I usually have a pencil in hand when I read a book. If not, when I read something I want to go back and underline or write a note on, I fold up the bottom corner (sorry pristine-book-lovers). Because I read Shepherding a Child’s Heart either one story away from my pencil or at the beach, it is dog-eared approximately every three pages. In other words, there’s a lot of really good stuff in this book.
Shepherding isn’t a three-step guide to producing perfectly-behaved children; it’s a call to gospel-centered, heart-based parenting. The central idea is that our children are a trust from God, and that we have a responsibility before God to train them in a way that’s consistent with the gospel. So the book is mostly about what the Bible says about children and parents, and seeking to lay out a sketch of parenting that’s consistent with what Scripture teaches. Tripp starts with the fact that our kids’ behavior, like ours, is a window into their heart. Then he talks about the natural state of our hearts: they are not neutral toward God, but naturally sinful, and this is just as true of our kids as it is of us. Our kids tend toward idolatry, like we do, and like us, they need to be pointed toward the true God. That’s what parenting is about.
Tripp covers the issue of parental authority expertly, showing believers that God has put us in charge of our kids, and we simply do not have the right to abdicate that role; failing to exercise that authority is a failure to serve God and is harmful to our children. Subsequent chapters cover unbiblical ideas and methods that need to be discarded, and try to rebuild a biblical foundation for parenting. He talks about the key biblical methods of communication, corporal punishment, and appeal to the conscience over against common methods like pop psychology, emotional manipulation, bribery, and others.
This first half of the book is sort of like clearing the furniture out of a room, repainting, and sketching some ideas of what the new room will look like. In the next half Tripp brings some furniture back in, giving guidelines for parenting kids of every age group from infancy to adolescence. These are not incredibly specific, but give a general view of the kinds of discipline to focus on in different stages of childrearing. (For more nitty-gritty ideas for young kids, I’d suggest Babywise II or Toddlerwise, which suggest specific skills kids of those ages can be taught. These would be good to have alongside Shepherding, which is more big-picture oriented.)
Shepherding a Child’s Heart is not a guarantee that you’ll have nice kids, or even believing kids. And it doesn’t promise to make parenting easy– in fact, I came away more overwhelmed at how difficult good parenting really is. But as a theology of parenting, and as a sort of beginner’s guide to discipline, it’s the best thing I’ve seen.