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Gospel-Centred Family (Chester & Moll)

When I received Tim Chester & Ed Moll’s extremely helpful book Gospel-Centred Family, I was determined to write an immediate review. Weeks passed. I kept going back to the short 93 page booklet to remind myself of gospel principles in raising my children. After reading through chapter 5, Disciplining a Child’s Heart, again this morning with my wife, I decided it was time to do the review!

Summary: One of a Kind

Gospel-Centred Family is simple, accessible, applicable, and profound. Many of us were raised to think that the gospel was something we should accept, not something we always need. This is equally true of parents. Like our children, we need the gospel to start and continue the Christian life. Instead of stooping to bribery, manipulation, behavior management, or emotionalism in parenting, Gospel-Centred Family lifts us up with gospel principles that point to Jesus as our King (not just example), to the heart (not just behaviors), and to understand how grace (not family goals) will transform a child into the image and beauty of Christ.

Book Structure: Easy to Read

The book is broken up into Four Sections: 1) Gospel-Centred Family 2) Grace-Centered Family 3) Word-Centered Family 4) Mission-Centred Family. Each chapter in each section contains a Principle, Biblical Background, and Questions for Reflection. I’m typically not into this kind of layout. In a lot of books that take this approach make the interaction feel “forced.” Not so with Gospel-Centred Family. Quite the opposite! The questions and principles are helpful and I’m considering using the whole book as the basis for a course in our church.

Disciplining a Child’s Heart: Gospel-centered & Practical

Instead or reviewing each chapter, I will provide a sample review of the book by examining one chapter.

Principle: Addressing the heart matters ore than controlling behavior.

Biblical Background:  Colossians 2:20-3:10. This background shows how Scripture does not advocate a rule-based approach to change, but that identity as a new creature in Christ is what changes us from the inside-out.

From Controlling to Addressing the Heart: Using helpful anecdotes, the authors explore common misconceptions about why children misbehave (“influences” not the heart). Many of us fall prey to these misconceptions, disciplining our children in ways that reinforce behavior-centered, not heart-centered parenting. We often try to control a child’s behavior instead of instruct their hearts. Consider some adapted examples:

  • Manipulation – “Can’t you behave like your sister?”
  • Fear – “If you don’t obey, you’ll get hit by a car.”
  • Bribery – “I’ll give you some candy if you obey me.”
  • Emotionalism – “After all I’ve done for you…”
  • Inconsistency – “Okay, just this once.”

We all fall into these, some more than others. My wife and I had an honest conversation about where we see one another choosing these behavior control approaches. We encouraged one another to address the heart more often.

Good Discipline

The authors then turn the corner of critique to instruction:

“…if your aim is to teach your child the ways of God, then your discipline will be calm, clear, consistent, and concentrated on the motives of their heart. The goal is not control—that’s your agenda. God’s agenda is a child who delights to know and serve Him.

They unpack each of the 4 Cs for godly discipline:

  1. Calm: The focus of discipline is the child’s hear rather than your emotional state.
  2. Clear: Make your commands clear…explain why they are being disciplined.
  3. Consistent: Set consistent boundaries..by always following through with warnings…and being consistent between parents.
  4. Concentrated on the heart: Focus on motivation, not just behaviour, e.g. “What did you want?” “Why did you do it?”

Concluding Thoughts

These principles and practices are immensely helpful, but they must be applied together as parents. Make sure you have some discussion time together over these things. Unite in prayerful repentance over failure and joyful resolve to not just change your kids’ behavior but instruct their heart. Parents should never stop talking about how to raise their kids. Fathers should lead out. As children grow older, it is important to move from discipline to self-discipline. As they grow, create times of discussion between parents and children so that you can grow in the gospel together.

Bonus: Gospel-centered Family Rhythms & Resources

2 Books on Gospel Change

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You Can’t Prove Yourself (so stop trying)

Do you ever find yourself trying to prove yourself…to Others, to Self, or to God? Here are a few ways we slide away from the approval of the Gospel to proving ourselves. The categories of proving yourself to Others/Self/God are adapted from Tim Chester’s forthcoming U.S. publication of You Can Change, an excellent book for Gospel Change. The explanations are largely mine, as well as the Gospel aphorisms. So, don’t expect all of this in You Can Change, but do expect some great material that thinks about change along similar lines. As you read, consider which one of these categories fits you and let us know how you’re finding the Gospel more reliable than yourself.

