Ted Tripp’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, is a thoughtful book written for parents with the aim to teach children about their need for the gospel so that they may live in response to the gospel. The means by which this is accomplished begins by teaching young children obedience and to move them to be thoughtful, considerate, godly young adults. Tripp accomplishes his purpose in assisting parents with the tools needed to nurture their children in the admonition of the Lord for the glory of God and the welfare of the child.
This book is extremely readable and is divided into two main parts: foundations for biblical childrearing and shepherding through the stages of childhood. In the first part of the book Tripp’s aim is to focus the parent on a biblical objective of being God’s agent to shepherd a child to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Tripp states, “Children are worshippers. Either they worship Jehovah or idols. They are never neutral” (19). Therefore, a parent must see their childrearing as a means of grace given by God to rescue their child from death. Parents must teach their young children that obedience to them is obedience to God.
Tripp encourages parents on multiple fronts, including being aware and intentional of shaping influences. Tripp also emphasizes the need to flee the temptation of believing that shaping influences are the final determinative of how a child will turn out. Parents are to provide God-centered shaping influences and they are to help children respond to shaping influences in a way that honors the Lord.
Another way Tripp encourages parents to orient the heart of a child towards God is by demonstrating that “freedom is not found in autonomy, it is found in obedience” (27). A parent is to teach their child to obey as God’s agent. A parent works from behavior to the heart, and must always be careful to get to the heart of the child. This is God’s great task for parents. Tripp states, “As a father or mother, you do not exercise rule over your jurisdiction, but over God’s. You act at his command” (28). In this, Tripp elevates the responsibility of a parent by helping them to understand that they are ultimately responsible to God for their children.
Another way Tripp edifies Godward parenting is in the task of communication. Tripp says, “Talk with your children. Communication is not a monologue. It is dialogue” (72). He goes on to instruct parents to find out what is going on inside of their children. He states, “What is important in correction is not venting your feelings, anger or hurt; it is, rather, understanding the nature of the struggle that your child is having” (73-74). In order to do this, parents must learn how to assist their children in communication. Parents must listen broadly and this must be done early on in the parenting process in order to set up habits of productive communication. This is a highly useful tool in understanding the heart of a child and it helps a child understand their own heart as well.
Another part of shepherding a child involves “the rod”. Tripp builds a biblical case for spanking by giving parents the big picture view of spanking. Tripp explains, “Your children’s souls are in danger of death—spiritual death. Your task is to rescue your children from death. Faithful and timely use of the rod is the means of rescue” (103). The rod has the power to drive foolishness out of the child when executed in a way that honors the Lord. Tripp reminds parents of Proverbs 29:15 when God says, “The rod of correction imparts wisdom…” (103). Tripp adds that “elsewhere the Proverbs connect wisdom with the fear of the Lord” (103). In the second part of the book, Tripp helps walk parents through applying the first part of the book in the different stages of parenting—from infancy to the teenage years. It is highly practical and can be used as a reference in the different stages of parenting.
This is a book on fulfilling the Great Commission by raising children who honor the Lord. I found the book to be refreshing and of great benefit. I initially had questions about how to practically spank my child in a helpful, God honoring way when I first began to read the book. These questions ranged from “how early should I begin?” to “What are safeguards to put in place to prevent me from disciplining in anger?” These questions and more like them were answered thoroughly in the second part of Tripp’s book. I found the book to be God-centered, practical, and readable. This is a very critical comment, but can the book be expanded? This is a great resource from start to finish. However, it would be difficult for a parent to course correct with their older preteen using this book.
Tripp briefly addresses this in two pages, but I would like to see a chapter that addresses parents who are behind on shepherding the heart of a child. This is a great resource for the parent who is already a Christian and thinking through how to shepherd a child faithfully, but if a parent is in crisis because of their own neglect of parenting and they pick this book up, they may feel as if it is too late. A hopeful chapter on how it is never too late could be of great benefit to parents who become Christ followers when their children are a bit older.