Home > Books > William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

William P. Farley: Gospel-Powered Parenting

One of the great puzzles for me as a modern Christian is in connecting the theological (the way I think as a Christian) and the practical (what I do because I am a Christian). This basic problem surfaces everywhere: with money; with interpersonal relationships; with politics; etc. but it seems like one of the areas where there’s the most discussion (and where the most books are written) is in the area of parenting and child-rearing. I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess whether this is because parenting is so difficult, or because it’s often so hard to tell good advice from bad, or because it’s such a profitable market.

I sometimes wonder how people raised children before Dr Benjamin Spock, because it seems like everything I hear nowadays is several battles along in an ongoing war with Spock and his successors. From the conservative Christian side there is a narrative that takes it as read that when Spock arrived on the scene there was a kind of Copernican revolution, where the discussion went from centering on God (and His nature) to centering on the child (and his nature, growth, and development), and it is the duty of every conservative Christian parent to get back to the God-centered way of doing things. The problem being, of course, that it’s not that simple, and it is unhelpful to pretend that it is.

I wish I could remember where I heard about Farley’s book Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting. It must have been from some Reformed source, since Farley has all the trappings of a modern West Coast Reformed type: the title of his book has the word “Gospel” in it, he starts his discussion of proper parenting with a description of the sovereignty and holiness of God, his church has “Grace” in its name, and he’s based in Spokane. I picked a copy of his book from Amazon [link] because I keep hoping that someone will do a good job of getting the two things (the theological and the practical) to connect, and e.g. follow through on the promise made in Farley’s book.

Have you seen a parenting book recently? The secular ones are massive things with lots of detail, guidelines, answers to specific questions, etc. The Baby Book, by William and Martha Sears, weighs in at over 750 pages; What To Expect The First Year, by Arlene Eisenberg, over 650 pages. Farley’s book, on the other hand, is 233 pages, including endnotes. That should have been my first clue that either Farley isn’t talking about the same things the Searses and Ms Eisenberg are talking about, or he isn’t delving into them in the same detail.

Sure enough about 30 pages in Farley hauls out the “God-centered” vs. “child-centered” distinction and gives it his own gloss. He goes to the trouble to draw us a picture of “God-centered” and “child-centered” families, as concentric circles with in one case the children in the center, the parents the middle circle, and God the outer circle (that’s the “child-centered” family) and in the other case God in the center circle, the parents in the middle circle, and the children the outer circle. Oddly he doesn’t explain the enclosing circles case by case, but instead describes the family that stops going to church so the kids can be involved in activities as a “child-centered” family and a family that requires their kids to schedule activities around church as a “God-centered” family.

The odd thing about this, of course, is that he’s substituted church things for God and hasn’t bothered to explain how or why that makes sense. This is a common sleight-of-hand I find in Christian books and I wonder when I find them if I’m missing something or if the author is missing something. But that’s another topic for another post, as is the question of what it means for the “child” circle to enclose the “parents” circle. Farley doesn’t take this topic on directly either, so I may defer it to a discussion of that champion of Christian child-rearing, Gary Ezzo.

I’m not done with Farley, but so far I am under the impression that what he’s done is reduced parenting to a theological exercise. What I’m going to do in the rest of my posts on Farley’s book is try to figure out whether that’s a reasonable thing to do. I suspect that this is a case of Farley believing that because good theology is necessary that somehow good theology is sufficient, so he sees every question as fundamentally a theological question. I’m not sure.

 

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