Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Book Review: Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp

Review by

Here's a book review on Tedd Tripp's Shepherding a Child's Heart that I dug out of my archives. I don't think I've ever posted it here and since a few of you guys are parents, I thought it would be worth posting.

Shepherding a Child’s Heart
by Tedd Tripp
Publishing Information: Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd’s Press, 1995
ISBN: 0-9663786-0-1
Length: 215 pages

I cannot imagine a better book on parenting than this, though I have not read any others. Tedd Tripp masterfully teaches how to raise God-centered children in a God-centered way, using God-centered methods. Weaving together Scriptural insight, pastoral and counseling experiences, as well as his own victories and defeats as a parent, Tripp teaches Christian parents how to guide (hence the imagery of the shepherd) their child’s heart (not just behavior) to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

The foundational premise of the entire book is laid in the first chapter, “Getting to the Heart of Behavior.” It is utterly Scriptural, affirming that “the heart is the control center for life,” and that “the behavior a person exhibits is an expression of the overflow of the heart” (p. 3 - see Luke 6:45 and Mark 7:21 for Scriptural support). Therefore, “behavior is not the basic issue. The basic issue is always what is going on in the heart” (p. 4). Everything that a parent does in correction and discipline must reflect an awareness of this important truth and be directed towards helping the child understand “how his straying heart has resulted in wrong behavior” (p. 5).

Tripp’s perspective become obvious rather quickly: “For too long the church has tried to integrate biblical and nonbiblical thought forms to answer the questions of parenting. The resulting synthesis has produced bitter fruit.” Far from being an integrationalist, Tripp is radically focused on Scripture. This book breathes of the gospel and centers on the cross of Christ.

The second and third chapters discuss the child’s development, focusing on “Shaping Influences” (like family values, roles, history, conflict resolution, etc.) and “Godward Orientation” respectively. The author insists that every child has a Godward orientation, because “everyone is essentially religious. Children are worshippers. Either they worship Jehovah or idols. They are never neutral” (p. 20). An understanding of this will radically shape the perspective of the parent. The parenting task becomes one of battling the child’s tendency towards idolatry and directing him to the only satisfying object of worship: the living God.

The fourth chapter deals with the important concept of authority. Again, a Godward orientation dominates the author’s excellent unfolding of this issue. Parents live under God’s authority and it is God’s will that they act as the authority over their children. This authority must be handled within the parameters of God’s own instruction. Discipline is to be corrective, not punitive. It is to be an expression of love, for “the discipline of a child is a parent refusing to be a willing party to his child’s death (Proverbs 19:18)” (p. 38). Parents are God’s agents. They act on His behalf, not their own. Therefore, a parent’s authority centers around God’s will, not the parent’s.

Chapter five moves on to examine parenting goals. There are many defective ones that the author discusses (development of special skills, psychological adjustment, family worship - which is not an end in itself, well-behaved kids, good education, kids under control), before presenting the one overarching biblical objective: “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” (p. 47). Chapter six then leads parents in reworking goals around this central purpose.

The next chapter moves from goals to methods of discipline and training. A devastatingly biblical critique is made of various methods used by parents from pop psychology and behavior modification to emotional manipulation and punitive correction (such as grounding). The fault in them all is the failure to address heart issues.

The biblical methods are then presented: communication and “the rod” (chapters eight through twelve). The communication is to be rich and balanced, involving encouragement, correction, rebuke, entreaty, instruction, warning, teaching, and prayer. Communication focuses on the understanding and appeals to the conscience. It is costly, because it demands time. Quantity time must not be sacrificed for so-called quality time.

Communication is to be balanced and enforced with “the rod” (Tripp wisely uses biblical terminology to discuss corporeal discipline; see Prov. 29:15; Prov. 23:14; etc.). The rod is well defined by the author as “a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God, thus rescuing the child from continuing in his foolishness until death” (p. 108). Every phrase of that paragraph is unpacked with precision. The function of the rod is to teach children the fear of the Lord.

Reminding us that the purpose of physical discipline is always restoration, not punishment, Tripp warns against distortions and abuses of physical discipline, such as angry discipline, venting of frustration, and exacting retribution. He also counters common objections to spanking and assesses the fruit promised by the Scriptures. The balance between communication and the rod is held at all times: “The use of the rod preserves biblically rooted, parental authority. The emphasis on rich communication prohibits cold, tyrannical discipline” (p. 116). Chapter thirteen gives a summary of the first part of the book.

Part two lays out in six chapters the training objectives and procedures for the three stages of a child’s life: infancy (birth to 4 or 5), childhood (5 to 12), and the teen years.

The objective of parenting infants is training the child to submit to authority. Obedience is defined as “doing what he is told without challenge, without excuse, without delay” (p. 138). Chapter fifteen discusses in even more detail the role of spanking, giving a careful eight step procedure for carrying out discipline. Several frequently asked questions about spanking, such as “when is my child old enough?” and “what if we’re not at home?” are answered also.

The training objective during childhood shifts to character development. Parents are encouraged to regularly assess their child’s strengths and weaknesses and through addressing heart issues and appealing to the conscience help their kids develop Christian character.

With teenagers, the specific objective shifts again to cultivating the fear of the Lord, helping teens adhere to parental instruction, and avoid wicked associations (all developed from Proverbs 1). This is accomplished through helping teens internalize the gospel (so much of this book is focused on leading children not in a sinner’s prayer, but to humble dependence upon Christ for forgiveness and obedience to Him as Lord), and by building a deep relationship of mutual respect with them. As the parents’ authority (their ability to control their kids by superior strength) decreases, their influence should increase. Teens are thus being prepared to leave their father and mother as the relationship progressively becomes one of friendship and counsel.

This is an excellent book for which I am immeasurably thankful. Tripp consistently encourages parents to hold up the standard of God’s law for their children because he knows that only as children face their own spiritual poverty as transgressors of God’s law will they be driven to the cross of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, grace, and inward transformation. “When you fail to hold out God’s standard,” he says, “you rob your children of the mercy of the gospel” (p. xx). So, I commend this book without reservation to parents, grandparents, prospective parents, pastors, and family counselors. This is a wise book. It will equip men and women to be wise parents.

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