That was a close call! I almost passed on reviewing Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Give Them Grace simply because it was not too long ago that I read William Farley’s excellent Gospel Powered Parenting and I really wasn’t sure I needed another book added to the pile that was likely to reprise what I’d already read. After catching some of the buzz on the web, my love of good books won out and Crossway kindly sent me a review copy.

My oldest son, David, is way more of a pleaser than his younger brother Charlie. Both of my boys are a delight to me, and are on the whole sweet and kind. And yet both of them are more than capable of reducing me to an inarticulate wreck. I can find myself at the end of a short plank that I put out there myself with nowhere to go but into the briny deep, as I have tried to enforce my rule or regulation on a bemused and bewildered child.

And after all that I’ve sat down and tried to share the good news of Jesus with them. It just didn’t seem like a good segue. Now, you might suggest from those cold facts that my reading of Farley’s book did nothing for me, and I would contest that you were wrong. But it has been over a year, and the human heart quickly forgets the road of grace because we have spent so long trudging through legalism or wading into license. Grace is not as easy to come by in the heated moments of parenting, least of all if we try to go it alone.

Elyse Fitzpatrick, with her daughter Jessica, have written a compelling, compassionate book that firmly and lovingly applies the Gospel to the first mission field parents have, their children. There are many anecdotes and plenty of applied theory in here, but none of it points to anything other than grace. In fact, the authors go out of their way to deny everything that looks like a systematized rulebook, and urge that we embrace grace as the harder but better road in parenting.

There is great maturity to the writing, both in the knowledge of the Scriptures, and the experience of parenting. Elyse’s work in biblical counseling shines and reading the book is like an in-depth, personal conversation that exposes your own weaknesses and struggles and declares, “Me too! But isn’t Jesus good?”

The book breaks down into three parts – foundations of grace (the theological underpinnings of the book), evidences of grace (the working out of that theology in practical terms) and then a series of appendices that give more real life examples and a retelling of “The One Good Story”.

Discipline is covered in chapter 6, and provides a clear example on how to administer biblical discipline without losing the integrity of Gospel witness. This is a great example of why I will be recommending Farley’s book AND Fitzpatrick’s. They complement each other so well, with Farley stepping back to talk more on the role of husband, wife and the broad biblical views of parenting, showing how the gospel relates and is the only training manual we need for parenting. Fitzpatrick has a more assumed stance on the gospel and grace and then powerfully applies it to the nitty-gritty of parenting.

As they say in some quarters, the proof is in the pudding. After getting through about two chapters of Give Them Grace I was repenting and seeing my own sin, and my lack of Gospel application, and putting things into practice that were encouraged in the book. One example was when Charlie was pushing David and trying to take something from him. David retaliated at the moment I stepped in to intervene. Rather than disciplining both of them there and then, I took the opportunity to ask David if he could be nice to his brother instead. His response was telling. “I don’t know how.” In the light of childhood injustice, my son did not know how to respond the way God tells us to respond. He needed grace. In some moments I’ve said things that most parents have said, such as, “Try harder then!” or, “Well, you’ll learn.”

But the truth is that without intervention from one who does know how to forgive, my boys have no chance. So I told him what is true. “That’s right, David. You don’t know how. Charlie was unkind to you and you wanted to get back at him. But God has been kind to us even when we’re naughty. He loves us even when we try to hurt him. I think he can help you to be nice to Charlie, so I’m going to pray for you right now.”

I cannot begin to tell you how liberating and joyful that first gospel application was in my soul. Because as I told that truth to David I got to hear it for myself too! That’s just one example of how this wonderful book has strengthened and equipped me for the work of parenting.

Consider it essential summer reading.