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Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life

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Posted by Ed Moll, 9 Aug 2018

Ed Moll reviews a new biblical theology of parenting.

Big Picture Parents: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life
Harriet Connor
Eugene, OR: Resource Publications (Wipf & Stock), 2017 158pp £12.00pb ISBN: 9781532602535

Parents today face a bewildering array of information and advice in their task. On the one hand we have access to more sources of expertise than ever before; on the other hand because many of us grow up outside an extended family, we are deprived of the example of our forebears. Young parents feel guilty and confused because they have lost sight of the big picture of parenting. Harriet Connor’s return to the Bible in search of ancient wisdom yields a commendably coherent, readable and biblical theology of parenting.

The book is divided into four parts of two chapters each, with an introduction and conclusion. There are 142 pages of text with further reading, discussion questions and a bibliography of items cited.

Part One considers the Big Purpose of parents, which is to enable their children to move towards maturity in every area, because they are made in the image of God. In this light, our children’s mere happiness is a myopic and momentary ambition. Part Two encounters the Big Problem resulting from the so-called Fall, which explains why we are imperfect parents, why our children are not perfect either, and crucially, why it is impossible to protect them completely in a fallen world. Instead we can see that “our imperfections are not just a liability—they are also an excellent opportunity to show our children how to navigate real life in this fallen world.”

Part Three explores the Big Values that lie behind the Bible’s teaching because much as “we would wish it otherwise, the Bible does not give us specific instructions for every parenting situation but values and the wisdom with which to apply them.” Chapter 5 uncovers the impact on the heart of the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ summary of the Law. Chapter 6 explains how values are transmitted by the parent’s deeds as well as by their words. Part Four explores the Big Family. God’s ideal best for children is that their parents remain together and lovingly in charge. But God’s Big Picture recognises that this is not the shape for everyone and a second chapter helpfully explores how the theme of family in the whole Bible touches on singleness, children, and family conflict.

A final section summarises the eight steps to becoming a Big Picture parent, and points us to the future of parenting in the new creation.

Although the Bible’s teaching drives the central thesis, the author cites scientific and social-scientific research at many points that confirms the Bible’s wisdom. That is a repeated theme, reflected in the sub-title of the book. Although the author is based in Australia the studies range far enough across the world to make the book relevant to readers in the UK and US. I wish this book had been written when I was first a parent. I searched in vain for a big picture of parenting, a framework according to which I could then evaluate the myriad parenting tools that were available to me. Although much of what Harriet Connor writes is now more familiar to me, I found this to be a readable, biblical and insightful overview of the biblical teaching on parenting. I warmly commend it. While there are other books that tell the same story at a simpler and more practical level, this stands alone in my experience. I hope that a UK publisher or distributor can be found to bring this book within reach of more parents.

This review was first published in Churchman, our theological journal. Subscribe to Churchman or purchase individual issues.

Ed Moll is Vicar of St George's Wembdon

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