Proving Yourself To Others

When we try to prove ourselves to others, we set ourselves on impressing them—a spouse, a boss, a parent, a peer. We want so desperately to be cheered by them, that we’ll overwork or compromise our health or morals. The approval of others becomes the most important standard in our lives, so we sacrifice our beliefs, our convictions, our standards so that we will be accepted by others. When others are our standard, we will always fail to find the approval and acceptance we long for. Performance Fail. The Gospel reminds us that others cannot offer us lasting acceptance. That God not others are our standard. We will never sufficiently prove ourselves to others because we are flawed. God is our standard. We fail to meet it, but the gospel reminds us that Jesus has met God’s standard for us! Others aren’t nearly as forgiving as Jesus is. We need not prove ourselves because Jesus has proven our worth. We don’t’ have to seek approval from others because are approved by grace in Christ. That is Good News.

Proving Yourself To Self

When we try to prove ourselves to ourself, we set ourselves on improving upon our past.  We try to perfect ourselves. “I used to look at porn but now I don’t.” “I used to not go to church, but now I do.” “I used to not be missional, but now I am.” This may work for a while, as long as we succeed, but as soon as we fail ourselves the bottom of our worth drops out. Our sense of worth and acceptance comes from moral or spiritual self-improvement, not from Jesus. Our standard is Self not God. Peformance Fail. Self isn’t nearly as forgiving as Jesus. The Gospel reminds us that we have not sinned against ourselves, but we have sinned against God. But the Gospel reminds us that we must look to God for the ultimate standard. God provides a righteous, not relative standard, and it can be met alone by faith in Christ, by resting in his acceptance. From our place of acceptance and rest in Jesus, we can live a life that reflects God’s holy standard, instead of striving against ourselves. We don’t have to perfect ourselves because imperfect people cling to a perfect Christ. This too is Good News.

Proving Yourself To God

When we try to prove ourselves to God, we set ourselves on impressing God. We try to perform for his acceptance and approval. “Look how devoted I’ve been to you.” “I’m involved in so much mission and church ministry, surely God is happy” We content ourselves with proving ourselves to God. We try to be good enough, missional enough, spiritual enough. We may even secretly believe that even though we’ve been forgiven in Christ, God’s favor is based on our performance after salvation. We think to ourselves: “If I practice enough spiritual disciplines, then I will gain the spiritual intimacy I long for.” We think that we can put God in our debt. Our standard is God, which is good, but the problem is that we can’t reach his standard. Performance Fail. The Gospel reminds us that we are still sinners, never good enough apart from Christ AND it calls us to stop trying to prove ourselves to Him. The Gospel calls us to rest in God’s approval of us in Christ. To receive his forgiveness for sinful performance and rely on Christ’s performance for us. We need not impress God, because Jesus has impressed God for us. This is Good News!

Gospel Approval (it’s so much better!)

Here are a few gospel aphorisms that might be helpful to memorize when you are tempted to prove yourself to others, yourself, or God.

  • We don’t’ have to seek approval from [Others] because are approved by grace in Christ.
  • We don’t have to perfect [Ourselves] because imperfect people cling to a perfect Christ.
  • We don’t have to impress [God] because Jesus impressed him for us.

You Can Change – the 4 Gs

Austin City Life City Groups went through Tim Chester’s book You Can Change YCC will be released in the U.S. in March 2010 (new cover to the left) this summer. It was a powerful experience for all our communities. In chapter 5, Tim helps us fight the fight of faith for Gospel change by introducing four powerful truths we can believe in face of the lies of sin.

1. God is great so we dont have to be in control

2. God is glorious so we dont have to fear others

3. God is good so we dont have to look elsewhere

4. God is gracious so we dont have to prove ourselves

Our friends at Soma Church are now calling these the “4 Gs”, which is catchy. I encourage you to meditate on the power of God’s grace promised to us in the 4 Gs. When we are tempted to fear, flee, flaunt, or force our way, God promises a better way. He is Great, Glorious, Good, and Gracious. Memorize these phrases. Look for their truth in the Scriptures. Meditate on God’s goodness, glory, greatness, and graciousness….and Enjoy Grace!

You Can Change Resources