Family Ministry Today

The Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Book Review: ‘Gospel-Powered Parenting’ by William P. Farley

by Troy Higgens – Mar 12

Given the self-centeredness and self-sufficiency modeled by many individuals today, it is a challenge to get parents to see their role through gospel-focused lenses. Farley writes from a decidedly Reformed perspective; he is not, however, primarily a trained theologian or educator (186). Farley writes as a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a pastor. Thus, this book is written as one might expect a pastor to write to parents, with fathers of traditional families as his primary intended audience (13-14, 125-43).

The message throughout Gospel-Powered Parenting is that the gospel is sufficient to answer the questions that parents may have as they attempt to raise their children in a God-honoring way (13). Gospel-Powered Parenting is not a “how-to” book that provides lists of parenting techniques (51, 69). Gospel-Powered Parenting is a “why to” book, in the sense that it speaks to why parents first need to trust the gospel to shape themselves as parents, and then to rely on the sufficiency of the gospel to empower them, as parents, to reach their children’s hearts (40).

Gospel-Powered Parenting helps parents to see their own sinful efforts as parents from an eternal perspec- tive (54) and to see the hearts of their children—as well as the sins of their children—through the eyes of God (76). Chapter 4 (“A Holy Father”) and chapter 5 (“A Gracious Father”) give parents a clear understanding of how both the wrath and grace of God can and must shape parents and parenting. The instruction for parents to image the gospel for their children through their marriages (chapter 6) is powerful, and strong. The discussion about biblical masculinity (chapter 7) provides a solid voice calling husbands and fathers to be Scripture-centered servant-leaders to their wives and children.

The research for this book could have been sharper. Several times Farley references secondary and tertiary popular articles, books, and web resources, rather than grounding his arguments in primary—and readily accessible—sources (cf., 26-27, 40, 54-55, 69, 129, 148, 180, 207). Additionally, Farley occasionally speaks in sweeping generalities that seem to be illustrative of his own experience, rather than providing solid research or biblical exegesis. Farley champions the merits of corporal punishment as the first and primary means to discipline children. From a biblical perspective, there is little doubt that spanking is advocated. Yet, is spanking a child at “the first act of rebellion…without further command” (167) always best? If a key goal of spanking is to get a child to “confess the specific sin for which they are being disciplined,” and the child does not confess, is it really appropriate to start the whole spanking process over again, as Farley suggests? (169). Farley does say that “sometime before adolescence,” spanking should be a “thing of the past” (188). Yet Farley offers no substantial discussion about the potential dangers of unfettered use of corporal punishment.

Despite these potential weaknesses, this material will prove helpful in getting parents to view themselves, their marriages, their children, and ultimately parenting through gospel-centered lenses.

[Editor's Note: This review originally appeared in the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2.1.]