Spiritual Parenting provides a framework from which to think about God, yourself as a parent and your children. It does not provide a ten-step or seven-step process, nor does it make any over-arching promises about “if you do this as a parent,” “then your child will be and do this.” Michelle Anthony (Ed.D) writes “Spiritual parenting is not perfect parenting – it’s parenting from a spiritual perspective with eternity in mind” (12). Anthony is not interested in behavioral modification, but transformation that represents an obedience of faith. Therefore, spiritual parenting declares “I want to parent the child or children that God gave me in such a way that I first honor God, and then second, create the best environment to put my children in the path of the Divine” (12).
Spiritual parenting means that first I, as a parent, must be a worshipper of Jesus and the God of the Bible. Then, I am prepared to pass on the truth of God’s Word and the vibrant faith that Christ will come looking for (28). This faith is active; it is a faith that loves, that works itself out in all spheres of life for the sake of the kingdom (27-34). Throughout the book Anthony anchors faith in Jesus, while making plain that faith in this Jesus will result in an obedience that flows from faith (36). Further, since God is personal, then biblical faith is relational. A spiritually minded parent, then, will aim to create space for God’s spirit to be at work (38-42).
But, where are these spaces, and how do we create them? She suggests ten environments (spaces) to which she gives the rest of the book to explain: (1) Storytelling––the big picture of the Bible; (2) Identity––who we are in Christ; (3) Faith Community––clarifies and strengthens identity; (4) Service––“What needs to be done?”; (5) Out of the Comfort Zone––parents teach and model this in the home and in the world, leading to greater reliance on God; (6) Responsibility––parents teach and model responsibility to God in all areas of life; (7) Course Correction––spiritual parenting aims to correct our child’s course; (8) Love and Respect––represent the foundational categories in which to spiritual parent; (9) Knowing––includes content and relational knowledge of God; (10) Spiritual parenting seeks to model a vital faith in Christ (39-41).
Anthony argues that the big picture of the Bible is essential for spiritual parenting (48-54). FurtherOld Testament, she helpfully situates important people and climactic actions of God within its own context and then in the larger narrative of the Bible. This approach highlights a worldview approach to parenting, which I think is wise. But, it may have been helpful for Michelle to connect how individual Christians and the New Testament church fit into the Big Story; and further, how does the world fit into the Big Picture. She develops these a bit in other chapters, but these are important categories for the Big Story. Rightly she says the Bible’s Big Story is true! (54). I would suggest that spiritual parenting needs to emphasize the “Truth” nature of God’s Word, especially as parents seek to teach their children how to live in the world but not of the world.
My biggest concern and critique is found in Chapter 4: The Environment of Identity. I am thankful to see her strong emphasis on identity in Christ, but,there are a few closely related concerns and critiques. First, Anthony does not develop in this chapter or in others how we by nature are ‘in Adam’ and hence dead in our sins (Rom 5) and under the wrath of God (Rom 1). She briefly comments on Romans 1 but her development is minimal. Readers would be helped to see how our identity in Adam is compared and contrasted in the Bible by God creating us new in Christ Jesus.
Second, her focus on identity in Christ, as well as most of her book, leaves this book primarily helpful for parents with Christian children. Some readers may ask, “What if my child, or some of my children are not believers? Can I, or should I, talk in all the ways you have to my unbelieving children?” Third, she seems to limit parental counsel to a sinful or struggling child to ‘forgotten identity’. That is, a wayward child needs to remember who they are in Christ. This understanding is important but our children need to hear more than this. She does develop course discipline in Chapter 9, but even there she delimits spiritual discipline away from speaking to a child about God’s wrath, and issues of guilt and shame.
The resistance to use the categories of God’s wrath, shame, and guilt may be based on parenting strategies or parental patterns that leave a child buried in shame, guilt and desolation. I would agree that any kind of parenting strategy that is not restorative in nature is sub-biblical. I would, however, suggest that there is a right, loving and wise (redemptive) way to use the real categories of God’s wrath, shame and guilt with both our believing and unbelieving children.
Anthony’s Spiritual Parenting is a helpful and trustworthy book for what it does say. The book, however, would have been more accurate and broadly helpful if it had set spiritual parenting within the framework of children who are by nature in Adam, and hence this would have opened up the category to help parents spiritually parent their own believing and unbelieving children. Further, God’s wrath, shame, and guilt provide necessary categories to build into the heart of children so that they can come to know what it means that the wrath of God on sinners has been satisfied by the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus on the cross; and that this Christ bore our guilt and shame. All these categories are vital to retain for spiritual parenting.