Paul David Tripp’s latest book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, is well worth a read regardless of where you are in your parenting journey. Tripp writes: “Successful parenting is not about achieving goals (that you have no power to produce) but about being a usable and faithful tool in the hands of the One who alone is able to produce good things in your children.” I particularly enjoyed his big-picture perspective of our calling to parent with vision, purpose, and joy instead of our feeble attempts to change our children’s hearts to achieve the results we want. We are to be ambassadors of the grace shown to us.
Let me encourage you to buy or borrow a copy to reap the full benefit of Tripp’s words and real-life examples. If that seems like just another thing on your will-never-get-done-in-my-lifetime to-do list, find below my chapter outline and summary of the keepers I netted from my reading, including direct quotes from Tripp (all quotes in bold).
Chapter 1) Calling: Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to reshape souls.
“The most important thing that a child could ever learn is the existence, character, and plan of God. Connect everything you require of your children in behavior and belief to the story of redemption. Your church was not designed to replace you, but to assist and equip you for this very work. Don’t let Sunday or the children’s or youth ministry be the only time your children are taught God’s Word.”
2) Grace: God never calls you to a task without giving you what you need to do it. He never sends you without going with you.
“God calls unable people to do important things so that he will get the glory and not them.” Think of all the biblical examples that fit this bill. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
3) Law: Your children need God’s law, but you cannot ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish.
If rules had the power to change our children’s hearts, Jesus would not have needed to die! We need to preach and model the gospel of grace to ourselves and our children every day, realizing we are more like our children than unlike them, in deep need of our Father’s forgiveness.
4) Inability: Recognizing what you are unable to do is essential to good parenting.
This is an incredibly helpful chapter that details how fear, reward, and shame - three often used tools of parental power - do not provide positive or long-lasting change. “Good parenting lives at the intersection of a humble admission of personal powerlessness and a confident rest in the power and grace of God.”
5) Identity: As a parent, if you are not resting in your identity in Christ, you will look for your identity in your children.
Another powerful chapter which discusses how our natural inclination to seek our identity from our children is not only “a miserable place to look for identity” but creates “a crushing burden for our children to carry with all the expectations and demands that flow from it. It just never works to ask your children to be your own personal saviors.” Included in the book are questions to ask yourself to see if this is your struggle.
6) Process: You must be committed as a parent to long-view parenting because change is a process, not an event.
This chapter was the single most encouraging reminder for me: parenting is a never-ending conversation. Just as God parents us daily with grace and love, we can pass his blessings along to our children.
7) Lost: As a parent you’re not dealing just with bad behavior, but a condition that causes bad behavior.
A review of the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son reminds us that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost – us and our children. Tripp discusses the lies of autonomy and self-sufficiency that every lost child believes and the five things every lost child needs.
8) Authority: Teaching and modeling the protective beauty of authority is one of the foundations of good parenting.
This chapter made me think of the Sunday School bulletin board I have often planned in my head but not yet created. It would be titled “Just Two Choices On The Shelf” and feature two Ball canning jars sitting side by side on a kitchen shelf, one labelled “Pleasing God” and the other, “Pleasing Self.” This fundamental choice is at the heart of every battle with our children. In this chapter, Tripp challenges us to help our children understand why they do what they do, establishing these practices early, consistently, in small ways, and always pointing them to their need of Jesus. “So every moment of rebellion reveals a child’s heart, and every moment when a child’s heart is revealed is a God-given opportunity to talk about the Savior who alone can deliver this child from himself.”
9) Foolishness: The foolishness inside your children is more dangerous to them than the temptation outside, and only God’s grace has the power to rescue fools.
Tripp offers these four words to parent a fool: Glory: open their eyes to the stunning glory of God; Wisdom: point out how protective and helpful God’s wisdom is; Story: talk about the person and work of Jesus over and over again; and Welcome: talk about how God always extends a welcome to the repentant fool. I especially appreciated Tripp’s own confessions of foolishness as a parent.
10) Character: Not all of the wrong your children do is a direct rebellion to authority; much of the wrong is the result of a lack of character.
Tripp shares from Romans 1 “how the Bible connects character issues to the most significant of all human functions – worship.” What rules our hearts, shapes and determines how we deal with situations and relationships in everyday life. More often than not our children need “worship realignment” rather than “character management.” Yes, they and we need truth that has the power to set us free!
11) False Gods: You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his or her behavior.
Tripp continues to examine worship - the life-long hunt for God that every human being experiences. As parents, we need to be committed to being instruments to help children see what they worship and lead them to confession with patience and tenderness, understanding that we have no power to free them from their biggest problem. Their hope and ours are in the grace of Jesus Christ alone.
12) Control: The goal of parenting is not control of behavior, but rather heart and life change.
Do you see a consistent theme here? Tripp offers two and a half pages of helpful scripture references in this chapter addressing everything from guidance to confrontation to security. Using Psalm 51 as a guide, he explains why and how children need to understand their sin in order to turn to “the only place of hope: the forgiving and restoring hands of the Redeemer.”
13) Rest: It is only rest in God’s presence and grace that will make you a joyful and patient parent.
If you have ever felt overburdened, overwhelmed, exhausted, or discouraged (and who hasn’t), this chapter is a must read. Tripp points to The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) as a summary of our calling as parents and a reminder of where we can look for help and hope. We don’t do this alone. Tripp writes: “It really is true that good, godly, transformative parenting grows best in the soil of a heart at rest.”
14) Mercy: No parent gives mercy better than one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself.
“We are the first responders in the lives of our children. Look for every opportunity to shower your children with grace. Be careful to help your children see the heart behind the behavior. Be patiently committed to process. Point your kids every day to Jesus. Humbly accept your limits. Remind your heart each morning to rest in the presence and power of your heavenly Father. Willingly confess your faults. Root all that you require, say, and do in the wonderful wisdom of Scripture. Don’t treat opportunities like hassles. (Your best opportunities to parent won’t be on YOUR schedule.) Be slow to anger and quick to forgive. Pray before, during, and after. Do all of these things over and over again.”
Throughout my reading, I was reminded of the theme of the Sunday School curriculum we use at Peace for ages 2 through 8th grade: Show Me Jesus. We are called to show our children Jesus in the midst of messy, humbling, day-in-day-out living; we are called to a life of "holy repetition." As we truly understand and reflect on the ever present grace, mercy, and love he has shown us, we are better able to show grace, mercy, and love in turn to our children. It is not our work; it is his work through us.
You can purchase a copy of Paul David Tripp's Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family on Amazon.