Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to get married and have a family. This meant that my career had to finance a house and allow my wife, Maryam, to stay at home with the kids. As the economic ground shifted under our feet early in my career, this objective consumed much too much of my time. Meanwhile, supports in society and in the church for parents raising kids were mostly obsolete or non-existent. In this family-hostile environment, Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller’s The Christian Parenting Handbook comes as welcome relief.
Turansky and Miller focus on identifying and enhancing character development, not behavior modification, from a biblical perspective. They advance 6 principles:
- Begin with prayer, asking for wisdom, grace, patience, and perseverance;
- Build on a biblical foundation;
- Think long term focusing on patterns that reveal issues of the heart;
- Watch for variations on a theme;
- Focus strategically and leave less important issues for another time; and
- Look for internal stumbling blocks that hold up development.
They return to these principles throughout the book but do not simply present an analytical framework. They write the book in 50 chapters focusing each on a particular issue or idea. Early on they cite the Apostle Paul:
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 ESV)
By focusing on heart issues, Turansky and Miller go beyond applied psychology and the how-to suggestions that are usually given parents and think about parenting differently. Their claim to offer a Christian approach to parenting is not lite fluff. This point becomes clear when they compare their ideas to the more typical advice to parents.
For example, in chapter 1, Consistency is Overrated, they compare a heart-focus to the usual behavioral modification approach which insists on consistency. Behavioral modification requires consistency because it is based on stimulus—response theory. Each time a stimulus (reward or punishment) is applied, the same response is solicited. But the Christian parent does not want the child to do what’s right because a reward is given (or punishment avoided)—they want the child to desire to do right—a change in their hearts (2-3). Consistency is often inappropriate when focusing on the heart because each child is different.
In chapter 2, Build Internal Motivation, they compare internal and external motivation as parenting strategies. External motivation argues: if you do X, then I will let you do Y (5). The problem with external motivation is that children learn to expect a reward for good behavior. By contrast, God told Samuel in selecting a new king for Israel: For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV). In a heart-based approach, the parent shares values and reasons behind rules while remaining relational and firm (6). In discipline, the parent expresses sorrow, not anger (7). External motivations are used primarily to encourage internal motivation (8).
In chapter 3 Turansky and Miller continue this theme advising parents to focus on reinforcing good behavior rather than simply harping about bad behavior. Character qualities to look out for include: obedience, honor, perseverance, attentiveness to others, patience, self-discipline, and gratefulness (16). In observing problem behaviors, the idea is to link it to a character quality that needs more development (16-17). In discipling towards character changes they advise parents to tie the return of a privilege to positive actions, not the absence of bad behaviors (12).
Clearly, this book offers a lot of good advice .
Turansky and Miller’s The Christian Parenting Handbook is not your typical parenting advice book. In focusing on heart changes, they avoid the usual child expert and child psychology advice. Their application of biblical teaching is at the core of their thinking, not just a decoration of their own ideas with Bible passages. Consequently, their approach to applying biblical teaching extends beyond the realm of parenting.
As I was reading through Turansky and Miller, I kept thinking: oh my goodness, my kids are 20 something and this book was not available to me when I needed it. Turansky and Miller anticipated this reaction. They offer encouragement—never give up on your kids. God can change a person at any age by working on the heart (204). It is never too late—God can change parents too.
 Turansky and Miller are founders of the National Center of Biblical Parenting and Biblical Parenting University (www.BiblicalParentingUniversity.com).