. 14–17)
- Interacting with Others (chs. 18–21)
- Discernment and Decision Making (chs. 22–25)
- Mental and Physical Health (chs. 26–30)
- Character Development (chs. 31–34)
- Engaging the Culture (chs. 35–38)
- Learning (chs. 39–42)
- Managing Conflict (chs. 43–46)
- Evangelism (chs. 47–50)
Most systematic-theology textbooks start with either God or Scripture, and Carter follows this strategy. This roots the more practical sections in the importance of first knowing God by reading his Word. He states, “Research has shown the biggest factor predicting the spiritual health of young adults is whether they read the Bible regularly as children” (35), and “our goal in Bible reading . . . [is to] better know Jesus” (36). These chapters provide an invaluable Theology 101 for how to read and understand the Bible.
Carter readily acknowledges at the start of the book that not everyone will find everything helpful, but his goal is to have people find between 20 percent to 80 percent helpful. Just the beginning chapters on the Bible and God are worth the 20 percent.
A supremely well organized book for parents.
One lesson I immediately implemented after reading it was “How to Say You’re Sorry.” Even if you’re not a news junkie, we’ve all seen celebrities and politicians give the now famous non-apology. Apologizing is a skill you can and should cultivate. Carter recommends a simple structure:
- I’m sorry for . . .
- This is wrong because . . .
- In the future, I will . . .
- Will you forgive me?
In addition, he offers wise words when dealing with how to forgive. For example: “[I]f someone has physically abused you in the past, you can forgive them without putting yourself in a situation where they can continue to abuse you. . . . [W]e are not required to put ourselves in danger” (124).
I also highly recommend the chapters dealing with making wise choices and understanding God’s will. Every child should understand these basics from early on, so they don’t get caught in the trap of reading tea leaves to discern providence.
I mentioned at the start Carter’s willingness to use common-grace wisdom, and his chapter on grit exemplifies this use. Angela Duckworth’s Grit was one of my favorite reads in 2018, and I was delighted to see how Carter wove in her research with biblical themes of steadfastness and perseverance.
The section on skills and habits for engaging the culture is a high point in this regard. I appreciate that Carter didn’t take the all-culture-is-bad approach. For instance, even as he discussed the importance of thinking about the worldview portrayed in the culture we consume, he writes: “A significant danger in teaching worldview analysis of art is that it can override the pleasures of experiencing great works of art” (196).
Carter’s closing chapters focus on teaching children how to share the gospel; this seemed appropriate after starting with knowing and loving Jesus, then looking at a bunch of ways to grow in love, and ending with how to share God’s love with others. A nice send-off to a supremely well organized book for parents.
I didn’t have any fundamental issues with the book or anything beyond very minor differences of application. For instance, while I agree that reading the Old Testament is tough even for adults, I don’t agree with the advice to teach kids to “start with New Testament commands” because most of the important Old Testament commands are repeated (61). I’d prefer to start with the 10 Commandments and then teach kids to see how all the other Old Testament commands are a practical outworking of “love God and neighbor.”
I was also expecting formal catechesis (like TGC’s New City Catechism) to pop up somewhere in the book, especially with Carter’s emphasis throughout on asking questions and learning techniques, but it never showed up. The church has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to confessions and catechisms, and I would have loved to see a chapter dedicated to incorporating them into parenting.
I highly recommend Joe Carter’s The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents. It earns the term “field book” with practical teaching rooted in Scripture while being unafraid of common grace wisdom no matter where it comes from.