Instructing a Child’s Heart is a book that focuses on “formative instruction,” a term that begs further definition. Tripp describes it most simply as “teaching that ‘forms’ our children.” It is teaching that “enables them to root life in God’s revelation in the Bible. It provides a culture for our children, a culture that is distinctly Christian. It shows our children the glory and dignity of mankind as God’s image bearers. It provides a way of interpreting life through the redemptive story of God, who reconciles people to himself.” Formative instruction is instruction that comes before problems arise and in that way is different from corrective discipline which follows problems. We form our children by interpreting life for them and responding to its challenges in biblical ways. We form them through the daily discipline of family worship and through spending time deliberately together, but also through reacting properly to the situations life brings unexpectedly. The goal of this formative instruction is, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6, “so that we and our children and our grandchildren may fair the Lord and walk in his ways, enjoying a long life.” We help our children construct a worldview that allows them to properly see God for who he is and to properly see them as His creation.
The book falls into three sections. In the first Tripp introduces the reader to formative instruction, looking at the concept through a wide lens. In the second section he zeros in on the more specific topics that form the true substance of formative instruction. And in the third section he focuses on applying formative instruction in very practical ways.
It is the second section that is the heart of the book. Here, over the course of eight chapters, Tripp describes several essential building blocks of a biblical worldview. He dedicates attention to the heart, the principle of sowing and reaping, God’s plan for authority, the glory of God, wisdom and foolishness, how we are complete in Christ, and the importance of the church. Each of these receives a chapter, or close to a chapter, in which he describes the principle and how it is foundational to building a biblical worldview. Having done that, he turns his attention to four of these, giving practical pointers on how to get from behavior to the heart, how to apply the sowing and reaping principle of Scripture to corrective discipline, communication with children and the centrality of the gospel.
The strength of this book, like Shepherding a Child’s Heart before it, and the message I need to hear again and again, is Tripp’s insistence, his constant exhortation, that parents must look beyond behavior and look primarily to the heart. It is far too simple to create little legalists, children who adhere to the letter of law, all the while defying the spirit of the law and the One who gives us laws in the first place. It is more difficult but far more profitable to look to the heart for it is the heart that is the wellspring of all behavior. The heart is the heart of all effective instruction. But where the focus of Shepherding was turning the emphasis from outward obedience to matters of the heart, the focus of Instructing is on building into a child’s heart a worldview that is biblical enough and sufficiently robust to stand up to their questioning and to the culture’s skepticism. The task of parenting, after all, involves showing our children “the vital connection between the powerful story of redemption in the Scriptures and their daily experience. The instruction we give them will only make sense in the context of the story of the Scriptures that tells them who they are and about the God who made them and offers them redemption.”
Like most books on parenting, this one is filled with moments that are at the same time obvious and profound. You will encounter statements that are so obvious you wonder if they really needed to be said, only to realize that you could have used that bit of wisdom only moments ago. While muttering, “Well, duh!” you’ll also feel twinges of shame and regret. This is a book that is immediately applicable both to parents and to their children. It is a book that turns to the Bible to provide God’s wisdom on how we can be effective parents. “Your greatest need,” says Tripp, “is to understand deep truths from the Bible. Solid parenting skills are built on solid truth.”
This is not a book that tells you how to control or manipulate your children so that they will spend their lives living in an irrational fear of a domineering parent or a hostile deity. Instead, it is a book that teaches parents to gently but consistently build into children a worldview that begins with the heart and that focuses on God and on His glory. “We should impress truth of the hearts of our children, not to control or manage them, but to point them to the greatest joy and happiness that they can experience—delighting in God and the goodness of his ways.”
We’ve waited a long time for the follow-up to Shepherding a Child’s Heart. I believe most parents will feel the wait has been well worth it.
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