Shepherding a Child's Heart

I might as well get this over with... Sorry for the long review.

I picked up "Shepherding a Child's Heart" because my sister-in-law suggested I read it. Honestly, I hadn't ever heard of the book before. But this week, it seemed like everywhere I went someone was talking about it. I had a couple stop me in Panda Express on Monday who spent 15 minutes raving about the book. Some of our other friends have mentioned it in several different conversations, and all the reviews were extremely positive. A lot of parents feel like this book has really helped them.

Here are the things I love about this book: (1) It is the first parenting book I have read that emphasizes heart-change above simple behavior-modification strategies for parents. Our job is not to get our kids to behave, it is to point them toward Jesus. Tripp says "It is impossible to get from preoccupation with behavior to the gospel," (p. 67) and I think he's absolutely right. (2) Tripp does a good job of emphasizing communication with our children from a young age. We have to understand, and help them understand why they do the things they do.

With that said, there are a couple of things that I don't love about this book. The first one I talked about on Tuesday. Trip has a tendency to characterize many things as "unbiblical" that don't find a black-and-white basis in Scripture, and I find that extremely troubling. It helps him make a stronger point - everyone wants to raise kids in a biblical manner - but I don't believe a parent who grounds their child, or pushes them to make good grades a goal are living in direct violation of a clear biblical command. Tripp says they are.

The second thing is an even touchier subject (no pun intended). But, before I comment on Tripp's chapter on "the rod," I need to make a disclaimer:

I am not against spanking. If it were not for God's grace and some good spankings, I would be in the federal penitentiary today. There will no doubt be times in my son's life where he commits an offense for which the best discipline will be a spanking, and I intend to give it.

However. I do not believe "the rod" is the only God-ordained method for disciplining our child. Tripp makes a strong inference in that direction. In fact, he infers that if we want to be "biblical," we must follow the passages that talk about "the rod" in a strictly literal sense. "The rod" does not simply refer to "discipline," but to "spanking."

In fact, one of the most troubling parts of the book for me was an illustration Tripp used on pages 29-30 recalling conversations with his child:

"Father: Do you remember what God says Daddy must do if you disobey?
Child: Spank me?
Father: That's right. I must spank you. If I don't, then I would be disobeying God. You and I would both be wrong..."

In my view, that kind of conversation raises a whole host of problems. First, if a child is old enough to truly follow the logic of that conversation, he is probably too old to spank. Second, even Tripp admits there are some times you would overlook an offense (p. 111). If some offenses are okay for a parent to overlook, doesn't the above conversation give the impression to the child that you are sinning against God by not spanking him for every offense? Finally, God hasn't specified that we have to spank our child for every act of disobedience. He simply said, "the rod" will save them from death (Prov 23:13-14), demonstrate love for our child (Prov 13:23), and will bring us peace and delight (Prov 29:17). God never specifies which offenses deserve a spanking. He never specifies how many spankings a child is supposed to receive. And before long, that child is going to read his Bible and understand God didn't say Daddy needed to spank him for every offense, and feel as though God was being used as a scapegoat to justify punishment for something that may or may not have deserved it. That is a huge problem.

God has certainly been creative in the way He has disciplined me (Hebrews 12:7-11). Thankfully, He doesn't apply the rod every time, or for every offense. And I think it is okay (and not unbiblical) for parents to feel the freedom to follow His lead in being creative as we discipline our children.

Overall, there are parts of this book that I loved, and parts of the book that I strongly disliked. I can certainly see why so many parents are passionate about Tripp's book in a positive way, but think the book should be read (and recommended) carefully, because I believe some of Tripp's dogma is misplaced.


Mark Hancock said...

Thanks for the courage to swat this hornet's nest!

We need more people talking about discipling children.

Grace and Peace,

The Kinley's said...

I think finding what motivates them, is too another great discipline tactic. Course I'm only a mom of a 17 month old and am NO EXPERT, but these are really hard times with toddler and I've noticed that he gets motivated by being a "big helper" and tends to make better choices.

I don't agree with stroking their self esteem but rather show them who they are through God's eyes.

Thanks for reviewing this book, I've been wanting to read it for some time now. I think we have the same view as you about the spanking, he gets it but not for every this age it's more of an attention getter ;-).