Biblical parenting is driven by submission to the grace of God in children’s lives, said noted author and speaker Tedd Tripp at the Counsel the Word Conference on "Confident Parenting" at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, May 2.
Tripp, pastor emeritus of Grace Fellowship Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart, said parents often misapply the principle of Proverbs 22:6 — “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” — as an if-then promise. According to this interpretation, if parents guide their children faithfully, they will always grow into faithful Christians.
This misunderstands the nature of biblical proverbs, Tripp said during the conference’s opening session, noting that the genre of wisdom literature simply lays out general principles for wise living.
“It’s not an ironclad guarantee,” Tripp said. “It’s a general statement from God that blessings attend faithfulness, and unrighteousness, Scripture teaches, will often be followed by disaster and devastation.”
This reading of Proverbs contributes to what Tripp called a parental “meta-story” — if parents shepherd faithfully, their kids will turn out well. If this is true, he argued, salvation is no longer by grace. Children are saved because their parents did all the right things.
The Christian gospel turns this on its head, according to Tripp. Only the unilateral grace of God can change a child’s heart, not parental strictures.
“It’s a very humbling thing to realize: ‘I cannot save my children. Salvation is of the Lord,’” Tripp said. “If my children grow up to know God and love God and delight in God, it will not be because I got it right, it will be because God is full of grace and mercy. It’s because God delights in salvation, it’s because God sent his Son into the world to save sinners.”
Parents should model discipline through discipleship, rather than control and management, Tripp said. While management only deals with behavioral symptoms and can often result in harshness and scolding, parental discipleship seeks to shepherd children toward genuine heart transformation, he said.
“The function of discipline and correction is to restore,” he said. “It’s not punitive, it’s restorative,” he said.
Parents should recognize that the primarily problem with their children is not their behavior, but their sinful heart condition, Tripp said. While parents are tempted to manipulate their children’s behavior, parental discipleship seeks to help children observe the heart issues that motivate their actions.
“One of the important things in this middle period of our children’s lives — with elementary age kids — is to unpack these truths with our kids so they understand those attitudes of heart,” he said. “I can manipulate change for the moment, but it will always revert back to the most natural expression in the abundance of the heart.”
The conference also featured Heath Lambert, assistant professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, and Stuart Scott, associate professor of biblical counseling and executive director and founder of One-Eighty Counseling & Education.
Audio and video from the conference will soon be available online at sbts.edu/resources.