Monday, November 27, 2006

How Children Raise Parents

Dan Allender's book, How Children Raise Parents, has been really helpful, personally and parentally, in connecting fatherhood/motherhood with the gospel. Here are a few thoughts distilled from the first two chapters of his book:

Good Parenting is…
Dan Allender debunks popular notions of good parenting—“provide the right influences and/or principles and your children will succeed”—by unpacking the way God parents humanity, offering his children the opportunity to become fully and truly human. In order to parent as God parents us, we must recognize two fundamental questions asked by all children: 1) Am I loved? 2) Can I get my own way?

The way we parent depends on how we answer these questions. If we answer yes to both questions, we must stay discipline and, in turn, rob our children of knowing God’s strength. We cheapen love. If we answer no to the first question and yes to the second, we give them license but no love, we spoil (=ruin) our children from knowing God’s mercy and care in the midst of our failures to keep his way. You get the idea. God parents us by telling us he loves us, but that we cannot get our own way. His love is communicated in and through his way, a way that is better than any other. God’s way, his rules, provides confidence for our children that security and strength can be found outside of themselves. There is someone bigger and better who cares for them.

Know Thy Children
However, answering these questions for our children will not work. We must know our children. When they refuse to do their homework or share with another friend when we have told them to do so, is it because they are seeking our attention which is rarely gained or is it because they simply want their own way? Moreover, parenting well requires wisdom, a knowing of our children’s bent. Allender defines “bent” as something that is beyond personality, it “is the manner in which God has uniquely written a person’s life story to reveal God’s character.

Allender goes on to explain that child-oriented wisdom includes the understanding that your child is meant to be in, but not of, the world. Every child will bend one of two ways, “of” the world or “not of” the world, saddling up to the values of the world or secluding themselves from the difficulty of living in the world. From an early age, they will ten towards secularism or sectarianism, unthinking digestion of worldly values or unthinking embrace of religious values. Rebels or rule-keepers. At times God calls us to be rebels, and at others, he calls us to be rule-keepers, but never in our own strength. Knowing the sufficiency of the gospel for living and parenting in these tenuous times is key.
In order to respond to our child’s need for love and correction, affection and truth, we must know our own bent as well. Knowing where we lean under life’s pressures will reveal how we tend to push our children. If we tend towards pleasing others for approval, the example we set is “of the world.” If we tend to rely on ourselves to get through life, the example we set is “not of the world.” Knowing our bent, whether towards license or legalism, rebellion or religion, will enable us to mature as people and as parents, setting our hope not on parenting skill, but the wisdom of God. This wisdom is displayed in the gospel, sufficient for our victories and our defeats. Jesus death secures our forgiveness and his life our faith.


At 11:07 AM , Blogger Josh said...

This book sounds great. How'd you hear about it?

It's frustratingly liberating to be reminded that there are no special formulas to parenting. A gospel-centered life in general or a family life in particular is built on wisdom. And we know that true wisdom comes from God alone.

I have been loving the James 1:5 promise--"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." Heidi and I have been begging for wisdom as we await our son's arrival.

At 11:29 AM , Blogger Jonathan Dodson said...

I just knew Allender as a counseling author, then heard Robert Tansil recommend the book, then found it at a CBD sale (props).

Funny. I read and claimed that promise this morning for churchplanting and income. Rarely do i reflect on the fact that the stipulation is that i dont ask with reproach, or judgingly, but accept his wisdom no matter what it is!!

At 10:12 PM , Anonymous Jason said...

I agree that we tend to bend. Man do I bend and need the Gospel! This was a helpful reminder for myself as a parent and the need to know myself and my kids...and the Lord!

I need to meditate more on the way God parents us and have that affect my parenting more deeply.

Thanks for pointing to this.

At 11:14 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is good stuff. Henry is having a real hard time right now, and the way I have been responding is mostly out of fleshly frustration. But God doesn't respond that way with me does He? No, He sends Jesus instead. And then He sends the Spirit, who bears His fruit in me. A nice contrast of calculated grace and love. So instead of getting frustrated with me, God patiently woos me toward obedience from the heart (Rom. 6:17). But only via the cross.
So if God loves me this way, is this transferrable to the way I love my kids? How do you woo the unwooable? Especially when they are spiritually dead (or demon possessed, as Henry sometimes appears to be)? :)
However that works, I think it is what our kids need to see and experience. It isn't law and it isn't license. It is another way.
Whats more, only the Spirit of God can make us able to do this, and it seems that He uses our kids to cause us to grow up in the faith just to parent.
Great post. Got me thinking about a lot of stuff. Peace, love, and GAP.

At 11:30 AM , Blogger Jonathan Dodson said...

Ross, I will add that in dealing with unregenerate hearts, the law is very important. It must be exercised (you not disrespect your mother, etc) but with the prayer that God would give our children new hearts to respond to the power of the gospel for obedience to the law, which in turn, becomes a law of love (I respect my mother because I love Jesus and her). We are certainly responsible for raising good citizens, whether they embrace the gospel or not.

We can't be the surrogate savior, wooing our children. We can only display his beauty, worth, and glory through our own delight in and dependence upon his Son. Oh God, woo our children and woo them early.

My kids are raising me...and I am learning a lot about the gospel through this post and comments-thank you.

At 7:46 AM , Blogger Alex Chediak said...


Would you say that Allender is Calvinistic (in his understanding of original sin, the necessity of the Holy Spirit regenerating children, etc.)?


At 2:55 PM , Blogger Jonathan Dodson said...

Hey Alex,

I am pretty sure he holds to original sin,etc. though in what I have read he hasn't been that explicit.

I recently asked Powlison through his co-editor to provide a critique of Allender. I will follow taht up...

sorry i didnt reply sooner...this is an old


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