You can (and must) lead a lion to straw but you can’t make him eat

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought… The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. -C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

I would highly recommend Give Them Grace to any Christian parent. The book’s strengths are numerous: the counsel is rooted in Scripture; the mother/daughter co-authors (Fitzpatrick & Thompson) evidence a godly, humble wisdom gained through personal experience in child-rearing; the talk is sober but encouraging; and “grace” is understood to be both a disposition and a power. I could go on but you’re going to read it for yourself (right?).

But because the book so convincingly shows grace-based parenting to be the only true, Christian parenting the reader may be tempted to lose sight of the indispensable role of law in promoting grace [I think this is especially true for parents of young children]. To be fair, this danger isn’t lost on the authors & they address it in a number of different ways, but striking the right balance in practice is easier said than done.

The truth is that we are most godly in our parenting when we follow the Father’s example. Remember, God Himself (always gracious, always loving) first established the Law to prepare his children for a later, greater grace (Gal 3:24). Our “little human animals” must still be made/trained to like/do what they otherwise would not. The difference is that while a human animal may be trained to love vegetables & exercise he can’t be trained to love righteousness & the pursuit of holiness. You might as well train a carnivore to graze. Nevertheless, the little animal must be shown the Law’s righteousness in the hope that one day a gracious Creator will re-create him with a new appetite (Isa 11:7).

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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